December 5 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Norwich City’s late equaliser at Everton could not have been more appropriate.
It was officially Retro Day at Goodison Park on Saturday and nothing says ‘old fashioned English football’ quite like a big old central defender heading in a set piece on a cold, drizzly November afternoon.
The game marked Everton’s final Saturday 3pm home game of the calendar year.
The erratic nature of Premier League kick-off times is just one of a myriad of ways in which football has changed in recent years and the club decided to mark the occasion by giving the afternoon a traditional feel.
Dewy eyed nostalgia was in the air as hits from the 1970s were belted out before the game on the PA system and the teams were read out by a chap called Billy Butler who apparently used to do the job at Goodison 40 years ago.
Cut from the same Scouse cloth as Tom O’Connor and Jimmy Tarbuck, he was interspersing the team-line ups and birthday dedications with a few topical gags about Chelsea and ‘I’m a Celebrity’.
There must be some sort of production line on Merseyside which rolls out these cheeky end of the pier comedians.
The Goodison Park stewards tend to see you less as a guest and more as a volunteer from the audience to act as the stooge for their own material. It makes rather a refreshing change from the often stony faced officiousness of some away grounds which make you feel like you are entering a vitally important government building rather than just a football ground.
The match programme had a black and white cover to fit in with the mood of the day although the £3 price printed on the front was a reminder that Retro Day was only ever going to go so far.
“Hey, they should be charging 3d rather than three quid shouldn’t they?” Yes, you’ve guessed it, that’s a direct quote from one of the Everton stewards.
It was fun paying tribute to the way that top flight football used to be, but in the end Canaries fans will have been grateful that times have changed so much since Billy Butler was topically quipping about Brian Clough managing Leeds and ‘Opportunity Knocks’.
John Ruddy’s injury during the second half meant that Chris Hughton had to give substitute goalkeeper Mark Bunn his Norwich league debut.
If that had happened in the 70’s City really would have been banjaxed. Teams were only allowed to name one substitute and the idea of having a back-up goalkeeper was absurd.
So if Everton had decided to take this Retro Day idea to another level Ruddy would have had to have either stayed on the pitch and done his best on one leg or the always amusing spectacle of an outfield player going in goal would have presented itself.
In either case, Norwich getting a point would have been less likely.
As for that typically English equaliser that City did manage with the clock ticking beyond 90 minutes, it was scored by a Cameroon international getting on the end of an excellent free kick from a Spanish full-back.
The irony will have appealed to that famous Liverpudlian sense of humour.
• SEVEN WEEKS CAN BE LIKE A LIFETIME IN FOOTBALL
Seven weeks ago I commentated at Stamford Bridge on Norwich City’s 4-1 defeat by Chelsea.
The Canaries were in the bottom three having not won a Premier League game and had conceded nine goals in two matches while the home side looked every inch the European champions they are.
If a time traveller had approached me on the Central Line after that game and told me that one of those teams was about to embark on a seven game unbeaten run while the other would have parted company with their manager within two months I would not have been that surprised.
There has been much sympathy for Roberto Di Matteo after his unceremonious sacking by the club he lifted the FA Cup and Champions League trophies with around six months ago.
A lot of people have been tutting about Roman Abramovich’s itchy trigger finger and his fondness for pressing the ejector seat button he has connected to the Chelsea dugout.
It is worth remembering that a shortage of patience is not a trait limited to Russian billionaires.
It was after Norwich’s 1-0 defeat to Newcastle on Sunday September 23rd that BBC Radio Norfolk’s post-match Canary Call phone-in took its first ‘Hughton Out’ call.
That was after his fifth league game in charge.
Some internet message boards also carried similar comments from those suffering the dangerous combination of a knee-jerk reaction near a computer keyboard as City went on to lose their next two Premier League games against Liverpool and Chelsea.
The dizzying amounts of money involved in staying in the Premier League or qualifying for the Champions League, depending on the standing of your club, mean that top flight football has never been a more high pressure industry for managers.
Hughton’s excellent record in charge of both Newcastle and Birmingham suggested that if anyone could pick up from where Paul Lambert left off it would be him.
And, although it took him a couple of months to get his feet under the manager’s desk at Carrow Road, he’s now got his name well and truly nailed to the office door.
Any seven-match unbeaten run is worth celebrating but Norwich’s recent burst has included Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Lambert’s Villa and Everton.
All of those games will have fallen into the ’I’d take a draw’ category for Norwich fans beforehand.
In fairness it was only ever a small minority calling for his head and all those who have heard Hughton speak publicly at Fan Forums or the AGM last week are impressed by what he says and how he carries himself.
The real villain in all this is the time traveller in my post-Chelsea Central Line fantasy.
Why was he such a tease? Could he not simply have told me which team was which, then I needn’t have worried?
Still, what do you expect from someone who discovers the wonders of time travel and, despite endless possibility and thousands of years of human history, decides to use those incredible powers to go back just seven weeks and leave a cryptic message from the future about two football teams.
He makes Roman Abramovich look kind and caring.