It was the FA Cup giantkilling that should never have happened.
Norwich City, back in the First Division at the first attempt after their relegation at the end of the 1973/74 campaign had, under John Bond, taken the top flight by relative storm, winning games, scoring goals and earning the plaudits that their free flowing football deserved.
This had been particularly evident over two consecutive home games early in the season when Aston Villa had been seen off to the tune of 5-3 followed, a fortnight later by a 4-2 win over Everton. Two games, nine goals scored with six of those coming from the ever reliable Ted MacDougall, the man who put the ‘P’ into penalty box predator.
As the season wore on, Norwich also made some progress in the FA Cup. Rochdale were seen off, at the third attempt, in a prolonged 3rd round tie followed by Luton Town in the 4th round.
Those of a yellow and green hue had cause for some optimism then, when, in the 5th round, the Canaries were drawn at home to lowly Bradford City.
The Bantams, keen to make a show of things, had by the time the match was scheduled to be played, been adversely affected by an outbreak of flu that had worked its way through their squad so effectively they could probably have got those that were fit to play down to Norwich in a Mini Cooper.
One successful postponement led to two but, after their third attempt to do so was turned down by the FA, Bobby Kennedy’s side arrived at Carrow Road on the evening of February 23rd with a patched up squad that was still suffering from the after effects of the illness.
It goes without saying that Norwich should have taken advantage of that fact and booked themselves a place in the last eight, not least because the season they were having and the hitherto almost unheard of progress in the FA Cup that then club was making was still, for a Monday night FA Cup game against lowly opposition, deemed attractive enough to draw a crowd of nearly 28,000 to Carrow Road.
This was more than had been present for the clubs home league games against, amongst others, Leeds, Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal.
If Bradford had been struck down by the flu bug then a very different type of Cup fever was afflicting Carrow Road. This was FA Cup fever and the opportunity to see the club advance into the quarter finals for the first time since 1963 was turning out to be a particularly attractive one.
This was hardly surprising. The FA Cup was still THE competition to win in English domestic football. It was seen as having more glamour than the league title and far more allure than the European Cup which, after all, had, at that point, only been won once by an English club.
The whole world, as David Coleman solemnly intoned on every Cup Final day, stopped to watch proceedings at Wembley. So it was hardly surprising that the opportunity for the whole world to be taking a first look at Norwich City was, for Canary fans, an extremely attractive one.
It wasn’t as if the club were strangers to cup success, Wembley visits or even near misses. The Canaries had reached the final of the League Cup in 1973 and 1975 and had only missed out on doing so in the same competition in 1974 by narrowly losing to Wolves in the two legged semi-final. So a third Wembley visit in four seasons didn’t seem a particularly unreasonable or unrealistic expectation.
For it to be in the FA Cup though was bucking a trend – and a mighty big one. Since their last appearance in the quarter finals of the competition had ended with 2-0 defeat at home to Leicester City on March 30th 1963 (the attendance for that game of 43,984 will probably remain a record for Carrow Road for as long as Norwich play there), the Canaries had tumbled out of the competition at the third round stage in nine of the subsequent twelve seasons that followed. Another reason, perhaps, to think that, after such an appalling run in the competition, a home tie against Bradford with the winners going on to play second division Southampton in the next round was as good a chance as it was ever going to get for the massed ranks of Canary supporters to be making their way to Wembley that May.
Along, as we probably wouldn’t have said in 1976, come Norwich.
Beaten, on the night by a better side. One who, to coin a modern footballing phrase, ‘wanted it’ more. Their 2-1 win, courtesy of goals from Don Hutchins and Billy McGinley remains one of the more disappointing results in Norwich’s recent history; the magnitude of Bradford’s win and its wider significance being largely lost to the wider footballing public due to the fact it was played out on a Monday evening rather than amidst a typical footballing programme on a Saturday where TV cameras might have been there to witness it.
Thankfully (or maybe not), Anglia TV saw fit to send one man and one camera to the game to record some highlights and you can see them here.
The man who Norwich would have pinned all of their goalscoring hopes on that night as well as in any and all the games he played for the club had been Ted MacDougall. He’d had a quiet and, for him, frustrating match against the Bantams. Never one to run if he didn’t need to, Ted, quite simply, saw little to none of the service he was used to in the game, one reason being, perhaps, the effective manner in which Bradford’s hard working midfield had negated their more illustrious counterparts.
That and a Carrow Road pitch which was not exactly conducive to the type of fast, passing football that Norwich championed and which MacDougall was, on so many occasions, the grateful recipient of. He still ended that season as Norwich’s top scorer in the league (23 from 42) with Phil Boyer (11 from 39) and Martin Peters (10 from 42) way behind him. The three of them had scored 44 of Norwich’s goals that season in the league, 44 from a total, for the entire campaign, of 58-in other words, around 75 per cent of the total.
John Bond knew that he needed to bolster his squad in terms of goalscoring options and, ideally, before the start of the following season. MacDougall had already made it known that he was looking to relocate back to the south coast to be nearer to his business interests and, with Boyer likely to want to join him wherever he ended up, that hot summer of 1976 saw a pressing need for Norwich to recruit a new striker; one made even more important when MacDougall upped and left for Southampton that September.
He’d already missed the club’s opening two league fixtures of the campaign due to his being suspended after being sent off playing for the club in a pre-season game in Norway. Rumour had it that MacDougall felt that the club had not offered him any support with regard to that and the subsequent suspension and that the relationship he had with John Bond had been adversely affected as a result.
True or not, the MacDougall that did pull on a Norwich shirt that season was far from the one who had graced Carrow Road the previous campaign and it was soon clear, to Bond at least, that his star man wanted out.
For Lawrie McMenemy and Southampton, the £50,000 paid for Supermac, still only 29, was as close to footballing robbery as it is possible to get, the fact that Norwich did not demand a fee close to the then British transfer record of £350,000 (paid by Everton to Birmingham for Bob Latchford) for his services remaining something of a mystery, explained only by the fact that Southampton were the only club MacDougall wanted to go to and, as they were only willing to pay that amount, Norwich had been done up like the proverbial kipper.
Luckily for the Canaries, Bond was able to find and secure MacDougall’s replacement at the same time.
Viv Busby was the man charged with filling the void left by MacDougall’s departure and, if his arrival didn’t exactly set pulses racing at Carrow Road (the Canaries had previously been linked with Joe Jordan at Leeds United and Charlton’s Derek Hales) he did, at least, fit the part in that he was a powerful striker who was good in the air and would be able to hold the ball up well for his advancing teammates.
So, essentially, Ted Mk II. The question was, would he link up as well with Phil Boyer who, it was rumoured, was already keen to up sticks and join his mate at the Dell?
Time would tell.