Jim Vanderpump returns with his eye opening series on the fantastical* goings on behind closed doors at Colney and Carrow Road back in 1998.
*by fantatastical we mean completely made up...
I’ve never been one for superstitions. Apart from that if I score against a team who play in white, then I only eat mashed potato, until I score again. Or if I score with my left foot, then I give it time off, as a treat, which means I have to hop and drive everywhere using only my right. Adhering to both rules can be tricky to follow for a whole summer, so I try and avoid scoring with my left foot against a team who play in white on the final day of the season.
As soon as I stepped into my hallway that Tuesday afternoon, I could sense that someone else was in the house. I called out, “Ni Hao,” the Chinese for ‘Hello’, hoping to discombobulate the intruder or maybe trick them into thinking that I knew Kung Fu. The living room door was slightly ajar, a crack of light shone through from the other side, and with it came a shuffling sound.
Slowly, I pushed open the door, my heart pumping like I was about to take a 90th minute penalty. The room was how I’d left it that morning, except for one thing. Over in the corner, sitting in my favourite armchair, the dim light from the lamp above reflecting off his silver mullet, was Kevin Piper, from Anglia News.
“Iwan,” he exclaimed, enthusiastically, turning around from his ‘bit to camera’ that he’d been softly muttering. “Come in, sit down. Take the weight off your feet.”
I let out a sigh; a mixture of relief and annoyance. I didn’t mind the fact that he was wearing my slippers, I didn’t even mind that he had been helping himself to my Wagon Wheels (the jam ones I might add), but I was beginning to get a bit irritated with the fact that he’d let himself into my house.
“Kevin,” I said, putting my keys down on the nearest side-table. “The interview finished 3 days ago.”
“Uh-ho, Iwan, don’t be like that,” he chuckled uncomfortably. “We’ve just got a couple more questions to ask you, then we’ll be out of your hair.”
‘We,’ I thought, looking around at the empty room. The cameraman and sound guy were long-gone, they’d left after the actual interview had ended. I thought Kevin had too, but I was later to discover that he’d just been hiding among a load of cardboard boxes in the garage, waiting for an opportunity get back in.
“OK, then, Kevin,” I exhaled, lowering myself onto the arm of the sofa. “You can ask me one more question, then you have to leave.”
Spurred on by a fresh excitement Kevin leant forward, bloodshot, sleepless eyes now wide in anticipation.
"So, Iwan Roberts, can you tell the viewers how you rediscovered your goals-coring form for Norwich City Football Club.”
Not this again, I thought, contemplating whether to call his producer, his wife, or the police. “OK,” I said firmly. “But I’m telling you for the last time.”
It had been the new gaffer, Bruce Rioch, who’d suggested I try a different approach. In fact, his actual words were, “have you ever considered a change of career,” but I knew exactly what he meant.
It was true, I was in a bit of a rut and I needed something to get me out of it (or more into it- I’m not exactly sure what a ‘rut’ is). Keith O’Neill recommended ball-room dancing, Shaun Carey suggested something to do with laundry, but a quick check on both of their goal-scoring records persuaded me to ignore them.
“Graffiti and littering’s how I stay sharp,” revealed Bellars before bedtime one night during pre-season, but that sounded a bit on the illegal side for me.
I wanted something wholesome and fun, to help take my mind off football but also keep me trim for matchdays. So, naturally I decided to join the circus.
The ring-master was a grumpy but flamboyant bloke with a curly, Poirot-like moustache, called Brian. I mean the bloke was called Brian, not his moustache. I don’t know what his moustache was called, he never introduced us. Like I said, he was grumpy.
“What can you do?” he asked, reluctantly, after I’d handed him my CV and delivered a well-rehearsed sales-pitch.
“I see myself as an allrounder,” I said, trying hard to maintain good eye-contact. “I’ve got good balance, so I’d be a natural on the tightrope, but I’m also a big guy so could probably take a cannonball in the stomach. Furthermore, I’ve already got a red coat and whip, so I was thinking lion tamer…”
He held up his hand to stop me and made a sort of throaty whimper. “Alright,” he sighed, his top-hat sliding to one side of his head. “There aren’t any openings right now, but if something crops up I’ll give you a call.”
I left feeling dejected, but 2 weeks later, in the early evening, the home phone rang. It was Brian.
“Iwan, we need you to come in tonight.”
“Excellent. Shall I bring my red coat and whip?”
“No, the bearded lady’s had to drop out,” he said, the tension rife in his voice. “Silly cow went to the barbers and fell asleep. They gave her a wet shave. When she woke up she was absolutely gorgeous. She’s only been here 20 minutes and already she’s had proposals from the strongman and one of the trapeze artists. And there’s an elephant sniffing around her ‘n’ all.”
“I’ll be there in 10!” I said, slamming down the phone and hopping as fast as I could to my car. Thank you Bernadetta, thank you, I repeated to myself as I got in and adjusted the driver’s seat to ‘righty mode’. (I should probably have stopped applying my superstitions to 5-a-side games.)
Once on the A47 I grabbed the oestrogen pills I’d been keeping in my glove compartment for just such an occasion and downed the lot, all the while getting into character by trying to remember the plot of that new TV series, Sex and the City, that the wife had made me watch.
I arrived at the big top with 10 minutes to spare, threw on the dress and tried to fluff up my 3-day-stubble as best as I could. I was as much of a woman as I was going to get at short notice.
That first shift was a baptism of fire-eating, but thanks to the help of my colleagues and the naivety of the paying public, I got through it. And guess what? That weekend I went and scored my first goal of the season away at Huddersfield.
After that, Brian seemed to call me up every week.
“Iwan, I need you again tonight. The contortionist’s stuck at work. Says he’s up to his neck in it.”
“Iwan, get here by 7. Tony’s car’s broken down again. Bloody Clown!”
I became the understudy to everyone and I loved every second. From the highs of standing on a bear’s shoulders, juggling knives, to the lows of having custard pies hurled in my face from point blank range. It was all fun and I’d had much worse at Carrow Road during the previous season. Plus, the harder I worked in the circus, the more it paid off at the weekends.
“Iwan, get over here ASAP,” shouted Brian down the phone at 6:45pm one Thursday. “The Commies have got to them, they’re all on strike! We’ll have to do the whole show on our own, you and me!”
While I sympathised with the union and its desire for equal rights for all workers, regardless of height, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fulfill a life-long ambition and be… the lion tamer.
There were some hairy moments that night, especially when I almost mistook the umbrella for the trampoline from the top of the high-wire, or when I confused the cup of petrol for water and nearly breathed fire on a monkey, but me and Brian pulled it off and everyone went home happy. Apart from the elephant that got eaten, but you can’t interfere with nature and that lion was in a cranky mood.
Anyway, that Saturday I bagged a brace against Bristol City to keep us in the mix for promotion, so it all worked out. It’s what ‘Little Nelly’ would’ve wanted.
“So there you have it, Kevin,” I said, rising back to my feet and opening the door to the living room as a not-so-subtle hint for him to get out. “That’s how I rediscovered my goal-scoring form.” He wasn’t moving. “Kevin? Kevin!”
The weirdo had fallen asleep in the chair. He was slumped forward over the arm, making a soft whistling noise through his nose.
Wearily, I turned around to the door. “Alright then, Kevin, you can stay for tea,” I said, like a defeated illusionist outwitted by the innocence of a child. “I hope you like mashed potato.”