Notman - Iwan - Limbs. Nick Hayhoe on recalling, accurately or otherwise, that glorious, fleeting, moment in Cardiff 2002. Warning - contains Atomic Kitten.
I find myself standing on the seat, overlooking an incredibly steep stand as tens of thousands of people jump up and down wildly in a moment of human emotion that I had never before experienced, and have only very rarely experienced since.
As I look to my left, my dad is hugging someone he’s never met before and has never met again. My throat, already turning raw, is letting out a mad scream despite the pain it was already under, and my ears are ringing as a result of a thunderous, deafening sound of pure primal noise that still makes me shake to this day. Iwan Roberts has just scored in extra time. We are going into the Premier League and at 11 years old, this is the greatest moment of my life.
I remember arriving at the bus station in Bury St Edmunds in the early morning fog. I remember crossing the bridge into Wales and excitedly spotting a road sign with Welsh on it. I remember my dad pointing out Robert Fleck to me as we walked to the ground, and saying that he had won the FA Vase managing Diss. I remember waving my giant yellow and green flag, and my dad being annoyed by it because he couldn't see. I remember (and try to forget) Atomic Kitten playing before the game. I remember being handed a bag of confetti by a nice lady sitting in front of us. I remember Sutch missing the first of two misses in the shoot-out. I remember bawling my eyes out as soon as he did it and still crying despite cheering scoring the 4th penalty as I knew it was all over. I remember fans splayed, deadeye and exhausted, on the grass next to where the coaches were parked and finally I remember looking at the clock on the car dashboard reading 1:15am as we pulled off of the A14 in the dark.
If I close my eyes, I can feel the mugginess of being inside a stadium with a closed roof. It pressed down on us oppressively, trapping 70,000 of us inside like a giant tin of tuna. It was bright and sunny outside; and I have no idea to this day why the roof was on. Naturally, being the age I was, the thrill of watching a football match indoors meant that I didn’t care about this anomaly and I had probably hoped that the roof would be on all of that week. I recall looking into the corners of the stadium, where little Dairylea triangles of daylight bathed those unlucky enough to be stuck in the corner - and no doubt cooked them.
Again, at that age, and long before any mad rotating screen appeared at Carrow Road, the idea of being able to watch a video screen in the stadium was as equally as thrilling as being indoors, and I practically watched the whole game on them as they hung from the roof at both ends.
As something of a perennial regret, (especially considering the mementos from the day, such as ticket stubs, have been lost in various clearances, tidy-ups and house moves) the £10 programme was accidentally left behind. I think my dad just wanted to get out of there as quickly as he could, not able to face the Birmingham fans’ celebrations1, and the programme was left behind in the flight.
But it’s Roberts’ goal that my mind remembers the most.
It is my favourite goal, and will forever be my favourite goal. Because it was the first amazing goal - limbs, if you want to call it that - that I really experienced. I had seen us play and seen us score before then of course, usually, at the time, from the lofty heights of the upper River End. But this was, really, my first time. A moment in time. That will never be forgotten.
Or is it?
About 10 years ago, as a knowledge thirsty teenager who ran around the internet like Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate trying to learn and read every goddamn interesting thing I possibly could, I came upon various articles based on a report by the British Psychological Society, that seriously called into question the reliability of the human memory. The report noted that relying on anyone’s memory of an event was a fallacy; even if that person was speaking what they considered to be the “truth”. The fallacy was apparently so great, according to this study, the entire legal system could potentially fall to pieces with the research; for example when it came to using witness statements in court as evidence. At the age of 16 I found this to be both extremely fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Was my memory reliable? What if I had just made up my entire life up until that point? What, actually, was real? (And...before you know it I was having an existential crisis that one can only have at the age of 16).
As I grew older, I realised, however, that when it comes to remembering life events it doesn’t actually matter what really happened or didn't happen (well, outside of the legal system anyway). Whenever I watch the game back or read reports of it, I realise with a shock that it wasn’t Sutch who missed the first penalty; but it was in fact Phil Mulryne. I have subsequently found out, that Robert Fleck had not managed Diss Town to the FA Vase. Diss had won the Vase nearly 10 years previous while Fleck was still in the middle of his playing career. Looking at the old BBC match report, I note that I had made up a chance that I thought Iwan had in the first minute of the game (he came on as a substitute in the 2nd half, so if there had been a chance at all, he certainly wasn’t involved) and I also misremember that I had a flag. As my dad reminds me, I actually had a giant yellow and green foam finger; which still annoyed him, nonetheless.
But these minor errors in my recollection are completely irrelevant. I have learned that it is not the memory, or whether it is accurate or not, that it is important; but it is the emotion that comes with the memory. When Roberts scored, it was the first time I felt that thing that makes being a football fan. It hit me right on the nose. Smack, right on the kisser thanks to a cross by Alex Notman and a header by Iwan! Iwan! Iwan!
Whenever football is shit; whether it be Norwich losing or Neymar rolling around on the floor being a prick, or some twat owner ripping the fabric of a club apart, I think of that time to remind myself of why I bother with it. It’s a moment that I perhaps might not remember as it actually happened yes; but it’s not really about what I think I accurately remember. It is actually about what I felt then and how that makes me feel now. All about what I felt in that moment in time, when Roberts scored.
For Norwich fans who, like me, are of the millennial generation, I feel the Wembley Play Off Final of a few years back was a tremendous amount of closure on the disappointment of this day. Especially considering that it was probably the most comfortable Norwich performance I have ever watched live, and there was not a single moment from kick off where any of us seemed to feel any sort of gutwrenching nervousness or disappointment. A wonderfully rare thing, and a tremendous relief to anyone who was a kid in ‘02 and witnessed that final with the devastating over-emotion one has as a child over such things as football.
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