City on tour: Great for fans, not so good for spiders
It’s a summer tradition, like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, but who benefits most from the pre-season tour – Chris Lakey ponders the question...
In a corner of a field not far from the halls of residence at St Andrews University, there's a mild panic.
Organisers of a friendly football match have got not enough rope and too many football supporters, bedecked in yellow and green.
Some more is quickly sourced, a few iron poles are rammed into the grass, and we have a football match - Norwich City against St Johnstone, with the travelling supporters kept a safe distance from the action.
It's summer, 2009, and Norwich and their supporters are painting another city yellow and green.
It's a familiar sight for veterans - and there are plenty of them - of City's summer schedule.
Over the years they have rocked up in America, Malaysia, Germany - more and more in recent years - Sweden, Austria and various other places.
It's a social gathering, a meeting of the truly dedicated, of those who combine their passion with a holiday, of those who cannot, whatever they do, miss a Norwich City game, particularly at a 'new ground' (and St Andrew's is exactly that) otherwise the diary is not complete.
The one constant of Norwich City in the summer is the fans. Players - particularly 'A Triallist' - sometimes come and go, promise extinguished once the football becomes serious.
On this particular day in Scotland, Bryan Gunn was having a look at a former Barcelona B player, Goran Maric. The Serbian, and Danish defender Jens Berthel Askou (who could head the ball further than most people kick it) had joined City's tour. Both were given deals. Askou was popular. Maric wasn't.
Michael Bridges, the former Sunderland and Leeds striker was around too, as was Chris Craig, who had failed to make the grade at Rangers.
Gunn passed on them both.
City fans were forming their own opinions from behind the ropes, but the truth is that summer games, as we all know, are about dusting off the cobwebs, getting limbs and brain working in co-ordination with each other again so that, come the opening game of the season, a footballer has shed post-Dubai hangovers and is ready for the serious stuff.
Team bonding is a thing too. It's stressed by management that players old and new get to know each other - although sitting with a media colleague in an Italian restaurant in St Andrews during the aforementioned tour, it was noticeable that there were two City team-mates sharing a table - and not another City player in sight. Maybe team bonding had a night off...
So does the pre-season tour mean anything at all, bar ruining a spider's best laid plans? If you take any notice of results then you are perhaps cheating yourself.
In this particular 2009 pre-season City played 10 games and didn't lose a single one: in Scotland they beat Raith Rovers and St Johnstone 1-0 and Airdrie United 3-2. First game of the League One season? Bang! A 7-1 home defeat to Colchester and suddenly the summer skies were replaced by dark storm clouds.
The Norwich City of 2019 will learn little from the results against Arminia Bielefeld and FC Schalke 04 tomorrow and next Friday respectively, but Daniel Farke will want to see players moving freely, fit and fresh and hungry, even at this early stage.
Much of last season's success was built on a foundation of team unity and he will want to see that in place as soon as possible. Plenty of eyes will be on newcomers Ralf Fahrmann, Patrick Roberts and Josip Drmic.
Farke will probably know the Premier League plan already - these things aren't done the night before - so it's up to us to guess where they stand in the pecking order.
When he sends out his first starting XI at the Energieversum Stadion in Gütersloh on Sunday, we will all dissect, analyse and summise. And probably be wrong.
But gradually it will build up to as close to the real thing as you can get in the circumstances. And then it's Anfield.
Sounds daunting, but while next week in Germany is a holiday for many, that game at the home of the European champions on August 9 will be in the players' minds. That is the target. The tour is the platform.
It may be a perfect holiday for the fans, but for Farke and his players, it is a continuation of the work that began the minute they set foot back at Colney a couple of weeks ago.
For them, every day is a question that needs answering...