Chris Goreham: This is going to hurt Norwich City’s pack of travelling fans
The reality of what Norwich City playing behind closed doors actually means is beginning to dawn on supporters.
My social media feed continues to suggest that there isn’t a huge appetite for Premier League football to return under these circumstances and it remains difficult to disagree with all of those who have feelings of frustration or unease about it coming back during a pandemic and at a time when even seeing members of your own family has only just become possible and only within a strict set of circumstances.
Like it or not, it seems increasingly likely that the Canaries will be able to resume their fight against relegation and their bid for a first ever FA Cup later this month. This has put many fans in a bit of a quandary and left them with the need to come up with an entirely new match day routine.
There are those who have devoted so much of their life to following their favourite football team that the very idea of Norwich City playing a game without them being in the stadium is difficult to stomach.
If you have ever followed the Canaries to an away pre-season friendly you will know all about the staggering number of supporters who will be there proudly displaying their colours, having arranged their summer holidays around wherever the lowest wattage matches imaginable are played.
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This was brought home to me in 2008 when I covered a pre-season tour for the first time. Norwich had travelled to Sweden to play a couple of matches when Glenn Roeder was in charge. It wasn’t exactly a vintage period in the club’s history. I drove to Stansted, got on a plane to Gothenburg, hired a Volvo from the airport and took it a couple of hours into the Swedish countryside to a picturesque village which contained a tiny little football ground with a lake just a few yards away from the pitch – and Carrow Road couldn’t have felt further away. That was until a little local bus service pulled up outside and people in Norwich City shirts started getting off. They kept coming and coming like a Scandinavian version of one of those clown cars with an endless number of passengers. Most of them had Norfolk accents.
These are the people who will find behind closed doors football most difficult.
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For others, once it all gets going and with all 92 remaining matches set to be screened live, the final few weeks of the campaign will actually become like a World Cup or European Championship summer with match after match being played just a remote control away from their favourite arm chair.
Perhaps then we will all become fully engaged with Norwich City’s bid to stay up, even from a social distance.
I have seen some Canaries fans admitting they want their team to get knocked out of the FA Cup when that starts up again because the idea of them getting to Wembley and winning it for the first time ever without supporters being allowed in the ground to share it is simply too much to take.
It’s impossible not to have some sympathy with that point of view, but if being a Norwich fan has taught me anything over the years it is that we aren’t exactly in a position to be able to choose what trophies we should and shouldn’t win.
Players like Tim Krul, the penalty shoot-out hero in the fifth round at Tottenham back in March when the world was a very different place, might not get a better chance to win a major trophy.
Premier League footballers may be getting paid handsomely for their troubles, but the fact they are being asked to play at a time when a lot of people are not convinced that contact sport should be returning means that anything they do manage to achieve behind closed doors still deserves to be applauded and celebrated.
Price of success
Last week marked the fifth anniversary of Norwich City’s Wembley triumph against Middlesbrough.
It’s a day that would never have been forgotten by any of the 40,000 or so Canaries lucky enough to be in the ground anyway, but the current question mark about how long it will be before any sort of crowd will be allowed to attend matches has put occasions like that into further perspective. It was also a reminder about the price of success on the football pitch to the players involved.
While interviewing Russell Martin, the man who lifted the trophy on that famous Bank Holiday Monday afternoon, it occurred to me that the squad from that match very rarely played together again.
One of the great heroes of that campaign was Bradley Johnson, scorer of no fewer than 15 goals from midfield for both Neil Adams and Alex Neil and Player of the Season.
Unfortunately for him, promotion to the Premier League wasn’t a great career move, at least not if he was feeling settled in Norfolk. Johnson started just one match in the Premier League the following season and was sold on to Derby within a month of the opening day.
Previous promotions had led to other casualties. Iwan Roberts and Malky Mackay never got to experience the Premier League with Norwich City, despite helping Nigel Worthington’s side earn a shot at the big time in 2004.
That’s one of the things that made the club’s latest promotion a year ago feel different. The vast majority of that squad was kept on and many were rewarded with new contracts. However, the world of football keeps turning and when the season was suspended back in March, Mario Vrancic, the Bradley Johnson of the previous campaign at least in terms of his habit of scoring spectacular and important goals, had started just four top-flight games and the equally influential Marco Stiepermann had made Daniel Farke’s Premier League line-up just 11 times.
Keep faith with the old guard or try something new? You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t as a football manager. That’s why days like Wembley 2015 have to be treasured as particular snapshots in time when it all just comes together.