How did you used to fill the hours in those long, football-free summers we used to have?
My family were creatures of habit when it came to our summer holidays. The first two weeks of August in a caravan in East Runton, just down the road from Cromer, every year. For decades. We tried moving up the Norfolk coast a bit to Snettisham once, but it wasn’t really for us.
The early years saw me content to build sandcastles, eat ice cream and go rock-pooling all day, but once I’d caught the football bug I began to get itchy feet.
The challenge then was to fit as much football into the holiday as possible, and it wasn’t easy. My first breakthrough was finding a dozen issues of ‘Scorcher & Score’ in the discount box nestling among the buckets and spades.
The adventure of Nipper Lawrence and Hot Shot Hamish filled the evening hours in a caravan with no TV, but a constant faint smell of gas.
You couldn’t rely on finding treasure like that every year, but the Shoot! Summer Special was good standby, like a regular issue of Shoot!, with most of the usual features, but twice as thick and with a matt paper cover instead of the usual gloss.
There was also the local pre-season paper that looked forward to the Big Kick-Off with wildly optimistic expectations of East Anglia’s finest: Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester… which led me to my best ever football on holiday experience.
Having seen a poster advertising a ‘football special’ bus in the chip shop window I managed to persuade the family that instead of our thousandth trip to Sheringham for arcades and chips, we should get the coastal pick-up bus to Carrow Road for the first game of the 1980-81 season. After all, I was missing Leicester’s first game back in Division One, so I was due some sort of compensation.
And so it was that we boarded the Canary Express to Norwich, stopping at Sheringham, Beeston Regis, West Runton, East Runton, Cromer and Aylsham… we sat near a crab fisherman (according to my memory, although he might just have been wearing a white jumper) and a young lad in a green and yellow scarf, neither of whom though much of Norwich’s prospects for the season.
But how wrong they were. From our vantage point in the new River End Stand we witnessed a fantastic 5-1 victory for the Canaries over Stoke, with a virtuoso performance and hat trick from their rising star Justin Fashanu. In the August sunshine in their bright yellow and green strip it was hard to imagine a happier place, and crabman and boy were in fine spirits on the trip back to the coast.
However… at the end of the season Leicester travelled to Carrow Road and won 3-2, but both sides were relegated.
I wasn’t devastated for too long, at this twin blow to both my club and my holiday club though. We would soon be going on our summer holidays…. two weeks in East Runton, naturally.
This piece first appeared in: ‘The Lost World of Football’ available HERE.