It seemed a little pointless to chronicle the events of our away defeat to Luton. Instead, Maddie Mackenzie looks at the malaise in general as we mark the end of an inexplicably grim tenure.
December 26, 2018, Carrow Road. My first game as a season ticket holder. Norwich, still 3-0 down by the 77th minute, came back to equalise in the 8th minute of injury time. How characteristic of that team of underdogs, our very own misfits who won the title with such style and joy.
December 26, 2022, Kenilworth Road. Live on Sky Sports, Norwich lost to ten-man Luton Town, a result which led to the sacking of their head coach. What a difference four years makes.
It’s so easy to look back on the past with nostalgia-tinted glasses, to claim that things were better just because they’re not happening now. In the case of Norwich, however, it’s hard to deny that while the glasses may be tinted, the vision they provide is still 20:20. Although things on the pitch have changed dramatically the real damage has been done behind the scenes – it’s that damage that is turning Norwich City Football Club into a hollow shell of what came before.
Where else could a manager say that he has instructed his mother to stay away from his home ground, lest she “windmill a fan”?
When Stuart Webber took over in May 2017 he told local and fan media that he wanted to build a club that was transparent and open with “the people who matter – the supporters.” After all, “they’re the stakeholders in this and we have to listen.” Other clubs, the ones that ignored their fans, who made decisions in a closed-off room and communicated them to no one, were presented as examples of what not to do.
The mantra ‘ignore the noise’ was greeted with overwhelming positivity when it was launched ahead of the 2019/20 season. We bought into it: the fans, the players, the staff – against everyone else. We were Norwich City and we knew what we were about, we knew what our long-term plan was, and we liked it.
How quickly we became the noise.
I’ve said multiple times over the past week that no other manager in the football league could survive one of Dean Smith’s recent post-match comments, let alone the lot of them put together. Where else could a manager say that he has instructed his mother to stay away from his home ground, lest she “windmill a fan”? How could he openly suggest that fan criticism is down to his personality and accent, claiming he has been painted as the villain of the piece?
It is clear these thoughts did not begin and end with Dean Smith. At every press conference, our head coach sat alongside the head of communications, the two of them a united front against the media present at Colney. He cannot have made it this far in football without having received media training, without knowing that his every word will be used to represent his employer. The fact that he remained in a job after Blackburn speaks far louder than his recent words could. We have seen what happens when an employee at Norwich hears words and opinions they don’t like. When a newspaper headline rubs someone the wrong way, or a journalist attempts a line of questioning that isn’t appreciated. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Smith felt free to talk in this way.
The current tragedy of Norwich City is hardly the sole fault of Dean Smith, but to ignore his role in it is to limit him to a hapless puppet, which he is not.
I do feel an element of sympathy for him. Everywhere Dean Smith has managed he has been revered: christened ‘the Ginger Mourinho’ by Walsall fans; applauded for turning Brentford into an entertaining footballing team; beloved by Villa fans even at the very end. He is used to being loved and respected, so what a shock it must be to manage at a club where he is not. This, then, is not helped by a hierarchy telling him that the current situation is the fault of the fans, that he is being unduly singled out, that he must ignore the noise because – in the immortal words of Taylor Swift – “haters gonna hate.” The current tragedy of Norwich City is hardly the sole fault of Dean Smith, but to ignore his role in it is to limit him to a hapless puppet, which he is not. He has to shoulder at least some of the burden no matter how painful and novel.
Now he’s gone, what next? This is not a situation that can be resolved by removing one man and his team. One sacking does not change a culture so out of sync with that proposed by the version of Stuart Webber we saw in May 2017. Those in charge of this football club have a duty to reflect on why a ground that has routinely been pushing capacity for well over a decade is starting to look bare. Until they admit that there is a deeper, more difficult problem than just the current style of football, changing the head coach is nothing more than a temporary solution.
Season ticket renewal time is fast approaching – and it’ll be interesting to see what it brings.
For now, though, the toxicity at Norwich is pervasive. It’s Teemu Pukki’s face as he trudges back to the halfway line after scoring an equaliser. It’s a ground so depleted that official attendance figures are kept quiet. It’s fans who have loyally followed this club for decades deciding instead to stay at home and do anything else. Season ticket renewal time is fast approaching – and it’ll be interesting to see what it brings.
The problem is not the players.
The problem wasn’t really Dean Smith.
The problem certainly isn’t the fans.
The problem is a culture of blame, distrust, and secrecy that flies in the face of everything we experienced on Boxing Day 2018, a belief that the most loyal supporters must be the enemy – because any other suggestion would mean something has gone fundamentally wrong behind closed doors.
The solution is far harder to name.
It's beginning to look a lot like Smithmas, not likely to have a corner flag this side of Luton(a) so Connor, Maddie, Tom & Jon reflect on the awful atmosphere and unfortunately how it's likely to get worse, we talk unlikely managerial candidates and try and find a bright side before Crimbo.