With all this free time I decided to finally get down to recording a few more recollections of a different time. I hopeIt may jog a few memories from nostalgia lovers.
Chapter 2 Difficult Times
The world of the early 1950’s may not have been black and white in reality but that is the way I see it in my minds eye. Maybe it is a trick of the memory but it seemed that everyone wore hats. My mum certainly did, and my father would never go out without his Trilby; he even wore it when digging the garden. Those who didn’t live through those difficult times may not realise that food rationing only ended in July 1954. There was no such thing as a Self-Service Supermarket; you simply waited in a queue until a shop assistant could serve you. It was a time of very real austerity where the only entertainment for ordinary people was the pub, the cinema and the local football club.
The weather was often damp and foggy and because nearly everybody had coal fires there was a dangerous form known as smog, that killed thousands in the more densely populated cities. It was often so dense that bus services stopped running and I can recall one evening when I was about five or six when my father carried me on his shoulders, all the way from the City to West Earlham. It was in the late 1940’s that my parents finally got a council house and we left my grandmother’s house in King St and went to live on the new West Earlham Estate, very close to Earlham Park. These were the years that cemented my love of football in general and of Norwich City Football Club in particular. I have told you how it all began. This is how it continued.
Like any nine year old boy I looked forward to Saturdays, especially in the football season. My Saturday match day experience would begin something like this. First it would be off to Saturday morning pictures at the Haymarket Cinema with a bunch of my mates. At about half past nine we’d catch the 79 bus at The Five Ways and take a penny ha’penny ride down to the top of Guildhall Hill. From there it was a short walk through the market place to the Haymarket Cinema, which was situated where Top Shop now stands. It was sixpence to get in and was colloquially termed “The Tanner Rush”. You would get a cartoon, a serial (Flash Gordon, Rocket Man or Superman), with each episode invariably ending on a cliff-hanger and a feature which was often a Western with Gene Autry or Hop-along Cassidy. I wasn’t so keen on the Shirley Temple, “Good Ship Lollipop” stuff but it was all very tame fare compared with today. After the cinema, I would meet my mum and walk down to my Grandmothers in King Street for my pre-match dinner, which would consist of a sixpenny piece of cod and three pence worth of chips from Valori’s, in Rose Lane.
My Grandmothers house is no longer in existence, it was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for what is now a small office block on the corner of Rose Lane. I remember it clearly as a three storey early Victorian building with my father’s workshop at the front and the living quarters above and behind. This backed onto a yard where there was a little bit of garden with a gate and a narrow passage called Foyson’s Yard, that led down into Rose Lane. It is a strange thing, but in my mind I can walk round every room of that house and see it just as if it was yesterday.
Where Castle Mall now stands was the old cattle market and on market days they would still drive the cattle and sometimes sheep, through the streets on the way down to Thorpe station. One summer afternoon someone left the gate open and a huge bullock came up the passage, and before the drovers could turn it around it had trampled all over my grandmothers Delphiniums. My Grandmother was a very quietly spoken Victorian lady who never left the house winter or summer without her black coat and hat. She wasn’t so quietly spoken that afternoon and I am sure it was one of the only two times I ever heard her swear. The other occasion was when her sixpenny double on two Lester Piggot mounts at Newmarket came unstuck by a short head. She was fond of a flutter on the nags, and I have vivid memories of her sitting in an armchair in her flowered wraparound apron, as she sorted out the runners and riders before risking her sixpence each way bet. I often think of what a hard life she must have had bringing up eight children in the days before mod cons. Before I became a regular match goer she would get me to stand outside the front door to find out the score as the early leavers flooded upKing Street. Yes, even in those days people left before the end because often the reply to my tentative enquiry would be, “they were 2-1 up when I left”.
It was actually in Rose Lane that I saw my first ever FA Cup final. There was a little electrical shop on the left hand side just before you get to the traffic lights at the junction with King St . One afternoon I noticed a small crowd clustered round the shop window. Being a curious youngster, I edged to the front and there in glorious black and white, and on a very small screen, was the Cup final. I can’t be certain of the year but I think it might have been 1954, W.B.A. v Preston. Not many people had television in those days and the only time you might see a few fleeting seconds of football was at the cinema on the Pathe Newsreel. I wonder how many people can still remember Pathe News with the cockerel crowing in the opening sequence.
I was taken to a few more first team games in the 1954/55 season with my uncle and cousin, but can’t really recall anything worthy of note other than being captivated by the noise and excitement. On Saturdays when the first team was playing away I would amble down King Street on my own and dodge in for the last half hour of a reserve game, after Russell Allison, had opened those big green gates. The reserves played in a league called The Football Combination, and it contained reserve sides of many of the teams in Southern England, including most of the big London clubs. Often there would be as many as four or five thousand spectators, especially if it was against Arsenal or Spurs reserves. I think many of them were there just to get the news of what was happening with the first team. There was no Internet or mobile phones back then, and no instant score programme so you had no idea what was going on until the football results came on the radio at five o’clock. However, if you were at Carrow Rd for the reserves game you could keep a little more in touch. Every fifteen minutes you would hear a disembodied voice come over the Tannoy system saying something like, “ The latest news from (Gay Meadow,Layer Rd, or The Den or wherever the first team was playing) after 30 minutes the score is so and so, nil the City one. A big cheer would go up if they were winning or a moan of despair if they were behind.
I liked to get behind the River End goal and watch Ken Nethercott, who was my first goalkeeping hero. When the ball was up the other end Ken would often turn round and chat with people in the crowd. He was a really affable sort of guy and I had the pleasure of meeting him in later years. It must have been standing behind the goal for those reserve games that I first decided I wanted to be a goalkeeper. I don’t know why, perhaps it was the diving about in the mud that appealed to my boyish enthusiasm. They didn’t have those specialist goalkeeping gloves then either; the most you would see would be a pair of woollen gloves with the fingers cut out. I knew the names of all those top keepers of the fifties and still remember them. There was Jack Kelsey, at Arsenal, Ted Ditchburn, at Spurs, Gil Merrick, at Brum and Bert Trautmann at ManCity. You didn’t have to be in the top league to get an International look in either; Reg Matthews was the England No 1 and he played for Coventry City, who were in our league at the time (Division 3 South).
I think it is true to say that all football talent was more evenly spread in those days and it wasn’t the same two or three clubs that regularly won the league. The notorious maximum wage was in operation at that time and no player was allowed to earn above a certain arbitrary sum per week. I believe the figure at that time was something like fifteen quid with a bonus of two quid for a win and a pound for a draw. It probably equated to little more than twice what an average factory worker earned. Players often had to get a part time job during the summer because their wages were reduced by about 20% when the season ended. It wasn’t until the early nineteen sixties that the maximum wage was abolished and I think even in 1960 it was only twenty quid a week. I believe it was England captain, Johnny Haynes of Fulham, who became the first hundred quid a week footballer.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time but those first few seasons as a supporter coincided with a sharp fall in football league attendances and I was also unaware that this would mark the beginning of a slow decline in the fortunes of our football club. At Carrow Road, average attendances of 24k in 1950/51 had dropped by almost 50% five years later. After WW2 millions flocked to football grounds as a cheap source of entertainment but as things became easier, people found they had the money for other pastimes.
The 54/55 season was pretty dour stuff with City finishing about halfway. It could get a bit tight when the gates were in the mid twenties, but as I remember it there was often plenty of room and gates tailed off badly to just over 10k by the end. For me, the big disappointment was the transfer to Spurs, of my favourite player, Johnny Gavin, but I was glad to see him back for the start of the next season thanks to a swap plus money deal that took budding centre-half star Maurice Norman in the other direction. Norman was a local lad who became part of Spurs famous double winning side and a regular for England in the early sixties. I recall all the talk about how good Norman was but only have a vague recollection of ever seeing him play in the flesh.
A little before the 55/56 season began we moved from West Earlham to a bungalow just off PlumsteadRd. That season City had a new manager in Tom Parker, a man who had managed The Club successfully before the war. I have some very clear memories from this season and one that always sticks in the mind is the 7-2 victory over Southend, just before Christmas. There had been a lot of snow and frost (under-soil heating was still years in the future) and the game was only on because the pitch had been covered in straw. It had all been brushed onto the perimeter track so the game could commence. Johnny Gavin netted four in that game and I think it was Hunt, Gordon and left winger, Billy Coxon, with the others.
For some unaccountable reason another game that has stuck in the memory was a three two home defeat to Newport County. It was one of the first home defeats that I can clearly remember. Newport were in white with black shorts while City were in their now almost forgotten black shorts with the smart yellow stripe up the side. The Canaries found themselves two up at half time but conceded three after the break. All the goals were scored down our end so perhaps that’s why I remember it so well. There was also a rare victory over Ipswich, which must have been at Easter because there was a huge crowd of over 30k. There was such a crush at the turn-styles that I got into the ground a bit late and missed the first goal. I could only just squeeze into a space under the Pinkun scoreboard and I recall what must have been City’s second goal, it was at the River End, and I think it was a Peter Gordon header, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Gordon, was a fairly regular starter at that time and went by the nickname of “Flash” for obvious reasons and not because he was particularly quick.
Ralph Hunt was our main goal scorer in those days and it was during this season that he netted 33 times (31 in the league). You may have seen photographs of him; he had a shock of wavy hair and stood almost six feet tall with a strong build; the kind of old fashioned centre forward who, as my father used to say, could run through a brick wall. He was a fairly prolific scorer especially with his head, and played for a whole string of clubs at the third and fourth level. He tragically died young, killed in a car accident in 1964. My father often remarked that Hunt had only scored so many because Bobby Brennan laid them on a plate for him. This was to prove weirdly prophetic the following season when Parker shipped Brennan off to YarmouthTown, with the excuse that he had to make way for younger talent. We also lost stalwart centre half Reg Foulkes who went off to player manage non league Wisbech but little did we know then how this would trigger everything falling apart.
I attended most of the home games during the 56/57 season and as an adventuresome young boy I began to wander to all parts of the ground to see where I could get a better, or a different view. I liked to get close to the pitch if only because it made it easier to get a Mars bar or a Rollo when that bloke with the confectionary tray came round at half time. I remember us starting the season quite well, winning the first four home games then everything just gradually fell apart as things went from bad to worse while we slipped down to the bottom of the league. Without Bobby Brennan, Ralph Hunt’s scoring streak dried up and the defence leaked goals. Charlie Billington, Matt McNeil and Reg Pointer all had runs at centre half but we couldn’t stop the rot. Parker brought in local youngsters like Ron Bacon and Russell Laskey and although they flickered a bit they never caught fire. Even a first round FA Cup game against BedfordTown brought no relief as we crashed out by four goals to two. The crowd weren’t very happy at the end and I’m sure I learned some more new words that afternoon.
The most vivid memory of this season for me however was not a league game. It was the inaugural floodlit match at Carrow Rd against Sunderland on a late autumn evening in 1956. It was one of the few matches I ever saw with my father; we caught the 92 bus at Hilary Avenue on Plumstead Rd and walked to the ground from Rosary Corner. I remember that we stood in the Barclay and were amazed to think we could watch football by night. He bought me a program which I still have and whenever i look at it all those memories came flooding back.
Games were played on Christmas day almost up to the end of the 1950’s and it was usually a local derby with a return fixture Boxing Day. What made them special was that there was often a bit of a grudge and payback from the previous game. That year, we got a point at Colchester but then lost at home 24 hours later. The writing was now on the wall and crowds were dwindling fast as results went into a freefall and it must have been shortly after this that Parker got the sack and club revealed a desperate financial position. There was a very real fear that the club might go to the wall. I think we went a couple of months without a manager because it was not until just before the end of the season that Archie Macauley was appointed. At one stage we had to borrow £500 from King Lynn and then Eastern Counties Newspapers stepped in to foot the wage bill to keep us going. Arthur South, who was the then Lord Mayor, launched a £25k appeal fund to save the club and for weeks afterward men carrying extended sheets would come round the ground at half time so fans could throw money into it. My dad gave me an extra shilling pocket money so I could chuck it in and I can honestly say that despite the temptations of the confectionary tray, I always did.
There were some chastening experiences that season as we went twenty six games without a win. A seven one reverse at Torquay was a particularly painful defeat that sticks in the mind. I recall waiting for the Pinkun to come to read all about it. On the front page beside the report they used to print a little goalmouth with as many balls piled up as goals had been scored. A few weeks later that little goal had seven in it thanks to a five two home defeat against Reading, I stood in the Barclay for that one. Does anyone else remember Tom Dixon, who was the Reading centre forward that day? A prolific scorer at that level, he always seemed to have a field day against us.
The agony finally ended in March, when we beat Millwall two nil to end the winless run. I have a very vivid memory of standing in the Enclosure for that game with one of my schoolmates amongst a very sparse crowd of around 12k. The following week we surprisingly won again, at Shrewsbury, by five goals to four. I stood in the River End with my uncle Bill, watching a Reserve game that afternoon and listening to the loudspeaker as the score came over. The reserve game had kicked off fifteen minutes earlier so when I left we were four two down, and didn’t find out that we had scored three in the last few minutes until the Pinkun came through the door that evening. The revival didn’t last long however and we were destined to finish stone last with thirty one points.
There was no automatic relegation from Divisions 3 North and 3 South back then, you just had to apply for re-election and rely on a positive vote from the other teams in the league. Those were the days when non-league teams like Peterborough and BathCity were trying to get elected, but my dad said it would just be a formality and in spite of all my boyish worrying he was right. I can still recall the moment of relief when the Evening News came through the door with the joyful news that our application had been successful. We had reached the bottom, but now the only way was up.
The dreadful home record that season would have discouraged many a new young fan but despite all that misery I gradually became aware then, that I had been bitten by the bug and was now part of something bigger. I had been more or less a casual fan up until this point, but now I couldn’t wait for the next season to begin. The trauma of nearly losing the club had brought a sense of togetherness in adversity but also a certainty that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I think even then that I knew this feeling would stay with me for the rest of my life. Whenever times have got tough over the years (and believe me, there’s been more than a few) I’ve used that experience to sustain me and to remember that there is always a turning point if you can stick it out long enough. I remain eternally grateful that I did, else I would never have got to experience the agony and ecstasy of what was to follow.