Emerald Canaries: Rare 'Aul Birds
Incomprehension, indifference, mockery: these are the some of the responses the Irish Norwich fan can expect to receive when he answers the question 'Who do you follow?'.
Sure, a few kindly souls (usually United followers for some weird reason, maybe it's something to do with those bloody scarves) will occasionally give you a supportive pat on the arm and say something patronising like 'Fair play to you anyway mate' before shuffling off to that group of Liverpool supporters who he'll then proceed to roundly abuse by shouting '19' at the top of his voice for five minutes or so.
And I also shuffle off somewhere else, yearning to find some Ipswich fans so that I too might know the pleasure of mercilessly abusing an inferior local rival. At its worst, supporting Norwich in Ireland is the love that dare not speak its name. At its best, it's more a case of the love that no one ever asks about.
To be honest, I'm not sure exactly when it was that I first began supporting Norwich. I know that it was definitely around the time of the 1993 UEFA Cup campaign so it might have been the first or second leg against Bayern or the first leg against Inter (I have a vivid memory of watching these games and hating Walter Zenga so I must have been a confirmed supporter in my own mind by then at least).
When I reflect further on this time though the only thing I'm certain about is that the memory of it makes me feel old (nearly 17 years ago!).
There are many, many potential reasons for why I began supporting them; I was an odd child and was (still am) proud of the fact, my best friend supported Inter (remember, this was around the time of the great AC sides and the reason he supported them was because he liked Toto Schillaci.
Nearly all Irish football fans know the significance of this name. And people think I'm weird? I digress though) so the UEFA Cup tie represented a nice opportunity to get up his nose, my Dad and brother supported Nottingham Forest and Arsenal respectively so I felt that if supporting strange and unpopular sides was good enough for them then it was good enough for me too, I liked the name Butterworth, I thought Jeremy Goss was a good player, they wore pleasant jerseys, they were the plucky underdogs, Bryan Gunn seemed like a nice guy...
Once I start thinking of potential reasons the list seems endless. The fact that in hindsight none of them strike me as being very good is beside the point; I cast the dye as a seven year old and however much I may moan about it I've never seriously regretted the decision. After all, an interesting life involves more than just boundless glory.
As I'm sure you're all aware the intervening years have been a curious story of steadily lurching from giddy highs to muted lows to the crushing nadir against Colchester and then back again to the zenith of the Premier League in two seasons.
When I first made the decision to support Norwich the general response was one of bemusement from grown ups ('You support who? Really? Ah, you'll grow out of it.') and ignorance ('Who?') or abuse ('They're sh*t') from my more bovine-minded Liverpool or United supporting peers in the schoolyard.
Since then we've had the Chase regime, Bryan Gunn suffering cruciate damage against Nottingham Forest (thanks Dad) in January and Norwich subsequently getting relegated, the brief tenure of Martin O'Neill, Keith O'Neill (an absolutely phenomenal player for me during the brief period when I'd only manage Norwich in Championship Manager 97/98.
You gotta keep the faith somehow right?), years in the Championship while Ipswich had their (mercifully) brief moments in the sun, Nigel Worthington, that last day capitulation against Fulham, Peter Grant, that odious little twerp Roeder, the unfortunate return of Bryan Gunn and the glorious reign of Paul Lambert (praised be his name). Sod the haters, it's been a rollercoaster.
A friend, who spent much of his youth living in Birmingham, supports West Brom. For a time I had someone with whom I could occasionally discuss goings on in the Championship ('Jason Koumas is underrated isn't he?', 'Haha, Leeds relegated again, that's gas' that sort of thing). Then the Baggies began enjoying their yoyo-like string of successes and failures while Norwich dropped to League One and suffered that opening day unpleasantness.
We were at our lowest ebb but, as Tony Blair once sang (that's right isn't it?), 'Things can only get better'. And indeed they did. Still though, there was no one to discuss it with.
A solitary Canary was I. Now we're in the Premiership and there's a new Irish Norwich City Supporters Club starting up. Verily, our cup runneth over.
Regardless of how we fare in our first season back on our rightful perch in the Premier League we can at least be sure that it'll be a lot more fun knowing that there are others with whom we can now discuss the slings and arrows of life spent supporting an unheralded, mid sized English club.
Hopefully this blog will contribute in some small way to this process. For that reason I hope anyone who reads this and has anything at all to say about it will do so.
Don't be shy; it's better if birds of a feather stick together.
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