A few months back, when feebly attempting to do an ‘Ed’, I scribed a reflective piece on on what Carrow Road meant to me.
Its pièce de résistance was a rotten joke about how the new Jarrold Stand turned the old place into Trigger’s broom but it did take me on a nostalgic little clockwise trip past the ‘Geoffrey Walting’, the Barclay, that bloody hotel, the aforementioned Jarrold and the River End (old money, I’m sorry).
It started with my early memories of Arsenal and Manchester United fans disgracing themselves in the Barclay, from which I had a perfect view from my stool-enhanced position in the South Stand, and ended with Darren Huckerby’s transfer from the Jarrold’s left-wing to the lounge that now carries his name.
But it did also get me thinking about my various Carrow Road vantage points. The conclusion was that, like many others, I’ve occupied every stand in the place – old and new.
My first ‘official’ appearance was at the club’s first ever game in the top flight – Saturday 12 August 1972 – at the front of the South Stand adjacent to the edge of the Barclay-end penalty box. We must have approved because, for a reason unknown to either Dad or myself, that specific spot became home for a couple of seasons.
I say official because pre-first team football my dad saw fit to ingratiate me in the way of the Canary with a few reserve team matches, which were viewed from the ‘comfort’ of the benches in the Main Stand. Neither of us can recall if our comfort was enhanced by the infamous cushions, but once I’d passed the audition the South Stand became home.
But like all good things it didn’t last. It couldn’t last. The introduction of some red and blue seats (apparently there were no green and yellow available) meant my dad, me and the world’s most sophisticated height-adjustable stool had to find a new home.
Despite my desire to relocate to the Barclay, which for an impressionable 8-year-old was the place to be, we headed to the open expanses of the River End. While there was no protection from the elements, my dad’s wish that I be spared an encounter with some of the ‘Herberts’ made it, apparently, a risk worth taking. Luckily the stool also made the journey with me.
And there we pretty much stayed until the teenage years reared their ugly head and the call of the Barclay became almost too great. Along the way the River End had morphed from a mound with no roof into a two-tier stand with seats at the top and standing at the bottom, but it was the temporary relocation to the Barclay while the new stand was being constructed that further whetted the appetite.
Prior to my official 180 degree transfer to the Barclay, some fantastic memories were engrained in the Gowers’ grey matter down by the river. Highlights include Keith Robson’s last minute equaliser against Bobby Robson’s finest on Boxing Day 1979, Kevin Keelan losing his cool (and the ball) with Leeds’ Tony Currie, and Phil Hoadley and the lovable Eric Gates indulging in fisticuffs on more than one occasion.
Interestingly, during said temporary relocation to the Barclay I can vividly recall Kevin Bond walloping one in from thirty-yards in front of the River End building site. While I was reliant on Google to suggest it was probably in August 1979 against Leeds Utd, I can distinctly recall the match ball – with its red stripe – because some pockey money and parent-pestering eventually yielded one in the Gowers’ household (and no, despite a lot of trying I was never able to replicate the strike of Bond junior).
In the midst the River End transition I occasionally flirted with the aforementioned red and blue seats thanks to a friend who had a season ticket in there. When, for any reason, his dad was unable to attend I was always first-reserve and, armed with a £1 note, can recall the freedom of being let loose with a mate where the afternoon was incomplete without packets of Wrigley’s Spearmint and Munchies.
As adolescence turned into adulthood the Barclay became home but, depending on whether attending with mates or Dad, the stand by the river never left me. So much so, one of Carrow Road’s great nights – when Steve Bruce’s late header [8:01 on the video] against ‘that lot’ sent the old place crazy – was witnessed from a raucous and frenzied River End (and how often can you say that).
The sight and sound of celebrating canary fans thumping the sides of the Portakabin changing rooms upon departing the ground will stay with me forever.
From the mid/early 80s to the early Noughties my Carrow Road journey was punctuated by missing out on games that kicked-off at 3pm on Saturday afternoons. Looking back through misty eyes it’s hard to visualise anything that could be more important but as a younger man, who thought his own left foot could open a tin of peas (note: it couldn’t), I attempted to play the beautiful game.
But with a fair sprinkling evening matches and weekends when Wenhaston Utd (or briefly Halesworth Town) were minus a game, I still regularly made the pilgrimage.
From the perspective of the Barclay I can recall the red card protests prior to the bulldozers going in but not before some more more heady and never-to-be-forgotten days, notably an evening in April 1987 when Kevin Drinkell’s late winner against Liverpool dealt the Reds’ title hopes a fatal blow. That was fun.
Once the old place became all-seater the vantage point continued to flit between either end of the pitch, depending on the match-day companion. One particularly memorable Friday evening in the Lower Barclay – in October 1996 – saw us triumph 3-1 over George Burley’s Ipswich, with one Andy Johnson scoring twice. That was also great fun.
For a reason unknown we reverted to the respective top tiers to take in the UEFA Cup run of 1993. Vitesse Arnhem and Inter Milan – Dennis Bergkamp et al – were both viewed from the upper reaches of the Barclay, but that night against Bayern Munich was witnessed, through squinting eyes, from the very back row of the Upper River End. But it mattered not one jot – Gossy’s late equaliser remains one of the great moments.
But by 2002/03 the knees and ankles had called time on the amateur footballing career and my first season-ticket beckoned. With Dad as my regular match-day companion the River End lower tier was victorious (even as a thirty-something I still suspect he was keen on steering me clear of those ‘Herberts’).
And there we have stayed – through some thrilling highs and some heart-wrenching lows. Those who sit around me are now friends with whom I’m equally as familiar as my actual next door neighbours.
While the River End faithful may have acquired a reputation for liking a moan (they do) and for being a little library-like at times (it is) I wouldn’t have it any other way. Others have holiday homes, mine in block RL.
Over the last four seasons the latest iteration of Gowers junior has gradually been integrated into the fold – in the same way I was all those years ago. With season-tickets now at a premium his visits are currently confined to when Grandad is feeling generous or cup games, where we have taken the opportunity to sample the yellow seats of the Jarrold and mix with the hoi polloi of the Geoffrey Watling stand.
Both are enjoyable in their own way but I have a special fondness for the central areas of the Geoffrey Watling where the insults hurled ‘pitchwards’ are usually beautifully constructed and articulated.
My tour is almost complete but it would be remiss not to finish without completing the full Carrow Road set.
My one and only visit to the Aviva Community Stand alas had nothing to do with football. Instead, and I’m not particularly proud of it, in 2011 I accompanied my son and daughter to a JLS concert (there, I’ve said it).
Similarly, while I’ve never been lucky enough to grace the Carrow Road turf while wearing football boots, in 2005 I was able to control the centre of the pitch – albeit from a seated position when Elton John was the star attraction.
But, other than in my dreams, that was as close as I got to the pitch – and which is why it’s often hard to accept when there appears a lack of effort and desire from those clad in yellow and green.
That finally concludes my literal personal journey around the nooks and crannies of the old place, other than to say it would be good to hear your Carrow Road tour and where it has led to. Isn’t that what ‘nostalgia Wednesdays’ are for?
Sorry if it’s been completely self-indulgent, but it’s been good to share.
“Never mind the danger…”