A wag on Twitter posted about FIFA: “Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have been suspended from all football activity for 90 days – a punishment already being served by Sunderland and Newcastle.”
Most of us will have smiled, but I bet he got some angry retorts from the North-East. As we’ve witnessed on this forum, fans of every club will find reasons to be proud of their team and – at least when talking to other clubs’ supporters – will defend their club against criticism. That’s part of being a fan.
I confess I’ve probably defended Norwich when it was difficult – maybe even wrong – to do so. But part of the joy of being a City fan these days is that there’s no need to stretch the truth or defend the indefensible.
I’ve written before about our remarkable success since 2009, especially with our limited resources in relation to other members of the Premier League. Other clubs may be coming to try and poach Alex Neil before too long; right now, if I were the owner of a Sunderland or Newcastle I’d be trying to poach David McNally.
However, it’s far more than just success that we can be proud of.
A number of my friends are avid sports fans, but have turned away from top-level football. The shenanigans and histrionics, the mind games and sham, the obscene money and ever-poorer behaviour – those things are a genuine turn-off for people who love sport and what it should be about.
But I can say to them in all sincerity: take a look at Norwich. Watching the recent games at Liverpool and West Ham – even for the first 25 minutes against Leicester – we could look at each other and say: “This is a good, honest, quality game of football”. After the West Ham game, both managers praised the other team; no-one bitched about the officials or their opponents.
The Premier League as it should be?
What a contrast to the bombast of Jose Mourinho, flailing hysterically about the referee who failed to give Chelsea a penalty against Southampton. Jose’s behaviour would have been distasteful if he’d been right; given that he was also wrong, it’s something I dearly wish we could be rid of.
But let’s relish that we won’t see that from Alex Neil.
Another bit of good news: the Premier League will be getting a breath of fresh air with Liverpool’s appointment of Jurgen Klopp. Apart from bringing the best name to England since Ricky van Wolfswinkel (who he?), Klopp brings a high-energy style of football and a large and engaging personality. He has all the warmth, and a good dollop of the class, that Jose lacks.
Personally, I’ve never understood the bitterness of many fans towards Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers. Surely there are clubs, and managers, more worthy of our scorn? Anyway, academic now. Like Chris Hughton at Norwich, Rodgers’ parting comments show a grace and generosity that’s worth remembering.
Meanwhile, it’ll be fun to watch some City players performing in the European Championships next summer. It’s a shame Wales didn’t make it in the years when they had a strong Norwich contingent, but great to see Kyle Lafferty – and hopefully Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady – doing their stuff in France.
Lafferty’s role at Norwich, of course, is part of our daily speculation. If we don’t have a top-quality striker, at least we have the next-best thing: genuine competition for the striker’s spot. I remain an admirer of Jerome, but Mbokani, Lafferty and Grabban are real contenders.
Coming back to the theme of our success. If we survive this season – and I think we will – we’ll certainly be in the market for bigger names and higher quality players. The new TV deal will put Premier League clubs in a (ridiculously) strong position to attract talent.
It’s now the best part of a year since the appointment of Alex Neil. At the time, the messageboards and phone lines were ablaze with fans’ reaction – and none of it was good. David McNally was “a muppet with no ambition”, to quote one of the more polite submissions.
If I were McNally, I’d now be looking to lash out in return and demand apologies. Happily for us, he’s more mature and thick-skinned than I am and he just gets on with the job. We have much to be happy about.