Matt Busby, that most genial and quietly spoken of football men would not have publicly uttered the ‘f’ word when, eight years after the Canaries famous 3-0 win over his recuperating side, the FA Cup draw brought the two sides together again for a 4th round encounter.
He might just have puffed on his famous pipe just a little more keenly upon hearing the news however, knowing he now had the chance to put right one of the worse results in the club’s history.
His United did their talking on the field and their ‘revenge’ would be shown in the result and performance of his team, with Busby choosing to make only a veiled reference to that game in 1959 in his programme notes, saying, “…I know you will join me in extending a warm welcome to Norwich, a team with a great reputation as Cup campaigners…they can be relied upon to lift their game on occasions such as this and I have no doubt Norwich will provide keen opposition in this latest encounter.”
He knew, of course, only too well now Norwich would lift their game on the day, and would have been at great pains to warn his side of just that fact. And had his word been discounted or ignored then Bill Foulkes, the elder statesman of the squad at 35 would no doubt have had a word in the ear of a few of the teams younger and somewhat more inexperienced members. Because for all of their undoubted talent, many were still raw in the ways of the game and the footballing world, not least a fledgling George Best, fifteen years Foulkes’ junior.
The Canaries record in the FA Cup in the years since their famous run to the semi-finals had not been as barren as might have been expected. In the seven years of competition spanning the time between the two ties, they had gone out in the first round just once, making the quarter-finals once (the crowd of 43,984 for that game against Leicester City remains a club record attendance) and the fifth round on another three occasions.
So Norwich, still settling into day to day life as a Second Division club, and now under the management of Lol Morgan were no FA Cup mugs, something that Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, Blackpool and, during the season they won the First Division Championship, Ipswich Town would all painfully testify.
Morgan had enjoyed a promising start to his managerial career, leading Darlington to promotion from the Fourth Division in his first season before succeeding Ron Ashman at Carrow Road. He was young, ambitious and, managerially speaking, already proven at Darlington; facts that clearly ticked many boxes when names were being discussed in the Canary boardroom over the port and cigars.
But he didn’t have the easiest of starts. It was doubtful that the board would have informed him at interview, for example, that they intended to sell his best player prior to the new season started – but that is what happened. Near uproar greeted the news that striker Ron Davis had been sold to Southampton and, to those fans and their new manager, it must have seemed as if the board were determined to make the promotion they all craved as difficult to achieve as possible.
Typically, whenever this happened, and as Morgan’s immediate predecessors had found, said board members were still happy to blame the man in charge when, inevitably, it didn’t happen, rather than look at their own ill advised actions.
Morgan was given some money to spend and, before anyone changed their mind on the matter, swiftly brought in some new players. Alan Black arrived from Sunderland, swiftly followed by Tottenham’s Laurie Brown; two welcome new faces who would stiffen a defence that was now without Barry Butler who had so tragically lost his life the previous spring.
A replacement for Davis was a little later in coming, but, with the signing of ex-Arsenal and Tottenham forward Laurie Sheffield in November 1966, Morgan felt he had got a player of sufficient quality and experience to wear the number 9 shirt and give a team that had only scored ten goals in its first sixteen league matches the proverbial shot in the arm.
A lot was resting on Sheffield. Not only was he taking on the number 9 shirt that had been worn by the likes of Davis, Allcock and Bly – all big favourites amongst the clubs fans – he was also expected to deliver goals and help the team to promotion. No pressure then.
And, to be fair, he couldn’t have felt it. He made his debut days after signing in a home game against Derby County, contributing a hat-trick as Norwich cantered to a convincing 4-1 victory, the previously goal shy Bryceland contributing the other. And, despite his late arrival at the club, Sheffield ended the season as top scorer, his return of 16 goals from 25 league appearances double that of Bryceland.
For both Canary fans and management, a new star was, subject to not being swiftly sold on, born and dreams of promotion once again drifted around Carrow Road.
Goal shy they may have been, but there is no doubt that Morgan had a team rich in attacking ability. Sheffield joined a squad that also featured ex-Manchester United forward Hugh Curran, talented inside forward Gordon Bolland (who had made club history the previous season by becoming the first ever substitute used by the Canaries), ex-Arsenal winger Terry Anderson, plus, as a surprise Christmas present to Norwich fans, Michael Kenning, signed for £25,000 from Charlton Athletic.
The fast improving squad also included Don Heath, an Ashman signing who had been expected to provide the ammunition for the late lamented Davis in the Norwich attack. For Heath, with Davis gone, and new signings arriving who played in his position, it must have been quite an un-settling time, especially as the manager who had signed him had also left the club.
Heath joined Norwich at the beginning of the 1964/65 season and featured fairly prominently throughout the campaign, making 31 league appearances, scoring seven goals. He then missed a large chunk of games at the beginning of the following campaign, only finding his way back into the side with any regularity following the unfortunate Gerry Mannion suffering a broken leg.
He started the first three games of Morgan’s reign but was then replaced in the starting XI by ex-Gunner Terry Anderson, making only sporadic appearances in the side after that and becoming, in effect, a squad player at best.
Indeed, by the time the Manchester United game came around, Heath was such a peripheral figure at Carrow Road, his name and details were not included in the programme or accompanying team photo, although he was named in the team line up on the day as substitute; a role that was increasingly becoming the best he could expect at Norwich.
Football is an unpredictable master though and, even though the Red Devil’s programme for the game had named Heath as a likely substitute, he ended up starting the game. His luck had changed when Sheffield got a knock in the 3-1 defeat at Preston on February 4th. With Curran succumbing to injury in the game against Rotherham a week later, Morgan was set to travel up to Old Trafford minus Sheffield and Curran, a massive blow to both the Canaries hopes and morale.
Morgan’s solution was unorthodox. He chose to play a Bryceland in a central role with Heath alongside him, Anderson continuing in Heath’s preferred place on the right wing. Pace aplenty therefore, but only four previous goals that season between them, all from Bryceland.
Now they were expected score against one of the best teams in the country, at their ground, in a game, where United had no lesser motivation to do well than their shock defeat to the same side a few years previously.
Not surprisingly therefore, no-one could see past the comfortable victory that was being predicted for United who, in response to the Norwich triumvirate of Bryceland, Bolland and Heath offered up Charlton, Law and Best.
What was surprising was that Norwich opened the scoring – and with some style. United, typically, had been dominant, yet, regaining possession in their own penalty area the ball was worked to wing back Joe Mullett who jinked his way through a couple of challenges (“Norwich getting cheeky with it now” as quoted by an astonished commentator) before finding Bolland.
He managed to keep the move going by playing onto Bryceland who then made the pass of his life on to the advancing Heath, who sweetly struck it past Stepney and into the goal; a move of such stunning speed and fluidity, it stunned even the Norwich fans who needed a second or two to react. When they did it was as if a little part of Manchester would forever be Carrow Road.
Heath’s goal stung United into life. How many times have we seen them fall a goal behind only to come back all the stronger and simply overwhelm their opponents? Predictably, and with an incensed home crowd urging them forward, their reply was swift. Denis Law started and finished the move, his clinical strike from just inside the penalty area probably not even registering with Keelan until it hit the net. Made by Law, created by Herd and Ryan.
Game on and, probably, over for Norwich.
Norwich’s winner came from a Keelan goal kick; the state of the Old Trafford pitch causing him to stumble and nearly fall as he took it. Bolland met it, nodding the ball down to Heath who immediately touched it back to him. Bolland then knocked the ball forward but too strongly, leaving the retreating Dunne and Stiles to mop up the danger.
Except they didn’t. With Bolland chasing what had seemed a lost cause, the two United defenders found themselves each expecting the other to deal with the ball, and, with Stepney coming out of his area, Dunne knocked it on and past the goalkeeper, the goal open and an own goal beckoning before Bolland made certain, claiming the goal for himself on the line and, at least, sparing Dunne the ignominy of an own goal.
Whilst the Norwich fans danced a fierce jig of delight, the United players all looked around, desperate, it would seem, to apportion blame. Heads dropped, passes went astray and focus was lost. Bolland, described by one Norwich fan as “…a big lanky forward, good with his head and with a strong shot” was the hero, part-architect of both goals and scorer of the winner, but much of the acclaim must go to the forgotten man, Don Heath.
He had fallen out of favour with the new manager who had advised him, even when taking the role, that he wouldn’t be a first-team choice with Morgan preferring (and not surprisingly, given the fee paid for him) Anderson in the right-sided role.
It is, therefore, testimony to Heath’s qualities both as a player and as a man that he was able to slot back into a team where he was in danger of becoming the forgotten man, and play such a pivotal role in a game where, given the opposition, a poor performance might have been understood and forgotten.
By the time Norwich played their fifth round tie at Carrow Road against Sheffield Wednesday a little under a month later, Heath was out in the cold again, his place in the side taken by Sheffield. He only played another eight games for the club that season, scoring (and being substituted) in the last game – a 1-0 win over Northampton.
Terry Anderson’s absence through injury at the start of the following season meant that Don played in the first four games of that campaign but upon Anderson’s return he was out of the side again, and, with Morgan’s determination not to select him unless injuries made it the only option, he left the club that September; joining Swindon Town where he went on to win a League Cup winners medal, later teaming up again with Bryceland at Oldham.
As for Lol Morgan, he remained at the club for a further two seasons, charged still with getting Norwich into the First Division where they might enjoy playing Manchester United again, albeit as fellow members of that league, rather than ‘plucky’ underdogs.
By April 1969 however, with City marooned in mid-table mediocrity once again, he was asked to resign, providing the opportunity, if not the team, for his successor to finally deliver what the club had been striving for since that previous great FA Cup run in 1959 – chance to prove themselves against the top teams on a regular basis, rather than infrequent one-off occasions.