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Tuesday, August 21, 2012
If the dawning of another new season has reminded us of anything it is the importance of having a dark sense of humour when it comes to being a football supporter.
Norwich City’s travelling fans found themselves digging deep into their reserves within a couple of hours of the 2012/13 campaign getting underway. Nothing tests the resolve like a humiliating 5-0 away defeat on the hottest day of the year followed by a trip across London on a tightly packed underground train.
I’ll be honest, as I dragged the broadcasting equipment on to a carriage at Putney Bridge station which was filled with people in replica yellow shirts I wasn’t particularly relishing the travelling conditions created by that perfect storm of a thrashing at Craven Cottage and several hot and sweaty people crammed into a tin box. Yet it is in this sort of adversity that the Canaries always impressive support really comes into its own.
Our match summariser on BBC Radio Norfolk on Saturday was Darren Eadie and he was our secret weapon. Having a Norwich City legend with you can be a real advantage in these circumstances.
He quickly took on the role of an emergency forces sweetheart, visiting the troops to lift morale.
News of his presence quickly spread round the carriage and some were even brave enough to peer through the armpit of the person standing next to them in order to get into a position where they could make their point about what had gone wrong to Darren and hear the benefits of his dressing room wisdom first hand.
The journey was punctuated by a much-needed blast of fresh air each time we stopped at a station. The fact that London air counted as ‘fresh’ gives you some idea of just how stuffy it was on that train.
With movement as nimble as Fulham’s front line, one Norwich fan had managed to position himself right by the carriage door and was making the most of it by hanging his head out of the door at each stop, like a dog on a long motorway journey. Who could blame him? Any opportunity to cool down had to be taken on Saturday.
Even during the game I got distracted at one point by some significant movement on the far side of the ground.
It wasn’t a Mexican wave starting, as I’d first feared, but swathes of people in the stand fanning themselves with their programmes, hats or team sheets. I suppose they must have been the Fulham fans.
Hanging your head out of a packed but stationary underground carriage has its own hazards. In order to lean out and make the most of the breeze without falling on to the tracks our new friend was clinging to the mechanism of the doors.
Yes, that is a dirty as it sounds, and when it all became too hot again between stops he had to mop his brow and was leaving a trail of black oil or dust across his forehead much to the amusement of his fellow Canaries who took great delight in pointing it out and taking pictures for posterity on their mobile phones.
Whether it was the heat, the excitement of sharing a carriage with Darren Eadie or the ample refreshment offered by the pubs around Craven Cottage I will leave you to speculate but he wasn’t learning his lesson and at each stop the routine was being repeated. A full fresh air lunge followed by a frenzied brow mop a few moments later. He ended up looking like at best he belonged to a far off tribe who paint their faces before going out hunting.
I hope Chris Hughton’s Canaries are a bit quicker on the uptake. Never mind whatever magic formula it is that makes the doors of London Underground trains go, repeated mistakes on the big stage could lead to more Premier League egg on face.
• IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING THAT NORWICH CITY’S RESPONSE IS CRUCIAL
A good thrashing can sometimes do a lot of good. I am talking purely in a football sense now, not some horribly outdated teaching guidelines.
Nobody saw what happened on Saturday coming. The odd heavy defeat is a fact of life for a team like Norwich City in the Premier League. Getting hammered by Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea is one thing, you simply do not expect it against Fulham.
It is all about the response now. The Canaries know from previous experience that a first day thrashing need not be the crushing blow that it feels at the times. The 7-1 defeat to Colchester United was only three short years ago but its status as the ultimate blessing in disguise, the subsequent revival and rise up the leagues is already a much-told story.
I distinctly remember the shudder I felt on the opening day of the 2001/02 season when, immediately after a comprehensive 4-0 defeat at Millwall, one reporter took great delight in telling me he felt Norwich were destined to be relegated to the third tier. How I wish I’d kept his phone number when that season ended with a play-off final in Cardiff.
The opening day results from the last two Premier League seasons can offer some solace. Wigan 0 Blackpool 4 in 2010 and the same scoreline in favour of Bolton against QPR a year ago.
In each case the winning team has ended up getting relegated while Wigan and QPR both scraped survival. Perhaps a humbling every now and again can provide the sort of short, sharp shock that a narrow 1-0 or 2-1 loss never does.
It wasn’t as damaging as the last Craven Cottage debacle in 2005. That 6-0 drubbing on the final day of the season is a result that should be well and truly out of our system by now but the parallels between that and what happened on Saturday are unavoidable. It may have been a completely different set of players but for the Norwich fans in the ground deja vu set in at about the time Fulham scored their third goal.
It took almost seven years before Norwich played in the Premier League again, this time they’ll be back in top flight action within seven days. Time will tell whether Craven Cottage August 2012 is another Millwall moment or a day to be looked back on as a sign of things to come.