You’ll Never Walk Alone

As a Norwich City fan the past two seasons have seemed to have sped by, leaving me almost pedestrianised as I come to terms with which division my team will be plying their trade in next season. I have finally come to terms with the fact that this season did in fact happen, after realising that Sky Sports have prepped their page for next season; with Norwich now competing in the Premier League . I have spent the majority of the past 18 months out of the country, and so my fandom has been forced to be channelled into watching a nerve-wracking live feed, or streaming sometimes patchy Scandinavian coverage to get my fix. I am however thankful that I managed to stay in the loop, and watched the exciting conclusion to the season that surprised us all. I am going to give my account of some of the most interesting parts of the season from the perspective of a Canary in Carolina.

After attending the opening matches of the past two seasons with me, I have come to believe that my American girlfriend is both a bad and good luck omen. She has overseen two defeats, yet both of the campaigns have ended in glory, and her confusion that the side who played so strewn of confidence could do well. Perhaps the most harrowing experience for me, was trying to explain to her after the 7-1 defeat to Colchester, that “they don’t normally play like this”. At the beginning of last season however, I looked forward to a year of consolidation and a possible play off push, but nothing that would involve automatic promotion come May. Paul Lambert had shaken the team awake following a sleepy start and after winning  League One at a canter,  the club was on the up.

After returning to America in August, I managed to catch Swansea’s visit to Carrow Road, and I witnessed a strange occurrence; Norwich had luck on their side! Swansea won a penalty at almost the match’s conclusion, but miraculously it was saved, and four minutes later Ashley Williams inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net, and then Simeon Jackson opened his Canary account with almost the last kick of the game, volleying home from an excellent Grant Holt cross. Norwich had been under the cosh for the majority of the game, yet managed to emerge victorious.  It was the start of the late goal phenomenon: Norwich City were at last playing until the final whistle, a trait that I have rarely seen during my time as a fan. This result gave confirmation that Norwich could compete against the better sides in the Championship, and from my football isolation zone, I could assume three league games in that the season would not be an uphill struggle.

My Saturday mornings consisted of a quick glance over the choice of internet streams, and if unwatchable, it would be on to the BBC live feed for a nerve wracking read. There is nothing quite like sitting in front of a computer screen, watching mere text document some of the most important 90 minutes of your day, especially when it does not update for minutes at a time. Perhaps the worst instance of a reliance upon the dreaded live feed was in the Ipswich game at Portman Road. For some strange reason the game wasn’t televised, anywhere other than at Carrow Road, and because I was on the move a lot that day it was a case of infrequent checks in the first half, and then waiting until much later to see the full time result. Having difficulties with coverage and waiting to discover the result however can have a silver lining, as the surprise that awaits can be a greatly enjoyable one. I had luckily returned to England for the first East Anglian derby match, and after that easy victory, I was expecting this encounter to be much closer, so much to my surprise the largest ever Norwich win in this fixture greeted my eyes.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a fan abroad is the distinct lack of atmosphere, and the sense of once the game is over it’s back to your other life. There were two incidents when this was noticeable for me, watching Nottingham Forest’s visit to Carrow Road, and Norwich’s promotion clinching trip to Portsmouth. As the games came thick and fast throughout April, I lost track of when to tune in, and had pre-arranged to visit my girlfriend’s family that day. To reverse my folly, we stopped en route, and I snuck into a Barnes & Noble to take advantage of their free wi-fi, and armchair comforts. I was forced to silently shake my head as perhaps the worst case scenario happened: three minutes in, John Ruddy chased a long Forest punt down, and attempted to return the clearance, but it instead cannoned off of the closest redshirt, Nathan Tyson, and ricocheted into the unguarded net. It did not take the home side long however to get back onto level terms and then to claim a well deserved winner just before half-time. As my girlfriend checked on me in the second half, I was far removed from the external world, completely immersed in the events of a match some 4,000 miles away. As Forest camped in the Norwich half for the final 5 minutes, I was visibly on edge, and would have appeared out of place in such a serene atmosphere; this was not the actions of a man listening to Mozart! As the prone Paul Konchesky was given his marching orders, and the final whistle was blown, I quickly emerged back into a slow moving bookshop in North Carolina in an elated mood, and we were able to continue on to our prior engagement. It was perhaps the most  juxtaposed 90 minutes of my life, as I sat on the edge of my seat silently urging my team on; kicking every ball; and making every header, whilst mundane American consumer life went on interrupted around me.

When Norwich kicked off against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on May 2nd, they were in poll position in the automatic promotion race, Cardiff had shot themselves in the foot, following a 3-0 defeat to lowly Middlesborough, and it was up to Norwich to finish the job themselves. It was simple, if they were victorious they would earn promotion with a game to spare, it was in their own hands. I watched the game in my girlfriend’s student apartment, with our newly acquired  dog, and as far as I could tell was the only person in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that knew of the game’s existence, and that cared for the result. Our hound was confused as his new master gasped and shouted at profligate finishing, and brayed for retribution as yet another heavy challenge came in. Portsmouth’s tactics were to frustrate and to keep Norwich at bay, giving them very little in an attacking third. They were lucky to be level at half time, but I was apprehensive that they could keep it up for the remaining half, and that the promotion party would have to wait until the final game of the season. Then Simeon Jackson popped up to break the deadlock with a well timed diving header, and suddenly the dream was a reality, I celebrated as I too was there on the south coast, and our dog got even more confused. There were chances at either end, but thankfully no heart in mouth moments, and Norwich had done it. I couldn’t believe it. I was sitting nursing a cup of Earl Grey, and brimming with elation, letting it all sink in. Norwich City were the first team in over a decade to be promoted from the third tier of English football to the top in consecutive seasons. Whilst my Facebook newsfeed blew up with triumphant statuses, and glorious screenshots of the Championship table, I went out onto the UNC campus to meet my girlfriend, encountering nothing but oblivious faces along the way, as I basked in my team’s achievement.

The periods of time spent abroad, have taught me that despite being isolated from fellow Norwich supporters geographically, I was still able to be part of the promotion party, and to watch the excitement unfurl. Football is now easily accessible across the internet, and as streamed games become more plentiful, the ability to (no matter what your location) enjoy the action and to zone in is thankfully easy. Sure I might not be able to say that I was at Fratton Park on the day Norwich City were promoted, but I can happily admit that I watched the game in North Carolina, and then returned to the glorious American sun, with a semi-permanent euphoric smile etched upon my face. The world has become a smaller place, one which it is very difficult to fall out of the football loop.

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