Sky and Norwich City are not a match made in heaven
Norwich City fans are among the least likely to be celebrating when it is announced that Sky Sports have selected one of their club’s matches for live coverage.
Whether or not one believes in a kind of TV jinx – and frankly, I don’t – there is still plenty of evidence to suggest that the Canaries and the satellite broadcaster are not a match made in heaven.
Paul Lambert’s team lost all four matches in front of the Sky cameras last season, a statistical oddity when they lost only 11 times in all competitions in 2009-10, and they were beaten again on the opening night of the current Championship campaign when the home match against Watford was chosen to kick off coverage for the new season.
Add to that the 2-0 home defeat by tomorrow’s opponents, Reading, that effectively doomed City to relegation from the Championship in April of last year and you have six successive defeats on Sky – and 12 in 16 appearances on the channel since relegation from the Premiership in 2005.
Those statistics will not bother Lambert in the slightest, however, as his players prepare for tomorrow’s televised late kick-off at the Madejski Stadium. He will be convinced that his team are capable of beating the Royals – and that is the only way to approach the fixture.
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If recent history suggests City and live TV don’t get on, now is a good time to start reversing the trend. And it must be said that there has not always been an unhappy association between the Canaries and the cameras.
Live TV, not merely Sky, has certainly captured some of City’s lowest moments over the years – the 5-0 drubbing by Arsenal in 1989 that ended their Division One title challenge, the FA Cup semi-final against Sunderland in 1992, the 4-1 home defeat by Burnley that ended Nigel Worthington’s reign as manager in 2006, the 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers that did for Peter Grant, and the previously mentioned reverse at the hands of Reading.
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But for nearly every turkey there has also been an Oscar winner. The Milk Cup final of 1985, shown by BBC, was Norwich’s first live terrestrial TV appearance in this country. ITV screened the classic 3-2 win over Millwall at The Den, one of the best games I have ever seen involving City, back in 1989. The memorable UEFA Cup home leg against Bayern Munich in 1993 was another live BBC game, and years later the short-lived ITV Digital company screened the two legs of the 2002 play-off semi-final against Wolves.
Even Sky have had their moments with the 2-0 win over Manchester United in 2005 and, just two seasons ago, Championship victories over Nottingham Forest and Ipswich.
Former City winger Dale Gordon is one who found the presence of live TV cameras an added incentive to perform rather than a distraction, less still a jinx.
Gordon scored in the first Football League game involving the Canaries to be shown live on national TV, the 2-1 home win over West Ham that put them back on top of Division One, two days after Christmas 1988.
“We were doing well around that Christmas time and they were struggling a bit,” he recalled.
“We had always had good games against West Ham and there was a bit of a rivalry between us because they were not too far away down the A12, and the players got on well with each other.
“When you’re an unfashionable side doing well, then you find yourself on TV during the season more than you first thought.
“I found it gave you a buzz during the build-up to the game and because we won the first one we had a couple more live games that season, at Millwall and at Arsenal.”
If there is no hoodoo, then it could be argued that odd kick-off times disrupt a team’s rhythm. A prime example was the 11.30am kick-off at Ipswich four years ago, where the City squad stayed overnight but lost 3-1 and were accused by one shareholder at the annual meeting of playing as if they had slept under Southwold Pier.
“Moving the kick-off time doesn’t really affect your preparation in terms of tactics or team talks,” said Gordon.
“But you do get that adrenalin rush from TV. The crowd sense it, too, when they turn up and see those big broadcasting units outside the stadium.
“It was all fresh, a new thing for me and great to get involved in.
“I was never a nervous player. Even with Rangers I never felt nervous before big games. I was pumped up but if anything I found my game stepped up because of it.”
Greater TV exposure was also the making of some of City’s rising stars, argued Gordon.
“I found the whole thing quite enjoyable and there was also the thought that people wanted to be entertained,” he said.
“You felt as players there was the opportunity to perform on the big stage and there might just be somebody watching. It was an added incentive. We thrived on the opportunity, we found that extra five or 10 per cent.”
In early 1990, in pre-Sky days, City were becoming armchair favourites, and they had three successive live Sunday games on national TV.
“At Norwich we probably had so many TV games that there were quite a few players who became big transfer targets as a result,” said Gordon.
“If you excel on such a big platform there is the added possibility of international recognition.”
Earlier this season, Lambert suggested that the big build-up to the Championship opener against Watford had been overdone and may even have contributed to the 3-2 defeat.
“Not many people looked at the first day fixtures and thought Norwich against Watford would be the first game on live but because of the success Norwich had last season, it was their comeback game,” said Gordon.
“It may have been a bit of a distraction because some of the players Paul has brought in were not used to that intensity.
“It can make players freeze if they are not used to it. You are only human and there is no hiding from mistakes.
“Some players might turn up and see those big units on the car park and it might affect them, make them take the safe option or tighten up. The big build-up against Watford probably didn’t help. Some were trying too hard but they will have learned from that experience.”
City will collect just �10,000 from the Sky pot for the inconvenience of tomorrow’s late kick-off – home sides in a TV game get �100,000. But Gordon sees at least one advantage in starting after the rest of the Championship games are over.
“The one thing about a 5.20 kick-off tomorrow is that they will go into the game knowing the other results and they might be in a position where they will be looking to go up a place or two, which gives them an incentive and extra edge,” he said.