When I was asked to write on these pages, I asked if Gary really wanted a neutral added to the team, someone who has a season ticket because he lives in Norwich, not because he’s always loved Norwich City.
The answer was that perhaps I might have a different angle to the difficult situation facing the club right now.
A little background to begin with – I started playing football when I was 14, had a 38-inch waist, a German accent, and no friends at the school to which my father had decided I should go. I ended up in goal (a no-brainer for big kids in those days) and the footie we played was with a tennis ball at break and lunchtime, which taught me a lot of hand-to-eye co-ordination, honed reflexes, and lost me a hell of a lot of weight.
Then on to proper football, still as a goalie, and, finally, field hockey where the goalkeeping theme persisted – one which everyone thought was very odd for a very short-sighted lad/man who wore his glasses all the time (only one glasses-related injury, though, and only needed two or three stitches).
My first ever football game in the UK was Doncaster Rovers vs Hull City on 11th November 1975, the only other team I’ve ever had a season ticket for.
There is a purpose in these background paragraphs. I have managed teams of people ever since those early days, and my belief is that the root of NCFC’s problems right now (and I use the plural deliberately) lies in people management first and foremost, and football system management second.
The truth with any football club nowadays is that if there is intransigence in the hierarchy, managers become interchangeable cogs. This is the case with David Wagner at City. There is a problem with the way the club is being managed as a business, which has resulted in people at all levels below board level at the club being demoralised and demotivated.
Just look at the backdrop to the football – poor marketing of Yellows, the opening of a new “pub” in the Barclay when it would have been more important to direct matchday drinkers to Yellows and make the staff there needed and rewarded, Delia’s open only two days a week, incoherent communication on business matters to supporters (financial and heart) of the club. The list goes on.
There’s no Plan B, C, D, or even Z. This demoralisation has inevitably spread to the pitch where the head coach plays the tune being played by senior management, and the players play the tune being relayed to them by the manager.
Passion has gone out of the window, and passes to the left side of a deep defence have become standard, predictable, and the only way of responding to any match situation.
Individual thinking and initiative have become discouraged. And however much anyone likes systems, it’s actually passion and entertainment football supporters want. Much better to walk away from a loss where the passion’s been evident than walk away from a defeat where the players have seemed not to care.
Two examples here:
The best football City have played this season is when there has been lots of player movement, when the ball has been played at pace, where that pace has opened up a gap going forward, when the yellow beast has gone from cumbersome to lithe and fast, when players have forgotten what they’ve been told to do, and just done what football is all about – finding the oppo’s goal and getting the ball in there. That’s been open play at its best.
When we lost to Leeds, for me the writing on the wall was when George Long (whose distribution appears fast and instinctive) was going to take a conventional goal kick, and was told in no uncertain terms by his centre-backs to put the ball on the six-yard line and play it out to them rather than kicking it up the park. And bear in mind that a few minutes before that Long’s quick distribution had made our second goal.
When we get to the point where the head coach’s (and in this case the club’s) system dictates what a keeper is allowed and not allowed to do, then there’s no hope.
This is all head-dropping stuff. What motivates people, regardless of whether they claim to be rationalists or not, is emotion. Passion. The cause. The win. When you strip that away from people, be it on a football pitch, a hockey pitch, a cricket pitch, or in a business situation, or a personal situation, what are you left with? Anonymity, ciphers, clock watchers and jobsworths.
Why infuse your personality into something when you’ve been alienated from it? Why care about your job when you’re told exactly what to do, and not been given an ultimate objective to aim for? Why bother honing your basic skills (such as your first touch, your strength to hold on to the ball on the pitch; your maths skills, your interpersonal skills, your client-facing smile in the business) when you feel you’re not valued; when you feel you’re just another number in the pre-determined system that allows no options, no individuality, no rewards (and let’s not go down the ad infinitum route of discussing how much the players get paid compared to the bar staff and backroom people – the principle of motivation is the same, and it’s easier to console yourself with a lot of money when you’re not motivated than it is on the basic wage).
So, what’s the bottom line to all this?
For me, if the way the club is run doesn’t change from the top down, there will be no change when Ben Knapper arrives, there would be no change if Webber goes now, no change if Wagner (a scapegoat if there ever was one, but not one absolved of all fault – fear forces errors) goes now.
The system of running the club and its business is outdated, and until that changes, I think the club is in grave danger on all levels, on the pitch and financially.
And changing the way it is run doesn’t mean stopping it from being a friendly club, which is the thing that attracted me into becoming a season ticket holder in the first place.