A brief trawl through my previous scribblings for MyFootballWriter would demonstrate that on occasions, I like to draw upon the lowlights from my chequered love life for tenuous footballing analogies.
It’s a habit that my wife would probably deem to be both inappropriate and insensitive but as she can’t be bothered to actually read my articles, it seems reasonable enough to crack on.
In my early-twenties, I had a girlfriend called Stacey.
It’s fair to say that I was fairly smitten and early on in our relationship I even began to wonder whether she could be ‘the one’.
As will become apparent, she most certainly was not – but she was the ‘plus one’ on the invite for the wedding of my boss’s daughter.
“Bring Stacey” he said “we’ve heard so much about her – it would be lovely to finally meet”.
Or so he thought.
Fuelled by a mixture of rum punch and the freely flowing wine, Stacey embarked upon a trail of destruction that culminated in her being violently sick over an ice statue before punching a bridesmaid in the face.
Not exactly how I’d envisaged it, but I’m a forgiving man by nature – especially when it comes to attractive women.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to prove an isolated incident. A fiery temperament and a love of Pinot Grigio created several more ‘memorable’ moments that will forever be filed away in the memory banks under ‘OMG’.
Despite her genuine remorse and the assurances that came with it, over time I came to realise that I simply couldn’t trust her when she said “next time, it will be different”.
And so it is with Norwich City.
As an avid reader of MyFootballWriter, I have taken great interest in the articles and comments relating to whether we can mount a serious push for the play-offs. I’ve seen a variety of statistics used to support the case both for and against, alongside the usual well-reasoned arguments.
I’ve read the press-conference quotes from Alex Neil and the players – full of good intent and apparent conviction and I desperately want to believe that performances and results will reflect that sense of purpose.
However deep down, I simply don’t trust the football club to deliver.
There have been far too many occasions where despite the sentiments and assurances, the club has managed to deliver nothing more than a proverbial punch in the face – every bit as painful as the one received by that unfortunate bridesmaid.
Perhaps I’m one of those natural pessimists that my colleague Stewart Lewis referred to in his recent article. Or maybe there’s a tendency to become scarred by disappointments to the extent that you overlook the positive achievements.
Either way, our history is littered with examples of what might have been.
Take the 1984/85 season for example, where a run of one point from the final eight fixtures saw us fall from 10th place to 20th and relegation on the final day of season.
Exactly ten years later, the same single point tally from the final eight fixtures resulted in John Deehan’s City side dropping out of the top flight.
Both of those relegations obviously came as a result of prolonged spells of underachievement, similar to the run of form we suffered earlier this season.
But we’ve also witnessed many instances where with the scene set, we’ve completely fluffed our lines and failed to seize the moment.
The first time I experienced that was in the final fixture of the 1980/81 season when City were beaten 2-3 at Carrow Road by (already relegated) Leicester to join them in the second tier, when a win would have seen us safe.
Craven Cottage witnessed one of the most spectacular collapses on the last day of the 2004/05 season. Having hauled ourselves out of the bottom three and with our destiny in our own hands we contrived to implode in front of the Sky cameras and lose 6-0.
Fulham was also the setting for Neil Adams’s first game in charge in 2013/14. The new dawn and renewed sense of optimism which marked the end of the ‘Hughton era’ was undone quicker than you could say “Ricky Van Wolfswinkel’s ghost pass” as we lost 1-0 with barely a whimper on our way to yet another relegation.
It’s probably unfair to cherry pick such moments of failure and highlight our top flight struggles stretching back over thirty years. Especially considering that our last two campaigns in the Championship have resulted in promotion on the back of huge performances such as those at Fratton Park and Wembley.
Besides, all of the examples above are just distant memories – different players, different teams, and different dynamics.
Losing to Leicester in 1981 (before any of them were even born) has absolutely no relevance as to whether Alex Neil and the current playing squad have the ability, character and mental strength to haul us into the top six starting with tomorrow’s game against ‘them down the road’.
No relevance, other than to fans like me who bear the mental scars from a lifetime of supporting the club.
However what is relevant is that these are largely the same players who went to Selhurst Park last year and lost 1-0 when the game was there for the taking.
The same players who stood like rabbits in the headlights when Sunderland came to visit in a the ultimate six-pointer.
The same players who get wheeled out at Colney and talk about their resolve and determination to make it right but who go AWOL at places like Birmingham, Barnsley, Rotherham and Burton.
Something in the Class of 2016/17 is missing – character, leadership, conviction.
And that is why my hopes of the play-offs disappeared a while ago.
Putting aside statistics, natural pessimism, distant memories and mental scars, all too often in recent times when opportunity has presented itself, the current crop of players have fallen flat on their faces.
Much like Stacey did on what proved to be our last ill-fated outing together at a friend’s garden party.
Stewart Lewis says
A wonderfully enjoyable article, though I thoroughly disagree with it! You really are a good writer, Steve.
It would be very bad for me to tempt fate by pointing out that we haven’t fluffed our lines against Ipswich for quite a while….
martin penney says
A good read, Steve. My play-off hopes didn’t vanish until Burton and won’t be resurrected by what I dearly hope is a win at Sunday “breakfast time”.
PS: Have you still got Stacey’s phone number?
Steve, please realize nearly all fans can recall such events, it is not a trait common to NCFC. It is also true we forget the positive outcomes more quickly.It is easier to lose than to win, simple as that.
I feel proud of our club owners this morning in that we are in an elite group that don’t sack their manager when things go from feast to famine. We all want Leicester to join Palace now and get relegated just to restore some sense to the ‘beautiful’ game.
We’ll be fine Sunday 5-0!!
Gary Field says
Great piece Steve.
When was the last time someone in a yellow and green shirt “grabbed hold of a game” and won it for us, almost single handily?
There’s been numerous occasions when the collective have done the business; but the individual characters seem sadly lacking from the class of 2016-17.
A good read; thank you Steve.
I have to agree with #4 Gary – we just don’t have any one player who can take a game by the scruff of the neck any more. Since Holty and then Johnson departed we appear to lack any sort of leader and/or inspiration.
Sunday is therefore a great opportunity for the new one to stand up and be counted……if of course we have one!
O T B C
Stewart Lewis says
I’m (mostly) with ColinM #3.
Fans of any club can list a string of disappointments delivered by their club. The question is: were they punctuated with joys and successes?
Unless you think City have a divinely-assigned place in the top six of the Premier League, you have to say we’ve had a mix.
I’m probably unusual among City fans in that I don’t live in Norfolk & am surrounded by supporters of other teams. Their general reaction to me is envy – not only that we have owners who care about the club, but that we’ve punched above our weight so often.
PS Most of the episodes Steve refers to were indeed let-downs – but a bit harsh about the game with Sunderland last season. Rather than standing like rabbits in the highlights, we forced 14 corners (to their none), hit the woodwork & had a couple of good penalty shouts rejected. Arguably we only lost that game due a moment of madness from the sadly inappropriately named Andre Wisdom.
Stewart Lewis says
PS I may have seen Stacey in Watford town centre the other Friday night…
Stew – if it was her, I hope you came home in one piece?!
Colin – you’re absolutely right… Every club has it’s tales of woe. I think the defining memories of any season are probably determined by the overall outcome. For example, the defeats against Palace & Sunderland stick in the memory more than the 6-pointer against Newcastle because ultimately it counted for nothing.
Similarly our last promotion season will be defined by the manner in which we dispatched Boro at Wembley rather than that galling 1-0 defeat to the Teesiders a few weeks before hand.
If we manage to get into the play-offs this year, the no-shows throughout the regular season will quickly fade in the memory.
If not, they’ll represent missed opportunities.
Fingers crossed… Starting on Sunday!! OTBC
Dave H says
Colin, you are right that it’s easy to forget that fans of other clubs that lay claim to things that we often complain about; let downs, injuries etc. However, how many clubs have bounced as often as we have. Our last 3 relegations from the top division was entirely avoidable but each time we failed. I have no direct stats but Sunderland are a great example of a team facing consistently relegation but avoiding it. West Brom & Wigan (before finally falling) are other teams that did that more often than we could manage.
Stewart, I’ve not lived in Norwich for over 30 years & I can assure you very few have looked at me with envy.
Finally Colin, I’m not sure just because Leicester have made a decision which hurts most football fans to their very core it makes our owners look any better.
Stewart Lewis says
Dave H #9: Some fair points.
Just to say, though, that I’ve never seen a relegation for any club that its supporters didn’t regard as avoidable. A lot of Norwich fans say we had a squad last year which shouldn’t have gone down. Well, Newcastle had such a squad that they sold £85m of talent last summer – but that talent (plus the ones they kept, of course) didn’t prevent them getting relegated with us.
Dave H says
Stewart (10) – I’m pretty sure Rotherham & Coventry fans see relegation as inevitable, as did Villa last year and I doubt they would claim their squad was strong enough. However, you’re quite correct in that other fans would have the same opinion – indeed that follows on from what Colin says initially. The fact that Newcastle dropped last year made our failure all the harder to take as you wouldn’t have expected them to be there.
On reflection, I should consider the years Lambert & Hughton kept us up as years we did succeed so in recent times we’re looking at 2-3 record in terms of staying up. I still believe that should be better.
Stewart Lewis says
Dave H #11: Don’t know about Rotherham & Coventry, but many Villa fans think a couple of decent summer signings would have made all the difference to last season.
Oddly enough, that’s what I believe about Norwich….
Dave H says
The ones I spoke to had a similar viewpoint to what I had prior to our relegation to League 1; unless fundamental changes were made, relegation is inevitable. I would imagine a number of Sunderland fans think the same. You can’t keep hovering above the drop & expect to avoid it every time. Norwich last season was a different situation & like you, I think a couple of decent signings (or keeping Klose fit) would have made a difference.
Interestingly, there’s probably a very fine line between the two viewpoints of fundamental changes & a couple of signings. Grant Holt is a perfect example of one signing bringing a fundamental change.