How Norwich City transformed Jacob Bowles' life after anxiety struggles

Jacob Bowles and his mum Sharon and dad Andy on their Norwich City stall, On The Stall City, at Norw

Jacob Bowles with his mum Sharon and dad Andy on their Norwich City stall, On The Stall City, at Norwich Market. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

Jacob Bowles and his parents have become familiar faces in Norwich running On The Stall City on the market.

But it was not long ago that Jacob - who has autism and type one diabetes - was unable to leave the house due to crippling anxiety. 

The 27-year-old Norwich City superfan was formally diagnosed with autism when he was five as well as suffering from agoraphobia. 

Jacob with Andy at the Aston Villa game as Norwich City secured the Championship title in 2019

Jacob with Andy at the Aston Villa game as Norwich City secured the Championship title in 2019 - Credit: Contributed

Although not football fans themselves, Jacob's parents Andy and Sharon noticed their son starting to enjoy football on television at a time when he was struggling both at home and at school. 

Andy therefore contacted Norwich City in 2007 for his son's birthday questioning if it was feasible to attend as Jacob's agoraphobia meant he struggled with noise and crowds. 

Jacob Bowles with a Norwich City photographer's bib on the Norwich City stall, On The Stall City, at

Jacob Bowles with a Norwich City photographer's bib on the Norwich City stall, On The Stall City, at Norwich Market - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

Jacob, who has an encyclopaedic memory of all the matches he has been to, enjoyed the 2-0 win over Coventry City so much that he went on to attend every single home and away game without fail from January 2010 until Covid hit.

Andy said: "It was quite extraordinary to see how Jacob has developed. He has been to away games like Millwall and Ipswich away where some bottles were being thrown outside the station.

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"Jacob went from being completely agoraphobic who could not go out at all to being stood at Portman Road on a feisty night." 

Jacob said the 5-1 win at Portman Road during the 2010/11 promotion season to the Premier League was his favourite game of all time. 

He described being voted Norwich City's Fan of the Season in 2019 as a "massive boost" after he was unexpectedly nominated by an unknown person. 

Jacob with Chris Kamara after a dull 0-0 at Reading in 2012 

Jacob with Chris Kamara after a dull 0-0 at Reading in 2012 - Credit: Contributed

Jacob was also invited on to the pitch in April 2014 to lead Carrow Road in singing the club anthem On The Ball City before a home game against West Brom.

"Delia's mum thought he was one of the players as we were waiting in the tunnel with Norwich shirts on," Andy recalled.

"She asked if we were the new signings and I said 'we are not in that much trouble' even though Chris Hughton got sacked the next day." 

Jacob Bowles and his mum Sharon and dad Andy on their Norwich City stall, On The Stall City, at Norw

Jacob Bowles with his mum Sharon and dad Andy on their Norwich City stall, On The Stall City, at Norwich Market - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

To see Jacob stood on the pitch in front of nearly 27,000 fans was a memorable moment for the family given the past challenges. 

He had to drop out of school at the age of 12 due to his anxiety and the family desperately tried to find a psychologist or some break through to support Jacob. 

"I felt like I was let down," Jacob recalled. 

Attending sessions at the Community Sports Foundation gave Jacob the confidence to return to school and inspired the family to set up the market stall which initially opened as a pop-up in February 2019.

Jacob Bowles with Delia Smith on a pre-season tour of Germany in 2018 

Jacob Bowles with Delia Smith on a pre-season tour of Germany in 2018 - Credit: Contributed

All profits from the stall go to CSF, Norwich City's official charity which drives inclusion for people with disabilities, boosting mental health and wellbeing.

Andy said: "It is not plain-sailing and Jacob is still overcoming anxiety.

"We run the stall for Jacob and to allow him to talk to Norwich City fans builds up his confidence. 

Jacob and Sharon Bowles with Teemu the dog 

Jacob and Sharon Bowles with Teemu the dog - Credit: Contributed

"The market stall holders have been absolutely brilliant. We would not be here if they were offhand or horrible. Jacob knows them all."

Andy also recalls receiving support from former Norwich players such as Russell Martin. 

Jacob and Andy Bowles with Russell Martin and the play-off final trophy in the Wembley hotel 

Jacob and Andy Bowles with Russell Martin and the play-off final trophy in the Wembley hotel - Credit: Contributed

The family booked a hotel for the Wembley play-off final in 2015 before Norwich had even won their semi-final against Ipswich. 

They found themselves staying in the same hotel as the players and Andy remembered Martin and Bradley Johnson bringing the trophy down from an upstairs party for Jacob to hold in the bar.

Martin also sent Jacob a message before the 3-0 win over Ipswich in February 2019 after hearing he had been very anxious, suffering a seizure and broken nose. 

Jacob Bowles with Daniel Farke after being named Fan of the Season in 2019 

Jacob Bowles with Daniel Farke after being named Fan of the Season in 2019 - Credit: Contributed

The club subsequently invited the family behind-the-scenes for the game.

On The Stall City is open Tuesday to Friday 11am to 3pm with all payments cashless since the pandemic.

Jacob Bowles with Ipswich Town fan Ed Sheeran at Carrow Road in 2017

Jacob Bowles with Ipswich Town fan Ed Sheeran at Carrow Road in 2017 - Credit: Contributed

Quirky items on the market stall 

On The Stall City was originally set up to sell some of Jacob's personal collection of Norwich City shirts and memorabilia.

But the Bowles family now receive plenty of donations from the public and the club.

The On The Stall City, at Norwich Market. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

On The Stall City at Norwich Market - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

The family will contact the Historic Society or avid collectors to gauge how much unusual items are worth.

Among the quirky items which can be found on the stall are: 

  • An official club photographer's vest 
  • A 1970s Norwich City wristwatch 
  • A 500-piece Norwich City promotion jigsaw 
  • A collection of books from the late Roy Blowers, a well-known superfan
A 1970s Norwich City wristwatch which has been donated to On The Stall City 

A 1970s Norwich City wristwatch which has been donated to On The Stall City - Credit: Ben Hardy

The stall once received a match-worn shirt from Rob Green which was worn during the 2002 play-off semi-final against Wolves, which sold for £500.

But they decided to turn away a match-worn Greg Downs shirt which was worth £900.

The Bowles family during a mid-season training session in Tampa Bay in 2018

The Bowles family during a mid-season training session in Tampa Bay in 2018 - Credit: Contributed