Chris Goreham: The school field trip that Zimmermann could do without

Josh Martin of Norwich is replaced by Christoph Zimmermann of Norwich during the Sky Bet Championshi

Christoph Zimmermann replaces Josh Martin during City's 1-1 draw with Coventry on Saturday. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Christoph Zimmermann was thinking of becoming a teacher before he signed for Norwich City.  

That training would have come in handy on Saturday. The German defender found himself as the only senior player on the Canaries’ substitutes bench.   

We will never know whether Zimmermann was expected to take the register as he sat down with four 18-year olds and back-up goalkeeper Daniel Barden who is 19. He must have felt like Akela taking his pack of Cub Scouts for a day out at the football. If the fixture list wasn’t sending City to Luton on Wednesday, perhaps they would have had time for day out at Pleasurewood Hills or Banham Zoo.  

If Saturday’s Norwich City team sheet reminded us of anything it is that nobody has anywhere near as much control over what happens in football than we like to think.  

At the beginning of this 10-match unbeaten run brows were being furrowed at the apparent lack of cover in the centre of City’s defence. Were we really trusting the fitness of Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson? It was madness to allow Timm Klose and Ben Godfrey to leave without bringing in another centre back.  

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It turns out that an injury crisis in that area of the pitch is so last season. For the draw against Coventry it was the only part of Daniel Farke’s team that required a selection decision. Anyone who was fit was in the team apart from poor Zimmermann. When your name starts with Z I guess you become used to being left until last.   

No end of statistics, planning and analysis can fully prepare anyone for a Championship season. The injuries were already mounting after the recent international break but at least Farke still had Tim Krul, Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia. Arguably those would be the three players any other team in the division would choose to remove from the Norwich City squad if given the chance. As each one found a reason not to complete the fabled Tuesday night in November at Stoke it became clear that the City head coach was going to have to break the glass. It was time for one of the most unpredictable moves any manager can make – an emergency striker.   

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Was it a bird? Was it a plane? No. It was Marco Stiepermann. He should really have taken to the field against Coventry with his underpants on the outside of his shorts. A cape would have been one kit innovation too far although any tugging from a central defender at a set-piece would have become more obvious.   

There was no big letter ‘S’ on the front of his shirt. There is a reason the real Superman wasn’t sponsored by a gambling firm. I was convinced Stiepermann was going to score against Coventry but the pre-match optimism wasn’t well placed.   

It stemmed from the proud tradition Norwich City have of unearthing these hidden gems. In my three decades at Carrow Road a fair few players have proven to be handy enough at doing a job up front in extreme circumstances.   

There was Rob Newman in the 1990s, Gary Doherty a decade or so later and even Darel Russell managed to get a couple when Glenn Roeder found himself a striker light.   

In fact one of the Barclay End’s most famous strikes of recent years came when two defenders were chucked up front in sheer desperation. Who could forget that delicious cross from Grant Hanley against Ipswich Town in 2018? It was headed home by Timm Klose in stoppage time to snatch an East Anglian Derby draw from the jaws of defeat.   

Perhaps it was one of the stories Old Pa Zimmermann made his young charges listen to on the bus on Saturday when they just wanted to play on their phones. 

Maybe it was a mistake to let Klose go after all. Not so much for his defensive guile but could he have been the great emergency striker of our times?    

Memories matter 

The death of Diego Maradona brought the world of football to a standstill last week.   

In a year which has made many of us reconsider our relationship with the game the tributes to him said a lot about what fans really want from the sport.    

Many of the national newspapers couldn’t resist the temptation of reprinting that famous picture - an airborne Maradona handling the ball against England in 1986. It moved the Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur to reach for his Frozen songbook. “Let it go, let it go...” he tweeted.   

In most walks of life holding a grudge for 34 years would seem remarkably stubborn. Retaining a sense of injustice is one of the things that football supporters are good at. It’s not built on bitterness or anywhere near as childish as it sounds.    

Recalling a moment in football history, where you watched it, what the reaction was from the fans around you. Good or bad, that’s what it’s all about. It’s why the matches played since June have been lacking a certain sparkle. It’s not just that supporters haven’t been inside grounds it’s that they haven’t even been able to even watch the matches on TV together. Without its passionate community football isn’t anywhere near as good.   

Maradona’s memorable moment would be immediately spotted by VAR these days. If you play the game that’s probably a good thing. Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper on the wrong end of The Hand of God, certainly doesn’t seem to have come to terms with what ended his hopes of World Cup glory in 1986.   

Most football supporters tend to see their team in the same way a stand-up comedian looks at the world. Any personal misfortune is tempered by the fact that it’s going to make for brilliant material in the future.  

Watching England lose a World Cup match because an obvious handball wasn’t spotted is the sort of story that people love to keep telling even after 34 years. ‘Remember when Maradona handled it but the VAR official disallowed the goal?’ It might be fairer but it’s nowhere near as good a story. That match has lived longer in the memory because of it. That’s what football is really all about.   

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