You may not know their names, but having hugged with joy and barracked with frustration, you definitely know them. Paul Buller's debut piece looks at some of the Carrow Road characters he sits with every other weekend.
I spend an unhealthy amount of time observing people at football matches.
You do to. Maybe you realise it. Maybe not.
Think about it. Some of you have been going to the same place with the same people 20-odd times a year; some of you for maybe even 40 or 50 years.
Yet while you know very few of their names, you know them intimately. The donut-shaped man who travels to away games with the same battered NCFC carrier bag and jokes, every week without fail, “I’ve got ma life in ma carrier bag” ‘And he probably has’, you think.
The man sat behind me for many years who had a face like he’d been punched in a pub every weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The 6ft 8in man in front of me who stands up even though he doesn’t need to; whose chin, as big as the BFG’s, is such a mega-structure I can’t see the goal if I try to look beyond him; a giant among mere mortals, all of whom should have ‘restricted view’ printed on our season tickets.
The woman who sat in front of me for years, smoking luxury-length cigarettes without stopping; whose astringent perfume would alternate with the cigarette smoke to puff clouds into the air around us like one of those Glade Airwick fresheners. The same woman who every fortnight dyed her hair a different shade of Chilli Hot Pepper; so much so, her hair had begun to tire of the constant chemical stress and evacuate her scalp to give it some breathing space.
The seven-year-old boy who one day arrived with his dad and kept coming back; as he grew into his teens, a look of horror slowly etching its way into his face as he realised he was turning into someone who complained all game, booed his own players and predicted the worst after the first five minutes: his dad.
Those are just the people around me. You know the ones.
You also know the ones you view from afar.
The hot girl or guy you’ve spotted in the same seat a few times. At least they might be hot. You can’t quite see them close enough but they stand out. Hot guys and girls don’t really go to football matches. So they stand out. It’s a nice distraction when the football’s poor.
The old couple you’ve seen for years; they must have been in their eighties when you first saw them, surely now in their hundreds? Why don’t old people at the football look like they age?
There’s the guy just in earshot, the one with the pencil moustache and the golfing jumper that he bought from Roy’s of Wroxham for half price in 1983. He looks like an officious bank clerk from one of those oh-so-English 1950s Ealing comedy films you find on BBC Two on a wet November afternoon.
He likes to whine. You can hear it. Everyone can hear it. It sails over you like an air raid siren. ‘Whhhhhhhy is he even playing?” he cries. From two minutes in. It never stops. Ever. He’s never happy, even when we win. If we score, we should have scored earlier. If we nearly score, it’s not good enough. He’s never happy. And he wants you to know it.
The husband and wife in their mid-fifties, dressed in matching walking jackets and leisure pants; they don’t like youth players or foreigners and are convinced it’s only a matter of time until Sam Allardyce rightfully takes his throne at Carrow Road. They neither cheer nor boo, simply tutting as their disdain brews.
And then there’s me. Head too big for its body, sticky out ears and a deep vertical line between my eyebrows that looks like the midwife squeezed my temple inwards to try and make my shockingly large head smaller. Now, along with a grade one haircut, it gives the impression I am permanently angry.
I’m the broody one. The one who doesn’t complain much unless there’s a mistake too many. The one whose
grunt of choice is a guttural “COME onnnn Noridge” when we get on the counter. The one who talks too many tactics, either to himself or his know-it-all nephew if he’s bothered to turn up. The one who once told three thugs to stop calling Grant Holt a useless fat **** in his final season. The one who then spent the rest of the season thinking it was the bravest thing he’d ever done but also the stupidest.
Look around you the next time you visit the football. You don’t know these people. They don’t know you. But you do really. In your minds and theirs, there’s been a relationship between you for years. You love and loathe them as much as your own friends and family. But you keep coming back to see them. And you always will.