Friday, April 3, 2009

Norwichomon. Saturday: LB

Day 1: Beers, Shots, Relegation Fights, Curry Pies and Pain

The first night, I barely remember. RZM, The Turk, Lumberjack and myself loitered at some "traditional" English pub near Liverpool Street Station, lost in a blur of bitters, Fuller's London Pride, tequila and whiskey that meshed nicely with the jetlag and general confusion.

An eight-hour flight led to an hour-long tube ride, which in turn led to a 20-minute walk to our hotel, and from there, we spilled out into Holborn like Amy Winehouse, disoriented, under the influence, and most unphotogenic.

The pub was warm and packed with Aussies, which makes perfect sense if you've ever spent time in London. The capital is packed with blonde, tanned Antipodeans, tending bar, collecting pint glasses and giving false hope to those drunk financiers who'd clocked off at 5pm from their cushy Royal Bank of Scotland offices across the street to spend what little money the company had left on round after round of vodka tonics.

We laughed, joked, ridiculed everyone in sight (including ourselves) before stumbling home around midnight. A hotel bed never felt so sweet.

That morning, it was an early start to make the trip to Norwich where Bigus was waiting with family and Canaries old boys to get the day's plans started. Lumberjack had booked a mini-van to shuttle us around, and we had the misfortune in the neanderthal who would be doing the driving. I forget his name, but it certainly rhymed with "cunt"; he drove from Dover to pick us up, loaded our bags, and then told us we had a 45-minute break because he can only drive so long in one sitting according to employment rules.

And so, he scarfed down a sausage roll and a packet of crisps (impressive for 8.30am in the morning), and we collapsed in the hotel lobby, unable to get things moving.

Once he finally did put pedal to metal, he got us lost several times, taking us on a scenic tour of Greater London with a broken GPS in his van. His bright idea? To fix the GPS once we got to Norwich, although his plan failed on one basic, crucial point: HE COULDN'T GET US TO FUCKING NORWICH.

A couple of u-turns, a dodgy roadside bacon n' egg breakfast, and a wonderful detour through what appeared to be the outskirts of Ipswich -- raw sewage and despair as far as the eye could see -- and we finally arrived at the rendez-vous, an hour later than scheduled.

Bigus was waiting, anxious at the late start, but beers were distributed and suddenly, everything got a lot calmer. We chugged a few more in the hospitality lounge before wandering down to our seats.

But wait -- first, former NCFC legend Jeremy Goss dragged Bigus and Kopper up on stage for a bit of Q&A about the NY Canaries and their allegiances to the club. Exciting stuff indeed, although I hear RZM killed it the season before with his Spurs jokes.

And then, undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend for young Bigus: DELIA SMITH. Yes, the cook sought out our traveling party and posed for pictures and a couple of questions with the lads, thanking them for their support and effort to come and support the team in their hour of need. Kopper wet himself, and Bigus nearly took her eye out with his knob!

Sure, I make fun, but I've never met Rafa Benitez, and I'll certainly never meet Hicks or Gillett which, in retrospect, is probably a very good thing indeed lest I get blood on my hands amid all the punching and stabbing.

After the hubbub died down and Kopper changed his underwear, it was almost kick-off. Down the stairs and out into the brisk Norwich air and around to our seats. Before getting there, a pitstop at the concession stand for more beer, and the most divine English export since Keira Knightley: the meat pie.

God's gift to us mortals

No, it's not a euphemism for anal sex or anything, but exactly as it sounds: a flaky, crumbly pie crust containing warm meat of some indeterminate origin, some gravy, too much salt, and all in all, it's God's snack. I'd rank the scotch egg a close second, but Delia's pies were divine. Chicken balti was the Match Pie, and nary a better morsel of food would pass my lips until the following day at Wembley. (what? I'm fat. I remember these things!)

The seats beckoned, and it was mere minutes to kick-off. Norwich City v. Coventry City. The first of many six-pointers for the Canaries.

Behold, the majesty of Carrow Road!

Call me arrogant or sheltered, but it's some wonder that I've never experienced the grit or weekly hurt of a relegation battle. Every game on the fixture list becomes a mile marker, a microcosm of a season spent yo-yoing between good form and ineptitude, between hope and despair.

Through no minor miracle, Liverpool has shielded me from the angst like a parent covering their child's eyes when something questionable pops up on the TV, and it's safe to say that the mood around Carrow Road was something decidedly R-rated. After all, it's not every day that Coventry City come to town.

The ground was brilliant, the support strong with barely an empty seat in sight, and yet the collective experience of those 94 minutes was enough to kill off any optimism. In short, the Canaries simply didn't have it, despite several agonizingly close chances, a miraculous equalizer, and then a capitulation of the highest order that gifted the visitors a fine away win.

This lad, Leon Best, was pretty awful up front, but you have to appreciate the facemask

Whether it was deserved or not is another story; to leave the opponent's left back all alone on the right edge of the box, free with time and space to bamboozle his marker, the 6-foot-5 striker who can't jump, several times over before curling it in off the far post, was inexcusable, and pointed to the core of why Norwich are where they are.

The midfield was static and unable to gear any form of attack when in possession, and the contrast with Coventry was clear every time their Icelandic #12 picked up the ball in his own half and sprinted toward goal like a greyhound in heat chasing a potential fuck toy.

The away fans were in full song throughout, even during the second half when Norwich piled on enough pressure to get an equalizer, but woeful finishing prevented further goals.

Around us, the majority of Canaries fans were frozen in an anxious stasis, stares glued to the game, faces wrought with concern, afraid to look away yet almost certain of what was coming next.

Bigus' dad left immediately at full-time, bitterly disappointed. We all followed. 2-1 Sky Blues, and plenty of reason to panic.

(Granted, now they're looking a lot more comfortable, but shit, they were struggling back then.)


Upstairs, our hosts gamely tried to keep us entertained. RZM and I were repulsed by Lumberjack, who indulged in the playground game of "Fart and Move" from one end of the room to the other, carefree as Chelsea had won, Norwich, Liverpool and Spurs had all shat the bed, and he wore his smugness as long as the night would allow.

Fans and season ticket holders sat at tables watching rugby, or crowded near the bar to get as many pints in as possible before heading home to bed. We mingled with former Canaries, including Mike Milligan and Jeremy Goss, and drank in a funereal atmosphere as hospitality prepped all their obligations for the corporate sponsors.

The Norwich City Man of the Match soon emerged, defender Gary Doherty, and Goss asked him a couple of questions on-stage before bringing up that week's Special Fan, presumably sponsored by someone or something, to ask a question of his own. Now, in normal fan/athlete interactions, you expect the regular Joe Schmo to be so enthralled by his being in the company of a player/idol that he tosses him a softball question, something along the lines of "what's your favourite food?" before running away giggling like a pre-teen girl at a Hannah Montana concert.

And yet, much to my surprise, Super Fan #99 offered Doherty a tougher question than anything scribbled on Goss' cue cards! I forget the exact wording, but it was something like "You're shit and the team is shit? Thoughts?" To his credit, Doherty gave a very composed, bland response about needing to try harder and still plenty of time left, but it still stood out as a reminder of just what was going on at Carrow Road: a fucking relegation fight! There's no time for Men of the Match when you've just lost the game!

More beer followed, and then all the sponsors came up and posed with Doherty, who wore a forced smile and looked for all the money in the world that he'd rather be somewhere else. He even posed with our lot before hastily darting out to his car.

Then, it was off for curries with a slew of old Norwichians, at which point I was ambushed with that fucking David Beckham shirt. Let the record show I still hate the man, but well played to those who set everything up, even if I never, ever, ever, ever forgive any of you for doing it. For anyone concerned, that shirt now has pride of place under the bathroom sink, where I keep it between toilet cleanings.

I barely recall what happened after that thanks to all the drinks, music and questionably-dressed women around town, but in a way, it brings the first full day of Norwichomon around full circle. I began Friday night with no clue of my surroundings, and I fell asleep Saturday night in much the same state of mind.

In-between, some other stuff happened that I'm saving for later. The following morning, we'd drag our bloated corpses from the hotel and back into the mini-van, with the trip to Wembley on the horizon.



The Fan's Attic said...

it only took three weeks, countless emails pondering what of LB's part 2, endless harassment of LB, LB telling TFA to die, and pleadings from the commentariat, and now we have to wait until monday.


Lingering Bursitis said...

focus your wrath on Bigus now, as my Part 2 is done, and even my Part 3.

Autoglass said...

Well done, LB. Norwichomon, indeed. A tasty counterbalance to Bigus' blinkers.

That said, I join TFA, LL and Bigus himself in being deeply proud of my part in the hectoring, nagging, nudging, Tweeting, yelling, and then finally pushing you to the point of, first, telling us to all fuck off and die and, then, completing your parts of the Epic that is ... Norwichomon!!!!

Well done, sir. Well...done...SIR!

jjf3 said...

I am really glad to see this happen. I thought the original idea was brilliant, and now reading LB's counterpoint to BD's view confirms that.

Norwichomon: Yes we (ass-draggingly) can!

Good read all around, guys.