An excellent debut piece this from Sam Whitham, who has noticed a repeating pattern of Premier League ambition and failure, encapsulated by this season’s current bottom 3, which should act as a warning to City and us as fans
Norwich fans could be forgiven for not noticing that Saturday's victory over Leeds United moved the Canaries above their opponents into 12th position. Even those that were aware, will probably not be losing much sleep this week over whether we can hold on to our place at the bottom of the top half of the table with a result at Hillsborough on Sunday.
The truth is that this season has felt moribund since Christmas at the latest, while we've watched patiently searching for signs that next season football will be more meaningful again. To fans of most Championship clubs (even, somewhat laughably, our good friends in Suffolk) this will mean competing for promotion to the ‘Promised Land of the Premier League’. Once there, the dream is to presumably to survive in the ‘Promised Land of the Premier League’. Stage 3 is then to establish ourselves in mid-table of the ‘Promised Land of the Premier League’. And then..... And then what?
This is the trajectory for fans of 86 of the football league's 92 clubs, and we're all looking up the slope, not down.
However, the presence of West Bromwich Albion, Southampton and Stoke in the bottom 3 of the Premier League suggests that what often comes after mid-table security is an existential malaise that eventually leads to decline.
WBA, Southampton and Stoke are all clubs who have, in their own ways, followed this path to the end. They've reached the summit of this hill and what have they found? They’ve found an even bigger hill, but one they're not allowed on. And now the hill they're on looks a bit shit.
Let's examine the club's individual fortunes in a little more detail, to understand their demise.
West Bromwich Albion
Popularly referred to as the 'yo-yo' club, West Brom's strategy to achieve Premier League stability has been to accept the cycle of promotion/relegation for a number of years, without spending big chasing survival, hoping that one day your grip holds and you make a home in the top flight.
Rather like a yo-yo that has exhausted its momentum, Albion have actually spent the last 8 seasons in the ‘Promised Land’.
The problem for West Brom then became trying to work out what comes next.
Certainly not calm and stability. Darren Moore is the Baggie's 8th manager in this period. A pattern has emerged of exceeding expectations (10th place finish under Hodgson, 8th under Steve Clarke), failing to 'progress' in the following season and managerial change. The club had achieved its goal of mid-table security and felt an ongoing need to look busy and maintain ambition.
They went through a disastrous flirtation with a left-field European coach (Pepe Mel). Then panicked and hired the most brutally British coach in existence (Tony Pulis, who beats Sam Allardyce to this award owing to his unswerving loyalty to the tracksuit). Having achieved the dream, West Brom lost themselves and with it any sense of an identity.
Ironically the identity that they appear to be returning to is the one they held before making a home in the ‘Promised Land’.
Yes folks, the yo-yo has been rolled back up and is on its way down. I wonder if deep down for many West Brom fans this will come as a relief, for as the great Alfred, Lord Tennyson opined: 'tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all'.
In contrast to West Brom, and in common with Southampton, it's always felt like Stoke know who they are.
They've beaten and battered their way to the top of the hill like a gross Viking caricature, and the prospect of 'Stoke on a rainy Tuesday night' has become a cliché for the type of ugly football that, much to my bemusement, we are so proud of in this country. 'Not like those foreign-types eh? Not got the stomach for it eh?'
Of course, for a long time Stoke fans embraced their brutish reputation, but even they eventually got tired of re-creating the 1970s and Tony Pulis left the club in 2013. Since then they have tried to introduce more dynamism to their play, and the eye-catching signings of Bojan and Shaqiri suggested a new era may be dawning for Stoke.
However, the reputation never left, and the new approach never stuck.
Now here we are in 2018 and they are still reliant on Peter Crouch away at West Ham. Still naming Ryan Shawcross as captain and Darren Fletcher as his deputy. Their squad photo still resembles a Bash Street Kids comic strip rather than a football team.
The sense of ennui surrounding Stoke is depressing. Theirs was a pyrrhic victory, and their attempts at reform are as convincing as Tommy Robinson's attempts to build bridges with the Muslim community (before his imprisonment for fraud in 2014).
What's the point of Stoke? Neutrals hate them and I suspect even their own fans do.
Decline and relegation were the inevitable next stage.
Southampton are held by neutrals in a far more positive light.
This is a club that has focussed on growing or developing talent (Norwich take note), selling that talent on and reinvesting the profits.
As a Premier League club they have played exciting attacking football orchestrated by young and likeable managers.
Yet somehow, they have ended up being led by Mark Hughes – the hooded crow of the managerial world. A man, who’s greyer than a Sunday with Morrissey.
The problem for Southampton is that since their promotion to the Premier League in 2012 they have been as much Kwik-E-Mart as football team.
Since 2016 they have sold Van Dijk, Mané, Schneiderlin, Clyne, Shaw, Lallana, Lovren and Chambers mostly to the North West for a rough total of £260m. In another universe where they held onto those players, and added strength, Southampton are a top side.
Again though, the problem with the current shape of football is that this isn't a possible reality in this universe.
Like a kid that keeps having his candy taken away, Southampton fans must be beginning to wonder what the point of it all is? The joie de vivre that once seemed to surround the club is gone and they've been reduced to scraping at the barrel of managers who appear to offer a 'safe pair of hands' but all the character of Poundland coffee.
What's your point?
Regular readers of this website might have noticed that it is primarily a Norwich City-themed fan-site and may be wondering what all this rambling has to do with our beloved Canaries? What could an article that considers the limits of ambition for the majority of football clubs, that ponders the very definition of winning itself, have to do with my team?
Well only in that every time a hear a fan sitting near me groaning when Josh Murphy gets tackled, booing when we go backwards to keep possession, grumbling at Delia's 'lack of ambition', or writing off Srbeny after 20 minutes – I want to grab hold of that fan and scream 'WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE? YOU WANT THE TRUTH? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!'
Because when these three giants who we used to admire come trudging back to the Championship, we should observe closely the scars on their faces, the way their feet shuffle.
They've been where we're trying to go, and look what it's done to them. So you know, maybe just enjoy the game and support the team yeah?
DON'T MISS - Proud Canaries FC will have at least two teams in the innaugral 'Proud Canaries Cup competition' this Saturday (5 May) at Carrow Road.
Come and support the boys and girls as they play on the Carrow Road pitch against other LGBT+ teams including Birmingham Blaze, London Titans and Charlton Invicta. There is FREE ENTRY for all fans.
Out gay ref Ryan Atkin and Amal Fashanu will launch the tournament at 4pm and there will be drinks and a buffet at the Top of the Terrace from 7pm.