The new year – a time of reflection and resolutions.
2016 was wretched on so many levels and Norwich City certainly played their part in that. But before drawing a line under our ‘annus horribilis’ (yes, I had to spell-check), it’s only right to offer a couple of retractions and apologies.
Last season, with City struggling in the top flight, I suggested that relegation might not be so bad; that a season in the Championship – with its plethora of winnable fixtures and less-pressured environment – might just help to make football become fun again.
I was wrong.
Days like Monday’s ‘demolition Derby’ have been regrettably few and far between.
It also seems appropriate to offer an apology to long-standing MFW contributor ‘Jeff’. Long before the current groundswell of general dissatisfaction, he was often a lone voice in suggesting that something was fundamentally rotten within the club and I for one dismissed that view.
It turns out he was less of a doom-monger and more of a prophet.
So what of 2017?
Its sadly not as simple as wiping the slate clean and starting afresh – not unless fundamental changes are made – which let’s face it, is highly unlikely.
Russell Martin’s post-Brentford assessment referenced the fact that the club and its fans have drifted apart and acknowledged the need to rebuild a sense of togetherness through small steps. In real terms, that requires the team to deliver a series of performances and results that restore some pride and faith.
Two clean sheets, a firing ‘Portu-geezer’ and the return of the Irish magician is a start. But it will only serve to paper over some significant cracks unless the form is sustained.
In my last column, I wrote of the indifference I currently feel towards the club, which is symptomatic of the drift that the club captain referred to.
Amongst the responses to that column was the following observation on Twitter;
“It’s easy to be a fan when things are going well. When times are harder we must be ‘supporters’ too, no?”
Without committing the cardinal sin of reaching for dictionary definitions, what exactly does being a ‘supporter’ mean? More importantly, how should that support manifest itself – particularly when ‘times are harder’ as they certainly are now?
Of course the most tangible form of support we all provide the club is financial; with the money we spend on tickets and merchandise all adding to the bottom line on the Club’s accounts.
However, alongside December’s direct debit that went to the club, I also spent a small fortune taking my family to watch Star Wars before Christmas and I wouldn’t class myself as a supporter of the cinema.
So what is it that transforms us from being customers to supporters?
The level of commitment perhaps?
But does it make me a better supporter because I renew my family’s season tickets without question and buy each and every replica shirt; therefore guaranteeing the club a level of income?
No – it simply makes me a more reliable customer.
Does it make me a better supporter because despite my current indifference, I still plonk my backside on the same yellow plastic seat match after match?
No – that just makes me a spectator (and some would say a glutton for punishment).
So I guess being a supporter is about demonstrating a genuine ‘commitment to the cause’; it’s about the non-financial contributions we make to the match-day experience and our ability to become the classically clichéd twelfth man.
Assuming that our collective cause is to have a successful football club then I’m sure we’re all committed to that.
And as pointed out on Twitter, “it’s easy to be a fan when things are going well”. We sing, we chant, we cheer, we smile, we applaud the payers off the pitch and they respond in kind. We pat each other on the backs for being (in Delia’s words) “the best fans in the world”.
Just as we did against Derby.
Not so easy when results don’t go your way and harder still when you begin to question the commitment to the cause from those within the club – or worse, start to doubt the underlying cause itself.
If that happens, are the supporters expected to sing their hearts out regardless of events both on and off the pitch? That would surely only serve as an endorsement or compliant acceptance of whatever is conjured up at Board level and from the dressing room.
Better then to voice our frustration? To demonstrate our support and commitment by registering our concerns and discontent in the hope that it brings about what we perceive to be necessary changes?
The problem with that is, under the current regime, that’s about as likely as a Cameron Jerome hat-trick or an appearance from the lesser-spotted Canos.
In their now infamous interview with the Times, and despite serving up platitudes such as “the club belongs to the supporters”, the actual owners made their intentions expressly clear; both in terms of the final destination of their share-holding and the immediate future of the first-team manager.
So we can boo, or jeer, or protest, or write countless articles for MyFootballWriter, highlighting everything that we think is going wrong – but in real terms it achieves nothing. The owners have bought the right to do as they please and make the decisions that even they acknowledge, we “will be very disappointed to hear”.
Despite my doubts and concerns, they may have called it right and we might find ourselves once more gracing the ‘Premier Promised Land’. If that happens, I’ll happily extend a similar apology to the one served up at the start of this piece.
But whilst dissenting voices and opinions are effectively dismissed or discounted – whilst the club refuses to genuinely engage with its fans but instead offers up hollow soundbites – then our role as ‘supporters’ is limited to little more than that of customers and spectators.
Happy New Year!
Steve can be equally depressing on Twitter @stevocook
martin penney says
I often comment that I enjoy articles but rarely have I empathised with one as much as this.
I believe I made a similar remark about “Jeff” in a piece of my own a little while ago. Prophet indeed.
Steve’s Star Wars was my “Lord of the Rings”, eventually followed by “The Hobbit”. It depends how old your kids are:-)
A lovely balance of hope and despair and not depressing in the slightest.
Stewart Lewis says
Well written, Steve – and well said, Martin.
I’m still not quite persuaded to Jeff’s view of things, but the point is fair. Perhaps we should all try to start 2017 with a slightly cleaned slate and opened mind?
Meanwhile, is there a difference between a supporter and a fan? Discuss….
Dave B says
While I don’t have a season ticket I do by the kits (when they’re decent), pay for the Canaries Player, and purchase the odd bit of merchandise (I fly a Norwich flag outside my house in the US, two doors down from a Brentford supporter I might add). Not any more. If we’re being treated like customers and not supporters, then I refuse to fund them.
I don’t think it behoves any company to ignore or talk down to their customers. The current behavior of NCFC by Moxey and other board members, to me, is not acceptable.
“If that happens, are the supporters expected to sing their hearts out regardless of events both on and off the pitch?”
Yes. When times are tough the players need the support all the more. City til I die? How about bravo, win or die? Those words have been there for more than 100 years but your self confessed apathy casts them aside. Voice frustration and register concerns by all means, away from the game, but at Carrow Road keep the passion and roar on the boys.
That’s what being a supporter should be.
Prophetic or pathetic? Anyway, I could get use to this.
I owe an apology now though. I now believe the club is in the finest health it’s ever been in and look forward to an extremely successful season under a truly splendid set of owners…
Essentially, our emotional input represents financial input in modern football.
We are ‘highly likely to repeatedly transact’ whilst our emotional input is good to fair. In order to keep the emotional, and subsequent financial, input high, you must listen to your customers/supporters or the situation will only head one way when dark clouds roll over.
When you don’t listen, to even the most ludicrous opinion, you soon make the excuse to shut yourself off from every opinion you don’t want to hear. We all must listen to opinions more in order to progress, regardless of how offensive or insignificant they may seem.
Murmurs echo loudest when no one listens.
PS. Phil – That’s a ludicrous statement that I would expect to hear from someone under the regime of the Nazi party.
You can voice your discontent where you like and you have no right to tell anyone where or when they can do it. If you want, go do it away from Carrow Road and under the banner of free speech, I will do it inside thank you kindly.
If you can’t voice discontent where and when it matters, things never change. Your stance is much more problematic to long term progression than those who grumble.
PPS. I love the way you also deem yourself a dictionary and can define a supporter. Are you Phil Collins? Get it? Genius.
I have wondered for a few months now why I, and my fellow group of supporting friends are finding this downturn so frustrating. After all historically we have always had our ups and downs ( I’ve been a regular since ’71).
This time it feels different.
The customer/supporter distinction is interesting and key I think. Back in the day when football was affordable to all, and attendance the key revenue stream for clubs, us supporters felt valued. Not any more. Also rightly or wrongly, if a player is paid more each month than most of our houses are worth, we get a bit frustrated if he shanks it out for a throw. Crazy wages doesn’t make them all better players, but it certainly annoys the rest of us when they get it wrong.
For a number of years my season ticket has no longer had a member number, it has a customer number, because that is how we are viewed. The now infamous Times interview merely underlined that. The owners despise the greed in the game apparently yet agree to a ticket price of £25 for the Cup(reserve) game, and continue to charge the casual fan through the nose for regular games.
Not an earth shattering opinion, but maybe the money sloshing around the game has spoilt it for all of us?