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Continuing his new series, Nick Hayhoe explores the history of Norwich City in an original concept that definitely hasn’t been stolen from somewhere else. Today we head to Saturday 11 January, 1908 and Newmarket Road for an early FA Cup triumph.
GREAT FOOTBALL MATCH – VISIT OF CUP-HOLDERS
Read the poster pinned to the fence outside of the Newmarket Road recreation ground on a freezing Monday morning in January 1908.
Norwich City v Sheffield Wednesday
One could only imagine the murmurs of surprise and shock as the groups huddled around the poster in their cloth caps, thick woolen coats and fingerless gloves, desperate to get a look at the details.
Prices of admission: Enclosure and Ring Seats 2s. Ground 1s. Reserved seat 4s.
And so that it was. Norwich City, of the Southern League and professional for not yet a decade, had been drawn to play Sheffield Wednesday in the First Round of the FA Cup. That Sheffield Wednesday. That of two FA Cups and two League Championships and one of the most dominant clubs in the earliest years of organised association football, were coming to play at Newmarket Road to defend what was, at the time, genuinely the biggest prize in the world.
Naturally, everyone at the fledgling Canaries made every effort to cram as many people into Newmarket Road as possible. Two temporary stands were put up during the week preceding the game, and all was set to try and squeeze 16,000 into what was (and still is) essentially a school playing field. Special rail excursions were laid on from stations all over East Anglia. One could travel from Lowestoft or Great Yarmouth for 3d. Diss, a little pricier at 1s. 3d. And, yes, Ipswich (if one fancied to see some real football – both literally and figuratively as Ipswich Town wouldn’t be playing professionally for nearly another 30 years) for the low price of 2s. 3d.
In turn, there was to be visiting supporters from Yorkshire – a concept so alien and fanciful that the Eastern Daily Press dedicated a significant amount of print space in their report to their arrival, in a prose and description so brilliant it would be somewhat remiss to not quote a significant majority here:
“Among the first batch of fans from Sheffield were a fair sprinkling of women. Nearly all were wearing blue and white rosettes, while a little band of individuals had brought with them an umbrella framed in the same colours. At 12:10 lusty cheering announced to all and sundry that the train had struck ‘the reet spot at last’. As the carriages disgorged their living freight it was seen that about 300 comprised the complement and from their appearance it was pretty clear that they had a very cold journey up. They danced to bring back the circulation and they yelled to let the natives know that they had ‘coom up for th’ match’. From the pockets of many were to be seen peeping out suspicious looking bottles, many corked, but in the greater number of cases not so…Not among the whole motley crowd was there a man over 40 years of age. After shouting and gyrating a little, the throng moved out of the station, and over Foundry Bridge orderly and without a word to say. The crowd began to break up on its way up Prince of Wales road and finally scattered to ‘do the seets o’ th’ city, before gooting to th’ ground”
The day, as the week proceeding it, was bitterly cold. The pitch was quite clearly frozen and was almost certainly unplayable. But with such a momentous build up – that 16,000 squeezing into the ground and all paying their one, two or four shillings – there was little chance for the game to be called off. And it proved that this was to be a great leveler between the two sides where, nominally, the gulf in class would be apparent.
25 minutes into the game, City forward James Bauchop – an accomplished player who had scored over 200 goals in the Football League and was now in the twilight of his illustrious, cigarette card-adorning career – jolted past his marker who had slipped on ice, rounded the Wednesday goalkeeper and quietly, without ceremony, tapped home. Then, just after half time, Tommy Allsopp (a distinguished player who, not ten years later, would be exhuming bodies from No Mans Land at the Battle of the Somme and subsequently catch influenza and die on the boat ride home), struck a thunderbolt of a shot from 30 yards. Due to the weight of 1900s leather footballs, the weight of 1900s football boots and the collective intake of breath from a crowd that had never before been so invested in eleven men in yellow shirts, the sound of the whip like crack as he struck the ball as sweetly as he ever could echoed into the cold January air and reverberated all about as the ball hit the back of the Wednesday net to the screams, cheers and whoops from the swelling, steaming, crowd.
Joy at the final whistle was uncontainable. The 16,000 invaded the pitch, slipping and sliding all over the place to ensure that their new heroes did not need to walk back to the Newmarket Road pavillon – hoisting them onto their shoulders triumphantly and carrying them gingerly to the changing rooms. One can, now, only imagine the smiles on all of the faces. The looks of delight on the frozen red cheeks as tired and numb arms were being raised triumphantly into the air – closed eyes from relief and happiness.
This was the moment that Norwich City became the football team of the City of Norwich. The moment that they had arrived.
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