When the fourth goal rattled home within the first 20 minutes against Coventry, the chant went up from the visiting fans.
‘Dean Smith – it wasn’t our fault’.
Admittedly, the chant was cut short by the first of two Coventry goals, but the City fans were riding high on a wave of optimism.
Except they were wrong. It was our fault.
Before you hit the comment button and break the internet with your rightly indignant retorts, please bear with me.
It was our fault. But it wasn’t our fault that it was our fault.
Being a Norfolk exile, my visits to NR1 are all too infrequent, which means the degradation of the atmosphere within Carrow Road is all the more noticeable to me.
Before the last home game of a sorry season, an image began to do the rounds online amongst City fans. We Deserve Better it boldly proclaimed.
I looked at it and read the accompanying text. My immediate though was that, to use the modern parlance, it sounded very entitled.
We are all rightly proud of our home club, but to believe that we ‘deserve’ better implies that we think that there is a place in the football pyramid where we feel we have a right to be.
Football, as we all know, pays no respect to traditions or reputations. You are, of course, only as good as your position on the last day of the season.
Everton fans my believe that they ‘deserve’ to be in the Premier League. Do they ‘deserve’ better than to be relegated?
This general discontent amongst the City fans is reflected in the aforementioned deteriorating atmosphere at Carrow Road. However, it is also reasonable to say that the atmosphere has a direct impact upon the players. They are, after all, human.
No matter how much they are paid, they will be affected in some small way if they feel that the crowd are just waiting for the inevitable error before the boos and abuse (in the loosest possible way) will begin – errors that may go without comment in happier times.
As a result, players become afraid to play in the way that they know they can.
It’s chicken and egg. Does the crowd lift the team, or is it the team’s responsibility to lift the crowd?
So, having put the case for the defence for the players, what about us – the people that ‘deserve’ better?
When was the last time Carrow Road was buzzing? I would venture to suggest that it was 28 February 2020.
That was the day Leicester City were the visitors. Jamal Lewis scored the only goal of the game as City won 1-0.
It came at a time of generally improving performances and a belief amongst the City faithful that the season may have turned a corner and we were about to put together a run of results.
We all know what happened next. Lockdown. The next game at Carrow Road with anything other than a token attendance was the 14th August 2021, some 542 days later.
Those City performances post lockdown, must go down as the most miserable I can recall. It didn’t feel like football as the players voices echoed around the empty stadia. It didn’t look like football either as City meekly surrendered week after week.
It is one of the unanswered questions of recent years.
Why did City appear to be so underprepared, so unfit and so disjointed, whereas the opposition teams looked like they had never had a break? What went wrong with our preparation?
Without question, part of the reason for the lacklustre performances was that the City players were missing the buzz from the crowd. The buzz that had previously inspired them to such great effect.
The following season was almost exclusively behind doors too. However, the lack of a crowd now acted in favour of the City players. Licking their wounds from the humiliating Premier League exit, they were afforded time to rehabilitate, free from the pressure that the crowd inevitably bring.
As a result, the pressure was off in those early games and the side began, once more, to flourish.
After the 542 day break, the City crowd were ready to witness another season of Premier League football. A record spend on players and a hope that maybe, just maybe…..
Again, we know what happened next. Another season of failure.
This time, for the bounce back, the team were not free from the scrutiny of the crowd. Unconvincing wins gave way to losses and draws. A new manager bounce and then a succession of dismal defeats.
And here is why it wasn’t our fault that it was our fault!
By missing that glorious season under Daniel Farke, by the start of the season just gone, the previous 34 fixtures that the fans had seen at Carrow Road had yielded a paltry seven wins and six draws, at less than a goal a game – 25 for City and a whopping 69 against.
That’s meagre offerings and enough to test the mettle of the most ardent supporter.
This season added just eight victories and five draws, and 27 goals both for and against.
What is there to cheer about?
This is what underpins the fans’ discontent. This is why the atmosphere is so flat, in stark contrast to the pre-covid era. The players may have had the elation of a cruise to the title in between, but the fans have now witnessed (first-hand) three dross seasons.
So yes, it is our fault if the atmosphere is flat and it affects players. But the players – and more importantly the head coach and sporting director – must remember the journey that the fans have been on too, and accept their responsibility for this. That is not our fault.
So do we deserve better?
I think what we fans deserve is to be treated with respect and understanding. Calls to get behind the team must be tempered with the knowledge of what has gone before.
We deserve open communication from the Club and recognition and acknowledgement when mistakes are made.
We deserve nothing more though. We have no right to be in the ‘top 26’ and suggestions to the contrary merely reflect badly on us as fans among ‘that lot’ down the road and football fans in general.
There will be changes at Carrow Road over the closed season. When the new season kicks off, the new term optimism will be but a thin veneer over the troubles of the last few seasons.
Patience will be in short supply.
Let’s hope we once again have something to shout about.