Di Cunningham: Never mind the anger...
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Fan Zone columnist Di Cunningham considers the reaction to Norwich City’s relegation
So the R number in Norwich is now five - not the Reproductivity rate for Covid but, for a record breaking fifth time, the city’s football club have been Relegated from the world’s greatest league.
Maybe lockdown has made me over-sensitive, but I was surprised by the degree of social media venom from fellow fans following the rubber-stamping of City’s demotion on Saturday.
In my opinion, the necessary hiatus in the Premier League as a response to coronavirus particularly disadvantaged our club - one where the team ethic is everything and where the backroom staffing is a fraction of that at many other EPL sides. We could have done with five Chris Domogallas to work remotely with locked down players and with Zoom conferencing that offered genuine opportunities for bonding rather than the self-conscious interactions we all tried but often failed to find inspirational.
As fans, undoubtedly we had an effect in our absence. Back in another relegation season, Delia offered her legendary call to arms and there was little response. Remember the library that was Carrow Road back in 2005? Before the heady days of Along Come Norwich and the Barclay End? In these times of margins determining the gift or withholding of football’s financial bounty, vocal, visible support has unquestionably contributed to the good times. But had Delia made her ‘Where are You?’ clarion call this summer, the out of office reply was ‘Staying Home’ and the lack of us as the 12th man is surely a factor in the disappointing results since Project Restart. Imagine the howls we’d have made at the denial of Teemu Pukki’s penalty against West Ham, the lift we might have offered to add impact to Onel Hernandez’s strike and Mario Vrancic’s free-kick.
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The volume of the fury at the failure of our team to stay in the Premier League has no doubt been amplified by an empty Carrow Road. It’s generally accepted that the most vocal football supporters on social media are those fans who don’t go to games – and right now that’s all of us. With behind-closed-doors games we’ve started tweeting earlier (one of the few consolations of not being in the stadium is actually being able to get a signal!) and gone on longer and more passionately, with our keyboards the only outlet for the catharsis usually provided through being in the stands.
I could appreciate supporters’ relegation rage in 2016: we had a manager in Alex Neil who lacked the confidence to play exciting talent like Dieumerci Mbokani (and subsequently youngsters like James Maddison), who accumulated but couldn’t get the best out of a number of expensive ‘names’ – including the panic-bought Steven Naismith whose over-inflated salary remained a hobbling legacy long after Neil’s departure and who’s strident demeanour frankly wasn’t very likable.
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But this time around we weren’t expecting to stay up ... were we? No promises were made by Stuart Webber or Daniel Farke, in fact the opposite, with 2019’s elevation to the best league in the world described as unforeseen, ahead of schedule and a challenge in terms of sustainability; a challenge equated by Farke as requiring a miracle.
And this time around we have a head coach who not only develops flair and youth players but can stretch established footballers to add more to their locker - Pukki, Alex Tettey, Hernandez. We have a head coach who is open and honest and whose humility resonates not only with us but with firebrand managers like Neil Warnock and Chris Wilder.
And remember that two out of three of the games just before quarantine measures kicked in were impressive victories, over Leicester and Spurs.
Many of us appreciate Norwich City FC for its ethos as a self funding, community club. I absolutely acknowledge that not everyone subscribes to this micro-economics model of football finance and that some would prefer an off-the-scale injection of mass capital regardless of the source of funds or resulting change in the character of NCFC.
For me, I accept that performance off the pitch, and the nature of the club is as important as results and league status. And the last few months have really brought that home. During lockdown I’ve been playing in a global Fifa league. We have members from Canada, Sweden, Australia, Greece, Peru, India, Egypt, South Africa and New Zealand as well as the UK. Virtually all the players are dedicated fans of their local or birthplace team. That means very few of them support clubs in elite leagues and results are often something of an irrelevance. Talking in our WhatsApp group, one league mate said his club had played in the top league 52 times and won only once, but 25,000 fans show up to every home game and sing for the full 90 minutes. That is unparalleled fandom.
Knowing that the Canaries are solvent and prudently governed – despite not only the unforgiving and perilous financial terrain of the game but given too the not-insignificant demands of the Covid-19 crisis –- is a hugely rewarding. I don’t pretend that satisfaction will ever be a visceral buzz like the high we all felt at Villa when we sealed the Championship title, but it’s a good vibe and for me it mitigates much of the disappointment of relegation.