FAN ZONE: The new normal? Give me old Norwich City any day...

A strategically placed 'ball boy' during the Premier League match at Carrow Road on Friday Picturer:

A strategically placed 'ball boy' during the Premier League match at Carrow Road on Friday Picturer: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Friday really didn’t feel like a matchday in Norwich.

About two hours before kick-off I was driving home from work along Bracondale. The pavements would usually be dotted with the familiar bright yellow replica shirts of fellow Norwich City supporters, chatting away excitedly as they headed down to Carrow Road early. My anticipation would be heightened by the sight of them as I knew that once I’d got home, got changed and got on the train back into the city, that I’d be joining them.

It doesn’t matter which league the Canaries are playing in, or which cup competition. A match at Carrow Road is a huge event in Norwich. They could be playing Manchester United or Southend United. Either way, a home game has never felt low key in any way.

On Friday, the pavements were empty. The traffic was light. There was nothing to make it different from any other day. There was no indication that a huge Premier League game was about to take place. When City were originally due to play Southampton in March, it felt like a very winnable game. The visitors were in decent form, the 9-0 thrashing I’m sure their fans are sick of hearing about that they had suffered at the hands of Leicester earlier in the season a distant memory. They were solid, but not spectacular. Norwich had lost by a single goal at Sheffield United in their previous game but with a home league victory over Leicester and the FA Cup penalty shootout win at Tottenham, the mood at the club was buoyant. I personally felt that with the crowd behind them City would beat the Saints.

They were, of course, robbed of the motivation and the driving force that the home support provides. I wouldn’t say that is the sole reason they performed so poorly, but I certainly think it’s a factor. The fans couldn’t intimidate the opposition. They couldn’t pick the players up when they needed it. A match from the Premier League, a competition that boasts about being the best in the world, reduced to the intensity of a training game.

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Sides at the bottom of the table tend to be there for a reason. Norwich have undoubtedly had rotten luck with injuries this season – the fact that most of their defenders are crocked just as a three-month break ends is so ridiculous there’s nothing else to do but laugh.

The bottom team tends to be down there, though, for the simple reason that they’re not good enough. Teams like that need their fans behind them to achieve anything. They are very unlikely to do it on their own. So, it was only to be expected that Southampton were comfortable winners on Friday.

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I do, of course, understand why fans can’t be in attendance at the moment. The coronavirus crisis is far from over and it’s just not possible to have 27,000 fans packed into Carrow Road at a time of social distancing. There’s too much money at stake in English football for its top two divisions to go unfinished.

I was expecting, and accepting of the fact, the Premier League to be abandoned. Rendered null and void. Nothing to do with this method keeping Norwich in the division – it just seemed like the simplest option. No one had any idea when it would be safe to play matches again, so scrapping the rest of this season to give us more chance of making something of the next campaign seemed like the most sensible approach.

Here we are, though, in the week the nation’s favourite game became just a television programme. Empty stands. Fake crowd noise piped in over the broadcast. Norwich most likely dropping out of the Premier League with a whimper. Liverpool winning their first title in 30 years in front of nobody. This is the new normal. I rather preferred the old way.

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