FOR a boyhood Claret, birthday presents don’t get much better than stepping out at Turf Moor.
But, on the weekend he comes of age, Oliver Norwood will be lining up against his hometown heroes, looking to hand Coventry City a relegation lifeline on Saturday.
The Manchester United and Northern Ireland midfielder - currently on loan with the Sky Blues - turned 21 today, and will make one of his dreams come true by playing on the Turf.
He has won the Keighley Cup there with St Theodore’s, and played in the reserves for United, but running out as a professional will be a proud moment for the former Clarets season ticket holder.
“I’ll be a bit nervous and excited - it’s my first proper professional game at Turf Moor, on my birthday weekend as well. I suppose I’ll just have to forget where I am when we kick off, and use that nervous energy.
“All my friends and family will be there, I’m a Burnley fan and have always followed them - I had a season ticket until I turned professional at United in 2009.
“You can see the ground from my bedroom window at my mum and dad’s house, so it will be great to play in front of so many people I know - and I’ve been warned ‘don’t you dare score!’”
Norwood isn’t old enough to remember another big Clarets fan Andy Payton trudging back to the halfway line after scoring against Burnley for Barnsley in 1994, but he added: “If I do score, I don’t think I could bring myself to celebrate either!”
However, he and Coventry have business to attend to, and allegiances will be put to one side. Andy Thorn’s men are four points adrift of safety after Monday’s 3-1 defeat at rivals Bristol City - despite going into the game on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run.
City haven’t been in the third tier of English football since 1964, and Norwood said: “That killed us on Monday, but we’ve got to keep going and see what happens.
“It’s a must-win at Burnley, and we have to hope Bristol City slip up.
“We have to win as many games as we can.”
Whatever happens at the Ricoh Arena, Norwood is grateful to Thorn for his first shot at Championship football, after loan spells with Carlisle United and Scunthorpe United over the past couple of seasons in League One.
Signed on loan in January until the end of the season, Norwood made his debut as a substitute against Ipswich and has since gone on to complete the full 90 minutes in the next 13 games: “I’ve played over 30 games this season, with Scunthorpe and Coventry, and it’s my best run of first team football yet.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, and scored a couple of goals, although I feel I can score more.
“The gaffer has been brilliant and given me great belief, and I must be doing something right if he’s not taken me off or left me out yet!
“I’ve played in some big stadiums in front of big crowds and it’s a great buzz.”
Norwood is out of contract at Old Trafford in the summer, but there is the offer of a further year on the table.
But he won’t consider his future until Coventry are safe: “I’ll go back in the summer and see what the gaffer wants me to do, but I’m just concentrating on Coventry at the moment. I have an offer for another year, and I’ve been there since I was seven. My biggest dream is to play for United, but I want a successful career wherever that is, every footballer just wants to play football.”