Norwich City vs. Chelsea : 6 October 2013.
Our little spell of games away from Stamford Bridge was coming to an end. After travelling to Swindon, Tottenham and Bucharest, the final game of our “road trip 2013” involved a visit to the historic city of Norwich in the heart of East Anglia. This was always going to be a long old drive for me. I remember that a similar trip to Norwich in 2012 encompassed a journey through no less than nine counties (Somerset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk) and was memorable, in a negative sense, for being a tough and tiring day. The dour 0-0 draw certainly did not help.
During the week, the Chelsea website alerted all away supporters of a further problem; the normal approach into Norwich via the A11 would be severely disrupted by road works around Newmarket. Oh great. No problems for the Chelsea team, though; for them, the luxury of a flight, the lucky buggers.
The 1.30pm kick-off, allied to a possible extended journey, essentially meant that I’d have to set off from home at the ridiculously early time of 6.30am. As I fuelled up at Beckington on the A36, the air was cold, the sky clear and the horizon was tinged with the subtle glow of a beautiful sunrise. At 7am, I collected Lord Parky.
We were on our way once more.
My plan was to detour the probable bottleneck on the A11 and, instead, travel further around the M25 and then head up to Norwich on the A12, A14 and A140, just skirting Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich and Diss. This diversion would be painful but wholly necessary. Between the two of us, we had packed enough provisions to satisfy both Shackleton and Scott.
There was low-lying fog during the first few miles of our advance east on the M4; and very picturesque it looked too. Before we knew it, we were heading around the northern segment of the undulating M25 and it was soon time for me turn off onto the A12 and head into deepest Essex. My route sadly took me past several derelict public houses and cafes; a sure sign that certain aspects of the UK economy has hit hard times since 2008.
As we neared Colchester, the town’s spritely new stadium was spotted for the first time. I had never visited Layer Road – I believe that we played a couple of friendlies there around twenty years ago – but Colchester United’s new stadium could not be more different. The old ground was entrenched deep inside the town, but the new stadium is located on a green field site, surrounded by acres of space, right on the A12. This out-of-town stadium follows the old – and some might say, out-of-favour – US model but with a cruel UK twist. Colchester is not a large town, with no sprawling suburban hinterland. In my mind, there is no real need for the new stadium to be so ridiculously distant from the town centre. Virtually all of Colchester United’s fans now have to schlep out to the new site, with no pubs and bars in the vicinity. The club therefore have the fans by the short and curlies; spend money within the stadium or go hungry and go thirsty. In truth, I am not familiar with the entire story of Colchester United’s quest for a new stadium and so I am not sure if this site was the only viable option. If it was, so be it. At least the club has a base.
We soon headed west and then north around Ipswich, the home of Norwich City’s major rivals. The town’s Portman Road ground is probably the largest stadium in England and Wales that I am yet to visit, just edging out the home stadia of Huddersfield and Bradford. I was now driving on virgin territory and the two of us were both enjoying the new scenery. There were many historic buildings lining the road which provided a fine distraction. One pub – The Magpie – memorably had its sign hanging from a high wooden frame right over the road. Neither of us had seen anything like it.
As we passed the rather unobtrusive Norfolk road sign – it mentioned that the county was the birthplace of Horatio Nelson – I remembered a funny tale involving Graham, who I used to work with a few years ago. His family was from the county of Suffolk, though he lived in Wiltshire, and he was a rabid Ipswich Town supporter. I once asked him if he had ever travelled to Norwich to support his side in any of the East Anglian derbies. His reply shocked me; not only had he never been to Carrow Road, he had never visited the city of Norwich nor even the county of Norfolk.
“Norwich? Hate them. Not been to Norwich. Not even set foot in Norfolk.”
Maybe this Suffolk / Norfolk thing was more intense than I had previously given it credit.
The flat lands of Norfolk, with arable fields spreading out in all directions, were quite dissimilar to my equally rural home county. Hedges were rare. This was farming on a huge scale. With all this heady agriculture taking place all around me, this match report – like my journey itself – takes a little diversion.
In the ‘seventies, live football on TV was a rare event; the FA Cup Final, the England vs. Scotland match, that’s it, just two games per season. There were, however, two weekly highlights programmes. The BBC had its famous “Match of the Day” every Saturday evening at around 10pm; a real treat. This was a nationwide programme involving lengthy clips and interviews from just two games. The commentators were invariably John Motson and Barry Davies. On ITV, however, it was all very different. Back in the ‘seventies, the various regions of the UK had their own commercial stations and the regional scheduling varied quite considerably, unlike now. The football highlights programme, always on Sunday afternoons, therefore varied greatly depending on location. Luckily, my local HTV West region, devoid of any top clubs, piggy-backed the London region and its “The Big Match” programme with the much-missed Brian Moore. Thankfully, I was often treated to a Chelsea game. Elsewhere, each region had its own commentator. In the North-East, “Tyne Tees” had Kenneth Wolstenholme and then Roger Thames. In the midlands, “ATV” was covered by Hugh Johns. In the North-West, the powerhouse teams of Liverpool and Manchester had games covered by “Granada” and Gerald Sinstadt. In the Southampton and Portsmouth area, “Southern” featured Fred Dineage. Leeds United games were covered by “Yorkshire” and Keith Macklin and then Martin Tyler. In the east, Ipswich and Norwich games were covered by “Anglia” and Gerry Harrison.
A peculiar by-product of all this was the fact that the very regionalised schedules always resulted in the weekly football programme on HTV West being preceded by either “Farming Diary” or “West Country Farming.” In my impatience to wait for the footy to start at around 2pm every Sunday, I’d invariably sit through these terminally dull farming programmes and I can vividly remember my mate Tim and me laughing about all this during a form 3D lesson at school circa 1976. We were only eleven, but the shared experience made both of us chuckle.
“Football fans in the HTV area like me and you must have a great knowledge of farming. We must know it all.”
“Yeah. I know all the adverts off by heart.”
“Fisons 20-10-10 fertiliser!”
“Massey Ferguson tractors!”
“Yeah. Don’t forget that insecticide for sarcoptic mange mites!”
There we go; there’s my first ever football / farming story. And probably my last.
Is everyone still awake?
This was only my third visit to Norwich. This journey had taken me slightly over five hours. At around midday, we were parked up in a multi-story car park only a few hundred yards from Carrow Road. In 2012, we had visited “The Queen Of Iceni” pub by the banks of the River Wensum. In 2013, we chose “The Bridge Tavern.” Unlike Colchester, here was a great example of the football club staying in its central location and its local vicinity being revitalised, with many pubs and bars lining the short walk from the train station to the football ground.
“The Bridge Tavern” was selling lager and ales in robust two pint plastic glasses. As we chatted to some locals, I soon fell in to the trap of mocking them;
“Blimey, these glasses are difficult to hold. Mind you, it helps having six fingers on each hand.”
Ah, Norwich. Easy prey for the London sophisticates. Inbreeding and tractors. I knew there would be more jibes to come as the afternoon progressed.
The stadium was less than a ten minute walk away. It was a warm and sunny afternoon in deepest Norfolk. I soon met up with Alan and Gary; our tickets were very close to the home supporters in the side stand. We were separated by some green plastic mesh and a line of disinterested stewards.
Alan pointed out the Norwich family stand; it was the entire stadium.
The game began and the Chelsea section was in fine voice. The only change from Bucharest was Demba Ba in for Fernando Torres. We began brightly and I noted a greater pace to our play than in most games; one or two touches, rather than three or four. We were soon rewarded. A Frank Lampard lofted pass to Ba was supremely controlled by our often maligned striker. He deftly cushioned the ball and quickly squared to Oscar. Our little Brazilian prince dispatched it into the goal with a dismissive flick of the outside of his boot. It was a perfect finish. The net bulged and the 3,000 Chelsea roared.
It was all Chelsea for the first twenty-five minutes. Demba Ba was proving to be quite a handful for the Norwich central defenders and goalkeeper alike. For once we were hitting our striker early and Ba was causing all sorts of grief with his chasing and harrying. Juan Mata, often picking up the ball in a deep position, played in Ba but his shot was tipped around the far post by a nervous John Ruddy, who was starting to look like he had wished he had stayed in bed. From the corner, Luiz volleyed over.
Our goal came under threat for the first time when Petr Cech did well to save from close range, though I got the impression that he knew little about his block; I guess this was all down to being in the right place at the right time. Ba and Schurrle tested Ruddy further. We were in complete control. I was eyeing Oscar during the first-half, watching his sublime tight control, admiring his touch, the way everything seemed easy for him. He rarely lost possession. He looked so natural. Just before the break, hugging the near touchline, I watched mesmerized as he skipped past two markers and reached the goal line before sending in a cross towards Ba. It was the best piece of skill of the entire half. It was quite beautiful.
At the break, Alan and I rued the fact that we hadn’t added to our lead. With other teams at the top having won on Saturday, a win was imperative.
Demba Ba came close after only a minute of play in the second period; a ball from Ramires picked out Ba, but his flick strayed past the far post. The crowd quietened as the play stagnated for a period. Chelsea lost our toe-hold and eventually Norwich’s endeavours allowed them to get back into the game. The Norwich fans felt aggrieved that key decisions by the referee were going against them and the noise levels soon increased as the home side’s play continued to improve. In truth, we were riding our luck.
With twenty minutes to go, both John Terry and then David Luiz lost out to headers and Pilkington headed in from close range. I’m sure I heard Gerry Harrison’s voice exclaim the Norwich equaliser. If I am honest, Norwich deserved the equaliser. Our play had been shoddy all half.
Now it was time to react. Samuel Eto’o replaced Demba Ba. Eden Hazard replaced Ashley Cole, rubbing his side as he walked off. We were back in it, with shots from Oscar, Ivanovic and Hazard giving us hope. William replaced Juan Mata. We were now playing with four Brazilians.
The gate of 26,840 was announced on the PA system.
“All related” said Gary.
From a Norwich corner, the ball was cleared and we quickly broke away. A lightening break found Oscar whose ball forward was blocked by Bassong, only for the ball to fall pleasingly into the path of Eden Hazard. The Belgian’s shot struck the underside of Ruddy’s upper body but spun in to goal, with the entire Chelsea crowd willing it on.
2-1. Get in.
With the Chelsea supporters still singing loud from the goal, we were further rewarded when the ball broke to substitute Willian on the right of the box. With a quick look up to get his bearings, he effortlessly curled the ball around the leaping Ruddy and the net again billowed.
3-1. That’s cruel.
On the far touchline, Ramires soon caught up with his fellow Brazilian.
“Great goal, Willian.”
“It was really nothing.”
For the final five or six minutes, one song boomed around the south-east corner of Carrow Road.
I think you know the words.
We were buoyant as we filtered out of the away section. I soon met up with His Lordship, who had clearly enjoyed himself. We raced back to the car, hopeful for a quick getaway.
Alas, it took us forty-five minutes to get out of the city centre and our homeward journey was further impeded by slow-moving traffic on the A140 and then, depressingly, by an accident on the M25. I was held up for almost an hour. It was excruciating. Eventually, we freed ourselves of the problems on the M25, and were back on the M4 heading west, past Slough, past Bracknell, past Reading, past Swindon. Ah Swindon; where this road trip in 2013 began. It seemed most cruel to be reminded that this all began at Swindon, a mere thirty minutes away from work. After dropping Parky at his home, I eventually reached home at 10.30pm, some six and a half hours after leaving Norwich.
I had driven for the best part of twelve hours. It had been a 520 miles round trip.
For once, I think I’ll enjoy this international break.