One thing that has really rankled me this week is the amount of people basically saying that, because the game against the Canaries “didn’t mean anything”, they wouldn’t be tuning in. I’m sure everyone has their reasons, but I just cannot fathom this viewpoint.
It’s just not something that, without being dramatic, I can process. Maybe I’m in the minority, I don’t know, but if there’s a game to watch and I can watch it, I will. I unashamedly love this team, come what may. So yeah, I did watch the game and I had a thoroughly good time (I didn’t) and if you didn’t watch it, I feel sorry for you (I don’t - I’m actually a bit jealous of you).
With the social media boycott across the board (which, as a side note I support wholeheartedly) the lead-up to the game felt like the calm before the very bad weather, the hush before the hoohah, the silence before the... well, not silence. Rumours in the week leading up to the game were rampant (one or two people mentioned it in passing) that Pauno would jettison the loan, out-of-contract and, frankly, crap players for some of the youth chaps. Would he do it against the top-of-the-table yellow birds? Could he risk even more ire from the slightly peeved Royals fans who said the team were bottlers?
Well yeah, he did/didn’t. The team selection was pointless. Utterly pointless. I can only imagine he didn’t want us to get humiliated. I can’t tell you how much I disagreed with his selection. Actually, I can: you know when a public figure spends loads of money on some home improvements and it turns out that that money might have come from the public in the shape of tax-paying money and everyone disagrees with it and there is a legal enquiry launched? Well, that was my level of reaction to this team selection. Utterly pointless, like skimmed milk.
As I took in this news while glancing across at the lynx enclosure (oh, forgot to say I was at Beale Park), I wondered if this breed of cat ever felt the same level of anger I was currently feeling (side note: for those of you reading this abroad or north of Berkshire, Beale Park is one of the Royal County’s premium attractions. Since it reopened after lockdown, it has rebranded as a wildlife park and has stocked up on a range of exotic animals including zebras and porcupines to add to its already glorious selection of owls and guinea pigs).
As we entered the kingdom of Neville (that’s his name) the dwarf crocodile, an unholy premonition greeted me as the mini reptile lay in his pond devouring a white rat. What made it worse was that the rat was already dead: all Neville had to do was eat it. And this led a large, tingling chill to travel down my spine quickly as I replaced the croc with Norwich and the dead rat with us. All in my head, of course. Not literally - that would have taken a tremendous amount of effort. But yeah, basically, we were turning up to East Anglia to be devoured.
On nine minutes, Ejaria burst through the box and was surrounded by three Canaries like some mining expedition gone wrong. He was felled like an ancient oak being cut down by a chap with a large bushy beard, but no death kick was given. Pauno was furious and at that point, I contemplated throwing my phone into the lake.
But then, something incredible happened: we took the lead. We’d become the dwarf crocodile! WE’D BECOME NEVILLE! I gave the biggest fist pump the Berkshire/Oxon border had ever seen. Our good pressure leading up to the goal had worked, but of course it wasn’t to last. Norwich equalised and at that point, I hit (not literally) the concession stand and bought a feast.
Without sounding like a Waitrose advert for a new wine, we were bright, bubbly, had plenty of fizz and would be highly drinkable with a piece of grilled fish (well, maybe not that last one). Despite my angry ice cream purchase, I felt we were pretty good overall and, as lower-tier commentators/pundits like to say, “good value”.
The second half just saw us collapse really. Some very tired legs contributed to the score line, particularly for the third goal where Semedo carelessly lost the ball and had to bring down Cantwell, thus giving away a free kick which was converted with aplomb. Why he was in the squad I will never know (see my point about team selection further up) but many of the players didn’t have the legs to show up and I can’t criticise them for that.
As I said earlier, I am in love with this football club and I always will be. Call me tinpot, but I will look back on this season with some fond memories and a distinct lack of negativity. I’m ready for what the preseason and 2021/22 brings but I’m glad it’s all over next week. I need a break and I think the players do too. It’s been a long old slog for all involved and the physical and emotional toll has been big on everyone involved with the club.
Until next time.