In the fifth part of his look at City in the 1990s, Martin MacBlain goes all Fever Pitch on us and tells of how a chat with some mates and a Match magazine combined to create a new Norwich City fan…
Why do we support football teams? For some, it’s fostered upon us by peers in the playground, for others it’s a generational thing. Passed down from one generation to the next, with each generation passing on the wisdom, knowledge and insight from their era to their offsprings.
In such ways, those in their 30s have a far more detailed knowledge than they should of Ron Saunders and 20-year-olds will know about the silver-haired maestro, Mike Walker.
And for some, it’s about acceptance. Fitting in. And that was always why I thought I started supporting Norwich City.
Until that is, in 2002, I read Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and I realised my falling in love with Norwich was for quite a different reason. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the novel, I’ll very briefly summarise – it’s about a teacher who loves Arsenal and coaches his school team to play in that way.
Yet there was a small paragraph in the first chapter that caught my eye. And for the first time I wondered, did I find Norwich or did Norwich find me?
‘Hornby writes about being an Arsenal fan, about how it all started and became a coping mechanism for his parent’s divorce and for his father to have a different means of communication with his young son. He writes about how he fell in love with football – ‘suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it’ – and how Arsenal began to dictate the ebbs and flows of the rest of his life. At a young age, Hornby’s life became inextricably linked with that of the North London club and for a large part of his adolescence and twenties, he truly believed that the fortunes of both were connected, sometimes even hating the club for being an addiction he couldn’t quite give up.’
Supporting Norwich City and being called a glory hunter is not a label that many Canaries fans have ever had to endure, yet I had made my decision after the end of the 1992/93 season.
I enjoyed football, watched with passing fascination the trials and tribulations of the English Italia 90 squad, wept with Gazza and could name three of Liverpool’s players in total. And that was that.
I knew I had to have a team as everyone else did. So, I plumped for Norwich after seeing last season’s league table and a third-place finish. Little had I realised that since leaving Aylsham in 1987, the club had been on an upward trajectory ever since. I should’ve shown my hand much earlier.
The aforementioned chapter in Fever Pitch discusses young football fans finding football as a replacement to fill a void in their lives. For Hornby, it was the divorce of his parents, yet for me, it was the death of my mother on May 23rd 1993.
Hornby makes the point that a child will try to absorb themselves in football after a traumatic event to help them engage and fixate on something. My fixation didn’t quite manifest itself fully with the 1993/94 season – perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for that void to be filled – but it certainly was in full flight by the time the 1994/95 season had come upon us.
Yet in the summer of 1993, Norwich City FC slowly, surely, systematically, began to fill that gaping hole.
The memory is as clear as day. The date escapes me, but the memory is still crystal clear. There I was siting with three mates. 13 years of age. ‘I need to support a team’. ‘Pass me a copy of Match magazine and let’s choose someone’.
The magazine fell open onto the final table of the inaugural Premier League. Norwich in third? This was akin to a eureka moment, an epiphany if you will. Fate? Destiny?
I’d lived near Norwich. I knew the city. I knew the colours. My old mates supported Norwich. More importantly – I HAD A CONNECTION.
This wasn’t just glory hunting. I actually had lived and grown up (1980-1987) in Norfolk. And here was a team who on the face of things were successful! I often reflect on that moment in time. What if Match magazine hadn’t been there? What if I looked the season prior? Would I be a Leeds fan? *Shudders*
Although admittedly there have been many many different occasions in my life when I’d wished I’d just ‘gone for Man United’. But the troughs of supporting Norwich have certainly made the peaks more enjoyable.
On the walk home on that fateful afternoon, I set about (with the help of a Dan, a Yeovil town supporting friend) learning the names of our 1993/94 squad.
Sutton – easy.
Fox – easy
Gunn – easy
Bowen – easy
And so I threw myself with aplomb into the 1993/94 season. We didn’t have SKY and my father rarely bought a newspaper, so following the fortunes of Norwich, at that age, was relatively hard. Snippets here and there in a monthly copy of Match magazine was all I could get my hands on. And it was in such fashion that I learnt of our 3-3 draw with Swindon, Gunn’s red card against Liverpool and losing 5-4 to Southampton.
We’d started the season so well. Two losses in our first 15 matches would appear to indicate that we were carrying on from last season’s heroics. Sutton was quickly out of the blocks, ditto Fox and a resplendent Jeremy Goss would go on to enjoy the season that defined him. (Incidentally – I heard him co-commentate against Toulouse the other day – a great summariser).
The only game I actually sat and watched that season was the 2-0 loss to Man Utd in the FA Cup and that was only as it was televised on the BBC.
As a club supporting novice, I wasn’t really up on European matches, relegations etc, all I knew was that we were in Europe and it seemed to be capturing the nation’s hearts.
I had absolutely no idea we’d even played Vitesse once, let alone twice. I have a hazy memory of semi-watching one of the Bayern legs on TV (I think the first, as I was pleased we were winning) and my only recollection of the Inter match (there were two?) was in so far as it was during the school day and my mate skived off to go home and watch it. He didn’t even support Norwich.
MIKE WALKER LEAVES
This was the first moment of loss in supporting Norwich and the stark realisation that nothing in football ever stays the same. Nothing had changed since I ‘chose’ my team. Yet here was the manager, ‘walking away’ if you’ll pardon the pun. But why?
He’d just finished third, had an incredibly successful European run and was sitting in a not too shabby league position by the time January came about. This 13-year-old boy simply couldn’t process the loss.
(I would later learn he simply wanted to be paid more. ‘Remuneration’ was the word that kept cropping up on my season review video…)
But we had kept the squad intact and, hopefully, John Deehan could replicate the form we had shown and we could crack on with getting back to business.
A month later and Ruel Fox was gone. £2.25 million to Newcastle. And the inevitable taunts in the schoolyard started. ‘Lost your manager’. ‘Losing your best player’. Groan. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. At least we still have Chris Sutton – that talismanic striker – grabbing the goals and the headlines.
By the time I was getting up to speed up with the rest of the players, new manager and results, it was the last game of the standing Kop. Now bear in mind that this was the era when every school kid supported Liverpool. I patiently waited to watch MOTD and then watched with absolute delight as we totally dismantled Liverpool. Efan Ekoku could have had three! What a season and what a goal from Gossy! My turn for taunts on Monday in school.
And then it was over as swiftly as it had begun. The season where both us as fans (and the players) genuinely believed we could qualify for (and compete within) Europe with something approaching regularity.
Hindsight is a wonderful trait, albeit one that can you toss you up and spit you out. But just imagine where we’d be now if Robert Chase had have had the same mindset and approach as Stuart Webber in that glorious summer of 1993…
I’d love to know how you, as readers, came to support Norwich City.
Did you find the club? Or did it find you?