Football fans are hoarders, more or less. I know I am. I have random Norwich accessories, memorabilia and tat stored away in various cupboards and attics and I doubt I’m the only one. I know I’ve got a box full of programmes from the 94-94 season, and many after that. I’ve still got the newspaper clippings from our Promotion in 2004 and I still have some handmade items from my granddad which will be the basis of some future blog post. And I still have my shirts.
Today sees the launch of the latest shirt, and some of you might read this before, some after. For a lot of us, we haven’t been able to wait for this day. The new shirt is usually launched before the end of the season and tends to get a run out, but not this year. We’ve had to wait until June just to get a look at the damn thing, let alone buy it, but that’s nearly here (or has just happened, depending on when you read this). While a lot of fans have been anticipating this for weeks, speculating and dreaming up ideal shirts, some have asked what the fuss is all about. Some have said they aren’t bothered at all. But I am.
My first game was on Monday 31st August 1992, at home to Nottingham Forest. We won 3-1 and it is a topic I will return to in the near future, but from that moment I was hooked. I only went to one more game that season (vs Aston Villa), but I had a season ticket the very next year in the front row of the River End, and I had a shirt. To this day it remains my favourite shirt, and for one that frequently comes top 10 in ‘Worst Kit Ever’ lists, that’s some doing. But I know I’m not the only one.
The reason it’s my favourite is the very reason we’re excited. It’s the reason shirts matter to football fans, and it’s why we keep them. Football shirts are, literally, the fabric of the club. It’s the history. My first season as a Norwich fan saw us finish 3rd in the Premier League and qualify for Europe. That summer the Match of the Day crew came to Carrow Road to film some crowd shots, and I sat on the front row. Every so often they would get the crowd to sing songs and film it, then they passed around big flags and so on. This was before the MoTD titles looked horrendous. Then, to the amazement of this 8 year old, Mike Walker came by and started signing shirts. I sat on the rail and waited for him to pass, and soon enough he signed his name down my spine.
It was amazing. I spent the entire train journey home arching towards the window and trying to look at my reflection, to see the scribble. But I couldn’t, so I was convinced it had rubbed off. It hadn’t, but I had a momentary panic, and this is just one of my formative Norwich memories. We met Mike Walker again at some end of season dinner (I think) and he completely blanked my dad when he said that I could recall the score and scorer of every game in the 92-93 season.
That next season I went on my first ever away game and we smashed Leeds 4-0. I saw Jeremy Goss score an absolute screamer, and it wasn’t his first that year. We all know what happened in Munich, but it happened in that kit. That kit is symbolises those magic two years, both for Norwich as a club and me as a fan. No matter what other teams say or how they turn their noses up when we break out the ‘bird shit shirt’, it’ll never be beaten. And it’s the same with other shirts. I will always enjoy the green shoulder years that saw us reach the Play Offs and then get promoted, and I’ll remember with a shudder the all yellow bland mess that was equalled by a bland mess on the pitch (and had shorts so long it looked like Darren Eadie was wearing trousers).
So at 10am this morning, thousands of grown men will be refreshing a website to see what a piece of cloth looks like. And it’s not just for the superficial reasons. Yeah, we want a nice manufacturer, and yeah, we want it to look and feel good. But it’s more than a shirt, and always has been. It’s a link to the clubs history, and today we’ll see the shirt that welcomes us back to the Premier League. It’s either going to be remembered for all the right or all the wrong reasons. But it’s more than just a shirt.