Football, as we all know, is filthy rich – a huge multi-billion pound global business and a not altogether honest one, with bungs and bribes flying about like confetti. While the beautiful game is not my cup of char, there’s no denying the considerable passion it stirs. After a few difficult years in the shade, the Norwich City Football Team – known as the Canaries – have just been promoted to the English Premier League, the richest of them all, I’m told. The city threw a party to celebrate and thousands of devoted fans pitched up to cheer the team on as the boys in yellow and green paraded through the streets in an open-top bus. It was impossible not to be swept along by the enthusiasm, lighting up a very dull day. The boost to the club’s coffers – not to mention the players’ wages – and the local economy as a whole should be substantial. Well done, lads.
Yesterday, Norwich Pride reached the grand old age of 10 and the streets of the city throbbed to the fabulous in their multi-coloured glory. We came, we saw, we partied along with the mums, dads, kids and grandparents. Summer is Pride season and rainbow flags have been flying across the realm. Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim Mayor, danced across a giant flag during London Pride and even the sleepy Suffolk town of Beccles flew one from the Town Hall. It’s about inclusion, right?
Not in Russia it’s not. In Russia the rainbow flag is subversive gay propaganda opening the floodgates to kiddie-fiddlers, making ladies of the lads, lads of the ladies and bringing Mother Russia to her knees. Waving it can land you in the clink, or worse. The term ‘Russian bear’ doesn’t refer to a hairy mary bopping round a bum-bag to Abba’s Dancing Queen, and it takes a brave soul to be out and proud. And so a band of rainbow comrades employed a little cunning to get their point across at the recent World Cup. Big respect to Norwich’s very own Di Cunningham, chair of Pride in Football, who rolled out the Three Lions Pride flag at England games. I’ve read Di and her team got a bit of low-level hassle from the authorities, but as the flag was endorsed by the English Football Association and supported by the UK Government, the Ruskies let it go. No one was going to provoke an international incident at Putin’s big showcase.
More subtle was a group of activists from Spain, The Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia who roamed the streets, squares and subways of Moscow wearing their national kits which just happened to make up – you guessed it – the rainbow flag. Now that’s what I call a result.
Images courtesy of The Hidden Flag #thehiddenflag
Despite coming from a family of footie obsessives, I’m not a fan of the beautiful game, or of anything sporty really. But even I’ve been swept along by the euphoria of England’s remarkable run in the World Cup. We drank through a very pleasant sunny afternoon in a local beer garden watching England thrash Panama. In truth, it was so bright we hardly saw a thing, but the wine was cold and ambience was hot. Last Saturday’s quarter-final against Sweden clashed with the Lord Mayor’s annual parade, and his worship wisely postponed the grand procession so the great, the good and the legless could watch the match in various venues across the city. We took up pole position in the Murderer’s, a local watering hole with a dark past. Thank God for aircon otherwise the overheated punters might have fainted from nervous exhaustion. When England beat Sweden, the roar could be heard in space.
The decisive win gave the Lord Mayor’s parade an added bounce – the atmosphere was electric and the word on the street was victory. With all the excitement (okay, booze), we didn’t quite make it to the fireworks extravaganza at close of play but we did manage to take a few snaps of the crazy assortment of madcap street performers.
I am quietly patriotic, though not nationalistic. To be proud of where you are from is fine but to think you’re a cut above is not. It’s just a game, after all. Will England’s winning ways continue? I really hope so. We’ll see later on tonight.
Alas, England’s dreams of reaching the final of the World Cup were dashed by a spritely Croatia. The nation has gone into mourning.
Right now the view from the microloft is autumn bleak with a fat shroud of nickel grey as far as the eye can see. It’s just as well I don’t suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or I might get as low as the cloud and chuck myself out of the window. What better way to recall the hazy days of August than with a few sunny snaps of our trip to Eaton Park?
Laid out at the beginning of the 20th century, the park was designed to keep Norwich folk out of the pubs and factory-fit. It’s still doing it today with a bewildering range of sweaty things to do on bikes, on skates and on foot with bats, rackets, mallets, clubs and balls of every conceivable shape, size and texture. It was way too hot for anything muscular so we decided instead to exercise our tastebuds with a fruity bottle of white Rioja in the delicious café.
Let’s face it, spring is a bit of a hit and miss affair across these islands so it pays to take full advantage when Mother Nature turns up the heat. As soon as Liam returned from family duties in London I bundled him onto a bus for the short hop to Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty riverside spot a mile or three outside town. With Roman scraps, a Scandinavian place-name and a mention in the Domesday Book, the hamlet has ancient roots. Sadly, little survives to this day. Even the church is Victorian Gothic Revival though some ruins of its medieval predecessor, destroyed by fire, still stand.
Thorpe St Andrew is where people go to feed swans and muck about in boats on a sunny day. It’s also where people like me watch people feeding swans and mucking about in boats on a sunny day – from the comfort of a riverside watering hole. So that’s what we did.
Walkers, birders and water sports devotees can catch the little ferry from Thorpe Green to the Whitlingham Country Park, gateway to the Norfolk Broads. There’s no bar there so we gave it a wide berth. Next time, we’ll charge up the hip flask first.
It was last knockings for Eddie the Eagle as we took our plush seats at Cinema City. The film’s been out for a while and we were two of four in the audience. For those unfamiliar with the story, the film chronicles the flight of Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards who battled against considerable adversity and mean-minded ridicule to compete for Britain as a ski jumper at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. He was the first British competitor in the sport for six decades – hardly surprising given they don’t get much snow in Cheltenham where he grew up. The stuffed shirts of the Olympic establishment loathed him and did their very best to knock him off piste. But the crowd loved the plucky little fella with his jam jar glasses, silly tash and aquiline antics. Everyone likes a trier and try he did. Eddie may not have kept his eyes shut as he chucked himself off the 90 metre ramp, but I did. He came last in both his events. It didn’t matter. A star (or sorts) was born.
I suspect the movie stretched the facts a tad but I was hooked right from the opening scenes as the little boy in callipers dreamed of Olympic glory and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Sheer joy.
Norwich is blessed with a wealth of hostelries to quench the thirst and chew the cud, but few are as famous as the Gardener’s Arms on Timberhill, one of the last family-owned pubs in the city. Partly dating back to the Seventeenth Century, the traditional ale house is stuffed with oldee worldee nooks and crannies, knotty oak beams and exposed brickwork. Its fame derives from an infamous past. The Gardener’s Arms might be the pub’s licensed name but, for years, it’s been known locally as the Murderers. Why? Because after closing time one late night in 1895, Frank Miles battered his estranged wife with a hammer and left poor Mildred for dead. Handy Frankie should have swung for his dastardly deed but the case attracted huge public sympathy and his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. What had the luckless Millie done to deserve such a sticky end? Apparently, she was seen with another man. Oh, that’s alright then.
If you’re passing Timberhill, be sure to pop in for a pint of real ale and admire the murder theme posted on every wall (Dr Crippin, Lizzie Borden, Bonnie and Clyde, Ruth Ellis to name but a few). I’d avoid the big screen soccer nights, though. The beautiful game murders civilised conversation.