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SPORT

Norwich City grounds

2. The Nest

HANG ON TIGHT: A head for heights was necessary for anyone watching football at The Nest, as the crowds perched on the cliffside terraces for this 1935 Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday illustrate
FACTFILE
First match (competitive):
Norwich City 0 Portsmouth 0 (6700) – September 12, 1908.
Final match (competitive):
: Norwich City 2 Swansea Town 2 (7415) – May 4, 1935.
Biggest crowd:
25,037 (v Sheffield Wednesday, FA Cup fifth round, February 16, 1935).

It was a football ground unlike any other. According to the late EDP columnist Eric Fowler, writing under the more familiar name of Jonathan Mardle, “the crowd seemed to cling like a swarm of bees to the face of the cliff.”

The Nest, Norwich City’s home ground for 27 years between 1908 and 1935, was situated in a disused chalk pit off Rosary Road – and while it had a character all of it’s own it certainly wasn’t the safest place in the world to watch football, or play it come to that.

Footballers risked injury by crashing into the massive concrete wall which held up the cliff that dominated the arena and rose sheer, barely a couple of feet from the touchline. And the manner in which up to 20,000 fans regularly crammed into the precarious looking stands built into the old quarry would have had ground safety officers in a real panic had they existed in those days.

“It should never have been a football ground and I was glad to get away from the place – it was a wicked ground,” said 90-year-old former City stalwart Bernard Robinson, who played at The Nest for the first four years of his career.

“At one end of the ground it just went straight up and to stop all the earth coming down on to the pitch they had a huge cement wall. It was five or six feet from the touchline so wingers had to be careful.

“Behind the other goal were the dressing rooms and a small stand and apart from that there was just a row of houses and the gardens were 15 to 20 feet below the level of the pitch. There was a big wire netting fence to stop the ball going in there. It was very dangerous.”

NEST MAKING: Work is under way transforming the old chalk pit in 1908. Note the rising wall being constructed to shore up the hillside in readiness for the terraces which went on top. INSET: A rare action shot from a game at The Nest. Note the square goal posts which were the fashion at the time.

As for facilities for spectators Robinson added: “How they crammed so many people in there I’ll never know. There was a lot of very steep terracing and I’m amazed no-one ever fell down.

“The crowd there were good but I wasn’t sad when the place was pulled down. The Nest was so enclosed and you felt the crowd were on top of you.

“You certainly noticed the difference when we moved to Carrow Road. That was a great place to play. There was just so much space!”
Norwich made the switch to The Nest during the summer of 1908.

Thousands of tons of earth had to be shifted before a pitch could be laid and stands erected and there then followed the painstaking process of dismantling the old Newmarket Road structures and moving them painstakingly by horse and cart to their new home on the other side of the City.

Chairman John Pyke, the man behind the switch, kicked off the first game at City’s new home on September 1 as City beat Fulham 2-1 in a friendly in front of a crowd of around 3000. It wasn’t all plain sailing after that – an FA Cup tie against Reading later in the year had to be switched to a neutral venue when City’s opponents complained that the Nest pitch wasn’t big enough – but the club soon settled into their new home and it wasn’t long before five figure crowds were packing into the compact little ground.

The Nest was gradually improved over the years, with the playing surface re-laid and extra terracing added, and by the time the Canaries were elected to the Football League in 1920 crowds of between 12,000 and 14,000 were common place.

Further developments in the 1930s, including an extension to the ‘chicken run’ opposite the Main Stand, saw the capacity rise still further and, on February 16, 1935 an incredible 25,037 crammed into the ground to watch City lose 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Alas, by then, the Nest’s days were well and truly numbered. Concern over the facilities had already been expressed by Norwich directors and the matter came to a head just a month after the big cup tie when the Football Association wrote to the club saying they were not satisfied the ground was suitable to house large crowds.

With the Canaries having been recently promoted to Division Two it was quickly decided that the time was right to move on and City kicked off the new season at a plush new stadium, the original Carrow Road having been constructed in just 82 days.

The Nest stood derelict for many years after being declared surplus to requirements before the site was redeveloped after the war.

It’s now occupied by Bertram Books’ factory and offices – and walking around the grounds today it’s hard to imagine that a football ground capable of holding more than 25,000 people once stood there.

A small section of the wall so feared by visiting wingers is all that remains of the remarkable old stadium.

Newmarket Road
Carrow Road

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