I made my first visit of the season to Carrow Road last night, and saw Norwich City beat Watford 4-2. It was an exciting occasion: my neighbour’s 13-year-old son, Freddie, was one of the mascots, and there was much merriment all round. Which is odd, because the night ended with Norwich being relegated to the Championship, thanks to Sunderland’s win against Everton.
It was not a particularly merry evening for me. First, I forgot how to swipe my wife’s season ticket, then I entered the ground through the wrong lounge and couldn’t find my seat (although I’d sat in it many times before) and finally I was barred from the lounge at half time because I’d left my ticket with someone who was already in there.
I didn’t mind too much about that, because they don’t serve black tea. I mean, really.
I did mind the constant sit-stand yo-yoing up and down because people arrived late, left early for half-time, came back late and then left early at the end. It’s not as though the football was boring – on this occasion, anyway. But Norwich, I’m told, are a yo-yo club, and I suppose this includes the spectators. Since I’m not a regular spectator, I can’t really expect anyone to take note of my muttering.
(In case you’re mystified, a yo-yo club is one that is relegated one year and promoted the next. We hope.)
But why the merriment? Don’t football fans really care? Is their club a joke?
I find it strangely reassuring. I know Bill Shankly said football was “not a matter of life and death: it’s more important than that”, but of course it really isn’t, is it? And the Championship can be more fun than the Premiership, unless you’re Leicester. And let’s face it, most of us aren’t. We’re not even Richard III.
Strangely, what brought about the merriment was acceptance of the inevitable. Norwich were going down. No-one suggested otherwise, though it was not settled mathematically. A week earlier, when there was realistic hope, there was no merriment – just tension, and a touch of despair.
Last night we’d got beyond all that. We were going to have a good season in the Championship and not endure a long series of 1-0 losses to off-colour super-teams. At least that’s what we hope. And it’s a merry thought. The win against Watford was a kind of promise of things to come.
When I left Wembley after the euphoric play-off final last year, a Middlesbrough fan approached a group of us and said: “You’re going to lose all your matches next year, and we’re going to win the league.” How we laughed, not because we held him in scorn, but because we knew that he was probably right.
He almost was. As Norwich go down, they pass Middlesbrough on the way up. What goes around, comes around. You’ve got to be merry, haven’t you?
On the main drag, by the hide,
a skeleton tree
empty of hangings now
Reeds brush the sky:
blue is removed from blue, and
strange calls are raised in protest
Then they subside
as if knowing it is too late
for beauty, when everyone
believes the same lie
A bunting poses in a nearby bush
and there is movement
just off the boardwalk as we sit
There is no salt here now,
and no bread, but
the sea will come in again;
tides will turn
whether I am here to witness
or have passed by, despairing
of making a difference
Yes, the sea is always there
in the background,
a gift of faith
sometimes thrown back,
sometimes too strong to resist
This was written after a visit to the nature reserve at Cley in North Norfolk, which had been inundated by the sea and then came back