Tuesday, December 20, 2011
When teams are playing away from home you often hear managers talk about the importance of starting the game well to ‘quieten’ the home fans.
Silence is not golden when you are the visiting side, though, as we found out on Saturday. Plenty of noise from the hosts can be music to your ears in the away end when it is the right kind of noise: moaning and grumbling.
There is no doubt that Everton were the better side in the opening exchanges of the match against Norwich at the weekend.
They made most of the early running and won a succession of corners, but, as so many opponents have found out over the past couple of years, this Canaries squad can be as stubborn as one of Santa’s less co-operative reindeers on a pre-season training flight in early November.
As Everton’s early dominance failed to deliver the goal it had been promising Norwich didn’t so much ’quieten’ the home supporters as really annoy them.
Goodison Park is an old-fashioned ground, very tight and full of character. It is everything these modern identikit enormodome stadiums at places like Coventry, Southampton and Derby will never be.
That means there is not an awful lot of leg room for commentators and I found myself almost in amongst the Everton supporters and perfectly placed to hear their mood darken after Grant Holt’s beautifully-taken goal made it 1-0 to Norwich.
It is only when you are that close to a group of supporters following a different club to you that you realise quite how ridiculous football fans are. Each misplaced pass was greeted with a terse example of the famous ‘Scouse sense of humour’. This is not a trait exclusive to Everton fans – it is always entertaining to listen to a group of another club’s fans turning on their heroes.
There is no rational thinking when the red mist descends and players who are considered good enough to earn tens of thousands of pounds a week and represent their countries have their ability openly and angrily questioned by a group of people who wish they had just a fraction of that talent. It doesn’t happen in many other walks of life.
My favourite moment at Goodison was when the unfortunate Everton right-back Tony Hibbert attempted a long pass which drifted out for a throw-in. This was too much for the man sitting directly behind me, who seemed to be taking Everton’s shortcomings a lot more personally than the team’s manager, David Moyes. Imagine if Basil Fawlty had been Liverpudlian and you’ll have the measure of my 90-minute neighbour.
Hibbert has been their first choice right-back for 10 years, but that decade of effort counted for nought with my new friend and he started kicking the old wooden wall which separated the press box from the home fans.
It looked like it had been there almost as long as the ground itself, but it might need a structural survey after getting what must have been a contender for its most severe booting since the days of Dixie Dean.
“Come on, Tony, get a brain lad,” was the anguished cry which followed.
I tried not to look too smug knowing that opposition fans kicking inanimate objects was a sure sign Norwich must be doing well.
I am hoping for more of the same tonight. Wolves fans tend not to need much of an invite to start huffing and puffing and blowing the home team down. Norwich’s 2002 play-off semi-final success when they knocked out Wolves en route to Cardiff was a case in point. No sooner had the final whistle gone at Molineux that night than a banner was unfurled by one fan reading, ‘You’ve Let Us Down Again’. It looked quite well prepared. What marvellous levels of pessimism to sit at your kitchen table and get that ready before your own side’s biggest match of the season.
So Norwich go to Wolverhampton tonight not so much trying to quieten the home fans as getting them to make the right kind of noise.
• I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE... YET ANOTHER TRIP UP NORTH
I had forgotten quite how close the home grounds of Everton and Liverpool actually are.
Goodison Park is surrounded by streets of terrace houses, and even as a church in between two of its stands.
It is in such a built-up area that the nearest car parking space I could find on Saturday was about a mile away in Stanley Park.
It meant I actually left the car closer to Liverpool’s ground than Everton’s.
To put it into a Norwich perspective it would be like having another Premier League club playing their home games in Trowse.
That brisk walk gave me a bit of time to think and my mind soon wandered on to whether anybody is actually called Stanley Park or even Ann Field. There must be mustn’t there?
Then on the way out of the ground I saw a sign pointing in the direction of ‘Vernon Stanger’ and for the first time in my life considered giving Deed Poll a ring. I have a feeling more people would read this column if it said ‘Vernon Stanger’ rather than ‘Chris Goreham’ at the top.
I discussed the matter with my BBC Radio Norfolk colleagues, Paul McVeigh and Rob Butler, on the way home and they talked me round.
Between us though we did surmise that Royston Drenthe, Everton’s Dutch winger who made such an impact as a substitute at the weekend, could easily lend his name to a Northamptonshire village and we spotted that sign somewhere around the bit where the A11 becomes the A14 which points off in the direction of ‘The Wilbrahams’ and wondered whether it really does take you towards the family home of one of Norwich City’s strikers.
Basically, and there is no way of dressing this up which could possibly make us look good, we were looking for football references on road signs.
That’s what six road trips to the North West in a little more than three months does to you.