When we meet again

This piece was published in the matchday programme for the game against Sheffield Wednesday on 5 December 2020. The Norwich City programme is really great and it is worth subscribing imho. You can do that here.

It has been a long time since we were all in Carrow Road together. I only went to away games last season, so my last visit was the Blackburn game where we clinched the Championship. Even if you were there more recently, it all feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it.

We’ll be back there soon.

But in the meantime, the longer our absence from Carrow Road gets, the more desperate we are to be back. I’ve taken to walking the walk to the ground in my mind in the run up to a game. It is comforting.

Living outside Norfolk, my walk is usually from Thorpe Station, but it didn’t use to be that way. I first started going to watch Norwich play when I was growing up in Thetford. My walk to the ground started in Lakenham, where my dad would park up at a friend’s house behind City College. Occasionally a car of away fans — seeing our yellow and green scarves fluttering on the A11 would follow us across the city hoping for a short cut to the ground, or a local’s insight on a good place to park. They always looked disappointed when we pulled into the house, stuck in the middle of nowhere.

The start of our walk meant the start of the game’s build up. No more talk of school or work or the week ahead. It’s all about the game. Over the clanking bridge on Hall Road, past the chip shop we desperately hoped Dad would take us to on the way home, by St Mark’s church, and then the Rose Inn meant the sight of more and more yellow shirts.

Once we got to the top of the impossibly steep Carrow Hill, the crowds were really starting to build. You know you’re all heading in the same direction, with the same sense of anticipation, the same hopes — or forlorn resignation if you’re that way inclined. Either way, we’re all in this together. It’s the moment when strangers become friends, sharing the same destination and the same goal.

Out at the bottom of the hill where the decrepit warehouses once loomed, past where the away pub used to be, past the first of the programme sellers. No more anticipation now, you can see the ground, you’re really there for a match day — the smell of onions is the last confirmation needed. And — the same as every game for three decades now — it’s time to ask the age old question: how is it possible that enough people buy scarves at this point to justify the number of people selling them on the street. And don’t get me started on the half and half scarves.

Then it’s through the turnstile (we used to pay cash back then you know). The cold concrete and the impossibly cold beer gives you the warm welcome you needed, supping with the people who are your best friends for the afternoon, but you couldn’t name them all if your life depended on it. There’s just enough time to place the same £4 worth of bets that never come off but give some edge to at least some of the game.

And then, finally, the first sight of the pitch. It never gets old, and in the pained state of today, missing football this much, it is emotional to even think of it. Whatever corner of the pitch you get the glimpse of first, whether you’re walking up the steps of the Barclay, or in from the concourse at the bottom of the snake pit, or into the stand up high in the River End, the feeling is always the same. If you’re lucky enough, you even get a whiff of the grass. Such a contrast with everything that has been hitting you for the last 30 minutes.

Every Norwich fan has their own walk to the ground. Past the Fat Cat Canary from the Thorpe St Andrew. Down Ketts Hill maybe, if you’re energetic. A lot of people come through the city, over the bridge that has the complicated name. We all have our own way, with familiar sights and familiar rituals. These walks are formative, making a grove in the pavement and in our lives. How much do we miss that walk? I’ve been walking it in my mind for weeks just longing to be back.

The news that fans will be allowed back to games gives even those of us without season tickets the hope that this football drought is coming to an end. One day, when the crisis is coming to end, and the threat to our friends and family from this illness is subsiding, we will all be able to make the walk back to Carrow Road again. Steady on, now’s our chance.

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