What is a football club for?

This piece was published in the matchday programme for the game against Watford on 20 April 2021. The Norwich City programme is really great and it is worth subscribing imho. You can do that here.

Pacheco on the rebound, the whole place is going bananas, Redmond! — it’s a blistering start from Norwich City, Farke is on a horse. For the fourth time in a decade, we can say with pride that Norwich are going back to the Premier League. All the relegations and the dejection that comes with it have given us another one of these moments. We get knocked down, but we go up again, it’s the Norwich way.

Our steady, relentless journey towards going back up at the first attempt is setting off the usual chatter from media pundits. We’re little Norwich, we’re a long drive away from the rest of the country, we’re a yo-yo club. It’s infuriating, but it is also something we can celebrate. Some will never understand the Norwich way. We do things our way.

The one pundit message that is worth taking a second on is the idea that we lack ambition. They say we don’t spend tens of millions on players, and that shows we lack intent — that we’re happy always being 20th or 21st in the football pyramid. In some ways it is hard to engage with this argument because we’re not speaking the same language. People who push that idea want something different to us — success at any price whatsoever. We want success by doing it the Norwich way.

Some clubs have achieved success by selling out and becoming owned by greedy billionaires, by investment bankers, or by America pension funds. Some of those clubs have soared to great heights, some of those clubs have faced oblivion as a result of mismanagement by people who probably couldn’t place the club on a map let alone in the history of our game.

Like a lot of fans, I am desperate for Norwich to be successful, but not at any price. I want us to be as successful as we can be while doing things the Norwich way.

That means playing football for the fans. Not just for points, not just to survive, but to entertain and for enjoyment. It’s easy to say this when that sort of football puts you top of the league, but it is harder to justify when it roots you to the very bottom of the Premier League. Some will never understand it, but we shouldn’t play for them, we should play for our fans.

It’s not just what happens on the pitch that counts. Norwich City is a club for the whole county, and for everyone in it. The togetherness of the club over the last few decades has become even more pronounced in the last few years. Whether during COVID, or speaking out for Black Lives Matter, or the way in which the club has supported Proud Canaries, Norwich City belongs to everyone in Norwich and Norfolk.

And much like the people who support it, the Norwich City way is to have players who fit the personality of the club. Norfolk people don’t suffer fools gladly, or show-offs, or wannabes. We have suffered through phases where the players clearly only cared about the name on the back of the shirt, and this crop aren’t like that. That hasn’t happened by accident — it is an ethos that comes down from the top, and has been enforced and engendered. And we love it.

An unnamed football consultant was quoted in the FT recently saying he wished Norwich would spend heavily and “go hell for leather”. “[Norwich City] has a great model and lots of good people, but the question I have is, what’s the purpose? What’s the point of a football club anyway.”

This season has been glorious, but next season will be tough. Just as the management need to ‘ignore the noise’ and focus on winning the Norwich way, we as fans need to ignore the noise and stay true to who we are, and what we want our club to be. We will be labeled naive, and we will be told we lack ambition, that we will never get success. Their definition of ‘success’ isn’t mine. I don’t want to be owned by a greedy billionaire, under any circumstances. I love what we’ve got and who we are already. We’d rather do it our way or not at all, and they will never understand that.

This is my final fan column of the season, and after three years of sharing my thoughts, it is time to hang my boots up. It has been an honour to write in the pages of this programme — a publication I first started buying 25 years ago. But I am running out of things to pontificate about and I wanted to give other fans space to have their say. I hope we will be back in the stands soon to get behind the team. In the meantime, we can celebrate a phenomenal success and enjoy the uninformed commentary about our imminent arrival back in the big time. OTBC.