It was when I was penning my piece for the Along Come Norwich fanzine, a while ago now, that it dawned on me just how eventful life is as a Norwich City supporter has been, and still is come to that.
Maybe a statistician out there will prove me wrong and life for us is just, well…normal, but from the inside it feels like we generally have more than our fair going on, and we certainly do when compared to those sides whose recent history has been spent hovering midtable in the Championship.
And I’m not just talking of the successes and the trophies – yes, kids of Ipswich, we have had some – but of the almost unrelenting yo-yoing that does little for the nerves but which ensures life is never ever dull.
The piece I wrote for the ACN fanzine was about the 1980s, mainly from a City perspective but also the wider view – UK and global news, music, films etc – but it was my concluding paragraph that highlighted to me (admittedly not the sharpest tool in the box) the extremes of the ups-and-downs of a Canary foot soldier.
In that decade alone there were two promotions, two relegations, a League Cup Final win, an FA Cup semi-final and a fourth-place finish in the top-flight, and what should have been (but weren’t) three separate sojourns into the UEFA Cup.
Not bad for a little provincial club with, then, average home crowds of around 15,000.
Admittedly, not all decades have produced the extremes of the 1980s but life in these parts is certainly never dull and it really does feel that, compared to others, we have more than our fair share of dramas – both good and bad.
Ipswich fans, of course, wax lyrical about the 1980s (and the late 70s and the early 60s and any other moment in history if you’re patient enough) but 17 consecutive seasons in the Championship says that the 21st century has been more beige than blue, even though they did rectify that depressing stat last season.
In researching this piece (yes, I know it is hard to believe), I was however taken aback to find that our friends down south qualified for European competition in nine out of ten seasons between 1973 and 1983.
Obviously, I knew they’d won the 1980/81 UEFA (my god, I’ve been reminded enough times), and knew that it was a good Ipswich side (sorry, but it was) but nine out of ten seasons in Europe? Hadn’t quite cottoned onto that. *doffs cap*
With that tucked up my sleeve, I too may scoff at a ‘UEFA Cup 1993/94 (participants)’ line, and I certainly don’t have the strength to argue that one of our aborted 1980s UEFA Cup runs may have helped redress the balance.
The 1990s were of a similar ilk for City, not because of the ups and downs on the pitch – there was just that one ignominious relegation in 1994/95 – but most certainly because of events off it.
It was, to say the least, tumultuous with the club soaring to that third place in 1992/93 – which was of course rewarded with our UEFA Cup ‘participation’ – but then plummeting to the depths of financial peril and near extinction.
For the fans, it was from exhilaration to despair in a matter of months, the journey from one to the other being like one of those Hollywood lifts at the top of a skyscraper that goes into freefall. Luckily the landing wasn’t bad as it could have been and Delia, Michael, Sir Geoffrey and Martin Armstrong were there at the bottom to help us out of the wreckage.
But it was a wreck, one minus a pot tom pi$$ in, and all far cry from Mike Walker’s ‘loosen the purse strings’ rallying cry on the eve of the Inter Milan away-leg; something I can vividly recall reading in one of the complimentary EDPs dished out that morning at Norwich Airport to the travelling Yellow Army.
The despair was absolute and 99 per cent of the wrath was aimed at one man, whose forced departure ultimately led to Delia and Michael, with the support of the two aforementioned outriders, taking the reins.
It’s a piece for another day, but Robert Chase didn’t depart stage left willingly and it took the full force of a supporters’ movement to dislodge him from office – something that resembled civil war, as recollected by Martin in the week.
There was nothing beige or, I guess, boring about it. The adrenaline was pumping, not because of success on the pitch but because of what many of us saw as a victory off it.
Like I said…never dull. Even when football was.
The 21st century has seen more of the same, only this time one of the relegations involved a stopover in the third tier, which to most of us was a new experience. And while that certainly wasn’t part of the masterplan, it did inadvertently offer a chance to overturn a losing mentality that had engulfed the club.
Our friends down the A140 may benefit from the same – who knows. There is an obvious common denominator.
In the 19 seasons of this century, we’ve spent five in the Premier League, 12 in the Championship, thankfully just the one in League One, and have been involved in five promotions and four relegations.
In other words, for almost every season spent in mid-table – which doesn’t allow for just missing out at either end of the table – another has been spent either reluctantly heading southwards of joyously heading northward.
That we’re currently in the process of heading north (literally) puts in a good place; possibly as good a place as we’ve been in at any stage of the last four decades. Arguably ever.
And it’s having lived through the heartaches that make this time so special, and what makes me smile when we’re scoffed at by those who see the upper echelons of the Premier League as home.
Those at the very top of the English game have, I suppose, the potential joy of winning the biggest prizes to look forward to but there are only five worth winning, and two of those are competed for by Europe’s elite. So said moments of ecstasy don’t happen very often – the rest of the time it’s just a battle to make top four and avoid the dreaded Europa League.
Is there really much fun to be had in that? Imagine being Everton.
The irony, of course, is that we aspire to be Everton – to be secure in the Premier League without the perennial threat of relegation, and to be equipped to go toe-to-toe with the top six without the relying on them having “an off day”.
But that’s for another day. For now let’s just embrace the madness, soak up every nerve-shredding second and not even contemplate giving Liverpool a guard of honour on opening day.