Previously a stranger to football, long-distance love brought Sarah Bowen into the wonderful world of Norwich City. Here she shares her unusual journey to becoming a City fan at forty-two.
Apart from fond adolescent memories of Italia '90, and my London upbringing which brought a smattering of Chelsea knowledge, my football experience was minimal. It was to a time to up my game. I was in a long-distance relationship, my boyfriend was from Norwich and his passion for his yellow and green club was both a revelation and a puzzle.
I had so many questions. Away games (surely too much effort?), losses (why didn't he want to talk about them?), and the concept of fans 'hurting' - were top of the list. I ashamedly admit to a little harumph at the hurting thing. Definitely no 'u ok hun' from me.
However, as he loved it all so passionately, I grew curious. To try and understand Norwich City was to better understand him. Also, in a strange way, I gave me the opportunity to shake-up my usually reserved personality. Football is something that fires up so many people. So much so, that they genuinely lose themselves in the moment. What would that be like for me? Could I ever feel like that?
Before I moved to be nearer my boyfriend, I gleaned what I could about the club from Twitter. Researching from afar was the easiest part. There was the delightful carnage that is Canary Call. Weary Hughton hit by a clapper. Neil Adams' slack-jawed bewilderment. New manager bounce turning to new manager contempt. By the time the cheap and sometimes cheerful Alex Neil came around, I was hooked. I was also utterly clueless in vital areas. No amount of stealth Football For Dummies scanning was going to save me now.
As for other vital pieces of information, like player’s names and positions: creek. Barely a paddle to speak of. Difficulties emerged socially. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew their stuff. Men, women, even kids who’d barely lost milk teeth had the nous of professional pundits. There's strong shared history amongst supporters, reminiscences about past games and managers. I couldn't share that. Time to sit quietly and absorb with the plastic fan clanger I feel is always dangling above my head.
Going to an actual game was amazing from start to finish. Going through the turnstile was both thrilling and scary. How would I cope with the crowds? I don't 'do' crowds if I can help it, but the pure excitement overrode my apprehension. Despite the cattle herding set-up, no-one was running amok. The smells going up the stairs were of burgers, cold concrete and sweat. It was so much different to how I’d imagined it.
I used to hear the roars from Carrow Road from my garden on match days. Now I was inside the dragon's belly. Captain Canary was busting some moves, the Aviva Lemur's tail was losing a fight with gravity. Space was at a premium. Swerving your body to the side isn't enough if someone needs to get to their seat. You have to stand up, sit down. My gnat's-capacity bladder could piss a lot of people off.
Being physically near the team sent my brain into overload. My beloved Jerome, even more powerful in the flesh, was there! Alex Neil, twitchy in the dugout. So much to process. Especially the chants. I didn't know what the hell the crowd were singing but it made for great atmosphere. It was only later down the line I saw the importance of it. As Alex Neil's popularity waned, so did the positivity of the chants. The palpable happy anticipation of a good move had turned into tense edginess of a failed one. The tetchy supporters turned to outright angry ones. Subsequent aloofly quiet games made the team wilt, visibly. I shuddered. Something, anything, needed to change.
Standing proud in their yellow and green, the spirit of Norwich fans shines brightly. They are fair, and patient. Respect is evident between young and old. Compared to the bare-chested away fans in the freezing cold, Canary fans aren't daft. But they do have…quirks. Delightful ones.
I wish I was City born and bred. Being so new it's hard to feel entitled to an opinion. What opinions I do have ebb and flow. Sometimes the Alex Neil In camp made more sense, sometimes the Out camp was the only way. There's a certain emotional detachment, not having grown up with the club, but my lack of sentiment can help in debates.
Now I am settled here, I know my limitations. No away games, I'd only honk up on the way. But, clutching my Thermos, I’ve finally made it to The Barclay. And I am here to stay.
Sarah tweets at @sarahbowen74