Unlike the vast majority of Canary fans, I thoroughly enjoyed my Norwich City away-day last weekend.
But that’s because I wasn’t one of the 2,886 who found themselves at Brighton.
Instead, on the Friday I took the day off work and went down to Essex to watch Norwich City’s under-10 development team play their Colchester United counterparts.
Not an obvious fixture for the diary but one of great personal significance in that it marked the day that I got to see my son, Callum play for the club that I’ve supported since I was even smaller than he is now.
But I’m acutely aware that very few budding football players go on to make a career in the game, let alone for the club they support. A burning desire to play and a nice set of boots is not, in itself, sufficient (as I can personally testify). As such, these experiences and opportunities have to be cherished for what they are.
The fact that Norwich won and Callum scored a goal simply made the day complete.
In case you’re interested, Norwich won 5-4 having taken and subsequently blown a 3-1 lead (who would have guessed?). Contrary to his own account, Callum’s goal was not a “worldy into the top corner”. It was more of a tap-in but it filled me with as much joy as any goal I’ve ever seen – think Redders at Wembley and then double the emotion.
Later that evening when I tucked him into bed, he wore his replica third-shirt that the team had worn earlier and a smile of utter contentment.
“That was the best thing I’ve ever done”, he said. “This is what I want to do forever.”
Less than 24 hours later, Russell Martin faced the media following the Brighton debarcle and suggested that some of our players had given up.
For me, the contrast couldn’t have been starker.
I was livid.
In fact I still am.
These are the lucky ones. The select few who are getting to live their childhood dreams.
Now I’ll accept that few if any of the present playing squad (bar the Murphy twins perhaps) grew up aspiring to play for Norwich. They didn’t fall asleep in bedrooms filled with more club merchandise than Tony Pulis on a match-day and dream about walking out onto the Carrow Road pitch.
I also understand that once football becomes a job, your perspective may change. It’s no longer a kick about with your mates but your livelihood; the thing you rely on to support yourself and your family and to pay the bills.
Whatever you do for a living, I’m sure we could all admit to having had ‘one of those days’; when things become a chore and your heart’s not in it.
It’s also true that (generally) the career of a footballer is relatively short and full of uncertainty.
But it’s not tough.
Working a night-shift on the minimum wage is tough.
Risking your life in public service is tough.
When you earn more in a week than most people make in a year and all for playing a game that many people love, I’d suggest that the very least you can do is to act like a professional.
To pretend to give a sh*t even if deep down you don’t.
Fail to do that and it shows a complete lack of respect and borderline contempt for your employers and to the fans, who quite frankly deserve a hell of a lot more.
In the inquests that have followed the Brighton defeat, much of the focus has centred on Alex Neil. People have understandably and rightfully questioned both his credentials and his capability to address the current issues.
Performances suggest that there are some fundamental flaws within the current set-up, flaws which were previously concealed by positive results but are now being horribly exposed.
An inability to defend as a collective unit; a lack of character or resolve when facing adversity; the incapacity to change the momentum or pattern of a game.
There is also some speculation that Neil has committed the cardinal managerial sin of ‘losing the dressing room’, which takes some doing – it’s not like it’s a set of car-keys.
If that is the case, then some may see it as a further failing on Neil’s part and of course it’s true that a manager’s role is to motivate and inspire his team.
However I would suggest that it represents a far more damning indictment on the current playing squad. It would mean that there are players who are prepared to coast along until either they can engineer a move away or until the manager is replaced.
If there is any truth to that, then I sincerely hope it’s the former because the club deserves better and would be well rid of them.
And Alex deserves better. He is the manager of the team and whilst players may not respect the individual, they need to respect the position.
The fans deserve better.
We deserve players who respect the sacrifices and efforts we make in order to give them our support.
We deserve players who might be flawed and who will make mistakes but who are prepared to give their all – players who remember what it was like to be 10 years old, when all you ever wanted from life was to be a footballer.
Steve posts on Twitter @stevocook