Football has been a part of my life almost as long as I have been alive. I was taken to my first game at the ripe old age of 2 weeks old. From then on, I was a regular attendee wherever my dad was playing football – until he tore his ACL.
My grandad was, and my dad is a Norwich City supporter, and so it followed that I would be too. On 31st March 1975, Dad thought it time for me to attend my first ever professional game. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. There were so many emotions, the excitement of walking to the ground surrounded by fans wearing yellow and green scarves, the amazement of how noisy the crowd was – and of course the disappointment of losing!
It was the last time that my mum watched Norwich ‘in the flesh’. Her Saturday afternoons were filled with making the half time cuppa for our village football team – she even knitted club scarves and sold them for funds for the club. Dad and I, of course, carried on going to Carrow Road together. We even went to an away game on their wedding anniversary, which Mum still reminds Dad of today.
I really had no choice to be a football fan. It’s in my blood.
When I moved away from Norfolk, I lived on the outskirts of North London and was unable to get back to Norfolk at the weekends, but I was always able to find a match to watch – usually Chelsea even though I lived close to Watford. I lived really close to Wembley and it was in the days when you could just pay on the gate, and so managed to see a lot of international games. I was never devoid of a football match somewhere.
Since moving back to Norfolk, I have not only rekindled my love of Norwich City, I have also occasionally watched a non-league game at Wroxham or Dereham. I try to read much of the fantastic Norwich-related content that local journalists and fans provide – I just love football. Or I did.
After more than a half century of football being front and centre of my life, imagine my surprise to find that I am falling out of love with the beautiful game. Project Restart has left me cold. Watching my team on TV without the fans that make our club so special is soulless. Hearing the players’ voices echoing around empty stadia feels like I am watching an alien sport. The game that I fell in love with 45 years ago is becoming a distant memory.
The games are coming thick and fast at the moment, and added to that the change to five substitutes (six in the FA Cup) has only benefited the big clubs who have a large squad to call upon, and now I read this week that five substitutes may carry on into next season.
I have also read that the drinks break may be continued next season too. If I wanted a game of four quarters, I will watch American Football. It’ll be a way for Sky or BT Sport to squeeze an advert break in just like they do at the end of an over in televised cricket.
I am not one for change. I didn’t like the advent of the Premier League. I certainly didn’t like the sumo wrestling at half-time or the cheerleaders welcoming the players onto the pitch like some poor man’s Dallas Cowboys – and I certainly don’t like how money is King and how subscription TV channels tell us where and when we can watch our team.
Before COVID-19, this season had already been ruined by VAR. Fans who have bought their season tickets in grounds across the country have been left in the dark whilst some faceless official has deliberated over whether a player’s armpit is offside. VAR was supposed to make it fairer for all clubs but there’s no getting away from it, clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United have benefited, whilst clubs like ours have been screwed over.
With even average players commanding ridiculous transfer fees, together with new rules that favour big clubs, what hope is there for teams like Norwich?
It’s sad to say, but I am falling out of love with football. I fear it has been coming on gradually. However, Project Restart has got me teetering at the edge.
Those of us who remember football before the Premier League will not recognise the game we have today. Some will say that change is inevitable and that football is only keeping up with modern life but for me, the game was perfect as it was pre-1992.
Having said all of that, I am still not ready to give up on my team. Norwich City is a huge part of my life. I have met many of my closest friends at Carrow Road and going to a game is much more than turning up at the ground ready to cheer the team on. It’s the meeting up at the pub before the game to have a couple of beers and a laugh. It’s the commiserations or celebrations back at the pub after the game. It’s the away days. It’s the camaraderie.
As a club, we are close knit. We are lucky to have such great access to players and staff at the various NCFSC events. I know from experience how the club supports fans in their darkest hours – you just have to look at how players and staff contacted our elderly fans during lockdown to see that they are okay. We are a well-run club with owners that care about the fans.
Although I am falling out of love with football, the relationship is not quite dead in the water. I look at my club and I cannot imagine not being at Carrow Road when fans are allowed back in, so I don’t think I am quite ready to terminate the love affair just yet.
Who knows, being back in the Championship next year without VAR and more Saturday 3pm kick-offs might just rekindle that love.