IT occurred to me while reading the Norwich City player profiles in the match programme before yesterday’s game at Stoke. Norwich are the Sarah Millican of English football.
I’ll explain, if it helps. Almost every in-depth feature about Millican mentions the fact that she was working as a civil servant in South Shields until she was 29. Or as the Independent put it during the week, “a bored, lowly civil servant”. That’s right. She didn’t even have the consolation of high office.
And by the same token, no article about a member of Norwich’s first-team squad is complete unless it recounts how they were playing in Division Eight and working in an abattoir just three years ago.
So a profile on Grant Holt in the Stoke programme asks the question: “Could a potential England call-up prove to be the pinnacle of a remarkable few years for the former tyre fitter?”
A piece on fellow striker Steve Morison states: “Just three years ago, Morison was turning out for Stevenage in the Blue Square Premier.”
And an article about Anthony Pilkington tells us: “He was forced to make his initial headway in the game at non-league level when he joined Atherton Collieries for the 2006-07 season.”
I’ve not been averse to writing such pieces about the Norwich squad myself – as shown by a blog post from last November in which I expressed astonishment that Holt had played in an amateur six-a-side tournament in Carlisle as recently as 2005.
It is heart-warming to think, in an age so cynical that privatising the police appears to be a serious possibility, that we can still be amazed by the idea of Premier League footballers having done things in the lives other than play Premier League football. Look! Pat Nevin reads the NME! Mike Hooper’s got a degree in English! David James does paintings! Steve Ogrizovic played the saxophone solo on Baker Street! Maybe…
I should point out that for Millican and Norwich, their rise to prominence has been fully deserved. (Although Millican’s much funnier than Paul Lambert.) Indeed, in both cases, the rags-to-riches story does mask just how hard they have had to work for that success.
Millican’s somewhat ditsy on-stage persona masks just how driven she is off-stage. Success came to her relatively quickly in comedy terms, yet she still spent four or five years driving huge distances to do low-profile gigs for not very much money before she made it big.
The interview she did with the Independent a few days ago recounted a recent dispute with a fan who had filmed part of a Millican gig in Wolverhampton, posted it on Facebook and then told her about it. Millican, keen to protect painstaking-crafted material for the rest of her tour, accused the fan of theft. The fan – maybe confusing the comic’s on-stage and off-stage personality – seemed genuinely bemused that Millican didn’t just shrug it off.
As for Norwich, they clearly have players with talent, otherwise they wouldn’t be a mid-table Premier League side. Those players also clearly have application, otherwise they wouldn’t have made it to the top flight. Perhaps all that Holt, Morison and Pilkington were missing earlier in their career was the right opportunity. Once it came, as with Millican, they worked damn hard to make sure they took it.
Comparing Stoke City to a comedian is much easier. He’s enjoyed success, is a solid performer, but doesn’t get the kind of huge publicity attracted by McIntyre, Millican or Mitchell. Oh, and he’s a Stoke fan. I’d say that’s enough clues.
Last on MOTD: Stoke 1 Norwich 0
Commentator: John Roder
When you’re as driven as the successful comedian, or the Premier League manager, minor obstacles to progress can be a major annoyance. And so just as Millican was upset by a fan allegedly stealing her material, so Lambert was aggrieved by the award of a throw-in at the Britannia Stadium.
Sitting in the press box at the back of the main stand, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about initially. The television pictures did a better job of picking it up for last night’s Match of the Day.
But what happened was this: Norwich’s Kyle Bennett* (or, as Alan Shearer called him in the post-match analysis, Anthony Pilkington) flicked the ball off Stoke full-back Marc Wilson for a throw. Referee Michael Oliver started to walk upfield as if it were a Norwich ball, but the linesman gave it Stoke’s way. Wilson’s throw was flicked on by Cameron Jerome to Matt Etherington, who darted beyond a distracted defence to score from a tight angle.
“The referee indicated he’d given the throw to us and the linesman’s overruled him for some reason,” Lambert said afterwards.
“We’re out of position and we lose a bad goal. He did admit to me in the tunnel that he was given the throw to us, but the linesman thought differently. It’s frustrating.”
Shearer also thought the TV pictures showed Oliver gave Norwich the throw. But I’m not sure I agree. Oliver didn’t, at any stage, make a clear signal to indicate the throw either way. I suspect that he probably believed it was a Norwich ball, began to walk in the direction they were attacking, then saw the linesman give it the other way and thought: “Well, he’s closer to it than I am, so I’ll go with his decision.”
That Norwich conceded a goal as a result was, in my view, more down to their own poor defending than to the decision-making of the officials.
To blame a goal on a throw being given the wrong way always reminds me of Half Man Half Biscuit’s song The Referee’s Alphabet, which I mentioned in passing on this blog at Christmas. There’s a line in it which goes: “G is for the gnarled face of someone on £90,000 a week who reckons he should have had a throw-in.”
Perhaps I was expecting Lambert to shrug off the decision. Perhaps I should have known better.
*UPDATE: I meant Elliott Bennett, obviously. He has never, to my knowledge, been called Kyle. Oops. Thanks to ChoppiB and Ron Obvious (not their real names either) for pointing out my blunder. Alan Shearer, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you’re not): I’m sorry.
1. Fulham: 6 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
2. Aston Villa: 5 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
3. Norwich: 5 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
4. Stoke: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
5. Wigan: 4 (2L: 8, 3L: 4)
6. Swansea: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
6. West Brom: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
8. QPR: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
9. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 5, 3L: 0)
10: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
11: Liverpool: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
12. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 4)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (QPR 1 Everton 1)
3L = On third last (Blackburn 1 Aston Villa 1)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)