Lee Payne wants a cracking atmosphere, but doesn't want to sing and chant himself. Andrew Lawn wants a cracking atmosphere, in which he is playing a full part. Both sit in the Barclay. So what's the solution?
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.
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Lee Payne takes a look at Norwich City's thriving online 'new media' community which is putting fans at the front and centre of Norwich City news and reaction.
How times have changed since 2005, hearing Nigel Worthington's sacking on Sky Sports and Radio Norfolk.
Norwich City has always been renowned as a club for the community. The whole of the city, and pretty much the whole county, rallies around it. While the residents of places such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham have more than one league team to support, Norwich has just the one in the entirety of the seventh most populous county in England.
The unusually large catchment area surrounding the club might be a factor, but I genuinely think there is something a bit different about Norwich and its fans.
We are often, tiresomely, the butt of unimaginative jokes due to the remote, off-the-beaten-track nature of Norfolk but I am arguing that this particular trait is something to be celebrated. I think of the enormous crowds that gathered in the city centre two years running; first when we were League One champions, then promoted to the Premier League. The number of people that congregated in front of City Hall and lined the streets to see the players on the open top bus parades would have filled Carrow Road more than twice over. I recall the buildings on Timberhill being handsomely decorated in yellow and green. There was also, of course, that wonderful day Wembley became a temporary suburb of Norwich.
The aspect of this community feel I want to discuss is the brilliantly thriving Norwich City media scene.
Where before there was only the Evening News or the Eastern Daily Press to get an insight into the club, where the best place to hear City news first was Radio Norfolk, where the only place for fans to express their opinions about the team was the misery pit that is the pink’un forums, there now exists a growing number of high quality websites, YouTube channels, podcasts and TV shows for a Canary to get their teeth into.
When Nigel Worthington lost his job as Norwich manager on 1 October 2006, I first heard about it on Sky Sports News. I then followed the story on Radio Norfolk, where they were holding a phone-in for fans to give their views. A decade on, the first place such news would break would almost certainly be on Twitter. The traditional media would probably do the same as they did back then, and there is still a place for that, but the community, fan produced content would come out quicker and make you think more. The club’s official Twitter account has more than 429,000 followers at the time writing, a figure which I would bet greatly outweighs the number of visitors to its official website.
I became aware of the brilliant home grown media scene the club had when I joined Twitter five years ago. Then, the outstanding parts were three sites – Holtamania, which analysed tactical aspects of Norwich matches in painstaking detail, Sing Up The River End, a resource for almost any fact or figure about the club a fan could wish to know and the website MyFootballWriter; which was created in 2005 by former newspaper journalist Rick Waghorn, nicely bridging the gap between old and new media. Eleven years on Holtamania (the blog) is now a thing of the past (though you might well follow him on Twitter), and SUTRE is not updated as regularly as it once was, but MyFootballWriter continues to showcase fans alongside bona fide journalists and great things have followed their paths.
Jack Reeve has more than 850 videos on his YouTube channel TalkNorwichCity, offering a unique perspective on the club. Where he doesn’t have a great deal of access inside, he instead puts the fans at the front and centre of what he does, and it absolutely works. As a season ticket holder than cannot get to away games, the videos on his channel make me feel a connection with those who can travel around the country supporting the team.
This very website is of course part of the scene I’m talking about too. AlongComeNorwich has really taken off because, for me, the writing on it is of a very high standard and the topics covered extremely relevant. I’m not being paid to write this by the way. There’s also been a wide range of different writers, giving a different angle. My mind turns to the article by Di Cunningham about Norwich’s LGBT fanbase.
Then there’s The Little Yellow Bird Project. It started as a podcast, had some written pieces on its website too, and now includes video from Jon Rogers, AKA Big Grant Holt, one of the great characters of this community.
There are careers in this too – Jack Reeve of TalkNorwichCity can be heard reading the sport news on BBC Radio Norfolk, and Dan Brigham of The Little Yellow Bird Project has recently become editor of City’s official matchday programme, where he has been utilising the talents of the amateur writers, graphic designers and photographers and showing their considerable skills to a wider audience.
I think this is fantastic, and it’s really exciting to witness. You’ve probably heard about the English Football League’s recent total ban on fans filming inside grounds on matchdays. Well, this grassroots media movement shows why such ridiculous rules are surely doomed to failure. Whether it be in writing, in audio, in video, in photos or in graphics, this community of Norwich City fans making and sharing content is getting bigger and better every day.
Long may it continue.
By Lee Payne
Unless you’ve ended up here by accident, the chances are you are a Norwich City supporter and you have a reasonable grasp on the history of the club.
Maybe there are a few things you didn’t know, though. Perhaps there are places around the city that you never realised had a connection to the Canaries. Let’s go on a yellow and green tour of Norwich.
If you’ve ever hired a suit from Moss Bros on White Lion Street, you’ve taken a step back to the very origins of Norwich City Football Club – and you might not have realised it. The building was once the Criterion Café and it was here, on 17th June 1902, that the idea was formed for a football team to represent the whole city. Until then, football clubs tended to be works teams. Most people walk past it, but there is actually a plaque to commemorate the historic occasion on the outside wall of the shop.
Nearly three months after deciding to form the club, City’s first ever match was played at Newmarket Road. Nowadays the land is owned and used by Town Close House School and there’s no evidence of what used to happen there.
After six years Norwich City moved from Newmarket Road following an argument over the rent (making the club sound rather like a stroppy teenager) and decided, as you do, to convert a disused chalk pit into a football ground. It’s hard to imagine such a plan ever being given the go ahead now, but City did it and happily called it home for 27 years.
There’s another plaque and a sculpture on Rosary Road to mark the site of the second of City’s three homes. While the club were originally nicknamed The Citizens and played in blue and white halves, by the time they moved they had started to be known as the Canaries, which made the new ground’s name The Nest rather appropriate.
Few photos of The Nest remain, but in those that do the most striking feature of the ground is without doubt the concrete wall behind one of the goals. Given the sunken nature of the pitch, the wall was basically a sheer cliff face and would have made today’s health and safety officers faint. Yet, there were no major issues during Norwich City’s time there and they once managed to pack 25,000 people in to watch an FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday.
In the end it was the price of success that did for the Canaries at The Nest. Promotion to Division Two led the club’s directors to decide that the ground was simply not suitable for the size of the crowds they could expect in the higher league, and with no room for expansion, they had to move somewhere else.
You can tell how smart a decision was by its longevity. If many years later no-one has come up with a better idea, then that original choice was undoubtedly a (word of the week) shrewd one. So the Norwich City directors of the early 1930s made a smart decision – because they moved Norwich City to Carrow Road, and we’re still there more than 80 years on.
It’s common knowledge amongst City fans that the original Carrow Road took just 82 days to construct. The site was being used as a sports ground for the workers of aircraft manufacturers Boulton & Paul, so the area was flat and sparse, making it easy to immediately start constructing stands and speeding up the construction process. It was actually owned by another great Norwich firm, Colman’s, who leased the Carrow Road site to the club. Boulton & Paul moved their sports ground to Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston.
On 31st August 1935, Carrow Road was ready. Almost 30,000 people were there to see a thrilling 4-3 win over West Ham. The ground continued to be developed after opening, and within a couple of years had two covered stands, one of which was at the end furthest from the river and paid for by the club’s vice-president Captain Evelyn Barclay. As we all know, that end is still known as The Barclay today, though the current stand was built in 1992 in order to comply with all-seater stadium regulations.
The River End is a product of the 1970s, the City Stand was built in the mid-1980s after a fire destroyed its predecessor, and the South Stand was rebuilt in the early 2000s to transform it from the rickety relic of football past into the modern, imposing structure it is now. Add to that the corners of the ground being filled in – including the hotel, a measure to help the club through financial difficulties – and that’s how we get to the Carrow Road we see today.
With its excellent location close to the railway station and near major roads, it’s likely that Norwich City will be staying here for many years to come. A celebration of 100 years at the club’s third home is almost certain.
Buildings give us a glimpse into the past – the unremarkable suit hire shop in Norwich City centre was where the formation of the club was discussed over a century ago, for example. The fact the building still stands gives us a link to history and can help us appreciate where the football club we care so much about began and how it got to where it is today.
Whatever happens on the pitch, The Canaries are very much a club of its city – and we should never lose sight of that.
By Lee Payne
Norwich City have had eventful league campaigns over the last 8 years. In that time, they have been relegated 3 times and promoted 3 times.
What has remained consistent, though, is the club’s capacity for letting cup competitions pass them by.
In that same 8 year period, City were knocked out of cup competitions in their first game on 7 occasions.
They reached the quarter finals of the League Cup in 2012, the furthest they had been since 1995.
Our FA Cup record is particularly bleak – exits at the first attempt in 5 of the last 8 years, and no further than the fifth round since 1992. Are we, as fans, that bothered by our team’s ineptitude in knockout football? Or is there a real appetite for a cup run around here?
To get an idea, I did a poll on Twitter. Not particularly scientific, granted. There were 151 respondents, and of course I can’t guarantee they were all Norwich fans. Of those 151, however, 51% said City should approach the EFL Cup (what they are now calling the League Cup) in a way so as to get as far as possible. 27% said the club should concentrate on the league, while 22% said they didn’t care either way. So the majority want City to take the cup seriously and to try and go on a run.
When City fans made the pilgrimage from Norfolk to Wembley for the play-off final, I wonder how many of them thought that making it to the end-of-season promotion match was their best chance of seeing their team at the national stadium?
After all, we rarely threaten to get there in cup competitions. The play-off final was City’s first game at Wembley since 1985. We would have played there in 2002, of course, were the stadium not being rebuilt, but the closest we’ve come in a cup for 32 years has been the Southern Section semi-finals of the Football League Trophy in 2009.
I doubt you need reminding, but Norwich were leading against Southampton going into stoppage time, only for Papa Waigo N'Diaye to equalise for the Saints. With no extra time in that competition, the match went straight to penalties which City inevitably lost. Southampton beat the MK Dons over two legs in the area final and then thrashed Carlisle at Wembley to win the trophy.
Our best League Cup performance since winning it in 1985, the 2012 run to the quarter finals mentioned earlier, promised much but ended in collapse.
By the luck of the draw, all of City’s games in the cup that season were at Carrow Road. Having beaten Scunthorpe and Doncaster, they then impressively overcame Tottenham on Halloween. Just 16,000 fans were inside the ground, as many were protesting against high ticket prices, but those who were there saw Gareth Bale put Spurs in front in the second half, only for City to score twice in the final ten minutes to go through.
On an astonishingly freezing cold night in December, we took the lead in our quarter final against Aston Villa but went on to lose 4-1. Villa would be knocked out by Bradford in the semis, and Swansea would beat the Bantams in the final. It really could have been our year.
It’s only from researching for this article that I have realised just how rubbish Norwich have been in the FA Cup.
We all hear about the famous 1959 run to the semi-finals, but we’ve reached that stage twice since then without ever making the final. Pat Nevin scored the only goal in a 1-0 defeat to Everton at Villa Park in 1989, when the game was somewhat overshadowed by the awful events going on in the other semi-final at Hillsborough.
In 1992, City lost 1-0 again, this time to Sunderland, who were in the Second Division at the time. Since then we’ve been as far as the 5th round four times in 24 years. It really is a sorry tale. If we manage to get past our first game this season it will be the first time since 2013.
I had hoped to provide some answers as to why Norwich as so poor when it comes to a knockout scenario. But I can’t. It just seems to be a fact of life when you follow the yellow and green. It’s very ‘along come Norwich’. More often than not, if it’s an early round of a cup and they are up against lower league opposition, along come Norwich to meekly exit with little more than a whimper.
For some reason, we don’t have it in us to be a Reading or a Sheffield United, who have a knack of getting far in the cups.
We can always hope that this year might just be different. This might be the year that we go on a proper run, toppling the giants of English football as we head to Wembley once again. We can always hope. And it’s the hope that kills you.