I should start off by shamefacedly admitting that I have not always been a Norwich fan, despite being born in the city and having parents who have lived in Thetford all my life. I have two of my London mates to thank for bringing me ‘home’ from the wilderness of those Crystal Palace days – living close to Selhurst Park as I once did, I misguidedly thought supporting the Cheese Rolls would bring me redemption. It didn’t – just a load of pies instead (Tomas Brolin had put on a lot of weight in those days!)
From June 16th 1999, I started supporting the team of my birthplace, following them as an unofficial Capital Canary. My first visit to Carrow Road was a while in coming, at the start of the Christmas holiday in 2000. It was bollock-shrinkingly cold, as I like to say – and the journey up from Thetford on a train-cum-ice box had not helped the pre-match anticipation beyond the need to get another pair of gloves. Both teams were without a manager. Nigel Worthington was in his second game as Norwich’s caretaker boss, while Dave Bassett had just left Barnsley, who were on their way down from their season in the Premiership, where apparently ‘it was just like watching Brazil’. I sat in the Snakepit, and to be honest the lively banter was the game’s lasting highlight.
The game itself was shocking. Despite starting on December 23rd, if both teams had played until the dawn of the New Year it still would have finished goalless. Much of Norwich’s attacking had initial intent but finished up like the John Motson commentary that goes “and that’s a typical Ipswich move, Gates crossing for Marriner to drive over the bar!” This happened with great regularity until Lee Marshall broke with the routine, heading smack against the bar with all and sundry clawing at thin air. Marshall it was, I think, who sparked a chorus of boos from the City fans when Nigel Worthington took him off. “You don’t know what you’re doing” was the familiar cry – and it wasn’t the only time boos were heard that afternoon.
The Norwich attack wasn’t exactly what you would call potent, with an uncharacteristically quiet Iwan Roberts shackled for much of the match, Alex Notman feeding on scraps and attacking midfielders Lee Marshall and Chris Llewellyn providing most of the limited goalmouth action. Barnsley were far worse, despite a vocal following. Mike Sheron, Bruce Dyer, Steve Chettle, even Robin Van Der Laan – all gave the impression they were not at the races, especially Dyer, who missed a great chance with the goal gaping in front of him
Then, in the last minute, Darel Russell was put through by substitute Zema Abbey. Carrow Road braced itself for a (then) rare late winner, but Russell shot hastily and the chance was missed. The final whistle brought sighs of relief all round the ground – Barnsley pleased with their point, Norwich fans pleased to have a chance to get out of the freezing fog that had blown in during the game.
I also had a strange degree of content, having finally got to Carrow Road – a feeling that was made loads better on Boxing Day, when Norwich found their feet in front of goal to win 3-2 at Loftus Road, with Roberts scoring twice. And it wasn’t long before I returned to Carrow Road the next month, to see another shocker of a game – but a 1-0 win for the Canaries over QPR this time, sending Norwich closer to safety, Nigel Worthington closer to fans’ approval and QPR closer to the League One trapdoor.