Chris Goreham: The cold truth about City's push for promotion

Harry Souttar of Stoke City and Todd Cantwell of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championship m

Todd Cantwell was at his roaming best for City in their win over Stoke - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Can you guess what the main topic of conversation amongst the reporters at Carrow Road was after Saturday’s game?  

The brilliance of Emi Buendia, Todd Cantwell’s class or predatory poaching from Teemu Pukki? It was a scintillating return to form for Norwich City’s three attacking amigos but this is Great Britain and so what we all really wanted to discuss with each other was just how cold it was. 

Football is a winter sport and sub-zero temperatures come with the territory of choosing to spend your Saturday afternoons sat outside.  

While Project Restart was an absolute nightmare for Norwich City in the Premier League it did give us a little hint of how much more sensible it is to follow a summer sport.  

It’s a blessing to actually be allowed inside football grounds to watch matches in 2021 so this is not an attempt to elicit sympathy.  

Most commentators appreciate the privileged position we are in even when there isn’t a lockdown. Taking up valuable air-time complaining about how cold you are is never a smart move. There are thousands of people listening (hopefully anyway) who would gladly swap places with you.  

Let’s be honest, having anecdotes about how cold you have been and the measures taken to keep warm are a huge part of football culture. When fans are allowed into grounds in bleak midwinters, they relish sharing stories of the most bitter conditions they have experienced for the love of their favourite team.  

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Following a football club isn’t really about seeing them win every week. It’s lovely when they do and 4-1 victories over Stoke City certainly have to be savoured. Coming away with a tale to tell and a memory to bank is far more important.  

One of the most talked about games from the Canaries season in League One never actually happened. Remember those farcical scenes at Walsall between Christmas 2009 and New Year’s Day 2010 when burning oil drums were put on the pitch in a desperate attempt to thaw it out in time for kick-off?  

The match was inevitably postponed after our radio coverage had started and many supporters had arrived from Norfolk. Making a long journey to a game that is postponed is the sort of story that can keep fans going for years. That very occasion was mentioned again on Saturday as news filtered through that Paul Lambert had gone through the same experience more than 11 years on. This time he was in a blue and white tracksuit rather than yellow and green and it was Shrewsbury instead of Walsall but it was still League One.   

Think back to the moment you first walk in the door after being at a game.  

Your partner will ask “How was it?” and your response will almost certainly be “It was absolutely freezing!” or “We had this really strange bloke sitting next to us” before you talk about the game. That’s why it feels like something is missing at the moment.  

We still have matches carrying on regardless of the global pandemic going on outside the stadium but it’s all a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. We can all pretend that this is business as usual but without the fans and the thousands of stories they write along the way this is football without fabric.  

By the end of my first ever interview with Emi Buendia at full-time on Saturday my hands were so cold I genuinely struggled to make my phone successfully save the interview. It took me three attempts to tap out Buendia’s name on the tiny keyboard on the screen in order to send it back to the studio.  

There is nowhere else I would rather have been at that point. Seeing City play like that was an utter pleasure. It would be lovely to think that, come next winter, Emi, Todd and Teemu will be delighting packed houses at Carrow Road once more. I know thousands of people are missing it. It’s been so long now they are even pining for an afternoon sat out in the cold.  

Perfect in pink...

For a while on Saturday I thought The Pink ‘Un had made a surprise return to the newsstands. It turned out The Financial Times had carried a big article about Norwich City.  

When you tend to see everything through yellow and green glasses a bit of outside perspective is valuable. It’s always interesting to get a sense of what the view of the club, and Norfolk in general is, from the outside. 

There was the usual admiration for the way in which the club is attempting to go about its business without the help of a rich benefactor. These reports are nearly always laced with cynicism about whether such an approach will ever yield tangible Premier League success in the modern age.  

In recent seasons the Canaries have done nothing to dispel the theory that they exist in a no-man’s land between the top two divisions. They have got the perfect formula for Championship success but their only hope of having four seasons in The Premier League is if you include summer, autumn, winter and spring.  

Something that is often not reported is that existing on a shoestring, by Premier League standards at least, is not the end game for the current City regime. Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke have both spoken of a burning desire to be able to haul the club into a position where they can spend what you might call ‘proper’ money in transfer windows of the future.   

A full year without supporters inside the ground and none of the associated income might just have pushed that date further off into the future. 

The debate about the balance between succeeding on the pitch at all costs and not putting the club at risk of financial ruin is one that will run and run. So many clubs have tried so many different methods to get to the top you can find an example to suit whatever argument you want. For every Leicester City there is a Portsmouth, for every Coventry City there is a Manchester City.  

In the midst of Covid-19 uncertainty we’ll just have to take being relevant enough to merit being printed on pink newspaper again as a plus.  

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