Chris Goreham: My constant fear when covering Norwich City
- Credit: Michael Sedgwick/Focus Images Lt
It’s never a good sign when your favourite football team starts reminding you of John Cleese.
There have been times when Norwich City’s defending of set pieces has been Pythonesque. In other years the Canaries have awoken the inner Basil Fawlty of their supporters’ personalities.
After a City defeat our own Canary Call phone-in can sound like the radio equivalent of a group of people thrashing their unreliable motors with a branch.
Not this season though. Norwich City have hit the top of The Championship with a ruthless efficiency. Daniel Farke’s well-oiled machine has been functioning without even the merest hint of slapstick. Until this week and the international break.
One of Cleese’s less celebrated roles was in the 1986 film Clockwise. I won’t spoil it just in case it’s not yet made it to your watchlist even after a year of lockdowns. The premise is that John Cleese’s character has to travel to chair a Headmaster’s Conference at the fictional ‘University of Norwich’. The movie follows his frantic attempts to complete the journey in time.
Over the next few days many of Norwich City’s star players will be embarking on similar adventures if they are to play any part in the game against Preston on Good Friday.
The scheduling of the internationals and the EFL’s refusal to move City’s game to Saturday will mean that even getting to Norwich won’t be enough. Oliver Skipp, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell are three of the first team regulars who will have to plot a route directly to Deepdale.
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It is the sort of mission that City winger Onel Hernandez has already practiced. His long-awaited debut for Cuba finally happened last week. It should have been one of the highlights of his career but he didn’t actually arrive at the stadium until somewhere between the 40th and 44th minute of the match.
The fact Hernandez was ready to come on as a half-time substitute says a lot for him. Let’s hope the return journey is not delayed by any further volcanic ash clouds.
Following his Guatemalan odyssey from this distance was like tapping into a recurring nightmare. That feeling when you are driving somewhere, knowing you are going to be late. It’s one of the very worst.
My entire commentary career has been undermined by the nagging fear that one day I will miss the kick-off. It’s bound to happen at some point. The unpredictable nature of the British motorway network, the reliability of BBC pool cars and my own ability to navigate must all come together for each road trip. Thank goodness that my time behind the mic has dovetailed perfectly with the invention of the satnav.
There are two occasions when I’ve cut it fine. Midweek trips to Burnley and Blackpool became nerve-wracking for all the wrong reasons. Finally plugging in the broadcast equipment in that no-man’s land that is the 45 minutes between our build-up starting and the match kicking off is an experience I don’t want to repeat.
The fear of sounding even more flustered than is strictly necessary on air is a good motivator.
These days we tend to allow plenty of extra time for possible delays and can often arrive at games a good three hours before kick-off. My colleague Rob Butler and I can often be seen standing outside locked football grounds on a Saturday lunchtime. We look as keen as two lads hovering outside a toy shop on Boxing Day ready for the sales. The shiny pound coins that were sellotaped to the inside of a Christmas card from Auntie Gladys burning a hole in our pockets.
That rush, in every sense of the word, will return on Good Friday when we set out to cover the Canaries on the road once more. There is extra pressure to get to Deepdale on time for us and not just because we need to be in the commentary position ahead of kick-off.
It will look really bad if we don’t get there from Norwich but Onel Hernandez does make it from Cuba.
Time for heroes...
It could be that Norwich City’s line-up looks very different on Good Friday.
The depth of Daniel Farke’s squad is about to be tested but perhaps that shouldn’t be such a big concern. No team ever goes eight points clear at the top because they have just one or two good players.
Emi Buendia, Teemu Pukki and Oliver Skipp might have won most of the plaudits this season but some big moments have come courtesy of those who don’t play every week.
The 1-0 win over Swansea City back in November was a big result in the promotion race. The Swans played well at Carrow Road but couldn’t score. In the end Marco Stiepermann fired in what is his only goal of an injury-hit season so far. It was created by Bali Mumba who was just on the pitch for one of only two substitute appearances in the league.
City’s first two wins of the season, at Huddersfield and Rotherham United, were secured by two strikers who are not Teemu Pukki. Adam Idah came off the bench to score the only goal on the opening day while Jordan Hugill’s 95th minute penalty at Rotherham sparked a run of just one defeat in 15 games.
It was an early pivotal moment in the season. With just four points from the first four games the Canaries were already 1-0 down at The New York Stadium when Tim Krul saved a penalty. They battled back to win and have been in sparkling form pretty much ever since.
So who could be that unlikely hero over the next few weeks? The injury to Ben Gibson is a big blow but it does mean that Christoph Zimmermann is likely to return at centre back.
Zimbo became a crowd favourite at Carrow Road, back when he had crowds. He started 69 league games in his first two seasons with Norwich after following Farke over from Dortmund. The next two campaigns have brought just 29 league starts. He’s had his injury issues but the team has also evolved.
Remember when Simeon Jackson emerged from Grant Holt’s shadow to score the goals that clinched promotion in 2011? An opportunity to go down in Canary folklore awaits and that applies to the entire squad.