Much as I value my readers and want to please them, today a warning is in order. You won’t like this.
As the broadcasters would say, the following article contains ideas some viewers may find disturbing.
One of the main things that distinguishes humans from other animals is self-awareness. We have a unique degree of consciousness about what we do and think, and a unique ability to reflect on it.
In fact, it’s not an optional extra; it’s part of our make-up. We shouldn’t wallow in introspection – but we shouldn’t resist it either. The unexamined life isn’t worth living, as Socrates (the Greek one rather than the Brazilian) said.
Yet when we become football fans, we enter a tacit agreement that we will resist it. Passion and partisanship become everything, reason and reflection are set aside.
I don’t set out to offend (except occasionally Chelsea and Watford fans). But let me make myself unpopular by bringing a dispassionate and non-partisan eye to some of the issues around our game and questioning some the things we frequently hear from City fans. In my view:
1. There is no prejudice against us on Match of the Day. When Norwich have brought a fresh and positive presence to the Premier League – as under Paul Lambert and in the early part of this season – MotD has given us prominence and credit. Praising us isn’t automatically patronising.
But we can’t have it both ways. In the last relegation season, our fans would lambast the team as negative and not worth watching, then complain bitterly when MotD put us on late and said (in a much milder form) something along the same lines.
2. Officials do not have it in for us. Yes, we’ve been on the rough end of some decisions, notably from Mr Hooper on opening day, but there is no systematic conspiracy against Norwich (or anyone else).
The fact is that fans of every club feel officials are against them, and they can cite a plethora of evidence for it. That’s because officials get things wrong – and will continue to get important things wrong as long as we withhold technological help from them – but we only remember the ones that went against us.
Believe it or not, officials try hard to be fair and consistent. We’re the ones who aren’t remotely fair or consistent. We’ll scream for a penalty to be given in our favour when, in exactly the same incident at the other end, we’d scream for it not to be given.
3. The England manager is not prejudiced against our players. Again, we’re betrayed by what we say to each other. It’s a common view among City fans that John Ruddy has now been short of his best form for 2-3 years. Yet we still rail when an England squad is announced without him. Quite simply – and I suspect John is honest enough to admit it – he’s not presently one of the three best English keepers.
Similarly, we know that Nathan Redmond is an unpolished diamond. Under Alex Neil he’s made exciting progress, but it should be understandable to us when a more experienced winger is picked for the main squad.
One rider on this point: I felt desperately sorry for John when he missed out on going to the last World Cup. A marginal decision that went cruelly against him, but I’m not convinced it was much to do with him playing at Norwich.
I could go on, and I’ll defend the points I’ve just made. But looking back to the beginning, I may have missed something important.
Do we feel less human when we’re involved in a football match? Of course not. Perhaps someone better versed in psychology can help us here, but it seems clear that we enjoy throwing off the shackles of rationality and the cool reflection encouraged by Socrates.
This ‘being human’ lark seems to be a bit complicated.
And another question. I like to think of myself as sensible and rational (except on the golf course), but do I practice what I preach? When we have a marginal penalty appeal, will I cast a calm and scornful glance over the agitation of my fellow fans and murmur ‘I don’t think so’?
Not a bit of it. I’ll be screaming with the best.
After all, I‘m only human.