The name’s Bone… Jimmy Bone. How a rugby-playing Scotsman made it to the Norwich City Hall of FameWed 20 Mar 13 by Edward Couzens-Lake
Now there’s a name that will make a few people look back with a smile on their face. So what if he was shirt number 8 rather than (00)7, he still had a licence to thrill (!) as he pillaged the normally impenetrable defensive strongholds of villainous opponents during those heady opening months of City’s first ever campaign in top flight football.
Bone by name and Bone by nature. Gnarled and snarled, he gnawed at opposing defenders like a penalty area Pit Bull, no pity and no quarter given-or expected in return, a master of the art of worrying the life out of his contemporary peers, the last in a long line of footballing gentlemen who may never have seen or felt his like before. Charlton, Moore and Banks; Hurst McLintock and Bell, superstars who were not used to precocious upstarts – and ones fresh from Division Two at that – snapping not only at their heels but at the top table itself, the brawny Scot who came in from the cold and caused quite a stir from day one in a new season amongst the big names, the great and the very good of English football.
And if it was going to take the establishment a little while to get used to the idea of having the likely lads of Norwich amongst their numbers, it was going to take them even longer to get used to the idea of there being a footballer like James Patrick Bone. To be fair however, they were still getting used to him at Carrow Road.
Canaries Manager cum RSM Ron Saunders had paid Partick Thistle £30,000 for Bone in February 1972. He had made a name for himself at the Jags by scoring one of the goals in their shock 4-1 victory over Celtic in the 1971 Scottish League Cup final, one of over 50 goals he had scored for the club in his four seasons at Firhill. His lifelong love of the game had come about despite the fact he had attended that sporting purgatory for any football loving youngster, a school that played and preached nothing but the virtues of Rugby Union.
The story of Jimmy Bone could therefore have never been told had he acquiesced to the oval ball philosophy of his School. Yet fortune particularly favours the brave hearted of Stirling and Bone found an outlet for his real sporting love with his local boys brigade from where he joined and played for prominent local junior sides Airth Castle Rovers and Bannockburn Rovers.
Such was the strong reputations of these sides for producing young players of exceptional quality, Jimmy’s goal scoring abilities with both soon attracted the attention of a number of senior Scottish sides and he went onto have trials with ten of them, including Falkirk, Hibernian and his local side, Stirling Albion, as well as being invited to one at Liverpool.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, nothing came of this efforts to secure himself a contract with a bigger side and he would have undoubtedly been considering a career outside of football when, at the age of 18, he was offered another trial, this time by Partick Thistle Manager Willie Thornton. Thornton had been a striker himself, enjoying a long and successful playing career with Rangers for whom he scored 138 goals in just 219 league appearances. A goal scoring pedigree at any level, let alone with one of the most famous clubs in football. Thornton therefore knew a decent young player when he saw one, and, in the wiry form of the young Jimmy Bone, he reckoned a natural goalscoring ability in the game was a mere formality. Bone subsequently signed for the Glasgow-based Jags and proved his Manager to be right in his assumptions when, in a pre-season friendly in the summer of 1968, Bone scored in a 3-3 draw at Bury.
Jimmy went onto score 17 goals in his first season at Partick, including a hat-trick in a convincing win over Hearts. Following relegation the following campaign, Jimmy formed a formidable striking partnership with Frank Coulston, the policy of new Jags Manager and veteran of over 400 league appearances for the club, Davie McPharland, to throw in as many of the clubs promising young players into the first team clearly paying off as they won an immediate return, as Champions, to the Scottish First Division.
As a newly promoted side, Thistle were automatically made favourites for an immediate return to the Second Divison the following season, but that momentum which they had built up the previous campaign stayed with them and they finished in seventh place, combining that with their success in that Scottish League Cup Final where Bone had, memorably, walked the ball into the Celtic net for Partick’s fourth a little before half time. That game and result probably remains the zenith in Partick’s recent history but, for Bone, whose cheek and arrogance were shown in the manner by which he had scored that fourth goal, it was the real beginning, rather than the peak of his career in the game.
Such was his form, confidence and growing prominence in the Scottish game that he was selected to play for the Scotland U-23 side for whom he made his second appearance in a 2-2 draw with their English counterparts at Derby County’s Baseball Ground. Both the Scotland goals had been scored by a precocious 20 year old striker by the name of Kenny Dalglish but the watching scout from Carrow Road had seen enough of Dalglish’s strike partner for the evening to strongly recommend him to Ron Saunders. Norwich acted quickly upon that recommendation by swiftly following up their initial enquiry with a bid as interest in Bone was now growing. The deal was done and Jimmy headed south to Norwich.
Despite having arrived from the heartlands of an industrial City of the scale and significance of Glasgow to the quieter and more rural surrounds of Norwich, Jimmy soon settled in at Carrow Road. To his team mates however, he was a revelation, a young, confident player who was sure of both himself and his ability, cocksure qualities that, whilst Ron Saunders, eminently a disciplinarian, might not have approved, quietly encouraged.
The Norwich side that Jimmy joined was chasing a hither-to unthought-of of promotion to Division One and were sat in pole position when Bone arrived, two points ahead of Millwall-in a league when, at that time, there were no play-offs and only the top two clubs were promoted. The Canaries had been heavily reliant on the goals scored by forwards Ken Foggo, David Cross, and Peter Silvester up to that point, but, with Silvester having sustained a serious cartilage injury in the game against Preston on January 22nd 1972 (up to that point he had scored 12 goals in 26 league appearances); one that would keep him out of the game for eighteen months, a new striker was paramount if the Canaries promotion bid was not to fall away.
Saunders did have options in reserve – one of whom, Gary Sargent was tried and swiftly rejected after just one appearance earlier that season – but had already decided that Norwich’s strike force was too “nice” and needed someone who would add a streak of mean to the ranks, to take the knocks and, if necessary, dish them out as well. This would not only give Foggo a combative and willing foil but also introduce someone who would make the most of the myriad chances that his fellow Scot, no slouch on either wing, would create.
Saunders had, in short, been putting a promotion winning jigsaw together at Norwich ever since his appointment back in 1969. As far as that ultimate goal was concerned – and not many people realised it at the time – the acquisition of Jimmy Bone was the final piece of that jigsaw.
He made his debut for Norwich in the top six clash at Birmingham City on March 4th, taking his place in a Canary line up that read as follows: Keelan, Payne, Black, Stringer, Bell, Anderson, Livermore, Bone, Cross, Paddon and Briggs, with Foggo ‘rested’ on the bench. The glaring omission in that side is, of course, Duncan Forbes who missed that, and the previous fourteen league games due to injury, a weakness which Birmingham ruthlessly exploited; Forbes’ replacement, Bobby Bell having a particularly unhappy afternoon in the process – it was the last of his three game loan spell from Crystal Palace. So, far from welcoming in the new striker into the ranks with an appropriately impressive display, City demonstrated just how much they were missing the services of a stalwart defender and leader. Luckily for them, Forbes was back in the side for the following league game, a 1-1 Carrow Road draw against Sunderland, a game in which Bone scored his first goal for the club
Three more were to follow by the end of the season, including a 2-0 win at Charlton Athletic and surprise 2-2 Carrow Road draw against Bristol City, but, by the time Norwich had seen off Orient at Brisbane Road on April 24th – the seventh of eight league games the Canaries played that month – promotion had been secured. Jimmy had featured in every game since he joined and, although his final goals total of four in thirteen league games was modest, his contribution had been enormous. Not only had he taken some of the weight and attacking responsibilities – as well as a lot of the kicks, pulls and shoves – away from his team mates, his ebullient personality and sheer force of character had proved to be vital in the Norwich dressing room. And, if his demeanour had occasionally seemed unkempt and scruffy, his attitude was spot on, and Saunders had every right to be proud of his Scottish steal as Norwich prepared themselves for that wholly unexpected first season in Division One.
Back then there was no talk of “strengthening” a promotion winning side. Saunders went into the new campaign with the players that had finished the previous one with Bone the preferred option alongside David Cross in a conventional 4-4-2 formation, width and pace being provided by Doug Livermore and Terry Anderson. Foggo, surprisingly, found himself out of favour and, with his omission and Silvester’s long term absence through injury, Saunders had, by stealth, remodelled his attacking options, preferring the all round game of Anderson to Foggo’s pace but occasional tendency to drift out of games as much as he exploded into them.
But regardless of who he was playing alongside – or against – it made no difference to Jimmy Bone. He had, after all, scored against Celtic in front of over 60,000 baying Glaswegians in a Cup Final, so the opening day visit of Everton to Carrow Road would have held few fears for him. Both he and Norwich tore into their well heeled opponents from the kick off, Bone a constant menace in and around the penalty area, nipping, tucking – and tugging – at the Everton back four and reacting first to all the knock downs and deflections which resulted from the early Norwich barrage.
Norwich’s early efforts came to naught however, and, as the half progressed, Everton started to have more of an influence on proceedings, hardly surprising for a team that boasted the midfield artistry of Kendall and Harvey, as well as future Canary Joe Royle in attack. Norwich still opened the scoring however, with Bone seizing upon a fine cross from Livermore, breaking away to open the scoring a little before half time, much to the delight of the hugely disappointing crowd of just 25,851 (a figure that, post-match, Saunders described as “downright disgusting”), sending Norwich in at the break a goal to the good.
Bone played the match exactly how Saunders would have wanted him to. A buzzing, energetic and tenacious pain in the blue backsides of the Toffees. He was asked to repeat the performance three days later at Portman Road and, inevitably, did just that, worrying the life out of esteemed Ipswich defensive duo Kevin Beattie and Allan Hunter, responding to any kicks and sly punches that they might have offered him in the only way he knew how – by offering some back. Norwich won the match 2-1, Bone scoring the winner after 72 minutes following good work from David Cross, the Cross/Bone partnership perfectly demonstrating the strong work ethic that Saunders demanded from his players and demonstrating, again, why former Canary hero Foggo was finding it difficult to get into the side. Two games, three points and a symbolic third position in the fledgling Division One table, a clear feel-good factor glowed around Carrow Road with no-one more representative of its cause than Jimmy Bone, the man from Partick.
Saunders may not have cared much for footballing evolution that summer, choosing not to significantly add to the Canary ranks but, as the season progressed, it became clear that weaknesses were being exposed in his Norwich team by wily opponents. City lost 4-0 at West Ham on September 16th, a game that Saunders did not even attend as he was on a scouting mission. The game and result illustrated the paucity of quality in the Norwich squad, an injury to Stringer meaning winger Anderson was drafted into the centre of defence to accompany Forbes.
Ron Greenwood was far too sage a football man to miss up on this opportunity and the Hammers ran riot, 3-0 up at half time with two of the goals coming from Bobby Moore crosses. Yes, Bobby Moore, the cultured centre half; for him a gentle walk constituted pace. If he had been able to penetrate the Canaries back line in order to provide telling passes then something was very wrong with Norwich and it swiftly became clear that a little steel in midfield was needed, a ball winner, destroyer even, whose task would be to not only protect Norwich’s creaking back four but get the ball to the Canaries forward players.
A run of nine defeats in eleven league games from November to February was enough to make Saunders act. Money, however, was, as ever, short and if he was to bring in the ball winning midfielder his mis-firing side clearly needed, Saunders was going to need to barter. Cross and Paddon were both saleable assets – but Cross was a huge favourite of the Manager’s whilst Paddon would be the obvious flair to play alongside the muscle of the new man in central midfield. Saunders had identified Sheffield United’s Welsh international Trevor Hockey as the man he wanted, the Blades feigned interest, then, maybe out of sheer bedevilment rather than hope, Manager Ken Furphy, new to the job and determined to build his own side, suggested Bone in part exchange for Hockey.
Saunders reluctantly sanctioned the deal. Hockey was needed more in his struggling side than Bone, despite Saunders admiration of the aggressive little striker – but he now needed a more aggressive and bigger midfielder. So, much to the shock of Norwich supporters, Bone headed up north, with Hockey and another new signing, Colin Suggett taking their places in the Norwich side for the league game against Newcastle – which the Canaries lost, 1-0.
For Saunders and Norwich it was, ultimately, job done by the end of the season. The Canaries avoided the drop by two points, their survival having much to do with the 18 league goals that Cross and Paddon had scored between them. That and the clubs eventual survival in the top division, by virtue of a Dave Stringer goal, ensuring a happy end to the season for the Norwich fans, one which, you can imagine, helped bury the shock that Bone’s departure in February had undoubtedly generated.
Jimmy Bone’s time at Norwich was therefore a short one. He played in 39 league games for the Canaries, contributing just 9 league goals. Hardly stellar goal scoring form a’la MacDougall or longevity in the manner of a Keelan or Forbes. Yet he retains his place as one of the all time favourites amongst the Norwich fans at the time and rightly so. At a time when the team needed an injection of personality, of energy and sheer force of will, he answered the cue perfectly, not only in helping the club to the Second Division Championship but in establishing itself – and, ultimately, surviving its first season in the top division, an achievement as worthy then as it will be when we do it again this May.
A Canary who wore the shirt with genuine passion and who will never be forgotten.
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