Backstage with legends

Jon Rogers shared a stage with the likes of Bryan Gunn, Darren Eadie and Grant Holt at a recent book launch. Here he tells you what it’s like to be surrounded by your heroes – and bricking it about singing a couple of songs

Jon Rogers, in his Basil Fawlty jumper, high-fives Simon Thomas as Bryan Gunn, Darren Eadie and Grant Holt watch on

Jon Rogers, in his Basil Fawlty jumper, high-fives Simon Thomas as Bryan Gunn, Darren Eadie and Grant Holt watch on

As I sat alone backstage, I downed a large white wine in one, looked around at my surroundings of the OPEN building, heard an almighty roar of laugher from the audience, looked at my lyrics – which were shivering in my nervous hand – and wondered “How the fucking hell did this all happen?”

It was the live launch of a new book – Tales From The City. A book edited by Mick Dennis, and involving chapters from nearly all of the most important people on and off the pitch from the past 10 years of Norwich City’s history. Oh, and me.

Nearly one year ago, on a dreary October day in Sheffield’s dreary Hillsborough stadium, I sat watching a dreary 0-0. Mick D tapped me on the shoulder and mentioned he was doing a Norwich City book with a couple of Watford fans, including Sky Sports’ Adam Leventhal, who had produced a couple of books on Watford and were looking to expand the series. Mick wondered if I was interested in being a part of it.

I happily agreed and when the email popped up a few months later, explaining what he wanted from me, I had my tale in my mind instantly. 

In March, I wrote my chapter in 10 days. I knew what my tale had to be about, and interestingly, the themes – if not the actual story – were similar to others. That link to family and football is impossible to differentiate, it seems.

“It wont make you rich, but boy, you’ll have fun.” Mick said. And boy, was he right.

Mick is known to many people in many ways. A retired football reporter, a family man, a personal friend to the Wynn-Joneses. I found a father figure. He mentored me, creatively and emotionally, through the process of writing an emotional chapter worthy to stand alongside owners, professional writers and ex-players. He offered me his time and deep encouragement from the moment I pressed send on the first draft, to the giant hug he gave me walking off the stage as my song played out the at end. I owe him.

If I was you, I’d be rolling my eyes at this utter flagellating I am currently retelling but I do it so you can understand a few things of what is it like to be in private surroundings with many of my – and probably your – footballing heroes.

It was pretty dull actually.

Iwan knew Holty who knew McVeigh who knew Hucks who knew Gunny who knew Eadie who knew Iwan. They shared stories of what you’d share with your cousin you hadn’t seen for three years. Traffic mostly, with Iwan and Macca arriving later than planned.

They were polite, very awake, relaxed, prepared and oh-so professional. Bryan Gunn was the biggest presence but nowhere near daunting with it, both Grant Holt and Darren Huckerby were far too cool to talk to me much, Iwan Roberts oozed calm and Darren Eadie was all smiles and friendliness.

One chap told me he didn’t like my songs, and one guy told me with a big beaming smile that I used to be funny on Twitter, but now I was crap

Simon Thomas, who wrote a chapter in the book and was the host for the night, was lovely company for the few minutes we chatted – and his professionalism was something else. He arrived very early afternoon and worked non-stop making notes, writing questions and re-reading the book. The production of the night was meticulously planned, and it showed.  

Adam Leventhal, who runs the Tales franchise and created all of the montage videos which introduced each of the Norwich legends onto the stage, was great fun and very funny. He was also scarily and wonderfully calm while running proceedings. He was determined that everyone would have a good time first, with business coming a distant second to that. He was open to new ideas and even wore a yellow handkerchief in support… wait a min! WATFORD PLAY IN YELLOW! WHY I OUGHTA…

I had the chance to have two in-depth conversations, with Darren Eadie and Chris Goreham. Both were more than a joy to be around. Darren shared funny and honest tales of nerves, depression and wristbands, and his openness and humour calmed me before I went on stage the first time.

Chris, as humble and lovely as you’d expect, was my post to lean on for the night. Although he had spoken to and shared times with all of the players before, he found the whole night as surreal as myself: we were two fans who felt more like lucky competition winners than people who were there to entertain.

We sat next to each other at the long table for the book signing. We found ourselves at the start of the table, so promised people who joined the queue for our autographs that much more exciting people were waiting for them further down the line. I’d never met Chris before and I didn’t tell him this – but he was the one person I was most looking forward to meeting.  

When signing the book for the lovely people who came in the VIP area, I was asked who I was about 20 times, and my signature was refused about six times. One chap told me he didn’t like my songs, and one guy told me with a big beaming smile that I used to be funny on Twitter, but now I was crap. I laughed and told him I liked his honesty, which still makes me laugh.

The whole night opened my eyes to what it’s like to be directly in the spotlight, to be put in a situation where you need to be switched on and give 100% despite the odd and stressful circumstances – and I still don’t know if I liked it (even if I did get to kick some rolled-up socks past Gunny while Holt moved a couple of chairs to make the makeshift goal wider – as shown in the above photo).

What I did love was meeting the people who speak to me on Twitter, watch the videos of my songs and have said kind comments in times when I needed them. I felt instant connections with the lovely people who took the time to say nice things before and after the evening.

Finally, and interestingly suitably, my chapter in the book was all about how I have failed in the three most important Norwich City moments of my life – as mascot, at a trial and at the Bayern Munich home game.

And as I stood on stage, singing the songs that my two hands and brain had crafted, pumping it out to the 500 people in front of me, including my friends and loved ones, I royally bummed-up the lyrics.

Which meant that the fourth most important Norwich City moment of my life went perfectly and wonderfully to plan.

You can follow Jon Rogers on Twitter at @BigGrantHolt

You can buy Tales From The City for £10 here.