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Wednesday, February 22, 2012
On Saturday night I was visited by a couple of ghostly figures. At first I assumed it was Ken Bates and Neil Warnock making their way home at the end of the day that those two decided to combine their dark forces at Leeds United.
What fun that relationship promises to be, when watched from a healthy distance. I rubbed my eyes and looked again to see a man wearing a cardboard beak and a top hat standing next to a child with a big round head. It’s not nearly as frightening as it sounds. I turned over and went back to sleep, quickly blocking out their thick Norfolk accents as they faded into the background.
It was my annual FA Cup haunting. Every year when Norwich get knocked out of the cup I find myself dwelling on that famous cartoon from the club’s Cup run of 1959.
Most Norwich fans will know exactly what I’m talking about, it’s an iconic part of Canary history, but for those who can let these things go a little easier than I can here’s a quick reminder.
The cartoon features the Norwich City mascots from that era, The Canary and The Dumpling. Yes, a Norfolk Dumpling. Today’s marketing experts who have brought us such popular furry pre-match entertainers as Splat the Cat and the Aviva Lemur have much to learn from their 1950s predecessors when it comes to mascot imagination. The two of them are pictured overlooking Wembley on Cup final day in 1959 with Norwich’s brave run having ended in the semis. The simple, one line caption which accompanies the drawing sums up the club’s entire relationship with the FA Cup. ‘We should have been there, bor.’
It’s exactly what many of us were saying to any ‘bors’ within earshot as the quarter-final draw was being made on Sunday after Norwich’s latest agonising exit. The famous old competition is trumpeted every year as glamorous, romantic and a source of joy to football supporters everywhere. Us Norwich fans have long associated the FA Cup with disappointment, misery and most pertinently of all, missed opportunity. It’s a common misconception that FA stands for Football Association. I believe it actually means Frustrating Always.
There’s no need to open up too many old wounds here but I don’t think I’ve ever fully psychologically recovered from seeing Norwich beaten in the semi-final in 1992 by Sunderland. That year we should definitely have been there bor, but defeat to a team from a division lower at Hillsborough deprived us of what the 10-year-old me thought was nailed-on to be Norwich City’s first ever FA Cup final.
Paul Lambert’s policy throughout this season hasn’t wavered. “The league is the priority” has been his understandable mantra. Some were wondering whether Norwich’s better-than-expected Premier League position coupled with a home tie against Championship opposition in the last 16 might mean a change in attitude from the City boss. It didn’t and perhaps a glimpse at his managerial CV reveals why he is so determined that league matters must always come first.
In 2007 Lambert led Wycombe Wanderers on the sort of dizzying cup run those Norwich fans who were around in 1959 (including the one dressed as the dumpling) will know all about. Wycombe were then, as they are now, in League Two and yet Lambert led them to the semi-finals of the League Cup. They beat Premier League clubs Fulham and Charlton on the way before coming up against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the last four. A 1-1 draw in the first leg at Adams Park kept the dream alive but they were beaten 4-0 in the second leg at Stamford Bridge. It was a Wycombe squad which included Norwich defender Russell Martin and was one of the first glimpses that Lambert may just have something special as a manager. While this was all going on Wycombe’s league form suffered. They were sixth on New Year’s Day and five points clear of the those chasing the play-off places. They would win just three more games after the Chelsea defeat and ended up finishing 12th. Perhaps five years ago Paul Lambert learnt a lesson about the danger of getting carried away by a cup run. I would have asked him about it after the game on Saturday but I’ve only just thought to look it up. Can someone remind me when the cup comes around again next January please?
The City boss admitted himself that losing to Leicester was something of a missed opportunity for Norwich City and it is hard to see it any other way but his approach has been consistent all the way through this season. It was, after all, good enough to brush Burnley aside in the third round and win a much trickier looking away tie at West Brom in round four but Paul Lambert is not a man for ‘should have’, he just wants to be able to say “We are there, bor” on the opening day of the 2012/13 Premier League season. Only he’d probably say it in Scottish.
• TELEVISION GIVES SOME CLUBS SHORT SHRIFT
During Arsenal’s Champions League demolition by AC Milan last week my mind started to wander. I was almost as distracted as the Gunners back four, but while they were mesmerised by some of Milan’s attacking play I couldn’t help but notice the score in the top corner of the screen.
Very few things are written out in longhand these days. The assumption is that the Twitter generation can’t make it through a whole word without losing interest never mind a sentence, so text speak is all the rage as U will know if U regularly look at internet message boards.
By the end of the game ITV had boiled it down to MIL 4 ARS 0 in the top left hand corner of the screen.
This fashion for clumsy team abbreviations must be awful for people who take only a passing interest in football.
There are those who might not follow football to an encyclopaedic extent who may just happen across a match while surfing through the channels one evening. What if they see MIL 1 POR 1 for example? That could either be a fascinatingly poised Champions League quarter final or a tedious Championship relegation scrap.
There’s a big difference between Milan v Porto and Millwall v Portsmouth that three letters each cannot justify.
This policy of giving clubs such short shrift is bound to cause trouble one day. Was I really the only one sniggering like a schoolboy a couple of seasons ago when a crucial Champions League group game between Arsenal and the Portugese club Braga was broadcast with ARS v BRA in the top corner for the entire game?
The fact I can tell you that but have no idea what the final score was from the match, even though I know I watched it, probably says more about me than I would care to admit.
It’s GR8, isn’t it?