For years now – and on an alarmingly regular basis – I have uttered the following to describe my feelings toward my beloved Norwich City:
‘Pushovers’; ‘Lack of character’; ‘Rabbit in headlights’; ‘Bottle jobs’; ‘Soft underbelly’; ‘No backbone’; ‘Along come Norwich’.
In nigh-on 30 seasons visiting Carrow Road, rarely has a month – let alone a whole season – passed by without one-or-all of the above being churned out. Capitulating has become a habit of the football club. Every fan knows what is going to happen and I often worry if most of the players do too.
Of course, many, perhaps most football fans, if asked, will say they fear the worst – even in the most positive of situations – because we have recurring nightmares about scenarios that went against us in the past and we think everything will go wrong again.
City collapsing is not a new phenomenon. They’ve continually found exciting and inventive ways of screwing things up when in commanding positions, or missing golden opportunities to treat supporters to a modicum of success.
Here’s three hateful days that immediately spring to my mind during my time as a supporter…
1992: FA Cup semi-final against lower-league Sunderland. Lost, with barely a whimper.
2005: Fulham away, survival in the Premier League is in our own hands. Get walloped 0-6.
2009: Charlton away, survival in the Championship up for grabs. Find ourselves 0-3 after half an hour.
There are countless other examples – the list would be mammoth – you’d need a whole week to read it!
If we isolate 2016, we’re able to produce ‘flakiness’ on a truly stellar level. We’ve already witnessed the infamous Liverpool epic. 3-1 up before slipping to 3-4 down, only to heroically equalise in stoppage time. And yet we still we managed to conjure up a defeat.
West Ham home: 2-0 up and dominating with 15 minutes left. Concede twice from nowhere and lose two precious points.
Sunderland home: a must-not-lose-under-any-circumstances game. Completely dismantled and humiliated 0-3.
Newcastle away: 3-2 up in stoppage time. Hoist the white flag and surrender 3-4.
Fulham away: 2-0 up and cruising. End up hanging on for a point.
And our latest crushing moment came at Elland Road against a Leeds side down to ten men (albeit in unfortunate circumstances). Could we finish them off, or if not, simply hang on to our lead? Could we heck.
Even when we had some fantastic players back in the late 80s and early 90s, I can still recall that on a regular basis we’d either get walloped when least expected, or implode when seemingly in a great position to win.
Of course there’s been exceptions – but not many. Our initial run to play-off glory under Alex Neil was a time when it felt like the stars aligned just for us and anything was possible.
The only other time I can remember City having similar strength of character was under Paul Lambert during his Championship season. We were the ones hauling ourselves out of trouble rather than finding a new and spectacular way of getting into it.
We’ve missed chances off the field too. In the early 90s we had a chance to really capitalise on a great group of players and our European adventure. Could we carry that momentum on to bigger and better things?
Instead, we sold all our best players and got relegated! And that was done in the most ‘Norwich’ way imaginable.
Sitting 7th at Christmas and challenging for a top 3 finish, we dropped like a stone, winning just once in our final 20 games (albeit, the win was a thrashing of ‘them down the road’).
Back to this season and the same remarks get thrown at the existing squad – “there aren’t enough leaders”. An accusation, that has more than a ring of truth to it.
There is however, a ton of experience in there and despite leadership and character seemingly in short supply, many of the mistakes being made by individuals are down to a lack of concentration.
Perhaps we have too many players who have tasted failure once too often.
Perhaps Alex Neil has ‘lost his mojo’. It is beginning to grate a little to hear the same comments, week after week – but he must be as peeved as we are with his players’ incapability to stay ‘switched on’. But fans can’t change their mentality – he can.
Obviously this week has been disappointing. The Preston game could go down as ‘one of those days’ – and we won’t win every week – but I’m concerned that the atmosphere around the club at the moment appears one of despondency.
Let’s not get too down. Despite inevitable frustrations with the way we’ve ‘defended’ (I use the word loosely) and allowed teams back into games that should have been put out of sight, we are still in a good position in the league and, in my opinion, one of the two strongest squads in the league.
Ultimately our only goal this season should be promotion, by whatever means necessary. Cup runs won’t help us achieve that.
One thing is for sure – we’re not boring! Up, down, up, down – goals flying in all around. It is an entertainment industry after all. Would you swap places with Ipzilch Town? Me neither. You definitely get a bit of everything when City are in town – even if it does come with a ‘x-rated’ certificate.
So let’s all grow some cojones – the fans, the players and the management – and stop ‘doing a Norwich’.
In fact, no. Let’s start ‘doing a Norwich’.
But this time, ‘doing a Norwich’ means concentrating for the full 90 minutes plus, having the stomach for a fight, never knowing when we’re beaten, smelling blood and going for the jugular when leading instead of ‘doing a Devon Loch’.
Nice dream eh? Well, we’ve had enough nightmares. Now bring on the Seagulls.
It would be great wouldn’t it? However, as much as the horror of defensive capitulations (the Ginger Cafu and Otsemobor seem to feature in a lot of my memories) there have been better days – hav you forgotten Wembley already?
I do think the crowd has a part to play in this. Apart from the Barclay we have three-quarters of the ground biting finger nails from the moment we come out at the beginning of the second half, a goal to the good. Understandable but it can’t help to project all this nervousness on to the team.
Let’s try a second half shout for 45 minutes, irrespective of the score?
Gary Field says
Let’s hope the Seagulls don’t do “the business” on us today – it could be very messy.
martin penney says
A very good article I thoroughly agree with.
Just two points: re the first Fulham debacle, it all went wrong before we’d kicked a ball. No precise details from me but it’s perceived common knowledge that two prominent players had a serious bust-up on the coach and that several had been told that whatever happened that day their contracts were unlikely to be renewed for the following season. Not ideal preparation.
Re the Sunderland semi-final. I was there and can vouch for the without a whimper aspect. Flecky had done his oxygen tent thing on his ribs and, frankly, might as well not have been on the pitch.
Coming out of Hillsborough, my mate Vince went up to a little Sunderland lad and gave him his scarf and flag. His dad said “thanks, that means a lot”. Vince said: “I won’t be needing them any more”. 25 years later, he has stayed true to his word.
Finally we stopped at the KFC in Newark on the way back. This old boy came up to us and said “well, what did you think of that?” One of us said: “We were cr@p”. The old fella replied: “No, we weren’t that good”.
Tiny things, but the memories remain.
Dave H says
Wow Martin, with Vince giving up after a semi final defeat and you not going to AGM’s anymore after a ill advised comment from Roeder you guys really don’t believe in second chances!?!
Lambert was – and I believe still is – a class act that may never be bettered. The board insulted him with a derisory budget for all his hard work and was a case for constructive dismissal if ever there was. Why does Robert Chase always get criticised for not supporting mangers, when this board are no better?
The next few games will show whether Neill has ‘lost it’ or not.
martin penney says
#4 Dave H: I do, Vince doesn’t! I will go to the next agm. You are quite right, it would be petulant not to. Took some comments on this site for me to realise that!
Let’s hope not Gary. I’ve got the butterflies in the stomach anticipating the team selection today already. Point please to arrest the rot.
Stewart Lewis says
We’ve certainly bottled it on occasion.
The thing is, fans of almost every club think the same about their team. “Along came [our club]” is a refrain heard around the land.
A couple of examples? Middlesbrough fans about a game when they were 4-1 up and drew 4-4, and about a play-off final. Or Forest about a home game they were winning 1-0 earlier this season, and lost 2-1. Or West Brom last year, losing a key home game 1-0 against opponents who’d been on a bad run.
The common denominator of those examples? Their opponents were Norwich City.
Dave H says
Martin (6) – I doubt anyone will criticise Vince’s stance tonight!! I hope the next AGM is more worthwhile for you.
Well! Maybe my dream of not capitulating will come true next week?
Nothing really to add to what was said during the week. Surely nobody is surprised at the latest cowardly no show.
Best not to say too mush in case any of the players are reading this and suffer bruised feelings and decide not to try next week.
The headline asks what Alex Neil can do to arrest the decline. Resign, mr Neil.
Dave B says
I used to point out that Lambert was doing a good job at Villa and a lot of people here laughed at that. We now see what he had to work with and what he achieved was quite remarkable. Same with Norwich.
I think McNally was either very skillful or very lucky with Lambert, but since his appointment and departure it’s all been a farce at the club. The Wembley final just glossed over the ever growing cracks.