We can’t always get what we want - but did we get what we need? Paul Buller checks in on a slightly perkier showing.
Carrow Road is a nice place to visit on a mild autumnal evening the week the clocks have gone back. Despite the threat of rain and gales, 25,000 of us turned out, many of school age well beyond their bedtimes and a good number of QPR fans off the train from London.
I made an effort to get there early for once to walk around the ground and soak up the sights, smells and sounds of a convivial, friendly atmosphere that come with the luxury of having a stadium that’s so well appointed. Friends chatting, drinking, eating burgers; Bryan Gunn waving hello to supporters; QPR fans mingling with Norwich fans – it was all quite pleasant, with no sense of tension. It made me feel a bit warm and fuzzy.
Inside the ground it was much the same: a general hubbub of an evening out with the odd splash of excitement in the first 20 minutes, slowly giving way to a few moans and groans as Norwich failed to capitalise on their early advantage. Some middle-aged men went a bit red. Others sighed. Kids yawned. Some even sang. All in all, it was about as typical as it gets for a football match at this time of year.
For the second game running it turns out that picking players to play in the position they’re good at, actually works. Liam Gibbs especially. Well done everyone.
Todd Cantwell has been very honest about himself this week and it was a nice hurrah to see him start and perform so well. A Todd who is fit in mind and body may well be the difference between promotion or not for Norwich this season and he was excellent in this game, despite showing understandable signs of frustration with his teammates as the game wore on.
He was creative, tactically astute and the hub of much of our best play in the first half especially, when we could and should have been two or three goals ahead. Also, when he plays well it really annoys the miserable whinger who sits near me so that’s a double hurrah as far as I’m concerned.
The somewhat predictable factor that means Norwich at Carrow Road will play like a mid-table Premier League team for the first twenty minutes then slowly run out of puff, ideas and dare I suggest, fitness? It wasn’t entirely clear what QPR’s game plan was beyond sitting and waiting for Norwich to make an error although to be fair that works for most teams.
I expected good things from QPR but they didn’t really do anything, and we had plenty of opportunities to win the game. That we didn’t, with a squad of this quality, against a team unwilling to press us, is a big boooo, I’m afraid.
To be perfectly honest this has to go to the QPR ‘keeper. He made some blinding saves. He punched, kicked, flung, dived, stretched, tipped, leaped and smothered. His distribution was terrible but frankly if I was on the train back home to west London I’d be watching his highlights and thanking him for earning QPR a point.
Norwich played very well at times, should have won and this team should be doing better, which is probably what led to some angry shouts at the end of the game. Look, I’m too old to care about how a ‘disconnect’ between the fans and the club manifests itself through the football.
Quite simply, if you play good football, both will look after each other. But in life we have choices. I work in psychology and we often say to clients that you can’t change someone else’s behaviour but you can change your own attitude, actions and behaviour towards that person. In time, that may influence how they behave towards you. As a football club and a brand, you can choose to question why 25,000+ fans aren’t supporting the team as you’d like them to. Or you could choose to understand that’s a battle you’re never going to win because, well, 25,000+ people.
You could choose to deny a disconnect or you could say you’re open to exploring it. Fans can choose to boo Kenny McLean or to support and motivate him. Dean Smith could choose to take 30 seconds of his time at the end of a match to applaud the fans. Or he could choose to make public statements about not doing that. Which would have the better return on investment?
Stuart Webber could choose to talk more often to us about the ongoing plan for NCFC, in the way that so endeared him to Norwich fans a few years ago. Or he could choose to say nothing aside from a club interview. Which choice would have the more favourable outcome to both the club and its customers?
The club could choose to engage its young fans in its community and family areas in the stadium on match days through initiatives that make it a really special occasion to be inside Carrow Road. Instead we have soulless concourses and family areas where increasingly angry men are allowed to use disgusting language in front of six year olds. How does that create a legacy of young supporters?
Walking around the ground tonight it struck me just how many people were there, being friendly, chatty, looking forward to the game; kids, parents, grandparents, friends and so on. There is an audience there that turns up each week simply wanting to have a good time. Many don’t really care about the result, especially the kids – it’s about the experience. In some ways the football is a by-product of the experience but when the experience is solely reliant on the football, that’s too much to expect from everyone involved.
So maybe reflect on how those attitudes, actions and behaviours could make a more rounded experience for those of us who turn up every week; those who bring our kids and promise them a good time. The England women’s team did that when they came to Carrow Road through things like the travelling band and making sure the players engaged with the children. That was the best time my 10 year old has had in five years of coming to football here, by far.
He’s part of a generation who have a billion distractions being thrown at them that isn’t Norwich City and if we’re not careful we’ll lose them, along with their parents. The choice is pretty simple. It just needs to happen.