I met my friend P in town a few weeks ago. We talked backwards and forwards, as you do, and before long got on to the subject, as middle aged men are prone to do, of football.
‘I’m fed up with it all’, said Pete.
‘Ranieri being sacked just says it all – it’s not sport any more. I’m not going to bother watching any more.’
Me and P’s wife nodded sagely – this was, after all, the man who had sat at the Barclay End of Carrow Road week on week for as long as I’ve known him.
While I do get where he’s coming from, I think he should give it another chance. Because, in this very amateur fan’s opinion, there’s still a few opportunities to get a bit out of sport, and, oddly, you could do worse than renewing your season ticket for the Canaries next season.
For those of you not from round these parts, it’s worth having a bit of a reprise of Norwich City’s fortunes over the last few years. Never really able to play the confident lead at the top end of football’s premier leagues, Norwich have tended to be pretty confident when they’re in Division One (which, if you’re really not from round here, is effectively division two), and fairly well under the cosh when they’re in the premier league (which is, of course, division one). The see-sawing at Carrow Road over the years has meant that they hold the fairly dubious record of being the club most often relegated from the premier league.
You’d kind of expect there to be a Duke of York ‘when they were up, they were up’ element to supporting the Canaries, but in reality, it’s not quite like that. When they were up, there was a bit of a feeling of doom about the place, as a succession of very well paid opposition journeymen, masquerading as team players, would hike up the A11, generally take the mickey out of our woeful defence for 90 minutes, and then, Louis Vuitton washbags in hand, whizz back for a cheeky night out at China White’s, or wherever it is that someone on £50k a week can relax of an evening. On the plus side, I could cycle to a premiership game from my house, and watch some of the best sides in Europe ply their trade, and still be home in time to listen to ‘Canary Call’, cup of tea in one hand, top part of my head in the other.
If you’ve never listened to Canary Call, I can’t recommend it highly enough. On one side of the conversation there is a Radio Norfolk presenter, who redefines the word hapless, teamed with an Special Guest who has been watching the game, possibly with the same tea/hand/head/hand positioning as I mentioned earlier. At the other end of the conversation will be a caller with an accent so strong that it’s been passed down through the generations from the medieval burghers of Swaffham, or Watton, or Sheringham, without any change whatsoever. Very hard to reproduce here, but I’ll try to give you a sense of the sort of call that you might well hear:
Hapless Presenter: “Well, on line three we have Arthur, from Swaffham, and I believe Arthur has some thoughts on City’s back four this season?”
Arthur from Swaffham: “Ahh burt hare bor, hev you now bin hairin may?”
(slight pause for translation)
HP: “Yes, we can hear you Arthur, go ahead”
AfS: “Well bor, that hent roight and oil say tha tyor fess and wun gret nod won wud. Tha back forrrr, I min well I hint nev sin thar sor farssin an fussin since tha wally Roeder cim dan an fule us awl.”
HP: “Strong words, Arthur, strong words…”
Keen listeners will note that Arthur from Swaffham (or his equivalent) will call and make this point on any given occasion – I have heard similar calls on the back of both heavy defeats and heroic victories, and such is the way of the Canary Caller.
Meanwhile, the Canary Call Special Guest will hope against hope that they’ll not be brought into such a lively debate, in the knowledge that sentence starters like ‘The manager can only do so much with the hand he’s dealt, but…’ and ‘I don’t normally criticise the ref, but’ will get him through an even more agonising 90 minutes than the one they’ve just watched.
The CCSG will fall into one of two camps – they’ll either be a fans’ favourite (in which case the acid test will be whether they can correctly pronounce the caller’s town of origin – Wymondham, Corpusty, Costessey callers can keep them on their toes), or a desperate last minute guest brought in through some odd connection with the club, like being second cousin of last year’s kit man, or physio, or goalkeeper (of course, round these parts, many people can tick all three boxes, tee hee).
Sometimes, with a fan’s favourite, the call will drift suddenly away from this week’s glorious victory/embarrassing defeat/turgid draw into a weird world where a caller will phone in to demand that the CCSG recalls the time that they met: ‘I bumped into you in 1993 in the Ten Bells, you were a proper gent, and I’ve never forgotten that’. I heard a call last year where Brenda from Norwich called Rob Newman, purely to mention that she’d always been a keen admirer of his thighs. In many phone-ins it’s hard to close the call down, but this was a work of beauty, as Brenda’s voice, just gently, breathlessly, drifted away, and you could just imagine the two men in the studio, unsure of the next step, while all of us listeners just listened to the dead time in wonder.
And there’s something quite attractive to me as a football fan to be amongst this sort of slightly surreal cynicism. If, after a home game, I find myself up the city and I don’t know the score, I’ll try to work out from the expression of the fans which way the game has gone. I have never, ever been able to tell. And against that backdrop, you have a club that consistently punches above its weight in characters. Right from the top, where the blessed Delia will attend each home game in her trademark scarf, appearing occasionally in front of a camera at half time to deny her accusers of being drunk in charge of a football club, then, in the second half, give a little regal hand up to the Barclay End, who, bored with the football, are chorusing ‘Delia, Delia give us a wave’. It’s not a million miles from Noel Coward in ‘The Italian Job’. Ed Balls is still hanging around in the boardroom, and Stephen Fry was recently appointed, then unappointed as a Director, presumably as he found out it was about the only thing in life that he wasn’t really good at. I can’t think of a business with such a set of directors who are as, well, eclectic, as the ones at Carrow Road.
On the pitch, there are, actual and real personalities, who have largely escaped the new boss’s recent decide to cull the squad in order to pay the bills next year. Wes Hoolihan is an Irish midfielder who must be fed up with every journalistic description of him being ‘diminutive’. But I can really imagine when he was a kid, just being really, really good at football, deciding to do it for a living, and the fact that he only really just exceeded jump-jockey height not really bothering him. At the other end of the scale, Mitchell Dijks is a 6’ 4” left back, who is incredibly fast, particularly once he’s worked up a bit of a gallop. Because he’s so big, any normal sized opponent coming in to tackle him just spins off like a spanner being thrown into a threshing machine. Referees aren’t really used to this sort of scenario, and most of the time he seems to get away with the fact that his flailing limbs are sending other players flying, sometimes, quite some distance. The Murphy twins (Jacob and Joshua, which has made for a challenge on both the replica and real kit front) are 22, both pretty quick on their feet, and, on their day, both capable of what MotD punters would call ‘something special’. They’ve been with the youth team at Norwich since they were about 3 years old, carefully protected until they’ve been deemed ready to play with the big boys. They’re also reasonably interchangeable and will never both start the game, so, apart from anything else, this allows for a bit of sibling rivalry where Jacob, for example, will score a fabulous strike from about 30 yards out, and Joshua, warming up on the sideline, will reluctantly applaud, in the knowledge that he’s not going on in this game and probably not going to start the next.
There’s more, and the point of this is not to go through the whole of the team, more to give a bit of a flavour as to why they’re actually, win or lose, quite entertaining to watch, because there’s a bit of character on display.
And as long as the characters keep playing, as long as the non-playing staff continue to amuse, and as long as all the supporters continue to fork out to watch each game with a sort of suppressed passion that displays itself as complete indifference, and as long as I can enjoy Canary Call for all the wrong reasons….I’ll keep going.
OTBC! As they say round these parts.
 ‘Line three’ is stretching it a bit. This is Radio Norfolk, where you’re doing well to have a single phone line functioning. During a very brief spell that I spent aiding and abetting at Radio Norfolk, we’d have regular phone ins, and it took me ages to figure out why my friend Vince would say ‘the lines are really hot at the moment, so if you don’t get through, do keep trying’, while, the other side of a glass partition, the temp that he’d brought in to man the phones would just shrug her shoulders at us until, eventually, a light would come on to signal a call. Which was often a wrong number. Happy times.
 Not her real name
 Or his, possibly
 People in Norwich do not go ‘in to’ places, they go ‘up’ them at all times. They also go ‘Up Asda’, for example rather than ‘to’. I think it makes it more of an event….