Going over the Haven Bridge in Great Yarmouth one sunny lunchtime in the 1996/97 season, on the way to Carrow Road for the first time, I asked my grandad who Norwich were playing that day.
He said, “Bolton Wanderers.”
I replied, “Belton!?”, pretty surprised that the Wild Duck Holiday Park had a professional football team as well as an awesome swimming pool.
I don’t remember too much about the game, but the record books show we lost 1-0. I was more preoccupied with the sheer thrill of the adventure – going out for the day to the big city, armed with Sunny Delight and snacks, watching a football match in real life instead of it being Man United on TV, discovering there was a place “up North” called Bolton and meeting new people.
I was hooked, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Fast forward to the modern-day, where I have to pay upwards of £40 on a ticket which quickly becomes a £100+ day out whenever I want to attend, and my thought process has changed somewhat since being a five-year-old boy.
My last memorable game in the flesh was Arsenal away at the Emirates earlier in the season in September. It was another beautiful sunny day, we found possibly the best place in London for burgers, loaded up on the beers, went to the game and felt… just blah.
Another 1-0 defeat but we could, and probably should, have got something from that game. A familiar story, another woeful defensive error let the Gunners slot in a sloppy goal.
I then went to Leeds at home, where the away coaching staff had stolen my purchased seat behind the dugout, so I had to sit on one of those stewards’ seats at the top of the section as if I was on the naughty step. It was so small and uncomfortable, and it looked like I was getting ready to get folded into a wheelie bin.
Leeds beat us 2-1, another frustrating day out. But I go to the snooker club with my mate for some games then watch West Ham on the telly, so the Sunday is salvaged.
Yes, I’d had a nice day out, but the football ruined it as usual.
When I was five, I barely understood the concept of promotion and relegation, let alone what GF, GA and GD meant on the Nationwide League Division One table on Teletext. They say ignorance is bliss. But there’s no escaping the reality of things when you’re a grown-up.
We have been trying the same thing at Norwich for five years now – half a decade. People like to focus on the positives naturally and, yes, we have won the Championship twice in the Webber era but let’s go back 10 years since Paul Lambert left.
We have made progress everywhere off the pitch, churning out more youth products and rough diamonds for dazzling profit. This has kept us away from the threat of administration at times, I think all fans know that the sales of the Murphys and James Maddison quite literally kept us in business.
But we have also blown so many golden opportunities to establish ourselves in the Premier League that I fear this is the one where we stay down for good.
My worry is there is only so many Maddisons in the sport. Once the conveyor-belt malfunctions, and we buy a few duds, our whole raison d’être goes out of the window. When this happens in the Championship without TV money, we are in the brown stuff.
Einstein said trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of madness. I think so anyway, I read it on Twitter so it must be true.
Even in our best-case scenario, I like to use the analogy of Norwich being a salmon constantly trying to jump upstream. That stream has turned into a tidal wave of money in recent years, and the TV billions will keep on flowing in as long as the product is there, the wealth gap will get even more cavernous, and the likes of Norwich are simply going to fall away and be swimming in the ponds of the lower Championship or even League One.
I don’t think that’s an alarmist or reactionary take either – there are plenty of big clubs in League One.
Despite our proclivity for frugality, our finances are still finite – mainly because we have Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones holding onto this football club like retirees with a mortgage-free bungalow; ready for nephew Tom to inherit a football club.
A football club as an heirloom, can you believe it?
Yes, for sure we don’t want to be tarnished with the shame of being a plaything for Russian oil crooks like Chelsea. Or, pawns in the journalist and Yemeni-murdering Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s push for the extension of soft power on British shores.
We all need a bit of good PR sometimes don’t we?
Perhaps Stuart Webber should take lessons from Amanda Stavely and Mehrdad Ghodoussi at Newcastle – Webber is only responsible for ending our chances of becoming a Premier League team next season. They represent a state that ends a lot more than PL survival hopes.
Anyway, my point is, like my discovery of that wonderful place called Bolton, there are other things over the horizon beyond your front door.
Norfolk is a pretty insular place, and some Norwich fans seem to like the comforting feeling of the familiar. But if we are to compete in modern football, we need to get with the times and overhaul the club from the top.
It’s not 1996 anymore.