Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.
Except, of course, that for a long time it hasn’t been fun.
In fact, it’s been like a visit to the dentist – an analogy I’d better explain quickly, not least because your dentist is the last person you should annoy.
What I mean is that after a lengthy period as exciting as reading the periodicals in the waiting room, dreading that moment when you have to submit to what’s coming to you… it turns out that it’s not so painful after all.
There’s just a sort of numb feeling, which may give way to a bit of discomfort eventually, but it’s manageable.
There’s even a fair bit of relief that it’s all over.
Now this could be because I have at long last reached a level of maturity which allows me to view our situation with a greater sense of perspective. (Stop laughing at the back.)
Or, more likely, it’s a reflection of the season we’ve had: the joyless football we endured under Chris Hughton, plus the fact that we simply deserve to go down.
When we’ve been relegated in the past, I’ve tormented myself by constantly replaying key moments of the season in my head. If only the referee hadn’t given that penalty against us, if only so-and-so’s shot hadn’t hit the post…
There’s none of that this time. No despair, no bemoaning of luck or bad decisions, no anxiety about the prospect of particular players leaving and (unusually) no anger.
The closest I get to anger is exasperation: firstly, that all the hard work that got us into the Premier League has been tossed away; and secondly, that we’ve been such tossers in a season when there are so many poor teams.
Every year, Rick Waghorn writes a piece on this site wondering which club will prove to be the ‘basket case’ of the league. This year, there’s been a basketful of them.
Fulham have had their managerial merry-go-round; Cardiff and Hull both have owners infuriating their own fans; West Brom had the Nicolas Anelka incident, then hired a manager who has been rumoured to be on the point of being sacked ever since; Crystal Palace apparently bought a load of players off the internet last summer, only for the manager to declare he’d made a mess of it and wasn’t up to the job.
Sunderland started the season with someone we’ll politely call a ‘maverick’ in charge – and Gus Poyet has made reference more than once to there being ‘something not right’ at the club; Swansea had the distraction of the Europa League, alleged bust-ups on the training ground and their own managerial change; West Ham, who lacked a striker for the first half of the season, have supporters so disenchanted with their manager that they even boo when they win.
And of course we’ll always have Newcastle.
Despite all the failings of other teams, we still managed to get relegated. Some feat. Perhaps we’ve been the biggest basket case of all.
Yet despite this, I find it hard to criticise the board too much for their part, other than for their confident and repeated assurances that we would stay up. (Football being football, you simply can’t make promises like that.)
How can I criticise them for not sacking Hughton sooner when I couldn’t make my own mind up?
Yes, alarm bells had started ringing long ago. For me, the first occasion was at Wigan last season, when having ‘earned the right to play’ in the first sixty minutes, with the match there for the taking, the team remained imprisoned in its shape and attitude and held back – with predictable consequences.
But every time I got ready to jump down from the fence onto the ‘out’ side, we’d get another result. And for a brief period this February, it did appear that the team had finally started to work out how to make chances, even if they were duly missed.
The board gave Hughton every chance to sort it out. They gave him far longer than many other clubs would have done, and far longer than most City fans would have liked. But as faults go, trying to be patient and giving someone the opportunity to get it right is not the worst one to have. (The irony is, of course, that to the outside world the decision to fire him when they did looks like the result of panic rather than patience.)
Perhaps in delaying the decision they were just crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. But sometimes that’s all you can do. And sometimes it works. Barring the Sunderland ‘miracle’, it might have worked this time.
It’s the same with choosing a manager in the first place – which of course is the next item on the board’s to-do list. There are no guarantees; you can do all the background research and box-ticking you like on a candidate, but in the end any appointment is something of a gamble.
I have no clear view on who the manager should be, and it’s just as well I have no say in making the decision. After all, I once used this column to advocate the appointment of Aidy Boothroyd.
But whoever takes us into the next campaign, it has to be someone able to engender a real team spirit – the type of collective belief and determination which powered us upwards from League One and which has enabled Burnley to win promotion this year.
It’s this quality more than any other which brings success in the Championship. And it’s this quality, despite all the players’ pre-match high-fives and huddles, which we’ve lacked this season. (Neil Adams has clearly fostered an improvement in this department during his brief tenure, but then any new voice in the dressing room might have had the same effect.)
Creating that togetherness and confidence isn’t going to be easy after relegation, and with all the inevitable squad changes that will come this summer. And it’s for that reason that I’m not confident that we’ll be able to mount a strong challenge for promotion next year.
But I’m really looking forward to the new season and the prospect of a fresh start. If we can just get back to watching a Norwich team approaching every game with a positive attitude and giving it a real go, that will do for me.
And that will do for me for this season. See you in August.