So how did your first weekend without football go, eh?
I have to say that it was different, don’t you think? The fact that there wasn’t a game that I could watch, or listen to or even keep an eye on via my phone made things different. I spent the day with Mrs T and we went for a bite to eat at lunchtime and then just relaxed at home in the afternoon, and yes, I’m aware that there were some no-league games on and I hope they had decent crowds as a result of the professional game being suspended.
It got me thinking about what it is that I missed about football. It’s a strangely addictive pastime, whether you’re young enough to still play it, or you follow a team and you get excited by the prospect of going to the ground and all that that entails.
For me, the trip to Carrow Road is always pretty similar, if not the same. We drive into Norwich and park on Thorpe Road. We always see the same people, parking in the same place that we do and we always discuss the game as we drive-in. What will the score be? Who will Daniel Farke pick to play today? Will that player be back from injury, even just for the bench? Then we walk down Carrow Hill and I see the ground for the first time.
I’ve walked this short walk hundreds of times over the years, thousands of times, probably. It hasn’t always been the same route and I remember walking past the old Boulton & Paul factory along the old Riverside Road, back in the day. It’s that first sight of the stadium that always gets me though, whichever direction I have approached it from. The floodlights, watching proceedings from a great height, like something out of War of the Worlds, the Barclay stand with its name written in that familiar, ageing font which dates back to Robert Chase’s time in charge and the crowds all around me. Snippets of conversation about players, the opposition, pies etc, etc.
This is the home of my football team. The place that I have watched countless games and seen so many moments of wonder that have made me jump up in the air in complete joy. From that first-ever visit to Carrow Road on a cold winter’s night to see City draw with Leicester City in 1977, I’ve been on a journey with Norwich City, as we all have been, and it’s one that we are all being deprived of at the moment.
It can’t be helped. There hasn’t been a global pandemic like this since the Spanish Flu at the end of the First World War and people’s health has to come first, obviously.
It’s the little things though, like saying “hello mate” to the same steward, who is there every single week and has been for the last ten years that we’ve been sitting here, watching the opposition team warm-up (we sit in the River End) and trying to judge if they look like they know where the goal is or not, or chatting to the old boy behind me about who we’ve been linked to in the transfer window or who his mate at work says we are going to sign. These little conversations with the people who sit around me that I shamefully don’t know all their names. I think I’d really miss them if they were to just suddenly stop.
There are so many facets to watching a game of football that provide us with entertainment. An awesome free-kick (Mario Vrancic), an opposition player (Fernando Torres) skewing wide from six yards when faced with an open goal, a bullet headed goal from our number nine (Grant Holt), a penalty awarded or a penalty saved (Tim Krul). The chance to see a truly world-class player in the opposition team, like a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Sergio Aguero, a Kevin de Bruyne or a Virgil van Dijk and then seeing our boys get the better of them, sometimes. The comedy chants from the crowd that can suddenly erupt that raise a smile and a cheer, the general feeling of belonging to something, being a part of something is what I think I missed this weekend.
These are the things that encompass the whole experience for a fan. These are things that you cannot get from subscribing to Sky Sports and Chelsea TV. You can’t get the smell of fried onions from that greasy burger bar you always walk past on channel 401, can you?! These are the things that keep us coming back for more, time and time again. It’s what makes a fan a fan and it’s what makes the bond incredibly difficult to break.
Obviously, we want to see the glorious Canaries win all their games, playing liquid football while they’re at it but it’s the other things, like those above that have just as much impact for me on my day out to a football match. There are, of course, horrible lows. Relegation is never nice but at least at Norwich, there has been something to fight for, more often than not in the last decade or so. Norwich have almost always been there, or thereabouts in my supporting lifetime and we crave these moments, however big or small they turn out to be.
I read a great quote over the weekend from former Italian Head Coach, Arrigo Sacchi, who once said “Football is the most important of the least important things in life” and that, for me, sums it all up. Yes, there are some terrible things going on in the world at the moment and the Corona Virus is the latest very bad news story to hog the headlines but aside from that deadly serious sort of news, I need some light relief now and again and that’s why football has had me hooked for over forty years.