Chris Goreham: Bad memories, but Norwich City still had reasons to believe in survival
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It got so bad for Norwich City on Saturday that I had to say the ‘F’ word on the radio. Yes that’s right – Fulham.
Relegation is nothing new to Canaries fans, but each one leaves its own set of scars.
The infamous 6-0 defeat at Craven Cottage on the final day of the Premier League season in 2005 is the benchmark of dreadful ways to go down. It might not have been the final game this time, but as Michail Antonio helped himself to a fourth goal at Carrow Road, memories of that surrender 15 years earlier came flooding back.
It wasn’t the fact that Norwich City got relegated that made me feel so frustrated, it was the manner of it. We all knew that surviving a season in the Premier League would be difficult, but even the pragmatist in me felt the Canaries began this wretched ‘Project Restart’ with a genuine chance of pulling it off.
Yes, I know they were bottom of the table already, but the team I last saw in March still had plenty of spirit about it. The final nine matches before lockdown included vital 1-0 home wins over Bournemouth and Leicester. There was the pulsating penalty shoot-out win at Tottenham and a tidy victory at Burnley in the FA Cup. Even the all-conquering Liverpool were made to sweat for a 1-0 win of their own at Carrow Road.
The most disappointing aspect of the past few weeks has been how far below their own standards Norwich City have dropped. From the moment the pale yellow and green shadow stepped out at an empty Carrow Road on Friday, June 19 to face Southampton it just hasn’t been the same.
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Initially, the strange circumstances could have offered a degree of mitigation. Now that Everton, Brighton and West Ham have all come to Norfolk and helped themselves to comfortable wins it can’t be written off as bad luck or coincidence.
There has been no single reason for relegation, lots of little things have either gone wrong or been got wrong during the campaign.
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Many supporters have been left frustrated by the club’s transfer policy. There is no doubt that the seven first team players who have joined Norwich City since their promotion haven’t contributed anywhere near enough. Sam Byram is the only newbie excused from that criticism. The club’s limited transfer funds made the task of recruitment extremely challenging and there have been some dreadful injury problems, particularly in the heart of defence, for Daniel Farke to cope with.
Even if we cut them all of that slack it has still been so disappointing.
It may have been impossible to stay up with so much going against them, but they should have got so much closer. Of the 21 Premier League points they have managed, 12 were taken from games you wouldn’t have banked on. Taking four points off Leicester, victory at Everton, battling home draws with Arsenal and Spurs and the famous 3-2 beating of Manchester City. That handful of performances underlines why those of us who talked with wide-eyed enthusiasm about the potential within the squad had our reasons.
The nine points taken from all the rest of the games put together is what really hurts. I am prepared to forgive the 5-1 home defeat to Aston Villa when the injury issues were at their very worst, but losing 1-0 at Villa Park on Boxing Day was painful. Being doubled by Brighton, Watford, Southampton and Sheffield United has compounded the agony.
We can’t realistically expect to win all of those games, but when the aim is to finish 17th you don’t have to.
The biggest frustration for me is that too many Norwich City players will bow out of the Premier League this season knowing they haven’t made as much of a mark as they could have done.
If they get another crack at the top flight, hopefully it will be with the Canaries. Relegation battles are part of the territory when it comes to following Norwich. I can handle the first of those two words but would love to see a bit more of the second.
This new style of football has caused lots of us to reassess our relationship with our favourite sport.
The hastily-arranged midweek away matches have meant that I haven’t been able to fulfil my usual commentary duties. A day job presenting the BBC Radio Norfolk Breakfast Show and the challenges of childcare during a pandemic ruled me out of going to Arsenal or Watford with Norwich City.
The 6pm kick-offs play havoc with bedtime. For clarity, I’m talking about our two-year old son’s and not mine. When the Canaries went to Arsenal I watched the game an hour behind everyone else. It meant staying off social media to avoid spoilers, which was rather cathartic. I just about managed to stick with it until full-time, out of a sense of blind loyalty even at 4-0 down.
Cards on the table, I couldn’t do it last week. I heard Phil Daley, who has taken my fully sterilised commentary mic, describe Watford going 2-1 up so went and had my tea and caught up with the result later.
This is unheard of. I can’t remember not being 100 per cent across a game when Norwich City are playing.
It’s not the fact they’ve been losing matches, you have to be bigger than that when you’re a Canaries fan.
It’s the weird nature of behind closed doors football. I’m finding it so difficult to immerse myself in it at the moment and tap in to that wonderful escapism that it usually provides.
It’s so difficult to get beyond the constant reminder of what is happening in the world provided by the swathes of empty seats at each game.
If anything, the blow of Norwich City’s relegation was cushioned by the fact that the players just trudged off the pitch and didn’t need to applaud or comfort any crying supporters. It’s just all rather soulless.
The Chelsea game kicks off after bedtime on Tuesday night, if all goes to plan. Reminder to self: do not shout at the radio during the match.