Chris Goreham: Was it really 'much better in my day' for Norwich City?

Ian Crook and Dale Gordon, right, congratulate Robert Fleck on scoring as Manchester United are beat

Ian Crook and Dale Gordon, right, congratulate Robert Fleck on scoring as Manchester United are beaten at Carrow Road in January 1990 - Credit: Archant Library

During the various lockdowns I discovered what the internet was really for. 

Some use it for retail therapy. It’s amazing what you can get delivered to you door within 24 hours.  

Everything from salt shakers to Peppa Pig toys. A fact underlined by the fleet of vans and stressed-out delivery drivers on Norfolk’s roads every day. Others use the web for showing off to the world on social media. That’s if you can count a handful of followers as ‘the world’. It can also be a vital means of communication between friends and family who would otherwise find it difficult to keep in touch. 

All of that is great but have you ever tried searching for videos of football matches you can only half remember?  

Back in March 2020, when everything stopped for the first time, I got into the habit of going back over my Norwich City supporting life. Entire afternoons were lost and I nearly forgot to take my daily exercise a couple of times as I relived the late 80s and early 90s at Carrow Road. Worries about Covid were replaced by memories of Dean Coney. 

I am just about young enough for my formative football years to have been caught on camera. It was a time when clubs began producing their own end of season videos for the first time and so footage of at least the goals from every game is out there. 

It just so happens that it was also the club’s most consistently successful period. They finished fifth, fourth and third in the top flight in a few years either side of the First Division becoming the Premier League. There were also some heroic but ultimately heart-breaking cup runs. 

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I’ve been careful here to call it the most successful time in Norwich City history rather than ‘the best’ because that is subjective. We all think football was much better whenever we first started going. Those who sat around me in the Family Enclosure around the time City were knocking Bayern Munich out of the UEFA Cup have taught me that it’s futile to compare the generations. 

The mums and dads would tell us that our heroes weren’t a patch on Forbes, Stringer and Keelan and then the grandparents would try to trump them with memories of queuing as far as Trowse for tickets to the 1959 Cup Run. 

Nostalgia is fun but it allows the teller to rewrite their own version of history. Whether it be music, television or sport you really do tend to remember the good stuff more readily than the bad. 

Someone recently shared the highlights from a 2-2 draw between Norwich City and Spurs at Carrow Road in September 1989. I remembered the details of the game because it was my first as a season ticket holder. Until then I’d just been going occasionally. The Canaries stormed back from 2-0 down to salvage a draw against a good Tottenham team for whom Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker scored. 

The bitter old man that lives inside my brain was already compiling the pithy tweet. “Norwich City coming back from two down to draw a game in the top flight. You wouldn’t get that at Carrow Road these days.” I deleted before sending as I watched the highlights unfold. 

My memory had chosen to airbrush the second Spurs goal. It came from a short corner and when the ball is sent into the box a completely unmarked Lineker heads beyond a despairing Bryan Gunn. That’s not the crisp-advertising Match of the Day presenting Gary Lineker, it’s the one who was the best in the business at the time. England’s main striker and Golden Boot winner from the previous World Cup. My yellow and green idols had become idle, allowing him the freedom of their own penalty box. 

The stories from the old days are great. It’s brilliant hearing the endless tales from the terraces passed down through the generations of Norwich City fans that have gone before. But I promised the 11-year old me back in 1993 that I would never use the phrase “it was much better in my day” about Norwich City. 

It’s a blessing to be able to instantly call up highlights of those former Canaries we idolised. Beware the fact that YouTube never lies if you’re plotting to use it to impress those who don’t remember Disco Dale Gordon. “If it was so good back then dad, why are there so many empty seats?” 

Old football videos are best enjoyed by yourself. 

What do you value?

The Covid crisis, Norwich City’s infamous BK8 sponsorship, The European Super League and now the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United. 

It’s difficult to remember a time when football supporters were confronted so often by the question of what it is they truly value about the fan experience. 

Until March 2020 we all naively assumed that crowds would be happy if their team just won as often as possible. It’s not as simple as that though, is it? 

There’s a sense of community and identity that comes before results for many fans. 

A few rungs down the league ladder from (and several billion pounds behind) Newcastle United are King’s Lynn Town. 

The Linnets are currently spending their second season in The National League, the highest level the club has ever been at. One would have assumed that crowds would have risen in line with that success but it hasn’t happened. Just over 1,000 people watched their defeat by Solihull Moors at the weekend. 

Chairman Stephen Cleeve sat down with a group of fans at The Walks recently. He’s guided the club through an almost impossible situation of carrying on behind closed doors and they are now a full-time set-up. 

At that meeting he was faced with questions about high ticket prices, the standard of food at the ground and even the identity of the much-changed squad for this season. Some supporters have been open about preferring to pay less money to watch The Linnets play with a squad of local lads at a much lower level. 

It turns out that football fans have values that run much deeper and are more complex than anyone ever thought. 

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