March 6, 2012
When I was 16 years old, my mate, Big Aza, asked me to go along with him to play for his Sunday league team, The Unicorns. They were down a man and had "a massive cup game" against The Norwich Busmen. It's the kind of big match that every young lad dreams of.
The game kicked-off 15 minutes late because Jason, our 40-year-old rotund super striker, had been out with the lads the night before and had to remember where he'd left his car before he could drive to the remote Norfolk field where we were waiting.
At half time, as I stretched and took on plenty of water, I watched as my new team-mates prepared for the second half; some got into their Vauxhall Novas and turned the heat on to get warm, whilst others frantically lit cigarettes to help recover from the previous 45 minutes they'd had to endure without nicotine.
While it might be a stretch to compare Norwich's away game at Stoke to the Unicorn's high profile clash with the Norwich Busmen, there were some tragic similarities in the quality of football. Maybe we've just become accustomed in recent months to seeing Norwich involved in high intensity matches with somewhat attractive, flowing football. Saturday was not one of them.
At home to Manchester United a week ago, there were times that Norwich were allowed to get the ball down, pass it around and, consequently, we created chance after chance. A team like United is happy to let you have the ball at times, has the strength of character to soak up your pressure and punish you when you least expect it. The game at Stoke was a different beast.