Chris Goreham: Did the sound of silence make us forget our Norwich City worries?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Previously on ‘Little Miracle’. Anyone who had filled the football-shaped hole in their life over the past three months by bingeing on Netflix series will have appreciated Norwich City’s approach to the Premier League’s Project Restart.
The Canaries used the arrival of behind closed doors football as an opportunity to remind everyone why they resumed the season bottom of the table.
An injury crisis in central defence, a frustrating habit of giving the ball away at the worst possible moment and a failure to convert spells of pressure into goals. The 3-0 defeat at the hands of Southampton ended up being a brutal greatest hits collection of Norwich City’s pre-lockdown season rather than the beginning of an incredible twist in the saga.
Southampton at home might not be the first fixture that springs to mind when daydreams of Premier League glamour are all that you have, but it was the prospect of the Saints along with Everton, West Ham, Brighton and Burnley still needing to come to Carrow Road that had kept Norwich City fans going during football’s enforced absence. Staying up was going to be difficult, but that run of home games would give them a fighting chance.
Three months without any Norwich City action and minus that terrible feeling in the pit of the stomach that only occurs when they lose, had allowed supporters to forget their favourite team’s troubles and reconnect with all that potential they were promoted with. Sometimes the best PR move in football is to not play at.
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It was when Daniel Farke reported on the eve of the game that Grant Hanley, Christoph Zimmermann and Sam Byram were all injured that the restored sense of belief among the starving City fans on social media began to wane. Having a squad that was finally free of injuries was supposed to be another reason why this unexpected extension would work in the Canaries’ favour and yet here they were again with just four fit defenders to see off the threat of relegation.
All this talk of a ‘new normal’ and we’ve still got the old one at Carrow Road.
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Having been one of the lucky few to be allowed inside the ground on Friday evening I am in no doubt that home advantage is virtually expunged when the crowd is removed.
Norwich City’s success under Farke has been built on a togetherness that extends beyond the pitch. There were times during the game when that immeasurable force that is a partisan home support was really missed. When Saints striker Danny Ings hit the bar in the first half with the score 0-0 it was a moment that would usually have encouraged a crowd reaction made up of half measures of concern and encouragement. When Ings did break the deadlock just after half-time there was no chorus of ‘On The Ball City’ that often follows within seconds of City conceding. Another goal followed soon after.
I am firmly against the trend being employed by the TV companies covering these games that fake crowd sounds make an acceptable replacement for the natural noise that only a full football ground can create.
The Premier League’s decision to continue without fans, whatever the reasons, definitely does change the nature of the beast and it’s important the reality of it comes across on television. Firstly to highlight how vital supporters actually are to matches, in case anyone should forget, and secondly because it is a useful reminder that we are living in very different times and it helps to keep football in perspective.
It might make for a more comfortable experience for those watching at home in their armchairs, but this is football we are talking about and not, as Norwich City are finding out already, a carefully scripted Netflix Original.
There were several firsts at Carrow Road on Friday night, but I think we took the art of social distancing to new levels during the BBC Radio Norfolk commentary.
It’s the first time I have ever been in a different stand to my match summariser. We had a few technical problems with our usual commentary position on the gantry at the top of the South Stand and so, thanks to some last-minute help from Daniel Houlker and Charlotte Foster who work in the media team at Norwich City, I had to dash across around the pitch and set up in the Press Box in the City Stand.
Our line connected just in time for kick-off, but co-commentator Darren Eadie had been unable to join me as he had some separate duties to fulfil on the gantry, hosting the club’s own online offering. This meant that when the game started he had to join in with commentary from the far side of the ground. Waving to a broadcasting partner in the far distance rather than having him next to me just made a strange evening all the more surreal.
Being able to drive onto the main Carrow Road car park less than two hours before kick-off and find plenty of spaces available was the first shuddering reminder that things were not normal. There was no entry to the ground until my temperature had been taken. Thankfully, the officials were happy to stick with that reading and didn’t test again after my run around to the other side of the ground.
The biggest issue ended up being the compulsory wearing of a face mask. Protocols like this are perfectly understandable and a minor inconvenience when it comes to helping prevent the risk of infection, but I hadn’t bargained for the double whammy that comes with wearing one at the same time as a pair of glasses.
The first issue is that my specs keep steaming up when I put the mask on because the breath can’t go forwards and so escapes upwards and once those angles are corrected there’s no social distancing around my ears between the mask and the glasses. They’re both competing for the same space. So for much of the evening my glasses were either steamed up or falling off, which added to the whole ‘Mr Bean does football commentary’ vibe that I was giving off. Now where did I park that yellow mini?