Connor Southwell: City fans feel disconnected after more top-flight pain

City writer Connor Southwell looks at the current relationship between Norwich City's fans and the club

Connor Southwell

Connor Southwell | 29 Dec 2021, 17:15

Norwich City fans don’t expect a lot. 

They don’t believe their team should be winning the Premier League. They don’t believe they should be spending £40m on a player. They don’t believe they have a divine right to demand success at the highest level. 

But do they expect to be competitive, irrespective of the league they find themselves in. At present, however you look at it, they are not. 

Patience has never been in short supply since the change of model in 2017. Fans have understood why players need to be sold, why certain decisions needed to be made and have trusted deeply in that process. 

Which is what made the chants that emanated from the away section at Selhurst Park so jarring. 

‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ was perhaps the most pointed criticism. Others went on to be more personal and included a chant telling Billy Gilmour to ‘go back to Chelsea’, albeit using different terminology. 

Personal abuse isn’t okay. No player or person should be subjected to that simply for doing their job. Especially a young man trying to make his way in the game. 

That isn’t Norwich City. Nor should it get in the way of the chronic underperformance being witnessed on the pitch. 

But it underlines the point that City supporters are fed up and feel disconnected from this group of players and some even to their club. 

Norwich City are sick of the Premier League. The Premier League are sick of Norwich City. 

Two years ago, there was an understanding that promotion arrived ahead of the curve, it meant holding back on recruitment and improving the infrastructure. Not many fanbases would have supported that, but City fans ended up helping to pay for it through the academy bond. 

But that was done on the premise that next time in the top flight would be different. It would see them be more competitive and make a better fist at remaining in the division, even if that meant eventually falling short.

They were told the pain of that season was for the greater good. That is was necessary in order to progress.

Now we find ourselves with a team that has scored eight goals, conceded 42 and sit rooted to the foot of the Premier League on 10 points. There isn’t much that feels different from two years ago, although the promises of improvement sound now like hollow words. 

When you take into account that last season they were kept away by a global pandemic and forced to watch their team on a computer screen, you can understand it feeling like a simulation given what they have come back to.

To be clear, this isn’t a group of players who have downed tools or are lacking motivation. The issue is more around a lack of quality.  

Some would respond with their lengthy list of absentees, but Dean Smith walked in to a club that had won one of their last nine games with a fully-fit squad. Beyond the five games after his appointment, this has been a season where City have looked miles short of the standard required. 

They have failed to score in 13 of their 19 games. They’ve lost nine matches by two goals or more. 

But what frustrates supporters most is the fact that they leapt to defend the club’s model and operating style when they were getting hammered by pundits and commentators on the Premier League, but are being shown nothing on the pitch that backs up their arguments. 

They are fed up with being embarrassed at this level. They don’t want to be the laughing stock anymore. They won’t accept another anaemic relegation to the Championship. 

The recruitment hasn’t been good enough on the evidence of 19 matches. The gamble hasn’t paid off. The line about arming City with a ‘bazooka and a tank’ will follow Stuart Webber around like a bad smell, especially since the weaponry has been more akin to a water pistol and a plastic sword so far. 

When Daniel Farke was removed as City boss, that decision was made in the belief that this group of players was good enough to survive. 

Smith may argue that, when fully fit, City have the squad capable of surviving. It is also true that he did improve them when his full squad was available. 

But this is a big group of players assembled on the premise that there was a lack of depth two years ago. The same issues remain, yet the squad is greater in size. 

January will be another quiet month unless City sell one of their assets. Some fans would question whether the recruitment would be good enough to attract the players capable of turning this around anyway. 

Norwich fans have seen too many turgid Premier League seasons since its inception in 1992. 

The current situation is a culmination of constant top-flight let-down and disappointment. Every promotion feels like the catalyst for something new and sustainable in the top tier, but ultimately ends up in disappointment. 

Yes, the rollercoaster of yo-yo-ing between divisions is exciting. But when you’re on your fifth or sixth lap of the same track, the exhilaration and excitement are quickly exchanged for feelings of nausea and a longing for something more gentle. 

Beyond that, the fear is that if City go down, they may struggle to return. Plenty of clubs have experienced that rut in the past. Beyond Max Aarons City don’t have assets capable of generating millions of pounds of income. 

This was supposed to be a City side better equipped for life in the Premier League. For all the mitigation around key players missing, it included eight players who had been signed since their last relegation and were expected to form part of a squad that was capable of, at the very least, competing at this level. 

It was also a team where no player has scored a top-flight goal for Norwich this season. Their two goals against Southampton in Smith’s first game in charge remain the only time they’ve scored against 11-men since he arrived at the club.

Despite the fact they were the 11th highest spenders in Europe, although that number must be balanced by the sale of Emi Buendia, many supporters feel they cannot succeed as a Premier League club with a self-funding model. 

That doubt will remain until it is achieved. In a division populated by wealth, some feel Norwich simply don’t have the resources to compete or that Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones can preside over a Norwich team that is a regular member of the top flight.

It is a model that has been celebrated, and rightly so. Sustainability isn’t sexy and football needs plenty more of it, but City’s moral approach isn’t translating into top-flight success. 

Since Webber’s appointment at Norwich, seven teams have stayed in the Premier League after promotion. Brentford and Watford look in a position to add to that number. 

That isn’t merely down to the way they choose to run the football club. But it doesn’t help their arguments for persisting with a model that is yet to prove it can work outside of the Championship. 

But the issues stem deeper than merely on the pitch. 

Some fan groups privately feel as though communication streams aren’t as strong as in years gone by. There are concerns the current hierarchy aren’t as accessible as they once were. 

Communication with supporters was raised at the recent AGM as an area that required improvement, especially given the BK8 saga in the summer. 

Disconnect is more dangerous than anger, because it turns people off and, eventually, away. 

Strip it all back and this current offering is more harmful and joyless than the one shown in 2019/20, because this time was supposed to be different. 

But all Crystal Palace required to score was competence. Then a chronic lack of belief or quality hindered any chance of getting back into the contest. 

The question of how they go about turning this around or limiting the damage is a big one. But if this ship remains on its current course, then things are only going to get more toxic. 

Given the circumstances that saw City move away from their original model, that would be somewhat of deja vu.