Terri Westgate: So near ... and yet so far

A Norwich City fan holding up a scarf during the Premier League match against Arsenal

Keeping the faith at Carrow Road during the game against Arsenal - Credit: PA

There has been much debate about the football Christmas schedule recently, with many in the sport bemoaning the number of matches crammed in between December 25 and the third round of the FA Cup.

However, for most fans, going to the Boxing Day game is a great tradition and one of the highlights of their festivities. 

Often it also involves meeting up with friends for a cosy pint, a glass of mulled wine or mug of hot chocolate, to discuss the events of the previous day. Wrapped up in new scarves or wearing replica shirts fresh out of the packaging, it’s almost insignificant how the team are doing, or what league you are playing in. As always, it’s the shared experience that makes this time special. 

This year there was a very different atmosphere in and around the ground. The car parks weren’t full, the pubs were more spacious and there were many empty seats in the ground. One of those going spare was mine in the lower Barclay - along with hundreds of thousands of others, I tested positive for Covid in the week leading up to Christmas. So I sat the game out in isolation at home.   

A Norwich City fan showing a Covid-19 vaccine passport before the Premier League match at Carrow Sta

The new 'must-have' for football fans - a Covid-19 vaccine passport, checked outside Carrow Road - Credit: PA

Living just a mile and a half from the stadium as I do, it takes something special for me to miss a home game. I have trudged along to Carrow Road in all weather conditions, and in various states of health - and, more often than I care to admit, with a hangover from the previous night’s drinking. But in this pandemic, with a virus that has ravaged so many people’s lives, this time I followed the rules and stayed at home, and listened to Chris Goreham on the radio instead. 

Despite not being in attendance I still wanted the team to win, and on hearing “On The Ball City” across the airwaves I wished my voice was added to the mix. Even when the early goal for Arsenal went in, I pictured myself standing on the balls of my feet and yelling encouragement to the team, to keep pressing and not give up the fight. 

But the scoreline and the performance did not improve, and those hardy souls who made it to the festive fixture were not rewarded with joy. Just when we seemed to have picked up momentum, a second was conceded before half-time. The last 20 minutes became so painful to listen to, I found myself wandering through my house looking for snacks, chocolate and distraction. 

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A win against the Gunners was always going to be a tough ask, given our recent form and the constant changes to the squad caused by coronavirus and injuries. Yet, the ease with which the London side brushed us aside was disappointing to say the least. And once again our lack of threat in front of goal meant there was little hope of even a consolation. 

As we reach the halfway point of the season we seem no closer to discovering the secret to Premier League survival. Changes to the playing squad, the head coach and the tactics have left us with fewer points than at this stage two seasons ago. There is likely to be further fixture disruption over the coming days, and we still have the postponed match against West Ham to fit in. The club doesn’t have a lot of funds to spend in the January transfer window, so anyone thinking that will be the golden ticket to staying up is likely for more disappointment. 

However, as I write this in my seventh day of housebound isolation, I am beginning to miss even the cold, damp December air in my lungs. I long for the grumbles and moans of my fellow fans, and the black humour and camaraderie that brings some enjoyment to a relegation fight. As much as I appreciate the talents of Mr Goreham, I’d give up an afternoon in the warm and dry by the wireless to take my place again in the crowd of yellow and green.