Carrow Road, Norwich, on Saturday night was an enjoyable place to be for those who still maintain a sense of humour about football.
In the build-up to the match against Chelsea, the Norwich City press office had been besieged by newspaper enquiries about the sobriety or otherwise of Delia Smith when she made her impassioned plea at half time last Monday night for more vocal support against Manchester City.
From the tone of those calls and the subsequent brouhaha, you would have thought that Delia had embezzled millions out of the club and then been caught in a compromising position in the dressing-room with the manager, Nigel Worthington, while supping Krug champagne from a football boot.
I wasn?t at the Manchester City game and have no idea whether Delia had supped well, rather than wisely, but there would have been none of this fuss if she hadn?t been a woman operating in what?s still a man?s world.
Sam Hammam did his rabblerousing stint for long enough at Cardiff City and many a male football club executive gives it large with the microphone when it?s deemed necessary.
At Leicester City, the genial former player Alan Birchenhall hogs the mike either side of the 90 minutes, and at half time, indulging in fervent, biased cheerleading, but no one bats an eyelid. He?s a card, old Birch, isn?t he?
So is Delia, and yet some of the tabloids appeared astonished that she isn?t the mumsy, prim person that her cliched television image as a cook has suggested. You tend to concentrate when you?re in front of a camera, going for the umpteenth take. Sometimes there isn?t time for a tap dance and a twirl.
Delia loves her club dearly, wants nothing but the best for it and, unlike almost everyone else, will actually do something about it ? even having a minor rant that lasted about ten seconds when, in common with every other Canaries? supporter at the ground last Monday night, she feared that Manchester City would sneak a victory.
Mercifully, a sense of proportion was prevalent at Carrow Road during the Chelsea match. Delia sat with the home fans behind one of the goals, as she often does ? not as some national newspapers suggested, to keep away from the directors? box, because they were embarrassed for her.
She has kept her seat at the Barclay End because she thinks it?s important to be with the fans on a regular basis to get feedback from them and allow her to shout herself hoarse like every other committed Norwich supporter.
She did the same earlier this season at Goodison Park because she felt that Everton had not apologised fulsomely enough for suggesting that the Norwich fans had booed a black Everton player the year before. Delia boycotted the facilities offered to Norwich directors in protest, so she sat with the supporters.
That?s one of the many reasons why she is so popular at Carrow Road. She also had a keen enough sense of humour to take the sarky songs from the Chelsea supporters ? like ?We?ve got Abramovich, you?ve got a drunken bitch?, ?There?s only one Gordon Ramsey? and ?You only sing when you?re cooking?.
Years ago. I covered a lot of the rancorous stories involving the then chairman Robert Chase and the more frustrated supporters? groups and the atmosphere in 1996 was corrosive, as Chase took the club so close to the edge, after they?d impressed in the Uefa Cup only three years earlier. ?From San Siro to Southend? was the baleful cry.
When Delia and her husband Michael Wynn Jones bought shares in Norwich City the club was only 24 hours away from foreclosure by the bank who were owed #8 million. Michael had watched Norwich in short trousers from the terraces since the 1950s and Delia joined him at Carrow Road when they got together as a couple in the late 1960s.
They are joint majority shareholders, having plunged #7m of their own money into transforming Norwich City.
The ground isn?t used just now and then for a football match, it?s a vibrant business centre, in productive use six days a week. Delia and Michael have shown their business acumen in the most practical fashion, by showing the colour of their money and making creative use of Carrow Road.
Every Thursday they go to the excellent training ground to watch the players in action, to talk to them and get a debriefing on the week?s work from Worthington. They were also one of the first to push for a sports scientist when it wasn?t fashionable, and ? as you?d expect ? were early advocates of footballers having a more nutritional diet.
Arsene Wenger may have garnered most of the headlines in that regard when he took over the same year as Delia got involved with Norwich but she had the same visionary approach as the ascetic Frenchman.
So it?s patronising and insulting to pigeonhole Delia Smith as a dilettante who likes a slurp and regular bouts of attention-seeking when she has a Norwich City scarf around her neck. The male of the species don?t have this nonsense when they?re pouring heart and soul into turning around a football club. Why should middle-aged men in conformist suits have the monopoly in this area?
No wonder Birmingham?s Karren Brady, Blackpool?s Vicky Oyston, Tranmere?s Lorraine Rogers and Delia Smith are so thin on the ground in English football. Vested interests and blatant misogyny are still at work here. Many a chairman or director is ill-versed in the subtleties of zonal marking or playing ?in the hole?, but they don?t get singled out.
If a woman?s involved we get the tired old cliche that they know nothing about the game. The influence of Delia Smith and her husband contributes markedly to the pleasure of going to Norwich City FC. It?s high time the football media treated her with greater maturity.
Luvvy spared before Pennant
Just one final observation on the Jermaine Pennant saga. In the week that he was jailed for three months for drink-driving offences, another person with a high profile from the entertainment world was luckier.
Finty Williams is an actress, the daughter of the national treasure Dame Judi Dench. She is also an alcoholic.
Last week she was given a suspended jail sentence of three months for the next two years and banned from driving for five years. This after colliding head-on with a car driven by a young mother and her son.
Williams ended up on the wrong side of the road and was found to have more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in her bloodstream. Bang to rights, surely?
But she walked free from court after the theatrical impresario and Everton FC chairman Bill Kenwright went into bat for her.
Never knowingly using one emotive adjective when three are available, Kenwright was a persuasive advocate. Finty was distraught, she knows she?s done wrong, she feels strong remorse, blah, blah, blah. Just the sort of words used by Pennant?s solicitor and his manager, Steve Bruce, but to no avail.
Could it be that there are one set of magistrates? rules for footballers and one for acting luvvies who have influential friends?
Mid-day kick-offs a turn-off
The muted atmosphere in the first half at The Hawthorns on Sunday was down to the ridiculous mid-day kick-off.
You cannot expect fans to be racking up the noise when they?ve been out of bed for only an hour or so while the players also appear out of sorts. When were players really up for a match starting at midday? Their body clocks simply aren?t programmed, after a career of Saturday afternoon and evening starts.
The police over-reacted to the threat of crowd disturbances. They are the licensing authority and have sole discretion over kick-off times and their decision was to start at midday. Yet there is no recent history of trouble at a West Bromwich Albion v Birmingham City match. Blues v Villa, yes ? and Albion v Wolves ? but not Sunday?s fixture.
So the crowd was 3,000 below capacity for a derby and supporters were sullen and passive. They are being taken for granted by overcautious policing, television?s influence that leads to rescheduling at short notice and clubs avidly grasping money on offer without considering the bedrock of support.
It wasn?t the fault of Albion that Sunday?s match had to start at midday even though it wasn?t being televised. Out of 15 Premiership matches at The Hawthorns this season, only five have kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday.
Who can blame the supporters for waiting to be entertained these days, rather than exhibiting blind, unquestioning faith before a ball has been kicked?
Compressed programme devalues Ashes series
Cricket fans can?t wait for the battle for the Ashes this summer. Unfortunately the first Test, at Lord?s, doesn?t start until July 21, and then five Tests are shoehorned into a frenetic seven weeks, at a time when many families are away on holiday.
It?s a crazy way to flag up a Test series that?s more keenly anticipated than any here since Australia last came over in 2001. ? Always leave ?em wanting more? is one of the shrewder marketing strategies but this Ashes series is too compressed.
If ever there was a case for spreading out six Tests against the Aussies over a summer, it?s this one. The momentum could then build to the last Test at the Oval in September when there might just be another historic occasion for English cricket. Instead we?ll have both sets of players complaining about fatigue, that back-to-back Tests leave no time for fine tuning over techniques and to get over niggling injuries.
The Ashes series, one of the great sporting contests, will be devalued. This in a summer where there are no other major football or athletics championships to take the media concentration away from the fight for the Ashes.
Never mind ? there?s always the might of Bangladesh to occupy us in the early part of the summer.
They can barely give a county eleven a decent game but they get two Tests and a diet of interminable one- day internationals throughout June and July.
The starting day of the second Test at Durham is significant. It?s been put back a day to Friday because there are severe doubts whether Bangladesh can make the match last through the weekend.
To the bean counters in the ECB?s marketing department, that is anathema. You need to sell out all the corporate entertainment for both Saturday and Sunday to make a decent profit ? so the conventional start date has to be altered to accommodate a pathetically weak opposition.
I can?t recall a Test in this country that started on any other day but Thursday. But then again I can?t think of opponents as weak as Zimbabwe ? who got to the third afternoon in their Durham Test two years ago ? and Bangladesh.
Both should be stripped of their Test status when the ICC?s executive meets in Delhi later this month. Then we can forget this ludicrous concept of the Test championship table which means all countries must play each other in a certain period.
International sport is all about stern, unyielding competitition. Like England v Australia, not England v Bangladesh.