Does anyone actually enjoy football anymore?
I mean ‘enjoy’ in an abandoned and carefree way. Enjoy in the manner of a newly born lamb gambolling (it is illegal to use the word ‘lamb’ in any written text in the UK without also using the verb ‘gambolling’ in the same line) its way around a fresh and dewy damp, green pasture on a fine spring morning?
Remember how, when you were young, the most simple of things were a delight of unimaginable dimensions. A puddle. A cardboard box you could, wait for it, actually sit in. Wow, it’s a spaceship! The enjoyment derived from seeing a pile of brightly wrapped Christmas presents on top of a wardrobe or opening yet another box and seeing the event horizon eyes of a cocker spaniel puppy gazing back at you?
(After ten minutes or so playing with the puppy, it would go to sleep, but hey, look at this great box I get to play with!).
Deep joy. Right at your core, to the heart. Bull’s-eye every time. And it goes on. First kiss, first love, first time. First pay cheque, first house, first child, first grandchild. Reality bites alright – but with love.
We should never be without joy, whoever we are and however old we are. It’s vital for life.
Shouldn’t football be one of those joys?
A sport just about anyone can play and almost everyone can understand. One ball, two of the proverbial jumpers for goalposts. Hell, it’s so simple you can play it on your own. Try doing that in tennis or cricket. Not so easy in rugby either.
Who remembers the first goal they ever scored in a ‘proper’ football match? I do. It was on the pitch at the now long gone Burnham Deepdale School, the school at that pleasant little village on the North West Norfolk coast.
I was seven and playing for my school, Brancaster – just along the A149, a mile and a bit away. A local derby then and tensions were running high. Well, they would be, one of the oppositions players had done something in his shorts that maybe he shouldn’t have and no-one wanted to go near him. Anyway, I scored and we won 3-1, thus planting a memory that, as this self indulgent recollection illustrates, was so joyful and important, I have never forgotten it.
That’s how football should be for me. A sport to play or watch, to love and become part of with your support for a team. And we do feel part of things, Norwich City is ‘our’ club. We all say so and we all have that common feeling of belonging. It draws us together.
It’s the reason why, if you’re thousands of miles away from home and see a complete stranger in a Norwich shirt, you immediately walk over and give it the ‘hail fellow well met’ treatment. Brothers in arms and all that, a celebration of our club and the game we love, a cardboard box for our middle years.
Where’s all that gone. It can’t just be me, surely?
Because as supporters, we forever seem to be getting het up about something or other now. I feel for Rob Butler and whoever his guest is on Canary Call post-match because, whatever has happened during the game, those that call in will, more likely or not, have an axe to grind about something.
Moan moan moan moan moan. Even when we win.
One caller worked himself up into a state of considerable fury before, indignation complete, asked why Andrew Crofts wasn’t in the team only to be told, as calmly and gently as possible (whilst the listening fans did a collective facepalm) that he had long left the club and was now with Brighton.
Is football blinding us all so much now that we don’t seem to know or care about who even plays for the club as long as we can express our angst about something connected with it?
You could play a game of Norwich City bingo based on which person at with the club is getting the most abuse over a certain week.
Russell Martin’s been there this season. So has Lewis Grabban. Neil Adams has as well and let’s not forget Bradley Johnson. There’s probably someone out there whose got all of those names crossed off on his or her bingo card, they only need Michael Turner now for a full line and a prize. Even David McNally, who wasn’t so far off being deified just a short time ago now has more than his fair share of critics, grim faced and questions poised.
But I don’t want to debate the rights and wrongs of the team and football club as a whole this season; players, manager and board. That’s already being done very well by others and raising some good discussion amongst us all as it does so.
But I do want to ask why football now seems to make us all so angry and so very easily?
Am I looking through rose tinted spectacles or has it always been like this?
There seems to be a sense of self entitlement surrounding the game now that didn’t used to be there. And it doesn’t just apply to us. Football fans have never been slow to express their disquiet but, right here and right now, many of us seem to want to vent our spleens at the slightest provocation or sign that things are not going to plan.
Wolves fans just last year. Yet look where they are now. Jose Mourinho having a go at Arsene Wenger. An Arsenal fan demanding the removal of both his club’s board and manager. And they feel the rage at an early age at Feyenoord.
We weren’t without our own quiet little civil war last season. Norwich fans who dared to suggest they had faith in the then manager or board were dismissed as “plastics” and “happy clappers”. It all got a little heated at times, even in the normally staid surroundings of the River End there were slanging matches and threats between fans of the same persuasion.
I ask again – has it always been like this? Have we always been so demanding, so critical, so angry? Have we forgotten that it is meant to be fun, a release, a chance to watch something we enjoy with others who share that passion and to either celebrate or commiserate together?
But certainly not bicker, fall out and fight about it.
Or has it?
At first glance for example, you’d think no Norwich fan could ever have had cause to criticise Ron Saunders, the manager who led us to the Second Division Championship in 1972 and, with it, top flight football for the first time in the club’s history.
Survival would have been his and the teams brief. Which they achieved, throwing in a first ever appearance in a major cup final at Wembley. As seasons go, 1972/73 is perhaps one of the top half dozen or so the club has been through since it was founded.
Yet in November 1973, Saunders was gone. A 3-1 home defeat to Everton saw Norwich sink to 20th place in the First Division, then, for the first time, a relegation place. Their late third goal, courtesy of the unfortunate Duncan Forbes, was greeted with the spectacle of dozens of blue seat cushions finding their way onto the pitch in protest, thrown their by Canary fans who were expecting a little bit more of their team.
Blue seat cushions in 1973, yellow and green sponsored clappers in 2014, the end result was the same. And, whilst the ire of the crowd on that afternoon may have been directed more at the players than the manager (we had Colin Prophett, Les Wilson and Paul Cheesley, and Everton had £200,000 Mike Bernard and £180,000 Joe Harper), Saunders still took the fans anger as his cue to leave, supposedly provoking an post-match argument with Sir Arthur South that gave him the opportunity to do just that.
Did anyone on here go to that match? I’d be interested to know if the frustration was aimed at the manager and the players or was just a general act of collective anger at a poor result and bad start to that season?
There must be records and memories of Norwich fans acting in a similarly discontented and rebellious manner before then – but if there are, they seem very few and far between and I certainly am not aware of any.
Today, of course, they seem to crop up after just about every game we play and seem to have done so , pretty much regularly, since the beginning of last season.
So what has changed? Obviously the advent of the internet and freely available time and space for people to publicly voice their concerns and protests like never before has made an enormous difference. We’re all critics now after all.
But, even so, back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – even into the Canary 1980s – would we have been as vociferous and free with our views and discontent then had we the same means of expressing it as we do now?
On balance, I don’t think we would have. And we had some bad times back then, just as we have now and in recent years. So why do we expect more of our club and the game now? Why are we so demanding, so frustrated and so angry?
And has it taken much of the fun out of football?
Dani Smeal says
A certain Monty Python song beginning with “Always..” springs to mind!
If following the game has genuinely become less fun (and is not just an ageing-related effect), then it can only be due to the rampant TV-market/commercialism and endless ex-pro analysis which strangles the life out of any incident (+ the constant whining about referees and their decisions).
I still find a new cardboard box has many thrilling possibilities for fun and adventure.
If you are truly tired of the ‘once-beautiful’ game, can I recommend bog-snorkling as an alternative. Never fails to raise a smile with me.
Glen Smith says
Excellent piece. Was a 12 year old at that game. Remember the cushions from the main stand and thinking what’s all that about. I think as football prices have escalated people rightly or wrongly expect more from the team. Along with social media what would have been a grumble down the pub becomes campaign.
I agree with everything you have written. However, there is another point to add. Today’s players earn substantially more than their predecessors and I’m sure the same goes for football coaches, managers and board members/owners. The cost to watch a football match has increased so much that kids doubt you when you tell them how much you were paying when at their age. So, if the fans of 1977 had found themselves in exactly the same situation. Then yes, I think we would have been just as angry.
I was at that match and recall that we ended the match with Clive Payne playing at centre forward. It appeared to me that Saunders was making a point about playing resources. IMO the best manager we have had during my time with the best achievement; promotion to Division 1. He didn’t do too bad at his future clubs either.
4-Max. Indeed he didn’t, two League Cups and a League title with Villa, as well as crafting that team that won the European Cup under Tony Barton. Much like Paul Lambert four decades later, you wonder what might have been had he got the resources to build the sort of team he wanted.
But we could say that about more than one ex-City Manager. And at least we followed up Saunders with John Bond, which wasn’t a bad bit of work, all things told. Looks like Bournemouth might have another little gem in charge at the moment-Bond,Redknapp, Pulis, Howe-they can sure pick them down there!
Neil Pearce says
Excellent and well written piece! I agree with every word. I too feel much of the fun has been taken out of the game by over analysis from pundits, tv etc, but social media is the biggest culprit by a long shot. It just seems people are sometimes not happy and less they have something to gripe about. It’s not just at Norwich, it’s at most clubs, and it is disheartening to listen to some of the guff churned out. Every win is a false dawn, and every loss a crisis. Look at Man City lately…a slightly poor run and the manager who delivered two trophies last season is all of a sudden useless! People really need to take a reality check and once again start enjoying the simple game we all love.
Tom B says
Just ignore social media if it is sapping your enjoyment, I do and I still love going to football matches as much as I ever have done. The wider media and their well / ill informed opinions have always been there and almost certainly always will, part of life not just football. At least you have the option of ignoring people venting their anger/frustrations through these mediums. Much better than when many dealt with the same emotions through violence.
Roger S says
I think the use, and misuse, of message boards creates a lot of hysteria over every little event. Keyboard warriors are secure in their anonymity and are free to write facetious posts that they would not consider in face to face reality. A “little man” can be a “big man” in the safety of his loneliness.
Ralph Chipper says
What a load of ‘fings ain’t wot they used ta be’ grumps! Surely we are all generationally hardwired to bemoan the current state of play in most things.
You can’t blame football for inventing twitter?
At the risk of being labelled a blockhead, here are some ‘reasons to be cheerful’ about the modern game compared to the golden 70s;
1. No physical violence in the ground,
2. (Almost) no racism in the ground,
3. Nice comfy seats (don’t have to be squashed up against someone smoking 20 fags a match,
4. No mullets on show
5. Electronic scoreboards
..I’m sure a couple of wins in the next games, and we’ll all be feeling better.
Frank Watson says
Good piece, Ed, but as said above, money has changed everything.
In Ron Saunders’ day we weren’t paying large amounts (say, 5% of our annual salary for a season ticket) to watch players who earned as much in a week as we do in a year.
It’s no surprise that fans get dissatisfied with under-performance, even laziness, from such players.
The bottom line is if a player accepts his huge salary he simply must put in maximum effort and, perhaps more importantly, find a way to demonstrate that he is doing so.
Situations such as those of highly paid players sitting on the bench (or not even that!)week after week are insulting to fans and a well-run club ought not to allow such things to happen.
How much is our club throwing away on salaries for players who don’t play?
That’s where the anger comes from.
Oh for the days of Paddon, Bennett, Silvester and Foggo!
Some great points raised and feedback, thankyou all.
Have to say @9 (Ralph), if you’d have sat next to me right up to the mid-90’s, there would have been a fine (?) mullet on show!
Stewart Lewis says
Many good comments, in response to another fine piece.
For what it’s worth, I remember being a cushion-thrower way before 1973. Sadly I can’t remember why… Memory does play tricks on us, but I also seem to recall being content to watch us year after year in Division 2, not thinking of promotion until Ron Saunders persuaded us otherwise.
Frank (10): acknowledge your points. But would just say that today’s Championship football takes a heavier physical toll than it did back in the 70s. More games, for a start – and if you watch film of those days, the pace is startlingly slower than now. That’s why we need a bigger and deeper squad, I think.
Dave H says
I certainly don’t have the same enjoyment as I did in the past. For me it’s not so much about social media but how money has changed the game. There have always been dominant teams but previously it was still possible for a team to come out of nowhere and challenge for the title, much like we did in mid 90s. This will never happen again. The consolation was we qualified for the UEFA Cup which was an amazing experience. Even that’s not available anymore as it’s been replaced by a competition no-one really wants to compete in. Essentially it’s Champions League or nothing & most clubs have no chance of getting close as each year the same 5/6 get stronger. This means that the best clubs like us can aspire to is top 10 or more realistically, avoiding relegation. It was this ambition of simply avoiding relegation which led to the negative, attritional style of football under Hughton with the aim of accumulating points to survive. The need to do that is far greater now than it was in the past & this burden is a major factor in taking the enjoyment away for me.
Dave B says
I remember going to Oxford vs. Norwich in the cup in the early / mid 90’s. I stood in the Oxford end, crammed in next to a huge man holding a massive cigar in a hand missing at least one finger. He stank. Without a doubt he used language (luckily for us aimed at Oxford players unable to deal with our speedy wingers) that I’ve never seen on a message board or article comments related to Norwich. He certainly didn’t hide behind an internet name and in the old Manner ground you were right up against the pitch. He told the players what for to their faces.
You’ll always get a few in the crowd that ‘speak for everyone’. I don’t think it’s internet specific.
Stewart Lewis says
Dave B is right that the boors and morons have always been with us. But I can’t help feeling that social media have made it worse. This forum isn’t too bad (setting aside the sparring between Dave and myself) – but it’s depressing to read the Pink Un messageboards where almost every thread descends into aggression and abuse.
I always try to resist the temptations of nostalgia, and Ralph (9) makes some important points. But it does seem that, at least in some ways, our football experience was less stressful in the past. Maybe the cushion-throwing was therapeutic.
Peter C says
I too was at the game against Everton. At the time of course it was only supporters in the main stand who were seated and only a proportion of those had cushions. At a time when most supporters paid game by game a far easier remedy for frustration at poor performances was simply to stay away. The attendance that day was well below the numbers who had supported the team to promotion some 18 months earlier. And a more extreme example of supporters voting with their feet is demonstrated by the under 8000 who attended the home defeat against Middlesborough in April 1966, a season in which we ended just 3 places below where we currently sit in the league! With the opportunity to see, locally, in that decade the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and Cream, we were not going to accept poor standards from Carrow Road and our expectations were clearly somewhat higher even then! The solution then was quite simple, if the club wasted money on signings who were not good enough or who were not used properly (both of which have happened over the last 2 years) you stopped giving them more money to waste!
But what those supporters who threw those cushions or who stayed away did not get were lectures on ‘keeping the faith’ or on what their expectations should be. It is these, not social media itself, that create the bickering and arguments. Even though the cushion throwing incident got the club into trouble I did not dream of criticising those supporters for, in the heat of the moment and the frustration of that defeat, throwing those cushions. And equally season ticket holders who I knew at the time did not criticise others for staying away when enjoyment levels fell.
Similarly, none of us at that time worried about Geoffrey Watling or Arthur South in the way that people now feel the need to defend Delia and Michael. Watling and South too had helped to save the club from going under. But if their appointments resulted in poor signings, poor team selection, poor tactics, poor entertainment and poor results (all of which we have seen in 2013 and 2014), they knew, in no uncertain terms, they were judged on how how they responded.
Stewart Lewis says
Peter C (16): Interesting observations. The problem with your point about Delia & Michael is actually highlighted by your own words. People ‘defend’ Delia & Michael, in response to the attacks on them. I’m not aware of Geoffrey Watling or Arthur South being subjected to the torrent of abuse and ill-informed (to put it mildly) criticism that’s directed online at Delia & Michael. Perhaps you can tell me that their postbags were full of it; as I say, I’m not aware of it.
Peter C says
Stewart(17): I was not talking about abuse which in any form is inexcusable. Certainly Geoffrey Watling took a lot of criticism, ill-informed or not, during the 1960s. Lack of ambition to achieve promotion to the top division was a common complaint. But the point I was making is that, today, I only have to simply question the success or otherwise of the managerial appointments during Delia and Michaels reign to be lectured on ‘keeping the faith’ and having unrealistic expectations. That is certainly how it feels
Stewart Lewis says
Peter C (18): fair enough. Always legitimate to raise (and answer) questions, but we shouldn’t be lecturing each other. Sorry if I’ve been guilty.