Things Fall Apart… The Centre Cannot Hold


Not gonna lie, no one's fancying writing match reviews at the moment. So here's Nick Hayhoe to ponder his investment in a season ticket.

What a place to be. Just like a bad, alcohol-fueled, dream where something is just out of reach but you can’t move and grab it, or you are falling and wake up before you hit the ground, Norwich City are doomed to forever be not quite out of the playoff picture but to never be in it either. A playoff neverzone, if you will, where nothing is quite what it seems and points take on an elastic quality, inconsistent result after inconsistent result, until it eventually takes its toll and you wake up as a husk in a cold sweat, with only one recognisable centre back, no tactical direction, consecutive hammerings and loan signings who gave up a long time ago.

What a mess. What a mess indeed. A great giant, knocking over a pot of nail varnish on a cream carpet, mess. Financial model aside, one of the Championship’s biggest budgets – in one of the weakest second tier seasons for years – is crawling to the finish line like a Lada. Looking cool in the 1980s styling, but otherwise a shitbox.

As per usual with a football club’s campaign failure, fingers are pointed, articles are written, podcasts are made. However, there’s a certain difference this time round. Expectations are high for Norwich fans now, rightly or wrongly on our behalf. This is the reality of modern football. We’re an established ‘gap team’, with your Burnleys, your Fulhams, your Sheffield Uniteds. And while the yo-yoing isn’t really anyone’s cup of tea, if at some point you can only manage a single downwards yo, you’re in trouble.

This idea breaks the kayfabe we all share as football supporters – that we think we’re going to win every match and any league, regardless of how delusional that might be

Sure, sure football is cyclical. A phrase that, even after frequent use by ACN and – okay – myself, I must admit is also starting to make my teeth grind. Because while it is factually true, dismissing any horror of failure, because failure will inevitably turn into success a decade later, means emotional and financial investment isn’t worth it. This idea breaks the kayfabe that we all share as football supporters – that we think we’re going to win every match and any league, regardless of how delusional that might be. And instead plunges us back into the reality that modern football is now essentially an accountancy exercise.

But really even this is not the root of the issue right now, or the reason why it feels quite different. 

For a while now, it has seems that our ‘model’ of self-financing is unworkable in the modern game. Yes, I know a lot of people say this and get very angry at Delia, and ask where the money’s gone, and why haven’t we bought a centre forward Neyul – but these arguments aren’t actually what I mean. Throwing money at the situation, as Chelsea under Todd Boeley have proved, doesn’t automatically work anyway, so just saying DELIA OUT and expecting Attanasio to invest a billion in the club is as short sighted an argument as you can make. 

No instead, the reason why it’s unworkable is actually more worrying. After our Covid Promotion we sold Emi Buendia – widely regarded as one of Norwich’s most technically gifted players ever – to Aston Villa for around £35m (give or take). If we strip personalities and egos out of this decision for a second, it’s almost entirely unjustifiable that this occured. Despite noises at the time that they were onto a good thing with Dean Smith (lol), spending the Grealish cash and looking at pushing for Europe, Villa had just finished 15th in the Premier League and it still could be argued that they were going to be one of our rivals in the division.

Emi would have, almost literally, been worth 10 times more to us, had he stayed and kept us up

Yes, I know it does always happen. Yes, I know he wanted out, blah blah blah…And yet, this is still the problem. You cannot expect to compete at all in the top division of English football (in any era) if you sell your best player after a promotion. It just doesn’t happen. The money that you make from that transfer – even if it’s approaching the £100m mark – will be, essentially, gambled with in terms of what players are then signed for that coming season. Of course, as it turned out it was a disaster for us. Emi would have, almost literally, been worth 10 times more to us, had he stayed and kept us up.

So, viewed alongside the way we actually want to try and run the club, the fact we had to sell him just to make ends meet is a major problem. Because one day we won’t have a potentially big transfer to secure our overheads for the next couple of years: either that player won’t exist, or the costs of simply treading water in the top two divisions of English football become even then beyond our means. Without any solutions to underwrite our simple running costs and with footballer wage spirals showing no sign of easing, we have to play every financial hand with all the chips in – something that we’ve clearly seen this year that Webber can’t do.

And this is where my current ennui is coming from. A model in which I believed for a long time is now disintegrating like wet toilet paper into the shitheap of model football, and, worse still, the backroom action of the club has started to stagnate in communicating what the next step now is. The “journey” with which we were all on board (and all had fun riding on) has ended. Staff members are abandoning ship; the football on the pitch, in terms of both results and style, is rudderless; more players are going to leave in the summer. Willingness to engage in fan atmosphere initiatives has regressed, and vegetables patches are overgrown (presumably).

We’ve become Zombie Norwich City. Going through the motions as a sort of living-dead sometimes-Premier League team

There’s nothing there right now I can feel I can put my emotional weight behind, nothing to believe in. We’ve become Zombie Norwich City. Going through the motions as a sort of living-dead sometimes-Premier League team who don’t have the money to actually be competitive, but also don’t want to try and be different in how they operate. So, what’s the point in spending £550 for a season ticket on this? For me, with Britain entering its banter phase of requiring a mortgage to buy a pack of Lurpack, there’s currently no justification. 

It’s grim, this place, where you don’t really want us to get promoted because you know it’ll be a catastrophe if it does happen. But really, what’s making it worse for me currently isn’t that we’re playing badly – it’s the fact there’s nothing else to root for right now beyond this thing that I don’t really want us to happen anyway. The exciting idea that Pukki could get 100 goals disappeared a long time ago and all that’s left is that there are a few yoof yoof yoof players coming through. And even that comes with the caveat that anyone who’s really good will likely get sold at some point in the near future. On top of this, I’m supposed to be getting excited about Marquinhos, Isaac Hayden and Ramsey – all of whom have approached playing for Norwich City, both emotionally and physically, like a bunch of school kids on a field trip to the cardboard box factory. Say what you like about Todd Cantwell, but at least he gave a shit.

So what are the answers? Well, I’ve already given my solution elsewhere via ACN: we stop trying to pretend to be a mid-table Premier League club and actually act properly as the community asset we purport to be. If the sharpest shock to do this is part fan ownership (i.e. +33% shares, Luton style), so be it. At least it would give me something to believe in again, making football less of a middle-management exercise and more fun, and in the process actually worth getting one’s emotional weight behind. 

The other “option” (quote marks intentional) is, as some would put it, “time for Delia to sell up and an investor to come in”, which is an argument that always seems to conveniently forget the flaw that someone (who is actually reasonable and won’t run the club into the ground, I should add) needs to both exist and actually have lots of money that they want to put into Norwich City. And as this option relies so much on variables that are well outside of our control, I am still of the opinion that it isn’t really an option at all. It’s a pub argument that deliberately misses any complexity. Yes, I know the Americans are there but again no one can force them to put loads of money into the club so that we can splurge money on £25m signings, and regardless, do we have a structure right now to even get that sort of thing right? 

Like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up that hill, we’ve ended up back where we started

So as I give one final sigh at the end of the last home match of the season against Blackpool, a team we’ll likely start well against before collapsing into a heap, and decide, as I have for most home games this season, that leaving early to catch the 5pm train home is worth the hassle. I wave goodbye to an extraordinary era in which I had a season ticket – but also one where ultimately, like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up that hill, we’ve ended up back where we started. Mid-table in the Championship, a lack of atmosphere at Carrow Road and complaints about how the boardroom of the club is operating. Would I have it any other way? Yes actually, I think I would. Goodbye…

[Two days later]

*It’s the middle of the night, and Nick wakes up from a bad dream in a cold sweat. He experiences a fomo twitch*


*He opens up his phone, logs onto the Norwich City website and buys an away membership* 


  1. Don Harold says:

    Brilliant, thanks.

  2. Neil Watson says:

    Brilliant piece and certainly encapsulates how I’m currently feeling!

  3. Alex says:

    I think you’ve pretty much summed up the thoughts of many NCFC fans and if club sources are to be believed, the amount of ST renewals is above 18,000.

    Something HAS to change at the club and sooner rather than later.

    IMO, a good starting point would be getting SW and the local press locked in a room, until normal lines of communication have been re-established. I’m not apportioning blame, but I just think it’s something that needs to happen.

    Next, we need a proper transfer strategy. SW got VERY lucky when he signed both Pukki and Buendia at the same time and then also got DF as Head Coach. He and his assistants succeeded in making a great Championship winning team.

    Following winning the Championship for the 2nd time, SW pretty much wasted the money we got from the sale of Buendia and brought in 5 or 6 players whom he thought would help us stay in the PL. Those who are still at Carrow Road have struggled to impose themselves in the Championship, so what chance would they have had in the PL.

    Oh well – let’s see who we can sign and that DW can develop a playing style and tactics that the squad can get to grips with, otherwise, League 1 beckons!! 😡

    1. John says:

      After today, League One not only beckons, but seems to me that we’re headed to it on a down-hill one-way street with no brakes!

      O T B C

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