David Freezer: Lucky 1,000 City fans must make the most of their opportunity
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Those lucky 1,000 fans who will be at Carrow Road today may be feeling a real sense of responsibility ahead of kick-off, as they carry the honour of representing the Norwich City community.
Not everyone likes to cheer and chant when they go to football. Many prefer to concentrate more intensely on the football, some are just quieter by nature and others may feel their days of passionately supporting are behind them - we’re all different.
Yet these are unprecedented times and just one other Championship game will be welcoming 1,000 spectators back, as Middlesbrough host Bournemouth, as part of the pilot project amid the country’s frustrating struggle back towards normality.
Creating an atmosphere will not be easy though, with those 1,000 City season ticket holders scattered across the 8,000 capacity South Stand during today’s game against Preston.
I’ve attended my fair share of youth games at Carrow Road over the years, including over 10,000 watching an under-21 win over Spurs in 2014 amid the enthusiasm of watching the FA Youth Cup winners. I’ve also seen plenty with very few people there and almost no noise at all.
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I remember the Barclay End Norwich group trying a singing section as over 8,000 watched a 1-1 draw with Liverpool U21s that year, one of the groups which played a part in building the vibrant match-day experience which was so enjoyed during the success of 2018-19 - and was still going strong six months ago when Leicester were beaten 1-0 in the Premier League.
That was the last time the City players had supporters behind them trying to roar them forward to provide that extra drive and determination of having home advantage.
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Those lucky enough to be there representing the wider fan base today will need all of the enthusiasm the small singing section had during that U21s game back in 2014, if they are to really make themselves heard.
Even more important however is that those who have applied successfully to get a ticket through the random ballot follow the health and safety guidelines as carefully as possible - while we all desperately hope that one of the many Covid-19 vaccine trials proves successful in the coming months.
It’s a small step in the right direction but we don’t know what’s next. Should reports prove correct that further lockdown scenarios are being considered by the government in some parts of the country, more frustration could lie ahead.
So if you’re lucky enough to be in the stadium today, make the most of it, as safely as possible.
On the pitch of course awaits your typical Championship challenge, a very solid and well organised Preston team that finished ninth and just four points adrift of the play-offs - the second time that Alex Neil has come close to the play-offs in three seasons despite a limited budget.
North End frustrated City in home and away draws during 2017-18, while the 2-0 home win during 2018-19 was earned by goals from Teemu Pukki and Alex Tettey in the final 10 minutes.
They were also the only team to beat the eventual champions during the second half of that glorious season, winning 3-1 at Deepdale, and will be determined to spoil the (small) party.
The Canaries made an encouraging start at Huddersfield last week and, admittedly after just one game, the WhoScored.com stats for the Championship may have already gives us a hint of what’s to come.
Only Coventry and Barnsley matches City’s 16 shots, while Norwich were the most fouled team (19) during the opening weekend, with Oliver Skipp (six) and Todd Cantwell (four) the most fouled during the satisfying 1-0 away win.
How about this for a contrast as well. City won seven aerial duels, with only Derby also in single figures. Rotherham won a quite ridiculous 57, a full 50 more as they won 1-0 at Wycombe. Preston won 39 as they lost 1-0 to Swansea.
You cannot underestimate anyone in the Championship. Plenty of physical, awkward challenges are ahead.