The modern Norwich City was the brainchild of two local schoolmasters who called a meeting at the Criterion Café on June 17th, 1902 to form the club, using a ground on Newmarket Road. In 1904 they were called again to a meeting at the Criterion Café where they were shocked to hear that an FA commission had declared the club professional and ejected them from the FA Amateur Cup. However, this only served to strengthen their determination. New officials were appointed and a professional club established at a meeting in the Norwich Agricultural Hall in March 1905. By the start of the 1908/9 season Norwich City had outgrown its Newmarket Road ground and acquired a disused chalk pit in Rosary Road, known as Rump’s Hole, which was converted throughout the summer. Its main feature was a towering cliff behind one of the goals topped by a row of terraced houses with a stand down one side.
Between 1908 and 1935, Norwich City plied their trade at a ground called The Nest. A more appropriate name for the home of the Canaries there could not have been. The Nest was a singular venue, even by the gloriously idiosyncratic standards of yesteryear. It was wedged where a football ground really had no business being, into a disused chalk pit formerly known as Rump’s Hole. Which again, in titular terms, was not too far wide of the mark.
The Nest was a cramped, ramshackle midden. This is not to say it didn’t have oodles of character, and wasn’t blessed with a certain period charm. But an architectural triumph it was not. Space surrounding the pitch was at a premium. Terraces and stands were erected at freeform angles, vying for space with houses and steep banks, squeezed into whatever gaps were available. Running alongside one portion of the pitch was a 50-foot high concrete retaining wall. Behind the wall, a cliff. On top of the cliff, a precariously positioned terrace. It was singular all right.
And dangerous. Poor passes, crosses and shots would regularly come pinging back off the wall and into the startled faces of the participants. Many a player would clatter into the big concrete menace while running at full pelt. Teams were instructed to keep their wits about them while taking corners, as at one point the chalk below one edge of the pitch gave way and had to be bolstered under the turf with railway sleepers. But the 22 men on the pitch had it easy compared with the spectators. In 1922 a barrier on top of the cliff capitulated, sending scores of fans tumbling down on to the pitch. It was a miracle there were no serious injuries, never mind deaths.
The Nest made The Dell look like Wembley, Tannadice the Maracanã. It could just about contain a club scrabbling around in the lower reaches of the Football League. But Norwich City were a club on the up, and The Nest eventually became a victim of their success. Promotion to the old Second Division in 1934 saw crowds rise exponentially. Then City hosted giants Sheffield Wednesday (kids, ask granny) in the fifth round of the FA Cup in February 1935. A record 25,007 crowd bundled in to witness Norwich lose a game they really should have won – City’s right-winger Alf Kirchen was the star turn, putting in a performance that earned him a transfer to Arsenal – and the small, angular ground only just about coped with the demand.
These were notoriously safety-unconscious times. And the Football Association has never been the most proactive of organisations. And yet the penny dropped even then, even with the governing body, that The Nest was dangerously ill-equipped to cope with large crowds. In the wake of the Wednesday game, the FA fired off a letter ordering Norwich to get their act together in time for the following season.
Norwich were faced with a dilemma. Either adapt and rebuild the ground or abandon their Nest. Before any decision was made, upwardly mobile City’s first campaign in the Second Division ended. In the final match of the season they hosted Swansea Town, and it ended in a vaguely positive fashion befitting a mid-table team consolidating their new status. Two goals down with half an hour to go, Norwich managed to force a draw, Billy Warnes equalising with five minutes to go.
Not that anybody knew it at the time, but that goal would be the last scored at The Nest. The erstwhile chairman John Pyke, who had brought Norwich to Rump’s Hole in the first place 27 years earlier, and owned the joint, argued that City should stay put. He had commissioned the renowned stadium architect Archibald Leach, famous for his work at Ibrox and Villa Park, to redesign The Nest. Plans were drawn up for a ground that would somehow accommodate between 40,000 and 45,000 paying punters. “I speak not as landlord but as a pioneer of soccer in Norwich,” said Pyke. “Extensions would cost half the amount of a complete move.” But Pyke was outvoted by a board which – having also considered moving in at Boundary Park, the local greyhound stadium – decided that starting from scratch would be a preferable course of action.
Cue one of the great feats of construction and project management. On 31 May City announced their decision to leave The Nest for Carrow Road. The new ground would have “immediate accommodation for 35,000 spectators, with 5,000 under cover”. Three days later planning permission was sought and granted. Another week down the line and ground was broken. Parts of The Nest were broken up and shipped across town to be used as rubble for the new terracing.
A mere 81 days later the stadium was up and open in time for the first day of the season, with West Ham United in town for the big unveil. The Hammers return on Tuesday night for a friendly 80 years on. Only the main stand was covered by a roof, but fair’s fair, there’s rarely a transfer saga that takes less than three months these days. A whole new stadium in just over 11 weeks is pretty good going. No wonder locals were quick to describe City’s new home as the “eighth wonder of the world”.
Norwich’s captain – and future manager – Duggie Lochhead scored the first goal at Carrow Road, setting his side on the way to a 4-3 win over a West Ham side who had narrowly missed out on promotion the previous season (and would do so again in this one). With a pleasing symmetry, Warnes also made it on to the scoresheet. A new club-record crowd of 29,779 turned up to witness an epoch. Nobody risked a vertigo attack in doing so.
Norwich lost their next two games, 2-1 at Blackpool, then 4-3 at Swansea, where they were undone by an astonishing 40-yard free-kick by Wilf Milne in the last minute. A pattern was set in which the Canaries wouldn’t be much cop on the road at any point during the season. But they ended their second campaign in the second tier comfortably in mid-table, having won two-thirds of their 21 games at Carrow Road. They had made themselves at home in the new place almost as quickly as it had been thrown up.
The stadium has been altered and upgraded several times during its history, notably following a fire that destroyed the old City Stand in 1984. Having once accommodated standing supporters, the ground has been all seated since 1992. The ground's current capacity is 27,244, the most recent works being the addition of approximately 1,000 seats in the summer of 2010. The stadium's record attendance since becoming an all-seater ground is 27,137, set during a Premier League match versus Newcastle United on 2 April 2016. In the days when fans could stand on terraces, Carrow Road saw a crowd of 43,984 when hosting Leicester City for an FA cup match in 1963.
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