Believe in the 12th man

Some people might think that when players, coaches or managers make comments about supporters being their team’s “twelfth man,” they are just saying the right things in order to keep everyone happy.

Throwaway comments with an element of substance, but basically keeping everyone onside, so to speak.

Well, if anyone does believe that to be the case, let me tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong.

Healthy support is worth its weight in gold. More so if that support is impressively noisy.

There’s nothing better for players than to be given significant vocal backing, particularly away from home when you need it most. It gives you an extra spring in your step and an added determination to give it your very best.


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Now you could rightly suggest, of course, that professional footballers should be giving their absolute best for every single minute that they spend on the pitch anyway. It is, when all is said and done, their job.

And on that score, I’ve yet to meet a current or former pro that has consciously not done so.

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True, performances can vary considerably. You can be on fire in one game, only for it to appear as though you’ve never kicked a ball before in your life the next.

But that doesn’t mean that you are not trying your heart out. Even if your performance is screaming that you aren’t!

Players are only human and so when someone, or more specifically several thousand someones, are raising the roof shouting themselves hoarse for your benefit, you somehow tend to find just that there’s just that little bit more in the tank.

As a way of rationalising it, think of the flipside and the way in which an individual or even a team can crumble if the crowd is on their back and giving them a tough time. You should be able to maintain your focus through it all, but it’s never quite that simple when you’re down there under the spotlight.

I remember one of my first away games as a professional for Stoke, and how the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end when we ran out for our warm-up and were greeted with a noise that almost hit you like a sledgehammer from a packed away end.

It was a good 45 minutes before kick-off and yet the fans were already at full volume.

Back in the changing room as we were taping up our shin-pads, I said to Steve Bould who was partnering me on the right flank, “We simply have to win today Bouldie; we can’t let that lot down.”

It was something that I became accustomed to in time, but it was new to me then.

And I knew what it meant to those fans having stood alongside them on the terraces barely a couple of years earlier.

Tomorrow afternoon the Canaries will run out of the tunnel to something very similar, as I believe that more than 3,000 City fans will be jammed into that away end at Loftus Road. And that will be one hell of a vocal backing for the boys.

It really is incredible the amount of support that Norwich are afforded both at home and away, and people often ask me at away grounds why this is so. All I can offer in response is, “I don’t really know, but it’s certainly been this way for a good while now”.

We know that tomorrow will be a very tough test for City. Playing the league leaders on their own patch – league leaders who haven’t even conceded a goal at home to date, as if we need reminding – is just about as hard as it gets.

But I can assure you that particular task will be made just that touch less difficult once the players see and hear the amount of backing they will have.

It will feel as though they have an extra man alongside them all right. You can be sure of that.

• FOLLOW O’NEILL’S MANTRA

You may remember me explaining in one of my first columns this season how Martin O’Neill didn’t analyse each game individually when he was manager here, instead choosing to review our performances over blocks of five matches.

O’Neill set us a target to try to accumulate nine points from each of those blocks of five games, as he had checked the stats and discovered this was a proven formula for success in the Championship. Ten games in and with City having already put 19 points on the board, the league table proves the O’Neill theorem is accurate.

But by definition it also underlines we must not panic or think that the bubble has burst if one or more results in these coming weeks don’t quite go according to plan.

Analyse things over a period of time instead of week in week out being the overriding message here.

• LITTLE JOY IN THE SHOWING FROM OUR YOUNG LIONS

England Under-21s last Friday night? Disappointing for me, I’m afraid.

In front of Fabio Capello, Sir Trevor Brooking, a packed Carrow Road and a watching nation – well, at least those that were interested and who happen to subscribe to ESPN – they just didn’t click into gear really.

I thought England were too predictable and lacking in creativity where it mattered. Their attacking moves broke down too easily and they didn’t manage to get in behind the Romanian defence anywhere near frequently enough.

Granted, there was an occasional spark when Jack Wilshere, below, was able to get on the ball and run at defenders, especially in short spells in the second half, but I was expecting much more from Stuart Pearce’s men. They just didn’t inspire.

The away goal they conceded at Carrow Road could have cost England so dearly, but thankfully they held out for a goalless draw in the return leg on Tuesday afternoon to squeeze through to the European Under-21 Championship finals.

It was much of the same story at Wembley with the senior squad against Montenegro in midweek. Their performance was also essentially flat and frustratingly laboured for long spells.

And while we’re on the subject of England, what’s happened to Wayne Rooney? He’s brought most of his problems on himself, of course, but he’s not even half the player he was.

His explosive pace has deserted him along with his normally assured first touch, and he just doesn’t look a goal threat any more, does he?

And Fabio Capello. If ever there was one man who epitomised just how quickly people can fall from grace here in England it’s him.

Just over a year ago he was being hailed as a managerial genius and the best thing to happen to the national side since Sir Alf Ramsey. After a disastrous World Cup and shaky start to the Euro campaign though, just look at his profile now.

And finally the programme Can England Win The Next World Cup?

A wasted 40 minutes of your life if ever there was to everyone who watched it, seeing as the blindingly obvious answer to the whole world and his dog is simply, “No, they can’t”... and won’t.

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