Norwich City 0 Bolton Wanderers 0
Saturday 24 February 2018
One of the more challenging of the 92: a long time avoided, always there in the background. A good 11-hour round trip even if nothing goes wrong. But nothing will, right?
I’ve seen Norwich a lot in the last few years: in the Championship, in the Premiership, in the League Cup. Previously, a big gap; before that Wolves in the 90s, Old Trafford in the 80s. Steve Bruce, Jeremy Goss, Poll Withey Windows. “Farmer Mel Machin” at Maine Road, back in the day. Alan Partridge annoying farmers. Man United fans destroying the Barclay stand in 1977. The first League Cup final, two legs against Rochdale. On The Ball City – hurrah, we’ve scored a goal.
Probably the longest trip of the entire 92. It certainly felt it. Starting early, it was only me and Carlisle fans on the M6: I passed the first Titterington’s coach of the day just beyond Chorley, and there were more blue shirts at Stafford Services where, as usual, I stopped for breakfast before picking up John in Cannock.
From there it was a good run to Norfolk in the sunshine, where we arrived in enough time to drive confusedly around the city centre before trying to park for nowt on the Yarmouth road, ultimately giving in and paying the Lions for a spot at the Broadlands Council offices. Don’t know exactly what Lions do, but they sound fierce.
We were quickly out of there and away after the match, and made excellent progress as far as the Newmarket bypass. There, we hit something. Hard. I suspect it was a big hole, and if so, shame on you Suffolk County Council. Whatever it was, it destroyed my front onside tyre and left us in a pitch black layby doing what one does in this situation – looking at the damage, cursing the gods of motoring, and going “oh bollocks.”
Thus was a long day made even longer – eight hours longer, to be precise, by the time I had been relayed back to Preston (dropping John off in Cannock en route) by no fewer than three different low-loaders. This experience included a diversion around Villa Park due to the M6 being shut, “tea” at 11pm at Keele Services in the company of pissed-off Everton fans on their way back from Watford, and a quest around Lancashire for a Shell garage in the company of a deranged truck driver from Stoke. The final act of the day was waking the neighbours as we “quietly” unloaded the useless car at 1.30am in a temperature of -4 degrees.
Unlike Hermione Granger’s handbag, Carrow Road is much larger on the outside than the inside. It’s surrounded by posh stuff, flats and hotels and bistros and the like: there’s a river behind one end but you wouldn’t know it. The whole thing has the look of a scruffy area that’s been dragged upmarket. I think I’d have preferred it scruffy.
On the inside it seems bigger than its capacity, and while both ends look identical due to their design I’m pretty sure they aren’t. We were in the lower tier behind the goal, near the front of what used to be called the River Stand: this is now the oldest stand at the ground, dating from the 70s, and originally it had a terraced area in front of raised seats. For fans of nostalgia the old terrace is still there, with seats simply bolted to the steps. This means odd sightlines and awkward ledges, as John found when he took a nosedive over the row in front during a rare moment of excitement.
The concourse is microcosmic, but, as was the case all the time we were at Norwich, the fans were courtesy itself and it all seemed to work OK.
Flesh and wine
There was a pub, the Fat Cat and Canary, next to where we parked so we dived in there like polecats up a drainpipe. It sounds dreadful but it wasn’t. Proper ales and proper fans, all very friendly. It was the only one we saw all day, too, so we did right.
There’s a distinct lack of junk food outlets nearby, and I’m increasingly coming to think that food vans sanctioned by clubs are by definition just too sanitary. So food inside the ground it was. Delia no longer does the Norwich pies (not that I imagine she ever cooked them herself): Pukka are OK though, and there was some kind of pizza/wrap deal going on so between them they filled a gap. (Probably as well, given what happened on the way home.)
This was a contest between a fancy Norwich side chasing the playoffs and an artisanical Bolton team apparently lacking any ambition beyond finishing fourth from bottom, who at one stage had all ten outfield players in the Norwich box. They wouldn’t, Norwich couldn’t: the yellow-shirted attackers foundered on the rocks of the white-shirted defence, and the only high points were James Maddison hitting the post in the first half and Moritz Leitner shooting wide soon afterwards with a chance most people in the ground would have converted.
Comedy value was provided by Bolton’s farcical time-wasting, which led to several bookings and a deeply ironic red card against the Norwich manager for kicking the ball away in irritation. At many grounds the away team’s tactics would have caused a riot, but there is no anger here.
Norwich: Gunn, Reed, Zimmermann, Hanley, Lewis, Tettey (Hoolahan 80), Hernandez (Srbeny 77), Maddison, Leitner, Murphy, Oliveira. Unused subs: Pinto, Vrancic, Watkins, Raggett, McGovern.
Bolton: Alnwick, Morais, Dervite, Wheater (Flanagan 68), Beevers, Robinson, Pratley, Burke (Derik 81), Karacan, Ameobi, Le Fondre (Wilbraham 68). Unused subs: Taylor, Buckley, Howard, Clough.