NORWICH; A FINE CITY

07/09/17

Earlier this week we gave you the account of Terri Westgate, born and raised in London but now a city fan. Today Nick Hayhoe, born in Norwich, but never calling the city home, shares his city story.

There are two points on a train journey into Norwich where something inside me just sort of stirs. I am not really sure what the emotion is, but I know that I feel it. The first point is when crossing over the Yare 'valley' (for this is Norfolk and valleys don't really exist) and spot B&Q and the Calor Gas Centre on the left hand side, as the train just touches Norwich's outskirts. The second point is the thrunkathrunkathrunk sound of the train crossing over the Trowse Swing Bridge while I look left to see the old factories and warehouses of Trowse before spying stadium itself - someway downstream along the Wensum's long meander as it curves into the city. This image from the bridge is always a pleasing one - an almost time leaping glimpse into an older Britain not known by my generation, where engine factories, food manufacturers and football stadiums were dotted along great rivers. I put on my yellow and green scarf and coat deliberately, like a soldier putting on his uniform. I am nearly there.

I am by no means any sort of expert in ancient Greek literature, but I enjoy the old classic Greek tale (Homer's Odyssey being the prime example) that involves a hero trying to complete some sort of incredible sea voyage in order to return home with plenty of tricky trials, puzzles, battles with monsters and dangerous unnavigable waters thrown in on the way to try and prolong the journey (anyone who makes takes the train to Carrow Road from London on a Saturday with engineering works on the mainline will know exactly what I mean). The concept of these stories is called nostos; which is an Ancient Greek word that explains the 'longing' that one has to get home in that situation. Indeed, it is where we get the term 'nostalgia' -a longing for the past. I think of the idea of nostos whenever I take a journey to Norwich, and on first glance it is quite an odd comparison to make. You see, I have never lived in the Fine City and, to make matters worse, I have lived in Suffolk for almost all of my life. While I was born in the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, I have never called Norwich my home. So how can I have a longing for home over somewhere that I have never lived?

The sun shines brightly on this typically chilly Saturday in November. As I step outside of Norwich station, swerving this way and that around the ditherers who always insist on blocking the entrance hall, I immediately head straight over towards the Nelson Hotel. Normally, I would take an immediate turn to the left and to the ground; but today I am early, and decide to head into the city centre to quench a progressively increasing thirst. I have no qualms about going to a pub on my own. In football colours on matchday, you're automatically with friends with anyone else wearing your colours. I think about this for a second. None of my friends from home support Norwich and, unless I am going with a member of my family, I usually go to the football (home or away) on my own, yet I never feel lonely whenever I go to games. A funny thing about being a football supporter is that you always see a few people who you sort of half recognise. You may exchange the odd nod of recognition, perhaps discuss tactics and maybe buy each other a pint - only to go separate ways outside of the ground, never to learn each other's names and not communicate again until the next random encounter at a pub in the city in two weeks time. So, no, while I am in my scarf here - I am never alone. There aren't many fellow fans in colours around at the moment, but I spot a couple of teenagers (one in last year's replica shirt and the other in NCFC tracksuit top), walking down towards Koblenz Avenue and I feel immediately heartened by the unsaid companionship I immediately have with them.

Norwich sits as a somewhat unique city in the British (or, perhaps more precisely, English) national consciousness. As beautiful as somewhere like York, as important historically as somewhere like Canterbury and with an educational and artistic prowess that could rival main 'university towns' (ones outside of Oxford and Cambridge, such as Nottingham or Bristol) - it isn't really nationally famed for any of these things. The reasons for being something of the "forgotten city" (if that isn't too a harsh term) are vague and undefined. People have offered opinions why; ranging from the lack of a proper link road to the fact that during the Industrial Revolution, Norwich lagged behind other places somewhat in its rapid expansion (its growth was comparatively small due to the fall of its textile industry), so it steadily fell behind in terms of importance. Perhaps it is something to do with how the map falls; Norwich is just a bit too 'tucked away' for a modern metropolitan hub. It isn't on the way to anywhere. There's no major air or seaport. It's just a tiny bit too far from London, and, despite being England's 2nd City from the Middle Ages right up to the 18th Century, the population of modern Norwich isn't very large at all in comparison to other cities in England. However, this is all a nice thing in a way. It is part of what gives it is charm. It's our city; and it is not owned by a travel board, London commuters looking for ever cheaper house prices or by groups of lads planning a stag weekend. It belongs to itself. This can be seen anytime you walk through it, or read about its history. So if you want to talk about identity: It just so happens that Norwich's identity is being quietly rather brilliant, and modest about it to boot.

I traipse up the hill along Prince of Wales Road. Kebab shops on one side, clubs and bars on the other, this street could belong to any town or city in Britain. But as I cross the road and walk past the old Anglia TV studios I see the castle, standing proudly as it has for nearly a millennium looking down on the rest of Norfolk. I think about the time I was standing near here watching the Norwich team bus carrying the Division 1 trophy in 2004; one of the many major local events this castle must have witnessed over it's 1,000 years of history. The memory of the amount of people standing precariously on the hill will always stick with me. I was only 13, and, as I was a bit too young to remember the playoff final in Cardiff, it was the first time that I felt that sense of belonging to something bigger. To paraphrase Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch; that feeling of why you belong to a special little club that you didn't decide to join, and you were never asked to, and probably had it thrust upon you and one that you bloody hate a lot of the time - but you can't leave because you just, well....can't.

I went to university in London. My halls were very close to the area of Islington known as Angel - a place which is home to the Old Red Lion, a pub (and, rather delightfully, a theatre) which is a social meeting spot for the Capital Canaries supporters club. A Norfolk oasis in a sea of what can only be described as a personal, occasional, metropolitan melancholy, I watched many of our famous recent fixtures there. Holt's hat trick against Ipswich, beating Man Utd 1-0 with Pilk's header (one of my favourite ever #limbsAOTS moments) - it really was a glorious place to be, packed to the rafters with yellow and green fellow Londoners drinking Woodforde's Wherry on what is practically the porch of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. I remember being in there when Norwich were playing Arsenal, and the bemusement of local Arsenal fans who walked in to find themselves surrounded by supporters of this little club from a provincial part of England they had never been to. It is clear that countries can easily have a little piece of themselves planted on foreign soil, but can a county or even a city? The ORL is evidence that, yes, it can.

As I reach the top of the hill, I suddenly remember that there is a Premier League game on TV. Not fancying a scrum at a bar to get a pint, I instead take a sharp turn to my left and head down King Street towards the ground. I love this part of Norwich. I am unashamedly somewhat of a history nerd, and it is on King Street where, other than perhaps Guildhall Hill, I feel most connected with the past of Norwich. Yes there are new buildings here, but to the city's credit, none of them seem to usurp the old in terms of prominence. Then there is Dragon Hall itself sitting, as ancient buildings do, with an arrogance of knowing it is the centre of attention and has the weight of 700 years of English history surrounding it. There are more supporters around now - stomping towards the ground in that way that only football supporters heading to the game can, and, as I cross the bridge over the Wensum I suddenly become part of a crowd.

The greatest pieces of music have a habit of evoking personal memories from your life, even if they had nothing to do with that particular memory. It's a tricky thing to explain so here's an example; the opening harp that starts the song She's Leaving Home by The Beatles, for some reason, reminds me of being round my grandparents' house when I was young - even though neither of them listened to the Beatles and I hadn't heard that song until I was well into my late teens. An odd phenomenon. Perhaps just idiosyncratic to me and evidence I am just a bit mad? Maybe... But another example, particularly in the case of Norwich, is that, again for reasons I can't explain as there is no obvious connection there, the opening drum beat from Oasis' Supersonic immediately takes me to Carrow Road. A night game, sitting in the upper tier of the River End with my dad when I was younger. Perhaps they played it on the PA before games at some point? Who knows. All I know is that I can listen to that song anywhere, at anytime and I will immediately be reminded of my football club and the city itself. There's just something about it. So for me, for some odd, perhaps idiosyncratic and slightly mad reason, Oasis does not just = Manchester, Oasis also = Norwich.

I have never known a time before the Riverside complex existed so, for good or bad (as some people can decry such 'leisure complexes' as soulless Nando's and All Bar One filled wastelands), walking through Wherry Road, past the still brand-new looking restaurants and bars on my way to Morrison's to grab a pre-match cheese and onion pasty, is an unconscious part of my matchday routine. I am at Morrison's now, queuing at the checkout wondering how 'normal' people can be here doing their weekly shop at 3 o'clock on a Saturday when Norwich are obviously playing at home. A middle-aged man is in the queue next to me with a trolley full of tins of soup, bread and vegetables, looking absolutely perplexed about the fact the supermarket is full of people wearing yellow t-shirts with a big Aviva sticker on the front. How do people who don't like sport get through the week? I wonder. What must it be like to not have the experience of a 1-0 away loss to Barnsley wrecking your Saturday? How does someone go their whole lives without knowing who Steven Caulker is? I shudder at these thoughts. I am not into Game of Thrones, and when I am immediately lost when a group of friends are discussing it, I think this might be what it is like; but Game of Thrones isn't the world's most popular sport. There are no Game of Thrones supplements in the Sunday papers, or stadiums dedicated to watching Game of Thrones in every town and city in the country. There aren't a multitude of channels dedicated to showing live broadcasts of Game of Thrones (with analysis from former Game of Thrones actors) or David Squires cartoons lampooning the administrators of Game of Thrones on the Guardian website every Tuesday - Game of Thrones is comparatively easy to avoid. Surely you can't avoid football completely? It's EVERYWHERE.

Forget your boring reds, blues, lilywhites and black and white stripes; we picked, of all colours to put together, yellow and green. It's just such a Norwich thing to do. Perhaps the most unique colour combination in English football - I grew up wondering why hardly any other teams play in yellow and green and to this day I do not know the actual answer. I am not sure, if I am totally honest, that I want to know. Some teams, like West Brom, have traditional away colours in yellow and green - and some clubs had yellow and green historically; but it seems, in English football, yellow and green = Norwich City's colours and no one else's (indeed, when visiting Old Trafford a few years back and Man Utd supporters were engaging in their 'green and gold' scarf protest we, in an example of classic Norfolk wit, sang "we want our scarfs back"). The brilliant thing about this slight mad colour combination is that it is so loud. When we gather en masse, like on that glorious day at Wembley stadium a few years ago, we automatically create a Jackson Pollockesque wall of colour that other, more boring colours like blue and white, simply can't do. A wave and sea of yellow and green. So well done to that Norwichian Chairman of an young NCFC who was determined that he wanted his football club to be just a little bit different.

The Barclay concourse is full now. I have had a drink, and I am starting to buzz about the game. It's evocative in here; the clanking sound of the turnstiles, a low humming buzz of a PA system outside; the smell of pies, pasties and stale beer. People around me are shaking hands, chatting and laughing. People who have known each other for years, through nothing else except they happen to see each other every other week at a football ground. It's a big game and it seems like we are all sharing the nerves between us. I head towards entrance, and take the walk up the steps. I was a latecomer to the lower Barclay, it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I first sat in it and I will always wonder what it must have been like on the old terrace. Something that I will sadly never experience. Now though, I am happy enough to nod in greeting at the people sitting around me and to hear the roar as the teams walk out of the tunnel. The sun is shining directly into our eyes, and we are all putting our hands in front of our faces like ground crew on an aircraft carrier watching a Typhoon coming into land. We applaud our goalkeeper as he runs over to us, and he applauds back. Does he have any idea how much the people he is looking at will care about his actions over the next hour and a half, I wonder? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I glance to my left and note that there is a sizeable away support. QPR. Londoners having made the trip to this corner of England that they will otherwise probably never visit. Poor them. I think of the ones at the back of the stand and the view they can see. Two cathedrals and a castle which is nearly as old as England itself. Norwich. Historic, modern, proud and humble. My city, and our city. The Fine City.

As one, we raise our arms into the air:

KICK IT OFF...


While you're here.

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