As dull as Norwich City’s trip to Stoke was, the Premier League is the only place to be

Norwich City players argue with the ref during Saturday's turgid encounter at Stoke. Picture: Paul C

Norwich City players argue with the ref during Saturday's turgid encounter at Stoke. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The Premier League: the best league in the world. That's what we are supposed to think isn't it? Next time you hear a well-paid marketing executive or a hyperbolic satellite television presenter trot out that old cliché it might be worth making them sit through a replay of Stoke v Norwich on Saturday.

With two of the three lowest scoring clubs in the top flight meeting at the Britannia Stadium no one was expecting a thriller. There is nothing new I can say about Stoke's preferred style of play. It's served them well and Saturday's win has just about assured them of a sixth straight season of Premier League football. So, as we sweat on the Canaries hanging on to top-flight status for a third year, who are we to criticise?

Nothing underlines the predictability of the pattern of play better than the following couple of paragraphs from a match report on the BBC Sport website. 'There were few chances in a cagey encounter, the Canaries defending stubbornly for much of the game.

'There was plenty of industry on display from both sides in midfield but with a distinct lack of quality or adventure.'

Those two sentences are actually taken from the report on last season's fixture, which Stoke also won 1-0 when one of their midfield players latched onto a flick-on from a big centre forward to score the decisive goal. Never has a cut a paste function been used so often by reporters to describe two supposedly different games.

It may sound incredibly bitter to question the quality of an entire division after watching my team slip to what was a frustratingly limp defeat, but don't write me off as a twisted individual just yet. The sensational Champions League semi-final performances of both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund to thrash the mighty Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively should have provided crunching reality checks for anyone who still likes to kid themselves that English club football is as good as it gets.

Of course there are some wonderful players plying their trade over here. Van Persie, Bale, Tevez, Rooney and, as much as it pains me to say, Luis Suarez (when he's not snacking on defenders) have all given Norwich City fans a first hand look at what a world class footballer in full flight looks like in the flesh over the past couple of years. But beyond that I am not sure the step up from Championship to Premier League is quite the chasm that it used to be.

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West Ham and Southampton will stay up this year and that means that Reading are the only one of the last six clubs to be promoted to the top flight and fail to stay up at the first attempt. By the same token those relegated to the Football League are increasingly struggling to bounce back. Wolves are facing successive relegations, despite hanging onto the core of the squad they went down with, and Blackburn, for all their shenanigans off the field, ought to have done better than sitting three points above the drop zone with a game to go. Bolton retain hopes of an immediate return to the top flight, but even after a late dash into the top six, a play-off place is still by no means certain.

Bradford's incredible passage to the League Cup final earlier this season also adds weight to the theory that the gap between the haves and the have nots is not as great as it should be. Premier League teams may not have that competition anywhere near the top of their collective list of priorities, but a fourth-tier team really should not be able to get past all but one of them.

Despite all the reasons set out above, the Premier League remains where we all want to be. Football does not have to be of the highest quality to be tense or exciting. Even Stoke against Norwich, for all its paucity of goal-scoring opportunities, will have kept Canaries fans gripped all afternoon because it means so much to be at the top table for another year.

In the boardroom they will tell you that, financially, survival this season is vital while fans will fondly remember the nights we beat Arsenal and Manchester United earlier this year and will want more. Results like that do not tend to happen to the top clubs in Spain or Germany where Barcelona and Bayern Munich have lost three league matches between them this season. There lies our division's true excitement.

In the end, Norwich City may be thankful for what feels like a division that is not as good as it used to be. After all, it is possible to win just two out of 18 games and still be within four points of ninth place.


Last week I speculated about the ultimate fate of all those cardboard clappers that were dished out at Carrow Road for the Reading game.

The assumption was that, as effective as they were, they had probably served their purpose in raising the roof and would never be seen again. How wrong I was.

Listeners to BBC Radio Norfolk and readers of the EDP have been in touch to let me know what they have planned for these unexpectedly precious pieces of folded card.

I won't name names, to protect the innocent, but one woman admitted to leaving the Reading game with a haul of six clappers to be handed out amongst a group of friends at a Queen tribute concert later this year. Another fan was crestfallen to find that someone had helped themselves to his, while he stood to cheer the final whistle that meant Norwich had beaten Reading.

Others are bound for a University halls of residence in York, relatives in Italy and a concert by the Dutch violinist Andre Rieú in Vienna.

But the furthest flung clapper that I have been told about is on its way to the other side of the world. A caller to the breakfast show proudly boasted his was going in his luggage to be displayed on his office wall in New Zealand.