March 11th 1980.
A dark day in the history of Norwich City Football Club.
It’s half a lifetime away now I grant you. Thirty four years to be exact. A period of time that has seen seven general elections, ten Doctor Whos and nine World Cups – of which England were confidently expected to win all seven of those we managed to qualify for.
We have also experienced six Canary relegations, five promotions, two FA Cup semi-finals, a League Cup win and, including caretakers, 22 different managers of Norwich City.
So it’s been busy.
For me at least that date is an important one both in terms of Canary history and my own support of the club; one that has become, in time, a yellow and green footballing year zero, the date in question separated by two abbreviations – BR and AR.
Because March 11th 1980 was the day we sold Kevin Reeves to Manchester City for £1,000,000. Thus BR was Before Reeves sold and AR became After Reeves sold.
His sale came as a shock, a slap in the face, an act of contempt shown by the club to the fans, one that said ‘we think having cash in the bank is more important than having good players on the pitch.’
What? You mean football isn’t all about, well, football? There’s more?
We all sit and complain now that football is no longer a sport, it’s a business. Nothing new there, nothing to see, move along please. Acceptance of that fact doesn’t mean that we all accept that its right but we all know that’s how it is and how it will be for more than the foreseeable future.
But I think, for me, that grim realisation had its origins on the day that we took the thirty pieces of silver and went over to the dark side in return for the unwanted and unnecessary sale of the man who’d initially joined on loan from Bournemouth prior to a £50,000 move.
Reeves went on to play for England whilst he was at Carrow Road; one of just seven players who have done so as a Norwich City player.
I wasn’t the only one left distraught by the sale of Reeves however. The Barclay took it upon their collective selves to be so incensed at the sale that a banner appeared in the first home game after his departure that announced “No Reeves, No Future, No Fans.”
In view of what was to come over the following couple of decades or so, maybe the banners imaginative creator should have left a space where the name of any subsequent dearly departed heroes could be inserted?
Thus after ‘No Reeves’ we could have had sequels. No Fashanu. No Watson. No Bruce. No Woods. No Gordon. No Drinkell. No Sutton. No Fox. No Ashton. Them and many more. You get the picture.
That original banner did, of course, contradict itself. Reeves duly went but the club’s footballing status and reputation grew over the following decade whilst attendances, albeit with the odd blip here and there, slowly grew to the extent that we now have a waiting list for season tickets. And the demand for casual tickets on a matchday continues to be considerable – at least, that’s what the club likes to tell us.
Stadium expansion and redevelopment has been responded to favourably and, whilst the record home attendance during that 1979/80 season was 25,624, there were also plenty of games which saw the loyal few rattling around a half empty Carrow Road on a matchday; 16,500 for the game against Bolton on September 29; 14,631 for Middlesbrough on February 27 and a pitiful 12,473 for the game against Bristol City on December 15 – a gate that was doubled just over a week later when 24,335 turned up to see the 3-3 draw against Ipswich.
But that’s how it was in the days when season tickets were a luxury rather than a necessity if you wanted to see your team play. You’d pick and chose your games safe in the knowledge that you’d almost certainly be able to pay on the gate. Hence that 25,000 plus gate for the visit of Liverpool, 24,697 for Manchester United and 24,335 for Ipswich – the top three clubs in the division at the end of that season.
Bolton and Bristol City were both relegated at the end of that season, struggling clubs with limited appeal reflected in the attendance at the games against them.
Should we be mindful of that if and when we expand the stadium? One argument goes that a Carrow Road with a capacity of 35,000 would be a ground that benefitted the casual supporter as it would mean more opportunities for casual tickets to be purchased in the days leading up to the game or – and how retro this is – at selected entrances on match day itself.
But would it?
If season ticket numbers are either capped or reach a natural peak at, say, 24,000 then how many people will take up the option of going to a game against a middling club during a cold and wet weekend?
It’s Saturday, its 3:00pm and it’s… Rotherham United. Now I’d go. And so would you most probably. But how many of those, potentially 7000 – 8,000 casual ticket buyers are going to bother – especially if it’s Nottingham Forest in a fortnight.
So yes, we could expand the ground, we could have an all new capacity of 30,000 plus. But a crowd of 26,000 looks a whole lot better in a stadium that is deemed as full at just over that number than one that holds 32,000 or more.
Food for thought.
We ultimately survived the sale of Reeves of course. As we did most of the others and all of the legend that surrounds them and their eventual departures.
Chris Sutton for example. “If Chris Sutton is not here at the start of next season….” said former Chairman Robert Chase, “…then neither will I be.”
Sutton eventually left, the £5million offer from Blackburn too much for the club to resist. Sadly, the club seemed to find it all too easy to resist spending much money on a replacement for him, the £450,000 invested in Mike Sheron a case of replacing the sublime with the ridiculous.
Then there was Darren Eadie. The howls and anguish at his departure to Leicester City for £3million in December 1999 weren’t reserved for the fans alone. Eadie didn’t want to go and has said so since on more than one occasion. Neither did Norwich want to sell him. But it was either Leicester City got their way or the end of the highway for Norwich City if he didn’t.
In short, his rushed departure helped keep the club alive. But it didn’t stop us protesting. There were no banners this time. But people weren’t happy. Again.
A little over a decade later it would seem that fans attitudes to the departure of popular players has changed along with the game itself. The loss of Reeves, Sutton, Eadie and numerous others, long before (when Ron Davies was sold to Southampton for just £55,000 in 1966 there was nearly a riot) and for some time after have all met with differing yet familiar levels of protest, disillusionment and a general feeling of let-down – even betrayal.
Yet what club isn’t a ‘selling’ one when the right money is waved at them as an incentive? Answer – there isn’t one. And maybe, just maybe, as we’ve all grown to realise that.
Our approach to the sale of players have changed and the old feelings of outrage and let down have been replaced by ones of acceptance and, dare I say it, logic?
Take the summer departure of Robert Snodgrass to Hull City for example.
No banners, no protests, no anguished weeping and wailing. But plenty of reasoning and rationale.
It was good money for a player with only a year left on his contract many of us said, adding that the team’s style of play was occasionally stymied by Snoddy’s occasional insistence on pressing the in-play Pause button.
Others felt that his departure would mean a chance for other players to make their mark in the team, Elliott Bennett for example. There was even a general acceptance that he wanted to continue his career in the top flight and that if a player wanted Premier League football who were we to stop him?
In short, Snoddy was here – and then he wasn’t. And hardly anyone bothered to see him off either.
The game has indeed changed. But so have our attitudes to it. So there was never going to a banner that said “No Snodgrass, No Future, No Fans” – not that it would have been allowed into the ground in the first place.
Yep, the game has changed, changed in more ways than we can imagine, as has our attitude to it, our club and our players/assets.
Mind you, I still wish we hadn’t sold Kevin Reeves.