Terri Westgate looks at the disconnect between fans and club this season, and tries to work out where it went wrong.
So where did it all go wrong? With the end of a dreadful season upon us, many Norwich fans and outside observers are asking this question about our football club. Those who are at a distance will discuss the intricacies of recruitment and tactics. But those who are closely associated to The Canaries, for whom the fixture list determines their work and social life for nine months of the year, they know there is something rotten at Colney.
I could go through the series of events in the last 11 months that lead us to where we are, and yet I suspect there is so much more that I’m not privy to, so it would still be only half the story. However, we have gone from a unified front of fans, players, and club employees celebrating a record-breaking Championship title, to a fractured, disillusioned argument of melancholia.
There’s no doubt the sacking of Daniel Farke has played a part in this drastic change of mood. Although there was justification in making a change after the team failed to get a win from the first ten games, the consequences have been felt far beyond the field of play. Aside from the fact that replacing Farke didn’t have the desired effect, the bond between him and the supporters meant we lost so much more than points in the process.
Norwich fans loved Daniel. We wore T-shirts with his name on it, we sung about him on a horse, we ole’d in post-match celebrations with him after a win. But he also applauded the fans after the game when results were poor, when some sections booed their disapproval. He understood the role we had played in that first promotion, and always accepted our right to criticise. He was humble enough to take it on the chin. And when our heroes fail, the affection remains. Even people who thought his time was up were sad to see him go.
However, there’s another important role Farke fulfilled, which wasn’t apparent until his absence. His humility balanced out the (over) confidence of our Sporting Director Stuart Webber. They were often interviewed together and had the slick banter of an established double act. Webber was the straight talking, no nonsense businessman. Playing hardball to get the best deals for the club. Farke was next to him waxing lyrical about how his heart is yellow and green and how he wants to do the best for his players.
Without Daniel, Webber’s brashness is less palatable – particularly when the results of his decisions look dubious, if not downright disastrous. And that’s without considering he chose to publicise his life goal/mid-life crisis expedition to climb Everest as our season was sinking. Hosting dinner launches for a new podcast whilst his “gun, a few grenades and a bazooka” squad spluttered out of the Premier League with a whimper. Rather than facing critics, communication has been shut down, I suppose that is one way to ignore the noise.
There are other decisions recently made by the club that in all likelihood have nothing to do with Webber. Like the one not to publicise the player of the season vote, and then announce the (rightful) winner at the training ground instead of before the last home match of the season, and the club refusing permission for flags to be waved in the Barclay in support of Ukraine during the Chelsea game. Flags that had been produced for the previous fixture, and that were in the ground ready to go.
It has been noticeable that the atmosphere at Carrow Road has been tapering off as the season progresses, and long before relegation was confirmed the crowd had become subdued. There were occasional exceptions amongst the hardy travelling supporters, who despite the many miles covered and hours spent travelling during such a poor season, could be heard singing loud and proud above the home fans. But in general the lack of fight on the pitch seeped into the crowd, and as the team rolled over once more the noise faded away. The yellow army is uninspired with only a super Finn to shout about.
We were told how devastating it was to play behind closed doors last year, and the loss of income for each match. In response to a request from the club, the majority of season ticket holders waived their right to a refund during the Covid 20/21 season, giving a financial lifeline to enable the side to push for the top flight again. With pockets now being squeezed by the rising cost of living, disillusioned fans may choose to stay at home and the match day income may again fall. That’s why the relationship between the club and its supporters matters.
So how do we all get past this? How can bridges be rebuilt before next year’s campaign? How do we get the colourful atmosphere and joy back to Carrow Road? I’d suggest taking a leaf out of Farke’s book, and show some humility. The club need to admit they got things wrong, engage again with the supporters, show they have learned from their mistakes, acknowledge that fans have a right to be displeased.
Because we have been here before. I remember when we first were relegated from the Premier League in 1995, fans were angry and felt patronised. Attendances fell, supporters boycotted games and there were ugly scenes and protests outside the ground. There is still time to avoid history repeating, the damage can still be repaired, it all depends on what the club does next.
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My God, Bolkonsky, what a shambles! Matthew McGregor, Nick Hayhoe, Ben Stokes, Terri Westgate, Paul Buller, Maddie Mackenzie, Ffion Thomas, Adam Brandon and Edie Mullen are all here to offer their scorching takes on...whatever that was.