Norwich City Football Club – you’ve heard of them, yes? That’s right, those guys who play in yellow and green somewhere due east of Peterborough! You care passionately about it; investing time and emotion into following its fortunes from afar don’t you?… What do you mean, no? NO?! NO?!?! I’m not having that; it’s just crazy talk!!
Well, at least that’s what our East Anglian friends would have you believe, having spent the past 12 months or so desperately trying to validate their status as followers of a big and important footballing institution. The recruitment of Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson and most recently, Robert Snodgrass to the ranks, have sparked a cycle of gloating exercises that have almost bordered on hysteria: “You are our feeder club!” have been the cries of supporters, seemingly hell bent on convincing themselves that promotion to the Premier League undermines all logic and asserts Norwich City as some sort of football monolith, casting its imperious shadow over little Leeds.
It matters not that Bradley Johnson was out of contract; it matters not that the current regime couldn’t wait to push Howson – soon to be a free agent – out of the door for any significant transfer fee, nor the fact that Snodgrass’ patience finally run out dictated his exit. It matters not that Premier League football, greater exposure and huge wage rises, rather than the cache of the club dictated their choice, nor did it register that Jason Pearce, untainted by the ‘life under Bates’ experience, chose a move to Elland Road over one to East Anglia.
In common with us all, Norwich City supporters like to believe their club matters, and for whatever reason, they also seem to really want to matter in the eyes of Leeds United fans. They want… no they have to feel special – they want to believe that every goal they score is soundtracked by the resentful gnashing of teeth back in Yorkshire. They need not waste their time.
I admit, I’ve not been completely immune to the inflammatory tweets and message board posturing; and yes, Norwich City do occupy a slightly more prominent place in my thoughts these days; no longer regarded as an inoffensive, even pleasant irrelevance, but more an innocuous irritation these days – but rivals? Hmm… file alongside Huddersfield and Barnsley.
The actions of Norwich City supporters are symptomatic of those with a “small club mentality”, resentful of having to occupy a lower strata within the historical football aristocracy. Perhaps still seething over the perceived “media obsession” with Leeds during the League One promotion campaign – a point alluded to more than once by Paul Lambert who claimed their title barely registered a mention, comparative to our final day victory over Bristol Rovers – the East Anglians have taken every opportunity since to re-position themselves in football’s pecking order.
It’s an inarguable truth that Norwich currently enjoy a more elevated status; a position perversely distorted by the obscene finances of the Premier League, that in the blink of a summer, transform a club’s ability to compete. But status by definition is a transient mode of existence; a temporary thing dictated purely by performance and results – if we were to claim that Norwich City is a huge club on the basis of their membership of the top division, do we afford the likes of Wigan Athletic, QPR, Reading and Fulham similar reverence?
Standing is something else entirely. To supporters (putting local rivalries and one-off ‘crunch games’ aside) it’s a club’s standing that matters; that dictates the anticipation they afford to any given game. Who outside Ipswich ever gets excited about Norwich rolling into town? Maybe the odd Colchester fan…and let’s be fair, deep down, that must hurt.
As a League One side, would the draw of Norwich City be sufficient to sell out FA Cup ties at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane inside hours, or at the Emirates the following season as Leeds did? Was that based on the quality of team we could field or our league position? No, it was simply because we are Leeds United. Ultimately, while all clubs can enjoy temporary periods of relative success, it is not what primarily defines their standing; that’s tradition, support, potential and mentality. It’s why a meeting with Nottingham Forest will always excite far more than a clash with Wigan, why I’ll always take a game at Hillsborough over one at the Madejski Stadium and a clash with Wolves rather than Fulham.
Of course, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t rather play Norwich than Wigan, Reading or Fulham, just that I wouldn’t get the sort of buzz that’s synonymous with a visit from the likes of Scum, Chelsea, Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool. Many supporters, across the country still get fired up by the prospect of a game against Leeds, regardless of our status – whether they care to admit it or not, it’s wholly evident in the stands – and that is the crux of the matter. The larger footballing public remain indifferent towards Norwich and bar another Sheikh Mansour arriving on the scene will continue to be so. Even when not rated, Leeds will always remain hated, perversely something that is coveted by many.
Regardless, Norwich City’s fans fight the good fight to convince themselves otherwise, labouring under some hopelessly insular misconception that the rest of the football is in the wrong. Even on a wider level, city chiefs are currently considering a new approach to marketing the place to tourists and investors, adopting the slogan: “England’s Other City” – another “Hey look at us, we’re significant!” cry if I ever heard one.
Whether they care to admit it or not, life is as good as it’s ever likely to get at Carrow Road. Should Howson and Snodgrass blossom, they will move on – that is Norwich’s place in the scheme of things; ask Paul Lambert, now comfortable in a new job…and also reportedly an applicant for the Leeds vacancy back in February. For all their mocking, they remain a feeder club, and not just for the very elite within the league, but the second tier of clubs: the Newcastles, the Sunderlands, the Villas; their lot at the highest level is ultimately to survive, rather than thrive.
The blueprint is unmistakeable – while the fan base is decent even at Premier League level, it is no more than that, and any club that openly boasts about taking an away following of between 500 and 600 to a friendly clearly holds limited aspirations. Then there’s the goal music – F**KING GOAL MUSIC!! If there’s anything that defines a club’s standing, it’s goal music! While a dislike for Manchester United will always remain deeply ingrained and their sickening drive to milk the corporate cash cow, particularly distasteful, I can never foresee the day that they start marking every goal with a blast of Bellini’s ‘Samba De Janeiro’ (surely the worst of all goal music), ditto for all the other giants of the English game.
While we’re on music as well, reference has to be made to ‘On the Ball City’; apparently the oldest of all football songs, and one the club has claimed as its own. Notwithstanding the fact it was penned for a team of teachers before being adopted some years later; one look at the lyrics begs the question, “Who the hell would want to be seen dead singing it?”:
Kick off, throw in, have a little scrimmage,
Keep it low, a splendid rush, bravo, win or die,
On the ball, City, never mind the danger,
Steady on, now’s your chance,
Hurrah! We’ve scored a goal!
City! City! City!
Oh, and what the hell is a scrimmage, by the way?!?
Other aspects of the club’s history offer little else to impress. Norwich City are a club that list such footballing luminaries as Nigel Worthington, Efan Ekoku, John Newsome and Darren Kenton in their ‘Hall of Fame’; they’ve even set aside a place for Delia Smith – now I know that Leeds fans have tolerated enough from our own publicity seeking gobshite of a chairman, but openly celebrating his contribution…? There is a limit!
A look at the honours list does show two League Cup triumphs, although it should be noted that the first came in 1962 against a 4th Division Rochdale team in a two-legged affair, watched by an aggregate crowd of under 31,000… it’s fair to say, the competition really wasn’t ‘all that’ in the early days. By 1985, the re-christened Milk Cup was a different kettle of fish, albeit it took an own goal and a Clive Walker penalty miss to ensure a 1-0 triumph over Sunderland – both sides were subsequently relegated.
What by popular consensus remains “the pinnacle of Norwich City’s history” is the 2nd round UEFA Cup defeat of Bayern Munich in 1993… yes, you did read it right: 2nd ROUND! Just to provide some prospective, the high flying Canaries were able to give a debut to Ade Akinbiyi in the return tie.
So there we have it; a club from a city more popularly feted for its mustard, a turkey farmer with a speech impediment at the centre of an avian flu outbreak and a pedestrianisation scheme immortalised by Alan Partridge, than its football team.
Enjoy the Premier League ride Norwich City; while I can’t deny I’ll have a little laugh to myself if it all ends in May, just don’t expect me to care less either way.