Norwich City should celebrate their win over one of Europe’s giants
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The Champions League returns this week but Norwich City have stolen a march on Manchester City, Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal.
The Canaries can already boast a vital win against one of the best teams from a top European football nation. Face facts England fans, that's what Wales are now after their marvellous showing at Euro 2016. The payback for those who have now suffered 50 years of hurt in the forlorn hope that football might one day come home is that we can now write up beating Cardiff City at home as a significant triumph. It might be the closest we'll get to Norwich City being in Europe for a few years.
It was impossible not to admire that Welsh team in the summer. The way they embraced and took on the challenge of a first major tournament appearance since 1958 encapsulated what fans want to see from their own teams, not just at international level but right the way down the football food chain. They celebrated goals with gusto, put bodies on the line in the name of defence and played with a spirit that caught the imagination even of those whose only previous experience of being interested in dragons was when spotting the sculptures that were placed on the streets of Norwich by the Break charity last year.
This is going to sound like some brassy bandwagon jumping but I have always had a soft spot for Welsh football, even when Gareth Bale was still inside his egg in the mummy dragon's nest. Perhaps it was the reassuring sound of Ivor The Engine gently chuffing across the TV screen when I was little and impressionable or that, like Norfolk, Wales finds itself sticking out of one side of England so that we keep enough distance from the bustling centres to preserve our own identity.
The most likely explanation for my weakness towards the Welsh is rooted in Norwich City. There's a picture of an eight-year old me at a Soccer School in 1990 beaming while standing in between Mark Bowen and David Phillips at the Trowse training ground.
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They were regulars in the Wales national team for years at a time when having any international players still felt rather exotic. Jeremy Goss soon joined them and the tradition of usually having a Norwich player in the Welsh side continued through Iwan Roberts, Craig Bellamy, Rob Earnshaw, inset, Andrew Crofts and others.
In fact this must be one of the few periods in Norwich City's recent history that they do not have a Welshman as a regular member of the side.
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It was a love affair briefly threatened when Cardiff's Millennium Stadium provided the backdrop for one of the most heartbreaking days in Canaries history. That play-off penalty shoot-out defeat by Birmingham in 2002 was replayed on the big screen at St Andrews a fortnight ago before Norwich's 3-0 defeat against the same opponents, which put the travelling Norwich fans in a suitable mood ahead of what was to follow.
I wonder whether those in charge of Carrow Road's new big screen will have something as upsetting to show by way of retaliation when Birmingham and their fans arrive for the return fixture in January? Perhaps we could have a mass booing of a picture of Jasper Carrot or something.
That match comes just a week before Norwich go to Cardiff to play them again in The Championship. If Saturday's game is anything to go by then Norwich should have enough about them to clinch a double over their Welsh opponents. That's if those two scruffy Anthony Pilkington goals from the weekend don't come back to haunt us. Away goals can be very useful in these big European fixtures.