An article, recently written, for the now defunct Norwich City fanzine Kick It Off.
Once upon a time there was a goalkeeper who played for Manchester United called Gary Bailey and he was magnificent. My 9-year-old self was completely obsessed with this footballing God and to a certain extent the team he played for. It helped that be bore an uncanny resemblance to Charlie “The Cat” Carter who played for Melchester Rovers. I was an avid Roy of the Rovers fan and Charlie was their star man between the sticks. You could say I was slightly obsessed with goalkeepers.
As you would expect I had no connection to the Manchester area whatsoever and being 1985 this was way before Man Utd Inc. No, my love of the club was down to their magical number one. I collected Panini stickers and always ensured the United team was completed first. I watched them on TV and I was bought Manchester United gloves and hat for Christmas, primarily to keep me warm. It is still fair to say my commitment to the Red Devils was greater than the majority of their supporters.
I’d just started the new Panini album which covered the 1985/86 season with big stickers and excellent shinies. Not like the poor excuse for a sticker album they produce nowadays. No this was a man-sized album and I remember taking it to school in a separate bag, not the only one I might add. Playtime become a battleground of swapping; poker face on, “got, got, got, got, got, need, neeeeed”. Then trying to convince a fellow 9-year-old that three Peter Shreeves were easily worth a Norman Whiteside. Just why were there so many Peter Shreeves?
This was a golden time when transfer activity could happen at any moment, no more countdown or inflated prices. “Big” Ron Atkinson could do his business whenever he liked and transfer rumours trickled into the playground, quite unlike the current tidal wave of football news. I can’t remember who told me, perhaps they didn’t, perhaps I dreamt it, perhaps I’d read that Gary Bailey was born in Ipswich (which he was) and got confused. But Gary Bailey was being signed by Norwich. If I’d have had a clue I would have simply dismissed this as untrue. Bailey was being recognised by England and with a World Cup coming up why would he move to Division 2 Norwich? My 9-year-old brain didn’t care, if Bailey was off to Norwich then so was I, or was it Ipswich? They were both in the same division and sounded so similar. Thankfully my Granddad spent a very long weekend putting me straight, yes I was that close to being a binner. So Norwich it was.
The first place to start was my sticker album, sadly all division 2 clubs were afforded back then was a team shot and a half-size shiny club badge. I remember spending hours pouring over the team shot looking for familiar players, there were none. I read the club info over and over again worrying about the ground capacity which was under review and I belatedly celebrated the Milk Cup win the previous year, gloriously relegated at the same time. I revered Ken Brown for bringing my idol to Norwich and felt rather smug that I was the only Norwich supporter in Worcestershire as far as I knew. No turning back now.
It soon occurred to me that Gary Bailey was still playing for Manchester United. This was not part of the plan. It was too late. I was hooked on the Canaries much to the disdain of my Dad who knew at some point he was going to have to trek across the country with me to the promised land. I partly blame him. If he’d have encouraged me to support Blackpool like him this would have never happened. Sure I’d still be supporting a perennial underachiever but at least when people asked me why I supported Blackpool I didn’t give them the most embarrassing reason in World football. Why do I support Norwich? Because I loved Gary Bailey.