It’s always a winnable game when you make your own rules

Sticking an international break into the calendar right in the heat of the season was a cruel to blow to Norwich City fans. Many have been complaining about missing out on their weekly fix of Premier League action and had to find other things to do with their Saturday afternoon.

Some lost souls in yellow and green scarves were spotted wandering wide-eyed into the unknown past-times of Christmas shopping, taking on long delayed DIY projects and, in some extreme cases, watching the rugby.

But not everyone saw a blank weekend as a reason to carp. Some will have taken it as a challenge. It is those fans, able to look a Canary-free weekend in the eye and create their own fun, who I want to applaud.

We took a series of calls on BBC Radio Norfolk last week from Norwich fans keen to prove that, despite what the accountants at Premier League HQ would like you to think, it is possible to re-create all the thrills and spills of a full-blown top-flight weekend without leaving your living room.

A chap called Tony phoned to talk us through the dice football devised by him and a mate while they were growing up.


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They'd start proceedings with a draw and then gradually play out full knockout competitions, round by round, with one of them rolling a dice for the home team and the other for the away side.

Sound a bit pointless? Far from it. A cardboard FA Cup, covered with tinfoil, would eventually be presented to the winning team in a pretend ceremony.

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Two things immediately appealed to me about this form of football. Firstly, using a traditional six-sided dice presumably means that no team ever scores nil, making some thrilling cup ties an inevitability and secondly the extra rule they came up with whereby any unfortunate roll which produced a Norwich City defeat would be officially recorded by the boys in their notebook as 'Match Postponed – waterlogged pitch' so in effect they just kept playing until the Canaries won.

Norwich City had a formidable record when I was growing up. My authentically-painted Subbuteo squad filled a trophy cabinet with so many FA Cups and European trophies even Alex Ferguson would have been in awe. At least until I explained to him that I had also been representing the opposition too.

Many a hapless team from this country and beyond would be brushed aside by the silky skills of my tiny Dale Gordon, who was distinct from his team-mates by being stuck to his base with a massive dollop of glue after a potentially career-ending injury caused by being knelt on while I retrieved AC Milan's latest wayward shot.

What could be more fun than a game of Subbuteo? Well, anything according to another of our callers.

Christine rang to tell a harrowing story of growing up with two brothers and how she was often bullied into flicking tiny plastic footballers across a piece of green carpet in what she called a 'silly little game'. I was beginning to feel a little sorry for Christine until she revealed that, once her parents had left the room, player after player from her side would be callously flicked onto the open fire. How could she?

I fear even my little Dale Gordon would not have recovered from being unceremoniously melted down mid-way through the second half of a crucial cup tie.

Somehow though, even with eight or nine men, I have a feeling that my Norwich City would have ended up defying the odds to win the trophy. Now where did I put that tinfoil?

Since starting this column four years ago I have had the privilege of covering everything from League One struggles to an £8m Dutch striker arriving at Carrow Road. But nothing has prompted as big a response as one of my subjects from a fortnight ago. In fact I have had enough messages to justify calling the issue 'Houghton-gate'.

It seems I am not the only one annoyed by the fact that Chris Hughton's surname still causes trouble for many, 17 months after he took on the job of Norwich City manager. The extra 'O' that often gets added when he is being written or even talked about is difficult to fathom given that he isn't exactly an unknown, having had a glittering playing career for Tottenham and at international level during Republic of Ireland's most successful period ever.

Since writing about this two week ago I have been sent links to articles in both the Daily Star and Daily Express, printed before the win over West Ham, which are all about 'Chris Houghton' being under pressure.

Even his greatest allies seem to fall into the trap. Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand Tweeted in the wake of the 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Man City, 'I really hope Chris Houghton stays in the job, he has done very well on a tight budget at a well run club. Winnable games coming up too.'

At least on Saturday Chris Hughton will be leading Norwich City to a place where everyone knows his name. His successful spell as Newcastle United manager means he remains on a par with Gazza or Jimmy Nail in the Geordie heartland. Last year we had to wait ages to interview the City boss after the Canaries defeat at St James' Park because so many people, players and staff, wanted to talk to him.

I hope Rio is proved right in it being a 'winnable' game too.

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