Chris Lakey: Mind your language... I’m a Norwich City couch potato
One of the worst things you can do as a quiz master is ask a question without knowing the answer yourself.
So when we were planning what to do to mark Norwich City’s return to Premier League action, it was clear from the start that we wanted some expert opinion: in this, the first of a pair of 16-page specials before the game at home to Southampton tomorrow night, our regular columnists have their say.
They were also asked three questions by yours truly: Can City survive? Who will be relegated? Who is the most important player/person for City for the rest of the season?
Very few City fans will answer the first with a positive and the second with an omission of the name ‘Norwich’. The third? Could be anyone – arguably it was Mario Vrancic last season, while there’s a case for it being Cameron Jerome or Nathan Redmond in 2015.
Here’s the nub: I have no idea. Because this is a whole new ball game. But even with no fans to cheer their team on from close quarters in a season that is being resumed under the scrutiny of many suspicious and cynical critics, the truth is that football will remain a game of uncertainties. And while that is the case, it is still a game to be enjoyed.
The lack of supporters in the stands appears to be the biggest concern among the supporters who will be at home – for some, the fear of coronavirus, the reason behind this strange new world we inhabit, appears to have been forgotten.
If you’re adopting couch potato mode tomorrow night, then forget the different background noise. It shouldn’t matter to you: if you were there on your own it would. But you’re not, you’re at home, and unless you live in Buckingham Palace, it’s unlikely you will ever have room for 26,000 people in your living room. So eradicate the lack of atmosphere option from your mind.
If you are a footballer, it’s different. Suddenly, no one is yanking your chain after that dodgy pass, no one is trying to coach you from Row Z and no one is going to shout ‘leave’ and make you look like a fool. Likewise, you’re less likely to get away with theatrics/cheating... you don’t have an audience to indulge you.
What we will have to get used to is the shrill of the referee’s whistle (really, it worries me because I have neighbours with dogs) and the sound of stud on shinpad – which should almost certainly cut out the little boy lost look of innocence by the perpetrator of a bad tackle. Then there are the voices. For those who have seats near the dug-outs, I am told it can be a dubious education listening to managers from both teams. I’ve only witnessed it at a local level but it’s fair to say my vocabulary took a nasty turn for the worse.
And although I can swear in several Asian languages, I have no idea of the most popular profanities in German or Norwegian or Dutch, or Scottish for that matter.
With no crowd noise to drown them out, I fear my view of some players is going to be tempered by their choice of language. When I played junior football I not only knew what my team-mates were shouting at me, I knew when it would start and for how long it would go on...
So worry not about the different things that might be happening around the match and just worry about the football – whatever happens, that will still be there.
Oh, those questions I mentioned earlier...
Can City survive?
Depends on the first two home games. Win them, and it’s yes. Drop any points, and no.
Who will be relegated?
Brighton, Villa, Norwich.
Who is the most important player/person for City for the rest of the season?
Emi Buendia. At his best.
Let it be right
I like to think that aside from the difficulty I have with culinary posers – beef, pork or gammon and pilau rice or plain – I am pretty decisive.
None of us is perfect in that way, though, and football today – the distinction from ‘normal’ football is important – is still one that vexes. Specifically, Project Restart.
I desperately hope that we see out this season without anything terrible happening. But I shall be as anxious as I am every day as I await the announcement of the daily death toll. It’s not the morbid streak in me – I don’t have one – it’s the hope that the figure just keeps going down. And that isn’t happening. It’s still lingering and lives are still being lost. The daily routine can easily dull the real issue: people are being killed by Covid-19 and family and friends are grieving. Some days you have to force yourself not to forget that, to realise it is not just another number that goes in one ear and out the other.
Football knows the eyes of the nation will be upon it. There is no way it can afford anything to go wrong, because if it does the reaction will make the finger pointing of the last month or two seem like a picnic.
Having seen the state of Monday morning shopping queues, there is clearly a far more real danger on our streets. But the mad ‘shoppers’ won’t be in the public eye as much as the Premier League.
I’ll watch every game I can because I have missed football. I will be worried, because it’s a worrying situation.
But I won’t know until it is over whether or not it is the right thing to do.