Super sub steps in as curse of Craven Cottage hits commentary box

Michael Bailey, Chris Goreham. Craven Cottage, October 2014. Photo: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Michael Bailey, Chris Goreham. Craven Cottage, October 2014. Photo: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Archant

The opening notes of 'Substitute' by The Who woke me up on matchday morning.

The radio alarm clock usually gets a frosty reception when it annoyingly grinds into action no matter how good the musical taste of the early morning DJ happens to be. But this was different because it had to mean something. It was the day that Norwich City were playing Fulham away, a day when even those of us who hold no truck with superstitions start to believe in cosmic powers.

That is what the so-called 'Curse of Craven Cottage' can do to you. Having watched several different brands of Canary carnage unfold at that ground over the years I found myself laying very still trying to read between the lines and work out whether this radio riddle was a good or bad omen. What was Pete Townshend trying to tell me when he wrote this song in 1966? The fact this, of all days, should start with it could not be a coincidence. Could it be that Norwich City's long-awaited match winner would come off the bench? I hoped so. Then my mood darkened. Maybe another defeat was about to befall my favourite team with a cruel late winner from a Fulham sub as Norwich found yet another new way to lose at Craven Cottage.

The one thing I hadn't considered was that within a few hours I would be the one desperately searching for a substitute of my own. The train journey from Norwich to London started normally enough. The passengers could be divided into two distinct groups. Norwich City supporters on their way to Fulham and Norfolk teachers travelling to take part in the big public services rally which was in Westminster. The two parties barely mixed, there was a sense of 'Oh, we hadn't realised that lot were going to be on here' from both sides, although no-one dared vocalise it.

It was around Stowmarket that things turned sour, for me at least. A text arrived from the former Norwich City striker Drewe Broughton, who was due to be my co-commentator on BBC Radio Norfolk for the match. He was ill and could no longer make the game. I'll spare you the details but let's just say there was enough information in his message to suggest he shouldn't be away from his bathroom, never mind his house.


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It was a matter of hours before we were due on air. It was too late to find anyone who wouldn't have been going to the game anyway and not easy to organise given the flakiness of the phone network on that line. I didn't want to be that annoying man in the carriage bellowing into my mobile, especially not in front of all those teachers. They may have kept me behind at Liverpool Street for disrupting the rest of the passengers, pointing out that 'it's not my time you're wasting'.

Thankfully Michael Bailey of this very newspaper agreed to supply some insightful remarks at regular intervals during the game, and a fine job he did too, while juggling his Pink Un website and Mustard TV duties to underline his credentials as Norfolk's Mr Multi-Media. Thanks were also due to sports writer and City fan Daniel Brigham who vacated his seat amongst 4,000 hardy colleagues in the away end at full-time to help us out with our 'Canary Call' phone-in.

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As for the game itself, Norwich lost, missed a penalty and saw Wes Hoolahan, pictured, carried off with what looked like a nasty injury. It was Craven Cottage after all and it's cursed.

But perhaps you can look too deeply into these things. 'Substitute' happens to be track 6 on The Who's 'Live at Leeds' album. Who do Norwich play tonight? That's right, Leeds. Maybe that means something too. I can't work it out but then I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.

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