Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
So shal al folke of Citie persuasioun
Be seized by dread of relegacioun.
Nailes of fingeres shal be gnawed, in sooth –
And sailes of Imodium go thurgh the roof.
‘Ah, he’s back,’ my work partner said to me a couple of weeks ago. ‘I’ve kind of missed him.’
‘Who do you mean?’ I asked.
‘Relegation Kev,’ he replied. ‘He used to show up every year around this time, but he’s been missing for the last few. You know him – paces up and down a lot, mutters under his breath, constantly irritable.’
(No, he’s not much different from Regular Kev before you say it, but the characteristics are noticeably heightened.)
I’d almost forgotten what that awful knot in the pit of your stomach feels like. The constant anxious scrutiny of different teams’ remaining fixtures. The self-torturing replaying of moments in recent games which, if they’d gone slightly differently, would have seen us safe by now.
But did any of us really think that these feelings would never return? The last three seasons were something of an aberration (can’t think who was responsible for that); the dread of the drop is a more typical state of affairs – not just for us Norwich supporters, but probably for the majority of fans.
There aren’t many clubs whose followers have never – or hardly ever – known this fear. And if they haven’t experienced it, they’ve missed out on one of the biggest aspects of being a fan, even if they think they know what anxiety is.
After their recent defeat at home to Man City, Sir Alex Ferguson commented: “We’ve always made it difficult for ourselves over the years. We get the poor supporters hanging on the edge of their seats every week.” Yes, I can see how winning the title with four games left might make you get the bicycle clips out.
Even if the fear goes away for a while, you know it’s going to come back sooner or later. (Wait long enough, and everything comes round again in football; was anyone else at Highbury in November 1989 to witness George Tyson’s appalling decisions which robbed us of victory?)
Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should embrace, let alone enjoy, this anxiety. Even I’m not that daft. But perhaps we should accept it and understand it a bit more. After all, the terror comes with the territory.
In fact, you know what the worry shows? It shows how much you really care, if you didn’t already realise it.
It’s easy enough to sing ‘We love you Norwich, we do’ when we’re giving someone a hiding on the pitch. But it’s arguably a stronger sign of that devotion when the possibility of relegation is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.
(Hint for husbands with a football-indifferent wife: if she asks what you’re thinking about when you’re staring into space with a concerned look on your face, don’t say ‘relegation’. Or at least not after the first couple of times. No need to confirm that your current list of interests extends to one, even if they suspect it.)
Moreover, these tension-filled, nerve-shredding games can be every bit as memorable as the glorious, free-flowing victories. In his latest column, Ed Couzens-Lake talks about the light and darkness in football, and such anxious occasions can be seen as another aspect of this.
Several games spring immediately to mind: the nervous home draw against Wimbledon in 1992 when a Robert Fleck goal made us safe; the 2-2 draw at Sheffield United in 1998, when a screamer from Chris Llewellyn sealed the comeback from two goals down; the 1-0 win at Tranmere in 2001 when Brian McGovern picked up the ball on the halfway line, embarked on a mazy dribble and eventually slotted the ball past the keeper – a display of skill we’d never seen from him before that day and which we were never to see again.
And of course, older supporters will remember Dave Stringer’s late winner against Crystal Palace towards the end of the 72-73 season. (I wasn’t there, unfortunately – it was a school night. Bah.)
As we head towards Saturday’s match then, let’s be aware that any nerves we feel are a natural part of being a true fan. And let’s try to remember the positive possibilities too. For example:
– If we win and Wigan don’t, we’re safe. Mathematically.
Than shal we repairen to the hostelrye
For to maken bawdie revelrye.
(Or I might have a skinny blueberry muffin with my latte.)
– Paul Lambert’s already returned to beat us this season, so we’ve got that out of the way already.
– And if it does go wrong on Saturday, we do have another chance to get the points against West Brom the week after. They’ve got nothing to play for, after all. (Yes, I know, like Fulham in 2005.)
Right, I’m off to listen to some calming music to try and relax. Maybe something by Lemon Jelly – though not this one.
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