'Why are the disillusioned leaving their calling card by way of an empty seat?'

Norwich City fans during the Premier League match at Carrow Road, Norwich
Picture by Daniel Hambury

Seats begin to appear among the Norwich City fans during the Premier League match against West Ham Picture: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd

Nasty little shocks have littered this season, many of them ‘repeats’ from previous campaigns. 

Poor results, a lack of empathy between supporters and the team, a popular manager departing, even the protests outside the ground against all and sundry inside it.  

Incidentally, those fan protests pale in comparison to the Worthy Out campaign of 2006, led by an organisation that was far from ad hoc. 

Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington in the final game of his reign - against Burnley

Nigel Worthington on the sidelines for the final time in 2006 - a day when there was hardly a spare seat, despite City's wretched form - Credit: Archant

But the sight of so many empty seats at Carrow Road for the West Ham game was a surprise. In previous times of trouble, filling Carrow Road was never an issue – although some would say that is the very issue this time around. 

You can no longer trust the attendance figure given at games – it does not reflect the number of people inside the stadium, just the number of tickets sold for the game, including season tickets. Theoretically, Carrow Road could be empty and the attendance could still be given as well over 20,000 – because selling season tickets has never been a problem. 

There was no attendance figure announced at the ground during the West Ham game, but it was later published as 26,428.  It wasn’t, though, because many fans are voting with their feet and are staying away – and that is something that has not happened for many a year. 

Many of those who did go to the game had disappeared before the end. The clever ones know that the best way to beat the traffic after a home game is to stay until the final whistle. How may will vote with their feet on Sunday, when City play their final game of a terrible season, is anyone's guess.

Plenty of empty seats were seen during the Premier League match at Carrow Road, NorwichPicture by

Plenty of empty seats have been seen at Carrow Road recently - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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So what’s happening? Why are the disillusioned leaving their calling card by way of an empty seat? Why are this season’s hard times so much more difficult to take than in previous seasons? 

The quality of football has to be a factor – it’s been poor. 

A perceived lack of ambition, maybe? Probably depends on your views of the ownership, but if you are in a competition then having ambition is a given. If not you’d go out and lose. 

Part of the anticipation is that you never know what’s going to happen – this season fans have been wise to it. They know. And they were right. 

If you go to the cinema you expect to see a quality movie – if not, it wouldn’t be showing, would it? If you go to a football match you should at least expect to see the good and the bad – not just the bad every week. The fun of not knowing has been lost. Because we know. 

Norwich City fans protest outside the ground after the Premier League match at Carrow Road, Norwich.

Norwich City fans protest outside the ground after the 4-0 home thrashing by West Ham earlier this month - Credit: PA

Then there are the alternatives – why should football be exempt from competition? Its sacrosanct Saturday afternoon position has been diluted by the TV companies who force feed us. Football is no longer special because we are overdosing on it. Some don’t mind that, some just feel bloated and sick. So they find something else, because football hasn’t really changed at most levels, has it? We demanded that referees up their game and got every decision right, so VAR was introduced - and we moaned because no one liked the really close decisions that, though correct, weren’t in the spirit of the game. You can’t be only a little bit offside... 

And the general game experience in this country? Still being charged a ridiculous amount of money to be fed and watered, crammed into uncomfortable plastic seats too small, crunched up against the person next to you, unable to see when people stand and you want to remain seated, more than likely to get wet when it rains, probably getting even wetter in toilets with drains that can’t stand the strain, and then, after 90 expensive minutes, a long walk back to your car because there is no parking at the ground. 

Football needs to do more for its fans. 

Empty stands with media and ground staff wearing PPE because of the Covid19 pandemic before the Prem

Empty stands were the order of the day two years ago when the pandemic had a devastating effect Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

And then there is Covid, which has a lot more to answer for than just the insanely high number of deaths and family destruction it caused, and is still causing. The Covid spin-off has many tentacles, one of which is perspective.

No longer are we on a sheep trail where Saturday afternoon football is a must. The enforced absence from grounds while Covid raged and football played on altered a few mindsets. There is life after football. There is family life. There are children who, at an impressionable - football-wise at least - age, didn't get that family bonding visit to a game, that day when you are supposed to fall in love with your club forever. They missed the football bus - and they're not interested in running after it. Mums and dads realised the sanctity of life was about more than football, that now, Saturday afternoons are for families. Their own, not football's.  

Another tentacle was the residual cost, of living. When government tells us to get better-paid jobs and survive on pennies, then something has to give - and forking out for football is not just a luxury, it's a bill too far for many. And it can go.

All of the above, of course, depend on personal circumstances. Some can afford life's little luxuries, some can put up with their team being poor as long as they can see their football ground neighbours. It also depends who you support - some clubs' fans are a lot more demanding and vociferous than others.. 

But football needs bums on seats to survive at any level - and in changing asocial times it needs to up its game on many levels.