Charlie Horwood returns to ACN, to tell you all how he got to Carrow Road. It wasn't a conventional path and there's good reason why he might not be back in the immediate future.
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?- Talking Heads
I've often wondered how many times my Dad asked himself that question when we were sat in Carrow Road. Not literally - how we got there was always pretty much the same. He'd drive over and park near the river, I'd get the train from wherever I was living at the time. There'd be the meet at the same spot by the footbridge on Riverside. The same hug, the same pre match pint in the bar in the Odeon and the same walk to the ground. The question really was how did he get there.
Supporting a football team is an inherently familial experience. Just as you can't choose your family, you can't choose the however many thousand of fans who populate your stadium, message boards or social media. You're a collective, bonded by a connection to something that doesn't answer to logic or reason. So it makes sense to want to bring your own family into that. What football loving parent doesn't want their child to support their team? After all, one of the few experiences more joyful than celebrating a last minute winner, is sharing that joy with one of the people closest to you.
I can't help but feel though that I rather fucked that up for my Dad. You see, he wasn't born or raised a Norwich fan. In fact he was (whisper it) an Ipswich fan. Before my brother and I came along he and my mother were died in the wool, Bobby Robson adoring, blue and white wearing, Portman Road season ticket holding Ipswich supporters.
He was, at least, never one for the vicious tribalism that often populates football. We lived in a North Suffolk hinterland, equidistant from Norwich and Ipswich but if we had shopping to do you best believe we were heading for The Fine City. In my youth he'd taken me to both Portman and Carrow Road (kids for a quid meant a cheap day out) and he'd never tried to make me a fan of his team. Yet, after a brief flirtation with supporting Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United, I imagine it must have been fairly crushing to have his youngest son ask if he could have a Norwich City season ticket.
Despite any potential misgivings he acquiesced and eventually for Christmas I was given a half season ticket. He ended up buying his own season ticket when he realised he'd have to drive me to every game anyway so he might as well enjoy some football. Thus begun a slow, 15 year conversion project. We sat in the River End, moved to the Barclay and finally settled on the newly rebuilt City Stand. He comforted me after Cardiff and celebrated after Wembley. The first thought after a new signing or an injury was to Whatsapp him and my brother for their opinions. He became a Norwich fan.
I've always been somewhat 'passionate' in the stands and have been prone to occasional four letter outbursts. I certainly didn't get this from him and while he wouldn't be on his feet with me berating the referee I could still see as time went on that the goals we scored and conceded, along with the wins and the losses we saw, meant something to him. I did once find his limit though. He once agreed to go to Ipswich away with me and my brother. When we scored I was stood on my plastic seat giving the finger to the hordes of foaming home supporters, until I felt a hand on my shoulder and a stern 'that's enough.' I think the idea of his 13 year old son flipping off the fans he used to be a part of was probably a step too far for him.
As I grew older I moved away yet kept the season ticket, football forever pulling me back. Through all the changes of my adult life those Saturdays had been my constant. For 15 years I've had some guaranteed quality father/son time and as the saying goes 'you don't know what you've got til it's gone.'We'd already cancelled our season tickets for next season due to my commitments but as time went on the cancer he'd dealt with for the last few years started to do its worst. The last game we made it to together was the win over Reading. After that I couldn't face going alone with him just up the road in Norfolk and Norwich.
We lost him in June. It's tough knowing I'll never share another goal, another pint at the Odeon, another hug by the footbridge to say hello. I'm not sure I can face going back to Carrow Road right now. For the first time in my adult life I'm going to be an armchair fan.
I like to think though that the question of 'how did he get here' is answered pretty easily though - he got here because he loved his son enough to make sacrifices for him and he valued his time with him enough to give up his team for mine. I can only hope that when I have children of my own I'd be willing to do the same.
Not that I'll let it get that far.
Goodbye for now Dad. We'll always have Wembley.
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