Chris Goreham: Back on the road again...

Norwich star Emi Buendia after scoring at Preston

Emi Buendia brought some colour to our lives with his goal at Preston - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It was good to be back on the road with Norwich City on Friday.  

The draw at Preston was my first away game with the Canaries since December. It was a journey which felt as long as the one marked out on the government’s roadmap out of Covid restrictions.  

It would be wrong to pretend that it felt anything like a return to normality.  

There wasn’t much to complain about on the pitch. Even after a week of international intrigue and injury nightmares it took a late and lucky deflection to deny Norwich City another Championship victory.  

Anyone who has ever been to an away game will know that the match itself is only a small part of the story.  

Under normal circumstances I imagine at least a couple of thousand City fans would have made that journey to Deepdale. Norwich supporters always travel in remarkable numbers and especially when a promotion campaign looks like it’s entering its home straight.  

Travelling the best part of 500 miles in a day just to watch 90 minutes of football doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. It’s not until you’ve been away that you realise the journey itself is as important as the destination.  

Plotting a route, working out where to eat and soaking up the atmosphere before and after the game are the things that really matter. More brilliant football stories are written in cars, on buses and in cafes and pubs than on pitches.  

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My first ever away trip was as a nine-year old to watch the FA Cup semi-final against Sunderland in 1992. Without wishing to provide a spoiler for anyone currently making their way through the box set that is the history of Norwich City Football Club, that game ended in a crushing 1-0 defeat.  

Do I remember much about the game? No, not really. The most vivid scenes from the day were painted on the coach to and from Sheffield. I travelled on a bus with a load of my dad’s work colleagues. It was the day I was let into the secret that is the joy of an away day.  

I didn’t get all the jokes, I wasn’t old enough to drink whatever it was that inspired them to get louder as the day went on and I was in no position to help when one of the buses broke down on the way back. There was an energy and an excitement that wasn’t like anything I’d been part of before. It was certainly very different to being in the Family Enclosure at Carrow Road on match days which, until then, was the only experience I had of going to the football.  

Years later it emerged that a young Rob Butler was probably on the same coach to Hillsborough as me that day. We worked that out during one of the never-ending conversations that fill the motorway miles in the BBC Radio Norfolk car to away games. At the moment I’m flying solo. Social distancing means that teams like Preston can’t fit us both into their press boxes.   

Many of Norwich City’s players collapsed to their knees when the full-time whistle sounded at Deepdale. Conceding a last-ditch equaliser felt like a devastating blow. It reminded me of the Easter weekend at Stoke two seasons ago when the Canaries could only draw 2-2. Two precious points dropped in the race for promotion.  

On that occasion, by the time Rob and I stopped for a snack on the way home, Leeds had lost to Brentford and Norwich were almost guaranteed a return to the Premier League. We’ve often discussed the surreal atmosphere that followed as we interviewed some Norwich fans in a service station car park for their reaction.  

When I stopped on Friday it was very much a table for one. There was no queue for a coffee and a distinct lack of replica yellow and green shirts milling around the otherwise soulless building. It was just too quiet.  

That’s what will always be missing from this season. No matter how soon Norwich City clinch promotion and how many records they break along the way. The team has done brilliantly on the pitch, but it’s been a campaign played out in black and white. Football can carry on but the glorious technicolour that comes with sharing stories from the stands won’t return until supporters do. 

Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke at Preston

Norwich head coach Daniel Farke issuing instructions at Preston - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The trust game

When Timm Klose was allowed to leave Norwich City on loan in October it was the cause of some Canary concern.  

Only Grant Hanley, Ben Gibson and Christoph Zimmermann were left as senior central defenders at the club. Could we really rely on those three to cope with the demands of a truncated Championship season?  The scars caused by a defensive injury crisis in the Premier League hadn’t healed. It would only be a matter of time before a square-pegged midfielder would have to fill a defensive round hole. Alex Tettey and Ibrahim Amadou spent far too much of last season providing emergency cover.  

The word coming out of the club at the time of Klose’s departure was that they felt secure enough with what they had. “Daniel quite likes the look of young Andrew Omobamidele,” said one message.  

The youngster’s impressive full debut at Preston wasn’t quite as unplanned as it might have felt. Omobamidele has been waiting for an opportunity for the last six months and had Hanley, Gibson and Zimmermann not been so reliable for so long his chance would have come much earlier.  

In most cases throwing in an 18-year old at the vital end of the season would feel like a massive gamble. If, after four seasons at Carrow Road, Daniel Farke has proved anything it is that he can be trusted as to when the right time is to hand a debut to a young player.  

Ask James Maddison, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Todd Cantwell or Ben Godfrey about the gratitude they have for the faith Farke showed in them. Aarons' first league start was in an East Anglian derby at Portman Road. In each case there were more experienced options available. The City head coach was given the brief of bringing through more academy talent, but many of his predecessors would have gone with the tried and tested. It’s not easy to be brave when your reputation hangs on every result.  

Omobamidele is still learning and a single point at Preston is like the one swallow that doesn’t make a summer. It’s too early to start talking about him being the next 18-year old to take Carrow Road by storm, but if Daniel Farke trusts him that’s good enough for me. 

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