The last time I penned a blog for MFW, my son Isaac and I had not long been to see City’s thrilling FA Cup 5th Round penalty shoot-out win against Spurs at the magnificent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in March of last year.
Twelve days after that unforgettable match, the country was suddenly plunged into a full lockdown, in response to a contagious virus that was sweeping the globe.
Ten months on and Norwich are about to kick-off their FA Cup campaign for this season against Coventry City, and almost as coincidence would have it, we’re back into another full Coronavirus lockdown.
It’s as if we’ve been playing the longest game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ ever. Just as you think you’re making progress at last towards the conclusion of the game, you roll the dice towards certain victory, only to land on the head of the biggest snake on the board.
You have that sinking, dis-spirited feeling as you realise you’re very much back to square one. What’s that cliche Paul Lambert so often used after a City defeat? “We go again…”
On we go again indeed. For now. It surprises me somewhat that all elite sport has been given the green light to continue currently, against the backdrop of the rocketing infection rates of the new strain of virus.
I remember having a conversation with my son after our hard-fought victory (haven’t they all been lately) against Cardiff before Christmas, regarding whether football could be suspended again in light of the rising Coronavirus numbers and the newly discovered strain that was more transmissible.
It seemed like a day didn’t go by over the festive period with many Premier League and EFL teams reporting players and staff had tested positive for COVID. On Tuesday of this week, the Premier League reported a season-high 40 positive coronavirus cases. We have seen quite a number of postponements to games over recent match days as a result, there will doubtless be more to follow.
So I’ve felt compelled to write another blog against the current backdrop because suddenly the same old questions I was pondering last April have been bubbling to the surface again.
Before putting pen-to-paper (OK.. OK.. fingers to keyboard), I felt it best to refresh my memory on previous arguments nine months ago. With Norwich rooted firmly to the bottom of the Premier League, I was adamant that football couldn’t possibly restart amidst a global health emergency.
Bearing in mind there was still huge uncertainty surrounding the effects and impacts of the pandemic, how on earth could the European leagues recommence competitions safely and fairly? Albeit with nine top-flight games for City left to play back then, the only fair conclusion I felt would be to null-and-void the season.
Even despite the furious outrage from Leeds supporters, as far as I was concerned, they’d have to suck up yet another season outside football’s elite whilst we enjoy a fairer crack at our return to the top-flight.
The irony now of course is, with my team sitting proudly at the summit of the Championship once more, I don’t want them to curtail this season. They can’t. We may have only played half the games so far, but the Championship has to play to a conclusion, to maintain the ‘integrity of the competition’.
However, I do recognise the seriousness of the situation we’re battling against once more. Who can predict whether football, and indeed elite sport, will be brought to a grinding juddering halt again in the coming days or weeks?
As we’ve seen with the schools, what is safe today could be deemed unsafe tomorrow. The huge challenge some clubs already face is rearranging postponed fixtures into an already over-crowded, compacted season.
When, not if, we have a number of other postponements in the weeks to come, it’s going to place enormous pressure on all clubs. It’s not like the cut and thrust of your bread and butter doesn’t bring its own pressures in normal times.
We are now at a crossroads I feel. On the face of it, (and unlike last April) I welcome the continuation and distraction of sport in the current situation. If we really are facing lockdown into March, goodness knows we’re going to need to see plenty more of Daniel Farke’s boys.
I need Emi (don’t @ me Arsenal fans), Teemu, Max, Todd, Gibbo, Skippy, Hugill, Super Mario, Lungi, Tetts… the whole blooming lot of them in my life. They will provide us the hope and escapism from these difficult months and the promise of better times to come.
However, I realise that flying in the face of the great Bill Shankley, there is something more important than football… health and well-being.
Not just us as individuals, but our friends, our loved ones, our wider community, and absolutely our sporting heroes.
Please stay safe everyone, and a Happy New Year.