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Dughall McCormick on how football brings disparate people together, forming friendships that can last a lifetime. That is if you don't disappear, Ian.
Have you got a group of mates where one’s really loud, one’s really sweary, one’s always late, another manages to always go missing on a night out and another went missing and was never seen again?
Well I have. We are disparate, dispersed, discrepant but unified by a single factor: a love of Norwich City FC.
I came to football relatively late and can’t profess boyhood loyalty to the yellow and green. As a general fan of sport, I had managed to reach the age of 26 without ever having attended a ‘proper’ footy match until a good mate of mine (a Norwich fan) said to me in October 1993, “You’ve never been to a football match?! Why don’t you come next weekend, I’ll get us a couple of tickets.”
And so, for the first time in my life, on 23rd October 1993, I joined that unique pilgrimage and took my place amongst the crowd at Carrow Road to witness a 0-0 against West Ham. I remember nothing of the detail of the game but I do remember the impact of the event.
I was utterly intoxicated by the atmosphere: the passion, the ebbing and flowing, the effing and jeffing, the taunting of the away fans and the quirky surging of ‘On the Ball City’ I was well and truly hooked.
When people ask me why I support Norwich, the simple answer is that it was the first game I went to. Worryingly, it could have been any team on that basis; although perhaps not ‘them’...
Although I am an East-Anglian by birth and upbringing, I’ve lived in Yorkshire since my early 20s and so Norwich has always been a distant lover.
We have an annual family commitment to at least one home game and my son and I attend as many away games as possible (including one decadent trip to Southampton where we flew down and back in a day with time for a quick photo opportunity with Wes, Robbie Brady and Shane Long at Southampton Airport (it’s ok, re Shane Long: we’ve got Republic of Ireland loyalties too).
The same mate who took me to that first game is a long-time resident of Nottingham and, as is probably the way with any team, you begin to establish a network of like-minded folk with similar allegiances and so, through him and others, grew our little network of Midlands/Northern Canaries with a range of quirky links; some extending back to schools in the fine city itself.
There are 11 of us (currently) and we’ve enjoyed some ups and downs over the last two decades or so. We were all in Cardiff in 2002 and we were all at Wembley in 2015. Between us all, we’ve probably only missed a handful of away games since the turn of the century, often travelling via the infamous ‘Stella Express’.
We’ve seen some highs (such as away victories over Spurs, Man City and Man Utd) and some lows (defeat to Tranmere Rovers away April 2010). Most recently and memorably, we made a weekend of Leeds away in February and what a fabulous weekend that was. I’d like to think that some of the many of the stickers used to decorate Leeds city centre and pubs that night still remain.
During the top flight years we share 3 or 4 away season tickets between us and there is an unbelievably complicated ‘Million Pound Drop’ spreadsheet created by the accountant among us to help decide who goes to which games. Has this now been scuppered with the new membership system? I’m fearful, but then Martin has got a spreadsheet for everything so we might still be ok.
The lowest point of all? We had all gone down to London for the weekend for Charlton Away in May 2009. We’d had a cracking night out on the Saturday: beers, a curry on Brick Lane etc. Dave had gone missing as usual (he turned up again - he usually does).
We didn’t all stay at the same place and so converged on The Valley separately the following day. I knew they’d arrived before me but was surprised not to see them outside the away end as I thought had been (blearily) planned the evening before; after all, one of them had my ticket. A quick text brought about the following very alarming response, “Oh, we thought you had a ticket. We’re inside. We sold yours.” So, to cut a long story short, I watched the game from the home end, the first and hopefully only time I ever do that. And we lost 4-2. And we got relegated. And I missed my train back up north afterwards.
The highest? Has to be winning the playoff final at Wembley. That sea of yellow, the unbridled, collective joy, the endless reliving of it afterwards. “Redmond!!! It’s two!!! It’s a blistering start for Norwich City!!!” Still gives me goosebumps.
So, thanks Pat; thanks for not only introducing me to a game that has brought such joy but also introducing me to a unique bunch of footy comrades.
Thanks also to Gav, Steve, Dave, Aaron, Fitz, Mick, Hawko, Phil and Sketch for the camaraderie and shared experiences (but not for selling my ticket). And Ian, if you’re reading this, whatever happened to you? Get back in touch.
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