Robin Sainty: Where City lead, others will surely follow
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s been a long old poke, but the curtain finally came down on the strangest of football seasons at Oakwell for a Norwich City squad that’s had to overcome its fair share of hurdles.
First and foremost was the hangover from a psychologically damaging relegation, then the crippling injury crisis in November and December, the absence of fans from virtually every game and the fact that a fixture against them was like a cup final for most opponents, yet despite all of that they’ve produced some of the best football I’ve had the privilege to watch in over half a century of watching City.
Their focus and intensity has been exceptional, as has their ability to respond positively to the sort of pressure that saw Swansea's and Brentford’s challenges hit a brick wall as the finish line approached, but they could still indulge in a little sentimentality last Saturday.
Daniel Farke may have talked about City not easing up at the start of the week, but I don’t think that anyone was surprised when his starting line-up at Barnsley included the departing Alex Tettey and Mario Vrancic.
It wasn’t the hard-nosed thing to do, but it was the right thing. It was typical of a set of values that run through the club from the top down to show respect to players who have contributed so much before they leave.
While six Premier League owners were busy plotting to sell their fans down the river, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones were singing along with theirs because, to them, ownership isn’t about money, it’s about passion and engaging with their fans and their community; it’s about doing things right.
While there is still an element of the fanbase that want the club to be sold to an Abramovich, a Kroenke or a Glazer regardless of the recent stark proof that when push comes to shove such people don’t give a damn about their match going supporters (or 'legacy fans' to quote the patronising phrase used by the renegade owners when they still thought they could get away with their coup d’état), the vast majority understand that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
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In fact, it’s becoming more and more clear that being self-funding isn’t just about being a beggar at the rich man’s table, but rather a model which more and more clubs are seeing as the way forward given the likelihood that sooner or later the super-rich elite will take their ball home.
Gambling with money that you don’t actually have just isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Sunderland, Wigan, Bolton, Hull and Blackburn are all similar-sized clubs to City who reached for the stars but have found themselves in League One or lower.
Sheffield Wednesday have also now joined them as a direct result of a points deduction for breaking financial rules and Derby County may well follow, dependent upon whether the EFL deduct points this season or next for their financial irregularities.
The abortive Super League project may have lasted only a few days, but it raised the spectre of the rump of the Premier League having to cope without the lucrative and ever growing levels of TV cash that had formerly been considered to be a given. It should be a huge wake-up call to a game that is fast losing its moral compass in the blind pursuit of money.
Of course, City will still be patronised and treated as an oddity by sections of the media and fans of the big clubs next season, many of whom will have never experienced the joy of watching a team that has been built rather than bought achieving success, because they simply don’t “get” the Norwich way.
However, if, as I hope, we are starting to move towards a saner football world, I much prefer to see City plotting their own course rather than following the pack.