Occasionally something lands in our inbox from a completely new source. This week that came from Noel Longhurst in the form of a 3 point manifesto for how to renew a club that feels like it is wilting before our eyes. Over to you Noel...
As a long time supporter it seems to me that there is a sense of a deeper malaise around Norwich which the behind the scenes “football restructure”, however successful it may be, will not completely address. So here is a simple, three point manifesto for renewing our fine club.
1 - Give the fans a positive vision for the future.
Whilst there has been ongoing change behind the scenes one thing that has been notably absent from the club is a clear explanation of the future strategy. It’s not clear whether Delia and Michael have ever fully appreciated the effect of their Times interview last year. For many fans it came across as admission that they lack ambition and are happy with bouncing around mid-table in the Championship. Cue disgruntlement and disillusion.
There is a great deal of pessimism around about what will happen after the parachute payments run out and that feeds into the general vibe around the place. After all, hope is the great drug of football. But we know the club has got a plan for the future, so tell us what it is. If you want fans to buy into the vision you need to tell them what it is.
What’s more I think the board could be more confident and proud of trying to find an alternative model to the conventional “Sh*t or bust!” football club business model. They could point to the many clubs that have taken on external “investment” and have been saddled with huge debt (hello Ipswich!). They could point to the numerous clubs that have been damaged by being sold to incompetent owners (Leeds, Portsmouth, Blackburn, Leyton Orient, the list goes on). They could point out that the Premier League isn’t actually that much fun for medium sized clubs (especially when the novelty wears off) and there is no such thing as becoming “established” (hello Villa and Sunderland!).
But the most importantly the plan needs to give fans some hope. It could be as simple as “we will scour the leagues for potential, develop it, and sell it on” (after all hasn’t this always been the “Norwich way”?). It could be - like Freiburg in Germany - becoming renowned for developing our own youth players.
So, if we are going to try and “Do Different” then let’s be proud about it, but also show the fans that there is some kind of positive plan for the future.
2 - Take the lead on safe standing.
The atmosphere at Carrow Road has been in decline for some time. This is not just a Norwich problem and it has a number of causes. But for me (and I’m sure many others) the singing and atmosphere is one reason that I love going to football.
I have no truck with the “Entertain us and we’ll sing” school of thought. That is that attitude of the modern consumer-fan. Players and managers have said on many occasions how much a good atmosphere helps to lift them. On that logic we should sing MORE when they are struggling, rather than grumbling, moaning and deciding who the latest scapegoat should be.
The Arsenal away game gave a tantalising glimpse of how it used to be, and how it might be again.
Which brings me to safe standing. It’s going to happen. Celtic already have some. Other clubs like Bristol City and Shrewsbury are pushing to take the lead and so should we. Rather than be a laggard and get round to it in 10 years we should be pushing to be one of the first clubs to install it and see it as an investment in the facilities and fan experience.
As some of the post-Barnsley discussion has identified it is really THE ONLY solution to improving the atmosphere. And make the tickets cheaper too so that is full of young(ish) noisy fans, rather than pricing them out of the game.
3 - Build a genuine sense of community around the club.
When I was growing up, David Williams lived round the corner in a fairly modest detached house. Those were more innocent times, but it’s one, minor example of the way in which the gap between the players and the fans has grown.
My suspicion is that the one reason that expectations are so high, tempers are so short, and patience is so limited is a subtle but gnawing resentment at the economic gulf between the fans and players these days. Now this is not something that can be fixed overnight, but I am sure that more can be done to narrow the gap between fans and supporters, to build a stronger sense of community.
But it will involve more than the odd ‘meet the players in the club shop’ event. For example, a recent excellent suggestion that I saw recently was that if the fans are being asked to contribute to the renewal of Colney why can’t the players chip in too? 1% - 2% of their salaries would go a long way. Stop viewing the supporters solely as customer numbers, and as a ‘market’ to sell holidays in Tampa too.
Involve them in the club. Listen to them. Experiment with new ideas. Remember the MyEbsfleet experiment? Now I’m not saying the fans should start picking the team, but it was a hint and the way in which technology opens up new ways for fans to be involved. Which brings me to the future. There has been some interesting coverage recently of the rise of esports and the popularity of them amongst young people. And why are esports popular with young people? Like the overlapping phenomenon of You Tubers, it’s because it provides a sense of community, intimacy and participation. To some extent football is losing these qualities and in doing so it is in danger of losing future fans.
I would love to know the average age of the crowd, but I bet that it has been rising for several years. So instead of arranging a game of Fifa between Brentford and NCFC sponsored by a betting company, arrange a competition between (young) fans and players.
The club likes to use the line that it is “community owned”. It isn’t. It IS locally owned (which is increasingly rare these days) but the model is actually old-fashioned paternalistic patronage. But that doesn’t mean more can’t be done to build a genuine sense of community around the club.
So there you go, three fairly simple thing the club could do to improve the sense of togetherness and unity around the club. What is there to lose?
Two things; first, did you know we have a new podcast? It's available via iTunes and Soundcloud. Alternatively you can just listen to it in your browser via our podcast page. Thomas Markham-Uden from Barclay End Norwich was this week's guest. He gives his thoughts on the atmosphere at Carrow Road and what can be done to improve it
Second, to keep AlongComeNorwich advert free and to help us fund additional initiatives aimed at improving the Carrow Road atmosphere, we occasionally produce exclusive t-shirts/merchandise.
This time we've produced garments celebrating our rightful place as the Pride of Anglia. As always, we take no profit from these and put all the revenue back into the site and things we can all enjoy.