Life as a Norwich fan is rarely dull.
It’s been quite a few seasons now since we were last a comfortable mid-table side and most of March and April now tends to be spent nervously calculating whether the final fixtures will carry us to promotion or relegation.
In that sense, togetherness as a group has rarely been an issue. Whether you love the manager or hate the manager, are pro-board or anti-board, it hasn’t mattered because at the end of the day we’ve always needed the points so badly that come 3pm on a Saturday we are all united in some fashion.
This season however is a conundrum. A watershed in the constant battle at either end of the table as City interchange two steps forward with an equivalent number in the opposite direction at every given opportunity. Not consistent enough to remain with the top teams yet not inept enough to spiral uncontrollably for too long. And the fans seem unsure, collectively, how to approach this state of unusual uncertainty.
The Wolves game had an other-worldly atmosphere. The build-up had seen a hyperbolic frothing in the local press and on social media over whether Paul Lambert would be cheered or not. “Will it be too much?”, “Will some people use it to attack Alex Neil?”, “Will it affect the players?”
As it played out it was less a storm in a teacup and more of a fart in a thimble. We had one early half-hearted chorus of “We want Moxey Out” (that would have been more successful if they’d eschewed singing in favour of a trail of sausage rolls leading away from Carrow Road), and a polite hand for Paul Lambert at the end of the game which he gratefully acknowledged.
But there was a tension in the ground throughout. Despite a really quite impressive show from the team, everyone off the pitch seemed to be waiting for something to happen. Poised for a calamity that never emerged. And until Ikeme’s dismissal and our subsequent successful penalty to take the lead against ten men, nobody could, or would, relax.
Tellingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Lambert was very aware of the mood of the crowd. His post-match comments repeatedly highlighted how conscious he was of the ability to turn Norwich’s own fans against them, and how close his team came to doing just that after their equaliser, and capitalising on the tinderbox housed within the Barclay, the Snake Pit et al.
That Wolves could have been anywhere near capable of that is astonishing, given the battering we had given them to that point. Fortunately the players were able to claw their way through regardless of the lukewarm enthusiasm on the terraces.
But travel back one week to Rotherham and it was a different story.
I made one of my rare excursions out of Nelson’s county to brace the journey north and watch another Nelson (the difference being that instead of losing his arm, heroically, this one lost his head, calamitously).
As sleepy and ham-fisted as City were for the first twenty minutes, following the goal, the sending-off and the post-Howson reshuffle, City battled admirably. Wes and Naismith in particular ran themselves into the ground and made a decent fist of dragging those around them along in mounting a valiant, if ultimately unrewarded, fight back.
Yet again the fans remained impassive despite the efforts obviously being made. A pocket even remained by the bar under the stand after half-time, not wanting to see any more and missed Jerome’s goal and City’s spirited exertions only to start singing “We want Neil Out” following Rotherham’s second.
That it didn’t catch on at the time was testament to the fact that those who were actually watching were too caught up in the match and willing the players on, albeit rather quietly. With five minutes to go, the disaffected gave it another crack and this time it caught on.
I don’t usually get too fussed with other people’s reactions. If you’ve paid your money, you have a right to your opinion etc but for me this was so hugely counter-productive as to be obtuse. The players were desperately trying to nick an equaliser. Alex Neil had thrown Klose up with Jerome and Lafferty and withdrawn the midfield. It was all hands to the pump.
Yet instead of being roared on by the fans behind the goal they were attacking, the fans were singing for the manager to go.
I’m not an Alex Neil true believer. Far from it. I think the likelihood is a continued AN tenure will probably yield a continuation of the snakes and ladders path that this season has already followed but if we as fans aren’t going to cheer the players when they need us and they’re really giving it their all, what’s the point?
If we can’t enjoy beating bloody Wolves why even go?
I made the point on Twitter that I was disappointed by the lack of support at the end of the Rotherham game, and was accused (by someone who hadn’t been there), of having my head in the sand because the equaliser would have only brought us a point and getting rid of Neil was worth more long term.
I understand the logic. I just can’t bring myself to join in. If it was 3-1 and we were stumbling around unconvincingly then it would have been different. But this is a team that despite its poor run of form still has some fight in it. And whilst they fight I will cheer.
Equally, I can’t say that I’m right to do so. And I think maybe a few people feel like this. We’re watching to see what happens rather than knowing for sure what we want to happen. And so whether the stands are full of cheering will rest with the players.
If their efforts are sufficient to get us off our seats, I think the vast majority will go with them, whether they believe in Alex Neil long-term or not. If they’re below-par they know what they’ll get.
And maybe that’s justice. The players have got us into this. It’s up to them to get us out.