I attended the evening of a family wedding last night.
It was in deep, darkest Suffolk (and I mean deep darkest – middle of nowhere, no phone signal, lost on the way etc) and offered that familiar chance to catch up with aunts, uncles and cousins, some of whom I only see at such events.
Lovely evening. Lovely people. Proud to be a part.
As ever, once the pleasantries had been exchanged and we were all content that everyone’s health, extended family and professional lives were in decent working order, the talk turned to football. It always does when the clan gathers.
And as you’ve probably guess by location of said celebration the loyalties are divided.
We’re polite about it though. There’s rarely, never in fact, any of the bravado that accompanies most Norwich/Ipswich conversations and out of respect, and because we’re [best EastEnders voice] ‘faaamily’, we keep it constructive, factual and civilised.
For good measure I also have a cousin who’s a regular at Lowestoft’s Crown Meadow – and we agreed that their recent downturn in fortunes has, for the time being at least, negated the ‘best side in Suffolk’ argument.
But it was when dissecting the fortunes of our friends the A140 that I was reminded of firstly, what a thin line we tread in the Championship and how to hang around there for too long simply drags you into a clutch of Premier League wannabees but are probably not-gonnabees and secondly, how easy it is to take for granted what we currently have.
In terms of playing style, it appears ol’ Mick and Terry Connor’s no-nonsense juxtaposition on the beautiful game has knocked the wind out of the faithful and even those who still attend Portman Road of a match-day do so in the knowledge that entertainment will only be derived from winning – and scoring.
All a far cry from the Bobby Robson years of Muhren and Thijssen which, in addition to being exceptionally painful for those of us of a yellow persuasion, were typified by open, attractive, passing football. Ball on the deck, into feet, progressive, with a gobby, frizzy haired, Scotsman up front (who’s now gobby for a living) scoring goals for fun.
The aforementioned pain is still tangible.
But now, for Muhren and Thijssen read Skuse and Douglas, with Teddy Bishop – one who is young and a ‘footballer’ – only on the fringes. Mick and Tel don’t want any of that fancy passing stuff through the midfield – they want it to go back to front as soon as, with a big ‘un (once Daryl Murphy, now Leon Best) up top putting himself about.
And that’s just about it.
When it works and they’re getting results and getting to the fringes of the play-offs they can just about get away with it – ‘it’s a results business’ blah de blah – but when results are poor and the goals dry up Team Mick have nowhere to go. Those discerning customers in blue are starting to smell a rat.
My cousin – his name’s Malcolm, really lovely chap – informs me that occasionally Muhren and Thijssen return to the scene of their triumphs to be introduced to the crowd etc before games. What must they think?
When the talk turned to City it was obvious that those on the outside – even those south of the border – see us as shoo-ins for the top two, with there even being a hint of recognition that we’re doing it the right way with, for the most part, an emphasis on passing the ball.
Perhaps we’re just too close too see it, but shoo-in is most definitely not my phraseology of choice given our ability to implode when the pressure really cranks up, and we often find ourselves bemoaning the fact that Ryan Bennett or Russell Martin or A N Other are quite capable of, on occasion, banging it long and aimless.
We too take for granted that we’re, at worst, a yo-yo, club. In the top, say, 26 clubs in the country. We expect it and woe betide the board if we offer even a hint of dropping out of the Championship’s top six.
Of course Bournemouth, Swansea (for the time being), Southampton and Stoke (for the time being) have shown us how it could and should be done but – as we’re often reminded – Leeds, Wolves, Forest and loads of others have equal right to have that exact same thought.
Obviously I’ll be accused of the ‘little Norwich’ mentality (I’m giving it 35 minutes from this piece being live) but it’s not that. It’s a realisation that in the greater scheme of things we’re doing okay – better than okay.
Naturally it’s right that we should aim for the stars – as football supporters it’s part of the job description – but perhaps we should just try and enjoy it a little bit more and appreciate what we have.
We spoke of how angry we all get while watching football and my Lowestoft supporting cousin – his name’s Paul by the way, another really lovely chap – told of a recent evening game at Crown Meadow that had the locals positively seething at the histrionics and gamesmanship of Town’s opposition.
“I thought what the hell am I doing – I’m in my 50s and I’m completely losing it at a bloke I’ve never seen before over a game of football, which is supposed to be fun”.
And we all do it in the name of passion for our team – but the balance between ecstasy and anger has shifted too far to the right.
Even when we win we find reason to moan – City have been booed off twice this season yet we’re averaging over two points a game. The fallout from St James’ Park was apocalyptic.
So, in addition to realising how lucky I am to be surrounded by such beautiful people, I was taught two salutary lessons last night:
Namely to not take for granted the fact that I support a good, decent, solid, well supported club with genuine Premier League ambitions, and to just try and enjoy football a little bit more.
And the buffet was sublime.
“On the Ball City…”