Talking about his formative years as a Norwich fan, Ken McErlain recalls some of the Carrow Road characters he's encountered. Hopefully Mad Mick isn't reading this...
“Norwich is a pretty strange place, in the nicest possible way.” Not my words, but those of Peter Crouch who despite his sentiments, will surely be remembered fondly for his short stay in NR1. As a now exiled supporter (albeit living only two hours from the fine city) I'm constantly intrigued by peoples' perceptions of the place and the club.
The city of Norwich has a distinctive, if secluded charm, which few other places in the UK can match. And I've always felt that NCFC has its own unique allure too.Maybe it's the colours, the famous chant or our excitable majority shareholder? Or perhaps that view is shaped by my formative years at Carrow Road.
A regular attendee between 1992 and 2002, I saw highs, lows and much mediocrity. But during those years I regularly watched the team from all four stands in the stadium, which I assume is no longer do-able.
What made the club feel, sound and smell so extraordinary were some of the characters I came into contact with along the way.
Back in the summer of 1998, myself and a handful of high school chums purchased £16 season tickets in what was then the South Stand. Within this decaying musty structure I was introduced to 'Mad Mick' and his cohort of late-middle-aged miscreants.
Mick's charm lay in his ability to belt out one-liners during times of quiet, which could delight and disgust his fellow fan. Quips such as “Lino – you fatherless man”, “Referee, you're a complete and utter.........ANUS” and “Carey – you're as much use as cock piss on the ball” would ring out. Like all good comics, it was more in the way he said it than the content itself. This all took place in a designated family area and although Mick's musings often met with muffled laughter, many others were unimpressed.
There were tuts, stares of disapproval and parents placing hands over the ears of offspring. The general consensus seemed to be, 'that old bor's a bit of a rum'un'.
Tempers eventually flared during an FA Cup tie against Coventry when some opposition fans ventured a few rows in front. After much berating they set upon Mick and he only avoided injury thanks to some quick-thinking stewards.
But for all his rough edges, Mick was engaging and friendly. He readily handed out half time sweets, although these would be lobbed at you from point blank range.
We later switched to the more lively lower Barclay and it was here that I encountered 'Farmer Ross', a fervent fellow always keen to let others know 'the one to watch'. Ross noted, in his Broadland brogue, that West Brom's Richard Sneekes “would 'kill us with a single pass” shortly before he was subbed and that Crewe's Mark Rivers “could terrorise Maldini, let alone Daryl Sutch”. So aggrieved at Nigel Worthington's appointment, Ross declared he would “give up his cesar ticket” but months later Worthy was “the best boss since Bond”.
“Is Ross for real?” some would ask. Well, I'd like to think so.
Following some years working away, I purchased my current season ticket in the River End upper tier in 2010. The football I've seen since has been on a different planet to those days, when Carrow Road was often barely two thirds full. But for all our recent success things seem more subdued in the stands.
Games can pass without a single exchange between those around me and half time is a chance to check the phone rather than have a chinwag. Maybe the swathes of season tickets have resulted in too much fan familiarity.
Perhaps watching football generally is a more sterile experience and while there is rightly no place for racist, homophobic or sexist remarks, shouldn't there still be scope for creative comments and chants?
Mick and Ross are just two of several characters I've encountered who add a sense of local soul to the matchday experience.
I've never had the pleasure of meeting the Canary Fairy or the man with the monkey round his neck, but doubtless there are many other members of the Y'army who enliven proceedings. So hopefully, that uniqueness which Crouchy hinted at can still be found at the Carra.
You can follow Ken on Twitter @KenMcErlain83