Views From The River End

“This is my final instalment in the ‘Views From’ series, as I complete my lap of Carrow Road. Having started my Norwich City supporting life in the relatively safe environs of the South Stand at the tender age of ten, I arrived at the River End six years later. In between I loved my time in the Barclay, and my short stay in the seats. But at 16 years old, with my first wage packet safely in my pocket, it was time to go and join the old men in the stand with no roof. No longer did I yearn to sing and shout and abuse the away fans, nor follow the fights outside the ground or Thorpe Station. Now was the moment to start taking football seriously, and for that it had to be the River End.

I used to walk to the match, come rain or shine. It was a good hour and a quarter hike away and because I often used to go alone, I spent my time analysing everything about the game I was going to watch. Tactics, team selection, injury worries, and opposition strengths. Football wasn’t just about ninety minutes every other Saturday afternoon. It consumed my life. And after the match, come win, draw or defeat, I walked all the way home again. More analysis – great goal, bad defending, changes for next week. It was a slower journey in this direction as I used to time my walk to coincide with The Pink ‘Uns arriving at the local newsagents. It saved me walking past it to get home and then turning out again. There was always a good crowd hanging around outside the shop, especially if City had won. All sorts of opinions flew around concerning that afternoon’s events, not all the same as I had thought out in my head whilst walking. But in those pre internet days it was as close to a football forum as you would ever get and it only concluded when the cheer went up as a Fitzmaurice Carriers van screamed around the corner, and a bundle of Pink ‘Uns hit the pavement.

I loved the River End. My memory of it was that it was huge, with hundreds of steps and 15,000 people crammed into it each week. It was nowhere near that size of course, but it was intimate. No away supporters, just Canary fans, mainly men, and jam packed in, shoulder to shoulder. I remember the excitement on the approach to the turnstiles, and that they had a special one for ‘Women And Boys’ – admission 50p. The steps up the back were hard work to climb. The stewards never managed to keep the aisles clear. And the River Enders were a no nonsense lot – not there to sing, not there to go for a half time cuppa or pint, not there to take any notice of the hooligans. They were there to be judge and jury on proceedings. And blimey, could they moan when things went wrong!

Although there was no such thing as allocated spaces of course, people did tend to stand in roughly the same place each week, so you got to know those around you. The camaraderie was brilliant. I used to watch the game from right behind the goal, about ten to a dozen steps back. It was a superb vantage point. You felt as if you could almost reach out and touch the players. The biggest disadvantage came with bad weather. There was no cover. And anyone attempting to put an umbrella up………….. well, let’s just say they wouldn’t even try, not if they knew what was healthy for them! Like all terraces at English football grounds in the ’70’s it was potentially dangerous. Certainly if one person moved suddenly at the hint of a goal, the five or six other people around him had to move too. The threat of falling bodies onto those of us towards the front was serious. I also recall times when fans would leave in the closing minutes and would be walking out down the steps at the back of the stand when the crowd would roar with excitement, Ted MacDougall perhaps breaking the offside trap, and charging forward from the half way line, and they would run back up the steps back onto the terrace.

On the field, it was a wonderful time to be a Norwich City supporter. I am talking 1976 here, half way through the reign of King John Bond. For probably the first time in history, Norwich City had a manager who courted publicity, a far cry from Ron Saunders, Lol Morgan and Ron Ashman who proceeded him. Bond worked the media with ease – he was a national figure who ‘bigged’ Norwich up at every opportunity. And with that came star players, footballers with flair and excitement…… as well as MacDougall there was Boyer, Reeves, Neighbour, a returning Paddon and to top the lot, Martin Peters. These Canaries knew how to play attractive football alright, and right before my very eyes. Peters was a wonder. From my step behind the goal I saw him score many a time with his famous ghosting runs, appearing apparently from nowhere to pounce and knock the ball home. How exactly did he do that? After a while I used to stop watching the cross from Jimmy Neighbour and keep an eye on Peters instead. But on those occasions he never did it. It was always when least expected. The fans couldn’t pick him up. Nor could the opposition defenders come to think of it.

Our defence was pretty good too………. Machin, Sullivan, Ryan, Jones, Powell, Bond junior, the manager’s son, and behind them all, the mighty Kevin Keelan. I never hide the fact that Kevin Keelan was, and still is, my all time Norwich City hero. He was a hard, strong willed, simply superb goalkeeper, who devoted himself to the club for so many years. I wonder now, all these years later, if he was actually the reason why I eventually chose the River End to view matches from. I almost felt as if I was in goal with him sometimes! I remember one week taking my young nephew with me to the match, as a one-off. He was 10 years old, the same age as I was when I first went to Carrow Road and there was no way he could see from ten steps back, so I sent him to the front, telling him to ask people if they would let him through. Because he was so small, I couldn’t see him after a while and started to worry, especially as he was a pretty adventurous kid. But a while later I spotted him okay. He had climbed up onto the metal fence at the front, and was sitting just to the side of Keelan’s left post ! Late in the game a shot went wide and Keelan went behind the goal to retrieve the ball. And he smiled and said hello to my nephew. I couldn’t believe it. My flaming nephew………… who knew nothing about football, was only there because I took him, and he got a nod and a smile from Kevin Keelan, who was my hero not his !! And to put the tin hat on it, the game was on Match Of The Day that night (something else that seemed to happen more often under Bondie’s stewardship) and we caught the moment on TV.

I remained a River Ender for most of the next decade and a half, during which time the stand changed enormously. The one I first loved so much was demolished in 1979. We got a roof and seats which was nice, but it was not the same. To this day I am grateful to have experienced the real River End. After John Bond came Ken Brown, another splendid manager indeed, then David Stringer, one of the greatest servants the club has ever known, and the good football continued. I guess with hindsight, watching conditions had to change. It was okay for me, still a young man, to stand on those weather beaten terraces week after week, but the older supporters deserved better. An enclosed River End made Carrow Road a more hospitable place for sure……………. but a rich collection of Canary memories and history went floating down the River Wensum, the day they put a roof on it!”

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