This is Norwich ’98

10/07/16

Bellars’ stag-do was a fecking disaster. 20 footballers, on the sauce, in Ibiza, having the time of their lives. Nightmare. In hindsight I’m glad I wasn’t invited. Even if I had been, I couldn’t have just upped and left Erik in charge. When you’re a professional athlete, employed by a top team, it feels like […]

Bellars' stag-do was a fecking disaster. 20 footballers, on the sauce, in Ibiza, having the time of their lives.

Nightmare.

In hindsight I'm glad I wasn't invited. Even if I had been, I couldn't have just upped and left Erik in charge.

When you're a professional athlete, employed by a top team, it feels like you can do anything you want in life. However, when you're two bang-average players for a second rate outfit like Norwich City, you've gotta find other ways to make ends meet.

That's why me and the boy Erik Fuglestad set up our own dry-cleaning business, Abra-ca-Fabrics.

Nowadays I live a double life: by day I am a tough-tackling central midfielder, but by night I'm tackling tough stains on delicate textiles using a centralised filtration system. And on the weekend of Bellars' stag I was up to my eyeballs in perchloroethylene.

Not only did we have an order of Norman Conquest re-enactment battle costumes from the Mulbarton Summer Fete, but Erik had an emergency seminar on Improving Solvent Mileage to attend (lucky so-and-so) and last minute, Barry Pinches' waistcoat urgently needed doing before his UK Championship qualifier the following Monday.

I assume Bellars' knew all of this and had decided not to bother us with the triviality of his little excursion. Although, it was strange he had never even mentioned it to me. Especially when I had specifically asked him what he was doing by way of celebrating his final moments of freedom, he had shrugged his hunched shoulders and muttered something incomprehensible which, through the minutiae of his eyebrow movements, I had translated as being; 'fishing with my dad and brothers in Aberystwyth'.

My suspicions that something else was going on were raised further when I turned up to training the next day and Ol' Mono-brow Marshall walked into the dressing room, excitedly waving a load of rectangular paper-slips, and shouted, "Pack your party bags, legends- plane tickets have arrived"

Everybody went quiet and when he spotted me talking to Daryl Sutch about the benefits of using centrifugal force to remove muck from lint filters, his face dropped quicker than big Iwan when his back's to goal and the defender gets within sneezing distance.

The following Wednesday I arrived at work to find a huge bag of laundry waiting for me. There was a half-torn scrap of paper attached, penned unmistakably in Scottish handwriting, which I recognised from the graffiti at Colney as being that of Peter Grant.

"See that ye get ma kecks proper clean this time, ya wee gobshite. Nae stains!" it demanded in big, tartan lettering.

I rummaged through the contents of the bag, pulling out mustard-yellow shirt after mustard-yellow shirt, each one emblazoned across the back with black printed letters, spelling out nicknames I had become familiar with during my time with the Canaries.

I read the first three, 'Big Mac', 'Jacko', 'Sheep-Shagger'. Jesus, I thought, even Chris Llewellyn was in on this thing. I was still trying to work out what it all meant when the scrunched-up note caught my eye again and I noticed the smaller writing at the bottom.

"PS- we just got back from Bellars' stag in Ibiza and ye were'nae invited, ya bawbag!"

That's when the penny finally dropped. Erik and I had been deliberately left out; rejected by our fellow teammates.

"Big order," said a soft voice which startled me. It was Erik. He had come down from upstairs and was leaning against the doorframe. He was in his grey, S-Club 7 t-shirt that he wears to bed because it's so long that it comes down to his knees and he doesn't have to put on any underwear.

The blurry, unfocused look in his eyes, the disarray of his normally floppy, blonde hair, the pillow imprint on his left cheek all pointed to one thing: he'd been hard at work up there on the gentle treatment of the silk and bamboo-fibre apparel, just like I'd asked him to only six days prior.

He's a workaholic this lad, I hadn't seen him since the Friday before because he'd been running a workshop in Hellesdon about minimising the risks of combustion on sunray pleats.

"Bellars' stag-do," I said, casually. I didn't want to upset the fella with the revelation that he hadn't been invited. "Did you know about it?"

"Ah, Monsieur Bellamy's stag-do," he replied, his fake French accent especially strong. "Non, Monsieur Shaun, I know nozing about ziz. You went?"

"No, I didn't fecking go," I snapped, then cleared my throat and held up an apologetic hand. (We can both tell it's an apologetic hand because I've become accustomed to drawing a sad face across my left palm to make communication between the two of us easier. On the right palm I've drawn a happy face, even gave it some long eye-lashes so it has the appearance of a lady. Apparently thumbs up and thumbs down means something altogether different in Norway, which I found out to my cost when Erik's cousin, Bernadetta, came to stay for the weekend.

Erik stretched out a hairless, pink leg and tiptoed like a ballerina over to the counter to join me. "I'll do zat, Monsieur Shaun," he said reaching to take the bag off me. "Please, leave it to moi."

"Ah sure, it's alright, Erik," I said, putting a hand around one strap of the bag protectively.

But he was in a boisterous mood and grabbed the other strap. "I insist, Monsieur!"

We began a tug of war, the bag sliding back and forth across the counter, like the arm of a 2p machine in a Cromer amusement arcade, shirts spilling out all over the place.

Anyone will tell you I'm a competitive person (certainly those 'judges' at the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Industry Awards would), but the fact that Erik felt as passionately about the job, made me swell with pride. I decided to allow him the pleasure of deciding whether to use Dibutoxymethane, or a combination of brominated solvents, so I let go of the bag.

He flew backwards, smashing into a clothes-rail containing all the freshly pressed evening wear from the Sprowston Summer Ball, his head becoming submerged in clear plastic film and the hem of a tasteful cream and floral dress. He was still clinging to the bag but the last of the shirts had spilled out onto the floor.

"Erik," I gasped, rushing to his aid and helping him up. "Sorry, lad, you can wash the shirts." He moaned, rubbing the back of his head, gingerly. "I just wanted to give you the time off 'cos I know you've been working so hard recently..."

Then I saw it, lying by my feet. The back of a yellow Norwich shirt, the black print of its owner's name staring up at me. 'Viking Francais'. The letters jumped up and stabbed me in the chest.

Erik followed my eyes to the shirt and the nickname. His nickname.

He looked at me, his eyes wide with fear, (or because of the fumes from the solvent tank, I can never be sure) and gulped.

"Erik," I said in a whisper. "Does this mean what I think it means?"

He said nothing. Maybe he understood that it was a rhetorical question. Maybe he couldn't think of the English for what he wanted to say quickly enough. Either way, I finished my thought.

"Someone who went on Bellars' stag-do," I paused for effect, and you can too when you're reading this... "Has stolen your nickname!"

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