Jon Punt recently attended the Merseyside derby and had to sit in with those of a blue and white persuasion. Apart from the need for a long hot bath, did he take anything away from the experience?
I should caveat this piece by starting with the fact this isn't a dig at fellow Norwich fans for not making noise at matches. I, and plenty of others on this site, have done that before. A lot. Sorry, but we like singing and atmosphere. Actually, we're not sorry. Noise at a football match is a good thing, right? Carrow Road has, and continues to be, a virtual library unless you sit in the Barclay Lower or Snake Pit. Couple that with the more reserved nature of Norfolk types and it’s a perfect, if altogether quiet, storm.
This is however the ramblings of a man who, by pure coincidence (thanks for something Sky TV), happened to be in Liverpool for the latest Merseyside Derby. Said man also managed to bag himself a ticket and thought it would be of interest to compare and contrast the atmospherics of Goodison (albeit on derby day) with our very own Carra Rud. Spoiler warning - Norwich came off worse.
The pre-match pub of choice had an altogether familiar feeling; there was palpable sense of supporter unrest about Ronald Koeman's managerial capability, even on the back of their fine home win against Arsenal. Talk of not knowing his best side, playing people out of position, not giving certain players enough of a chance, having favourites. This is all strikingly samey to a certain Scot we know, isn’t it?
However on the walk down to the ground, the experience began to feel altogether different. The place oozes history. Goodison Park is a proper old school football ground, steeped in tradition. The Dixie Dean statue greets you on the stroll from town, just as you’ve noticed how close Anfield is. Dixie looked resplendent as a supporter placed their blue and white scarf on his shoulders, his location obviously being used as a meeting point for many a fan meeting their mates before kick off. The bronzed sculpture of a true Toffees legend serves as a reminder of better times for Evertonians, surely someone could craft Jerry Goss in full Karate Kid Bayern style pose to replicate the feeling at NR1?
We were there intentionally early, so we could grab a cheeky beverage in the designated Fans Zone. I was a virgin to such a manufactured and obvious attempt to drain more money from a supporter’s pocket, but the results were surprising.
Everton have impressively laid on entertainment to get the crowd in the mood and the area was astonishingly pretty full. The queue for beer was turning over quickly and it all helped add to the pre-match buzz. In the absence of any really good drinking establishments around the ground (Coach and Horses and Fat Cat & Canary aside) the Carrow Road hierarchy would do well to think about recreating what Everton have done. More money in the coffers while simultaneously bringing together supporters is a win-win situation for the club. The bottle bar behind the South Stand is a fair start, but it doesn’t really compare. Yet.
With beers downed and anticipation levels rising, it was time to take my seat. The sense of nostalgia was maintained, Z Cars belting out in time honoured tradition as the players took to the pitch. It's lovely. Norwich tried something similar with the piano rendition of On the Ball City being played at the latter end of last season in an attempt to improve atmosphere. Unfortunately it’s since been ditched. A chance to remember our roots is going begging.
To my surprise, those around me were welcoming, friendly and ready to offer opinion on all things Norwich City. Apparently that Naismith lad we’ve got is “boss” and they should never have sold John Ruddy. If only they knew.
What shocked me further however was the volume. All 4 sides of the ground were a wall of noise. I couldn't sing, every fibre of my being told me it would be wrong to cheer on another team, especially one playing in blue and white, but in a part of the ground which is traditionally not known as the loudest, everyone around me had found their voice. Those fans were young, old and of varying demographics, dispelling the myth an ageing crowd don’t want to sing (at least in Liverpool anyway).
Many a time I’ve heard our own supporters label the Yellow Army as “the best fans in the country”, based on the desire to spur on their team I’d say Everton have their bar raised higher than ours. Ok, it was the Merseyside derby and you expect some level of support from all areas of the ground, but this was different. Everyone was comfortable enough to raise their own game, find their voice and roar on their team. It was a resoundingly different experience and in atmospheric terms, its difficult to envisage it being replicated when attending Norwich City’s home fixtures.
It wasn’t all positive however, there were some unsavoury elements. Casual homophobia is clearly still acceptable in the area I was sitting (something I’ve seen challenged, not accepted at Carrow Road) and despite Mike Dean having a fairly decent match he was labelled as a proper Berkshire hunt. Supporter positivity wasn’t really flowing post-match either as late in the game Sadio Mane reacted quicker than a static Everton backline (sounding familiar again?) and the derby day bragging rights were Liverpool’s once more.
However, as much as the current situation and supporter unrest would have you thinking differently, Norwich City Football Club is good at a lot of things. Putting bums on seats was probably one of the only tasks overseen by Neil Doncaster which took long term planning and vision. Andrew Cullen's legacy is still in place today with our season ticket sales at unprecedented levels and sold out signs the norm rather than the exception. His efforts are now being recognised elsewhere as MK Dons try to fill their oversized stadium, good luck with that one mate.
For Norwich though the task is only half complete and Cullen’s good work only goes so far. The cost benefit of filling out the ground is undeniable, but what this should also provide in turn is a fortress where a cauldron of noise makes it an intimidating place for the visitors. Currently it's more akin to a nice afternoon tea, such is the welcoming nature of the team and support alike.
There are certainly lessons to be learned from other teams, from this isolated foray to the North West it’s clear that encouraging fans to the ground earlier and creating a place for them to congregate adds a little something. It also suggests anyone and everyone can sing if so inclined. Oh, and we badly need that Gozza statue if you’ve lost your mates and Vodafone’s signal is playing up on matchday, AGAIN.
2016 has been a dire year for our football team. Next year can be better, at least in terms of atmosphere. While we can’t sack a manager, we can all play a part in putting the F in FCR.
You can follow Jon on Twitter @puntino