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SPORT

Norwich City grounds

3. Carrow Road

FLOWN FROM THE NEST: The Canaries move to Carrow Road in 1935 - this view from the 1950s shows a crammed car park and the Boulton and Paul factory alongside. The River End is uncovered.

In these days of technological advancement, it is difficult to comprehend the speed with which Norwich City transferred their operations from The Nest to Carrow Road in the summer of 1935.

FACTFILE
First match (competitive):
Norwich City 4 West Ham3 (att 29,779) – August 31 1935
First goal: Doug Lochead (left) v West Ham.
Biggest crowd: 43,984 (v Leicester City, FA Cup 6th rd, March 30, 1963.)

Having just completed their first season in Division Two, Canaries officials were stunned to receive a letter from the FA, dated May 15, expressing concern at their ground being used to host large crowds.

Yet by August 31 – just 15 weeks later – they were welcoming West Ham to Carrow Road for the first match of the new season.

The task involved would have been impressive by modern standards, never mind pre-war conditions, and was sparked by the announcement on May 18 by City chairman Billy Hurrell that “there is a grave possibility of The Nest being declared unsuitable”.

On June 1 it was announced that arrangements had been made with J &J Colman Ltd for the club to take over the Carrow Road Ground, home of Boulton & Paul Sports Club on a 20-year lease. Tenders were invited the same day.

On June 3 plans were submitted to Norwich City Council and the chief constable for approval.

On June 11 builders Harry Pointer Ltd started making the terraces – at 3.45am!

On June 28 constructors Boulton & Paul started erection of Main Stand; and on July 25 T Gill and Son began building the dressing rooms and club offices.

It was not only the speed of the building work which amazed the rest of the football world but its scale. Within six months the new ground was holding a crowd of 32,378 for an FA Cup tie against Chelsea. The first development at the new ground followed in 1937, with the erection of cover at the Station End, renamed the Barclay End in honour of Captain Evelyn Barclay, a vice-president of the club who donated the roof costs.

This helped take the ground record up to 33,346 for the FA Cup visit of Aston Villa in January 1938, which in turn was smashed in April 1948 when 37,863 were attracted by the prospect of seeing Tommy Lawton play for Notts County, the England star sensationally having left Chelsea to play in the Third Division South.

Next came the installation of floodlights in 1956, the £9000 cost of which were a contributary cause of the financial problems which almost bankrupted the club soon afterwards. But the new board, which revived the club’s fortunes on the field, culminating in promotion from Division Three and the 1959 FA Cup run, were also responsible for changing matters off the pitch as well.

More than 430,000 people watched the Canaries battle their way through to their first FA Cup semi-final appearance and the profits from this run were spent on South Stand improvements, most notably a cover two-thirds the length of pitch. It is now the oldest-surviving part of the Carrow Road stadium.

With their place in Division Two assured, attention turned to completing the South Stand. In the summer of 1962 plans were drawn up to fill in the corner with the Barclay Stand with banked terracing and extend the roof to extend halfway round the ground towards the corner with the Main Stand. This was intended to increase ground capacity to 48,000, although for safety reasons, this figure was never actually put to the test, coming closest in March 1963, when an FA Cup quarter-final with Leicester was made a 44,000 all-ticket affair.

With the City Supporters’ Association providing £20,000 of the £33,000 needed to fund the project, secretary Stan Springall took an optimistic view of the future.

He declared: “With this increased accommodation, I am hoping the powers that be will allocate one or two matches to Norwich in the World Cup of 1966.”

In the end, however, the closest Carrow Road got to realising his dream was an England Under-23 match with France in 1965, when the increased capacity was hardly needed with a crowd of only 20,203 on hand to see a 3-0 ‘home’ victory.

The Canaries, in common with most other clubs, did little to develop their ground until concerns for supporter safety first began to be voiced following the Ibrox Stadium disaster of 1971, when 66 fans were crushed to death.

The 1970s were to see football grounds having to seek safety licences from local council and potential access problems at Carrow Road resulted in the Canaries being threatened with having their capacity slashed to less than 20,000.

But by then, Carrow Road had already begun to be more in keeping with what fans would expect from an established Division One outfit.
During the Canaries’ first two seasons in the top flight, they had suffered from an acute lack of seating, so the unpopular decision was taken in the summer of 1975 to convert the South Stand from terracing to seating.

Faced with a break-even figure of 28,000, City chairman Sir Arthur South insisted that increasing revenue was the only way the club could survive. But even Sir Arthur could not have envisaged the next bombshell to befall the Canaries.

Faced with the prospect of a £400,000 bill to bring the River End terrace up to acceptable standards, the decision was made to replace it with a £1.7million two-tier stand, containing both terracing and seats. More importantly, however, and indicative of football clubs diversification of reliance on gate recepits alone, it would also contain a pub, function rooms and 20 executive boxes.

The terracing was used for the last time in April 1979, before 9000 cubic metres of soil and concrete was removed from Carrow Road. The enormous new stand – 10,500 nuts and bolts were needed to support its roof – meant the ground was three-sided for the opening months and drew criticism from visiting officials for sub-standard lighting after two of the original floodlight pylons were demolished. But after its completion in December 1979, Carrow Road was converted into a stadium holding 28,392 with seats for 12,675.

Features taken for granted now were steadily introduced – segregration fences to keep home and visiting fans in the Barclay apart in the 1970s, a scoreboard on top of the Barclay Stand roof at the start of the 1980s.
But while most major redevelopment was foisted upon the Canaries by events elsewhere, the next major structural project was caused by events closer to home.

In the early hours of October 25 1984, fire destroyed much of the old wooden stand. A massive clear-up allowed the home match with QPR to go ahead four days later, but that was to prove the least of City’s problems.

It had quickly become apparent that the whole stand would have to be demolished, but a combination of relegation to Division Two, fresh safety considerations following the Bradford City fire disaster of 1985 and a boardroom upheaval heaped delay upon delay on rebuilding work.
Plans were unveiled and then scrapped, and it was not until the 1986/87 season that the new City Stand came into use, being formally opened by the Duchess of Kent on February 14, 1987. It was unique in that it contained no turnstiles, spectators being admitted on production of a membership card/season ticket.

“Coming to a football match within the City Stand is very much like going to the theatre – the only difference being that our stage is covered with grass,” declared Robert Chase – a man many fans would accusse of putting ground development before team strengthening. The chairman countered by insisting that opposition to the concept of all-seater stadiums, laid down in law, after the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, was futile. The ground would have to be converted into an all-seater stadium and so he considered it worth getting the work out of the way sooner rather than later.

He won no friends in converting the lower tier of the River End to seating and beginning the redevelopment of the Barclay End in 1992, two years before the government deadline for clubs doing away with their terracing. But he insisted that his action would ensure the maximum Football Grounds Improvement Trust grant before payments were due to be cut back. As a result the £2.8m cost of the new two-tier Barclay Stand, modelled on the River Stand, was offset by a £2m grant from the Football Trust.

To further increase capacity, and, intentionally or not, give the ground a sense of uniformity, the corners in between the City Stands and the River and Barclay Stands were filled in, resulting in the largest City attendance of modern times being the 21,843 who witnessed a 2-1 defeat by Liverpool on April 29, 1995.

Newmarket Road
The Nest

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