Connor Southwell: Football’s return will be strange - but it feels like the right time to resume
PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 June 2020
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic made football fall silent, the reality of a restart without supporters seemed impossible to comprehend.
Yet, here we are - the day where Carrow Road will remain empty but a Premier League fixture will be played on the turf.
No rousing rendition of ‘On the Ball, City’ before kick-off, no colourful flag display and no roar from the Barclay as the game gets underway.
The product, if that’s how you want to refer to it, won’t be as wholesome or as enjoyable for anyone involved, but the alternative is too drastic to ever be considered.
For Norwich City, they step back into professional competition with the small matter of Premier League survival at stake.
In reality, compared to the loss of life on a large scale and the difficulties endured by millions of people in this country over the last three months, there is an irrelevance that surrounds it all. That nagging part of the brain that suggests the ethics of the restart aren’t fully justifiable.
Only this week City recorded a positive Covid-19 test. Marco Stiepermann may have been asymptomatic and he may have subsequently tested negative, but the situation has reminded everybody about the prevalence of this virus, even at the stage the country currently finds itself at.
But, regardless of who and how many test positive from here, football will return.
Like many, scepticism was the overriding emotion as the details of Project Restart were played out in the public domain.
Football stadiums may have been empty, but the boardrooms were making noise that made an Iron Maiden track seem merely a whisper.
Everyday brought a fresh take, each one more damning on the bottom six than the previous.
Throughout it all, City have just wanted to play football. Ignore the noise. Now, the focus returns to action on the pitch, and for many, on television screens.
Augmented reality may help convince those watching at home that the stadium is full to the brim of vibrant, energetic supporters when, in reality, Carrow Road will be an empty vacuum.
Of course, it has to be this way. Everyone in society understands the risks and why they can’t be present in NR1 for the remaining five league fixtures and one FA Cup quarter-final, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.
Likewise, a lot of those reservations surrounding Project Restart have emerged from a foundation of missing the game. Those frustrated that they cannot be in attendance.
Despite those aforementioned drawbacks, now does feel like the time Premier League football should return.
The Bundesliga has whet the whistle, but now it’s time to return to the meat and drink of top-flight life. For the Canaries, the opening two fixtures will prove decisive to the direction of their season.
As Daniel Farke pointed out during his virtual pre-match press conference yesterday, City have conquered both AFC Bournemouth and Leicester City under pressure.
Injury blows aside, Farke appeared to possess a bounce that wasn’t evident prior to the lockdown period. In a gruelling match cycle, reflection becomes more difficult.
With new ideas on how City will play without the ball and press, it appears that Farke’s break involved strategising and planning how best to approach this period he is describing as a nine-game play-off.
Home advantage has been made redundant. From here, City’s group of first-team players are on their own. The energy of supporters won’t be there to fall back on when they find themselves against the ropes.
Once again, the footballing gods have decided to cast a cloud over their progress. An acknowledgement perhaps that this season just isn’t to be for the Canaries.
But, remember this squad’s past achievements – delivering the Championship title against the odds, conquering Tottenham in the FA Cup and beating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City with half their squad in the treatment room.
Achieving safety from this position would be a Herculean effort – but football’s return is about more than that.
Rightly or wrongly, it indicates a step closer to normality, whatever you wish to quantify that by.
We’ll all miss the roar after a meaty tackle or the nerves of a positive attack from the opponents – but we all have to remember, we will get there again.
Sadly, this is just part of that process.