This can be a difficult time of year to be a football supporter.

As soon as The Six Nations Championship begins we get told about all of the things that our favourite sport can learn from rugby.

As we made our way across London on the tube on Saturday it was hard not to feel judged by all the rugby shirts bound for Twickenham. They were off to watch a sport where supporters are trusted enough to drink in the stands and sit near opposition fans.

They even call the referee ‘sir’ and clearly explain decisions made via video replays to the crowd. Perhaps that’s why feedback from the rugby community stings so much. Criticism always hurts more when it is underpinned by the truth.

There is one little bit of egg-shaped influence creeping into the round-ball world though. The importance of substitutes has grown so much since managers have been allowed to change five of their team during a game. In rugby they prefer the term ‘finishers’.

So, you can’t even call them substitutes anymore? Some will say it’s political correctness gone mad or evidence that sport has gone ‘woke’. To those people I say just calm down and consider Norwich City’s last two matches.

Against Coventry the Canaries were 1-0 down. David Wagner sent on Ashley Barnes and his two assists set up a fine 2-1 win. On Saturday at Loftus Road Norwich were 2-1 up at QPR with a quarter of the game to go.

This time Wagner looked to make his team more difficult to beat, striker Josh Sargent was replaced in favour of an extra midfielder. This time it didn’t work and QPR preyed on the City uncertainty to fashion an equaliser of their own. The big talking point after both matches was how the alterations made from the bench had completely changed the game.

It's very rare for a goalkeeper to be taken off so quite often now 10 of the 20 starting outfield players don’t finish a Championship game.

When that much is being tinkered with during the 90 minutes it is going to have a significant impact. On a personal note it’s also an administrative nightmare for commentators. More than once this season I have found myself confused as to which players are actually still on the pitch.

Scenes of multiple substitutions being made at the same time by both teams used to be limited to pre-season friendlies. It’s now a weekly occurrence. I can’t keep up with the paperwork.

Having so many options means that clubs carry much bigger, almost rugby sized, squads now too.

It’s no wonder that at times Norwich City’s performances have lacked the rhythm that only comes from having a settled side. David Wagner’s preferred front four this season appears to be Sargent and Barnes up front with Jonathan Rowe and Borja Sainz in the wide positions.

For 11 glorious minutes at Loftus Road he had all four players on the pitch at the same time. That takes the total for the season to 136 minutes, which is the equivalent of a game and a half with an extra minute of stoppage time. Rowe’s worrying hamstring injury suggests the clock might be stopped on that number for a while.

At the other end of the pitch Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley are the 10th different central defensive pairing to start a match for Norwich City this season.

I was going to end by suggesting that football will always be superior to rugby because you are far less likely to get hurt playing it. Then I remembered that much of the Canary chopping and changing this season has been down to a horrendous injury list.

Is it more fun to have a little scrimmage at Carrow Road than watch a great big scrummage at Twickenham? That very much depends on how good your ‘game changers’ are.


If there is one thing I am ashamed of when it comes to football it is my complete inability to grasp the tactical side of the game.

I’ve tried listening to the podcasts, reading the articles and following the videos.

I must have watched thousands of matches on TV and in person but it’s still a struggle to fully comprehend why certain things keep happening. I marvel at ex-pros and fans who can immediately point out a ‘low block’ or a ‘high press’ that isn’t functioning properly.

That’s why, for people like me, it’s an absolute dream when somebody scores with a free header from a corner. Even I can pick up on what’s gone wrong defensively there.

However, it might be time to think twice before criticising anyone’s inability to mark up at a set piece. I managed to lose site of my man during a commentary at the weekend.

The former Norwich City defender Darren Kenton was our guest summariser at QPR. He slipped off for a well-deserved half-time cuppa. However, when the second half kicked off his seat was still empty. Loftus Road is a delightfully characterful tight-old ground. It was a sell-out so the concourses were packed. Getting from one side of the ground to the other was difficult.

It took Darren so long to figure out his own way through the off-field version of a low block that he actually missed Kenny McLean’s equalising goal.

We might need to do a bit of work on set pieces on the BBC Radio Norfolk training ground before tonight’s Watford game.