I tend to keep my counsel these days regarding all things Norwich City.
It’s not that I no longer care about the club or what it purports to stand for.
Far from it.
I care passionately and excessively. I sometimes wish that I didn’t. That I could switch off my support and that, instantaneously, Norwich City Football Club would no longer be part of my life.
Hell, we are all capable of doing that with far more essential things in life, people included.
But no, the yellow and green is for life.
Even so, many prominent journalists, writers, bloggers, and YouTube hosts regularly post their own thoughts, and, as much as I can, I read, listen and watch them all.
I needn’t, I’ve long surmised, add my voice to that footballing pantheon.
Besides, my Norwich City ‘thing’ is the club’s history. Past players, matches, notable incidents, and landmarks.
Nostalgia. Happy memories from the club’s past that were, in some cases, so good that they now make us feel sad.
The club recently made it known that they weren’t altogether keen on my writing books relating to the Canaries. It wasn’t exactly the 2 a.m. knock on the door by a couple of heavies, but I got the ‘message’ that they’d prefer it if I didn’t write anymore.
None were planned at the time, and I have since moved on with my work but, all the same, it did leave me wondering if they thought I was basking in the considerable riches accrued by writing books about the club, riches that they thought, and, I’ll admit, probably rightly, should really be heading their way?
They have probably now discovered for themselves that writing books about a medium-sized football club, publications that attract the attention of a small book-buying audience in just one region of the country, isn’t going to make anyone much money.
Least of all, the author.
For all that, I am currently finishing a new book about the club, which will be available early next year.
So there you go. I now expect to wake up with a horse’s head in my bed anytime soon.
Forgive the indulgence. It’s a necessary one that highlights my own personal experience of the lack of connection that so many supporters claim now exists between the club and its loyal fan base.
We seem to have gone from being fans and family to customers and consumers.
Membership numbers. People with a sort code and six-digit account number.
One of the many ways the supporters of our, or any club, feel that all-important connection with their club is the presence of players in the starting XI who have worked their way through the ranks, from schoolboy level to Under-18, Under-21, and on into the first team.
Watch any match, and invariably, one of the most joyful chants you’ll hear from a club’s support is that a particular player is “one of our own”.
It’s as if he was with them in the stands one week and on the pitch the next.
In some cases, he would have been.
Hence, the connection and the pride in watching them progress up the ranks.
I remember, way back, reading reports in the EDP and Pink Un about the club’s South East Counties League side and how a young man by the name of Justin Fashanu was causing quite a stir in footballing circles at the time.
This meant that, while Fash came to the attention of the wider nation for the very first time in the game which saw him make his debut for us (which featured on Match Of The Day), an otherwise nondescript 1-1 draw at home to West Brom on January 13th, 1979, he would have been a familiar name and prospect to many Norwich fans for a considerable period before then.
A legion of hopeful youngsters, all starry-eyed and wobbly of leg, have since followed Fash up that same route with, just a few days ago, Jaden Warner being the latest to make his way through to the first team from several levels beneath.
There are others who we all hope will soon have the opportunity to join him.
Emmanuel Adeboyega (one of the best young prospects we have had for years). Dylan Berry. Gabriel Forsyth. Brad Hills. Daniel Ogwuru. Lewis Shipley. To name a few.
Such is the nature of football recruitment these days, we are as ‘guilty’ as any other club of poaching the best young prospects from teams seen to be lower in the pecking order than us, so they can only, in some cases, be seen as ‘one of our own’ in a somewhat more limited context.
But, for now, they’re learning their trade with us, so regardless of the fact that Manchester City might hold a claim over Ogwuru and Hamilton Academicals might do the same with Forsyth, they are, for the time being, most definitely ‘ours’ to have and to hold.
How long, I wonder, before Chelsea fans sing about how Alex Matos is one of their own, even if he signed for us at the age of 12 and then from Luton Town.
So, three clubs so far whose fans might want to stake their claim over young Mr Matos – as well as, in time, the half dozen or so he may play for as Chelsea loan him out to continue his footballing education at any place and training ground other than the pristine pitches and surroundings at Cobham.
So, here’s a question…
Why did Matos opt to leave Luton for us back in 2016? Likewise, Max Aarons, another product of Luton’s incredibly successful youth set-up that also included Jamal Lewis.
Jacob Murphy. He is now playing in the Champions League for Newcastle United, but he, along with his brother Josh, joined Norwich when they were just 11.
Why did they opt for us when there would have been considerable interest in them from many other teams, even back then? Likewise, Todd Cantwell, who had more than Norwich chasing after his signature when he was a schoolboy.
Plus, some more experienced younger players who’d already had a taste of first-team action at their clubs. Ben Godfrey and James Maddison, for example.
Why Norwich City?
We all know the answer. It’s about the ‘pathway’. The club never tire of talking about it, and that gets infectious as the players soon pick up on it and start using it themselves.
“… I joined Norwich because the pathway to the first team is clearly laid out before you”.
“… The pathway at Norwich means I may get a chance of breaking into the first team here earlier than I would at another club”.
We have all seen and read the quotes. The players believe it, and, in the past, many have been good enough to prove that what they said is true; that the pathway was there for them, and that they were good enough to walk its entirety.
It’s why so many young players choose to join us rather than a bigger club.
It’s why we’re investing millions of pounds at the Colney Training Centre.
Listen. The likes of Shane Duffy and Ashley Barnes don’t sign for clubs like us because of what we have to offer at Colney.
Duffy spent nearly seven years at Brighton. So he will be more than familiar with their Amex Elite Football Centre in Lancing. I’ve been lucky enough to visit and be shown around the site, and good as Colney unquestionably is, Brighton’s site will always be more impressive than whatever we have to offer young players.
Colney is part of the club’s masterplan to attract the cream of the world footballing youth.
That’s the appeal.
It’s one of the reasons that Pedro Lima would have chosen us over any other suitors. He and others.
Because when young players are being courted by the likes of us and our footballing peers, Colney makes a difference.
It won’t hold up compared to Lancing or Cobham but when you weigh in the first-team pathway we offer, it is usually enough to convince them to sign for us.
So let’s not, as we seemingly switch our recruitment focus to the tried, tested, and experienced, suddenly look like we are blocking that first-team pathway off for young players.
Because if Jaden Warner finds himself shunted back to the Under-21s again once Duffy, Ben Gibson, and Grant Hanley are all available, he might think he’ll be better off playing his football elsewhere.
Emmanuel Adeboyega is nearly 20 and hasn’t had a sniff of first-team football yet. And isn’t likely to while there is so much competition in front of him at the moment. He will likely be the next to go out on loan in January.
He might think that loan might serve him best as an opportunity to put himself in the proverbial shop window for other clubs rather than prepping him for a genuine opportunity at Norwich City.
Brad Hills is currently impressing just about anyone and everyone who watches him at Accrington Stanley.
That will include representatives of other football clubs.
Might he get a chance with us next season?
Or will he feel his career will benefit from moving on from Norwich City?
Rinse and repeat.
Bali Mumba could see what was coming. I was not the only one who felt he would stay at Plymouth Argyle once they were promoted. Yes, we made a half-hearted attempt to make it look like he might break through with us this season, but with Argyle more than happy to make sure we made a profit on him, he soon headed back to the West country.
Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if the likes of Hills and Adeboyega are seen as assets that we can make a profit on within the next year to 18 months. And if that happens, the club will feel vindicated. Football is a business and the bottom line is making money.
Job done, as far as the Academy is concerned.
Great for business but it sucks a bit of the joy out of supporting your team and those who become one of your own.
So if that celebrated pathway to the first team is seen to be not quite as open and accessible as it used to be, then will young players think again about joining us and look around for more realistic options?
They all want to play. And in football, being 18, 19 or 20 is no longer seen as the age of promise but the age at which a player’s first-team career should be starting. They know it, and, more to the point, so do their agents.
And it’ll be their agents who are just as willing to deter the very best of the up-and-coming generation of teenage footballers from joining Norwich City as it might once have been them convincing their latest clients to sign for us.
If Warner impresses enough to retain his place in the side, then there is some hope that our pathway is still open.
If, however, he is demoted in favour of one of his more well-established teammates the moment they are available for selection, that would be more than a slight concern.
So I hope David Wagner is brave enough to keep him in the team for Cardiff rather than take the safe option and drop him at the first opportunity in the weeks to come.
Because Jaden Warner’s future at this football club might end up defining that of many of his peers and whether they also go on to have a chance with us.
Or choose to go elsewhere. Which, if it happened, would be a great pity.
It might hint that the pathway is no longer as straightforward as it used to be.
This means we’ll find it very difficult to sign the very best young players in the future.
Even if we do have a new swimming pool.