This hasn't been a season that will be fondly recalled in years to come, however that doesn't stop us all from believing it will happen again. Nick Hayhoe believes, because Nick Hayhoe remembers.
From kick off we’re chasing and chasing. Everyone’s behind the ball immediately and we’re all focused. Focused, focused, focused. Touches and throw ins are roared with a delight as we know we’re not really entitled to them. Not now. Not with who we’re playing.
A big club is in the Fine City. A rich club with a mega stadium and a posh airline as their shirt sponsor, or perhaps a grand old mainstay, who have had a trophy or a cup a season as far back as the Rothman’s records began. But we’re equals today. We’re not going to roll over. We’re going to be fighting and fighting. Not just for ourselves, but for all clubs like ours. We’ve been pushed around TV schedules by them, stripped of our best players by them, mocked and patronised by them. But now it is our turn. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd, and rouse him at the name of Norwich City.
The game takes on an ethereal and hellish quality at the same time. Tackles from our men fly in with bravery and fearlessness. Clearances are hoofed high and long with cheers as the ball’s silhouette crosses the lux of floodlights on its way onto Koblenz Avenue. The football fan’s classic stomach lurch of panic, when a winger runs clear and a cross is swiped into our penalty area, becomes frequent and sickening. The Barclay is at a frenzy. Mocking the away support with chants referring to their short trips home and singing the name of every player that touches the ball. There’s a barrage of shots, long balls, slices through the defence, set pieces and woodwork pingers. On TV possession stats are shown. 80%. Only a matter of time now for them….surely?
And yet we hold firm and we hold true. “Norwich are growing into the game” they say on the radio. We string a few passes together. The odd cross here, the blocked through ball there.
It may be a clearance that has found a yellow shirt suddenly breaking away, or a rare free kick floated in from the wing or even, perhaps, just a sublime piece of skill - a crossfield ball delivered with military precision or a long range shot cracked like a gunshot. The net ripples and there’s an intake of breath as everyone, through a force of habit, checks the assistant's flag. Yes. It has stayed down.
We’ve scored. We’ve only gone and bloody scored.
It’s pandamonium. A din, clamour, madhouse, uproar and a brouhaha. Throw the thesaurus in the bin because none of those will describe it. It’s a feeling higher than mere words and sentences. Once the chaos dies down, we will know that there’s still a long way to go, but in these glorious next five minutes, we few, we band of brothers and sisters, stand as one, telling all who wants, and doesn’t want to hear that: we’re Norwich City, we win or die, we never mind the danger and, hurrah! We’ve scored a goal! CITY! CITY! CITY!
As the game goes on, time stands stiller and stiller. The stadium clock appears to be running backwards. Substitutes are made and Plan Bs and Cs are worked through. Desperation is thrown at us. But, usually in these situations, quite brilliantly, there’s a misplaced pass from a footballer paid £200,000 a week to do that most simple of basic things. It runs out of play and is howled at with a kind of laughter normally only reserved for the top billing at the Hammersmith Apollo, dispelling the tension to remind us all for that brief moment that it is only a game after all.
The 80s take as long as the decade. The 89th minute ticks, and a man in a black tracksuit holds up a board that allows them a few more minutes to try and score.
But we hold firm. Firm, firm, firm. A shot is snatched at, and drifts hopelessly wide. Goal kick Norwich. The ref puts his whistle to his lips and, as our keeper smashes the ball as high as he can possibly reach, the man in black raises his arm and peeps.
Time’s up and the place is going bananas. There’s a scream of delight and relief from the Barclay; and E block is already goading away fans who are sitting aghast with mouths like goldfish. Multi-million pound international footballers in red or blue fall to the ground crestfallen. Newly born legends in yellow circle the pitch, grinning and applauding, hugging each other - not knowing quite what they have done. Our manager waves triumphantly around the ground like a general after a heroic battle, last week’s defeat entirely forgotten. Our throats are hoarse, our fingernails bitten to the bone and we’re delirious with a joy that can’t be described.
Written off by Paul Merson and Mark Lawrenson. The 14/1 shots. The no hopers and the journeymen. Men that we see in kebab shops on Prince of Wales Road or in Morrison’s Car Park and we know travel the A47 like us, have beaten a team of legendary World Champions or Champions League winners. The players who will me advertising next season’s Fifa or will be racing a tiger in a new NIke advert. Has that just fucking happened?
On TV and online, the blame game has already started for the losing team. The BBC live text wonders how it will damage their title chances. Gary Neville sweeps his arm across a giant touch screen, moving around little circles around on a pitch, scratching his head and wondering how on earth that could have occured. On Twitter, fingers are pointed: What was he thinking playing him on the wing? A better goalkeeper would have saved that. Why didn’t he bring him off the bench earlier? The online newspapers have already written their reports. None of them barely give Norwich a mention, instead focusing on how long their fans ‘will stand for this mediocrity’. And yet we don’t care. Watching and rewatching a bad recording of the goal someone has put on Twitter off of an illegal stream on the train ride home, we laugh at the unbelievability of it all. In this day and age of modern football, where money is king and something like this is supposed to be impossible, we actually went and did it.
You can’t wait for work on Monday, when you can wave your Norwich mug in front of that glory-hunting supporter in your office or factory. You can actually look forward to watching Match of the Day. Someone near you announces that Ipswich have lost 2-0 at Brentford or Millwall and they slip to 13th.
What a time to be alive.
It’s been a bad week. A bad couple of months. Well...a bad season. In these testing times - where, unless your team is funded by the backing equivalent to the GDP of a medium sized nation, success is rare, and because we all love our club so much we will inevitably squabble amongst ourselves as to how we think our club should be doing - it’s important to remember when we’ve never had it so good because, eventually, one of those glorious days will return once again. And it will be as good as it ever was.