Chris Goreham: What effect will the sound of silence have at Carrow Road?
PUBLISHED: 14:44 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:45 18 May 2020
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“We need a 12th man out there” – one of the less-often quoted segments of Delia Smith’s famous cameo on the Carrow Road pitch back in 2005, but with some sort of Premier League resumption looking increasingly likely we may finally be able to answer the age old question about how much influence supporters actually have on the outcome of a match.
The thought of Norwich City ending their season with a series of behind closed doors matches is still not an appetising one.
Football without supporters is like going to see a tribute band. It may look convincing at first glance, but the success of the gig relies entirely on everyone suspending their disbelief at the door and ignoring that feeling deep down that it can’t possibly be anywhere near as good as the real thing.
The resumption of the Bundesliga at the weekend makes a Premier League conclusion, minus fans inside grounds, feel like the natural order of events. Some are grateful that we have any football at all to watch and I tuned in to the TV coverage of Borussia Dortmund against Schalke on Saturday partly out of curiosity but, given Norwich City’s transfer policy in recent seasons, it feels like we have some skin in the German game now. Some of those players may end up at Carrow Road in the future. The lack of a massive cheer, the sort of rousing sound that only an important goal in a big game can create, did lessen the experience even from the comfort of my sofa.
As Dortmund dominated, my mind started to wander. I have always wondered how much of a difference a crowd makes to the events on the pitch. There is no doubt that the atmosphere and experience of a match day tends to improve or decline in line with the number of empty seats, but does all that singing, shouting and waving of scarves actually have a bearing on what the players decide to do in certain situations?
When footballers or managers are asked about that, they always talk about how much they appreciate the support and what an inspiration it all is. They have to say that though, don’t they? It wouldn’t be great PR to say “thanks for buying all those tickets, but to be honest we all know what we’re doing and it’s actually quite hard to shout to players on the far side with all that racket you’re making”.
The acid test will come as and when Norwich City play a Premier League game behind closed doors at Carrow Road. Picture the scene as the ball arrives at the feet of Alex Tettey 40 yards from the opposition goal. With no immediate challenge he brings the ball forward a few paces. By now, under normal circumstances, at least 15,000 City fans would be hollering “Shooooooooot” knowing that about one in 100 times the popular midfielder would fire one into the top corner. How much does that sort of thing influence a player? Is a rush of blood less likely without the added consideration of wanting to be a crowd pleaser?
A lack of supporters might also blunt the effectiveness of some players. Grant Holt always seemed to be even better when opposing fans gave him some stick. Images of the Canary great eyeballing Millwall fans at The Den, raising his shirt at Swansea after scoring a goal to show the home fans they were mistaken in their chants about his waistline or laughing heartily at Portman Road during City’s 5-1 romp in 2011 were examples of what makes him such an enduring figure in yellow and green hearts. Would he have been as effective with no one to shut up?
For now the best example of a 12th man definitely making an impact was when Gary Pratt ran out Ricky Ponting at Trent Bridge in the 2005 Ashes. It’s just occurred to me that it happened the same year as Delia appeared on the pitch at Carrow Road. I wonder if Pratt was inspired by events at Carrow Road that night?