The sun has set on a frankly weird domestic football season. The Covid-enforced elongation of the season certainly took its toll on our lead writer and Norwich City fan Paul, whose team were relegated with a whimper worse than that of a lame dog whose taken a heroin overdose. Here, he gives his thoughts on the ever-growing behemoth which is the Premier league – what will be missed and what won’t.
My team, Norwich City, sauntered into the Premier League in style with an unexpectedly outstanding 2018/19 Championship title win. Daniel Farke’s side blew the competition away (yes, even Marcelo Bielsa’s vaunted Leeds side) with an attractive, attacking brand of football. After scoring 94 goals and gaining just as many points, the team paraded the trophy around the streets of a sunny Norwich in front of 100,000 people, vividly decked out in the famous canary yellow and green. 15 (yes, 15) months later and they played (barely) out the season in front of no fans, gaining no points and only 1 goal in the nine games after ‘Project Restart.’ It really wasn’t meant to be this way. However, the Premier League ‘rot’ had already set in way before coronavirus hit our shores. Here are some things I will miss, and some I most certainly will not, about the ‘biggest league in the world.’
‘MISS U’ – It’s the Premier League.
Just the name and reputation of the Premier League is enough for any club to want to be there. The array of outstanding players, the media coverage, the spotlight on your club week in, week out is enough to make it the place to be. Ultimately, for a club like Norwich, it is the pinnacle – without substantial investment, just ‘being’ in the Premier League is probably the height of our ambitions, and teams like Burnley have proven this can feel like success.
‘WON’T MISS U’ – VAR
Where else to start? I was surprised that the tv companies didn’t add ‘Fuck VAR’ to their crowd noises after Project Restart…such was the resistance to it by fans far and wide. It’s not the system, as such, it is how it’s done. It takes power away from the referees, removes the excitement of goals and makes decisions based on mathematics and the drawing of straight lines, not what is in the best interests of football – how we all know and love it. Sure, my team were on the end of one of the worst VAR decisions of the season, when Teemu Pukki’s goal against Spurs was disallowed, but tellingly we also sung ‘Fuck VAR’ alongside Leicester fans after Kelechi Iheanacho’s opening goal was disallowed against us for the most innocuous of handballs. Thankfully, the EFL haven’t employed the muppets at Stockley Park to officiate games from 300 miles away, yet…
‘MISS U’ – Winning against the odds
Rightly or wrongly, Norwich decided to test their effervescent young squad against the filthy rich squads in the premier league without spending very much at all. Indeed, our only permanent signing pre-season was Sam Byram, a back up full-back, for £750K. Perhaps we didn’t ‘give it a proper go’ or perhaps we accepted relegation could happen whilst securing our future as a football club. Either way, when you’re the poorest club in the Premier League with the lowest budget, each and every win feels like the time David beat the fuck out of Goliath. Our win against Manchester City, despite our subsequent premier league surrender, with forever be remembered in Norfolk. Despite an injury list as long as that of the list of ingredients in a Delia cook-book, we managed to beat the reigning champions in style, scoring three brilliant goals and raising the roof off Carrow Road (recorded as the loudest of any premier league grounds this season during the game). Somehow, I feel like a routine 2-0 home victory over Barnsley won’t quite bring the same feeling – even if we are allowed a crowd!
‘WON’T MISS U’ – Soulless stadiums
Ok, so all stadiums were soulless from June onwards, proving that football really is ‘all about the fans.’ But the appeal of identikit Premier League stadiums, which entice tourists aplenty and seem like they are hosting exhibitions rather than football matches, is lost on me. This season, I attended several away games. Anfield on the first night of the season was like a morgue, aside from our yellow and green corner – even when we were 0-4 down. The London Stadium was worse, a far cry from the delights and frights of West Ham’s Boleyn Ground. Having said that, I must give Spurs’ new stadium a shout – it has been designed with the football fan in mind and provided a great backdrop for our penalty shoot out win in the FA Cup. Perhaps it was that the home fans weren’t enthralled at the prospect of a game against Norwich, but give me Kenilworth Road or Hillsborough any day of the week.
‘MISS U’ – Top class players
I have never been one of those people who go to games to ‘witness’ opposition players against us. They pretty much become invisible when I watch games, I go to watch and support my team, but I can’t deny watching some individuals this season has left me in awe of some of the quality in the Premier League. The Liverpool front three on that first night were a sight to behold, the performances of Martial and Rashford for Manchester United against us, and having to admit that Jack Grealish is different class after Villa beat us 5-1 was hard, but an honest assessment of his personal qualities. Then there’s the top class players who I may never see in yellow and green again, even after a difficult season, the likes of Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia have done their personal reputations no harm. We don’t HAVE to sell, but we likely will, and it’s always sadder when the family silver (youngsters from the academy) are the ones sold off.
‘DON’T MISS U’ – It’s the Premier League.
There’s something egotistical and arrogant that leaves a bad taste about the Premier League. This season has had several examples: the bull-headedness in refusing to make changes to a flawed VAR system; the money over safety approach to Project Restart and the lack of support in saving lower level clubs who are in crisis due to COVID. Although I will never criticise the players themselves, they earn the money they’re offered, the Premier League as an organisation feels corrupt and insular – ignorant to others’ views and bullying enough to ignore its flaws. Having said that, I don’t think the EFL’s reputation has fared much better. Then there are the big clubs and their fans, many of whom have never even stepped foot in the city of the team they support, let alone the ground. The way they belittle the smaller clubs is a little pathetic at times. One of the things I love about the Championship is, although there is an intense rivalry between teams borne from the fact you never know who will win, there is also a camaraderie and togetherness between fans, we share the understanding that our teams are sometimes bloody crap.
One thing is certain, the Premier League is the biggest league in the world, with many of the best players and an obvious worldwide appeal. It is exciting, fast-paced and engrossing. Having said all this, it isn’t the only place to be. What coronavirus, empty stadiums and clubs being forced into administration has taught me is – at least we still have a football club to support – one that is at the heart of its community.