Cup minnows prepare for Norwich visit

The eyes of English football will be fixed on the tiny West Country village of Paulton tomorrow when it opens its doors to Norwich City for a football match which epitomises the history and traditions of the sport's oldest competition.

The eyes of English football will be fixed on the tiny West Country village of Paulton tomorrow when it opens its doors to Norwich City for a football match which epitomises the history and traditions of the sport's oldest competition.

Around 500 City fans will pack into the Winterfield Road ground for an FA Cup first round tie against a team for which the over-used metaphor “Cup minnows” applies perfectly.

Paulton Rovers are, as their commemorative T-shirt says, “Living The Dream” - and have been ever since they landed the real plum tie of the first round draw.

The Norwich City players know what to expect - a team determined to cause one of the biggest upsets since the competition began in 1871.

But what can the rest of us expect?

As Paulton (pop: 4,896 at the last count) is a former coalmining village, perhaps it's best to look to Midsomer Norton and Temple Cloud, which sound like settings for a detective series, if you want “pretty”.

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The few shops are scattered off the arms of a mini-roundabout outside the Red Lion pub. Most of the traffic doesn't look like it wants, or needs, to stop - maybe because there aren't too many places to park. City fans take note.

Oh, and take sandwiches - thankfully, the Golden Arches haven't reached this part of the countryside just yet and unless you like supermarket sandwiches, it's burgers at the ground.

And the locals? In mid-afternoon they're not that easy to find. Unless you know where to look, that is.

The lady in the library doesn't like football, but she knows a man who does …

Terry Wynne, who runs the Paulton Hospital League of Friends charity shop, could be found ushering senior citizens on to a bus after a Friendship meeting at the Wesley Hall.

Mr Wynne is a lifelong Rovers fans, who says there'll be a friendly welcome for Delia Smith and the travelling Yellow and Green army, who will help swell the crowd from the usual 100 or so to 2,500.

“Paulton people are very, very friendly in respects of Norwich coming down here, which is an absolutely fantastic thing,” he said. “I think we will have a warm welcome, no doubt about it.

“It's a very pleasant place. I've been here over 30 years and I don't want to move. I'm quite happy living here. We have big towns like Bath and Bristol just a stone's throw away which obviously helps.”

And what did Mr Wynne know about Norwich?

“The first thing I think about is Delia Smith,” he said. “I think what a wonderful person, what a wonderful cook. She has done a great job where Norwich is concerned. She is a fanatic, like I am, and good luck to her - and she has made lots of books and all this sort of thing. Funnily enough we have some of her books down our shop - and they do sell, which is good.”

It seems that wherever you go in football, you're never far away from a Norwich fan - even though their accents can be deceptive.

Most of the nearly 5,000 inhabitants of the village, which is half an hour's drive from Bristol, will of course be cheering on the home side.

But one villager, who was born in Norwich and moved to the West Country in 1982 to work for Norwich Union in Bristol, will have decidedly mixed feelings.

Despite living in Paulton for 27 years, Steve Varley, 51, has still retained his Norwich accent and still watches the Canaries when they play in his neck of the woods.

And with Norwich now in the third tier of English football, it means he will see the Canaries more this year than ever before.

He's already seen them play Yeovil in the Carling Cup and Exeter in the league, with more games to come against Swindon and Bristol Rovers.

The married father of two, who will be sitting with the Paulton fans at the ground on Saturday, said: “I wrote a piece for the Paulton Rovers programme notes on Saturday. Realistically neither side is going to win the FA Cup, so what I said was that I want Norwich to get promoted and Paulton to also get promoted, so the FA Cup tie I'm not really bothered about.”

Mr Varley, who watches Paulton home and away, was made redundant by Norwich Union in 2006, but stayed in Paulton and now works part-time at the University of Bath.

His father Frank Varley, 88, still lives in Norwich, in Bates Green, Marl Pit, and the two have been talking about the game on the telephone.

Mr Varley, who attended the now defunct Bowthorpe High School, said: “I'm sure dad will be watching it on TV. My earliest recollection of going to Carrow Road is in 1969 when I went with my brother and I think we played Portsmouth. I also remember sitting a lot in the South Stand, which is now the Jarrold Stand.”

And Matt Brown, based in Bath, but originally from Stourbridge in the West Midlands, was at Winterfield Road buying a ticket for a team he hasn't seen play at home for two decades. And he wasn't talking about Paulton.

“I started supporting Norwich basically as a kid growing up in the Midlands,” he said. “I was supporting Villa and they had a player called John Deehan.

“Norwich was my second team - they played nice football but always used to lose - and when Deehan went to Norwich I basically swapped it over. Norwich are my first team, it's the first football kit I ever had, and Villa are now my second team.”

Mike Bowell is a local builder and club sponsor. His advice is to nip to the village bookies and put a fiver on Paulton.

“Paulton. 1-0 - 10-1 we are,” he said. “I think they have the spirit, they are doing well, nothing stands in their way, they have a good manager and ground conditions are completely and totally different to what Norwich are used to playing on.”

Do Different is what Norwich do best - best save you money and just enjoy the day.