Wednesday, 29 January 2014

At Carrow Road:
Among the crowd

Being season-ticket holders and having been to most home games we went to Carrow Road last night to watch Norwich play Newcastle. It was our first evening game of the season and we were looking forward to it. Everything feels different under floodlights: the ground is more theatre than pitch, it's colder, noises arise out of the dark of the terraces, the far end of the pitch looks further away. The rain, which was heavy at times, and the swirling wind were effects we saw illuminated, the dimpling of small pools, the rain swept in this or that direction. The stand is a mixture of rough and delicate music.

You have a numbered seat as a season ticket holder so you are mostly among the same people. Clarissa and I are next to each other. On her side is a friendly early-middle-aged man who likes to chat. Sometimes he chats to his friends on one side, sometimes to Clarissa. He is cheery enough except when it comes to the team itself about which he is endlessly gloomy. This doesn't mean his expression changes: he still smiles it's just that the words coming out of his mouth are constantly portending disaster. He is, I think, not untypical of a certain sort of supporter, probably male, who actually enjoys complaining as a form of bonhomie. It is stoicism-as-social-style. I rather like it. It is the natural way of the underdog, and - to my mind - one of the marks of the English working class. There is a distinctly benign aspect of it. The more aggressive aspect is to be seen at pro-wrestling where the suppressed sense of injustice is given full rein.

The season ticket for the seat next to me must be shared because it is occupied by different people at different times. What these people have is common is that they are all huge. They are silent, uncommunicative, grim, deeply emotionally involved, frowning men. Maybe they are members of some  Glum Giants Club. None of them makes any noise except occasionally to mutter some words of fury, frustration or grief.  I have tried addressing a remark to them to be met with an uncomprehending glare. Their shoulders and elbows extend into my space but they can't help it, it's just their size. As a result I am forced to sit at a slight angle.

Many people wear an official Norwich scarf or shirt in glowing yellow and green. I have never much liked the colour combination but this is rather nice, sort of electric. I have long had a green scarf of a slightly different shade that I wear to matches but it is clearly not official merchandise. To any fervent supporter it is a proof of half-heartedness.

And it's true. I am half-hearted. I am not so much a supporter as a sympathiser. I would rather like Norwich to play beautiful, imaginative, attacking football, and what is more, I would like them to win on all occasions but one. I would like it because I live close to the city - it has been the physical and intellectual hub of my life - and buying a season ticket is a form of loyalty to it. It is support by attendance.

By attendance, not by voice. I am rarely part of any crowd. Crowds make me feel I am on another planet. I rarely partake in the fury or ecstasy of the crowd. A happy crowd is deeply moving providing it is your own crowd. Seeing the opposition celebrate makes few people happy. But I am not even part of my own happy crowd. Psychologically I am up with one of Wim Wenders's angels in Wings of Desire, perched on a rooftop or balcony of the spirit. Only occasionally - at one or two political or quasi-political events - have I felt angry enough to shout and demand anything. I have Canetti's Crowds and Power somewhere in this house and well remember my sense of revealed truth when I first read it. The crowd animal is fancy dress costume for me, not a shamanistic identity. It feels odd to put it on. It feels like a lie. So I don't.

Maybe I might if I were watching the first team of my childhood heart, Manchester United. Maybe I would be roaring them on, not thinking, not up on the roof with Bruno Ganz. Maybe I could change places with the woman taxi driver who drove me home one night last week and who has a season ticket to Old Trafford (costing her twice as much as next season's Norwich season ticket would cost me, plus the cost of the coach up every fortnight).

One of the great truths of football is that you don't change your allegiance. Your team is your team from the moment you start supporting them until you die. Anything else is soul-treason. My feelings are deeply wound in to this strange production of my own imagination, this particular team and all its associated realms. Bruno Ganz and I, we're devoted fans.

still from Kind Vidor's The Crowd (1928)

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