Norwich City in the fifth round of the FA Cup, now that’s magic

The FA Cup is alive and well. There is a common perception that the famous old competition isn't what it once was and with Champions League and Premier League riches to play for the poor old FA Cup has gone a bit Paul Daniels.

The whole country used to marvel at its magic in the 1980's but time has moved on and those massive television audiences are a thing of the past. Ask many top flight managers whether they still like the cup and they'll even quote the great man: 'Not a lot.'

Fourth round weekend though has put the abracadabra back in my FA Cup magic wand. It had everything you need for a rip roaring cup weekend, upsets, cracking televised games, unlikely heroes and most importantly of all a Norwich City win. There is no point pretending. My romance with the FA Cup has mainly been reinvigorated by the fact that Norwich City are, for once, still in it.

I'm not alone. Seeing three and half thousand Canaries fans making the trip to The Hawthorns was enough to prove that City supporters are a hardy, loyal bunch and, like the lovely Debbie McGee, quite prepared to hang around year after year just in case those spells start working again.

There was also a sizeable crowd in the West Brom press room around the television to watch the lunchtime game between Liverpool and Manchester United. This may not sound like a big surprise but football reporters tend to be a fairly weary bunch and I often find myself in the minority when it comes to being generally interested in a game on the telly whilst trying to block out the grumbling in the background about roadworks, the quality of the food and the number of times people have been sent to Selhurst Park this season. Saturday was different though.


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The thought of two of the country's biggest clubs clashing in the cup seemed to have blown away the cynical cobwebs and some seasoned hacks were even turning their chairs away from their laptops to face the big screen in the corner. Thankfully I remembered where I was just as the ITV coverage started and took heed of rule number one when you're at The Hawthorns. Don't say anything bad about Adrian Chiles.

What the One Show presenter turned ITV sport anchor didn't know then was that Norwich City would spoil his weekend for the second time in the space of a fortnight. That's if the thought of spending two days in a box with pundits Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate hadn't done so already.

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The performance of young goalkeeper Jed Steer on Saturday has rightly been highlighted and after a couple of brilliant saves in the first half it was clear that the 19-year old was on the verge of becoming a big FA Cup story. It's at times likes this, when a relative unknown plays well, that a BBC Radio Norfolk branded coat has magnetic properties.

I spent half-time fending off questions from reporters working for national radio stations and newspapers about who that young lad in goal was. You know things are going well for Norwich when veterans like BBC Radio Five Live's Pat Murphy are flagging you down in the tea queue and asking 'How tall is Jed Steer?' and 'I see he grew up in Reepham, how far is that from Norwich?'

Saturday's victory was also notable for a fine example of the commentator's curse on behalf of myself and the former Norwich striker Mark Robins who joined us on BBC Radio Norfolk for the game. We were confidentially telling our listeners that a draw was looking the most likely result when we had to break off mid sentence to describe Simeon Jackson's winner. It's amazing how quickly it is possible to talk something up in a game. I'd love to tell how the commentator's curse works and why it can only be used in certain circumstances but that is one rabbit which can't be let out of the hat. If Paul Daniels let everyone know how he did all his tricks then he wouldn't still be just as big as the FA Cup.

There is so much distance between professional footballers and fans now that on the odd occasion players get spotted in 'real life' it causes genuine excitement.

This was underlined on Saturday evening by a little flurry of stories surrounding footballers using public transport. On the way back from Norwich's win at West Brom I heard BBC Five Live's 606 phone-in take a welcome break from the usual procession of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United fans complaining about their relative 'crises' to interview Charlton's Johnnie Jackson.

Word had got round that the Charlton skipper was buying drinks for supporters on a train back to London from Exeter after his side's 1-0 victory in League One.

There was a time, as fans of a certain age will tell you in full misty eyed nostalgic fashion, that players did used to get a service bus to home games and whole squads would travel back from long away trips on the same train as the fans.

This doesn't happen so much now.

You can understand why. The idea of sharing a buffet car with a load of people who have just spent a whole day of their lives and goodness knows how much money watching you lose 4-0 would not sit well with many players. Perhaps it's a tool that managers of struggling teams might like to use for a bit of extra motivation.

Saturday was a good day for train spotters who have got a special section in their little book for footballers called Jackson.

Charlton's Johnnie wasn't alone, one or two gushing tweeters claimed to have spotted Norwich's Simeon Jackson standing on the platform at Birmingham New Street roughly an hour after scoring his winning goal.

The advent of Twitter has turned seeing football players, and famous people in general, in the street into a kind of legitimate modern day sport.

We shouldn't be surprised that footballers go shopping, fill their cars up with petrol or use public transport from time to time like the rest of us and I'd like to claim that when I see a player out in public on a non-match day it is something I am able to take it in my stride, shrug the shoulders and not feel the need to share with all and sundry.

I would claim that but I wouldn't get away with it because too many people have heard my stories about the time I queued behind Peter Crouch to pay for petrol at South Mimms services and when Wes Hoolahan was in front of me at a supermarket checkout.

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