Arsenal Fans, Don't Panic in September - Advice From A Norwich City Supporter

Relax Arsenal fans, just because your team has had the worst start since records began doesn't mean this season has to be a write off. Look what happened to us...
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Arsenal fans, just because your team has had the worst start since records began doesn't mean this season has to be a write off. Look what happened to Norwich City...

If your team has started badly, relax. For how a team start a season often bears little relation to what really matters - how they finish it.

Take Norwich City. Much has been made of the incredible turn-around in fortunes presided over by Paul Lambert - but the most compelling fact has to be this: just 16 months ago they were taking on Stockport County in League 1. Today, Norwich are Premier League and Stockport are non-league. Surely a state of affairs to give every fan whose team has started shakily hope - because Norwich started their first League 1 campaign in 50 years famously poorly. In fact, poor doesn’t even begin to describe it. Losing 7-1 at home on the first day of the 2009/10 season is epic in its ineptitude.

I was at that game, and I seriously doubt whether I’ll ever experience anything quite like it again. The stadium was packed on a sunny afternoon, bedecked in yellow and green but raucously defiant. The unspoken feeling was that this would be the briefest of stays in League 1, a chance to start again and find new heroes. And then Norwich City fell apart. The first Colchester goal came on ten minutes, but a jittery back-pass and even more nervous goalkeeping could be excused. The natural order would surely be restored. By the 22nd minute, Norwich were 4-0 down. Two fans rushed down the touchline to throw their freshly minted season tickets at manager Bryan Gunn.

I witnessed the curious spectacle of people putting down their pints and rushing back to their seats - so they could boo their team off

By the time the fifth went in before half-time most people were at the bars under the stands. I witnessed the curious spectacle of people putting down their pints and rushing back to their seats - so they could boo their team off. Afterwards, people met in pubs around the city and, shell shocked, asked each other when they’d had enough. For me, it was the sixth, in the 76th minute.

I had never left a game early, and have never done so again. But it was a cleansing experience. I made a pact with myself - I would only go and see the team I’ve been watching since 1980 again if they could prove to me that they were made of sterner stuff. My self-imposed ban came to an end against Leeds in October. Naturally, we lost to an agonising 92nd goal. But all the pointers to possible promotion first made themselves apparent on that night. By the time Norwich played them again in March, we were 11 points clear at the top of the league.

Of course, it might seem a touch hypocritical to preach patience - famously, Norwich liked Colchester’s thrashing so much, they sacked Gunn after one league game and employed their manager, Paul Lambert. But he had a lot to do. By the end of September 2009, his new charges were 14th, still only one point off the relegation zone. A year later, Watford came to Carrow Road for Norwich’s first game back in the Championship, and won 3-2. Come mid-September, the Canaries were nicely placed in mid-table, but a 3-1 defeat at Doncaster didn’t suggest they would be ironing Premier League badges onto their shirt sleeves the following season.

And yet, with those badges freshly positioned onto the famous yellow shirts, that’s exactly what happened. I loved Blackpool’s promotion to the Premier League because it gave every fan of every lower league club hope that given the right manager, the right players and a passion to succeed, their team could do it too. That it was my club who ‘did a Blackpool’ the very next year still seems too incredible to believe. Keep the faith.

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