Tampa Tour: Time flies by in the yellow and green in UK and USA
PUBLISHED: 14:52 17 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:09 23 November 2018
During the open training session held by Norwich City in Florida, David Freezer caught up with fans who had turned out to see the Canaries in action.
Yellow and green was the theme as US-based soccer fans mixed with Norwich City supporters as they took the chance to meet the Canaries players after the team’s open training session.
A healthy contingent of Tampa Bay Rowdies supporters welcomed the Championship leaders to the Al Lang Stadium, where their team play in the second tier United Soccer League, and where former England midfielder Joe Cole has just completed his final season as a player.
The Rowdies also play in yellow and green and that was a big reason for Norwich being the English team of choice for those in St Petersburg, many of who were just as happy to chat with fellow Canaries fans as they were excited to get autographs and photos with the players.
Jeff Vyak made the effort to drive down from Charleston, in South Carolina, to visit his sister in Florida and see the Canaries, who I went to watch when his father was based at RAF Mildenhall over 30 years ago.
“Absolutely nothing was keeping me coming today,” he explained. “I was trying to describe it to my wife and she was like ‘let me get this straight, there’s not even a game?’.
“But it was only a four-and-a-half hour drive, so it’s like London to Edinburgh and I get to see for real what I can usually only see in highlights, I can see how they do it and how skilful they are, so seeing it live is just great.”
Roger Mallett moved to St Petersburg from King’s Lynn in 1993 and had a board with the squad photo on, ready to be filled with autographs.
“Norfolk will always be my home and I’ve always loved Norwich,” he said. “It’s amazing for me, I haven’t seen them play in 25 years, since the Inter Milan game at home. My first game was 2-2 against Spurs in 1989, when Gazza and Lineker scored, I remember that well, I have all my tickets framed up at my house.
“It was a bit of a rocky start but everyone is buying into the system and it looks to be pretty good, they have a good team and a lot of depth in the squad, that’s something they haven’t had for a while. It’s all about unity.”
Paul Green, from Upwell, near Downham Market, and his partner Ann Broker won their place on tour through a competition run by City’s shirt sponsors LeoVegas.
“It’s been absolutely brilliant, we’ve had a cracking time, really well looked after by Visit Tampa Bay,” said Mr Green. “I can’t believe how intense and how they’re getting stuck in to training, it’s very good.
“I’m a little bit surprised, with how well we started out and last season as well, but things seem to have clicked and it’s some of the best football I’ve seen in years, the belief is there.
“Even against Millwall, I didn’t think we were going to win against Millwall but I did think we’d come back and get at least a point. The belief and everything, I think it turned around after the Stoke game when we lost, we could see that everyone was into it, it’s great.”
Lee Wetteland used to live in Norwich but has been living in the US for nine years so travelled across from Orlando with his son, Riley, and said: “Riley gets a day off school and it was a chance for us to see the team and congratulate them on how well they’re doing.”
Jake Spatzer was another St Petersburg resident who has become a Norwich fan, explaining: “I was watching them on television, I was just getting back into soccer after playing it as a kid, and it was a thrilling 4-3 at Swansea – Wes Hoolahan just pulled me into it, incredible guy.
“And I’ve just supported them ever since, it’s a great club and has great heart. It’s absolutely incredible to have the team show up pretty much in my back yard, I’ve never been able to go and see them in England, so definitely an incredible experience.
“We’ve been in incredible form and I think we’ll continue to be in incredible form, definitely going up!”
While Sean Fitzgibbon is a Rowdies fan how has followed City since the 1970s and didn’t want to miss his chance, saying: “I got Instagram like two months ago and just happened to see this and I said to my wife, I’m probably never going to get over to see them play, but because they’re here I’ve got to take the time off work to see them.”