As Norwich’s season fluctuates from despair to hope, all we as fans can do is watch it unfold. So how can we deal with the horror of having no influence on the pitch? A terrified Zoë Whitford has some calming advice
There’s no going back, only forward. No time for thinking about Wembley and Bradley Johnson and even Grant Holt and Michael Nelson and last-minute winners against Leeds. All that matters is the time between now and then, Alex Neil’s angry face and Gary O’Neil’s head bandage and the very state of Timm Klose’s nose. Norwich are in a relegation battle and if Saturday’s quite frankly insane victory over Newcastle is anything to go by, it’s going to be utterly terrifying.
As fans, we have no control over this situation. All we can do is sit there and watch it unfold. At the most we can ‘get behind the boys’ but roaring expletive-laden tunes at the top of our voices won’t help much if the players aren’t up for it, or if the ball hits someone’s hand from two yards away, or if we lose 6-0 at Fulham on the final day of the season. It’s all on the players, and that’s the way it should be, as they’re the ones with the talent and the whopping salaries and the impossibly beautiful girlfriends.
The realisation that no amount of support or caring or positive thoughts will affect the outcome of the season isn’t exactly comforting to the supporter. ‘What, you mean following my match-day routine to the minute and putting my left sock on before my right and having exactly the same pre-match drink HAS NO EFFECT? THIS IS A SCANDAL! Previously I was led to believe that the players left it up to me to determine their performance!’
It’s all a matter of feeling in control. It’s a lot easier to be in the ground during a match than anywhere else, because then you are part of it and the game becomes a breathing, throbbing organism made up not just of 22 players and a shit ref but also of the weather, the crowd, the atmosphere. When you are not in the ground, there is no way of knowing how it all feels. There is some comfort in being part of it, but being complicit in the event playing out before you can lead to an extreme sense of responsibility or even guilt. It’s distressing to think that your very presence couldn’t stop the team conceding an injury-time fifth goal against, say, Liverpool.
I cannot be the only fan who tends to take defeat personally. It takes a lot to make me very cross with the team; instead I internalise the disappointment and berate myself like a good English person.
Feeling like you’re in control and responsible is one way of dealing with the sheer terror of getting through a football match that matters. It can be impossible to cope without this, as demonstrated by my extreme nausea as I followed the West Brom game on Twitter.
How else to deal with the pressure? They say positive visualisation is a powerful method, and I’m not talking about imagining the Sunderland players naked. There’s been far too much of that in the news recently. So, here’s a scenario to visualise the next time the nerves start to take hold:
It’s Crystal Palace away, and absolutely no one in the away section is thinking a) this ground is what Hades must be like, or b) about Andy Johnson and the dive that relegated us a few years ago. No one’s remembering that at all. Instead, the away fans are marvelling at the sinews on Robbie Brady’s neck as he powers forward; howling with laughter as Scott Dann just falls over trying to contemplate the existential beauty of Brady’s left foot; and cheering wildly as Patrick Bamford rolls in his third of the day, Norwich’s fifth. Alan Pardew nuts the Palace physio.
Meanwhile, nine-man Newcastle are making their new manager proud by hanging on valiantly to a 0-0 draw at Southampton. They missed a penalty in a fiery affair but look at them fighting through adversity! It’s the 93rd minute, so Norwich fans will have to accept they’re going to take a point back up north. But what’s this? The Newcastle players think the final whistle has been blown and are congratulating each other, but the ref was just blowing up for a foul throw. Southampton take it quickly, the brave Magpies’ legs have cramped, Sadio Mane is tapping the ball into the net. The Saints players celebrate with amused embarrassment. The Newcastle team is crushed, mentally and physically, and they have two players suspended for the rest of the season. How does a team come back from this?
The next day, Sunderland are taking on champions elect Leicester at the Stadium of Light. They smell opportunity. It’s not opportunity. The smell was, of course, impending doom. They don’t beat Leicester. Leicester are good. ADVANTAGE NORWICH.
The very joy of football is that there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen (although that scenario is very definitely going to happen). A team can lose 6-2 to Newcastle and 2-0 at Villa and still beat Manchester United and keep a clean sheet against Manchester City. Plenty of strange things can still happen this season, and probably will. The most the fans can do is believe in the players’ ability as much as we want them to believe in themselves.
We’ve seen enough relegation disappointment in recent memory – but do you know what we haven’t seen? VALIANT HEROES, BRAVE WARRIORS WHO SURVIVED IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY AND DESERVE CAPITALLETTERS. I don’t remember Norwich ever heroically dragging themselves, bloodied and bruised but triumphant, from the pit of relegation. There’s been moments, like West Brom in 2012-13, but nothing full-on. This team has it in them, hell, Timm Klose’s nose has most of it covered. The fans may have no control over the matter, but a good way of dealing with the nerves is trusting that the team does.
Until it’s over of course, then we can blame ourselves.
Zoë Whitford tweets at @zvfm2
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