Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tumbling down to the Norwich-Rotherham match

Tumbling down to the Norwich-Rotherham match
by rick olivares

“The man in the moon came tumbling down
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge.”

As a youngster, my mam read and recited that children’s rhyme to me countless times. I had no idea where Norwich was and only learned later on that it was in England.

As for the man in the moon, he became that astronaut award for MTV.

On a cold Saturday morn last October 4, I made my way to Norwich and instantly thought of that rhyme. I am the man on the moon who came tumbling from the Philippines in glee.

The previous day, I made the mistake of going out in thin garb and the sudden burst of cold weather killed me. But I am not in England to lie down on my sick bed for a day so I made my way to Liverpool Street Station to take the East Anglia train to Norwich (£50.50 two-way) to catch the Norwich-Rotherham match at Carrow Road. As I stepped out of the train, the cold wind wrapped its arms around me and I felt the chill shoot up my spine and to my head. Instant brain freeze.

I sought refuge in a nearby coffee shop where I ordered some hot chocolate and promptly burned my tongue just to keep warm.

Once I hooked up with one of my best buddies, Craig Burrows, at the coffee shop, I kind of forgot the cold.

You see on this day, he was watching his beloved Norwich City Canaries live for the first time in 30 years. I was going to witness that reconnection.

On the train to Norwich, I noticed that there were about six people who got on board wearing the yellow colors of the squad. As we passed through the different stops along the rail line, more and more people got on board wearing Norwich colors. Interestingly enough, there were a lot who boarded from Ipswich station. I thought to myself, isn’t this Suffolk community fierce rivals with Norfolk foes, Norwich?

I only learned later in the day that Norwich has a lot of supporters from the outlying areas, Ipswich be damned.

Norwich City was to play Football League Championship foes, Rotherham. Norwich was relegated from the Premier League last season while Rotherham was promoted from League One. According to fan John Winter who has watched almost every single home match by Norwich since the 1960s, they understand their place in English football. They are happy to be able to go up to the Premier League but don’t think the world will end when they get relegated. “We’re not a moneyed club like the other top sides,” Winter commented. “We are just merry to be supporting our club wherever they are. That doesn’t mean we do not believe we can survive the top flight. I think we’re learning from our experiences.”

While the Canaries are atop the Championship table with a 6-2-2 record (tied for first with Nottingham Forest) and as of today are looking like a team that will once more get promoted to the Premier League, they have struggled at home. On the road, they have looked imperious winning four and taking one loss.

In their previous fixture, they took a 1-nil loss to Charlton while Rotherham dumped Blackburn Rovers, 2-0, to move them to 17th in the table. Clearly, there was pressure on the home team.

“I hope Norwich wins in my homecoming,” mused Burrows.

For much of the first half, it seemed as if the Canaries were going to send their fans home happy. The Canaries overcame a nervy start to the match when midfielders Nathan Redmond and Bradley Johnson began to raid deep into Miller territory. On defense, Norwich centrebacks Michael Turner and Jos Hooiveld repelled all attacks allowing wingbacks Russell Martin and Martin Olsson to link up for the attack.

Rotherham United, 17th in the 24-team standings and with an entire row of supporters on hand to cheer them, occasionally threatened on the counter. But one fortuitous long ball found striker Paul Derbyshire with some space to try and beat Turner. Norwich keeper John Ruddy rushed out to grab the ball but instead bowled over the Rotherham player. Referee Phil Gibbs instantly pointed to the penalty spot; he was awarding Rotherham a penalty in the 44th minute. Millers midfielder Paul Green made good on his spot kick to put his side on top, 1-nil, heading into the half.

“That is why football can be cruel,” commented Winter at the half. “We’ve been dominating the match but the visitors are leading because of one mistake.” Norwich forward Cameron Jerome had three excellent chances to put his side on the board but the 6’1” Huddersfield native muffed all of them including a backheel that was turned back by an alert Rotherham keeper.

Fifteen minutes into the second half, with Rotherham’s defense a little more compact, Canaries manager Neil Adams changed his formation from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2. The extra man in the midfield helped but Norwich still could not find the back of the net.

In the 77th minute, a handball outside the box on Rotherham defender Kari Arnason outside the box gave Norwich another shot at goal. Substitute Kyle Lafferty’s shot cleared the wall and struck the post but Jerome was quick to react as he slotted in the rebound past keeper Adam Collin. Carrow Road broke Into cheers with football’s oldest song, “On the ball, City” reverberating throughout the stadium. It was a sweet moment for the Canaries and their faithful as up to that point, Rotherham’s vigorous supporters had outcheered them.

Norwich nearly claimed the three points as they had several opportunities to add to their goal total but whether by over eagerness or poor finishing, they failed to connect.

“I’ll take it,” concluded longtime fan, John Winter. “No, I am not disappointed. After years of watching this game, you learn to take the good and your lumps and fight on for another day. I am not disappointed with the result.”

Craig Burrows clearly empathized, “We should have won but I am just happy to be here. I missed this!”

With the rain pouring and the winds chilling us to the bone, we made out way to the train station to head back to London. Unlike my outward trip, this time the train was packed with Norwich fans from first class up to the last carriage. “You’d be surprised that there are a lot of Norwich supporters who live in London,” explained Burrows.

Standing in the food carriage (as the train was packed), we ordered some hot chocolate to warm our cold bodies. Just as I did when I arrived, I burnt my tongue. “Anyone got pease porridge,” I asked to no one in particular.

The barista gave me a quizzical look for a moment and smiled.

“Football,” he mumbled as the train rumbled on through the cold English night.

With long-time Norwich fan John Winter

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