Chris Goreham: My FA Cup fairy-tale ending for City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A routine 2-0 win over Coventry City doesn’t immediately suggest FA Cup magic. Sometimes you have to look a lot closer to fully appreciate it.
It’s a bit like those ‘Magic Eye’ pictures that were all the rage in the 1990s. The idea was that by staring at a load of colourful wavy lines for long enough you would eventually convince your brain to decipher a picture. It never worked for me. I have been with people who claimed to be able spot a flock of geese, a countryside vista or a glorious stag but could never be absolutely certain they weren’t just making it up.
At Carrow Road on Saturday I did manage to see Daniel Barden. The 20-year-old goalkeeper played a big part in Norwich City’s first home FA Cup success since he was finishing primary school.
His previous experience in the cup came in the shape of a 2-1 defeat to Histon when he was on loan at non-league Bury Town in August 2019. Not many players can have lost an extra preliminary round tie and then jumped straight in at the third round stage the following season. Fewer still will be able to say there was actually a bigger crowd at the first of those two games. Perhaps that made Barden’s appearance on Saturday unique.
It was a fairy tale in a very real sense. That term is often used to describe FA Cup upsets but only by people who haven’t actually read any of them for a number of years. There is an awful lot of dark material in those stories before the inevitable happy ending.
I’m not suggesting that Tim Krul took a bite from a poisoned apple or accidentally answered the door to the big bad wolf but Barden’s opportunity arose through the misfortune of others.
It wasn’t so much Barden’s previous FA Cup tie that was on my mind on Saturday, although I’m sure it was a proud day for Histon. The fact that Krul was isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 underlined how difficult the last ten months have been.
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The last time many Norwich City supporters saw their team play in the flesh was that famous penalty shoot-out win over Spurs last year. Around 9,000 City fans made the trip to the capital. Josip Drmic was still considered a Canary cult hero back then after his equaliser to take the tie into extra time. It was 19 days before Boris Johnson declared the original lockdown.
The Canaries returned to the cup on Saturday with the infection rates almost as high as they ever have been in Norfolk. The only surprise was that it had taken this long for the Norwich City squad to report a confirmed case. It was always going to happen eventually.
A surprisingly large number of supporters are keen for football to continue for as long as possible because of the welcome escapism it offers. Others agree with the assessment offered by Steve Bruce last week that it is morally questionable for the sport to carry on in the current climate.
At its best the FA Cup can create memories that will last a lifetime. Barden’s first start at Carrow Road and maiden clean sheet in the senior game should live with him forever.
How much better would it have felt with a crowd cheering his every save? One day he will hopefully get to find out.
The long-awaited vaccine roll-out offers a glimmer of hope that supporters might be allowed back into grounds before this season ends. It’s by no means guaranteed at this stage and it still feels a long way off.
What if Norwich City can stay in the cup long enough for 9,000 fans to be able to watch them again? What if they win a big game on penalties with either Krul or Barden playing a starring role?
Now that would be a fairy tale.
How many apps?
Norwich City hero Kevin Keelan celebrated his 80th birthday last week.
He holds the record for most appearances for the Canaries. As if to underline that most things in football can cause an argument, I recently discovered there is some debate as to how many games he actually played.
Officially Keelan played in goal for City 673 times. Some supporters will passionately claim that he should have at least one more. The discrepancy centres around the abandoned League Cup tie against Chelsea in the 1972/73 season. He did play in that game but because it wasn’t completed it doesn’t count.
In the world of football statistics this is a grey area. Goals that are scored in abandoned matches don’t count on official records either. However, I’m told that players can be suspended if they get sent off in a match that goes on to be abandoned. Essentially this means you can get a red card in a game that you didn’t ‘officially’ play in.
Given that Keelan wasn’t short on controversy and confrontation in his colourful Canaries career that Chelsea game should count. Then, according to the excellent Flown From The Nest website, he also played seven times in the Anglo-Scottish Cup.
This is a tournament I have only recently become aware of. It had been called The Texaco Cup and, as the name suggests, saw teams from north and south of the border compete.
Norwich City got to the semi-finals in 1973, knocking out both St Johnstone and Motherwell on the way. The two-legged ties appear to have been played in midweek, home and away, during the league season.
People say there’s too much football now but I guess we’ll never find out whether Daniel Farke’s team could have done it on a Wednesday night in October at St Johnstone. That’s a trip I am sure he would relish in the midst of an injury crisis.
City’s brave Texaco Cup run was ended in the semis that year by Burnley who would go on to lose to Newcastle in the final. So by the end it was very much the Anglo-Anglo Cup.
That’s why some believe Kevin Keelan should have 681 appearances on his Norwich City record.