Welcome to Norwich: A Fine City
An open letter to all who despise sport and most especially football
My love of all kinds of sport surprises nobody more than myself. I do not think there has ever been a schoolboy with such overmastering contempt, fear, dread, loathing, and hatred for “games” – for sport, exercise, gymnastics and physical exertions of all or any kinds. Every day I would wake up with a sick jolt wondering just how I might get out of that day’s compulsory rugby, cricket, hockey, swimming or whatever foul healthy horror was due to be posted on the notice-board that morning. The catalogue of multiple lies, evasions, self-imposed asthma attacks and other examples at what Edwardian school fiction characterised as “lead-swinging”, malingering and “cutting”. All the acts of a cad, a swine, a rotter, an outsider and a beast.
This hatred, as is so often the way with extremism, was to be replaced with an almost equal and opposite love. But before I came round to sport, largely through watching cricket, I had always, even through my most indolent, fey, camp, furious and posturing anti-athletic phases, avidly scanned the back pages of newspapers to follow the fortunes of Norwich City Football Club.
I don’t know why this is. I came from a household that showed as much knowledge or interest in sport as hedgehogs show in embroidery. True, my mother had kept goal for England schoolgirls at hockey and my brother had shot for the school at Bisley, but beyond that the Fry household had as much interest or understanding of sport as a potato has of Riemann’s zeta function. There was no contempt, just absolute indifference and incomprehension. But…
I have always had, to a frankly stupid degree, a deep sense of loyalty and connection. I came from East Anglia, therefore East Anglia was the best part of Britain. It was natural to me then that my heart would leap when it heard or saw the word “Norwich” on the national news. And the only time that could ever happen (this being a lifetime before Alan Partridge) was when the football scores were read or printed.
The years passed and I found myself, much to my amazement, falling in love with all sports: most especially, it is true the sports that rude unthinking people will call “boring” in a crass way that is perhaps excusable in a 14 year old, but which is boorish and repellant coming from adults who should know better.
Golf. I could watch golf for ever. I adore it as a television spectacle, as a social pageant, as an art and a nail-chewing suspense drama.
Darts. There is no way adequately to describe my fascination with this game and its proponents, heritage, atmosphere and thrill. The heroes of darts from Bristow to Barneveld, from Jocky to the Power, are as totemic and heroic as the myrmidons of Achilles. Go on, laugh. It’s true.
Snooker. Merciful heavens, I love this game so much that I seriously considered giving up a year of my life to follow it, video camera in hand, to make a film called “A Year In Snooker”. Sadly, all my other commitments held me back, but it remains true that I would be infinitely more heart-flutteringly discombobulated at the prospect of meeting Ronnie O’Sullivan or even, bless him, Graeme Dott, than I would a compound of Mick Jagger, Eminem, Clint Eastwood and Neil Armstrong. CJ from “The Eggheads” could certainly marmalise me in a head to head quiz on the subject but he could never claim to love the game more.
Indoor Bowls. I still yearn for the days when BBC2 showed the world championships of this wholly entrancing game. My hero was Ian Schuback, who – I am distressed to note – does not even merit a proper Wikipedia entry. Long afternoons of bliss would pass as Tony Allcock and Rochard Corsie battled it out before the cameras at Potter’s Leisure Centre. If the phone rang on such afternoons I would pick it up and hear without introduction, “Hughie Duff is drawing well to the head today…” and know that I was not alone. The great Peter Cook shared my passion.