Di Cunningham: Mind games and what it now means to be a Norwich City fan

The home fans belt out On The Ball City before their Championship clash against Preston. Picture: Pa

The home fans belt out On The Ball City before their Championship clash against Preston. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It’s over six months since, along with most other City fans, I saw my team play from a stand - and I’m starting to feel a chemical imbalance.

Of course we’re used to an annual summer break, but it has been 29 weeks without: in-stadium highs and lows, chants and songs,

shouts and groans, air punches and overhead handclaps, hugs and high-fives with other fans, pies and pints.

Missing the visceral experiences of being a football supporter has unquestionably had an impact on my mindset.

One thousand lucky Canaries supporters got their fix on Saturday courtesy of our club stepping up to the EFL’s challenge and delivering a safe match day experience for those successful in securing a 1 in 27 balloted opportunity - and it was a joy to hear them (take note folks ready for a future ensemble return to the Carra and imagine what the sound could be like if we amplify their sound 20-fold!).

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I live not far from the ground and it was a joy to mute the iFollow stream to catch the goal celebrations and barracking of Declan Rudd as ‘One of our own’ for helping Pukki’s header cross the line.

But frankly it was torturous both at the weekend and during the restarted end of the Premier League season over the summer, to hear the preparatory ‘Bing-Bong’ and announcements before games.

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Whoever was on the tannoy for the first game back in June had a dark sense of humour - issuing the coded ‘Mr Carrow has left the building’ shout-out. Yeah right - Mr Carrow along with the rest of us.

Since football shut down back in March, the club and most of us have been rightly concerned about physical wellbeing - all playing our part in containing the spread of Covid. So it was poignant to hear Dean Ashton reviewing the game on Colin Murray’s ‘EFL on Quest’ show mentioning the effect of behind-closed-doors games on fans’ mental health. And honestly - even though supporting Norwich City is a key part of my life - I hadn’t really processed the extent to which the loss has impacted me.

Fandom can be dismissed as a self indulgent irrelevance in the arc of misery that is Corona - football’s just a game, spectating is a leisure activity, the games are on TV - and of course it’s right that risks of spreading the disease are minimised. But as Ashton raised the issue it’s worth thinking about the many aspects of being a supporter that fellow Canaries are bereft of at the moment.

Supporting our club in normal times determines where we are, when and who we hang out with. Being a fan is for most of us part of our identity and the fortnightly trips to Fortress Carra are quasi-pilgrimages often complemented by superstitious routines or behaviours.

Though differently characterised (lifelong, recent adopters, home and away, Barclay Enders, Snake Pitters, influencers, activists, local, travelling faithful..) we are all the same; we are Canaries.

Losing that part of ourselves through restricted access to football may have contributed to some overblown and toxic debates on socials in recent weeks; whether a green shirt shade can become blue? Whether there’s a right or wrong way to be a supporter and whether it’s ok to label those deemed to have failed with the C word (it’s not btw!).

I won’t quote the Smiths and throw the equally unpalatable Morrissey into the mix and instead I’m adapting the quote from Shelley Shephard Gray: Idle *fans* make fretful minds.

My sense is that the Preston game was a corner turned in many ways - not only signalling a potential return to crowds in stadiums - but reminding us what’s important about being a Yellow. The vocal, witty, unified 1000 on Saturday generated a contagious positivity that extended to socials - where there was little scapegoating, even of Placheta who missed a sitter (but had the presence of mind not to hide and so scored a fine late equaliser).

That’s something we can happily spread.

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