THE stadium will be empty when Paul Warne heads home to the place where football first stole his heart.
But the Rotherham United manager will feel the presence of someone by his side: his dad.
Russell Warne was the father who took Warne to his first Norwich City manager at Carrow Road when the Millers boss was a boy growing up in Norfolk.
Warne Senior died in 2019 but will be with his son in spirit when Warne Junior travels south east with his side to face the Canaries on Saturday.
“There is not a chance that I won’t think about my father,” the manager said. “Not a chance.”
The coronavirus pandemic robs Warne of the chance to pit himself against the customary 27,000-plus full house at Carrow Road where dozens of his Norwich-supporting family and friends would have forsaken their usual allegiance to cheer on the visitors for the day.
In some way, the vacant seats will have a more profound effect on him than a sea of yellow and green.
“I think it will be a bit surreal managing my team there with no crowd,” he said. “It might feel even more emotional than normal.
“It’s like going into a church when it’s empty. If I go into a church that is completely empty it feels more spiritual than if 100 people were in it.”
Carrow Road was Warne’s place of worship throughout his childhood. Norwich rejected him as a teenager after a trial and he spent several years in the non-league ranks before being handed his chance as a pro by Wigan Athletic when he was 24.
The manager’s seat in the dugout was left unfilled when the Canaries won 2-1 with a last-minute penalty at AESSEAL New York Stadium in October because Warne was self-isolating following a coronavirus case at his family property in Tickhill.
For a brief moment last week, he feared the same fate would befall him this weekend.
“I got Covid tested and my first result came back inconclusive,” he said. “I had to take another test and I’m thinking: ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be positive for Norwich away having missed Norwich at home.’”
Warne has managed just once at Carrow Road — a 3-1 Championship defeat in December 2018 when his dad was too ill to attend — and graced the pitch as a player on a sole occasion: a local cup final watched by around 3,000 spectators.
Saturday’s clash means more to him than any other away fixture and he is desperate for the Millers to do themselves justice against a side who were in the Premier League last season and have been topping the second tier this term.
“I just hope that we can perform because I honestly think Norwich are the best team in the league,” he said.
“It will feel odd to have no people there but then hopefully it will be less intimidating for my team.
“My dad would have been proud anyway. I’d love to make him a little bit prouder.”
One to watch
Thirty-year-old striker Teemu Pukki (right) is Norwich’s top scorer this season with 14 goals in 29 outings. The Finnish international hit the target 13 times in the Premier League last season and finished with a 30-goal haul in the Canaries’ 2018/19 Championship promotion campaign.
Last time out
Rotherham took an early lead through Freddie Ladapo at AESSEAL New York Stadium in October and spurned a golden chance to make it 2-0 when the striker saw his penalty saved. The Canaries hit back after the break to equalise through a Michael Ihiekwe own goal and the game looked to be heading for a 1-1 draw. Then substitute Florian Jozefzoon, on his debut, upended Emi Buendia and Jordan Hugill’s stoppage-time spot-kick spelled misery for the Millers.
Other recent clashes
Mar 16 2019, Championship:
Millers 1 (Semi Ajayi) Norwich 2
Dec 1 2018, Championship:
Norwich 3 Millers 1 (Richie Towell)
Jan 14 2017, Championship:
Millers 2 (Jerry Yates, Tom Adeyemi) Norwich 1
Oct 15 2016, Championship:
Norwich 3 Millers 1 (Dexter Blackstock)
Aug 25 2015, League Cup:
Millers 1 (Paul Green) Norwich 2
Apr 25 2015, Championship:
Millers 1 (Jordan Bowery) Norwich 1
Oct 4 2014, Championship:
Norwich 1 Millers 1 (Paul Green pen)
In 37 meetings between the clubs since 1960, Norwich have 17 wins, Rotherham nine and there have been 11 draws.
After a spell in charge of Borussia Dortmund’s second team. Daniel Farke took over at Norwich in 2017 and led them from the Championship to the Premier League in his second season. The Canaries were relegated in their first campaign in the top flight but are on course this term for an immediate return. Now 44, Farke was a forward in the lower levels of German professional football in his playing days.
Unsurprisingly, the bookmakers are making Norwich heavy favourites on Saturday, offering a home win at 1/2, a Rotherham victory at 4/1 and the draw at 3/1.