Sunday, 16 September 2007

A Day at Carrow Road

It’s 11am in the morning. The weather is terrible. It’s cold, and it’s raining, which is quite a change from the severely hot weather Britain has had to put up with in the past couple of months. I’m sitting in the City Stand at Carrow Road, the home of Norwich City, for the first time in twenty years. Around me are men of various ages and sizes. Why am I here? Because I want a job.

I arrived in Norwich about ninety minutes earlier, having taken the 8.20 bus from Cromer. As usual, the bus was late. This seems to be something that the First company specialises in, as their buses always seem to run late whenever I need to take one. I got off at Castle Meadow, and the first stop on my journey to Carrow Road took my to Norwich Train Station, mainly because I need to go to the toilet, but also because I needed a drink.

So, having purchased a bottle of my favourite fizzy beverage, a rather portly fellow with long hair and a beard, dressed in exactly the same way as me, stops me outside the caf�. It turns out that I have two things in common with this fellow. His name is Richard, he’s also from Cromer, and he’s also attending the steward’s induction course at Carrow Road. Small world, eh? So with my new friend, although I’m sure I’ve seen this guy around town before, we make our way to the ground, and soon find where we’re meant to be, getting into the building via the director’s entrance. A short time later we’re joined by a guy who makes Richard look very slim, a nice guy called Mark who lives on the outskirts of the city.

As the clock ticks past 10am, a few more people begin to enter the building, also looking to become stewards here. Most of them make me feel old, as they look young enough to be my nephews! The catering staff also arrive, as does the kit man for Norwich’s opponents, Luton Town.

About thirty minutes later we finally meet the man who contacted us all, Leon Blackburn, the stadium manager. Rather than leading us into something that resembles the class rooms that I detested so much in the past, to my surprise Leon leads us into the City Stand, and for the first time since 1986, when I watched a Norwich team that featured Chris Woods, Dave Watson and Mick Channon against an Everton team that featured Neville Southall, Gary Stevens and Trevor Steven, I was actually looking out onto the Carrow Road stadium.

It felt eerie in a way. As various members of staff went about their duties, the place seemed like an empty shell, although I knew that would change soon.

Leon, along with his various lieutenants, welcomed us all and went through the various duties that the match day stewards have to attend to, and to someone who has nearly a decade’s experience of dealing with the public, some of this seems old hat to me. This looked like the sort of job I could do.

But then the first downer of the day. During the initial introductions as we waited for Leon to meet us, one of my fellow inductees, I can’t remember which, said that stewards earned XXX amount of money per game, which is more than I’m getting signing on the dole at the moment. To me, this sounded great, the chance to give the DWP the proverbial finger. However, it turns out that this fellow was sadly misinformed, as the actual amount a steward earned was considerably less than the sum he quoted.

As Leon wrapped things up around noon, I began to consider my options. My reliance on public transport meant that I would probably only be able to work Saturday games. My brother Michael had just moved to Dereham as well, which meant that I couldn’t kip on his sofa should public transport be unavailable to me. Also, given that the work here would be my only source of income meant that because of travelling expenses, and the fact that I’d only be working on average one day every two weeks meant that from a financial viewpoint I wouldn’t actually be making that much money.

As soon as the induction finished, I considered say sod it and getting the next bus home, even though Leon had invited us to work the game. But given the fact that I didn’t really have anything else to do, I decided to stay to give it a try.

Sixty minutes later, having refuelled on a couple of sausage rolls from the Morrisons over the road, we went back to the stadium via the steward’s entrance. We were sidetracked a little by some promotional people giving out free cans of that new Coca Cola drink. It was bloody awful, with no taste to it at all. As someone who doesn’t exactly watch their weight, I think I’ll stick to the full-fat and sugar variety.

It’s a form of organised chaos in the stewards room. The whole thing is run by a nice woman called Carol, whose last name I can’t remember. Carol has control over about three hundred stewards each match day. To say she’s under a lot of pressure would probably be an understatement, as she’s more or less responsible for “policing” the entire stadium. She gives out the assignments to the various stewards, but not once does she raise her voice or show any sign of stress. It’s a working practice that earns those who carry it out a great deal of respect, but sadly it’s a practice that a great deal of people I’ve worked with in the past don’t adhere to.

I’m one of the last people to be assigned a duty, mainly because I’m one of the newbies. My first job is on turnstile 51 in the Jarrold stand, a chance to meet and greet the public as they enter the stadium. I’m basically put into a metal box no bigger than your average toilet, and told how to work the turnstile machine. And from 2pm through to 3.15, I greet about five hundred people, male and female, young and old, as they hope to see Norwich give Luton a thrashing.

By the time I’m told to close my turnstile, I’m starting to feel the foot injury I suffered earlier in the summer. The turnstile is actually operated by foot, and being naturally right footed meant that I operated the turnstile using my right foot. Thankfully the pain I’m suffering doesn’t last that long.

After reporting back to the steward’s room, Carol tells me to find one of the section heads so he can tell me what do next. So I make my way to the Jarrold apron, next to the Jarrold stand, looking for the guy, but I can’t find him! I spend a bit of time in the box where some of the disabled fans sit. It’s nice and
warm up there, and as I look out onto the stadium, I can see it’s now raining quite heavily. By this time Luton are winning 1-0 thanks to Rowan Vine.

After chatting with one of the other stewards in the section, for a while it seems like a good idea to wait there for the section head, rather than attempt to go around the stadium trying to find him. Sadly, this tactic, much like some of Norwich’s early in the game, doesn’t seem to work, so shortly afterwards, I’m directed to another section where the section head apparently is.

This brings me to the front of the Jarrold apron, virtually on top of the pitch, where I begin to chat with a few of the other stewards, while also getting a good view of the game.

It seems kind of strange to see players I’ve watched on television and seen in newspapers live and in colour. I’ve never really felt the need to travel the Carrow Road every second Saturday or so to see the team I’ve supported for as long as I can remember in person. I’ve always felt more comfortable watching their games from the safety of my sofa, normally with a cat or small dog snuggling into me as I sometimes doze off.

The first thing that hit me was the atmosphere of the place. It reminded me of some of the bigger wrestling shows I’ve attended in the past few years, but obviously on a much larger scale. There was over 20,000 screaming fans in attendance, most of them supporting the Canaries, and if you haven’t been near a crowd of this size for quite some time, it’s a little overpowering.

Half-time comes, and Luton are still winning 1-0. The weather is still bloody awful, and six minutes into the second half, Luton score again, with Dean Morgan, one of the Luton subs, extending their lead. But despite this, the Carrow Road faithful are still shouting their hearts out, trying to urge on their team, trying to help them salvage some pride.

And it worked. In the space of about fifteen second-half minutes, Norwich score three goals, with Darren Huckerby, new signing Lee Croft, and the reliable Robert Earnshaw making Luton pay for their mistakes. The small section of Luton fans in the Jarrold Stand begin to voice their opinion as the final whistle approaches - “Two-nil, and you f***ed it up!”, repeated several times over. So it looks like it wasn’t just the Norwich fans who were faithful about their team.

The final whistle blows, and the Norwich team celebrate their win, as more good news reaches us from the public address system that local rivals Ipswich have lost, and are now bottom of the table. You could just feel the good vibes in the air, because the Canaries had done their job, and the hated local rivals
had slipped up yet again.

So after everyone is let out of the stadium, and I realise that I never did get to see the section head, I return to the stewards room to grab my coat and bag. I say my goodbyes to a few of the lads, before beginning my journey back to Castle Meadow so I can get the next bus back to Cromer. I just managed to get the 5.30pm bus, which would get me back home an hour later.

As I sit on the bus I begin to think about the situation. My older brother Paul always told me that if I needed to make a decision about something, always make a list of the pro’s and con’s of the situation.

The pro’s are that working as a match day steward at Carrow Road seems like something I could do with my eyes closed. The people working there are a great team, and it looks like a great place to work.

And, of course, the stewards get to see the majority of the game. Sometimes they have the best seats in the house!

But it would be my only form of monetary income, and if I continued with the job, I’d probably lose dole money, even though the pay would be XXX every two weeks.

The thing is, I really enjoyed myself during the match. I enjoyed working in an environment where interacted with the public, and I enjoyed working as part of a team again. I got the kind of feeling I did before my illness when I worked at my local garden centre for seven years, and when I used to do the mostly unpaid work for WAW. This is definitely something I would like to do again.

But at this time, it’s just not viable for me. The majority of the stewards who work there also have full-time jobs, and they do this on the side, more or less as a hobby. it’s something I would like to do again, but sadly, I couldn’t use this to provide me with a regular income to support myself.

By the time I had arrived home I took the decision. The game against Luton would be my only day as a steward at Carrow Road - for now. What I need first is a proper job, one that I can rely on to earn enough cash to support myself, even a part-time job would do.

Around 11pm on Saturday night, as the events of the day finally began to bring on a bout of fatigue, I e-mailed Leon Blackburn with my decision, thanking him for giving me a chance, telling him my reasons, and saying that I’d like to work for him again, but only I’ve found another form of income that will involve me signing off the dole.

When this will be, I don’t know. It could be this week, this month, or perhaps not until next season. But I think I’ve found what I’ve been looking for, for nearly four years, since a certain garden centre owner decided I was surplus to requirements and basically bullied me out of his business, a team of people whose members respect their job and more importantly each other. It’s something that I’d like to be a part of again in the future, but not just now.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to Leon Blackburn and his team for making me feel welcome and giving me this chance, and to Richard and Mark, two new friends I’ll hopefully be able to work with in the future.

This isn’t the last that Carrow Road will see of me. And that’s a promise.

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