Michael Bailey: From Premier League relegation to impending Championship mediocrity - an inexcusable year that should leave nothing at Norwich City taken for granted and supporters deserving better
PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 December 2016 | UPDATED: 21:15 23 December 2016
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
This week was spent wondering, with Christmas and the last throes of 2016 almost here, exactly what this column should focus on?
It could be another analysis of Alex Neil’s precarious situation. There’s almost certainly a player somewhere deserving column inches, good or bad – from Timm Klose’s made-up 24th-game clause to Alex Pritchard’s swift re-disappearance into the Colney work shop.
There is the wretched look of the Championship table and the yearning chasm between Norwich City and a third successive second-tier promotion – something I wrote back in August I couldn’t see happening.
But in reality, all I wanted to write was that it sucks. It’s been rubbish. The whole year. Dross.
Try to think of a Norwich City calendar highlight, and if you can do better than the final moments of the 3-2 home win over Newcastle United last season that only flattered to deceive, then fair play to you.
As bad as the Premier League relegation was, it all took place under a narrative of the manager learning and improving, with a squad and club being moulded in a progressive fashion.
Things were supposed to be more enjoyable in the Championship – and yet, not too many of the 10 second-tier wins that followed have left the yellow army anywhere near as high as kites.
What’s more – and what is different – is the impending sense of prolonged mediocrity City could be heading towards. A total erosion of all the good work and progress the club worked so hard to gain, following their pitiful fall into League One.
That’s the overriding mood heading to Reading on Boxing Day and into Christmas in general, when the painful reality is there won’t be too many Norwich fans genuinely looking forward to breaking up their festivities with a trip to the Madejski and a high-flying Royals side – one that on City’s return to the Championship from the top flight back in 2005-06, brought Nigel Worthington to longingly reminisce how his Canaries side was ripping mediocre sides apart 4-0 like the Royals, just two years earlier.
If after more than nine years of doing this job, I feel any random topic would simply ignore the greater apathy and inaction around my football club at the moment, how must the supporters currently paying their way feel? The ones who shell out hundreds of pounds every year to take up their seat – when each season they may feel an increasing sense of it being a commitment they can’t keep to. Or can’t afford. Or don’t get enough enjoyment from.
It’s not a particularly privileged position but it is a fact – I’ve enjoyed covering the club for almost a decade, and I spent just as long before that paying for my own season ticket. I’ve been a fan far longer. The reality is expected mediocrity is far easier to deal with and enjoy, than when expectations are higher yet no one seems capable of intervening to prevent the inevitable.
Where the owners make statements over taking a fans’ vote on a manager’s future – yet make statements that begin, “The fans won’t like this but…”
This is a dark column to reflect the dark space City have entered this season, and occupy heading into Christmas. Where no one and nothing should be taken for granted.
No one at Carrow Road deserved a year like 2016. Every single City fan deserves infinitely better from here.
• JUST SAYING…
• A £5m pay-off and Christmas free to enjoy with the family. Aside from the damage to his professional pride, Alan Pardew should be fine following his sacking from Crystal Palace.
Indeed, there isn’t a football manager in the country that doesn’t know what industry they are getting into when they sign up to the job, and what they will be judged by.
At the same time, Palace know Sam Allardyce is as close as you can get to Premier League security – apart maybe from Tony Pulis, and that one proved lucrative for several reasons.
• Fair play to Spurs for signing so many of their stars on long-term deals – it’s the right thing to do.
What’s key now however, is making sure they stay hungry too – because simply keeping hold of a player isn’t enough on its own.