Football is unquestionably the ‘King of Sports’ – not to be confused with (1) the short-lived multi-event TV spectacular of the same name, which included such ‘challenges’ as underwater shot put, human slalom and tennis whack, or (2) horse racing – the ‘Sport of Kings’.
No other pursuit binds a town or city to its community quite like the round ball game that’s embedded in our DNA.
Like most of a certain age, I was gripped by flickering images on a black and white TV of daring deeds performed by balding men who liked to have a beer or three and a fag or two after the match (sometimes before). I thoroughly recommend Frank Worthington’s biography “One Hump or Two” for the definitive guide to such halcyon days.
While recognising that the world moves on for good or bad, and that the ale and nicotine diet is, with some scientific justification, no longer considered one for optimum performance, one ‘development’ of the modern game that I find especially indigestible is the rebranding of football grounds, shirts, badges etc. All invariably done at the whim of an all-powerful, pound-wielding owner.
Hull FC’s fans are manfully (and womanfully) standing up to the bullying tactics of their owner who feels he is suddenly financially entitled to tread all over the tradition of the club.
Similarly at Cardiff where the inscrutable Mr Tan has been considerably more successful in converting ‘his’ club’s image into one which more closely reflects his business empire and/or homeland.
Similarly at Newcastle, where ground name changes and sponsorship deals with a company of questionable economic ethics have been run through with as much thought and consideration as an Alan Pardew head butt. One of the defining images of last season is the photo of Mr Pardew giving the ‘Glasgow kiss’ surrounded by Cash Converter and Wonga logos.
At Norwich, we should praise the Lord (or Delia) that our club has not and is in no imminent danger of suffering a similar sticky fate. We remain in yellow and green (except for that dubious plum away strip), we remain the Canaries and we remain at Carrow Road (as fondly reminisced by Gary Gowers back in October).
Although our ground (opened in 1935) is a mere pup compared to Bramall Lane (1855) the word ‘carrow’ originates from a nearby 12th century Benedictine priory of that name. Now that is tradition. It is also one of only around 50 per cent ‘originals’ among the current 92 Football League clubs.
In another 10 years, how many more will have disappeared or been renamed for commercial reasons?
How would you feel about turning up to the ‘The Mustard Pot’ or ‘The Aviva Arena’ or ‘The Bernard Matthews Memorial Stadium’?
Changes are likely in the non-league too. Take Lewes FC in Sussex who like us have a bird-related nickname, the Rooks. Their ground has since time immemorial been called The Dripping Pan (something to do with monks making salt) – possibly my favourite ground name of all.
Should, and the chances are admittedly thin, a Middle Eastern oil baron or Chinese rice magnet decide to make Lewes FC the next Manchester City, first no doubt on the scrap heap of tradition would be that glorious name which reflects the deep history of the location.
Badge redesign, nickname change would then follow and worse of all, the pitch-side executive beach huts available for hire (with minibar and Wi-Fi!) would be broken up in a heavy-handed redevelopment or ultimately relocation to a purpose-built, soul-less estate somewhere on the outskirts of town.
Again, thankfully no such plans are in place for Carrow Road; our traditional home (if you don’t count The Nest) at the heart of the city, and conveniently located for train travel. The old girl has seen many a structural and cosmetic change over the years and of course progress must take place, but how much and at what pace?
The beach huts idea I like and would urge the club to give serious consideration to as a future money-spinner. Our county has a rich coastal heritage after all.
On the continent such willful neglect of club traditions seems to be much less common or accepted – most probably due to less foreign ownership. There are the odd exceptions but wholesale changes to fundamental club identities seem to be largely taboo.
I’ve recently discovered there is a Dutch club called ‘Go Ahead Eagles’ – originally called ‘Go Ahead’, the ‘Eagles’ bit being added in 1971. A rebranding of sorts but not done by a super-rich owner, instead at the suggestion of their then Welsh coach.
This I approve of and will be following their fortunes from now on especially as they recently appointed a manager by the strangely alluring name of Foeke Booy!
I apologise if the word ‘tradition’ has been over-used here and I’m certainly not a stickler for its application but while the Premier League (warts and all) has to be the place for every club to aim to be, I hope that in future it won’t be done by blue and pink kitted ‘Norwich Canaries’ on an industrial estate miles from the city at ‘Alan Partridge Park’ or suchlike.
If in my lifetime it ever suffers that fate, then ‘The King of Sports’ truly will have lost its crown and I shall put my inflatable canary back in the loft and follow international underwater shot put instead.