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Away with the Canaries: The Hughton away game is dead


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We set off from Manchester at around 12. ‘We’ refers to myself, my Dad, and few others whom we met along the way. I was wearing the 2011/12 season’s home shirt, complete with Hoolahan’s lettering printed on the back. An appropriate choice, I thought, given the Irishman’s recent form. I accompanied it with my Northern Canaries scarf which features a rather stereotypical Canary eating a pie with a flat cap. It always turns a few heads.

The train was one of those old bus-like vehicles that should have been discontinued many a year ago. It arrived on Platform 5 at Oxford Road station. Platform 5, for those that don’t know, is the one you don’t get on at if you’re going anywhere decent, or quickly. The carpets are in need of replacement and the words ‘table seat’ or ‘buffet car’ seem almost foreign. At one end, rather courteously, a 20-something male blurts out tinny tunes from headphones he’s not even wearing, using them instead like a portable PA system for us all to enjoy. Along with his racket is the screeching noise as this box-on-wheels limps out of Manchester Oxford Road. It’s a symphony.

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The clunky journey did however gives us plenty of time to think and reflect ahead of the game. It was of course Norwich’s first match against a ‘big team’ and in recent years that was generally something to fear. Under former manager Chris Hughton, Norwich had practically resigned themselves to the loss before we’d even stepped on that train at Oxford Road. This time it seemed different. It felt different. Yes, there were still nerves (when aren’t there?) but, there was a feeling of optimism amongst myself and the other Norwich fans making this trip. Not necessarily about the result, but the fact that whatever happened we knew current manager Alex Neil would give it a real go. And that, as an away fan, is all the fuel you need to keep making the long trips (although admittedly, Liverpool is like a home game for us).

Football. Cycling. Dad’s latest project. The Rugby World Cup. Those were the topics of conversation as the train trundled through every god-forsaken place between Manchester and Liverpool. At Hunts Cross we crossed platform. The train in waiting had yellow printing all along the side. We thought it must be a sign. In this carriage we met a father and son – both Norwich fans – both eager to talk football. The son, who must have been about 4 or 5, was wearing a new home strip with the name ‘Gossy’ and this inevitably sparked the reminiscing of his goal at Anfield all those years ago. My elders recalled the many times they’d seen City lose at Anfield, and I too could chip in with the memory of the most recent drubbings, instigated by a certain Luis Suarez. His omission was the main reason for our more optimistic outlook.

Once at Sand Hills there was a choice to be made. Match-day bus or the short journey on foot. Some members of our party were keen for the former, but my Dad ensured us that it wasn’t very far. ‘Not very far’ – three words that haunted my childhood in light of many a family walk. This time I was inclined to agree – it wasn’t especially far and besides, the buses weren’t going to move until they filled up. At this point it was about two o’clock.

The walk takes you up a hill, past a football pitch, onwards towards the park. The surrounding area is newly renovated. Rows and rows of recently-erected brick houses, now standing where social housing once dominated. On our last visits, they were in the process of knocking those structures down, and there were kids offering to ‘mind your car’ round every corner. It seemed much improved this time.

On the left were two houses; one red, one white. The red one’s windowsills were white, the white one’s windowsills were red. It’s like Liverpool’s home and away strips. All it needs now is a badge. Oh wait, there is one – I mean two. Two Liverpool badges next to the front doors respectively. Evidence, if any were needed, that the community still lives and breathes the football.

Finally as we approach Anfield the first thing that hit us was the construction works going on. Just how big is that new stand going to be?! It’ll dwarf the kop when it’s finally completed.

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To my displeasure there was an unhealthy amount of half-and-half scarves on sale. What I hadn’t realised was the amount of tourists ready to buy them. I always associated that with United, or Chelsea – not Liverpool, but of course they’re no different. The worst thing was that there were a few Norwich fans partaking in this terrible investment. You know who you are. Shame on you.

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There was a pub just the other side of the Kop. It wasn’t the designated away pub, but word had it that that one was already packed. Instead it was a Liverpool pub. Scarves off, jackets zipped. It quickly transpired that the atmosphere was welcoming to all. After all, a Norwich fan from Manchester is better than a Manchester United fan from, well, anywhere really. The plasma screen they had mounted on the wall wasn’t quite done justice by the dodgy, pixelated, illegal stream that was being shown. The quality of football between Tottenham and  Crystal Palace wasn’t entirely enthralling either. Still, the ‘Anfield Lager’ must be worthwhile. Oh no, they’re all out. Carlsburg or Fosters it is. We opted for the former but judge it very much as a lesser-of-two-evils situation.

Two o’clock: team news. Where the f*** is Hoolahan? That’s everyone’s first thoughts, but then we see Liverpool’s: Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge up front, Coutinho in behind. Graham Dorrans in the centre might be the right choice after all.

Having seen the teams, the nerves were kicking in. All of a sudden I wasn’t so optimistic.

We left the pub and joined the increasingly viscous Anfield-bound crowd, like a tributary joining the main river. We buy a programme – £3.50. A little pricey but nine pages on Norwich featuring flashbacks to Fashanu’s iconic goal makes it seem worth the money. We queue for a pie as the first shouts of ‘YARMY’ go up. It doesn’t quite catch on. Still a bit early perhaps.

The pie itself wasn’t too bad. Not the best, admittedly, but not the worst. I’m still trying to decide whether I enjoyed having it served to me by someone wearing a ‘Huckerby, 6’ t-shirt.

The City contingent did their very best to ruin the famous ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, but there was any competition. Scarves aloft, the Liverpool faithful made quite a noise. However, I have to say, there’s something quite fabricated about those famous words being uttered by fans with new Liverpool shirts, new Liverpool scarves (or half Norwich) and everything else the morning’s trip to the club shop had to offer. Oh, how I wanted little old Norwich to shut them up.

After a minute’s applause, the referee gets things started. It’s tense, it’s nervy, but Norwich are up for it. John Ruddy makes a couple of early saves which are always good for his confidence, but Liverpool pile on the pressure. Ruddy is called into action once more, this time denying Sturridge – an opportunity the Englishman really should have taken. The home side’s blatant diving, first by James Milner and then by Sturridge is met by boos and jeers as well as the demand that the referee books them for simulation. Nothing given either way.

For every Liverpool chance that goes wide, chants of “Oh Luis Suarez, he would have scored that” start.

While Liverpool remain behind, their supporters remain quiet. The famous Kop: silent. The away end were the happiest as City headed into the break. I was mainly just glad we weren’t already three-down. “We can get something from this” a fan next to me says. I agree. We just had to keep it tight as we had done and take our chance when it came.

Danny Ings must have scored with his first touch, nutmegging the helpless Ruddy. Oh wait, what’s that? Anfield waking up?! The subsequent chants of ‘Liverpool, Liverpool’ are belated and embarrassing. However, on the pitch we’re in trouble. Liverpool cut through our midfield in a now urgent manner and for a period of five or so minutes we’re in danger of crumbling. The play is up the other end and it’s difficult to see what’s going on. “Ooooh” the Kop roars – Coutinho nearly makes it two. We survive, just.

Anticipation builds as Norwich get their first corner. ‘Coooome on you Yellowssss”. The corner swings in. It falls to Russell Martin. Chest. Touch. Bang. With an artistic flick of his leg, like a capoeira master, the ball sails beyond Simon Mignolet. The away end goes mental. I go mental. I grab a random stranger as we celebrate what was another magical Norwich moment. Who else but Martin. At the time we didn’t know how much it meant to him, but we knew exactly what it meant to us.

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The Norwich City chanting, which had been loud all game, was even louder now. We were singing the boys home.

As Nathan Redmond burst forward on the break, delivering into the box, we were all set for what is known amongst the youth as ‘utter limbs’. That’s the next level of ‘scenes’. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen. Despite Matt Jarvis’ best efforts he can only put it straight at Mignolet. Heads in hands, we can’t quite believe it. What a chance. What a bloody chance. Still, no sooner had we looked like taking the lead were we in trouble again. Some dominant goalkeeping from Ruddy, and some incompetent play from Coutinho kept the Canaries afloat.

Lewis Grabban’s introduction was met with a mixed reception, but generally positive. What was frustrating though was his lack of willingness to run.

Norwich were dead on their feet. They’d given everything. Please, referee blow your whistle. And then he did.

Even though Match Of The Day would later make it seem like a smash and grab, Norwich were well worthy of their point. It was everything a Hughton away game wasn’t, and I loved it.