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AT HOME WITH GEOFFREY WATLING

Article Date: October 1998

Tonight's a special anniversary for Norwich City, and for one man in particular it evokes particularly fond memories.

That man is Geoffrey Watling, Club President and twice responsible for saving the Canaries from extinction.

This week is the 60th anniversary of King George the VI's visit to Carrow Road - still the only reigning Monarch ever to attend a Second Division (now First) match in this country.

He spent 20 minutes here, and fortunately missed the two goals by which Millwall beat the Canaries. But it was still an unforgettable day in the life of
Geoffrey Watling.

"It was October 29th 1938 and he was actually in Norwich for the opening of the New City Hall Building. My father was Lord Mayor at the time, and it was his suggestion that the King visit the game.

"After lunch at St Andrews Hall, he was escorted to the ground. I can still well remember him being introduced to the players and then he watched a bit of the game. It was a lovely occasion."

King George VIth meets with the Millwall team at Carrow Road

Now in his 80s, Mr Watling gets just as much satisfaction from watching Norwich City today as he did when his father took him to The Nest.

"I can still remember being taken to Rosary Road to watch matches," he recalled. "They were special days, but then this is a very special club."

So special that he's been chairman, president, lifelong supporter - and even manager.

The latter role was his in 1957 when supporter was suddenly and dramatically thrust into the role of saviour.

The Canaries were in deep financial trouble. An Appeal Committee was set up to raise £25,000 just to keep Norwich afloat, and on February 4th an Extraordinary General Meeting was held at the Samson and Hercules -premises then owned by Mr Watling.

"I'd worked hard to try and put things right for the Club. A new Board of Directors was formed, and out of the blue I was elected Chairman. I told them I didn't want the job but it was too late."

That season City finished bottom of Division Three South, but the rise in their fortunes could be traced to the day Geoffrey Watling
took control of an ailing club.

"It was a difficult time" he admitted. "Not only had I to try and get things right off the pitch, but I was team manager for a time."

That was until Archie Macauley was appointed manager, and so began a golden age for the Canaries.

They were promoted in 1959-60, but of far greater significance was Norwich's massive impact on the nation in 1959 when they reached the Semi-final of the FA Cup as a Third Division outfit.

"It was a wonderful thing," he recalled with obvious pride. "So many people had worked so hard to bring about a transformation at Carrow Road, and all of a sudden we were beating Manchester United and Tottenham. And beating them with style - that was the most pleasing thing about it.

"The whole country was talking about Norwich City and wanting us to get to the final. It was just very special being part of it all."

So began the renaissance of Norwich City Football Club. Culminating thirteen years later with the Club reaching the top flight for the first time in their history.

Again, Mr Watling takes pride in the team effort that allowed a hard-working if unspectacular side to make it to the top.

Some fans will argue that the 1958-59 Cup run was the Club's biggest ever achievement, others will point to the Milk Cup triumph at Wembley in 1985 - but for most, promotion in 1971-72 will always remain the supreme achievement

"Everyone was so dedicated to doing it the players and the supporters together. There was just a feeling that we were destined to get where we felt we belonged"

Mr Watling refuses to pick out the individual players who'll always have a special place in his affections, but you instinctively sense that Duncan Forbes and Dave Stringer - the defensive backbone of that promotion-winning team - are high up there.

Geoffrey Watling at home with his many Canary souvenirs

At his home near Norwich, Geoffrey Watling cherishes the thousands of mementos and souvenirs he's garnered from a lifetime supporting the Canaries - thousands of programmes, newspaper cuttings and photographs. All of which bring back the fondest memories.

One of the most prized possessions is a replica of the boot Duncan Forbes wore in that never to be forgotten Second Division Championship-winning campaign. It's crafted in silver; almost as precious as Forbes himself

Geoffrey Watling had been a goalkeeper at Norwich Grammar School; his hopes of moving to centre forward baulked by an unkind master who called him 'useless'.

Very soon afterwards, his father took him out of school prematurely to run the family's horse-drawn carrier business which operated between
Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Given his goalkeeping background, it's perhaps not surprising that he picks out a goalkeeping incident as his most enduring memory of more than sixty years following the Canaries.

"It's when Ken Nethercott dislocated his shoulder at Sheffield United during the 1959 Cup run." He said, "It was the sixth round and he played on in agony for the last half hour. That was as gutsy a performance as I've ever seen- He was in sheer agony. But we drew 1-1 and got through in the replay'

Geoffrey Watling was chairman of Norwich City for sixteen years - an absolutely purple period in the Clubs long history. Since becoming President, he's again been forced into rescuing the Canaries from severe embarrassment.

Faced with extinction yet again, it was he who bought the shareholding of the previous chairman - and effectively led the way for the new administration to take over in 1996.

"It was sad to see so many people unhappy at the way the Club was being run. It really was a very unfortunate time' he said "But things are on the up again and I think the supporters are appreciating what they're seeing and what the Club is trying to do."

Geoffrey Watling will be remembered at Carrow Road for many things. He's seen football develop into a serious and costly business,
but there's been humour along the way.

Older supporters will remember Ron Davies, a free-scoring striker who became a big hit at Carrow Road before going on to Southampton and then Manchester United. He'd come to City's attention after scoring four goals for Luton in a Second Division match against us.

Geoffrey Watling masterminded the transfer, with very precise instructions. "If Ron Davies fails his medical, sack the doctor!" Fortunately Ron passed and proved one of our best-ever buys. Geoffrey Watling has proved to be our finest administrator. Long may he continue to enjoy his beloved Canaries!

Geoffrey Watling with the silver replica of Duncan Forbes 1971-72 boot