We find ourselves in what my dad would describe as a rum ol’ place. Some would call it a rut.
Second in the league; averaging two points per game; a new, vastly wealthy American investor on board (and on the board), yet there’s barely a hint of joy evident across the Canary nation.
Wins are met with shrugs; the Carrow Road atmosphere is more garden fete than football match, and there’s apathy and lethargy everywhere you look. The tuts and sighs are audible.
And I get it. Same here.
While results have been good and have taken us to precisely the position we need to be with nearly a quarter of the season gone, there’s… almost nothing.
The reasons are numerous – some obvious, some less so, some unknown.
To start with, the obvious one…
While the Premier League hangover (as no one likes to call it) has technically subsided, there still lingers that overriding feeling of numbness – the same one that followed each dispiriting defeat last season as it quickly became clear we’d be returning whence we came.
That sense of here-we-go-again became engrained as we suffered heartbreak after heartbreak, trauma after trauma. It’s tough to shake off.
And many of the characters who led us on that torturous journey are still there – visible in plain sight. Most of them centre stage.
I look at Kenny McLean and see him plodding (and pointing) in the wake of a rampaging Premier League midfielder who’s faster and stronger and zooming off into the distance.
I look at Tim Krul and see him looking forlorn, head down, and picking the ball out of net following another defensive blunder.
I still see Grant Hanley grappling unsuccessfully with a striker who he matches physically but who trumps him in speed of thought.
And I look at poor Teemu, surrounded by three huge defenders, with not a hope in hell of making even the slightest headway as he feeds, again, off the most meagre of scraps.
This is not a slight on any of those four by the way – all have contributed enormously to the journey we’ve been on – but it is where we are and is perhaps partly why we feel as we do.
We should have moved on, we’re back on familiar terrain after all, yet still it feels raw.
And now we’re relying on those same characters to take us back to that place. That awful place.
If we continue to tick along at our current rate, then that same fate – the one from which the scars and bruises remain – awaits us again.
What a prize.
Those, like Forest (and, in fact, anyone who’s not sampled the delights of the Premier League for a while), go into it starry-eyed and full of hope, but for those like us, who’ve been there, done it and felt the pain, the joy of promotion is short-lived as thoughts quickly turn to what awaits us on the other side.
All too quickly the joy disappears and the fear and trepidation grips.
We hope, going forward, the injection of some nous, fresh ideas and, hopefully, cash from the other side of the Pond will help placate some of that fear, but at the moment nothing tangible has changed – at least not enough to rid Carrow Road of the dark clouds.
But that’s the reality. We’re competing for a prize that, for us, is absolutely cr@p. That we’re currently on target to claim said prize doesn’t feel like a reason to get excited.
And so we’re not.
It doesn’t begin and end there though. There’s also the entertainment factor, or, as it stands, the lack-of-entertainment.
Aside from a typically Norwich City start to life in the second tier, results have been good, but those for whom Dean Smith is not the man have been given ammunition aplenty because of the poor quality of the football. At times, by Smith’s own admission, it’s been dire.
It comes back to that age-old conundrum of entertainment v results.
Those who claim that Smith, minus a Jack Grealish-type magician in his team, is unable to get it playing attractive progressive football have, right now, a rock solid case,
Those who see football mainly as a results business also have a solid case.
The less-vocal majority probably fall somewhere between those two stools.
But, ultimately, the football hasn’t been remotely thrilling apart from the opening 45 minutes against Coventry.
Whether that would matter if we were part of the starry-eyed brigade for whom the Premier League is still the Promised Land I’m not sure. I suspect the quality of the football would matter very little.
Yet we’re second and for that very reason, many are unhappy.
The key to it all, which is as yet unknown, is whether the quality of performances will eventually catch up with the good results, or if the performance level stays the same and results drop off commensurately.
No one knows, not even those who claim they do.
It’s possible, I suppose, that we continue to trundle along – not entertaining but still picking up points – without returning to the heady height of Coventry (h). We’re being constantly told this is a low-quality Championship, so on that basis it seems feasible that we continue to be ordinary yet remain in the promotion picture.
While it’s an unedifying prospect – and I fear some of the doom-mongers would spontaneously combust if this occurs and Dean Smith remains in situ – it remains a possibility.
(Maybe, if the time comes, we’ll break the mould and be the first Championship team to get promoted and *not* celebrate.)
One of the other factors at play is the much-discussed non-churn of season tickets. Given the 22,000 cap is always hit, those who have them tend, in general, to keep them if they can afford to because to give them up means potentially missing out on big games in the future.
A bigger stadium with more scope for casual matchday tickets could potentially see a drop-off in season ticket numbers for that very reason but would potentially reinvigorate a Carrow Road crowd that, for all the reasons above, appears staid, comfortable, and maybe a bit too cosy.
There’s no edge, and it feels like the fare being played out before us lacks a sense of jeopardy. Right now, aside from a couple of areas of the ground that attempt to generate their own noise, the rest of us sit back, arms folded, awaiting the entertainment.
And then when it doesn’t arrive, we have a quiet moan.
If the season doesn’t progress at the current trajectory and we do fade into mid-table obscurity, Dean Smith will probably fall on his sword but, as a result of avoiding the dreaded P-word, we’ll be spared another season of excruciating pain.
For some folk, I believe that would be an acceptable trade-off.
Yet if we do keep winning, then we risk inflicting on ourselves another said season of excruciating pain.
Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
There is also the popularity factor.
I’m not going to mention the name of the previous incumbent of the Carrow Road dugout (because the #NCFC Twitter police have banned it) but he was undoubtedly one laden with charisma and likability.
He *got* the city and Norfolk in a way few before him have.
Dean Smith, for obvious reasons, will never see Norwich as his second home. Why would he? For him, this is just a job in the same way the manager gigs at Walsall and Brentford were just jobs.
There are no laps of honour alongside the players, no fist pumps, no olés. The best we hope for is a cursory wave as he disappears down the tunnel.
All of which is absolutely fine – everyone’s different – and I hear from those who work with him and who’ve met him that Smith is a genuinely nice bloke, but it does feel like the battle for hearts and minds is one he’s never going to win.
He may have just about got away with it if the football was swashbuckling and easy-on-the-eye, but as we’ve established, it isn’t.
That could still be a contributory factor. Or it could just be me rambling.
There are, I suspect, other more nuanced factors at play – those I’m not clever enough to pick up on – but the fact we find ourselves in this curious place when, by common footballing convention, we should all be buzzing is a bit of a shame.
Let’s hope the international break will serve to refresh a few bodies and minds and we’ll come out firing against Blackpool. Just don’t bet on it.
Ian Huggins says
With Farke we knew the style the method the possession based football, every substitute immediately fell into the style . We loved the first promotion, the football was sublime against championship sides. In the Premier the middle was always exposed , the second stint even more.
Farke exposed, as much as we loved him , time was up.
I believe Smith is a pragmatist , so far we have seen more aggressive approach a higher press, direct style. Very workman like
It’s still the midfield that needs work ,
Farke ‘s first season , if you remember was awful .
Is Hayden the answer?
We need a Kovacic., type mean hungry, breaks and makes play
I await Hayden to see.
John Caithness says
Sorry but I got too bored to read more than the first part
Gary Gowers says
Apologies, John. It’s clearly spreading.
An excellent read on a dull and cool day up north in Blackpool.
Over the years we have seen many styles of managers come and go and the 3 most memorable for me have been Bond, Brown and Farke.
Bond brought style and class to a dull football club, always up for a TV chat after a game and oozed the Champagne Charlie image.
Brown kept the Bond style and like Bond got relegated and promoted also won a cup, carried on the tradition of buy Spurs rejects or those deemed to old for said club and kept us in Division 1 as it was known.
Farke came in with a whimper and not many expected him to last for long as our first overseas Manager, but and a big one didn’t he turn the style on once he got a couple of players in he wanted.
First promotion SW announced City were ahead of schedule but who cared, the real change was in the relationship between the Manager and Supporters they all loved each other and it showed his craft winks when Paul L got sent off for Ipshite was a great moment he knew how to get the supporters on his side.
But we all knew it could come crashing down and it did with a poor run, I don’t think we will ever see a similar style or Manager at city again maybe SW and the owners were jealous of his popularity and went for the complete opposite when they needed to recruit a replacement.
DS remind me of Ron Saunders who when at Villa once said his job was to coach a team and win not impress the supporters and maybe at city we have another his clone.
Has DS&SS taken Norfolk or the Club as a stepping stone to a bigger target possibly but it’s not going to be a top6 club so where could it be Leicester, Forest, Leeds or West Brom if you class them as bigger that’s for others to say but most clubs are looking for entertainment and a Manager that connects to the club sadly DS&SS don’t do connect unless you are Villa.
Promotion and staying up might get brownie points for them to bamboozle the next potential club, but for them it’s a JOB nothing more and they will not invest in emotionally getting involved with the supporters which will be their downfall if and when a hiccup in results happens and it will.
Jim Davies says
Hi Alex. I totally agree with your choice of favourite three managers, with Ken Brown being a particularly nice bloke (though he is the only one I’ve really had a chance to chat to).
I’d have to disagree on one point though. I don’t think jealousy comes into Webber’s or the owners’ thinking. They may not be universally popular, but I really do think they try to act in the best interest of the club, though sometimes I think they go about things in the wrong way.
Ron Saunders was a manager I have a lot of time for, but I don’t think he’d succeed with modern day footballers.
Saunders like Bill Nicholson was ex army PTI and very disciplined where the players were concerned and yeah neither would have survived in football today especially with agents knocking on their door every day.
When I said Jealousy it was more in how Farke was universally liked by the supporters not in a nasty way that that word brings to mind.
The big question I would like to ask SW and the recruitment team is how many of those purchased last summer were of Farkes choices or as the position of DoF says he directs how the team recruits players so that the manager/coach comes into coach them in that style.
DS&SS are complete opposites in style of play to DF which goes against the principle of a DoF.
Jim Davies says
I don’t look forward to promotion with any great enthusiasm. The upper end of the Premier League is now beyond any “normal” football club, regardless of what Forest fans may think. I was against the formation of a European Super League, but mostly because the top half a dozen wanted to have their cake and eat it. I’d be happy to see them depart to play with their continental cousins, but not to have them also play in our domestic leagues and cups. I’m pretty sure that eventually we’ll end up with a Harlem Globetrotters situation, top players only playing exhibition games, though at my age I probably won’t last long enough to see it, thankfully.
Dean Smith has no attachment to the club,he didn’t seem too upset when we got relegated although he’d previously said our players were good enough to keep us up.
The thought struck me that Nunez could go the same way as Normann- brilliant at first then consistently played out of position – like most of the team.Neither have had a Skipp or Trybull to help.Injuries have helped Smith to a certain extent,we played well with Gibbs as DM and Sargent in his correct position.
Rashica and Tzolis also started ok but since Smith came in have faded and been moved on. All that money paid out, plus we don’t have the players and are contributing to their wages.
No DMs or LBs,Pukki unhappy,a costly Brazilian getting little game time yet Smith delights in the form of his bright spark prodigal son.
Maybe in January Smith will give Villa a call to see how else we can loan from them, also Webber is on good terms with his opposite number who was at Loserpool when he was there as was their manager a nice cosy friendship all round.
I did hear a rumour that 3 clubs wanted Buendia but an old friend offered what Webber wanted and the other 2 clubs offer was ignored but that’s from an Arsenal supporter.
Could be worse though, eh?
Gary, I gotta agree with your overall assessment of what ails most of us and winning 2 points a game doesn’t seemed to be raising our spirits, crazy but true. We miss a dynamic leader and attractive football and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, unless Deano is tempted to leave, until he does we are left with what ever it is we are suffering from. Of course if we do go up we’ll crash and he’ll be put to the sword, so maybe that’s the answer. Otherwise we’ll limp along until the money dwindles, unless the Yank sorts things out.
A good read as usual Gary.
I think the main reason nobody is too excited about City is because having been humiliated in their last two premiership seasons we can see that the current team is weaker than our previous championship side and with it the entertainment value.
Our better players are entering the veteran stage and the younger talent has departed.
We know the gap between championship and premiership has since widened further and as we couldn’t compete financially then we have no chance should we once again attain promotion.
Our one hope is the new board member and fans are waiting to see what happens before getting too excited.
All in all the atmosphere at Carrow Road reflects that generated by the inadequate self funding model.
Gary Gowers says
Cheers John. I chose on this occasion to not bring the self-funding model into the equation as it almost always lands me in trouble but you’re right (in my view). This failed model – one with which our owners persist and would have done so for longer if Michael Foulger hadn’t decided to sell his shares – has sucked the life out of us.
martin penney says
Indeed you are right.
Our two embarrassing recent attempts in the PL have surely proved to quite a few supporters that self funding under Delia will only result in a third such *effort* coming down the tracks – and this time around the signs are there that we might not even get that opportunity.
It only needs Sheffield United to sustain their charge and, say, Watford or Burnley to come on strong and we are shafted.
Tim Ball says
You have summed up everything perfectly Gary.
The massive problem is that the reward for promotion is the Premier League. Pure and simple, and the fans know that.
And we have been humiliated there, twice. No wonder the atmosphere at Carrow Road is similar to the Moon.
Personally, I think injuries and covid did for us in year one.
Last season was just plain awful. I think Mo Salah scored as many goals as our entire team.
The truth is as clear as day, self-funding will not cut it anymore. Not at that level. It isn’t just transfer fees it is wages as well. So many players leave it to the last minute to sign for us because they are understandably waiting for the best offer they can get.
I support Dean Smith but I cannot argue that some of the football has been mediocre.
I just can’t believe that our midfield rebuild has been based on injured players (Sara and Hayden). Losing Gibbs and Sorenson was bad luck for sure, but we are in a situation now where Kenny👉 has to play holding midfielder as we have no other options.
Where was the planning in that. Normann all over again. And don’t get me started on Bali Mumba🤬
The players you name above are some of our better performing players over the last few years and the truth is that even some of them are plainly not good enough for the EPL.
I know a lot of supporters won’t agree with this but we have been spoiled by all the Championships and promotions since Paul Lambert came here with Ian Culverhouse.
Many clubs, like Ipswich, sit in the middle of the championship (or worse) for years and years. I think considering our finances it has been miraculous what the team and successive managers have achieved championship wise. And many of those clubs have far more money than we have to spend.
However, we certainly have not been spoiled in the EPL. That being an understatement.
As for the future who knows? Fulham and Bournemouth have started well in the EPL and Forest with their 230 signings may yet come good. So, a new manager, more investment and some promising youngsters on the horizon perhaps it will be third time lucky for Stuart Webber.
Two things are clear, we may not go up this season, so let’s not worry about a possibility, but if we do we cannot rely on self-funding alone. Investment will be needed.
I do feel for the players as well as the supporters in all of this as well as the disconnect with the fans cannot help performances.
Watching Bali Mumba scoring against our friends in the south today only makes the loan more frustrating to accept Tim.
He’s a quality player.
Tim Ball says
And was he happy about it afterwards John… Very !!!
Not much of a comment from me . except the two opening lines from Noel Harrison’s Windmills of my Mind.
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Winston the cat says
It all feels rather entitled the malaise. I get it, the PL is a poisoned chalice, but we still must aspire to be there, otherwise what’s the point. Maybe my glass is half full but I thought that at least this summer there was an effort to plug our most critical gap. That Hayden has remained on the sidelines is as frustrating as it was predictable. However he was precisely the sort of player who if kept fit could be a rock to actually transition to competing at the lower end of the PL.
Everyone is critical of Smith, but with Byram at LB and Kenny DM it is going to make creating and attacking coherently much more difficult. With Gibbs there before his injury, I thought there were some causes for optimism, a pattern of play that was emerging, but for now to be second, says a lot for the scrambling quality.
We can get better and with returning players I think we will.
And those players above that are said to come up short; Hanley, Pukki and Krul I see it prospectively another way, these guys are the best of our team, if we got players upgrading the squad on a par, preferably better, these guys can cut it when surrounded by more of the quality we need.
Most if not all signings by Webber are and will be gambles in attempting to improve our team, that is simply speaking the budget in which we operate. But why I still have hope that in Hayden we have one of those who can add genuine PL ability and step us closer to being able to dream of 17th.
If dreaming of 17th doesn’t get the juices flowing then I don’t know what could!
Smith is dammed what ever he does!
In 5 years who cares if we are dire and win 1 nil (arsenal under George Graham never see there supporters Moan about it)
Think it’s more then relegation it’s the whole country ATM everything is dome and gloom nothing to look forward to other then huge bills and poverty.
If we are second on Nov 1st Ian would be a very happy bunny, not that I’m to unhappy ATM other then the odd player who do my head in.
Football is a results business it’s smiths job at the end the day he isn’t paid to play free flowing football he’s paid to win football matches m8