It’s been a while since we’ve heard from ex-City season-ticket holder, and now Dulwich Hamlet devotee, Andy Pearmain – but he’s back and armed with some radical suggestions as to how City’s support can be reinvented.
Also, he (brutally) reaffirms his view on the pro game in England.
In 1953, Bertolt Brecht suggested, in sarcastic response to the East German ‘workers’ state’s repression of that year’s workers’ uprising, that ‘the government should dissolve the people and elect another’.
Now, I’m no Stalinist, but maybe he was onto something. As a thoroughly disillusioned ex-fan of ‘big football’, and an ex-NCFC season ticket holder, I’ve watched Norwich City’s season unravel from a distance (not too far – I only live five minutes from Carrow Road), and the mood amongst the fans grows uglier.
Believe me, I can hear it from our back garden as the match day atmosphere turns from sullen resignation to dull moaning and snarling anger, and finally back to the default mode of sullen resignation.
And I ask the question I found myself first asking several seasons ago: why do 25,000 people continue to attend an event, shelling out a lot of money in the process, they are plainly not enjoying?
They can’t all be idiots, though a fair few are (especially the bunch I sat amongst in the Jarrold Stand). I’ve come to the conclusion that there is something really rather odd about Norwich City’s fan base, and the peculiar emotional mix they bring to the business of ‘supporting’ what they continue to consider ‘their’ football club (it’s not, it’s Delia’s).
The average age of a Premier League football fan is now the wrong side of 50; you can see it in the crowd-shots at Anfield, Stamford Bridge etc. I don’t know for sure the age-profile of Norwich City fans, but watching them trundle up and down King Street every fortnight I would wager that it’s even higher.
The general population is certainly older round here than anywhere else in the UK. With age comes not just wisdom, for some people at any rate, but also mounting anxiety, as you realise your declining abilities and your increasing vulnerability.
That explains the prevailing feeling at Carrow Road these past few seasons, even when the club has been doing reasonably well, of nervous, fist and teeth and buttock-clenched apprehension. Even if they’re two or three goals up, you never know (especially against Liverpool or Newcastle).
The other aspect is of course money – the driving force behind the development of football for much of the modern era, but now so far out of control that commerce completely outweighs the art of our once-beautiful game.
Old people have more of it, the only segment of the population to have enjoyed rising incomes since the 2008 crash, and just recently surpassing even the working population. We (I’m no spring chicken) have more to spend on non-essentials, like meals out, holidays and football season tickets.
But there is another aspect to old age, which no amount of index-linked pensions and Tory pampering can do away with. Sooner rather than later, old people die. Before they do, they suffer increasing years of declining health and mobility and social participation.
Most sensible businesses know this, and take steps to rejuvenate their customer base. Even if young people don’t have much money right now, they will eventually, and more than likely choose to continue spending it on habits and interests cultivated in their youth. But does ‘big football’ understand this?
I’m well aware that there are lots of young men who ‘support’ their clubs with a semi-religious fanaticism (my NCFC-supporting son included), but they’re mostly online rather than terrace warriors. And getting this lot to pay for anything is the biggest challenge of the information revolution.
Their technological savvy goes towards getting stuff for free, streaming football as much as music (and if you want to see how the internet kills things off, look no further than the music scene). The obvious point is that football clubs have to do more, far more, to attract children and young people to actual games, if their own ‘business’ is to prove sustainable.
I’ve written before on this website about my own recent shift of football allegiance/’consumer choice’ from Norwich City to Dulwich Hamlet, the ‘7th tier’ semi-professional South London club currently heading confidently towards their own play-offs and possible promotion to the National League South.
There are all sorts of genuinely enjoyable aspects to following Dulwich, not least of which is that it’s not the end of the world if they lose a game or two (which, barring Cup quarter and semi-finals, they’ve not done since early January). Plus, it costs me four quid to get in.
The most notable feature of the Dulwich crowd is its diversity, in age as much as anything else. Kids under-12 get in free, and the club gives out free family tickets through local schools so they can bring their parents too.
And that’s not counting the hipster contingent attracted by the craft beers, the organic burgers, the Guardian articles and the chance to network with other start-ups…
Unsurprisingly attendances have increased from a few hundred five years ago to an average of 1,500 (nearly 3,000 for the recent FA Trophy game against Macclesfield). If the latest ground development plans go through, the club will also soon be handed over to its growing band of fans, to join Portsmouth, AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester in the only long-term sustainable business model in football – even mooted recently on this website for NCFC.
It all just feels strangely sensible and grown-up, and free of all the hype and hysteria of ‘big football’, which I just can’t watch any more. It’s actually crap football played by robots at supersonic speeds, at least in this country. And that’s why they always fail in the Champions League and the international competitions against teams with the wit and the skill to improvise.
I can honestly say that I’ve actually started enjoying watching football again, played at a pace where I can see and understand what’s going on, by footballers who are motivated as much by pride and enjoyment as the reasonable monetary rewards (£400 to £500 a week at this level).
So there you go; don’t ‘sack the board’, or even the manager (Dulwich have had the same, the highly regarded Gavin Rose, in charge for eight or nine seasons). Sack the fans, or at least the most anxious, and get them to give their precious season tickets to their grandchildren.
After all, Delia seems to be planning something similar with young Tom…
Thanks, as ever, to Andy for his no-nonsense thoughts and for sparing us the sugar coating!