Christmas means to me a football, food and family binge. A 27th December trip to Norwich promised all three, a standout among the traditional festive plans in the calendar this year. After a great Boxing Day trip in 2004 having wished the 25th would hurry up so I could get in the car up the A11 with our Norwich supporting neighbour, high hopes were had for 2011. We won 2-0 that day, Keane and Brown settled the game with late second half goals while news filtered through of the Tsunami on the other side of the world. At that time a distant and tragic side note of which the magnitude eventually became clear. In time, disappointment at the selling out of Delia Smith’s Christmas pies on the concourse was put firmly into perspective.
Come 2011, with a vastly improved side and a younger brother of identical age as I was first time round in tow, we boarded the morning train to Cambridge without discerning any other members of the Spurs family. In our possession were Powerades, Spurs ‘Santa hats’ and the pocket miscellany in case of emergency. The younger sibling had seemingly been up all night playing his new Formula 1 game on his new steering wheel. He’ll have grown out of all that rubbish by the next trip one would hope and luckily he turned the sound off. As usual Xmas day took the form of an annual seasonal ritual of passively absorbing either average or rehashed television output because the pub was closed and too much food and drink had been consumed to do anything more taxing. It was observed impeccably. Boxing day passed with a leisurely kick-about on Hampstead heath, a drinking-game to add excitement to all the draws on Soccer Saturday (‘Chris Kamara’s on talking gibberish – DRINK!’) and a nap during the increasingly boring Match of the Day. I awoke briefly to pundits extolling the virtues of visiting ‘keeper Mark Bunn and other clips of goalkeepers saving shots in front of the Kop during various draws this season – how dare they?
And so we were off to the ‘fine city’. Both the surroundings and eventual result could wipe away memories of Stoke.
There wasn’t much to write home about from the journey up except for Thetford’s claim to be the home of Dad’s Army and once again chuckling at Cambridge Station for being home of the ‘Home of Anglia Ruskin University’ sign. Incessant texting from a fellow Lillywhite Rose contributor regarding the importance of playing Modric centrally was another feature. Once on Norwich soil we could check in to our Lenny Henry-less Premier Inn abode. ‘What time’s kick off?’ one member of staff asked another behind a purple away kit coloured desk to which dad piped up excitedly ‘7.30!’ before picking up a local paper and comparing the corridor to what it must be like in prison. The Norwich Advertiser identified our Gareth Bale as our ‘topman’, prophetic indeed, particularly in regards to our stylish football one could say. Unlike ‘the idiots in the snakepit’, they kindly did not compare his appearance to that of a chimp. We wandered into the city of quaint alleys, a Christmas market frequented by sale shoppers and a pantomime at the Theatre Royal starring nobodies. ‘Help for Heroes’ was heavily publicised. Fertile recruiting ground obviously. Caley’s of Norwich, was our guildhall lunch destination and because of us, the £6 ‘turkey special’ sandwiches did a roaring trade. We bought Caley’s own ginger chocolate to serve as our half-time snack as we went in search of less charming and more Laddish environs than an old-fashioned tea-room. To the Ribs of Beef!
‘Take your scarf off’ the old man says. Its not that kind of joint, or the ‘80s. The most provocative thing we did was buy Suffolk beer. We walk towards a table in front of a TV showing Gooners vs Wolves calling out for us. Wolves had equalised, ‘Yes!’ shouts dad with clenched fist. I could put my scarf back on. Luckily even those with a Norfolk accent could be heard moaning ‘typical Arsenal, they’ll get a late one’ following Milijas’ wrongful dismissal. Fortunate also that RVP was not firing and so Arsenal did not win. Another draw and even more reason to get all three points in the evening. Events took a hilarious turn as a lady considerately crouched as she walked under the TV hung on the wall at double her height, to mass laughter. Her husband cheerfully barked ‘what did you do that for love?’. We were among the lads we craved after the tea room. The hotel bar had filled with fans of both sides by the time we returned via the river (it looked like a canal between you and me) thereby bypassing the teenagers with skateboards and any temptation to spend newly acquired Christmas funds at the bookshop selling ‘The Blue Plaques of Norwich.’
Carrow Road was but a ten minute walk away, and we rested to the calming sounds of Chas ‘N’ Dave. Out our window we sighted supporters with a surprising aversion to the Glazers making their way to the ground. The canary loving gits sported the unmistakable yellow and green scarves recently made famous at Old Trafford that appeared more striking than star-forward and Championship standard lump Grant Holt looked all night. The modern riverside eateries and watering holes offered on approach put the ‘Pride of Tottenhams’ of this world to shame but there was just enough time to get a fairly tasty match pie before kickoff. “Delia’s” restaurant was out of our price range. As we’ve become accustomed to, we dominated from start to finish, any neutrals watching from the Holiday Inn submerged into the corner of the ground would say we were a joy to watch. Although judging by the waving from tenants after each goal, I think they were all Spurs.
Kyle ‘you’re just a shit Kyle Naughton’ Walker enjoyed acres of Norfolk field afforded by scarecrow Drury yet we just did not flood the box with enough players. We were patient and as usual created great chances from some tantalising moves. Bale seemed to playing in a free role that saw him foray up front. He saved his subtle finishing and passes to himself for the second half. As solid at the back as dangerous going at the forward, the most pessimistic of us (we still exist) could see a goal coming. Those half time murmurs of discontent have become a rare thing. Every player excelled, and there was a chant for all. All except the elder and invaluable pros Friedel and Gallas. Like Adebayor, the latter needs to produce the goals as he did against us for rivals in our colours to wrong this right. Sandro proved he was too good to bench in the advent of a novel formation that accommodated Parker and the irrepressible Modric, and bore yet more of the sparkling, sporting and uncynical football that no-one else in the league displays. ‘Tottenham Hotspur’s Brazilian Yiddo’ patrolled the back four, turning Norwich advances on our goal to our own, more incisive attacks.
We oozed a quality that was out of the league of a team that has achieved noble back to back promotions. Those types of supporter that appeal for everything and sat behind Brad’s goal in the second half soon stopped once Ruddy parried Bale’s shot into his net. 2004’s ‘Delia Smith your pies are shit’ had ceded to ‘Delia’s right, your fans are shite.’ We stopped them scoring for the first time at a typically packed out Carrow Road this season as their admirable work ethic was just not enough. One can only hope that this wonderful side Harry has assembled will continue to procure games that resemble men vs boys. In evidence however was our common lack of heed to take advantage of set pieces. Only against Liverpool this season has our dominance translated to the scoreline. Also, cover at left back, just as we could do with a world class striker, needs to be addressed. Danny Rose, who looked so comfortable at left back in the tail end to last season, struggled positionally and was unconvincing on the ball, like he has been in the Europa League. Otherwise, in absence of arguably a half-decent, half England team in King, Dawson, Lennon, Huddlestone and Defoe, we had done alright.
The league’s competitors, domestic armchair fans and European supporters bereft of football during the winter break watched on alike as we sumptuously stamped our mark as a top class team to both fear and enjoy whilst cushioning ourselves nicely ahead of the other London clubs. The Norwich fans emerging from the ground afterwards could not help but be glowing about the team that had come to town. A subdued but accepting atmosphere was the order of the night at the Coach and Horses afterwards where we met up with the same neighbour that had driven us up to our last 2-0 victory. ‘Be magnanimous’ the old man once again asserted. ‘I’ve got to say we were fabulous tonight’ was his opening gambit followed by ‘and that Whitbread’s awful.’ He was probably still giddy from the accidental whack in the nose suffered in the celebrations of the second goal. Its something that we’ve become accustomed to at away games recently, I’ve already paid my dues. On the stroll back to the hotel we shared knowing ‘aren’t we good’ looks with any obvious non-Canaries, mostly those wishing to avoid bus replacement services home by making a cracking night of it, albeit loitering aimlessly. Our bar, with its liberal closing time was the place to be, full of our lot and only one obliging canary posing for photos with everyone. The iPod was no longer needed, ‘WE ARE THE FOOTBALL CONNOISSEURS’ was belted out along with other memorable stanzas from adopted anthems while we tucked into a round of Quavers (our dinner), laughed together and joined in periodically. This is what we came for.
The hotel was too close to the train station for any potential disasters to taint an incredibly enjoyable trip. We checked in the keys still in buoyant mood as other fans intent on prolonging the trip jokingly asked ‘where’s your nearest castle?’. A couple of steak slices saw me through the direct journey that passed by the Canaries’ bitter rivals and personal second team Ipswich town. The last tenuous lookalike of a trip plagued with them, was a great shout for an aged John Terry at Liverpool Street’s Central Line barrier. He knows what he is and we know what we are, contenders for the league.