This piece was published in the matchday programme for the game against Swansea City on 15 September 2018. The whole programme is really great and it is worth subscribing imho. You can do that here.
This season has been pretty special. Even the grumpiest of fans can agree with that. The goals have been good, the wins have been better, and Ipswich are going down.
Because this is such a stand out special season, I’ve been thinking a lot about 1993. In my humble opinion, the last time things were this good. Although I’d been tagging along with my dad for a couple of years by that point, 1993 was the year the game of football entered my soul. I have Mark Robins, Ruel Fox and Jeremy Goss to thank for the years of highs and lows, for the pain of relegations, and the joy of years like 1993 and 2019. These two years sit side by side because of the togetherness between the team and the fans. But they differ when you compare the togetherness between the club and the fans.
1993 feels like a long time ago because it is, and we supported our team in different ways. Fan media existed then but in the shape of photocopied fanzine pages. Some of them were lovingly stapled together, others were stapled together without love. I can remember reading a copy of one Norwich fanzine where every other page was upside down. Whichever they were put together, that was what we had. Every few weeks, if you managed to walk past one of the sellers.
‘Ferry Across The Wensum’ was my favourite. ‘Liverpool Are On The Telly again’ was the big daddy of Norwich fanzines. I learned everything I knew about away games from what we nowadays call “match day experience” pieces in the pages of ‘Never Mind The Danger’ before I ever went on my first away game (a junior canaries trip to Kenilworth road since you ask.) The beers loaded onto the bus, the mayhem of the game, the clubbing after, and the hungover drive back to Norwich the next day. (I’m talking about the lads in NMTD, not junior canaries trio, to be clear.) My brother, now a reasonably successful if obscure novelist, got his one of his first commissions from a Norwich fanzine, writing about the exhilaration of our win against Vitesse Arnhem.
Fanzines gave us togetherness in the way that fan media does today. It was a different scale of course. My post-game routine used to be trying to read a fanzine by the flickering lights of other cars on our way home to Thetford. Now, I can gorge on clips of the goals, interviews with the players and check out Jack Reeve’s latest bold fashion statement.
The Along Come Norwich and Barclay End people don’t need any more praise than they’ve already had but our gratitude should be bottomless. They’ve transformed things on the field, and off. They got us organised, with creativity, determination, and endless lovely T-shirts. Their podcasts (along with the scrimmage, TNC and others) are phenomenal. Fans have a ludicrous range of options to read about the team, our games and everything about this season, not just from the fan media but also from the Pink ‘Un and the EDP but also from this very programme that you are holding.
Which brings to me to the difference between 1993 and 2019: how the club viewed, and treated us.
After the highs of the 93–94 seasons, we used our fan organisation to confront the club over their mismanagement, disdain for fans and dismantling of our team. It was the right thing to do, but it was miserable. In 2019, the club is helping the fans to organise in a way that brings us all together, from the way in which this programme includes fans or contributed to the ACN crowdfunder, through to the access that fan media is being given to everyone from the players to Delia and Michael.
Today, when we sing One City Strong, it has meaning. That’s something that can’t be contrived. Football fans are a cynical bunch. Especially Norfolk football fans. It’s more than PR. It’s not just for show when the club put their money where their mouth is to support the efforts to make the Barclay a yellow wall. It’s not PR when the Canaries Trust organises a food bank for people suffering from austerity, with support from the club. It’s not PR when Jon “@biggrantholt” Rogers or the Farke Knight Lee Clarke raise thousands for charity, with the club cheering them on. These efforts — organised by the fans, but with real support from the club — make me as proud to be a Norwich fan as anything happening on the pitch.
Football is nothing without the fans. The club is more than a team. Carrow Road is more than concrete and plastic seats. Seaons like 1993 had a lot of the same ingredients as today, whether it’s the football on the pitch or the fan media we’re avidly consuming. But this season will stand out in the history of our club because we’ve been found out what it means to be stronger together.