Newcastle lined up for testimonial

CHRIS WISE Craig Fleming has assured supporters that his testimonial match against Newcastle United next month will be a competitive game of football - and not the light-hearted kick-about that you sometimes see at such occasions.


Craig Fleming has assured supporters that his testimonial match against Newcastle United next month will be a competitive game of football - and not the light-hearted kick-about that you sometimes see at such occasions.

While the game on the evening of Wednesday, July 26 has been arranged to mark the beginning of Fleming's 10th season with the Canaries it will also form an important part of both sides' pre-season preparations and, as such, both managers are sure to be treating the fixture with the respect it deserves.

That suits the experienced defender down to the ground and he is hoping the fans will see it the same way as his side go looking for a morale-boosting success just 11 days before the start of the new Coca-Cola Championship campaign.

"The difference between this one and a lot of testimonials is that it's a pre-season friendly, a serious game," said Fleming, who has made 370 appearances and scored 12 goals for Norwich since his £600,000 move from Oldham during the summer of 1997.

"It won't be one of those games where we are given a late penalty and I get to take it, or the manager puts me out on the left wing to give everyone a laugh!

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"Players on both sides will be taking it seriously and it will be a proper game, make no mistake about that.

"It will be an important part of our preparations and we will be looking to play well and win the game. It will be the same with Newcastle, I'm sure. That's good news for the clubs - and I think it's good news for the fans as well.

"We had two routes we could have gone down - the low-cost old pros against the current side or a full-on game against a top team. Right from the word go I fancied a full-on game - and, thanks to a lot of hard work from my testimonial committee, that is what I have got."

Part of the deal is that Toon boss Glenn Roeder will be bringing a full-strength side down to Carrrow Road, so, injuries permitting, the Canaries will be up against a star-studded cast topped by England striker Michael Owen, with the likes of Shay Given, Scott Parker, Nolberto Solano and Emre playing key supporting roles.

There's also an interesting side plot, with former Ipswich Town players Titus Bramble and Kieron Dyer poised for a return to these parts - and a warm welcome from their fellow East Anglians!

"I am delighted that Newcastle United are coming," added Fleming. "I can't wait for it, to be fair. Newcastle are a big club.

"They will bring a lot of fans with them - and a lot of top quality players as well.

"There will be Michael Owen of course and hopefully by then they will have found someone to replace Alan Shearer and he'll play too."

City manager Nigel Worthington was fulsome in his praise for Norwich's longest serving player as he looked ahead to the big match.

"These sort of games are special occasions because they are becoming few and far between," he said. "There aren't too many players who spend this long at one club any more. I think it says a lot about how happy Craig has been at the club, how well he has settled in the area - and how much the club appreciates him. It's a two-way thing.

"Craig epitomises everything that a good professional is. He gets on with his job quietly and effectively. He is good on the football pitch, good in the dressing room and he is a great ambassador for the football club. From a manager's point of view I canspeak highly enough of what he gives you overall."

Worthington made it clear that the match fitted in perfectly with his side's pre-season preparations. By the time the Toon arrive at Carrow Road the Canaries will have already warmed up with games against Ridgeons League outfit Fakenham, Cambridge United from the Conference and Scottish pair Livingston and Falkirk, while the club have also arranged a home game against League One side Northampton the following Saturday - July 29.

Worthington feels those six fixtures will leave his side well prepared for the opening league game on August 5.

"We wanted to secure a varied pre-season programme of friendlies that provided competitive games against British teams," he said.

"The Newcastle game is a super game for Norwich as part of our build-up and I am really delighted for Craig that he will have first class opposition for his testimonial.

"Hopefully Carrow Road will be packed and the night will be a positive one for Craig as well as us as we shape for the league season.

"After that we have got Northampton who are a good side who have just won promotion so I'm sure they'll give us tough battle and this will be another important game as we prepare for the rough and tumble of league football."

Newcastle will have a little point to prove when they take on the Canaries. During the 2004-5 Premiership campaign they suffered a painful 2-1 defeat at Carrow Road, with Dean Ashton popping up with a injury-time winner, while they also failed to beat City at St James' Park, with David Bentley and Gary Doherty on target as the visitors fought back from 2-0 down to grab a dramatic draw.

Recently-installed managed Roeder wasn't in charge then, so revenge won't be on his mind, but he will still be anxious to return back to the North East with a win under his belt.

"It's very nice to be invited down to Carrow Road to play in Craig Fleming's testimonial," he said.

"He has been a wonderful servant to the club for many years and we all hope he enjoys a night to remember.

"It's also an important game for us as we use pre-season to get ready for the new campaign."