Festive games will test fans’ goodwill

DAVID CUFFLEY Tuesday afternoon's match against Southend United at Carrow Road has been declared a sell-out for home fans, with tickets available only at the “buy-back” window two hours before kick-off.


Tuesday afternoon's match against Southend United at Carrow Road has been declared a sell-out for home fans, with tickets available only at the “buy-back” window two hours before kick-off.

On the face of it, that's excellent news for Norwich City - jingle tills all the way at the box office - and, even allowing for the fact that Boxing Day is traditionally an occasion for bumper crowds, it's a remarkable statistic given the club's current position in the Coca-Cola Championship table.

If the team in 17th place in the second tier of English football, before today's games, can fill the ground when they are playing the bottom side in the division, it says a great deal about the loyalty of their fans and the level of interest in their fortunes, in spite of another half-season of under-achievement.

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Yet just how much of a full house City will get against the Shrimpers is unclear. Yes, all home tickets are sold, but while the official attendance figure issued at Carrow Road represents the number of tickets sold for the game, it's the percentage figure that is also announced over the public address that gives a true picture of the turnout.

More than once this season that figure has dropped below 90 per cent, which means at least one in 10 fans with a ticket has been unable to attend or has simply chosen not to turn up.

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It could be argued that, with the supporters' cash already in the bank, it's not a major problem for the club, but if the empty seats dotted here and there turn into more solid pockets of yellow and green in the weeks ahead it will become more of a concern, and it certainly won't help the atmosphere inside the ground.

How many of the undecided 10 per cent turn out for the Southend game could depend on a number of factors.

If City have banked a point or, better still, three at Wolves today, it will do their hopes of a packed house and a vibrant atmosphere the power of good. If, however, they have suffered a fourth straight defeat, it will not have done them any favours and it won't lift the mood before kick-off.

Several long-standing fans I have spoken to in the past week have expressed a certain indifference about turning out on Tuesday on what should be one of the big football days of the season. Only once in the last five home games, in the 3-1 win against Leicester, have they set off for home after witnessing a convincing display, and since then City have not taken a single point.

The lack of public transport on Boxing Day does not help, either, with regular supporters based out of Norwich or miles further afield, for example, in London, having no option but to drive, find a lift or stay at home.

Others, perhaps, may even decide that family commitments at Christmas are more pressing or more attractive than the visit of Southend, hardly on a par with more glamorous Boxing Day encounters in years past with, say, Tottenham or Ipswich. Whatever the gates, it's absolutely essential that City stem their run of poor results - if they haven't already done so this afternoon - and chalk up a couple of handsome home wins against Southend and Queen's Park Rangers, with performances to match, before seeing in the New Year. It is vital if the Canaries are to get themselves within striking distance of the top six at the start of January, however remote a prospect promotion seems to be at the moment. City have to give potential new recruits the best possible incentive to sign on the dotted line in the transfer window, and they have to retain the enthusiasm of their 20,000 season ticket-holders for the rest of the campaign if turning up at Carrow Road is not to become a duty rather than a pleasure. They will certainly want to avoid a repeat of the mood that prevailed for the second half of last season.

City supporters had to learn to be patient, philosophical, almost fatalistic, during nine seasons without Premiership football and they realise well enough that manager Peter Grant has had to work with a squad he inherited rather than built, one troubled by injuries and one that he clearly feels needs greater quality and balance.

But even those who have forgiven his outburst after the Hull game will not have forgotten it, and they may be less inclined to be patient if things do not improve in the New Year.

City can get a head start on that front by taking maximum points from the next two home games, both against teams below them in the table, something they have struggled to do this season. They have not managed to win three successive Championship games since last December, and their points tally at the halfway point of the campaign, after last week's defeat at Southampton, was only three higher than at the same stage last season.

The next three games will not just be crucial to City's season, but vital to retaining the goodwill of their supporters. Have a happy Christmas - better still, a winning one.

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