Chris Goreham: Are Canaries living in the new normal?

The traveling Norwich fans during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London

City's fans travelled in their numbers to North London at the weekend. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Can anyone remember whether we are now living in the new normal or the old one? I’ve lost track. 

Saturday’s trip to Arsenal saw the differing worlds of pre and post pandemic collide in one city. 

Any trip to London is always a big deal for us Norfolk boys and girls. We’re easy to spot. Any attempt to blend in with the metropolitans tends to fail within two tube stops of Liverpool Street station.  

If you hear someone mutter words to the effect of “Cor blarst! I couldn’t do this every day” you know the train from Norwich has recently arrived. It’s either that or “Int that busy? That must be market day.” 

Trips to the capital are exciting and tense in equal measure. You can’t just pop up the city like we do here. Every mile of the journey must be meticulously planned in advance. I’ve heard myths of Norwich fans going to White Hart Lane during the 1959 Cup run and getting so badly lost they never made it home. 

The Premier League released some guidelines to the media at the start of this season.  

One of its ambitions is that no future Covid outbreak can be traced to a Premier League match. It means the pitches are now part of what’s called, rather imposingly, ‘The Red Zone’.  

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Players and officials are now strictly the only ones allowed to enter the playing surface. It’s why clubs are having to think of half-time entertainment that doesn’t involve giant zorbs, sumo wrestling outfits or penalty shoot-outs against the mascot.  

In radio terms our post-match interviews have to be socially distanced. To fulfil these requirements I’ve had to add a long pole to our broadcast kit. The microphone goes on the end and I can stretch it in the direction of Daniel Farke without getting too close. It must look like a substandard Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer tribute act. 

There was no chance of styling it out on the London Underground at the weekend. Carrying a long stick with a hook on the end into a carriage packed with people in bright yellow replica shirts. The Norfolk train was definitely in. Locals must have assumed I had brought some sort of farming implement with me. 

While the Premier League cautiously feels its way back towards some kind of normality, Transport For London has taken a more care free approach.  

As Rob Butler and I collected our travel cards on Saturday morning and, being true Norfolk boys, grumbled to each other about how many returns to Castle Meadow we could get for that price an announcement was made. “Due to a lack of staff in the control room we are running fewer trains on the central line today.” They didn’t explicitly say that the staff shortages were because of Covid cases but one tends to assume so these days. 

Fewer trains but the same number of passengers you’d expect on a busy London Saturday. Market day or not, all the tourist attractions, shops, shows and sporting events are back up and running. 

Anyone longing for a return to the way things were before March 2020 would have enjoyed this away trip. We were crammed on to the carriages like the proverbial sardines in a tin. It was hot, uncomfortable and only about half of the passengers had masks on. If the Covid virus was Manchester City’s attack from the second game of the season then I felt like Norwich City’s left-hand side. 

The football also had a retro feel about it. Before the first lockdown we often talked about encouraging signs in Norwich City’s Premier League performances despite them being bottom of the table. We regularly rued a missed chance, a tight VAR call and a narrow defeat to illustrious opponents. The Gunners appear to have reset even further. The old George Graham era standard of “1-0 to The Arsenal” was the chant of choice as we headed back for the return journey on the tube. 

I thought the new normal was going to be different. It seems even a global pandemic has failed to make the Premier League any easier or helped Rob and I to lose that wide-eyed country boy look on the underground.  

At least we don’t have to do it every day. 

The next big thing(s) 

Emma Raducanu’s brilliant US Open triumph captured one of the joys of following sport. That feeling that you have just discovered the next big thing. 

It’s been a good couple of weeks for our future stars. King’s Lynn’s George Russell has enhanced his burgeoning reputation by being confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s team mate for next season. 

If anyone knows a thing or two about when to shine the spotlight on promising youngsters it’s Daniel Farke. If his four years at Norwich City have taught us anything it is that when he says a 19-year old is ready for first team football then he definitely is. 

Perhaps Andrew Omobamidele’s Premier League debut shouldn’t have come as such a surprise at the weekend. It was a composed display in the centre of a City defence that was often tested. 

During the international break his performances for Ireland had received praise on social media from one of the country’s true football heroes. When Paul McGrath endorses an Irish defender it’s like Eric Clapton saying you’re handy with a guitar, James Anderson praising your bowling skills or Piers Morgan accusing you of being provocative on Twitter. 

Omobamidele came into the Norwich team for the final eight Championship matches of last season. Promotion was far from guaranteed at that point and City had just lost Ben Gibson and Christoph Zimmermann to injury. Within two games the fact Norwich had an 18-year old centre back starting at such a crucial time of the season wasn’t even a talking point anymore. 

His 11 first team appearances have already included a 6-0 win, a 7-0 win, a chance to celebrate promotion and the clinching of a title. He’s also given a brilliant account of himself away at Arsenal in a losing cause. 

If he’s good enough for Daniel Farke and Paul McGrath we had better make sure we appreciate him. 

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