Hard to escape reminders of Norwich City’s plight
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
'Mind the gap' said the voice on the Circle Line on Saturday evening. How could I when I had just seen it narrowed to two points as the Canaries' Craven Cottage curse continued? Then I realised he wasn't talking about the Premier League relegation scrap.
This time of the year will do that to you. Neil Adams described being Norwich City manager as a 24-hour-a-day job at one of his press conferences last week. He talked about the constant occupation of the mind, trying to work out how to give his side even the slightest edge in their next game. It's the same for the fans. City's Premier League predicament is turning Norfolk into a collective nervous wreck. How many more points will we need? Who have our fellow strugglers still got to play? Is there an attacking combination we haven't yet tried? It's the sort of thing that will have you replying to recorded health and safety announcements on the London Underground.
The conversation didn't deviate as we swapped the tube for the 19.25 Greater Anglia Liverpool Street service bound for Norwich. The term 'quiet carriage' was given a whole new meaning as we found ourselves in with a wagon load of people who had obviously been to the same place as us. It wasn't so much the yellow and green shirts as the distant look in the eyes of our fellow travellers as we exchanged sympathetic glances that gave it away.
Every so often someone would puncture the funereal silence with an offer to do a run to the buffet car. Given Norwich's away record, the food and drink can often be a highlight of these trips so sustenance stops are not taken lightly by your average football fan.
I don't actually remember having my ticket checked on the journey. Perhaps the guard took one look at the grim faces in our carriage and thought better of intruding on private grief, or maybe he came and stamped my ticket unnoticed as I just checked the league table one more time on my phone. It never does change. The mood seemed to be set for the journey. It was akin to the atmosphere around Michael Fish's breakfast table in October 1987, the morning after he'd reassured us that a hurricane wasn't coming this way. Just as his next door neighbour's shed blew past the kitchen window.
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It must have been around Colchester that things changed. By then it was about four hours since Mike Dean had blown the final whistle which had sent the Canaries faithful into despair. A third straight defeat, all against relegation rivals and without so much as a single Norwich goal to cheer. I am glad that we made such a fuss about Alex Tettey's wonder strike against Sunderland back on March 22. Little did we know that it would still be our most recent goal when we kicked off against Liverpool on April 20. When we said it was a Goal of the Month contender, this isn't what we meant.
As we rattled north the sulking subsided. Somebody mentioned that Bournemouth away next season might be a nice trip to make a weekend of and while Norwich would be far from certain to bounce straight back from the Championship at the first time of asking we could at least expect more regular wins than Premier League life brings.
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Then came the reminder from another of our fellow travellers that we're not down yet and by Diss there was talk of sneaking a point against Liverpool, winning at Old Trafford and that we'd be ok on the last day of the season because Arsenal will be preparing for the cup final a week later.
In an hour and a half Norwich City had gone from relegation certainties to great escape merchants.
It's football's great cycle. Even after a defeat the hope that keeps us going soon returns, even if the Canaries are relying on Greavise's Law to stay up; the theory that 'It's a funny old game'.
I was feeling philosophical about our chances until I got into the lift to come home from the office on Monday morning. 'Going down' announced the lift lady in a tone that I didn't like the sound of. I have never seen her but I bet she's related to the voice on the London Underground.
It has been a surreal week for me.
Neil Adams, my former radio colleague, is now the Norwich City manager and, after following the FA Youth Cup win under his stewardship last season, I was taking the change in the dynamics of our working relationship in my stride.
It was the first blast of 'Neil Adams' green and yellow army' from the away end at Craven Cottage which made it all finally sink in.
In the 10 years of radio life we shared, I knew he harboured touchline ambitions and watching somebody get to where they have always wanted to be in life is always inspiring, whatever the circumstances.
I feel I know him well enough to say that he would only have taken on the challenge if he really believed he could keep Norwich up.
He didn't jump straight into management after retiring as a player; we're seeing the culmination of several years of hard work and cold Sunday mornings standing on the side of junior pitches, eagerly learning his craft.
The job is a lot harder after Saturday's results, but if anyone can do it, Neil can. He'll certainly have 26,000 people on his side on Easter Sunday and they'll all be needed in the quest to stop Luis Suarez. And Daniel Sturridge. Then there's Raheem Sterling. And possibly Philippe Coutinho.
Perhaps I didn't get to know Neil as well as I thought. I had him down as every inch the tracksuit manager.
It was a surprise to see him walking across the Craven Cottage pitch at the weekend all suited and booted.
He certainly never dressed like that for our commentaries and I am glad he didn't or he really would have shown up my Worzel Gummidge approach to fashion for what it is.