Sunderland and Norwich City is always a TV favourite
- Credit: Malcolm Croft/JG/PA
It may be that Sunderland and Norwich City will produce an eight-goal thriller for the Stadium of Light paying customers and the Sunday afternoon armchair audience to enjoy, but don’t bet your house on it.
TV’s enduring fascination with this particular fixture means four consecutive Premier League meetings between the Canaries and the Black Cats have been chosen for live coverage by Sky Sports.
Throw the Carling Cup tie at Carrow Road from 2009 into the mix and it’s five in a row to grace the small screen – the Cat and the Canary, sequel to the sequel.
For supporters of both clubs – in particular those from Norwich deciding whether to make a 500-mile round trip – Sunday’s coverage could provide a welcome opportunity to sit in the warm rather than shiver in the stand as winter continues to invade early spring.
But for those devoted to trekking the length and breadth of the country to watch City or Sunderland regardless of TV screenings and odd kick-off times, the habitual re-scheduling of this fixture does little more than cause the maximum inconvenience to their travel arrangements.
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A 1.30pm kick-off on a Sunday afternoon in March is certainly preferable to last season’s 8pm start on the first day of February, but it still makes for a late return home for those who have to work the next day rather than enjoy a relaxed Sunday morning.
With between 800 and 900 City fans expected to make the trip to the North East this weekend – and the figure was 810 for the corresponding match last season – it amounts to their two lowest away turnouts since the trip to Burnley in the Championship season of 2011. It is still a great effort, make no mistake, but one would have expected that total to be well into four figures had the game been played tomorrow.
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If it’s hard to know exactly what the attraction is in this fixture for the neutrals, there is, at least for the two clubs and two sets of fans, something of a TV history to it – one that includes two of the biggest games in the annals of either club.
The Canaries’ first “live” appearance came in the 1985 Milk Cup final when commentator Barry Davies spoke about the men from the town on the Wear and the city on the Wensum bringing to Wembley colours it hadn’t seen for many years – or something rather like that.
If that was a triumphant occasion for City and a desperate one for Sunderland, the roles were reversed on their next BBC Sunday afternoon screening, the FA Cup semi-final of 1992, when John Byrne joined a list of heart-breakers that included the names of Billy Bingham, Ralph Coates, Ray Graydon and Pat Nevin, each of whom wrecked one of Norwich’s biggest days.
The third Sunderland-City TV encounter was a much more low-profile affair, screened by Anglia when they too broadcast live league football, but a curiosity in itself.
In the Division One fixture of January 1996, the Canaries’ last appearance at Roker Park, Ashley Ward struck the 11th-minute goal that gave Gary Megson his first win as manager in 12 attempts, caretaker and full-time. It was to be a further 10 matches before he celebrated another victory.
At least, to judge from the weekend forecast, there should be no danger of a repeat of the experience of fans who travelled to the Stadium of Light in February 2004 for the promotion clash between the two clubs, setting off from Norfolk in the wee small hours for a 12.30pm kick-off, with 37,000 advance tickets sold and Sky Sports in attendance, only to be thwarted by six inches of snow. Now that couldn’t happen again – it’s heavy rain and thunder on the map.