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.