I’ve a confession to make.
England played on Tuesday evening and I wasn’t even aware of it until I caught a line in that day’s newspaper that reminded me the oh-so-academic clash against Switzerland was “tonight”.
A quick visit to BBC’s Football website ascertained the score and scorers before I went back to the more important matters of the day, whatever they were – loading the dishwasher, deciding whether a beard would be a good look or not, wondering where the cat was etc.
That sort of pressing detail. Priorities.
England had played. It was live on TV. And I’d forgotten about it.
Or maybe hadn’t been that bothered about it in the first place.
And that’s got me thinking. Thinking about that old ‘club versus country’ argument.
I remember a conversation not so long ago which involved me being asked what would be my preference – for my team to win the FA Cup (note: I wasn’t offered the option of our winning the Premier League; clearly that’s now an impossibility even in a hypothetical world, let alone the real one) or for England to win the World Cup?
Lots of people had already given their answers. And, for the most part, they were based on the hypothesis that yes, it would be great to win the FA Cup but for England to win the World Cup, well, how good would that be, for the game and the nation.
Marvellous, tub-thumping stuff. Flags in windows, people in fountains, bars selling out of beer, a song that included the chorus “…thirty years of hurt…” getting to number one in 2044 and a knighthood for Jordan Henderson.
Yes indeed, how brilliant (!) would all THAT be?
My answer provoked a little bit of controversy when I said that, given the choice, I’d rather Norwich won their next league game than England won the World Cup.
I immediately felt like the two unfortunate backpackers from the movie An American Werewolf In London (well due a reboot, surely?) when they wandered into that pub, one which, incidentally, isn’t too dissimilar still to one I frequent on my patch of North Norfolk coast.
I got it all. The glares, the sighs, the accusations of not being patriotic, of not caring about ‘In-ger-land’.
Not strictly true. I am patriotic. But my loyalties lie with Norfolk, Norwich and my home village. That’s where I grew up, where I lived for many of the most important landmarks in my life, where I felt I belonged, where I still belong. It’s where my family are and many of my dearest and most treasured friends still live, a place made of memories and ambitions that are yet to be fulfilled.
Home comes first. And home is Norfolk, not England.
So football is, by definition, Norwich City. Not England.
Yet here’s the rub.
It didn’t used to be that way. It really didn’t.
I used to watch every England game with a fervour that bordered on the supernatural. I’d live every kick, tackle and half chance; I’d chastise the opposition as much as I’d play up, play up and play the game with regard to our players.
Take the 1990 World Cup for example. It’s looked back on now with a certain dewy eyed nostalgia, thanks mainly to Nessum Dorma and England’s latter performances in those great Italian club side stadiums.
Yet the football, for the most part, was lousy. Defensive, error strewn, low-scoring and negative.
But oh, what a time to be an England fan. Lineker, Platt, Waddle, Beardsley, Barnes.
Then there was Scotland. Losing 1-0 to Costa Rica before giving Brazil one hell of a scare in a game that nearly, so nearly, saw Robert Fleck, rather than Leroy Fer, become the first Norwich player to score in the final stages of a World Cup.
Brazilian keepers are dodgy? Don’t tell Fleckie that. Taffarel pulled off a Banks’esque worldie to keep his goal bound effort out.
Fleckie later admitted to me that, had it gone in, he’d probably still be running around Turin to this day.
Good times. As was watching and celebrating Mark Wright’s goal against Egypt, David Platt’s last minute winner against Belgium and Lineker’s heroics against Cameroon in a game that remains my all-time favourite England match.
It didn’t end there either. Remember England failing to qualify for the 1994, Ronald “he’s going to flick one now” Koeman and that night of disappointment?
Yes. I also remember, ten minutes before the end, my dramatic exit from my home at the time, slammed door and desolate, lonely trudge of disgust and despair through the quiet streets of South London in response to that likely defeat.
Cared about England? You bet I did. So much so that the possibility of being mugged was preferable to witnessing their defeat.
Where did all that passion and fervour go? I’ve now got life memories based around England games, not unlike a miniature version of Fever Pitch.
But now I don’t have the memories to look back on because my memory doesn’t even bother to remind me that England are playing any more. Talk about going from one extreme to the other.
Yet when it comes to Norwich. Oh dear. Oh dear me indeed.
Remember when we got dumped on at Villa the season before last? The early false hope from Wes before Benteke paid his 20p and took his turn at the funfair stall that was our defence on that day?
I’m surprised I didn’t end up in hospital that day. Oh the anger, the swearing, the throwing around of previously inanimate objects and the overall blood vessel bursting rage of it all.
Remember Holty missing that last minute penalty against Southampton back in 2013? I filmed it from my place in the River End and, on occasion, play it back in order to remind me that, however bad I might be feeling today, it couldn’t have been as bad as it was at around 4:50pm on that cold Saturday afternoon in March.
My ‘commentary’ sums it all up as the film proceeds to its agonising denouement.
“Go on Holty…go on Holt…ohm f**k off Boruc…referee, referee…go on Holty…please score…go on……oohARGGGGGGGGGGGGGG! F**k, f**k, f*****g hell bollocking bastards….”
Less than ten minutes later I was meeting my near octogenarian mother at the Holiday Inn for a drink and something to eat. Poor thing, I hadn’t seen her for ages and that was the mood I took with me.
That’s football, that’s supporting Norwich City. We all get carried away, just as I did, still do, and will continue, no doubt, to do so. It’s one of the reasons football can be glorious; it’s tribal, cathartic, it’s about being united regardless of whether that word is part of your football clubs lexicon. I love that buzz and yes, perversely perhaps, I love the lows almost as much as I do the highs for that unification and belief that adversity can bring us.
Remember losing 1-7 at home to Colchester? Yet, a few days later, coachloads of Norwich fans travelled to Yeovil for a midweek match in a competition we were never going to win. Had the previous Saturday been as bleak as it gets on the football pitch? Oh yes, most definitely.
But does it stop you going back for more? No, no and no again.
I get agitated and animated if a throw in decision goes against us. Yet if England lost a World Cup semi-final to a winning goal that was not only offside but included Gary Cahill being wrestled to the ground by an opposing player, I’d tut, make a mental note of who the final was now going to be between and get on with whatever I was doing.
That doesn’t seem right to me. But there you go. Maybe it’s all about having no choice about the country you support – in as much as you can’t choose where you are born – but making a choice about which football club to support is very much one that is ours to make and, once we make it, they’re ours, with all that goes with it, from that moment to our dying day.
A marriage that will never end in divorce.
So it’s club for me. Every time and without exception. Must be a Norfolk thing!
What about you?
To celebrate the launch of his books – ‘Norwich City: The Eighties’ and ‘Never Mind The Canaries’ – Ed invites you to join him tonight at Jarrold’s Pantry Restaurant, (6:15 for 6:30) for a fun-packed evening of quizzing and Norwich City facts, insights and gossip for the Great Norwich City Quiz!
Teams of celebrities, fans and media personalities, including former Norwich star Peter Mendham and the EDP and Mustard TV’s Michael Bailey, will battle it out for the title of ultimate Norwich City egghead.
Tickets are £5 and includes a glass of wine or soft drink. £3 is redeemable against purchases of any of the books at the event and there will be an opportunity to have any book purchased personally signed.
For more information or to purchase your ticket/s please call 01603 660661 or visit customer services on Floor 2 or alternatively click here to buy online.