At the start of the 2014/15 season, with an optimistic spring in my step, I went to a few of Norwich City’s home games. Managed to watch most of them with my head in my hands, as one unimpressive visiting side after another pitched up at Carrow Road and played a level of rubbish football that Norwich managed to underperformance against. I’m slightly embarrassed that some of my resultant grumpiness was directed at the new God in this part of the world, who if you’ve not heard, is Bradley Johnson. My main complaint at the start of the season was that he seemed a bit overweight and cumbersome.
“Nonsense”, said my friend G, who, annoyingly, along with my wife, all of my children and my boss, has an irritating habit of being right all the time, “he’s just a Unit”.
And, over the last few months, the Unit has turned into something fairly wonderful. If you ever want to endear yourself to people in Norwich, score a goal against Ipswich. Extra points if it means that you’ll swap places with Ipswich in the league as a result. And many, many more points if it’s a goal like this one:
I showed this clip to my eldest son last week. I wanted, as much as anything, to check my eyesight, because I’ve watched this goal many times now and I still can’t really see the ball from the point at which it’s kicked until it ends up pretty much breaking the net. Thankfully I’m not going blind, because he could hardly see it as well.
“Blimey”, he said, “imagine if that’d missed!”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, and he said that he thought it could well have decapitated a spectator, which is a bit extreme, but I understand what he meant.
And that got me to thinking…
I do think the game of football could do with a bit of a shake up, with the introduction of a few choice rules. As ever, the pride of East Anglia will lead the way, as follows:
1. If footballers like Bradley Johnston can hit the ball that hard, let’s give them the right sort of incentive. Firstly, remove the netting from the goal. Then, situate certain spectators immediately behind the goal. Immediate suggestions might be local political candidates, the cast of TOWIE, people who drop litter, and the person who stole my good running shorts from the changing room at work last year. Anyway, there’d be a double celebration every time a goal got fired in. We could extend this incentivisation to really make sure that players always hit the target (there are few things that football fans like less than someone earning £25k a week who manages to keep missing the goal). So I’d propose also strategically surrounding the goal with members of the strikers’ immediate families, and possibly a selection of pensioners, small children and, possibly, visitors from local hospices. Now, obviously there are a few logistical challenges to sort out here, and we’d have to remember to change ends with the spectators at half time, but that’s just detail to iron out.
2. Part of Norwich’s recent success is their reaction to a new manager arriving at the club. Not for us the big name signings, we maintain the ‘family club, family wages’ approach to manager recruitment around these parts. So we brought in Alex Neil, formerly of Hamilton Academicals. Some of our overseas readers may need to look them up. As will some of our local readers. And if you have that image of HA being a team of enthusiastic scholars who play the game in the Corinthian tradition, I’d respectfully suggest that you get yourself along to Hamilton town sometime. Anyway, there wasn’t a lot of information around about Alex Neil before he joined Norwich. Pretty much all that the papers were able to tell us was that he was much loved at HA, and that players and staff openly wept when he left, that he was a player-manager, and that he was so fair that he once fined himself after a match for poor discipline. I told my son about that.
“Player manager?”, he cried. “what on earth is a player manager?”
I explained, largely by replaying both words back to him. And realised that there haven’t really been any player-managers in the higher leagues for years.
“That’s brilliant”, he said “every team should have a player manager”
And so they should.
We should demand that at least one half of a game is played with a goalkeeper, a manager and nine other players taking the field. I’d very much like a sub-rule for managers to wear their normal managerial wear as they get involved, so a huge puffy jacket for Arsene Wenger, as he squares up to Alan Pardew, in his trademark smart suit. Meanwhile, Sam Allardice faces off to Tony Pulis in a head to head battle in the centre circle, possibly sponsored by TK Maxx:
Oh, the fun you could have.
3. Finally, it shouldn’t just be the blessed Delia who comes on to the pitch to rally the crowd at half time :
At least once a year, the Chair of all football clubs should be force fed alcohol and then encouraged to entertain the crowd in a manner of their choosing. Think of the fabulous opportunities – I would never choose to go to watch a Chelsea home game, but if Roman Abramovich was guaranteed to turn up at half time after half a bottle of Stolichnaya and sing his favourite out-takes from Fiddler on the Roof, I’d be there like a shot.
More ideas that need a bit of working up, but I don’t think they’re much more outlandish than issuing referees with magic paint. And it happened first in Norwich, so it’s bound to set the trend.