January 1st arrives in our corner of Planet Football with all the hype and hysteria that surrounds the start of a Formula One race. Motor racing and Premier League football, these two behemoths of sport are contiguous in so many ways – the overblown, bloated teams with unlimited resources at the front, the stragglers who merely seek survival and solace in just being there at the back.
For Ferrari and Red Bull read the well-heeled duo from Manchester whilst, as far as Marussia and HRT are concerned, well, there slips by a Reading and a Southampton.
Norwich City? Rather aptly, we are Lotus. An impressive season which has seen us punching well above our perceived weight with the promise of a lot more to come. But I digress.
The start to any Formula One race is perhaps its most anticipated moment. Five banks of red lights flashing on, one by one, followed by a brief, almost unbearable pause before the final light flashes green, the result of which is sheer pandemonium. It creates the spectacle of up to 24 cars – some good, some middling, some woefully underpowered and engineered – all heading, pell-mell, towards the first corner.
A leading few will fly through undisturbed and make for the straight, that top spec and resultant speed guaranteeing a good race, others will slip, slide or creep their way around, wary of those in the pack around them, whilst the even less fortunate will slide off the track, their race over before it even began.
Football’s transfer window opening in January. Sheer pandemonium as twenty Premier League teams – some good, some middling, some woefully understaffed and managed – all head, pell-mell, towards that first elusive signing. First cuckoo of Spring anyone? That’s so 20th Century. It’s the first confirmed signing of football’s transfer window that we want.
The Premier League’s leading few will swiftly confirm the acquisition of the global star they have long been tracking before focusing on the last few months of the season-settled and looking for that final surge down the last straight. Others will bid and counter-bid, fighting off their jostling peers, all determined to land that Belgian U-21 international or rising star of the game in The Gabon; a symbol of hope, a new face and new look to the team that will, once again and, not without a few scares on the way, enable them to, once again, creep their way into seventeenth place.
Those who are less fortunate – little money to spend and even less hope of remaining in the race by May will slip and slide their way towards relegation, their signing aspirations thwarted by both players and agents who’d rather not be fighting for their lives in the Championship next season.
Confronted with the twice annual transfer window madness and inevitably fielding questions about who Norwich might be signing this month, Chris Hughton has been his usual calm, considered and thoroughly professional self. No prospects for any Sky news teams of intercepting, a’la Harry Redknapp, our Manager in his Range Rover, interviewing him about the latest Venezuelan striking sensation linked with the club.
Whereas ‘arry will give full rein to his footballing character (“…we’re lookin’ ter get a few bodies in, clock who’s available – the bleedin’ lad looks Jack an’ Dandy, might be summit in it… ”), Chris will smile, and offer a polite but neutral response before asking after the health of the reporters family.
Which simply confirms him as the gentleman that we have all swiftly learnt that he is. But it doesn’t help the frayed nerves of those Canary fans eagerly anticipating new arrivals and the obligatory photo call when the new man stands by the tunnel at Carrow Road proudly holding up the shirt for all to see.
“Damn it McNally, we want new players and we want them now!” is the underlying theme. Well no, come to think of it, it’s not underlying, it’s right there, slap bang in the poor man’s face, whether questions from national and local reporters or tweeted queries from fans.
Earlier this week, ludicrously, one of the clubs messageboards had a posting from someone desperate for his recommendation on a certain player to be passed onto our beleaguered Chief Executive. Who needs a much expanded and upgraded scouting network when someone whose seen a few videos on You Tube can solve all our striking problems for us from the sanctity of their keyboard!
It is this addiction that most fans have to the twice yearly outbreak of transfer window’itus that fuels the industry that now spends much of its time simply chasing gossip around the country.
Sky Sports News now devotes almost all of the last day of the window to just that, with cold, wet reporters forlornly standing outside club entrances and training grounds, desperate to catch a glimpse (“…I believe it was Michael Owen’s agent in the back seat of the Humvee on the M6 Geoff, but we can’t be certain-what we DO know is that John O’Shea was training with Sunderland earlier, and not, as reported earlier, with his agent outside the Bernabéu…”) of an unfamiliar face or car number plate.
Its desperate and its laughable.
Don’t get me wrong. Football evolution, for any team, is an on-going, organic process. The more you grow, the more you need to invest, to change, to ensure that the growth remains strong and constant. We’ve seen it at Norwich on numerous occasions. Darrel Russell, replaced by Andrew Crofts, replaced by Jonny Howson, replaced by…? You get the picture.
So yes, I know how important the transfer market is and how vital it is for team building to be something that is constantly in flux. And yes, I’m as enthralled as most fans about some of the names being discussed as possible signings. I’m also pretty certain that, as seems to be the fashion at Carrow Road at the moment, that any new arrivals will almost certainly be ones that no-one has suspected or suggested we were even close to signing – as Andrew Surman was.
We will welcome that new face and enjoy assessing his qualities and what he might bring to the side. It’s something that provokes much discussion amongst supporters – just as it will the players – who welcome it themselves as a sign of a clubs ambition and ongoing commitment to progress.
What I neither enjoy or welcome is all the madness that accompanies the transfer window. That all encompassing, 24/7, feeding frenzy whereby even the tiniest little snippet of gossip leads to a flurry of responses, counter responses and self perpetuated additional gossip.
Who does it all benefit? Not football, that’s for certain. Indeed, if anything, it just brings the game a little step closer to becoming just another part of the entertainment industry (‘Strictly Come Football’ anyone?) rather than a simple sport which should be about the game itself, not this and all the other artificial and unnecessary side issues that detract from it.
And for these reasons, the transfer window can’t “slam shut” soon enough for me. I want my football back.