February 15, 1992

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An arts man attends the Court of King Stringer

Is modern professional soccer a Shakespearean tragedy? Or a Rix farce? Or something unique? That question continues to puzzle EDP arts editor CHARLES ROBERTS – who until Norwich City’s FA Cup clash with Millwall had never been to a football match in his life!

As the victorious Canaries meet Notts County in the fifth round of the Cup today, he ponders on the magic – or otherwise – of our great national game.

About Charles Roberts ...

Award-winning reviewer and the EDP’s long-serving arts and literary editor, Charles Roberts, has died aged 71, after a long illness at his home in France.

For almost 30 years, CVR, as he became known to generations of readers, wrote with decisive authority on the theatre and the arts and Norfolk.

As a performer, he entertained with his series of shows and was co-author of a definitive history of Norfolk’s medieval churches.

Always flamboyant, with a flair for the dramatic, he raised the profile of the arts and was a great ambassador for the EDP. As a campaigner, he fought equally hard for funding for the Theatre Royal and the Norwich Playhouse. He cared passionately about the smaller theatres too and was a founder trustee of the Sewell Barn Theatre in Norwich.

He joined the EDP in July 8, 1968 at the paper’s former Norwich headquarters in Redwell Street, initially as a reporter covering Norfolk County Council. But his heart always lay on the stage and theatre, possibly because his mother had been a keen amateur actor.

He fought for the arts throughout his whole career, which spanned almost 30 years until he wrote his final EDP column in April 2009. His efforts were recognised when in May 1990, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, the prestigious society formed in 1754 “for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce”.

He leaves a partner, Guy. A funeral service will be held in France on Saturday.

Not exactly the Field of the Cloth of Gold is it?

There was I, a virgin offering (hardly young and nubile, but let that pass!) to the Great God Football – and a seasoned theatre critic expecting big stage action, a dazzling cast, brilliant choreography.

And what did I get? Much sound signifying nothing – as the Bard has it – and less excitement than I’ve had on a middling night at Little Piddleton village hall am. drams.

Now I know rather less about football than a bushman does about central heating. But I do know a lethargic dress rehearsal walk-though when I see one.

And, oh lordy, see one I did when, arts and theatre man that I am, and ever more shall be, I was prevailed upon to enter the portals of Carrow Road to witness my first, my very first football match in my 50-year span.

A few hundred years ago a Renaissance male was neither Man nor Gentleman until he’d mastered wrestling, riding, hunting, hawking and swimming. Only football was ruled out: “A beastly fury,” declared gentlemanly taste.

Beastly fury? Didn’t see any of that two Wednesdays back. Pity. At least it would have provided a frisson of excitement. There wasn’t even much roaring of the crowd. Just a smell of inertia.

I mean – and I only ask ‘cos I’d like to know – is it usual (“Not once but many times,” quoth he who kept the bridge) that when confronted by a couple of the opposition, a player takes the easy way out, ie, boot the ball over the line and hot-foot it to safety, rather than having a go, warrior-style?

It happened umpteen times and (yawn) didn’t it slow down the story-line no end.

Then, deus ex machina, as they say at the Barclay end, I received my answer from a stentorian voice in the Cecil B de Mille crowd of extras behind me.

Why don’t y’leave it if y’can’t do something useful with it?

Now take a parallel. Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part I. The Battle of Shrewsbury is afoot. Hotspur on one side, Prince Hal on t’other, lead the fray. Enter stage right Hal (in unusual costume of green and yaller) at foot-dragging pace, lugging broadsword unenthusiastically.

Enter stage left a confusion of enemy troopers, in blue and white livery, upstaging each other in a welter of directions. They block Hal’s path.

Hal: Oddsdeath. My way is barred. I’ll take the hinder path. (He hurls his sword into the wings, loses his foothold and falls, comes up artistically smeared with mud, and lurches off up-stage. Enemy troops lose interest, and exeunt severally in no particular order).

At best in the theatre, this production would run for a week before critical arrows and audience disdain closed it down.

Football’s good fortune, at least on this particular showing, must be that it’s a series of one-night stands – with the further advantage of being written about and commentated upon by media people who, blessed as they seem to be with this curious gift, could discover excitement in the prospect of a cold hamburger falling off a plate.

To be fair, there was one fillip of excitement, which collected even me into its fold – it lasted about 40 seconds, right at the very end of the first half.

But is that supposed to make an evening? A dreary night’s theatre with but one flash of drama at the end of act one would still get my thumbs down… even if the drama had been a magnificent stage death.

Come to think of it, the Carrow Road cast could do with a spot of tuition in that particular department. (Confucius he say: Calculated collapse followed by spring lamb skip convinces only the foolish.)

The first one at the Millwall game owed more to Lassie than to Hamlet… over he cambered sideways, rolled on to his back, and waved all four legs in the air like a gallumphing hound anticipating a belly scratch – before scrambling up and snuffling away in search of another bone of contention.

Next came Norwich’s much-publicised player – Fleck is ‘is name? – the one who looks like one of Virgil Tracy’s plasticated pilot boys from Thunderbirds!

Quite artistic this one, though a bit contrived – show crumple on to knees, body arches forward in slow motion, head meets the holy turf. Shudder of anguish. Pause for applause. Quick swab by deputy stage manager rushing from the wings complete with tool bag. Star bounds to feet and rejoins the (in)action.

In the theatre a bored audience shuffles and coughs. That fascinating football crowd around me, which was a devil of a sight more interesting than what was going on on the pitch, was bored too, like a vast, grouchy, disappointed animal, murmuring and shifting and grumbling… and my theatre man’s soul sympathised all the way.

And when at last a wonderful, braw, Scottish voice boomed out in exploding irritation, the picture was complete.

Ger’on with it, he thundered. Ah’ve paid six pund for this rub-b-i-sh.

As Professor Higgins noted of Alfred Doolittle… “This chap has a certain gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild.”

Would that my introduction to soccer had had a little wild music too. Personally, I’ll stick to show jumping!

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