A familiar voice for readers and commenters on MFW … our own Alex Bain with another guest blog, taking us on a tour, home and abroad, through the eyes of a football fan.
Now in my 70th year, I was reminiscing about the games I have watched, the troubles I’ve witnessed and other things I’ve seen and heard during my years of match day experiences.
As with many supporters who follow one club, or possibly two, games invariably bring either tears or laughter – rarely anything in between.
My first away game was in February 1958. I was staying in Gravesend (a really nice place and the burial place of Pocahontas) and my uncle, a Spurs supporter, took me to see a game. It was a good one and a few days later he came down to Norfolk and took me to Carrow Road to see my first City game.
From the early ’60s I went to home games with school friends as none of my immediate family were interested. I was once asked why grown men would want to kick an onion bag for 90+ minutes. They didn’t understand.
Watching Sandy Kennon and then Kevin Keelan in goal was always a joy but, in truth, the club went through a period of stagnation until Ron Saunders arrived. During his first pre-season, my friends and I would catch the bus to Hemsby to watch the squad running over the sand dunes, at times trying to emulate what the players were doing ourselves.
Fast-forward three years and my next great memory of watching a game was sitting with two RAF PTIs in the Directors Box at Vicarage Road, Watford. The PTIs had been helping the Watford team at RAF Stanmore, who back then used the base’s facilities three times a week. As a result, we often got freebies for games, but it goes without saying tha my must-see game around that time was the last one of the 1971/72 season when City clinched the Division Two title after winning promotion to the top flight for the first time.
One particular game I *almost* remember was one from 1970s when City played Leicester at an extremely cold, icy and snowy Carrow Road. For the life of me I can’t remember the score, but I do remeberm it being an exciting game in which Frank Worthington and Alan Birchenall both played in white tights!
Away from my games at Carrow Road, while at RAF Stanmore I got to watch many home intenationals at the old Wembley, with such players as Pat Jennings, Martin Chivers and Martin Peters.
I also recall two nights in London in 1972. First, I was at White Hart Lane to see Spur beat Keflavik (Iceland) 9 – 0 with Ralph Coates, Phil Holder, Steve Perryman, Alan Gilzean and Martin Chivers among the scorers, and the following night went to see Chelsea play a village team from Luxembourg.
They went four better than Spurs and won 13 – 0 with Chopper Harris, Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson among the top class players on show.
So, 22 goal in two days that was my first and only time supporting a team that predominantly played in blue!
In my time working overseas, I always did everything I could to get tickets for games and, bizarrely, some time between 1972 and 1975 I watched Norwich play in Gibraltar on a compressed sand pitch!
I can find no record of this game but at the time I was living at RAF Gibraltar and went to the game with a group of friends. I suspect it was pre-season.
Another place where I watched football was in Tel Aviv. I was working for the Peacekeepers in 1986 and was given free tickets for an international game between Isreal and Argentina at the Ramat Gan Stadium. The visitors won 7 -2, and had a team that included Maradona and a whole host of other top-class players.
Also in 1986, I was in North Africa when Egypt hosted the African Nations Cup (as it was then called) and went to a few games in Cairo and Alexandria. I never got to the final but did to watch three Senegal games, when they beat Egypt 1 – 0, Mozambique 3 – 0 and then their semi-final against Egypt, which they won 1 – 0. None were great games but they were great experiences; very loud affairs with drums, trumpets and fireworks going off continuously, with objects being thrown from all sides of the ground aimed at the opposing team.
During the 1990s, I was working in Nigeria and it wasn’t a peaceful place to be. Football was popular but was little more than an excuse for tribal violence before, during and after games. It made the violence we all remember in the English game in the 70s and 80s look like kindergarten stuff.
The local police and army would try to keep the different factions apart but with no great success. Condoms filled with all types of human and animal by-products were hurled at opposing supporters in the ground but outside it was worse, with weapons like machetes, clubs with nails and all sort of knives being carried.
The teams tended to be made up of players from one tribe and tribal violence was part and parcel of the game. Yet, amazingly, a few good players came out of that country.
Since those dark times I have watched games in Gabon and Cameroon. While both were similar to Nigeria in their ferocity, neither, thankfully, were as violent.
Changing sports briefly, in 1998 I was in the United States when Superbowl XXXII was played in San Diego at the old Chargers Stadium. The company I was working for had a few private boxes and I got invited along.
On the day I wanted the Green Bay Packers to win, but they lost 24-31 to the Denver Broncos. Unlike my experiences in Africa, there was not even the slightest hint of violence and the atmosphere outside the stadium was electric. The spectacle and the entertainment was definitely something worth seeing.
Back to our football – I also watched games in Qatar and the UAE during my time in that region. It was mainly older pros trying to lengthen their careers, similar to how others have done by playing in Singapore and Hong Kong, where I was also able to see a few games.
Singapore’s stadiums were the quietest I’ve ever known, with anyone making excessive noise or swearing in public getting arrested, and leaving any rubbish was a real no no.
Back home, another great game I attended and which, in fact, was the first I took my two eldest sons to, was in 1993 when Norwich hosted their old adversaries, Leeds United. We sat in the Upper Barclay and was the day that Chris Sutton scored a hat-trick in a 4- 2 City win.
Living in Blackpool for the last 35 years, I have been to many games at Bloomfield Road, prior to the Oystons, where we would stand on the earth banks withd no canopy to shelter under. In the season they got promoted to the Premier League it had to have been the coldest ground in the UK, with the end where we were standing facing the Irish sea and open to the elements. You had to take a blanket to stay warm!
Their season in the top flight was not dissimilar to City’s this season in that they played some really attractive and entertaining football. Alas they still fell at the final hurdle and, despite a great attempt to bounce back the next season, they never made it. They were hindered by an extremely poor transfer budget and the departure of their top players, like Charlie Adams.
Slowly and hopefully, under the new ownership, we may just be seeing the buds of that club on its way back. It has a good history and a list of great player.
It makes you realise that we are lucky, overall, to support a stable club with no great risk, at present, of going bust.
I hope my ramblings might be amusing to some readers, others may think it’s rubbish 🙂
So, to all, keep safe.