All yours Duncan…
Why doesn’t it feel like it should?
On the morning of last night’s match, I learned that the friend who I have sat next to (and met) at Carrow Road for over 20 years had passed away. Attending home and away games will no longer be the same.
I think this put me in a more reflective mood than normal and perhaps made me more cognoscente of what felt like more muted goal celebrations in the Barclay.
I’ve seen many views expressed on many platforms over the last three weeks that all talk of our recent successes not generating the same levels of jubilation and joy as previous ones.
Why is that? Is it likely to change as the season progresses? Or just a relegation hangover?
While often the reasons given are centred around the current coaching team and their lack of ‘a plan’, I believe the reality is down to two very specific but far-reaching reasons:
‘The lack of identity’
What does this mean? I think in many cases this translates to ‘it’s not Farkeball 1.0’.
At that time the incoming Sporting Director did a phenomenal job of explaining, to anyone that would listen, of the past ills of the club and how there was now a clear plan to put that right.
It would start with an organisational structure that could withstand changes to coaching staff as the DNA would be so strong that it would be a mere bump in the road.
We loved the explanations and lapped up the planned solutions. It resonated with so many of us of a Norfolk persuasion who have always felt that it okay to be a bit different, to buck the trend, to ignore the noise, do things our way, and stubbornly stick to what we think is right.
Someone once said the best way to lead people from Norfolk was to find out where they are going and stand at the front. Well, the new Executive team of the time tapped into what a club like ours could be and proudly stood at the front of many thousand like-minded, realistic believers in yellow and green.
We could all sign up to producing our own talent, living within our means, playing the way we want to play and bloodying some few bigger, noisier noses along the way.
The joy of not only having a plan but having a team that was so readily likeable, and who took us on a joyous ride of last-minute results achieved by playing the best football many of us have ever seen was palpable.
It was also unexpected, different and, crucially, we believed it could translate to a higher level when we got there.
The one thing the first iteration of a Farke Championship-winning team had in spades was ‘identity’ on the pitch, in the boardroom and in the stands.
It’s one of the reasons I would suggest that Onel Hernandez is having such a resurgence with the fans – he reminds us of better times, when hope outweighed expectation and when we thought our model might just work when we took on the big boys.
Where does all that leave us now?
My point is we had an identity overload a couple of years ago and, while some of that remains intact, our joyous naivety has been dented and what was once a near-universal belief has been eroded.
But we do have an identity, certainly off the pitch – it’s just not as well-defined and optimism has given way to more realism and pragmatism.
On the pitch, it is a pragmatic, adaptable and (so far) effective approach but does come at the price of the purist product of that first Championship-winning season.
We were spoiled by a team of underdogs who embodied everything we wanted for one glorious season, but to say the team has no identity now is wrong – it’s just different.
‘Is it worth winning anyway?’
The second reason I think we are experiencing a less-than-intoxicating atmosphere at the Carra is another dose of reality – if we do win the league again (and there is a long way to go yet) it just sets us up for more misery doesn’t it?
That feeling of foreboding isn’t just down to the inevitable losses to the mega-clubs but also to do with the circus that surrounds the Premier League. That gut-wrenching realisation that we will suffer, among other things, VAR, morally bankrupt opposition, and a national media re-enforcing the belief our identity won’t work in their world.
Quote: ’Norwich simply aren’t giving it a go.’
The two reasons are clearly connected. I think realisation that the new Webber-inspired Norwich way is proving ineffective at the higher level and that the Promised Land is not, for us, laden with milk and honey has led to that apathetic, uninspiring atmosphere we have experienced recently.
Interestingly, I believe there is an opportunity to reimagine an identity 2.0 – one where all of the good stuff is carried forward but supplemented by a few million dollars that can once again generate belief among the masses.
I believe this is a team worth getting excited about and, even if doesn’t have the grace and guile of the Class of2018-19, it has some very able players; some with a point to prove and some who survived the first incarnation.
Alice Piper’s excellent interview with Mark Attanasio suggests that dialling up the communication with the fan base and engaging collectively in establishing an updated vision for the club could once again get the collective juices flowing.
And then, if we can establish that adjusted identity on and off the pitch, it offers a feeling of hope that establishing ourselves in the top tier of English football is still something worth aiming for.