'It's really sad' - One year on from City's last full house at Carrow Road
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Tomorrow marks a sobering anniversary for Norwich City fans, of exactly a year since the last full house at Carrow Road.
The coronavirus pandemic was very much making headlines by that point but few realised that the 1-0 Premier League win over Leicester on Friday, February 28 would take on such poignancy.
A couple of weeks later and English football was suspended as the country prepared for lockdown, the day before the Canaries were due to host Southampton.
When the season resumed in June, largely due to financial necessity, it was without spectators, with football relatively inconsequential in the midst of a deadly global pandemic - but still missed as a major form of entertainment and distraction.
Just over 27,000 spectators were packed into Carrow Road that night, with goalkeeper Tim Krul in the thick of the celebrations at full-time, after a swerving strike from Jamal Lewis had earned a potentially crucial victory in the 70th minute.
It’s really sad, it’s been a crazy year for everyone," said Krul with that unwelcome anniversary looming. "The support has always been there, when you see people in the street they’re always desperate to come back.
“I can just imagine the roar with all the late goals we’ve scored this season and I think that keeps everybody going because we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
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“I can’t wait for that first moment, to walk out on the pitch when the stadium is full and hearing the songs behind me.
“That keeps us going, keeps everybody going, and we just need to stay strong for a few more months and then hopefully they’ll be back.”
It looks very unlikely that supporters will be back in stadiums for league games before the end of the EFL season, with the government's provisional date for the initial return of crowds of up to 10,000 from May 17 depending on the Covid-19 rates nationally.
A pilot scheme has been mooted - with Norwich having been one of the few clubs to welcome back 2,000 fans for some games in December - but it's believed that is with bigger stadiums in mind, such as the FA Cup and League Cup finals at Wembley.
The final round of Premier League fixtures and the EFL Play-Off finals could have some fans but from a Norwich point of view, with the Canaries in such a strong position for automatic promotion, it may not be until next season that City fans get to see their team live again - although club bosses will undoubtedly be keen to be involved in test events if possible.
Krul added: “We’re trying to give them some excitement this season, we know they’re sitting at home shouting at the televisions.
“That’s the message from us: we’re trying everything we can to entertain and to get back to the Premier League, so that we can have this place full and have a big party.”
For players signed last summer, such as Tottenham loanee Oliver Skipp, it's meant just four Carrow Road games in front of fans.
The 2-2 draw with Preston in September proved a successful test event with 1,000 spectators so City were then also able to welcome 2,000 fans for 2-1 wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest in December, as well as a 2-0 win over Cardiff.
Other than 1,000 being at Kenilworth Road for the 3-1 loss to Luton and 2,000 inside the Madejski Stadium as Reading were beaten 2-1, also in December, the season has been behind closed doors for Daniel Farke's promotion chasers.
“It’s horrible in that aspect," said Skipp, after Tuesday's win at Birmingham. "I would have loved to play in front of full crowds but we know they’re watching on, we feel their support.
“So we just do our best to give them that satisfaction in difficult times at the moment. From a selfish point of view, I’d love a full house but we know the situation with the world at the moment so it’s not possible.
“But it shows everyone is giving their all for this club.”
Ahead of Sunday marking a year since that last Carrow Road full house, which was ahead of away games at Tottenham and Sheffield United before the season was suspended, City boss Farke admits the unprecedented circumstances have taken away some of the enjoyment of an excellent campaign on the pitch.
“It’s still strange for me, football is still not the same game without the supporters, especially when you mentioned the Leicester game – this is why we do this sport," he reflected.
“An unbelievable evening, celebrating together with the fans. We play football in order to make the supporters happy, to give them emotions and also to give them something to moan about!
“But also hopefully many evenings and afternoons when they can all celebrate and enjoy themselves a bit, forget about the problems of everyday life.
“Whatever you choose after the game, perhaps a pint (of beer) or a cup of green tea, whatever you prefer, and to speak about the game and the experiences.
“Football is also about being together and creating relationships between people and bringing people together. I think there is no better sport in order to do this and to be able to help.
“Also to bring different cultures, nations and passports together, to show some emotions and make sure that we are all human beings.
“This is quite important and a big task for football. Sometimes when you play in an empty stadium it really feels like we have to do our job but not like in the sense of the game, it’s strange.
“And this moment, one year, if you are missing the fans then you are reminded of this and hopefully it won’t last another year until all the supporters are back!
“Right now with the vaccines and with hopefully a bit better weather then in a few weeks and months the situation is much better and improved – and hopefully we can celebrate together with our fans.
“I also feel this disappointment sometimes, after a disappointing result, with our supporters and this is important to feel these emotions together.
“We all can’t wait until we can have our supporters back.”