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.
By Paul Blazey
I don't want to write another "The world has gone mad" post about the 1 billion+ pounds spent in the summer 2016 transfer window.
Deep down I think most people know that is pretty crazy. According to a BBC article from the 2015 general election, that sort of money can buy you 26,000 Nurses, 27,000 teachers or build 16,000 new homes. Who knows what it would do to transform local council budgets if devolved down (not much other than build a new public toilet in Swaffham if you listen to the Nimmo Twins).
Anyway, back to the football.
As the usual mundane conversations unfolded over the airwaves in my kitchen, I kept an ear on whether Alex Neil would grab a bargain 10 million wunderkid from Legia Warsaw said to be the next Lewandowski.
A few ex pros trotted out the usual claptrap but then the conversation turned to the hoarding of players in "elite club" academies (Norwich included - Thompson, McGrandles, Maddison, etc), with one of the protagonists mentioning that many of their friends had stopped going to games ranging from National League level all the way through to the Championship. Why?
He suggested that because of the ever increasing numbers of loanees being farmed out to lower league clubs, those clubs were no longer able to compete, or kept from competing, by this merry go round which sucks all the talent up to the elite level before it has had chance to develop. As such the fans simply no longer knew who the players were.
Now the much vaunted days when you could watch a game Saturday afternoon and have a pint or two with your Carrow Road hero down the Kings Arms on the evening are dead and long buried. But back when we were shit, in the days when Port Vale would rock up at our Fortress on the Wensum and ride off with the spoils, everyone around me still knew each and every player on the team, even the De Waards, Scott's and Segura's because they were ours. The odd loan came in yes (6 in total across 98/99 and 99/00 – Pape Diop anyone?) but the majority were ours to keep, for better or worse.
Now with the game becoming ever more monetised and the revolving door of players and managers in overdrive many of our football league clubs risk losing even more of their affiliation to their local community and with it their identity.
This is demonstrated very neatly by the changes to the EFL Trophy which I know this site has boycotted due to unnecessary games for Norwich's reserves who get to humiliate teams like Peterborough for no good reason other than training up their overstocked academies.
What's my point?
Well during the international break with its seemingly pointless round of mismatched international games and gamut of dull friendlies we all have the opportunity to take part in "Non-league" day.
This has been going on for some time now and it encourages everyone to take the chance to watch a local amateur team play. You will be able pay a smaller fee, probably have a chat with players and even share a pint with them afterwards (if you so desire).
More importantly you will be supporting something much more important - a better distribution of wealth throughout the game. Why help pay £250k to the England captain for his latest trip to Aintree via your Sky subscription when you can get out and put some money back into your local community. You might even enjoy it so much that you decide to back.
People bemoan the national game but surely getting out, seeing your local team and taking the kids who might even then kick a ball for part of the time might just start to get us away from being Sky Sofa loafers.
So there you go, I've solved the NHS, the education system, the housing crisis and the English national football team all in one tenuous link to watching Wroxham or Norwich Utd or Long Stratton Reserves.
If anyone does agree and wants to support then take a look at the Non-league Day website or just pop down to your nearest club to see what’s going on.