It was a foul. Even now I still believe it was a foul.
Emi had the ball and was unceremoniously dumped on the ground. The referee signalled play on. The shouts rang out and Emi, in typical fashion, pounded his fists on the ground.
Then something else happened.
Emi got up, the roar of the crowd pulling him onto his feet as he went in search of the ball. From all the way over in the Jarrold Stand, which in that moment was the loudest I’ve ever heard it, you could see the fire and the focus in his eyes as he crunched into a block tackle.
He won the ball cleanly and started marauding down the pitch. The sound continued to swell even as the attack lost momentum but that was the moment for me. The moment I remember more acutely than any other in my years of watching Norwich City.
I know that may not make a whole lot of sense. How can that moment among so many across the last 30 years be more acutely etched into my mind?
In the 2018/19 season alone there were so many glorious things to remember – the entire last ten minutes against Millwall, Big Timm’s dummy and Onel’s finish against Forest, THAT free kick by Mario, not to mention Lambert and Ipswich. And yet, it is not a goal or even an assist in a relatively comfortable match against Rotherham that takes pride of place for me.
Hell, there was enough just in that Rotherham match that might make more obvious sense. Todd and Max both scored their first league goals, Teemu had a pretty average game and still ended up on the scoresheet, Marco did his usual weird and wonderfully unorthodox number 10 thing that I still struggle to believe can be so effective and mesmerising to watch.
Part of the reason is Emi, of course.
Truly he is a little wonder and however long he remains with us will not be long enough. I have a friend who supports Liverpool (but don’t hold that against him) who used to recall watching Kenny Dalglish in his pomp and being almost reduced to tears by his talent and brilliance. That’s how I feel about Emi.
A pure drop of inspiration, an artist with an edge. The combination of elegance and grit, instinct and vision that makes him unique among city players.
The other reason though is the crowd. Thirty years is a long time to be attending matches, but it is what we Norwich fans do. The sun comes up and goes down and we attend Norwich matches. The circumstances may change but that one fact does not. Carrow Road will be full.
There will be grumbles, there will be groans, even during comfortable wins. There will also be shouts of approval and, at its greatest and most wonderful moments like the one I described earlier, the sensory overload combines as fans and players join together to push each other on; to be more than just 11 players on a pitch and 27,000 people watching.
It is community, it is connection to the soul of the sport and in those moments, it can be both a sign and proof that anything is possible.
Which may be why I hated ‘Project Restart’ so much.
I want it to say it was just the terrible results, but it was not. From the comfort of my living room I watched something resembling professional football with the soul removed and replaced by a digital approximation of what it is to attend a game and why any of us care.
The sooner it is totally safe to get fans back in the ground the better and when we do there should be no more chants about stadiums resembling libraries. We have all seen it and that joke is not funny anymore because no amount of computer-generated crowd noise will ever be a substitute for the true emotion or spirit that comes in the noise of the Barclay AND the quiet of the River End.
Because emotion and spirit are key in this.
It is where our individual and collective memories come from and why they stay with us. Some are incidental yet defining moments while others are more obviously important, but all have value in building connections to our team and to each other.
And they are worth remembering because they tell us who we are: they tell us that we are Norwich City Football Club.
James has written both fiction and non-fiction and is a lifelong Norwich fan. He tends to find that life and supporting City can be treated in much the same way: as a triumph of hope over expectation that he would not change for anything.
His work can be found here.