It’s guest blog time again and today is the turn of Glasgow-based City fan Robin Ireland, who takes us on a UK-wide journey in an attempt to answer the question above…
I moved to Scotland in 2018 (and met up again with my pal and another Norwich supporter, David, who I first met at UEA in 1974). Given Norwich City now boast three members of the Scottish men’s football team, this seems strangely appropriate. Scotland was also very welcoming to an incomer Norwich City fan. After all, everyone is welcome to live here.
But are we football fans as welcoming? In all the media frenzy about the European Super League, there was much discussion about ‘authentic’ and ‘traditional’ fans. The elite clubs’ owners talked disparagingly of ‘heritage’ fans. But what do these terms mean and do we care?
I was born in Leicester but moved to Greater London when I was aged two years. My dad had lived in various places in England and liked football but didn’t follow a particular team. As a Yorkshireman, he was more fond of cricket.
He took me to my first professional match in 1961, when I was aged six. We went to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea v Leicester City, and, in my teens, I followed Leicester City watching them occasionally in London when I was a wee bit older. It helped that there was no ‘local’ team, although I did pass Aldershot Town’s ground on the way to school.
However, it was only in my own struggle for identity and independence, when I moved to study my A-levels at Norwich City College in 1972 aged 17 (and effectively left home in the South of England), that my new relationship (later love affair) with Norwich City began.
I found myself strolling down to Carrow Road from St Stephen’s every other Saturday to watch a team newly promoted to the then Division One. Given I was not born in Norwich or Norfolk for that matter, that may make me a ‘plastic’ supporter in some eyes.
As we’re playing Liverpool on Saturday in our first match of the new season, I can see where Steven Downes was coming from in this piece from last year’…
But am I less of a supporter because I wasn’t born in Norfolk and haven’t been to a home match for several seasons? Ironically, I spent half of my adult life living in Liverpool but those experiences of your teens and early 20s stick with you like a particularly compelling piece of music, eh Martin Penney?
There are lots of football writers that are nostalgic about football before the Premier League but, although I hate the modern-day commercialism, I am not one of those. I was at Carrow Road when the Manchester United fans “took the Barclay” back in the day. It was scary.
I also went to Carrow Road to watch Millwall and my mate got kicked and badly bruised, and was there when it was completely ‘normal’ to hear racist chants and see bananas thrown on the pitch at the general direction of wonderful players such as Cyrille Regis even when the marvellous Justin Fashanu starred for us.
I am not remotely nostalgic about those days or the pitiful ‘facilities’ then available to female supporters.
But these experiences make me more sympathetic to less strict definitions of what a football supporter is and more cynical of the imagined traditions that us white male fans of a certain age talk about wistfully. I certainly don’t miss the fags, the violence, and the racism.
This week I came across a programme which reminded me of how I found out I was a Norwich fan. It is of all things, from the match between Norwich City and Leicester City on Wednesday 8th November 1972 in the Texaco Cup.
How many remember that?
It became the Anglo-Scottish Cup ironically after Texaco’s sponsorship ended. Peter Shilton and Frank Worthington were in the Leicester team that night and we had some illustrious names in our own including Kevin Keelan, Duncan Forbes and Dave Stringer. A great defence there, oh and Ron Saunders was the manager.
This was a two-legged affair when we’d lost the first leg 0-2 at Filbert Street. So, when we managed two goals of our own at Carrow Road (goals by Big Dunc and Terry Anderson according to the admirable Canary Citizens – sadly I can’t remember), it went to pens.
My first ever experience of a penalty shoot-out. And that’s when I knew I had become a Norwich fan! Nothing like testing your loyalty by penalties. I found my shouting had become green and yellow.
So, what makes a true fan and what counts as authentic, I really don’t know. I have seen Norwich play in Milan and Manchester and in Burton and Barnsley. I don’t think you can accuse me of being a glory hunter. But am I any more authentic than those fans who can only watch on their televisions or lap-tops?
Who am I to deny those who love the emotion and passion of watching ‘their’ team win (or lose)?
Oh, and we won that penalty shoot-out in 1972 against Leicester City, 4-3. Better than the pens I remember more clearly thirty years later at the Millennium Stadium.
Robin is an academic at the University of Glasgow who writes and researches about sport and commercialism.