Chris Lakey: If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Norwich City prepare to find some silver lining to their season at Tottenham, Chris Lakey wonders whether some fans are a little too content with their lot...
Calm before the storm: a period of unusual tranquillity or stability that seems likely to presage difficult times.
Many moons ago I had a Saturday job following the fortunes of Norwich City. It was a very different club back then. There was a business plan, but it wasn't quite up to scratch. The club was close to going broke until a new regime stepped in. Fortunes changed, but finances were still an issue. So the hierarchy changed again - self-combusted might be a better way of putting it. The owners were given the opportunity to start afresh - and they did. Younger faces, but with equally hard noses, came in and set about implementing a business plan that would ensure that under their watch there would be no one preparing to put locks on the gates of Carrow Road.
It would hurt: the no pain, no gain era was in.
That same hierarchy is still in place and still making tough decisions. But the club is safe. It is in the Premier League, albeit by a thread. It is financially stable and, crucially and in keeping with the masterplan, it has assets, over which it has complete control. Players whose market value is healthy and, better still, with replacements at the ready should they be sold. There is a clear succession plan and a clear plan of how Norwich City Football Club should be run. And 20,000 want to watch it next season, no matter which division City are in.
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And that's where I have a worry...
This is a very different club to the one I now observe from a distance. Looking back to the days when yours truly was slogging up to Carlisle and down to Yeovil etc etc it seems to me the City support was more vocal and critical. I do not doubt for one minute that today's followers are concerned about the position of the team in the top flight, but they don't seem to express concern in quite the same strident and bullish manner as they used to.
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Perhaps it was just the psychology of the day.
The must win philosophy was prevalent under the likes of Paul Lambert. Nothing else would do, and managers weren't afraid to say it. Worthington, Grant, Roeder, Gunn and Lambert were managers during my tenure as City writer. Forget what you think about them, they were winners. That was all they wanted: to bring home the points. Some were perhaps more conservative than others in their tactics: Worthy was a little cautious, although his teams were on the whole excellent. Grant was a winner for whom it just didn't work out. Roeder knew football, and while he left City a man disliked, he knew the game.
He just didn't know the club. Gunny did: City through and through who wanted nothing more than a win. It meant a lot to him. Lambert was probably the sharpest of them all in that respect. Losing was not in his mentality. But he was fortunate to have collected a coaching team that slotted together perfectly: proof of that is that since it broke up, his star has slipped. But that's another story. Lambert was my last manager.
Today, Daniel Farke is in the hot seat. Top man, very popular, says all the right things and a man who accepts the system. Which must be a bit tough: to create a team of top players knowing that they might be gone in six months time. Instead of fighting tooth and nail to keep his best players, he has bought into a system in which they are seen as short-term occupants of the shirt, to ensure the balance sheet is nice and healthy. Nothing wrong with that, but there is an acceptance of the fact that relegation isn't THAT bad a thing. It isn't the end of the world, because it is in the business plan: relegation with parachute payments, having invested little and with the possibility of selling for a lot.
Once you accept the relegation bit, you begin to deny the very principle of the game: that you are there to win, to earn promotion, and to keep winning sufficient points to stay up.
The philosophy is not win at all costs, but win if you can... and if you can't, there's a safety net to soften the pain.
Now to the crux: what about the fans?
I am surprised how many seem to toe the party line.
I still have a card in my drawer here at work that says "Worthy Out". When Worthington was sacked, City were 17th in the Championship. The fans were furious, and they showed it.
But I rarely hear calls for Farke to go. I don't wish anyone out of a job, and what City are doing is bucking a trend. Big time. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Why are City fans, in comparison to the followers of may other clubs, seemingly so relaxed about the situation?
Is it because they are of a certain demographic that accepts Saturday afternoons at Carrow Road as a nice day out, not to be disturbed by change or controversy?
Are they satisfied that their club is safe in financial terms, if not football terms?
Are they in a comfort zone? And are the players in it too, knowing that relegation is accepted more than it would be were they playing for Watford or West Ham?
I have zero dispute about the way the club is run, but I'd be a little angrier at the position City are in. I'd be annoyed at the weekly diet of so near and yet so far. I'd be mortified at the thought of an unloved rival club's fans dishing it out and laughing.
Have City fans softened over the years? Were they too ambitious back in the day? Are they not ambitious enough now?
No one is questioning their loyalty, nor that City should go and spend millions on players. But it needs to be pointed out that while Aston Villa's player investment doesn't appear to be working, Sheffield United's does.
It all depends on what you want: more and more seem to have bought into the club philosophy and accept that relegation is a bit like haemorrhoids - uncomfortable, but curable.