Views From The Main Stand

“By the time the Second Division championship winning campaign of 1971-72 arrived, I was something of an old hand as far as visiting Carrow Road was concerned. My third full season – and still only 12 years old. I had not missed many matches in those first two seasons, least not Saturday fixtures. But I couldn’t go to the evening kick-offs because of school the next day, and it was also still deemed a little too dangerous to trek from one side of the city to the other unaccompanied in the dark. But on Saturday afternoons my pal and I had been regulars.

Then something unexpected happened. As this new season got under way, a chap my father knew (through work, racing pigeons and the pub) mentioned to him that he went to watch City most weeks and that he would take me to the games. I didn’t see the point in that. As I explained in my previous article in this series, I was a fledgling Barclay Boy. I certainly didn’t need taking to Carrow Road!! I would no longer be living on the edge. And I had also laughed at lads my own age when I saw them holding their Dad’s hands to and from the ground. No thanks.

Then it was explained to me that this chap actually worked at Carrow Road and it could be that I wouldn’t have to pay to get in. Ah, now that might be more interesting to me! My new found friend was in fact a cushion seller in the Main Stand. And, by virtue of a nod and a wink (and I suspect the odd pint) to the man at the big gate, I managed to get in for nothing every week. We had to be careful. Sometimes a different bloke would open the gate after we banged on it. I remember on one occasion, luckily on a foul day, having to hide inside the coat of the cushion seller whilst he kept the ‘jobs worth’ talking, and then when someone distracted him, we slipped into the ground.

It wasn’t every game because my friend worked shifts so couldn’t always make it. But it was quite often, and for the games in between I went back to the Barclay. The task of cushion selling was easy enough. From about 1.30 onwards we had to be stationed on the concrete landing under the Main Stand, and in return for what I think was sixpence (two and a half pence in modern currency) we handed over a splendid green cushion. The seats in those days were not plastic but wooden. In fact they were really just wooden benches with no backs of course. After two hours your backside needed the comfort of a cushion that is for sure.

We never had enough to go around, normally with fifteen minutes to go before kick off we sold out and were subjected to a few moans. This chap used to put a few aside for ‘special’ customers who he knew always arrived late. I think they paid him a little extra – maybe a shilling, and he used that to finance a couple of extra trips to the bar under the stand. He used to bring me back a lemonade.

He never left me alone too long with the cushions – it was actually quite a busy little job, and the guy really was kind hearted and generous to a fault. As three o’clock arrived the ground would start buzzing. We used to hang around on the staircase, reading the programme he got free with the job (he always let me keep it and bought one for himself as he collected them). We couldn’t go to the seats until the game had started, so in truth I used to miss the first thirty seconds of every match. By then he would have sussed out where there might be an empty seat he could plonk me down at. He was entitled to a seat anyway, so if push came to shove, I used his and he crouched down in the aisle. It was fantastic for me.

In such a short while I had progressed from being a novice in the South Stand, to a junior toughie in the Barclay, and now……….. well, a connoisseur of the game, sitting in with the big wigs of Norwich City Football Club. That is how the season ticket seat holders were perceived in my twelve year old mind. I was able to watch all the game, see every goal, listen to the singing instead of joining in. I became much more aware of the characters at the club – not just the obvious stars but also the club stalwarts like Clive Payne, Alan Black, Geoff Butler and Trevor Howard.

I studied tactics, and listened to all the opinions from those seated around me. It was worth being huddled tightly together, with bony knees digging into my back. It was worth having cigarette smoke blown in my face. I watched as City gloriously won their way through to first flight football for the first time in their history and I shared in the hopes and dreams of the other faithful Canaries supporters. It couldn’t really happen could it? Not to Norwich City.

Probably my fondest memory of the Main Stand were the cushions themselves and the occasions when the fans used them as missiles, usually directed at linesmen or opposition officials in moments of angst. During one period it happened quite regularly, a couple of dozen of them hurled pitch-side. The buggers that threw them didn’t have to go and collect them up afterwards – our final duty of the day as cushion sellers were accountable for any that were lost. In later years I have read that at one time the club was warned by the FA about the issue, though to be truthful I have no memory of that.

The next season I was back to witness the survival against relegation, and the following year when we didn’t make it. And finally, as far as the Main Stand was concerned, 1974-75, and a second promotion year from Division Two. After that I drifted away from the cushion seller. We had no fall out, it was just a case of life moving on. I don’t know what happened to him, but he had two young sons and I suspect that by then, the oldest one at least was ready go to games and act as assistant cushion seller. I owed the guy lots. My time in the Main Stand was to prove to be vital to my footballing education. I did get to night matches, and I went to some away games with him too, on Red Car Service from Bell Avenue, with pocket money saved from not paying to get into Carrow Road.

By 1975-76 I had left school and was out working. I was totally absorbed into the NCFC family, and after another period in the Barclay it was time to put a toe into the River End ! And the best was yet to come.”

Credit to:

NCN-Norfolk Advanced Motorcyclists