This Premier League lark isn’t much fun is it.
Not when you support Norwich City. Not at the moment.
In fact, it’s hard to recall a time when City have been in the top flight and things have felt quite so grim. The stats back it up.
Played 6. Lost 6. Goal difference -14.
Things have been worse of course. Those of a certain age talk of blankets being carried around the pitch in the late 1950s for supporters to throw in some loose change to help keep the club afloat, and the relegation of 2008-09 and all it entailed were particular lowlights.
But in terms of top-flight disasters, it feels like we’re living through one.
And just to compound it; just to remind us of what is possible, Brentford’s Premier League odyssey continues apace.
I was reminded of this inadvertently last night when, in attempting to flick over to catch the latest Ryder Cup disappointment, I accidentally stumbled upon the reaction to the final whistle at the Brentford Community Stadium.
The whole ground on its feet, Thomas Frank accepting the acclaim of the fervent, buoyant crowd, the Brentford players soaking in the noise, colour and adoration. All as one. In the words of Frank, the Bees had just gone “toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in Europe”.
Their 3-3 draw with Liverpool was in stark contrast to our own meek dual-surrender against the same opponents. Brentford didn’t write off a visit from Klopp’s men as a “free hit”, neither did they accept their fate on opening day against Arsenal before a ball had been kicked.
Instead, they took four points from those two games. They had a go. They believed they could get something from those games and their performance reflected that.
We braced ourselves for a Brentford love-in from the moment they were promoted; assuming that the London-based press would be seduced by the fairytale of west London. We weren’t disappointed.
But from the minute the season began, that acclaim has been earned. As much as it pains us to say it, they deserve all the plaudits currently heading their way. Watford too look Premier League competitive.
Yet while the national media were girding their loins ahead of the Bees love-in that has since unfolded, City fans were defending their club from whatever is the antonym of a love-in.
Swipes aplenty were taken by those who wrote us off before a ball had been kicked and we fought back hard, defending our club for doing things its own way while reminding ourselves of the need to ‘ignore the noise’.
But everything that has unfolded since has played perfectly into the narrative that ours is a club that doesn’t take the Premier League seriously; relying instead on receiving sizeable chunks of Premier League prize money and parachute payments to keep the self-funding model alive.
I don’t of course believe for one second that Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke began their second crack at the Premier League of the belief that it would, again, be a brief one-season stopover, but nothing has happened so far to suggest the brains trust of talkSPORT are wrong to deem us “woeful”.
Right now we’re writing their stories for them. And those who fought so passionately in defence of our club in the summer as the brickbats flew are being made to look fools.
Quite why it has unravelled so spectacularly and so quickly is not clear. I suspect Webber and Farke are equally mystified, but six games in and it’s hard to see where a point let alone a win is coming from.
While Liverpool and Man City were deemed high-level opponents against whom we shouldn’t expect too much (even if Brentford have since rendered that approach far too defeatist), the other four games, including Leicester and Arsenal, were eminently winnable, or at the very least draw-able.
But right now we’re miles off.
Everton’s attack was decimated yesterday through injury, they had a Goodison Park crowd ready to revolt, they were bereft of confidence but still managed to beat us at a canter. Only when Demarai Gray used the afterburners to set Doucouré up for the second goal did they need to get beyond second gear, such was the level of comfort.
We’re not competitive. We have moments, some good ones, but for a full 90 we’re not competitive.
We still give away soft goals. We still get outmuscled in the middle third. We still make elementary errors. We still look weak and impotent in the attacking third.
Farke’s three at the back had its merits yesterday but is crying out for a left-footed, left-wing back – like Giannoulis – to make it less staccato and more fluid. This system also enables Farke to get some support up alongside Teemu Pukki although, as it transpired, Josh Sargent had an afternoon to forget.
But what has happened, through all the tweaks and changes to formation and personnel, is that Farkeball as we know it no longer exists.
Since Webber’s arrival, the one thing upon which we could all agree was that, finally, we had an identity. After years of talking about the ‘Norwich way’ without actually knowing what it was, we finally had one. Everyone knew what it was, even people who hated it, like the “HOOF IT!” bloke in the River End.
We passed it. To death at times, but we passed it, starting from Tim Krul and the centre-backs through the thirds, using clever rotation and precision to work some space to ultimately spring Pukki into a channel. It was joyous.
At Championship level we’re masterful at it but even in the Premier League season of 2019-20, against better opponents and more effective presses, we still did it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but it was our way and we stuck at it.
I don’t see that anymore.
Through the changes in shape and the bringing in of new faces, that distinctive passing ethos that we named Farkeball is no more. At least not in a form I recognise. Hopefully, it hasn’t disappeared for good – there were moments yesterday that felt familiar – but right now, in terms of a playing style, there is nothing to differentiate us from the rest.
And that, to me, is equally as troubling as the 0-0-6.
Quite where we go from here I’m not sure, but feeling sorry for ourselves is not one of the options on the table. I expect the rallying cries to come thick and fast as we approach the end of the week and Burnley (a) gets closer, and I hope that one day soon those rallying calls will spark a response.
Right now, as fans, all we have is hope. The expectation has long since subsided.