The long-distance fan

What makes some fans travel for hours to watch Norwich home games? Zoë Morgan, who drives from Yorkshire to Carrow Road with her dad, explains why the journey has become as important as the football

For 23 of the 31 years of my time on this planet I’ve been a season ticket holder at Carrow Road. For 15 and a half of those years I’ve lived out of Norfolk: mostly I have lived in Yorkshire, where I am now. It takes a long time to get to Norwich – in case no one has ever mentioned that to you before – but yet I seem to keep coming, keep taking my seat, keep being told I am crazy.

Why do I do it?

Well, it’s been going on for so long now that it’s hard to remember why, aside from a love of watching Norwich play. Over time, going to the football has become my only real link to Norfolk, and I would hate to think I was turning my back on the county altogether. I often marvel at Norwich fans who travel to away games without any realisation that it’s what I have to do, but the other way round.

The life of the commuting fan involves determination (setting out in awful weather, or when you feel rough as hell, or you just want a lie-in on a Saturday), but above all the easiest way to manage it is through devout ritual. My dad and I have had the same approach to match-days for years: believe it or not, if we don’t do things properly THE TEAM WILL SUFFER AND IT WILL BE OUR FAULT.

The rough schedule for the journey to a 3pm home game is as follows:

8.15am: Dad rings my doorbell at my house in Wetherby (north of Leeds, 178 miles from Carrow Road). I then try and remember how to drive his car. I drive the first half of the journey (to 8 miles past Sleaford in the dubious county of Lincolnshire).

9.00am: I become slightly twitchy about having Danny Baker on the radio as dad tries to recapture his youth with Sounds of the 60s on Radio 2.

9.30am: We come off the A1 and I immediately get stuck behind a lorry on the A17. I panic constantly until the opportunity to overtake presents itself.

10.00am: We make our stop, have a wee, and pour a cup of coffee or tea from our flasks. I am finally allowed to put Danny Baker on. Dad takes over the driving. We have a Danish pastry.

11am: We both applaud when we pass the Norfolk: Nelson’s County sign. It’s Fighting Talk on 5 Live.

11.45ish (depending on lorry situation): Pull into the County Hall car park where the moment of truth is revealed – are we in pole position? The quality of the journey home is largely dependent on our car park positioning. It’s a game of fine margins. We have a sausage sandwich and another brew.

The journey itself has become as important as the football. It is always one of great anticipation of what is ahead, the chance to catch-up with my dad; and the milestones that are there to be ticked off help make it entirely manageable.

Perhaps the only positive of the deep-seated resilience to change that apparently runs in my family is that's it’s helped keep us making the journey to Norwich after all these years. It's led to being present for some amazing moments: various promotions, derby wins, big Premier League scalps. Don’t think it’s not difficult when the team is losing – Chris Hughton (as nice as he is) almost did enough to put me off football forever. Norwich being relegated to League One coincided with my grandmother’s illness and death. "She wanted to take our minds off the football", as my dad put it. It hasn’t always been easy.

There are definite pros and cons to being a long-distance supporter. The first pro is that I am absolutely convinced that my loyalty to Norwich has helped get me at least one job – apparently that level of dedication is very impressive on a CV. One of the most infuriating cons is that people think it’s ok to be absolutely staggered when you’ve missed a game: "WHAT? AREN’T YOU A SEASON TICKET HOLDER?" "Well yes I am, but it is a 12-hour day, and if you have absolutely anything else to do during the course of that Saturday, you kind of have to give it a miss." I swear no one gets this grief when they live only 10 minutes away from the ground.

The ritual continues throughout the rest of the day. We go to the same pub, see the same friends, have the same walk down to the ground where I buy a programme from the same lady with money my dad presses into my hand (I’m not cheap, it’s tradition). During the game, it’s bad luck if I’m holding the programme. We’ve sat in (effectively) the same seats, near the same people, for 23 years. When they pulled the South Stand down we bought our red seats, and made sure we requested to stay near our friendly neighbours.

Perhaps the effort it takes to get to games is the reason behind my minimal tolerance for a) booing and b) people leaving the ground early. I think the only time I have ever said ‘I want to go home’ was during the first half of that game against Liverpool when Luis Suárez had already scored about 17 goals and it was just horrendous (note: we still didn’t leave early). And by booing I might just as well be saying ‘I regret coming here’, which would really be a psychological blow during the three-hour journey back.

I’m not going to lie, the trek home can be bleak. It’s usually dark, people in Lincolnshire DRIVE LIKE MANIACS and there is a constant fear that you’re about to be diverted off the road due to ‘overnight closures’ – usually timed perfectly to coincide with Norwich home games – and mostly you just want to get back to the warmth and comfort of your own home. Disappointingly the journey also usually involves Robbie Savage – and, as we move through the wilds of Fosdyke, increasingly muffled Robbie Savage. At this point the sounds change to those of Radio 3. We get back at 8.30 give or take five minutes if we’ve had a good run, so it’s easy to become occupied by the question ‘are we on time?’.

Being a Norwich City season ticket holder is an intrinsic part of who I am and who I have been for as long as I remember. It helps start conversations with strangers, it helps me get jobs, it has helped me cope with sad times. It has provided some of those sad times, as well as some utterly jubilant ones.

When the ritual stops (and I know it has to stop at some point, these things can’t go on forever), I will have to find a new thing to talk to people about, which is profoundly terrifying. I’ll also accept all blame for any subsequent misfortune the team encounters, as how are they expected to win if my dad doesn’t have a rolled-up programme in his hand?

You can follow Zoë Morgan on Twitter at @zvfm2

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