Chris Goreham: The difficulties of commentating on Norwich City during a pandemic
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City’s most impressive victory of the season was bookended by two bearded gentlemen waving to the supporters.
Before the match Father Christmas joined Captain Canary in front of The South Stand. After Cardiff City had been comfortably dispatched it was Daniel Farke’s turn to face the fans and lead them in a celebration routine that has become almost as traditional as On The Ball City at Carrow Road. It was no contest as to who got the best reaction. Poor old Santa had found the one place in the world where even he has to play second fiddle in December. When the Canaries are in such sparkling form there is nowhere quite like Daniel Farke’s Grotto.
However, this is 2020 and it wasn’t a Carrow Road Christmas with all the trimmings. It’s been great having 2,000 supporters back for the past three home games but it’s impossible to forget about the 25,000 absent friends who were not able to be there. Only three Championship grounds are currently permitted to have any fans in at all. The other 21 teams are all based in areas under the tightest Covid restrictions.
Norwich and Bournemouth happen to be two of the fortunate clubs. The longer they remain 1st and 2nd in the division the louder the calls will become about the unfair home advantage they have.
Under normal circumstances it would seem absurd for three clubs in a league to be playing under different conditions to the rest. The rules are supposed to the same for everyone.
This feels different. Any opportunity to get any number of fans back inside football grounds must be taken. If the only battle being fought at the moment was to contain Covid-19 it would be simple. Call off football for a while and keep us all indoors, it’s not important enough to jeopardise anyone’s health. The truth is that a far more delicate balancing act is required.
If the past few months should have taught us anything it is that things like sport and the arts are central to the mental well-being of the nation. The more people are deprived of the escapism that a trip to Carrow Road, the Theatre Royal or Cinema City provides the more miserable they become. There cannot be anyone reading this now who hasn’t had their share of low moments this year. I dare say more of those emotional crashes have been caused by missing friends, family and trips out that used to be taken for granted than any direct involvement with the virus itself.
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It’s something I have definitely noticed on social media.
Some of the feedback our Norwich City coverage has received this season has been harsher than usual. It comes with the territory, 15 years commentating on the Canaries helps one develop a thick skin. We haven’t done anything differently this year and I don’t think we’ve worked any less hard than in seasons gone by.
I do wonder whether listening to games on the radio and watching them on TV is only rubbing salt into the wounds for season ticket holders as to what they are missing out on.
I even received one complaint this week while sitting at home, which was a first. Just after watching Norwich’s impressive 2-1 win at Reading on TV I looked at my phone to find an email from someone telling me how pleased they were I hadn’t been commentating! Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but it can be difficult not to take some of it personally. It’s not easy to escape from it in a digital age and we all have our moments of unhealthy introspection.
Norwich City being top of the Championship at Christmas has provided a tonic at the end of a difficult year. As has the incredible number of people who have gone out of their way to raise money or offer practical help to those that have struggled. The Canaries Trust deserves a huge round of applause for setting up a new service aimed at supporting those who are having issues connected with their mental health.
When the yellow and green army gets together and pulls in the same direction there isn’t much that can stop it. It’s true in the Championship and in the stands. Let’s just hope that a full house can politely applaud Santa Claus at Carrow Road next year and then raise the roof for Farke Christmas.
Last week I joked about how fortunate Emi Buendia was that his winner against Nottingham Forest didn’t officially go down as a Joe Worrall own goal.
The Forest skipper is quickly becoming a friend of this column because he has caught my eye again this week. Chris Hughton’s side have limped to 20th in the Championship this season, a point outside the relegation zone.
“We are a team here but not friends,” said Worrall after a recent defeat to Brentford.
It’s the sort of rallying cry that has emanated from several floundering dressing rooms, Norwich City’s included, over the years.
That quote stood out because it is so at odds with the atmosphere Daniel Farke has worked hard to develop at Norwich City. When the Canaries beat Stoke City 3-2 recently, as the injury crisis reached its worst point, I was following the game on Twitter.
That night a number of players who must have been watching from home were celebrating every goal. Jordan Hugill, Todd Cantwell and Onel Hernandez were among those interacting with fans. There was no hint of anyone feeling sorry for themselves or hoping a poor result might ease their transition back into the first XI.
None of us really know what goes on when the changing room door is closed so little hints like this are fascinating. All didn’t appear well earlier in the season when Farke gave two of his star players, Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell, a public dressing down for their attitude.
Norwich fans could have been forgiven for thinking that it was the beginning of the end for either those two players or the head coach. That’s how these things tend to resolve themselves.
Yet that Cardiff game on Saturday showed how well Farke has handled a tricky situation. It’s not just that Buendia and Cantwell scored the goals but their performances were sensational. If they are still at Norwich and performing like that at the end of the next transfer window City will be well on course for a Premier League return