As I write, we stand seven points off the play-off places. At the same stage two years ago, we were 10 points off second place (then occupied by a certain Ipswich Town) – a gap we closed completely, before slipping to finish third and of course winning promotion through the playoffs.
So it can be done. It’s well within our capability to reach the play-offs this season, where a team with momentum – as we would be – is likely to succeed.
Jez Moxey won’t have forgotten how his Wolves team of 2002 slipped out of top two at the very end of the season, to be promptly despatched in the playoff semi by a momentum-fuelled Norwich who’d come up on the rails.
We’re certainly not short of quality to do it. Yes, some tweaking of the squad is required in January to improve the balance, of both positions and personalities but we don’t need a big net spend, and should be able to achieve much of what’s needed.
So, why do I share the general sense of despair and anger among our fans? Because there’s a crisis at our club, and the Board’s response is not only inadequate, but just about as bad as it could be.
Leadership is about decision-making and communication. In terms of the Board’s most visible decision – i.e. about the manager – there’s little that hasn’t already been said.
As Mark Rivers and Rob Butler straightforwardly stated on Radio Norfolk, it’s now abundantly clear that Alex Neil can’t get this group of players to perform at anything like the level required for promotion, despite their abilities.
Alex’s post-match comments about goals changing games and individual errors letting us down are true in isolation – but their repetition week after week simply betrays a reluctance to face their underlying cause.
The players cannot or will not play at their potential for this manager.
It’s often said, but rarely true, that a football manager has survived results that would bring dismissal in other organisations. However, it probably does apply to the current situation with AN and Norwich City.
If the Board are set on keeping AN through January and perhaps beyond, it can only suggest one of two things. Either they’re driven by a warped idealism, determined to show they’re different from the capricious behaviour of brutish foreign owners (such as those who’ve just come into Birmingham and fired Gary Rowett), or they’re somehow afraid – perhaps financially – of the consequences of taking action.
That last paragraph is pure speculation, because we have nothing else to go on. Which takes us to communication.
I have a perspective on this. My old job involved advising companies on their communications, including crisis management. I wanted clients to like me, but it wasn’t the most important thing; what mattered was whether I could give them practical and sound advice.
I didn’t quote much Tolstoy or Kafka to them, but I did call on C Northcote Parkinson (he of “work expands to fill the time available”). In this context I was more likely to use another of his quotes:
“Failure to communicate creates a vacuum which is gradually filled with misrepresentation, drivel and poison”
Many of my clients were the subject of misrepresentation, drivel and poison – as is the current Norwich City board. They would often expect me to be sympathetic, but my job was to tell them – as gently as I could while making the point clear – to stop feeling sorry for themselves and do something about it.
Unless a board or government is truly acting in bad faith – which I don’t believe for a moment that our board is – communications can and do make a difference to the feelings of their ‘stakeholders’; above all in the case of football clubs, their supporters.
To be fair, getting communications right in a crisis is a tricky business. Organisations are sometimes over-keen to communicate, and end up with constant clarifications and corrections (remember the Malaysian authorities after the crash of Flight MH370 in 2014?). There’s a case to avoid “running commentary”.
Many, though, err on the other side. There’s always a reason, or excuse, not to communicate. With awareness of discontent – and believe me, our board is well aware of the fans’ unhappiness – a siege mentality can set in and the drawbridge gets pulled up.
That’s what seems to be happening at Carrow Road right now. In the five weeks since the AGM (a very long time in a crisis), we’ve heard nothing from the board. I can imagine and understand their unwillingness to get embroiled in unsatisfactory debate – but silence is even more unsatisfactory.
What can they tell us? If I can use Brexit as an analogy: there’s no need for constant commentary or the revelation of tactical detail. But if you’re to carry people with you, there is a need for outline: a sense of vision and approach, and some idea of how to address the big challenges which are obvious to anyone looking in.
What won’t do are platitudes. On their own, and without some credible back-up, phrases like “red, white & blue Brexit” or “promotion, promotion, promotion” are more irritating than helpful.
Regular readers will know it gives me pain to say this, but our board is failing us in both decision-making and communication. Unless they change tack quickly, they’ll get exactly the division and acrimony they don’t want in our club.
Not to mention misrepresentation, drivel and poison.