I first started writing about the fortunes of Norwich City Football Club in 1992. Within a year I was doing it on a full-time basis as one Neil Custis left this neck of the woods to join The Sun and me and Mr Trevor Burton divvied up the Eastern Daily Press and the Evening News gigs between us.
Them were heady days. There was Munich and then Milan; Mike, then Martin; Robert was the chairman – and Roy was the commentator.
He wasn’t the only voice to be heard gracing the Norfolk airwaves; along from me in the Press Box sat the late Julian Smith of Radio Broadland. Julian, of course, lost his fight against MND some years ago, just as – alas – Roy lost his fight against liver illness in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Wednesday..
Roy, of course, was ‘The Voice’; the name that everyone immediately associated with his beloved Norwich City.
But, for me, the two men – Roy Waller and Julian Smith – represented something else over and above the warmth and decency both brought to the ‘Press Pack’ in those glory, glory years.
For both ‘got’ what it meant to be ‘a local’; both understood what it took to work that ‘local’ beat; more importantly, the locals ‘got’ them.
In many ways Roy – and BBC Radio Norfolk – were very, very lucky in that they unearthed another ready-made ‘local’ to replace him in the shape of Chris Goreham.
I’m sure Chris will be the first person this week to acknowledge how much he learned from Roy in those early days as he served out his apprenticeship in the Waller shadow – even if, on occasion, it might have been a case of learning what not to do…
Like losing track of the score-line in a tense, penalty shoot-out at Bolton Wanderers one, chill away-day evening.
But pound to a penny, as the sad news broke of Roy’s death, pubs across the city and the county would have been alive with favoured ‘gems’ from years gone by.
How many people would have heard: ‘Down the wing, down the wing… [pause]… [pause] GOOOAAALL!’ ring out across the bar to a chorus of gentle approval?
Most of Roy’s more treasured moments were lost on me; I was always at the other end of a Press Box; trying to make myself heard to a Pink Un copy-taker – wholly oblivious to what was going on behind a radio mike a few seats along.
Afterwards, however, and the hardy Norfolk crew would hang around in drab dressing room corridors waiting to grab a word – occasionally two if the team had lost – from the first passing player.
In that regard, Roy was a trouper; always willing to let the rest of us listen in as he posed the first question to a disappointed player or manager.
And he worked his ‘patch’ well; he got close to the players, the board, the people that mattered; he was a decent journalist in that regard. He knew how to work the ‘local’ beat; to stay ‘onside’ and be generally well-informed throughout his time at Carrow Road. And that’s no easy feat.
We did Testimonial committees together; we did dinners together. He was good company; on and off the mike.
But there is a point about looking back to those days when Batman had a commercial radio Robin; when Roy had the equally affable Julian Smith following in his wake.
Because if you look at what Radio Broadland is now becoming as the Heart Norfolk and North Suffolk ‘branch’ merges with its Suffolk and North Essex neighbour, so the Juilan Smiths of this world are no longer.
Heart is a nationwide ‘network’; it has little or no time for ‘local’ match reports on a Saturday afternoon; it only just has time for Rob and Chrissie as their breakfast audience extends into Colchester suburbia.
It’s a homogenised future; one in which ‘distinctive’ voices and, above all, characters are out of favour; where we will all have to listen to the Emma Buntons and the Jason Donovans – whether we live in Sheringham or Southend, Hunstanton or Hartlepool.
Julian Smith would – God rest him – be spinning in his grave to think that there was no live link from Carrow Road on the final whistle; or, indeed, at half-time and fag-break time.
To their credit, the BBC still recognise the importance of both the nation and the regions – of which Roy Waller was such a classic part.
He was a Norfolk boy. He was a City fan.
He was, in short, everything that’s right about being ‘local’; yes, he dropped the odd clanger, occasionally. He was human. Like the rest of us.
But there is an old gag that goes something along the lines of it being like watching your Mum dance at a family wedding; sometimes, you wince.
But don’t any outsider have a go at her dancing… she’s family. She’s one of our own. And you defend them.
And, in a way, that’s why this corner of the world is poorer this week for Roy’s passing. For there is a real danger that we can all end up being part of a network; the ‘Heart’ and the genuine characters within our local communities being lost to the forces of commerce and technical invention.
Roy was the consummate local. And, to my mind, there remains much to be said for the power of local – for the strong sense of identity and belonging that it brings.
And in that regard Roy Waller did far, far more than most to bind this proud Norfolk Nation together and for that alone, he should be both fondly and gratefully remembered.
Roger Farrant says
Very well written article Rick.
Roy had a dedication and a passion for Norwich City that was clear for all to hear. He was also a great servant for the BBC, where I had the privilege of working with him during that heady European season.
I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that he made the occasional commentary gaff – often putting his own Norfolk twist on the pronunciations of foreign players – but as a listener you could forgive him everything because you knew he was totally genuine and really cared.