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?