I have had several posters ask me recently to write a piece about my early supporting days back in the early 1950’s and as we are in the fairly quiet time between seasons I thought I would give it a go.
This part I call "How it all started"
My Grand parents lived in King Street and many years it was the family meeting place before going off to the match. I must have been six or seven years old when I first became curious about “The Canaries” or “Carrow Road”. I think it all started while listening to bits of excited conversation between my dad and my uncles on Saturday lunchtimes in the early 1950’s. The excited tones must have got through to me because I soon began to pester my dad to take me to a match.
My dad was an engraver and sign writer and couldn’t leave the shop on Saturdays so my first trip down to Carrow Road was with my uncle Bert and my cousin Mike. Now many people say they have vivid recollections of their first game but in all honestly I can’t recall very much other than I think it was a pre-season game which they used to call Possibles v Probables. I can’t remember the score or anything other than the surge of noise and excitement every time the ball got near the goalmouth and I was pretty much hooked on it from that first moment.
This was in the decade following WW2 and apart from the football, the cinema and radio there wasn’t a great deal in the way of entertainment. Not that many could afford it anyway, the country was skint and food rationing was only now coming to an end. I think this was the 1953/54 season and although I was taken to three or four league matches I have very little recollection of them now. What I can remember are the names, Tom Johnstone, Alfy Ackerman, Johnny Gavin and Bobby Brennan. I have no visual memories of the first two but the latter two were to become my earliest hero’s.
In the early 1950’s the kick off time was 3.15pm while it was light enough and then 2.15pm once the clocks went back. Floodlit matches didn’t start until the latter part of the decade. We used to head off down King St, past innumerable pubs, shops and factories, the vast majority which have passed into memory. Rouen Road didn’t exist at that time, just a multitude of little lanes and alleys that ran all the way down from Ber St. The whole area was a maze of Victorian terraces, interspersed with the odd open space still evidencing the scale of the bombing that had scarred our City a decade before. As a small boy I found enormous pleasure in exploring those narrow alleys with their flights of steps going up to different levels and with shops and pubs on every corner. The crowds would stream down them on match days and at each junction with King St. hundreds more were added to the ever increasing throng headed for Carrow Bridge, for there was no other way across the Wensum, except at Thorpe Station.
There seemed to be a pub every fifty yards or so, The Builders Arms, The Tuns, The Ship, The Old Barge, The Wherry, The Ferry Boat, The Kingsway and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. The abiding smell was of beer from the pubs and Breweries and tobacco smoke because virtually every man had a fag or a pipe on the go and everyone seemed to wear a hat or a cap and a gabardine raincoat. Nowadays it’s fashionable to turn up in the latest replica kit or during inclement weather, a woolly NCFC hat with matching gloves and scarf. Back in the 50’s most fans just came in their ordinary daily clothes and just occasionally you would see somebody with a home knitted yellow and green scarf. For FA Cup games you might see a few rosettes and of course wooden clackers that seem now to have largely passed into history.
The bright modern stadium we see today bares little resemblance to the Carrow Road of the 1950’s. It was then a fairly drab looking structure with dark painted fencing and wooden turnstiles. It looked exactly what it was, something that had been knocked together in double quick time without thought for any long term utility. What will always remain in the memory are the huge green painted iron gates that used to be swung open by groundsman Russell Alison just after halftime. There were always a few who couldn’t afford it and would creep in and see part of the game for free.
The terraces were just large earth mounds covered in grass at the rear with two or three sets of concrete steps leading up to the summit. The fencing at the back of the terracing was simply a line of elongated railway sleepers set on end with the occasional bit of advertising hoarding on top. It wasn’t permitted but at big matches people would climb on these for a better view. We usually entered from Carrow Road into the ground ( I think it was either nine pence or maybe a shilling for boys) and then went up the side steps onto the River End terrace. This was only partially concreted and for many years a large potion of the standing terracing consisted of railway sleepers. We called it the River End for obvious reasons but in reality it was part of “The Ground” as you could stand anywhere right round as far as the corner of the Barclay for the same price. It was all open terracing; the only cover was the Barclay and Main stand.
In the corner where they built the Disabled stand was a curved bit of terracing that stood beneath the old Pinkun Score-board. It was a large black painted structure with letters from A to Z painted on it. At halftime a man would come out of a little door and hang numbers on hooks underneath each letter. If you had a programme you could match up the games with the letters on the board. You may well laugh but that was the state of technology at the time. Mobile phones and the Internet were something out of the Eagle comic and Dan Dare “Pilot of the Future”. You had no knowledge at all of other games and results unless you got home in time for Sports Report on the BBC at five o’clock.
You could not enter the ground from directly behind the South stand because there was a water filled **** that ran up from the river. I think this was still there even into the 1970’s. We used to walk round from the River End and stand half a dozen rows back and directly in line with the penalty area. I think that is why many of my early memories are of goals scored at that end. One that always sticks in my mind is Bobby Brennan’s opening goal against Sheffield Utd in the ’59 Cup run.
After the South Stand was covered in 1960 I used to move to which ever end we were shooting in and change at half time because that decade was mainly a dull time and there was nearly always plenty of room. It was during that time when we said goodbye to the railway sleepers and all of the terracing was concreted. In the early days there was a concrete slope that you could use to exit the South stand if you wanted to leave by the Thorpe End. When the Stand was improved and extended this was eliminated and you could only get out at the corner through a smallish opening that led to a narrow flight of steps. At the final whistle there was a rush for this exit and you were squeezed out above a precarious 30 foot drop. Thankfully there was a strong steel barrier to save the unwary.
The back of the Barclay was just a grass covered mound with steps leading up. There were brick toilets in both corners I think and a large wooden building serving as a bar for half-time refreshment which consisted mainly of bottles of Steward and Patterson’s Light Ale. When the second half resumed there would be hundreds of empty bottles left on the shelves that ran along the front of the bar.
If it rained hard you had the choice of the Barclay Stand and at any time during the match you had the option to pay either three-pence or sixpence to transfer through a little gate in the fencing to get under cover. If I went in the Barclay I liked to stand to the right of goal and it was from here that I have a strong memory of standing with my dad in 1960 the night we beat Southend 4-3 to gain promotion to Division 2. We lived just off Plumstead Road at the time and used to get the 92 bus to Rosary corner. We would walk back and he would tell me stories about the old days when City played at the Nest on Rosary Road . Because of his work he could only get to evening matches so those few occasions that we stood together are especially treasured in my memory. I remember him taking me to the first ever floodlit match atCarrow Road in 1957. It was a friendly against Sunderland, I still have the programme.
The façade of the main stand was the only brick built structure. The seating was mostly wooden forms with a numbered space. Only the centre block had tip up wooden seats but that was for the toffs and well out of our reach. In front of the seated area was a narrow standing terrace about ten steps wide that was called The Enclosure. You could get a transfer into it from the ground for a small sum. I stood in there a few times but I only ever recall going in the main stand on one occasion. That was on a rather chilly Boxing Day in 1958 when my dad decided it would be a Christmas treat. We played Reading and Roy McCrohan scored the only goal with 25 yard scorcher at the Barclay End. It’s over sixty years ago but I can still see it as though it was yesterday and it still brings a tear to my eye when I think of it.
I'm sorry if it's a bit long but once I started the memories came flooding back and I found it hard to stop.