Malaga beach football pretending I am Iwan – yes. Empty stadiums – no
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Looking back, Norwich City’s 1-0 home loss to Aston Villa, back in September 2013, was one of the most unremarkable games in our club’s fine history. But I’ll never forget it.
Sure, it was Paul Lambert’s third-straight win at Carrow Road since his acrimonious departure just one year earlier, and it was even Villa’s first clean sheet in 27 league games. Good for them.
However, for most Norwich fans, it was just one more dour, goalless Premier League loss to file away with the rest and never think of again.
For me, though, it was my last home game before I left for university. It was an important match – the culmination of 19 years of living in Norfolk, and loving Norwich City. I was certain the lads would send me off with three more points and a spring in my step.
With hindsight, the actual result was probably a much more fitting tribute to my experiences as a Canary up to that point.
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Much like that day, I have always associated important milestones in my life with a football match. I remember barely anything of my family holiday to Spain back in 2002, apart from being told by my dad that Norwich beat Wolves 3-1, courtesy of Malky Mackay’s last-second goal. I fell in love with football there and then, scoring countless play-off final goals as Iwan Roberts on a sunny Málaga beach.
I remember that, two days before I met my girlfriend for the first time, Norwich drew 1-1 with Ipswich, thanks to Timm Klose’s 95th-minute goal. When I described the scenes in great detail on our first date, she pretended to care (she didn’t).
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In 2018, the day after my dad had a major operation, Wes Hoolahan played his last game for Norwich. Dad always said Wes had a ‘powder-puff’ shot so, of course, he scored from outside the box to give dad a much-needed win and smile when I smugly reported the news.
Then, 364 days later, Mario Vrancic almost ripped the net off with the winner as Norwich were promoted from the Championship. A much happier occasion for my dad and I, and a date I’ll always remember – it was my mum’s birthday (she didn’t agree with my assessment that it was the best present you could ask for).
For people like you and I, football really isn’t just a game. It is part of our life and it defines our lives and the way we remember it.
It’s helped us to make lifelong friends, discover new places and given us all something to talk about with our mums, dads, sisters, brothers and uncles and aunties that you only see at Christmas.
It’s given us memories of events that took place miles away from any football pitch – running the length of a London pub as Teemu Pukki scored Norwich’s fourth against Millwall, or screaming with delight in a Melbourne nightclub as Twitter confirmed Nelson Oliveira’s equaliser against Hull – and, of course, loads of memories of things that happened on the pitch too.
But here’s what football isn’t (or shouldn’t be at least): It isn’t just a television show. In fact, it isn’t anything at all without supporters, whose bonkers and irrational passion is what allows the TV companies to try and convince you that it all somehow matters. But it doesn’t, actually, matter, and it certainly isn’t worth more than anyone’s life or safety, including the players themselves.
Forgetting for a moment about sporting integrity, playing football behind closed doors misses the whole point. It satisfies no one, apart from Sky, BT Sport, and maybe Liverpool fans – and even then, they still won’t get to see their team win the league. Instead, they’ll watch on TV as Jordan Henderson lifts the Premier League trophy in front of a handful of club staff and some socially-distanced journalists, to warm applause.
Liverpool fans have dreamt of this moment for 30 years and they’ll barely have one good story to tell between them. No pitch invasions, no pub lock-ins, hopefully no conga lines down the street. Nothing.
As far as Norwich go, we all know the gist. We would have probably gone down anyway, but our five remaining home games are as winnable as Premier League matches get – meaning playing them behind closed doors or scrapping the season entirely and relegating City anyway would both be cripplingly unfair.
Of course, we’re also in an FA Cup quarter-final – two wins away from achieving something our football club has never managed before. But what’s the point of Norwich City in a behind-closed-doors FA Cup final? Again, we wouldn’t have the chance to celebrate it or enjoy it.
Football should be played again when it’s safe for players and supporters. For now, we have a 118-season back catalogue to recount and enjoy. Sorry that all the episodes are just repeats, but the memories associated make them worth more than some cheap, chlorinated impersonation of our favourite game, any day.