The first hand to shoot up when we tweeted out the offer of an end-of-season MFW guest blog, was Stuart Wilson – a City season ticket holder of over 25 years and someone who has made a 200-mile round trip to Carrow Road since 1997.
Read on for Stuart’s take on the call for change at Carrow Road, and why a day at the footie is more than just an opportunity to watch a game of football.
Full disclosure. My glass is always half full, especially when it comes to football. At 58, the ageing process is doing its best to turn me into a grumpy old man but, for now at least, that is still more likely to be targeted at politics rather than the latest City performance.
I started watching The Canaries when I moved to a one-bedroom flat no more than half a mile from Carrow Road and almost as close to The Nest as I later discovered. I made friends with a fellow with whom I hit it off and he was happy to use my flat as a base for a few pints and to take in the games.
Back then, in the late 1980s, you didn’t need pesky things like season tickets to watch City play. My friend, a Norwich boy, had been a regular since he was about 10 years old. He always stood behind the Barclay goal.
I confess that, although I concede the atmosphere was often fantastic and the banter with the away fans was great fun, I didn’t particularly look forward to a City goal. From my early 20s, I’d become used to watching football on a packed terrace, and being a short 5’ 6”, I didn’t enjoy being completely at the mercy of a surging, delirious crowd.
In truth, I would much rather have watched the game from the City or South stands but my mate preferred being right in the middle of the “action”. So there we stood.
So why do I watch Norwich?
Well for a start I’m sport mad. Although I had no perceptible skill at many sports, except perhaps a reasonable game of squash and badminton, I played many including my favourite, hockey, until the aforementioned age started to take its toll.
As an aside, I played hockey for years all over Norfolk and Suffolk and loved it. I even scored a few goals and our team was great. Except we weren’t. One weekend I was deputised to referee and let me tell you we were absolutely useless.
But did knowing that we were, in fact, absolutely pants ruin the experience? Well no. Of course, it didn’t.
So – and I know this is probably sacrilege and will have many shaking their heads – I still get as much out of a “failed” City season as a successful one.
I still get to meet my mate, my godson and his sister, I chat a bit with the ever-present but slowly changing people around my seat, and I marvel at the skill and sometimes ineptitude displayed on the pitch.
You see, most of the things I get out of following City aren’t related to whether we finish first or last. Of course, I’d love our club to win the FA Cup, become a regular top-flight club, and experience Europe once more, but I don’t think achieving those things would alter my experience of following them.
So you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not a “sack the manager” or “sack the board” merchant. Not just for our club, but in general.
The idea that managers or coaches should be dismissed whenever a certain level of attainment isn’t achieved presupposes the fact that fans and commentariat have displayed a certain entitlement as to what that level should be – promotion, the play-offs, having a 20-goal-a-season striker, beating Ipswich again or staying in the Premier League.
If we’re honest with ourselves, when we look at Norwich’s historic league performances, then continued presence in the Championship probably represents an over-achievement.
I don’t know if anybody has attempted to prove, with statistics, if certain managers really are “better” than others. I just think the best managers can appear to be better than others because they get given plum jobs with clubs that are already fabulously successful.
Perhaps it is because I can remember a time when managers stayed with clubs for years, decades in some cases.
Football, at least the Championship and above, is a different business than it ever was. So much is dictated by the top clubs being able to buy the best players, even if those players never play for them.
I’m no longer convinced that managers (or head coaches) are able to influence the success of clubs in the same way they were before the Premier League era. If they were, we would have seen more occurrences like Sir Alf Ramsey’s and Bobby Robson’s at Ipswich (sorry), and Brian Clough’s at Derby and Forest.
I also believe fate and good luck have much to do with how well a team does.
Many City fans complain about recruitment, yet we conveniently forget about the glorious successes – Grant Holt, Iwan Roberts, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki to name a few. And how often do players go on to flourish at other clubs, like Jacob Murphy?
I often tell my mate that the line between winning matches consistently and not is tiny. We’ve all seen Norwich (and other) teams look terrible for weeks and then something changes and you’d think they were different players but it is probably the same team with a few new or old names.
The intangibles, I believe, play a massive part in how teams perform and many of them are beyond the club or the manager’s control.
So, for me, it’s time to get back to enjoying Saturday at 3pm, being with your mates, and seeing some great football even if it does come only from the opposition!
Cheers for that, Stuart. Some useful perspective in there.
If anyone else fancies a shot at a guest blog, then feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Really ! least said the better !
The assertion that we are overachieving by being in the second division is totally inaccurate. Little old Norwich at its very worst.
Stuart Wilson says
Our average league counting D3S as 3rd tier Championship as 2 and so on is 2.08 from 1920/1921 season when we moved from semi-professional Southern League.
In other words for more than a hundred years on average we’ve occupied the third tier of English professional football.
I accept that if the same is done back to 1960 we get 1.6 so smack in the middle of The Championship.
Perhaps you prefer the same analysis after football was invented in 1992? In that case it’s 1.7. So lower than since 1960.
Now just because I note our historically average position (Nothing to do with little old Norwich by the way) doesn’t mean I’m happy not being in the top league or being in it and not staying up with ease. I’m just not going to let it ruin my enjoyment that’s all.
1920? Perhaps we can go back to 1972. The last 50-plus years.
At the time Norwich City were ripping up the second division, as befits a club of our size. For most of the next three decades, we remained a top-flight club.
Clearly, for most of us, this period is the most relevant and to suggest that City belong in the third division is tantamount to trolling.
To go back into ancient history to try and prove your point to the extent that you evoke seasons that no living person has witnessed is fantastic.
Stuart Wilson says
Well what I said was over the length of our history in national professional leagues our average position suggest The Championship represents an over achievement. To suggest that I stated we “belonged” in the third tier is wrong and unfair.
Tim Ball says
A different but interesting view Stuart.
And like all things in life you are absolutely entitled to that view.
Let’s be honest none of us on here are suddenly going to switch clubs however rubbish we are. I saw a, shall we say a rather eccentric gentleman from across the border telling us that his beloved Ipswich were coming to send us to hell😂 on youtube yesterday. The sad thing was that he was somewhat deficient in the teeth department, but thanks to an upcoming op he had more than me!!!!😪
He has had to endure three years of third division football, so I say fair enough. We have certainly given them a lot of deserved stick in recent years. If you think we are bad now, they took it to our season 2008/09 levels for years.
I too have watched us back in the day, in the late sixties we weren’t very good. But did that stop this 9-10 year old boy… never.
As I have “enjoyed” both the bad and the good I always want us to strive to be the very best that we can. But one of my greatest highlights supporting City was when Dave Stringer scored that last minute winner against a packed (37,000) Carrow Road against Crystal Palace to avoid relegation, back in 1973.
The only thing I like about relegation threatened seasons though Stuart is when we avoid it.
Stuart Wilson says
Don’t get me wrong I hate relegations! Sadly at 58 I’m not old enough to remember many (any?) relegations avoided by the skin of our teeth!
One of my favourite adopted mantras is that you shouldn’t let the football spoil a good day at the football. I think that concurs with much of your piece. I have lived away from Norwich for 35 years and mostly still do (it’s complicated). So the pre and post match rituals of meeting friends and having a few beers and a catch up are a fantastic part of the day.
However, I think we are all entitled to be somewhat fed up with what’s been going on in the boardroom and on the pitch recently. It’s hard for me to think that the club are doing anything other than taking us fans absolutely for granted. Neither the operational management of the club, nor the performances on the pitch, are anywhere near good enough for a club that expects us to pay top dollar by Championship standards.
Bernard Owen says
A picture advertising Norwich Castle Bitter, stuff of nightmares. Given that Norwich have spent only one season out of the top 2 leagues in over 50 years I really can’t accept your premise of over achieving by being in the championship.
martin penney says
I remember this piece of graffiti on the arch of the rail crossing near the Griffin:
*Has the bottom fallen out of your world?
*Then drink Norwich Bitter, and let the world fall out of your bottom.*
Stuart, good job Brighton, Brentford and Bournemouth didn’t adopt your level of satisfaction.
After twenty six years of taking this club nowhere I think the sooner Delia is replaced with new owners capable of funding a side in the top flight the better.
martin penney says
As Gary said in the intro, that was nothing if not written from a useful – and very different – perspective.
*So, for me, it’s time to get back to enjoying Saturday at 3pm, being with your mates, and seeing some great football even if it does come only from the opposition!”
That’s how I used to feel in the days when we were away from home and I would walk my toddlers over the Rec to watch Blofield United in the Combination Prem all these years ago with the kids in one ear and Roy Waller in the other!
I must admit I’ve never felt that way in my life about Norwich City though and I guess I never will.
martin penney says
Hi again STUART – that was no way to treat a guy a guy on his MFW debut, however unintentionally 🙂
Stuart, you knew your controversial blog would wind many people up and given the current feelings towards Smith, Jones etc I found it a tad unsavory. And that, Stuart, is my edited polite version.
Stuart Wilson says
I remember when we signed Darren Huckerby full time and Delia came on the pitch and announced it before a match. Obviously that went down really well and she milked it.
You may recall there were some who were displeased with that and she should have remained in the background. My view was and is that virtually every single club manager/owner relationship ends in tears and acrimony and it was churlish of those few to criticise her for enjoying a moment she knew would be very well received. I think some people’s treatment of Delia and Michael now rather validate that stance. When Bryan Gunn took over the manager’s job I was incredulous. As I said before virtually every manager leaves under a cloud so I was simply astonished that a man who’d become a football club and city legend would put that legacy at risk. Little did I know how fast and spectacularly that demise would occur. Fortunately I think the short length of his tenure, speed of his leaving and now his son’s success have saved his legacy as club legend.
Ultimately I make no apologies for not allowing the performance of “my team” to wind me up beyond a few moans with my mate down the pub afterwards!
Stuart, Other than take money out of the club, what has Delia done? She hasn’t got the money needed today to run a football club, but stubbornly refuses to sell to someone who has. It’s common knowledge she despises the PL.
Stuart Wilson says
Apart from the 2 Championship play-off finals with 1 leading to promotion, the League 1 Championship title and the 2 Championship league titles. And let’s not mention her pivotal role in saving the club from administration when relegated to League 1. Apart from the transformation of the training facilities, the youth set-up and the club’s facilities including new and improved stands. Did I mention the youth team winning the FA Cup? Yes I agree she’s done nothing, nothing for the club. Just like the Romans!.
As to the suggestion she’s just “Taken money out of the club”. That’s likely libelous and certainly untrue.
The only part of your complaint about Delia Smith that is perfectly fair (but rather childish if I may say) is that she doesn’t have the resources (money) available needed to have a sustained spell in the Premier League. Clearly she should have worked harder to make more TV shows and sell more cook books. Bloody slacker eh!
None of us know what Delia and Michael have been doing in terms of the club’s ownership or outside investment. Just because they haven’t found a rich benefactor doesn’t mean they “refused to sell (which implies they’ve received serious offers by the way)”. We know they have done a lot of work with the Attanasios. I think we’d all like that to work out. Delia and Michael have intimated that they are committed to finding the right buyer and I for one support that 100% We’ve all seen the damage owners who essentially want to asset strip can do.
But your comment rather neatly proves my point that all manager, Chairman, owner relationships pretty much always end in acrimony. You know as well as I do that Delia and Michael (Delia especially) have Yellow and Green blood flowing through their veins. They want Norwich to be the best they can be just like you do. I realise this is why people invent fake criticisms – They’ve taken all the money, they refuse to sell, she doesn’t have enough money (!)
But to return to the theme of my blog post. There are 44 teams in the Premier League and Championship. What is it, do you think, about Norwich City Football Club, that leads fans like you to think you’re entitled to demand we get promoted to the Premier League, then stay up, then compete for cups, flirt with Europe? It is my contention that although I would like nothing better than for those things to happen and I’d be delirious if we won the FA Cup I don’t have any right to expect that as an entitlement for having a season ticket for more than a quarter of a century – and certainly don’t think not achieving those things would justify abuse of the club’s owners, director and managers.
We wouldn’t have been anywhere near the third division without her “pivotal role”.
‘Fans like you”? Nice.
Played you like a fiddle Stu , LOL
Bernard Owen says
It’s about now to put that picture of Delia wearing the Ipswich rosette in 1978 as she supported them at wembley
Tim Ball says
I can see where you are coming from regarding managers Stuart but I still think there is a massive difference between the good one and bad ones.
In my time I have seen my fair share of both.
The first one who was very good in my time was Ron Saunders. He was also a Sergeant Major as well as a coach. You didn’t argue with him😱
You say we don’t have the history of many other clubs and with Ron Saunders that came back to haunt us. Money as well played a bigger part, as then Chairman Sir Arthur South wouldn’t give Saunders the money he wanted and needed to make us a regular, in those days, First Division club.
So Ron went off to Aston Villa and had won the First Division Title and the European Cup* within 10 years. What might have been.
Excellent managers in John Bond, Ken Brown, Dave Stringer and Mike Walker followed. From then on it was bit Forrest Gump and his box of chocolate, you didn’t know what you were going to get.
John Deehan was the unluckiest manager here in my opinion, dominated games but kept drawing.
Bruce Rioch had awful luck with injuries to vital players, and again Delia wouldn’t help him so off he went.
Peter Grant was a great guy but it was either too soon for him or he was always destined to be a right hand man.
Nigel Worthington did a great job for a few years but as soon as the recruitment went wrong Worthy was hounded out. The Lambert Culverhouse combo did great until… yet again more money needed to ensure a place at the top table was denied by Delia.
Alex Neil, was better in retrospect but bottled it after Newcastle away and never recovered. Martin O’Neil we will never know, why did he leave ? Lack of investment.
And The Great Daniel, a brilliant manager who ultimately failed due to absolutely awful recruitment.
But Hughton, Gunny, Megson, Roeder, Hamilton, Smith were poor choices for various reasons. Roeder and Gunn were absolutely catastrophic appointments.
And interestingly enough some of the worst ones were Delia appointments.
So as you see Stuart a lot of these managers fail or leave because of lack of investment.
Delia had always said that no one was interested in buying Norwich City during her reign, that now has been proven to be untrue. From her own executive and that is why some of us are angry at the deception and then to cap it all blamed by a Leeds United fan for all the ills that have beset in the last two seasons.
Enjoyed reading a different perspective. I can’t completely buy in to your views but it’s heartening to know you are 100% behind the club whatever our status.
The reality is we will support our team through thick and then in whatever division. I’m also a St Albans City fan and tonight they won the 1st of 3 play off games for a place in National League, I’ve supported them since I was 8 that’s 59 years and they’ve never really had any major success, but I’m still a fan.
I have more of a problem with our club’s disconnect with fans and media and some appalling fall outs with staff. Our club is being run poorly and that’s slowly filtered it’s way down to the players too, they’ve lost belief and trust and that does bother me.