Norwich City’s headline act is the perfect opening teaser for US Tour
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City will be the star attraction in Sacramento when they begin their pre-season plans against Mexican outfit Dorados de Sinaloa tomorrow – thanks to the vision of a man with strong East Anglian connections.
Sacramento Pro Soccer's technical director Graham Smith may be better known in the UK for his role in Colchester's famous FA Cup giant-killing win over Don Revie's Leeds United in 1971.
Smith went on to play for the likes of Cambridge United and West Brom before heading over to the USA to help spread the gospel - where he is now a key player in 'soccer's' bid to tap into the latent potential in an area of California where basketball and baseball hold sway.
The Canaries' match-up against the Mexicans will be the highlight of a day-long series of events which also include a Sacramento All-Stars' squad playing San Jose Earthquakes' second string before the main event.
'You can imagine if you put Norwich City and English Premier League together and say they are coming to your town just what the expectation is,' he said. 'Already the excitement has been first class. It has been very well-received. I believe it will be a great night and we are planning to put on a great night for Norwich. We are delighted they were prepared to come to us and we trust that this will be the forerunner to many similar events.
'Norwich is the first Premier League club to play in Sacramento. This is a unique market, we have the Kings, who are a basketball team in the NBA, and the River Cats baseball team, which is a triple A franchise – the best you can have in the USA. The Kings didn't win many games last season, but they had a tremendous following. They get 18,000, 19,000 in every night. We believe soccer is an under-served market in this town. There are 93,000 youth players in this town believe it or not.'
Smith's company, First Wave Sports Marketing, have enticed plenty of domestic exports to make the same journey as the Evertonian.
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'I love East Anglia, I know East Anglia well. My first son was born in Colchester and I have wonderful memories of my time there,' he said. 'That Leeds game in 1971 was probably one of the most unexpected upsets of all time.
'We were so pleased not just they came here, but that they retained their Premier League status. A couple of years ago my company entertained Swansea City, who are another great group of people. That is what football needs. We don't just want the Chelsea's and Manchester United's, we want Norwich and Swansea. People will say they are punching way, way above their weight and that for me is part of the romance of the game. Look at Norwich beating Manchester United or Swansea beating Liverpool. It is just wonderful.
'We have a blueprint here now. I ran a club called Ventura County Fusion, where I was the head coach for a number of years. We entertained many, many Premier League clubs down there from Everton, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Swansea and West Brom. That is what we intend to do here in this area.'