Robin Sainty: When you realise just how much football means to you
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The great soul singer Irma Thomas once sang “You don’t miss a good thing until its gone.” How right she was.
Since I was a little kid (many years ago) autumn, winter and spring revolved around football, and summer around cricket in our house. My dad had played both to a decent standard, but didn’t often go to professional games, preferring to watch the village teams play on the adjoining playing field.
His two brothers, however, were Norwich City fans and after what seemed like an eternity it was finally agreed that I was big enough at the age of 10 to go to a match, although strangely it wasn’t at Carrow Road, as one of my uncles sometimes went to Filbert Street, so my first experience of a live league game was actually the opening match of the 1966/67 season between the Foxes and West Ham.
As it was the first Division One fixture after England had won the World Cup that summer the other players formed a guard of honour for Gordon Banks, Martin Peters, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst as they emerged from the tunnel, and it was a cracking game which Leicester won 5-4.
However, while I was thrilled by the experience of seeing such legendary players in the flesh, neither Leicester nor West Ham really meant much to me, and, anyway, we were sitting in the stand and I wanted to be on the terraces where all the noise was coming from.
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The talk at home was always of Norwich and like most people in Norfolk I was captivated by the news from Old Trafford on February 18, 1967 when City, then a middling Second Division team, beat a Manchester United team containing Denis Law, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton and George Best in the FA Cup fourth round.
As soon as the draw for the next round gave City a home draw against Sheffield Wednesday, the previous season’s losing finalists, I was agitating to get my first trip to Carrow Road and that was clinched when dad finally agreed to go along to look after me.
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Even though City lost 3-1, the experience of climbing up the bank to the old River End terrace, the crescendo of noise as On the Ball City was sung (at its proper speed!), the scary surge of the crowd when City scored and the feeling of being a tiny part of something much, much bigger had me hooked.
As the song says, “I picked my team and I fell in love” and from then on I just wanted to go whenever I could.
Going to football matches is as natural as breathing to me, but after 50-odd years I suppose that I had started to take it for granted. Now, with the prospect that I may not see another live game for months, I’ve been reminded of just how much football, and specifically Norwich City, means to me.
The walk to the ground, meeting up with friends and having a laugh with the people who sit around me is something that I’m going to miss terribly in the coming weeks or, as I suspect, months of the sporting shutdown.
Maybe, as has been mooted, we may get the see the rest of the season played out behind closed doors and streamed to our homes, but that would be awful both for us and the players because it would take away the thing that gives atmosphere to professional sport – the crowd.
Much to my surprise after all these years it turns out that there are actually more important things in life than football, but just as we fans bounce back from defeats and relegations on the pitch, so we will from the effects of this pandemic and if the consequence of missing something we love for a while saves lives then that seems a reasonable trade off to me.