Melissa Rudd: When an FA Cup win over Manchester United would be tinged with sadness

PUBLISHED: 17:16 25 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:16 25 June 2020

FA Cup memories - Norwich City players celebrate victory at Tottenham. 
No matter what happens against Manchester United, it won't be the same Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

FA Cup memories - Norwich City players celebrate victory at Tottenham. No matter what happens against Manchester United, it won't be the same Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

An FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United should be the highlight of any season for Norwich City, regardless of league position.

Max Aarons looks dejected as the Everton players celebrate their sides goal Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdMax Aarons looks dejected as the Everton players celebrate their sides goal Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The Premier League restart is evidence, not that any of us needed it, that football without fans is a different game. But the FA Cup without fans? It’s a different prospect altogether. Without supporters, the ‘magic of the Cup’ simply doesn’t exist. It completely devalues the oldest cup competition in the game.

Take the fifth round win at Tottenham. Some of us were lucky enough to be in the stadium, but the City fans I knew who had to make do with watching it on television all asked the same question first: “What was it like to be there?”

The thought of the teams walking out into an empty Carrow Road on Saturday evening in what is Norwich’s biggest cup game since 1992 is desperately sad. A victory would be tinged with regret that us supporters couldn’t be part of it.

City’s two performances since the restart have done little to suggest an upset is on the cards, especially given the manner of United’s ruthless win over Sheffield United on Wednesday night. But the mere thought of Norwich appearing in a semi-final at Wembley Stadium and fans not being allowed there? It makes me feel empty. I just can’t help but feel that way.

There will be plenty who disagree. Who would argue that every Liverpool fan is desperate to wrap up the title, despite the fact they won’t be able to watch their team do it in person, so why should winning the FA Cup feel any different? A perfectly valid point.

The Cup would still have the club’s name engraved on it. The history books would forever show what would be City’s greatest ever achievement. But there would be no sense of occasion, no memories to associate with the latter stages.

Imagine telling your grandchildren about the day Norwich won the FA Cup in 2020. When the crowd noises were the product of somebody pressing a button on a sound mixing desk in the television gallery, and the trophy was held aloft in front of 90,000 empty seats instead of filled with supporters having the time of their lives.

Though, let’s be honest, I’m getting very ahead of myself. Unless Norwich come out and play like a different team on Saturday night, none of the above is worth thinking about.

With relegation now looming large after defeats to Southampton and Everton, Norwich’s lack of firepower is biting them hardest when they need it most. One goal in seven league fixtures is an abysmal return from any team, let alone one fighting to stay in a division.

There seems to have been a complete change of thinking from Daniel Farke, perhaps out of sheer desperation to prompt a change in results. If fielding two up front against Southampton was a bold move to try and increase City’s chances of creating and scoring goals, the decision to drop Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia against Everton in favour of players who haven’t exactly pulled up any trees since arriving here seemed simply bizarre to many.

No matter the personnel on the pitch, a common theme remains. Every time Norwich concede first, they start playing as if they are already a beaten team. The lack of belief is quite staggering, a debilitating mental stumbling block that has underpinned City’s season and a huge factor in why they sit rock bottom.

Against Southampton, the flood gates opened. Many likened the match to feeling like a pre-season friendly. That’s disrespecting Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side, who were fitter and sharper and showed levels of desire, determination and urgency that simply embarrassed Norwich.

Not matching a team in those aspects is unforgivable, and it’s not something any of us would have foreseen at the beginning of this season. Confidence seems to have been replaced by fear, and the team will have to overcome that hurdle before anything else will even feel possible.

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