Chris Goreham: Radio silence - when will normal service be resumed?

Wired for sound - but things will be very different for Chris Goreham on match days Picture: Ian Bu

A distant memory for Chris Goreham - but something to look forward to. - Credit: Archant

If you’re planning one final Zoom family quiz to see in the new year, here’s a question for you. 

What do ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ‘Je t’aime’ by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg and ‘Watford v Norwich City’ by Chris Goreham all have in common? The answer is that they were all banned by the BBC.  

This is where my rock star credentials end. There is no story of great hedonism or excess to explain why I couldn’t go to Vicarage Road on Boxing Day. I wasn’t even guilty of slipping a blue lyric into commentary. For the first time in many years, I spent December 26 at home in the interests of my own safety and possibly that of others too.  

There is no more fitting end to 2020 than work places and businesses being forced to think carefully once more about the way they do things. The creation of a fourth tier of Covid-19 restrictions has moved the goalposts as far as local radio is concerned.  

Troy Deeney of Watford and Grant Hanley

Troy Deeney and Grant Hanley shake hands before the game at Watford - one that BBC Radio Norfolk didn't get to attend because of the Beeb's Covid regulations - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Each week commentators and reporters criss-cross the country in the name of providing specialist coverage of their own particular team. We have an affinity with the audience and a freedom to go in-depth that will never be afforded to national radio stations who focus on the Premier League’s big six. Suddenly, road trips from city to city are the sort of things being blamed for helping to spread the virus.  

It’s no reflection on how safe we have felt at football grounds since this strange behind closed doors world began in June. Clubs have been given strict protocols to follow and sitting in a press box, two metres away from the next masked individual, feels much more Covid secure than my weekly trip to the supermarket. It’s the journey itself that causes issues. The petrol station stops, the loo breaks, the need to access food - it all adds to the risk of either catching or spreading coronavirus.   

The policy applies to all BBC Local Radio stations. None of us is allowed to travel into or out of tier four. We are usually fortunate enough to have another of our network on hand. BBC 3CR provided the commentary for us on Boxing Day and I expect we will do likewise for other stations at Carrow Road in the coming weeks. When there is already a BBC Local Radio commentary team in the area the journey becomes less essential.  

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This is one of the situations in life where I’m happy the call wasn’t mine to make. Strictly speaking, travelling for work is allowed, even in tier four. If we’d made the trip some would have criticised us for going against the guidelines we have spent most of the year helping to explain. By not going I know some fans were disappointed not to be able to access the usual coverage. It’s a difficult balancing act.  

With everything that has happened this year I am grateful to have been to as many games as I have. Watching Norwich City away from home back in the Championship has been a pleasure. Even after 15 years of Canaries commentary the sense of wonder that it’s possible to do this for a living isn’t diminishing. It’s become a prospect to savour all the more in 2020. On one hand it is a soulless experience without fans in grounds, but on the other it’s impossible not to feel fortunate about being one of the few allowed in.   

Ultimately this is only a temporary measure and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. The fast food outlets and coffee shops along the motorway network of Great Britain will be relieved about that. Goodness only knows how their weekend profit margins will be affected by the lack of local radio commentaries fuelled by caffeine, calories and chips.   

Connor Wickham of Crystal Palace

What a way to start the year - Connor Wickham scores for Crystal Palace and VAR over-rules the ref's decision to disallow it for offside - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Oh, what a year....

It’s impossible to look back on 2020 without viewing anything that happened through the prism of Covid-19.  

When Connor Wickham scored a frustrating late equaliser for Crystal Palace at Carrow Road on January 1 it felt like VAR was the biggest problem we had. How little we knew.  

This worrying new virus was being mentioned on the news at the start of the year but most of us only took it seriously when it impacted our own lives.  

For me that moment was on February 1 when Rob Butler and I arrived to cover Norwich City’s game at Newcastle. The media car parking spaces were in the multi-storey at the nearby hospital. As we walked towards St James Park there were a few TV cameras lining the pavements. Perhaps a relegation six-pointer between the Magpies and Canaries was big news. It turned out the reporters were all firmly focused on the gates of the hospital. The first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK had been taken there the previous day.  

Still, it was only a minor talking point on the way to a frustrating goalless draw. Later that month a 3-0 loss at Wolves was so disappointing that all the messages of support to Wuhan posted around the ground barely merited a mention.  

In March we sat at Tottenham’s fine new ground preparing to cover an FA Cup fifth round tie. It would turn into an epic night. Remember Tim Krul’s water bottle and those saves in the penalty shoot-out? The 9,000 Norwich fans who were there certainly do. It was the last time that many of them would see City play in 2020. They didn’t know what a risk they were taking by traveling to London in March. The news bulletin before we started our show reported that the new James Bond film wouldn’t be released on time because they were worried about cinemas around the world being closed by Covid.  

We managed to obliviously keep calm and carry on for a further 10 days before football was finally put on hold. It hasn’t been the same since.  

Issues of promotion and relegation still feel inconsequential as we head into 2021. The bigger picture of creating a situation where fans can return in the numbers that we last saw nearly 10 months ago would be worth more than any trophy.   

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