Andrew Lawn returns from a long absence spent previewing and reviewing matches, with an actual thinkpiece. This one is on the idea that fans, himself included, are increasingly seeking footballing philosophies in lieu of clubs having any discernible identity of their own in an increasingly corporate footballing landscape.
Recently I read a series of tweets by New York Times journalist Rory Smith, who mentioned a theory that a West Ham fan had put to him, namely that as clubs increasingly become an identikit series of monolithic corporate entities, differentiated by little more than shirt colour, fans are increasingly grasping at their club, or manager’s stated philosophy as the thing that gives them an identity.
It struck a chord with me, because it is increasingly how I feel about Norwich City and it all began with the woman I married.
Before I met Jo, I was the kind of person who had a lot of ideas of things I thought it would be cool to do, but in terms of actually getting around to doing them, that’s where it ended. I had thought about it and thus decided that at some indeterminate point in the future, having thought about it, it was bound to happen.
My wife is not that sort of person. She is a do-er. If she, or you, have something they would like to do, she immediately sets about making it happen. This has resulted in a lot of fun trips, but you also have to be careful about what you vocalise as being a good idea, as the wonky new MDF box I have entombed our boiler in will testify.
It was thanks to her productive, making-things-happen attitude that four years ago, my relationship with football changed, when she arranged for one of my many dreams to come true and took me to the Millerntor to watch St Pauli.
I have written extensively about that trip and both here and over on our friends at MyFootballWriter, but to summarise, every single aspect of that day and of the experience of attending Bundesliga 2 football at a club with an identity I felt I belonged to, was better than its English equivalent.
The reason it was better was that it mattered, just the right amount. By that I mean, people wanted to be there, and the club and the game played a key role in the community and the weekend, but the result (a disappointing 1-1 draw with FSV Frankfurt) was a sub-plot, a minor irritation within a day-long celebration of coming together with friends to celebrate a shared set of ideals.
Maybe it is a trick of the mind when reminiscing, but it seemed to me to be a throwback to how football on these shores used to be, but which has gradually been eroded as clubs have increasingly become more corporate and fans have increasingly become consumers.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw it. Players went from club to club, as did managers on a merry-go-round that did little to pique excitement. Stadiums increasingly all looked the same. Kit manufacturers were all the same. Sponsors were nearly always gambling companies. Nothing seemed to matter. There was no obvious difference between any clubs and the ‘us’ and ‘them’ identities that give football its tribal joy (and agony) had gone, replaced by bickering over history or FIFA stats.
When I returned from that trip to Hamburg, I began to wonder, would I rather spend £500 on a Carrow Road season ticket, or on 2 or 3 trips per season to Hamburg? At the time, with City flying towards a Wembley play-off final, it was probably 80-20 in favour of Carrow Road.
Then with promotion secured, I looked forward to another Premier League season, so I renewed.
We all know what happened and how the Premier League seems much more fun from the outside, than it actually is when you get there and by January I was hovering at around 60-40 in favour of renewing, but with relegation looming, so too did a return the fun of the Championship, so I renewed.
The next season under Alex Neil was the closest I came to sacking it off, probably 51-49 in favour of renewing and that 1% that tipped it was habit. I just couldn’t bring myself to break a cycle I began aged 8, so I renewed.
Then Stuart Webber and Farke happened and suddenly, we had a philosophy; a way of doing things that wasn’t the norm.
Suddenly we were buying players most of us had never heard of, in pursuit of a footballing ideal alien to the Championship and I lapped up the newness, fully buying in to Farkelife.
I still do. And with last season drifting to a conclusion, I felt that this season, having had a year to mould the club in our new image, we would have a real shot, so I renewed.
I renewed purely because we now have a philosophy, which in turn gives us an identity; we’re the team who do different. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes it’s been pretty dire, but it’s ours and for now at least it keeps me coming back.
The efforts of ourselves and Barclay End Norwich to build on this new identity and help celebrate our unique shared City pasts, through things like flags (some excellent designs are in the pipeline) and songs have kept me going this far and encourage me that things will continue to improve.
When and if that link dies though, you will no longer find me at the back of Block E, but 500 odd miles east on the Gegengarde.