Achtung! Today’s column will touch on German language and culture.
No, come back! It’s a football column, of course – just with a few Teutonic references. And not a word about the EU, I promise.
Much has been written about last weekend; even more is being penned about next Saturday. We’ll hear plenty of ‘must-win’ and ‘six-pointer’. Rather than add to those clichés, let me try to comment with the help of Clive Dunn and Richard Wagner.
A frequent image of Dad’s Army was Clive Dunn as Corporal Jones, urging everyone round him “Don’t panic!” while in full panic mode himself. I was reminded of that image when hearing City fans’ reactions to the defeat at Crystal Palace.
In my naivety, I thought that seven points from three games might create sufficient composure that we wouldn’t panic at a setback. Apparently not. Saturday night saw gloom-and-doom set in with a vengeance; on social media fans queued up to express their despair and tell us they had a ‘really bad feeling’ about Sunderland’s game the next day with Leicester.
And not just fans. A leading local journalist who should remain nameless – but who should know better and usually does – gave his Saturday night summary:
“For Norwich, this was as bad as it could get today. Defeat, injury to Timm Klose and now Sunderland with a chance to play catch-up tomorrow”
In other words: no mention of Newcastle’s defeat, no recognition of how tough Sunderland’s game was (and proved to be), pure speculation about Klose’s injury. He made it even worse by agreeing with a comment that Klose could be out for the season.
Not the best example to set our fans.
Given that in truth Palace were never really likely to be part of the relegation mix, last weekend actually saw a slight improvement in our position. We maintained our points advantage over the North East clubs, improved our relative goal difference and chalked off another game.
No wonder Alex Neil sounded less downbeat than Benitez or Allardyce.
There’s a German word – leitmotif – for a recurring theme linked to a particular character, such as Corporal Jones’ “Don’t panic!” The idea was developed by Richard Wagner for his operas.
This isn’t a time or place to discuss the (many) strengths and weaknesses of Richard Wagner. However, I’m here to fill a glaring gap in recent writing about Norwich City. As far as I can tell, no-one has compared our players to characters in Wagner’s operas.
I’ll get in quick before someone beats me to it.
A brief word first about Wagner. For all his faults, he almost certainly wouldn’t have supported the Nazis. Most likely, he’d have despised them for the intellectual and moral pygmies that they were.
One of the inconvenient things in Wagner for the Nazis is that his heroes are far from pure, faultless Aryans. They’re complex characters, with enough nobility to deserve our admiration but also with all-too-human frailties; above all, they’re prone to making terrible mistakes.
You may see where I’m going here.
Take Siegfried, epic hero of The Ring who allows himself to be tricked into betraying his nearest and dearest – think Gary O’Neil’s tackle at Stoke. Or the Flying Dutchman who misreads the situation at a critical moment with tragic consequences – just like John Ruddy at Man City. Or the knight Tannhäuser who is tempted down a foolish and costly path – think Russ Martin’s backpass against Liverpool.
I could go on, if I didn’t hear your cries in my head (“Enough!”, “Get off the stage!”).
The point is that O’Neil, Ruddy and Russ fully deserve the hero status we’re now giving them – but not because they’re faultless. It’s because they’re committed and they’re straining every sinew for the City cause. Rather like us, in fact.
Before the Newcastle game I set a mini-quiz about a previous encounter between the two clubs. In the hope that it might be lucky omen (every little helps) let me repeat the dose for Sunderland. A more recent memory this time, our 2-0 Premier League win over the Black Cats on March 22, 2014. Three questions:
1] Everyone remembers Alex Tettey’s thunderbolt volley (and why not?). But who scored our other goal that day?
2] Who was Sunderland’s manager?
3] Which two attacking players started for City that day?
Have fun, and don’t Google it.