By Lee Payne
Unless you’ve ended up here by accident, the chances are you are a Norwich City supporter and you have a reasonable grasp on the history of the club.
Maybe there are a few things you didn’t know, though. Perhaps there are places around the city that you never realised had a connection to the Canaries. Let’s go on a yellow and green tour of Norwich.
If you’ve ever hired a suit from Moss Bros on White Lion Street, you’ve taken a step back to the very origins of Norwich City Football Club – and you might not have realised it. The building was once the Criterion Café and it was here, on 17th June 1902, that the idea was formed for a football team to represent the whole city. Until then, football clubs tended to be works teams. Most people walk past it, but there is actually a plaque to commemorate the historic occasion on the outside wall of the shop.
Nearly three months after deciding to form the club, City’s first ever match was played at Newmarket Road. Nowadays the land is owned and used by Town Close House School and there’s no evidence of what used to happen there.
After six years Norwich City moved from Newmarket Road following an argument over the rent (making the club sound rather like a stroppy teenager) and decided, as you do, to convert a disused chalk pit into a football ground. It’s hard to imagine such a plan ever being given the go ahead now, but City did it and happily called it home for 27 years.
There’s another plaque and a sculpture on Rosary Road to mark the site of the second of City’s three homes. While the club were originally nicknamed The Citizens and played in blue and white halves, by the time they moved they had started to be known as the Canaries, which made the new ground’s name The Nest rather appropriate.
Few photos of The Nest remain, but in those that do the most striking feature of the ground is without doubt the concrete wall behind one of the goals. Given the sunken nature of the pitch, the wall was basically a sheer cliff face and would have made today’s health and safety officers faint. Yet, there were no major issues during Norwich City’s time there and they once managed to pack 25,000 people in to watch an FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday.
In the end it was the price of success that did for the Canaries at The Nest. Promotion to Division Two led the club’s directors to decide that the ground was simply not suitable for the size of the crowds they could expect in the higher league, and with no room for expansion, they had to move somewhere else.
You can tell how smart a decision was by its longevity. If many years later no-one has come up with a better idea, then that original choice was undoubtedly a (word of the week) shrewd one. So the Norwich City directors of the early 1930s made a smart decision – because they moved Norwich City to Carrow Road, and we’re still there more than 80 years on.
It’s common knowledge amongst City fans that the original Carrow Road took just 82 days to construct. The site was being used as a sports ground for the workers of aircraft manufacturers Boulton & Paul, so the area was flat and sparse, making it easy to immediately start constructing stands and speeding up the construction process. It was actually owned by another great Norwich firm, Colman’s, who leased the Carrow Road site to the club. Boulton & Paul moved their sports ground to Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston.
On 31st August 1935, Carrow Road was ready. Almost 30,000 people were there to see a thrilling 4-3 win over West Ham. The ground continued to be developed after opening, and within a couple of years had two covered stands, one of which was at the end furthest from the river and paid for by the club’s vice-president Captain Evelyn Barclay. As we all know, that end is still known as The Barclay today, though the current stand was built in 1992 in order to comply with all-seater stadium regulations.
The River End is a product of the 1970s, the City Stand was built in the mid-1980s after a fire destroyed its predecessor, and the South Stand was rebuilt in the early 2000s to transform it from the rickety relic of football past into the modern, imposing structure it is now. Add to that the corners of the ground being filled in – including the hotel, a measure to help the club through financial difficulties – and that’s how we get to the Carrow Road we see today.
With its excellent location close to the railway station and near major roads, it’s likely that Norwich City will be staying here for many years to come. A celebration of 100 years at the club’s third home is almost certain.
Buildings give us a glimpse into the past – the unremarkable suit hire shop in Norwich City centre was where the formation of the club was discussed over a century ago, for example. The fact the building still stands gives us a link to history and can help us appreciate where the football club we care so much about began and how it got to where it is today.
Whatever happens on the pitch, The Canaries are very much a club of its city – and we should never lose sight of that.