Jim Vanderpump returns with his eye opening series on the fantastical* goings on behind closed doors at Colney and Carrow Road back in 1998.
*by fantatastical we mean completely made up...
I’ve never been one for superstitions. Apart from that if I score against a team who play in white, then I only eat mashed potato, until I score again. Or if I score with my left foot, then I give it time off, as a treat, which means I have to hop and drive everywhere using only my right. Adhering to both rules can be tricky to follow for a whole summer, so I try and avoid scoring with my left foot against a team who play in white on the final day of the season.
As soon as I stepped into my hallway that Tuesday afternoon, I could sense that someone else was in the house. I called out, “Ni Hao,” the Chinese for ‘Hello’, hoping to discombobulate the intruder or maybe trick them into thinking that I knew Kung Fu. The living room door was slightly ajar, a crack of light shone through from the other side, and with it came a shuffling sound.
Slowly, I pushed open the door, my heart pumping like I was about to take a 90th minute penalty. The room was how I’d left it that morning, except for one thing. Over in the corner, sitting in my favourite armchair, the dim light from the lamp above reflecting off his silver mullet, was Kevin Piper, from Anglia News.
“Iwan,” he exclaimed, enthusiastically, turning around from his ‘bit to camera’ that he’d been softly muttering. “Come in, sit down. Take the weight off your feet.”
I let out a sigh; a mixture of relief and annoyance. I didn’t mind the fact that he was wearing my slippers, I didn’t even mind that he had been helping himself to my Wagon Wheels (the jam ones I might add), but I was beginning to get a bit irritated with the fact that he’d let himself into my house.
“Kevin,” I said, putting my keys down on the nearest side-table. “The interview finished 3 days ago.”
“Uh-ho, Iwan, don’t be like that,” he chuckled uncomfortably. “We’ve just got a couple more questions to ask you, then we’ll be out of your hair.”
‘We,’ I thought, looking around at the empty room. The cameraman and sound guy were long-gone, they’d left after the actual interview had ended. I thought Kevin had too, but I was later to discover that he’d just been hiding among a load of cardboard boxes in the garage, waiting for an opportunity get back in.
“OK, then, Kevin,” I exhaled, lowering myself onto the arm of the sofa. “You can ask me one more question, then you have to leave.”
Spurred on by a fresh excitement Kevin leant forward, bloodshot, sleepless eyes now wide in anticipation.
"So, Iwan Roberts, can you tell the viewers how you rediscovered your goals-coring form for Norwich City Football Club.”
Not this again, I thought, contemplating whether to call his producer, his wife, or the police. “OK,” I said firmly. “But I’m telling you for the last time.”
It had been the new gaffer, Bruce Rioch, who’d suggested I try a different approach. In fact, his actual words were, “have you ever considered a change of career,” but I knew exactly what he meant.
It was true, I was in a bit of a rut and I needed something to get me out of it (or more into it- I’m not exactly sure what a ‘rut’ is). Keith O’Neill recommended ball-room dancing, Shaun Carey suggested something to do with laundry, but a quick check on both of their goal-scoring records persuaded me to ignore them.
“Graffiti and littering’s how I stay sharp,” revealed Bellars before bedtime one night during pre-season, but that sounded a bit on the illegal side for me.
I wanted something wholesome and fun, to help take my mind off football but also keep me trim for matchdays. So, naturally I decided to join the circus.
The ring-master was a grumpy but flamboyant bloke with a curly, Poirot-like moustache, called Brian. I mean the bloke was called Brian, not his moustache. I don’t know what his moustache was called, he never introduced us. Like I said, he was grumpy.
“What can you do?” he asked, reluctantly, after I’d handed him my CV and delivered a well-rehearsed sales-pitch.
“I see myself as an allrounder,” I said, trying hard to maintain good eye-contact. “I’ve got good balance, so I’d be a natural on the tightrope, but I’m also a big guy so could probably take a cannonball in the stomach. Furthermore, I’ve already got a red coat and whip, so I was thinking lion tamer…”
He held up his hand to stop me and made a sort of throaty whimper. “Alright,” he sighed, his top-hat sliding to one side of his head. “There aren’t any openings right now, but if something crops up I’ll give you a call.”
I left feeling dejected, but 2 weeks later, in the early evening, the home phone rang. It was Brian.
“Iwan, we need you to come in tonight.”
“Excellent. Shall I bring my red coat and whip?”
“No, the bearded lady’s had to drop out,” he said, the tension rife in his voice. “Silly cow went to the barbers and fell asleep. They gave her a wet shave. When she woke up she was absolutely gorgeous. She’s only been here 20 minutes and already she’s had proposals from the strongman and one of the trapeze artists. And there’s an elephant sniffing around her ‘n’ all.”
“I’ll be there in 10!” I said, slamming down the phone and hopping as fast as I could to my car. Thank you Bernadetta, thank you, I repeated to myself as I got in and adjusted the driver’s seat to ‘righty mode’. (I should probably have stopped applying my superstitions to 5-a-side games.)
Once on the A47 I grabbed the oestrogen pills I’d been keeping in my glove compartment for just such an occasion and downed the lot, all the while getting into character by trying to remember the plot of that new TV series, Sex and the City, that the wife had made me watch.
I arrived at the big top with 10 minutes to spare, threw on the dress and tried to fluff up my 3-day-stubble as best as I could. I was as much of a woman as I was going to get at short notice.
That first shift was a baptism of fire-eating, but thanks to the help of my colleagues and the naivety of the paying public, I got through it. And guess what? That weekend I went and scored my first goal of the season away at Huddersfield.
After that, Brian seemed to call me up every week.
“Iwan, I need you again tonight. The contortionist’s stuck at work. Says he’s up to his neck in it.”
“Iwan, get here by 7. Tony’s car’s broken down again. Bloody Clown!”
I became the understudy to everyone and I loved every second. From the highs of standing on a bear’s shoulders, juggling knives, to the lows of having custard pies hurled in my face from point blank range. It was all fun and I’d had much worse at Carrow Road during the previous season. Plus, the harder I worked in the circus, the more it paid off at the weekends.
“Iwan, get over here ASAP,” shouted Brian down the phone at 6:45pm one Thursday. “The Commies have got to them, they’re all on strike! We’ll have to do the whole show on our own, you and me!”
While I sympathised with the union and its desire for equal rights for all workers, regardless of height, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fulfill a life-long ambition and be… the lion tamer.
There were some hairy moments that night, especially when I almost mistook the umbrella for the trampoline from the top of the high-wire, or when I confused the cup of petrol for water and nearly breathed fire on a monkey, but me and Brian pulled it off and everyone went home happy. Apart from the elephant that got eaten, but you can’t interfere with nature and that lion was in a cranky mood.
Anyway, that Saturday I bagged a brace against Bristol City to keep us in the mix for promotion, so it all worked out. It’s what ‘Little Nelly’ would’ve wanted.
“So there you have it, Kevin,” I said, rising back to my feet and opening the door to the living room as a not-so-subtle hint for him to get out. “That’s how I rediscovered my goal-scoring form.” He wasn’t moving. “Kevin? Kevin!”
The weirdo had fallen asleep in the chair. He was slumped forward over the arm, making a soft whistling noise through his nose.
Wearily, I turned around to the door. “Alright then, Kevin, you can stay for tea,” I said, like a defeated illusionist outwitted by the innocence of a child. “I hope you like mashed potato.”
Texas-based City fan Marc Foster gives us his take on the AGM and opportunities for spreading the Canary message across the globe that have been missed.
If Jez Moxey is serious about building bridges, he might want to read this first...
This is a piece that’s been brewing in my head for a while, but the AGM has brought out some focus. This isn’t a piece about form or ambition, as there are others at ACN better equipped than me to discuss that, especially this season where the number of games I can view is rather limited. Actually, despite being 7,700km away from Carrow Road, I’m talking about fan engagement.
But first a little background.
Living in Texas, there’s no shortage of European club fans in my neighborhood. If I walk the halls of the school where I teach, there are usually 2-3 kids each day wearing a Barca shirt, along with the occasional Real Madrid, Man United, or Chelsea. Most of these folks are “Walmart fans,” though - they have the shirt, and might know a player or 2, but they can’t tell you who their team is playing that week in the Champion’s League. From both the Walmart fans and serious fans I’m often asked why Norwich City?
The answer is simple. When I was about 12, my paternal grandmother gave me her handwritten journal detailing her family lineage. There it was on Page 1, the Balderstons came from Norwich. One (Timothy) was even mayor, twice, in the mid 18th century. Around that same time, my local paper would run the English scores and standings each Sunday. I didn’t know one team from another, but I saw Norwich listed. Putting 2 and 2 together, I decided they must be my team to follow, and I have ever since.
Following the club, however, has never been easy. I get weird looks from fans who don’t understand I wear the infamous 92-93 ‘egg-cress/bird poo’ shirt not because of what it looks like, but because of what it represents.
What I hate, though, is there aren’t more Canaries around. We have a Texas-based supporter group, the Lone Star Canaries, made up of a dozen or so Norwich expats and a handful of Americans. We get together a few times a year at a local pub to watch games, but seeing as how Texas is physically larger than France, it’s obviously difficult to get everyone in the same place at the same time. Just getting across the DFW Metroplex can be a serious pain.
At the AGM last week the issue of fan engagement suddenly became a hot topic. There seemed to be a disconnect between what the club was saying and how local supporter’s groups felt.
I’ve struggled building a supporter group here in Texas, but it seems NCFC has lost a great opportunity to spread their brand abroad the past few years during their spells in the Premier League, mainly because they’ve been unable/unwilling to engage with and promote supporter groups.
The social club is a nice effort, and from what I can tell does a lot for the local fans and charities, but other than a page of links to other supporter groups, doesn’t seem to offer much to help connect supporters abroad. It’s also kept at arm’s length from NCFC. That’s not a bad thing, but it suggests to me that NCFC isn’t interested in doing much to 1) grow their support outside of Norfolk, 2) connect those supporters and 3) engage with those supporters.
Now, that’s not to say the supporter group don’t hear from the club. It is officially recognized by NCFC, and every season we get an email with an invite to Global Canaries Day. Unfortunately we get the email about a month before the match. I realise fixtures are fluid due to Cup matches and opponents playing in Europe, but even with that I’m not sure why most of the club’s promotional schedule isn’t set about a week after the schedule comes out. Still, a month’s notice isn’t much when making travel plans abroad. I’m not calling anyone out with the club. This may well be a cultural issue, or the club may simply not know any better. Perhaps the world came to Norwich City and it simply wasn’t ready for the attention.
Enough moaning… do I have any suggestions? Of course, and the effort required is minimal for the return. If you look at any major club, they’ve got a small corner of their website devoted to networking their supporters. Most also have guidelines/policies available regarding how to organise a group – what the supporter group can/should expect from the club and vice versa. I don’t think it’s too much to ask Norwich City to do the same. As I have with the club, I’d even offer to help develop the guidelines/policies.
I can hear it already. ‘Yes that’s all well and good, Marc, but NCFC aren’t a big club…’ Is Burnley a big club? They’ve recently gone down this route and started a website for overseas supporters . I have no idea why, but I even got an email from the club when they launched it. It’s still being developed, but has a good starting framework.
It’s not rocket science, links across continents are there to be forged, which could well boost the club’s fan base and, indirectly, its finances at the same time. Mr Moxey’s comments about supporter engagement are encouraging to hear, but as with anything the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
On the ball, y’all.
In the latest "As the Canary Flies" series looking at former NCFC players that have gone on to have careers abroad, Tom Drissi looks at someone we all took to our hearts rather quickly, Mr Kei "Heart-shaped hands" Kamara.....
Have a scroll through Kei Kamara’s social media activity and you will be awash with throwback posts to his time at Carrow Road, along with #OTBCs and green and yellow heart emojis aplenty whenever the Canaries pick up a notable result. Add to this the constant ‘come back, Kei!’ replies below his every Norwich-related upload and one would begin to think Kamara was somewhat of a City legend. No. A long-term, loyal club servant perhaps? Not at all. Yet Kei still appears to have managed to have a lasting impact and have struck a real connection with our fan base.
This is what’s interesting about Kamara’s brief and not-exactly-prolific stay with Norwich back in 2013. Rather than fans falling in love with the player they took the wonderful character to their hearts, and that character has an equally incredible story to be told.
Kei’s upbringing is nothing like the childhoods of most Premier League footballers. Growing up in a country in the midst of a civil war without his parents, fleeing to a refugee camp in Gambia and awaiting the chance to move to the USA to be reunited with a mother he hadn’t seen in a decade isn’t the sort of tale one hears too often in an interview with a footballer. Yet although Kei overcoming a great deal to attend college and score his way into MLS as a first round draft pick is a great story in itself, the details of Kamara’s early life and years in Sierra Leone have already been well covered.
As interesting as that part of Kei’s life is, in this month’s As The Canary Flies piece I’m taking a look at the weird and wonderful world of Kei Kamara AFTER Norwich.
At Norwich Kamara was a hugely popular member of the squad and was described rather adorably by Grant Holt as someone who “just lifts you up in the morning with the smile on his face”. His short stay in the Premier League also saw him become the first player of Sierra Leonean descent to score in the division.
The goal was his brilliant equaliser against Everton in a game where he came off the bench to inspire a City comeback (also assisting a last minute Grant Holt winner) in a fabulous 2-1 win at home to end a 10 game winless streak. That night on Match of the Day Kei memorably remarked; “My secret is out now, I’m good at jumping”.
However despite being excellent at jumping, his jig with Wes after an early goal at Sunderland, his dressing room popularity and several promising performances as an impact sub, Chris Hughton decided not to make his loan deal a permanent one.
Despite this, Kamara was determined to stay in English football, as both a matter of personal ambition and also because of how much it meant to a football-obsessed Sierra Leone to have ‘one-of-their own’ playing in their favourite league. Testament to how major his presence in England was to fans back home is the rather amusing story of thousands of Sierra Leoneans packing out cinemas across the country to watch Norwich draw 0-0 at Loftus Road in a game they (wrongly) thought Kamara would be playing in as his signing had been announced a few days earlier. In fact not only was Kei yet to join up with the squad but was also not even in the right country. Oh well, at least the mighty Canaries, as ever, gave the spectators their money’s worth as they witnessed that rarest of things; a clean sheet. Kei remained in England in the form of a season in the Championship with Middlesbrough, where despite a debut goal and impressive start to life on Teesside, he wouldn’t see his contract extended beyond the one, rather injury-ravaged campaign. So Kei’s dream of playing in England was over, returning to the United States in 2014.
By chance the MLS side with first option to sign him, as is the way the transfer system works stateside, was Columbus Crew, the club that originally drafted him out of college 9 years beforehand. Although Kamara struggled in Ohio back when he was a rookie (a single digit goal tally over his first 2 seasons in Ohio) there were no such troubles this time around upon his return to the Crew.
Kamara’s reappearance in the States was immediately followed by the most successful season of his professional career; the forward led Columbus (who finished an unimpressive 7th overall the previous year) all the way to the MLS Cup final after winning the Eastern Conference. And Kamara was the league’s joint top scorer notching 22 goals, seeing him match Toronto’s ex-Juventus and Italy star Sebastian Giovinco in the scoring stakes. However it was the Italian who claimed the Golden Boot courtesy of more assists.
As well as goals by the hatful, Kamara’s performances in black and gold also saw him shortlisted for the division’s MVP award. Not bad for a Championship struggler playing in a respectable league containing strong US internationals as well as the ageing but still classy likes of David Villa, Kaka and the ludicrously evergreen Didier Drogba.
Going into his second season Kamara’s status as one of the league’s best goalscorers was rewarded when Columbus gave him a new and improved contract on a Designated Player (wage cap exempt) salary. Kei even picked up in 2016 where he had left off the previous year in front of goal, however things would soon take a turn for the worse…
Fifty-one minutes into a seemingly standard MLS fixture at home to the Montreal Impact, that Columbus were already leading 3-1 courtesy of 2 first half goals by Kamara, the Crew were awarded a penalty. Kei, looking to complete the first hat-trick of his professional career, ended up in an argument with regular taker Frederico Higuain (older brother of Gonzalo), and was visibly upset that the Argentine refused to budge. Higuain duly converted with Kei notably absent from the celebrations.
However, those seemingly innocuous 30 seconds seemed to mark the beginning of a collapse by Columbus. The Crew would proceed to blow their 3 goal cushion (painfully conceding a 93rd minute equaliser) and Kamara, despite his typically cheery demeanour, did not hold back in his post-match interview. He described Higuain as “not a teammate” and bemoaned the lack of chances the Argentinian number 10 had created for him over the previous year, as well as also referring to a lack of penalties being the reason he missed out on the 2015 golden boot. The Columbus meltdown didn’t stop there, and within a week their star player was in Massachusetts signing for the New England Revolution.
What’s interesting about Kamara is how despite his happy-go-lucky approach to life there’s still real fire in his personality, and when he feels a lack of respect he has historically been quick to do something about it. Controversy has been present in his international career in the years post-Norwich too. Kamara (who turned down the option of playing for the US to represent Sierra Leone) has had his gripes with Sierra Leone’s FA and in 2015 even went on a self-imposed hiatus from playing internationally on account of their lack of professionalism, lack of sacrifices made for the players, “chaotic” structure and organisation regarding the likes of travelling for qualifying matches.
After almost a year out he did put his differences with Sierra Leone’s governing body aside to come back for a crucial do-or-die qualifier, as Sierra Leone despite having had to play home games abroad due to the Ebola crisis were somehow within touching distance of their first African Cup of Nations for 20 years. To qualify they would need to win away against reigning African Champions the Ivory Coast. Despite Kamara returning to score the equalising goal for the Leone Stars (ranked a huge 55 places below the Elephants at the time) the match ended at 1-1 in rather bizarre circumstances as Kamara connected with a 94th minute corner only to see the ball eventually cleared on the line.
However, as he and his teammates ran to the referee to protest what they believed to be a goal, the referee simply blew for full time without consulting his linesman or even appearing to give a second’s thought over the incident. Stoking up the Sierra Leonean sense of being stitched up even further was the equally questionable decision of the official camera crew in the Ivorian stadium to not show a single solitary replay of the incident from its original or alternate angles. The cameras instead panned over a very relieved set of Ivorian fans, whilst Kamara and co. were left distraught.
To end things on a slightly cheerier note, Kamara’s goal-scoring touch has fortunately followed him to the Eastern Seaboard, averaging just under a goal every other game for his new side. More recently, Kei’s latest headline-making exploits involved him receiving one of the most cringe-worthy yellow cards of all time when booked for ‘celebrating excessively’ after twerking in front of the Revolution’s home fans after scoring…
Although stateside he may now be a bigger name and on much bigger wages than when he first arrived in Norfolk from Kansas as a relative unknown, he’s still clearly the same fun-loving self-described “oversized child” that Norwich fans connected with so instantly. Never change, Kei. Never change.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @OutsideTheBig5
Despite not meeting for the first time until 1960, Norwich and Derby have shared some classic encounters over the years. Here's David 'Spud' Thornhill to take you on a walk down memory lane.
Norwich and Derby’s footballing relationship is a late developer, with the first meeting between the sides not coming until 1960 and a League Cup tie at the Baseball Ground, with City winning 4-1. Like London Buses, it would be only 12 days until the next meeting, this time in the league, again at the Baseball Ground, but with different victors as Derby claimed a 2-0 win.
Despite a late start, the relationship has bloomed and in the years since, the clubs have made up for lost time and shared a fair few memorable games.
Five years on, in November 1966, Laurie Sheffield who had only just signed for the Canaries from Rotherham United, became only the third Norwich player ever to score a hat-trick on his debut as Norwich beat the Rams 4-1.
In April 1969 and with a young Brian Clough at the helm Derby arrived at Carrow Road having already won promotion to Division One. The visitors won 4-1 win and would go on to win the Division Two title.
Three years later in August 1972 the clubs would meet as the respective Champions of Divisions One and Two met at Carrow Road. An Archie Gemmill own goal in front of a crowd of 29,487, saw City claim a 1-0 win.
During the second half of the 70's, Norwich and Derby shared seven consecutive draws including three goalless draws at Carrow Road, a run finally ended when Norwich beat Derby 4-2, helping relegate the Rams back to Division Two.
The following season, Norwich would follow them through the trapdoor to resume relations in the second tier. Norwich won the Carrow Road clash with a young John Fashanu getting his only goal for the club. Five months later, Norwich won 2-0 in Derbyshire as part of a fantastic late run for promotion, featuring 10 wins in 12 games.
February 1984 saw, First Division Norwich travel to a Derby side destined for Division Three in the FA Cup. In true Canary Cup custom Norwich didn’t turn up and were embarrassingly dumped out of the competition 2-1.
One of the most memorable Norwich moments in recent years happened came against Derby on the 25 April 2011. Four days after winning the East Anglian Derby (5-1 at Portman Road - not relevant but worth mentioning), the Canaries were battling it out for the second promotion spot. With the game poised at 2-2, the clock had gone past the scheduled five minutes of injury time, when Norwich won a corner at which point it is customary to hand over to YouTube, Chris Goreham and Radio Norfolk;
A week and a 1-0 win at Portsmouth would follow and Norwich had clinched consecutive promotions.
An Along Come Norwich two-parter looking at supporter apathy and lethargy in the UK and closer to home and comparing it to the vibrant fan scene in Germany. First up here's Paul Blazey on what's happening and what can be done, before Lee Payne describes how this apathy is falling over him.
Is Carrow Road becoming the shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead, that we all wander down to each week because it's all that we know?
I began writing this post a few weeks ago when all things in the NCFC garden were rosy. As we all know, during the last few weeks fortunes have dipped somewhat and I’m not just talking about the falling pound.
Thinking back however, I believe things in the garden have been far from perfect since May of this year and possibly way back even further. Is it just me or has this season felt a bit.... well dour? I don’t think it is just the fact we’re back in the Championship or the players are performing well under the levels they’re capable of. It just seems to run much deeper and the sense of disquiet affecting Norwich is replicated across English football and was highlighted again by The Guardian last week suggesting a great supporter lethargy and malaise has descended across the nation.
This rising tide of dissatisfaction isn’t just being demonstrated by fans sitting quietly in the stands but also by growing discontent among supporters directed at their owners. But why is discontent rising on the terraces despite rising attendances and viewership at home.
Supporters are a commodity to their clubs - fact. We are customers, not fans. I've worked as a physiotherapist at Championship and Premier League clubs, working closely with players and managers and meeting owners. You are a cash cow to those people. Whether it is through shirts, tickets, programmes or your Sky Sports subscription, you are being milked slowly for every penny they can get.
Despite the sometimes questionable fayre served up at some games, attendances across the board continue to rise, but unfortunately strolling down to Carrow Road for most games recently reminds me of the original Dawn of the Dead where people flock to the shopping mall because it's all they know. This doesn't help the atmosphere as people act as if they feel duty bound to go and watch their side go through the motions. At Norwich with the added weight of expectation that they should win 99% of games this season, after toying with their prey and finally swiping them away - it's exacerbated further.
Our German cousins seem to have avoided the malaise that seems to currently affect most of the English professional game, to steal a famous quote the Prawn Sandwich Brigade haven't quite got their teeth fully into the football culture just yet and Brexit hasn't stopped us peeping over the fence for inspiration yet.
For example compare and contrast the atmosphere post match. I looked around me at the end of the Burton Albion game back when we were on a good run.60 seconds after the final whistle and Carrow Road was emptying fast, empty yellow seats rather than happy, cheering faces. This at the end of a game we won and in a fair bit of style with a decent swashbuckling right back performance from our very own Iberian Prince - Ivo Pinto. The crowd had basically made a dash as if they had heard Morrison's call last orders on the sausage roll stand.
By way of comparison - watch many games in the Bundesliga and the players will often stay back and have a mutual appreciation moment with the crowds. Before the game is a similar story with fans congregating on mass more than hour before kickoff in the stands. That sense of building anticipation of what is about to happen. It lifts the game of both supporters and players alike and in some small way creates at least a small bond between the millionaires on the pitch and the Let's be Avin Ya's in the crowd.
Adding to this sense of a shared purpose and community that the Germans retain is the 50+1 rule which has ensured the prevention of investment for profit in their top teams. This has allowed a measure of fan representation to remain key at board level which must surely have been part of the reason ticket prices have been kept lower too, even at such mighty teams as Bayern and Dortmund.
The sense of togetherness in Germany extends to large choreographed displays at the beginning of matches, these might hold a wider message (e.g. political) or just help fire up the players.
If we are all destined to wander zombie like to Carrow Road every other weekend and the entertainment is, let’s face it, not guaranteed. The least we can do is generate an atmosphere and share a few some conversations with the people around us. I’m not saying that we need to make Carrow Road sort of community spirited mass love in but if I go to a game and enjoy the company at least I might leave less concerned about whether we won, lost or drew and more interested in sharing some more time with my friends around me.
By getting involved in this, you're not just paying for the 'entertainment' on the pitch but you're buying into a community. A sense of togetherness that English professional football seems to be losing season upon season.
I would like to think that regardless of the result you could go home content at having watched a match and felt part of something bigger, leave the moaning to those on the radio who missed out. If we are going to set so much of our lives by what my wife always says "is just a game", then maybe we should be looking to also get more value out of our attendance at matches outside of just filling more club coffers.
Now read Part 2; Lee Payne on how he is beginning to find football boring...
Today and tomorrow are your LAST CHANCE to get your hands on an NCFC legends t-shirt for Christmas.
Orders close Thursday (24 November).
Don't miss out and order yours now.
In the second of two linked articles Lee Payne describes how the same apathy and boredom Paul Blazey describes settling across England, have begun to infiltrate his trips to Carrow Road.
Is the problem on the pitch, in the stands or both? Either way a solution is needed fast. Without one we risk becoming Ipswich; "the place football went to die".
Football is boring. I never imagined I would think, feel or write that. At one time I would have considered such a statement blasphemous. Yet here I am, admitting to a feeling that has been growing for a while.
The irony of writing along these lines for a football website is not lost on me. However, while I don’t like speaking on behalf of other people, I have a strong suspicion that I am not alone. I believe there are people out there going through the same thing. Football does not excite in the way it once did. The weekend is no longer defined by the result. The game has lost something.
My family has always been interested in football, though I didn't really engage with it until I was 9 years old. When I cried actual tears over Norwich’s play-off final defeat to Birmingham, I finally got what it was that made this sport so important to my dad. I can’t help but feel that my current disillusionment with football is like a betrayal. Once you’re in, you’re not supposed to leave.
Maybe I reached the peak of my football fandom when City won at Wembley. The game has failed to thrill me in the same way since then. I stood there in the top tier of the national stadium, alongside more of my fellow supporters than I had ever seen in once place, and I could not have been happier. Why has it gone downhill so much since?
The excitement of being back in the Premier League playing Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal waned as the harsh reality of a relegation dogfight became apparent. Norwich had been up there for three of the previous four seasons and so it was no longer a novelty. Add to that the fact that those clubs, who for so long looked a class above everybody else, have lost their shine in recent years. City won at Old Trafford, and it wasn’t really seen as a shock.
This season Norwich have had enough problems to negate the thrill that Championship football can bring. As I write this, they are on a run of five consecutive defeats in all competitions. The players keep making the same basic errors. The manager stubbornly refuses to change his ways. The fans want the manager to be sacked. Carrow Road is not a pleasant or enjoyable place to go right now.
I went to home games with my dad for four years, but since he died in 2014 I have been going alone. Most of the time I can enter Carrow Road, watch the match, leave and return home again without speaking to anyone. Yes, that is partly my fault. It does make going to the football a rather lonely experience though, and if the game itself isn’t serving up the pleasure we all desire from it then it can make it a chore rather than something you choose to do in your leisure time.
I can’t join in with debates over tactics and formations because it just doesn’t feel as if they matter to me. Am I wrong in thinking that football is a human pursuit? You can plan as much as you like, but if the ball deflects off someone’s backside and flies into the net or the goalkeeper drops it over the line there’s nothing the tactician can do about it. In Norwich’s current predicament, I keep hearing about how they need to change their set up to turn their fortunes around, but to me it just seems like they have a squad of players who, for whatever reason, are not performing to the best of their ability.
I have hardly seen Match of the Day at all this season. I don’t keep up with all the scores like I used to. Maybe this happens to us all at some point. Perhaps I’ll realise that I am still passionate about football, just not as much as I once was. It’s just that I’ve been far more interested in cricket recently than I have been in football. There have been other things going on in my life that have made football seem much less significant than it once was. I don’t know if I should feel ashamed by that.
I guess it’s a matter of time. Just as this feeling of malaise grew, it will peter out. In terms of Norwich City, I think the only way they can get me truly living and breathing the club again is if they made a change in management. I’ve said before that I just can’t see Alex Neil turning this around and in the time since I made that statement there has been nothing to make me change my mind. The club needs to make a fresh start before it’s too late. I want to go to a Carrow Road full of fans who are united, all pulling in the same direction. If we were, I think I’d start to enjoy it again.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a journalist. A sports journalist. The joy I get from writing and communicating has not waned at all. In fact, thinking about it, it gives me the same kind of pleasure that the game of football gave me. So I won’t stop believing that football will come back to me at some point. My relationship with it has just changed, that’s all. There needs to be a spark, though. It’s over to you, Norwich City.
Today and tomorrow are your LAST CHANCE to get your hands on an NCFC legends t-shirt for Christmas.
Orders close Thursday (24 November).
Don't miss out and order yours now.
This week it's the turn of Ffion Thomas to pick through the bones of another miserable Saturday afternoon.
To the possible (laughable) surprise of some, what follows is very far from happy-clappy and very, very good.
Random Star Performer
It certainly wasn’t anyone on the pitch, for either side, so let’s say the 3,214 Norwich fans that filled both tiers of the away end. It’s been a tough few weeks with little reward for those who made the long trips to Brighton and Leeds, and things didn’t get any better in West London. Medals are due for those going to Derby next Saturday.
Biggest Positive to Take
Is there one? The last 15 minutes resembled something of an effort, and with an extremely limited QPR fading in the closing stages, we could even have snatched a very undeserved draw. But these late spurts of endeavour increasingly feel more like a token effort so the players have something to cling to in the post-match interviews.
Moment of the match
It would have been nice if we could have waited longer than, ooh, 40 seconds, before the first defensive calamity of the day. And what a cracker it was. A long throw not dealt with, and the inevitable opening goal only denied by Olsson’s inexplicable decision to cradle the ball on the line. What he was thinking I don’t know; it can only have been instinct, because surely being a guaranteed goal down with eleven men and 90 minutes to play is preferable to being probably a goal down with ten men and 90 minutes to play?
At least the penalty miss offered some comic relief on another miserable afternoon. In hindsight, the impact on the game of the red card is a red herring; we were so insipid, anodyne and error-prone that even with the extra man on the pitch, I think we’d still have lost.
Alex Neil post-match: ‘How the referee can give a penalty - to be honest, I've seen it again on the video and I still can't make out what happened.’ It’s good news then that, in the interests of clarity, those of us behind the goal had the perfect view of quite possibly the most obvious deliberate handball in the history of football. ‘Those moments don't seem to be going our way at the moment’, said Alex Neil. Funny that. Well done ref, you got that one spot on.
Not entirely mutinous…yet. The away fans were willing the equaliser in the last ten minutes, and most of the players got a clap when they sheepishly came over at the end. But there was understandable and widespread frustration at the lack of substitutions, with chants of ‘sort it out’ aimed at the dugout.
It’s been a few years since our last visit to Loftus Road, so it’s a little concerning to see the sombrero-wearing, rattle-waving, vuvuzela-blowing dullard in the home end is still there. At Norwich we have our fair share of attention-starved, eccentric-headgear-wearing fans, but I’d like to think in similar circumstances we’d have staged an intervention by now.
The build-up had all been about how ‘new manager syndrome’ squared with ‘returning legend syndrome’ would see the home side boosted and Loftus Road bouncing, but in reality they were nothing special, and they didn’t need to be. Week after week, we engineer our own self-destruction. Olsson’s red card was stupid, but it was simply a by-product of our wider defensive inabilities. At the other end, we created one solitary shot on target. The management seem to have no idea how to fix either of these longstanding issues. (Oliveira is not the answer).
If the board are, as many fear, going to sit on their hands, they’re probably grateful for the buffer of another away game before facing the home fans again, albeit with a potentially fiery AGM this week. But although we’ll have the usual press conference platitudes about how hard they’ve been working at Colney, we’re firing blanks, shipping goals, and facing a resurgent Derby side who have won three on the spin.
If all the board are doing is delaying the inevitable, then rip the plaster off now.
While you're here, did you know you we have launched a range of t-shirts, featuring the names of City legends and all just in time for Christmas?
You only have until 24th November to get your order in.
Duncan Edwards is a reasonable man, a patient man. But he's had enough, if he was called Jez and wore a cheap suit he'd be calling time on Alex Neil's tenure at the club. Here's why.......
And that really does have to be it.
In some ways, it's harsh if this is to be the game that finally gets Jez to scratch that itchy trigger finger. Down to ten men after a minute, I think I heard Alex mutter "for fuck sake" from my living room in Norwich. It made a game that looked difficult - us in hopeless form, against a team with not just a new manager but a crowd hero too - have an air of impossibility about it.
But it isn't just about today.
It would be unfair to sack Alex if this was a standalone game but the air of impossibility was swallowed whole by the feeling of inevitability. It was just so, so Norwich.
Despite a goal and a "bit of a go", we didn't get an unlikely point and even had we have done, that would have been unfair on Alex Neil.
You see, I like him. I genuinely think he's a decent manager and a man of honesty and integrity. A last gasp point might have earned him another game or two, might have quietened those that say the players aren't playing for him for a few days. We might win a couple of games but as we saw with Hughton, this would only have delayed the inevitable. The gun would still be cocked and pointed and only a bad result away from being deployed.
Alex doesn't deserve that. He came in to us when we were in a position not dissimilar to this one. He picked the club up, shook it and delivered on his promises, giving us a great day at Wembley in the process.
He took us to the Premier League where we started out with a brave and swashbuckling methodology. It was good to watch if somewhat crude and naive at times. A thumping at Newcastle changed all that. It left Alex scratching his head, an abandonment of the very thing that made us successful and ultimately, we haven't recovered.
The change in approach hasn't worked, we've been unable to rekindle what we had before and we now look a jaded, confused, ponderous and at times lost outfit.
Now it's the fans scratching their heads.
Things not working, a stubborn reluctance to change a team and then changes that leave plenty in bewilderment.
I understand that though, nothing is working, if he put his shoes on without looking at the moment they'd be guaranteed to be on the wrong feet. What he believes in isn't happening, he tries to keep faith with it, that doesn't work, so he tries something leftfield and when THAT doesn't work it undermines him further. It makes him appear to be rolling the dice, picking names out of a hat or taking a "well it couldn't be worse than.." approach. That's what we, the fans, do, we need more from Alex.
The impression is that he has no idea how to arrest this slide. He's too close to it.
When he came in, he was a fresh pair of eyes, he could pick the areas that needed sharpening up in order to make us efficient and to play to our potential.
Now it's under his stewardship we find ourselves in a similar position, he doesn't appear to have the clarity of vision to do the same thing. He can't take that step back. Which begs the question what Mr Irvine is doing as surely he should be seeing what Alex is blind to.
Something needs to happen. It needs freshening up.
I hope, for Alex Neil's sake as well as the clubs, that they make that decision now. I don't want to watch that bullish, confident young man shrink any further. He did a fantastic job in the first place here, he'll do a great job somewhere else too. But here, now, I think it's gone.
The board have been open in their clear support of him, they like him. However, the timing of "that" Delia interview couldn't have been worse and not for the first time she is probably wondering why she opened her mouth when she did.
That has to be put to one side though. For the good of the club and for the good of the man who has given us plenty of good times, it's time for Alex to go.
If it feels a bit embarrassing so soon after such a public backing, well that's just one that will have to be taken dry I'm afraid.
Thanks Alex, but it's time.
You can follow Duncan on Twitter @duncanedwards8