Chris Goreham: Get out the face mask we’re back in business ... sort of
- Credit: Archant
A lot has happened since Jamal Lewis scored a brilliant winner against Leicester City.
The left back was the unlikely hero on that filthy February Friday night as Norwich City proved they do have the potential to upset the odds in the Premier League.
Not many people would have predicted Lewis as the goal scorer - it was his first ever in a league game for the Canaries - but the biggest surprise from that night is only just hitting home. None of us realised that it would be the last time we’d all be together at Carrow Road before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
We have finally reached the point where Premier League football has been officially declared possible again. When Norwich City do run out at their home ground on Friday evening the fact they will be confronted by four mainly empty stands will underline just how much life has changed since Lewis scored. To be clear, I am not blaming him for the entire situation.
It looks like I will be one of the few people allowed inside the ground to watch the game. The reality of covering behind closed doors football is something that we have been getting to grips with over the past few weeks.
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BBC Radio Norfolk has an existing deal to commentate on all of Norwich City’s matches this season and that will be honoured, but it means re-thinking the way we organise our broadcasts.
Under normal circumstances I would commentate from very much closer than two metres away from my summariser. This has been painful at times, especially when Greg Downs got so caught up in his colourful descriptions of the art of defending that he elbowed me in the ribs by way of a demonstration.
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The Premier League has produced a book of strict protocols setting out the rules that must be followed inside grounds to allow the return of top-flight football to be as safe as possible. It means that the staff we can send to matches will be limited in order to create enough space in press boxes and high up on gantries for all of the media to successfully socially distance. Fortunately for us, Darren Eadie will be around doing some other pre-match media duties and so will be able to join me on the mic for home games on the radio
Under normal circumstances our pre-match build-up and Canary Call phone-in would also come live from the ground. This won’t be possible, but those important elements of our match coverage, presented by Phil Daley and Rob Butler, will continue from our studio at the Forum. The voice of the fans is a vital aspect of both of those sections of the programme so the fact that no supporters will be in the ground actually gives us an opportunity to cover the Canaries in a different way.
What will the match day experience be like when everybody is following the action from afar? We’ll bring you a flavour of that by inviting calls, emails and social media interaction before, during and after every single game as we all get used to this new type of Premier League football.
One of the rules I have been told to abide by is the wearing of a facemask inside the ground. No member of the media will be allowed in without one and our temperatures will be taken on arrival which makes sense in the current climate. I’m now plucking up the courage to ask whether I’m allowed to remove the mask during the commentary because I don’t want to be the person that asks what feels like a silly question.
If the radio commentary on Friday evening sounds a bit muffled, you’ll know why.
I have written a lot over the past few months about the reservations I have about Premier League football returning.
News of a positive Covid-19 test from inside the Canaries camp at the weekend only served to highlight how delicate the situation feels at the moment and if I’m honest the anticipated burst of enthusiasm hasn’t materialised even this close to being allowed behind closed doors.
There has also been a determination for the Premier League to be decided on the pitch and not by some sort of mathematical points-per-game formula and the fact is we can’t have it both ways.
Those of us who have argued against boiling an entire football season down to a calculation now really need Norwich City to step up and help prove our theory that the magic of the game rests with its unpredictability.
What really has hit home is how little time the Canaries will have to get used to this new atmosphere-free Premier League. Being six points adrift of safety with nine games to play hasn’t left very much margin for error.
I have heard myself saying that it would have been unfair to relegate Norwich City because they still had enough winnable home games to get the points they might need to mount a serious survival bid. The realisation has now set in that two of those matches are virtually upon us already. The Canaries host Southampton and Everton in the space of five days when they do restart.
Two wins and it would suddenly be game on, Daniel Farke’s team would be right in the mix of keeping their Premier League place by rights, but two poor results and the novelty will quickly wear off.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that staying up or going down won’t feel as glorious or painful as it might have done had the season been able to play out on schedule and with fans in the ground living through it together.
I would like to think that the last few months will have put the importance of the Premier League in perspective, but we’ll only really know when that first post-lockdown Norwich City goal goes flying in. Is that when the yellow and green beast inside us all will awaken?