The summer of 1978 had come and gone with only another failed World Cup campaign to show for it as far as most football observers in Norfolk were concerned.
Home nation, big hopes and big name players as well as a manager who’d said, pre-tournament, that his side had travelled out to Argentina with the sole intent of winning the trophy.
Step back into the shadows Mr Ally McLeod, the man who gave Scotland fans rather more than their fair share of hope; hope that would be fast tracked and eventually lapped by despair in the face of Willy Johnson, Iran and Teofilo Cubillas.
One of the more overwhelming and popular hopes amongst those Norwich City fans who immersed themselves in that summer’s tournament (remember the BBC’s catchy title sequence?) would be to be able to support a side that, unlike Scotland, managed to do rather better on the road than they had done in previous seasons.
The 1976/77 and 1977/78 campaigns had seen Norwich, out of 42 away league fixtures, win just three of those games; a sequence of poor results that had eventually led John Bond to hit back at both his and the clubs critics by stating that it didn’t particularly bother him and that fans, rather than complaining, should consider the “bigger picture”.
He was right. Following an immediate return to the top flight after relegation in 1974, Norwich had firmly re-established their place back amongst English football’s elite. Consecutive league finishes of 10th, 16th and 13th had been achieved without any lingering fears of relegation and, whilst the Canaries had thrived, those supposedly bigger name clubs like Wolves, Tottenham, Sunderland, West Ham and Newcastle had all dropped down into Division Two.
So Norwich’s lack of success on the road could, perhaps, be considered as something that needed to be worked on rather than a catastrophe in waiting as far as the club’s top flight status was concerned?
One thing Bond had been acutely aware of however was his club’s need for a reliable goalscorer. The Canaries had been in the land of footballing milk and honey during the brief time that Ted MacDougall and Phil Boyer had ruled the roost at Carrow Road. However, with both players long gone, attempts to replicate their goal scoring arts had, for the most part, been so-so.
Viv Busby had come, seen, scored goals and, all too swiftly, departed again. He’d contributed 11 from just 18 league games in the 1976/77 season so, unsurprisingly, was seen as a player who had a big part to play at the club in its future, especially with the undoubted promise of Kevin Reeves playing alongside him.
Sadly for Norwich, Busby was, like MacDougall, the sort of footballer who didn’t tend to hang around in one place for very long and, as if to prove that point, when Norwich had the opportunity to get their money back for him from Stoke in November 1977, Bond, who had fallen out with Busby anyway, took advantage and accepted the Potters’ offer.
Busby had played in all of Norwich’s first five games of that 1977/78 season before falling out of favour, with Bond choosing to partner Roger Gibbins alongside Reeves instead. It was a youthful pairing (Reeves was 21, Gibbins 22) that unquestionably had a lot going for it. And this was not only in terms of what the two of them had already shown in the yellow and green, including 20 goals between them during that campaign but also an England U-21 call up for Reeves who had already garnished an informal enquiry regarding his services from Arsenal; interest that Bond, with that bigger picture in mind, had already brushed aside.
Yet, for all of that potential, Norwich were now missing the sort of experience and know how that Busby and, before him, MacDougall, Boyer and, going further back, David Cross, had brought to the Canaries attack.
Bond was not afraid of big name players, nor those who had a similarly big reputation in the game. He’d already brought Martin Peters to the club as well as signing Peter Osgood on loan as well as having attempts to sign both Alan Ball and Bobby Moore as players thwarted; in Moore’s case, twice – the first when he left West Ham, the second after his departure from Fulham.
The player he had in mind to lend some guile to the Canaries attack was, like all of those mentioned, a big name who had played at the very top level of the game as well as for England. Yes, this was a player who, as far as his character was concerned, might have put most managers off; indeed, that might have been one of the reasons he had, at 31, gone to play in Switzerland rather than at any one of numerous English clubs that might otherwise have been eager to sign him after his departure from Tottenham in July 1976.
His name? Martin Chivers.
Chivers, the winner of 24 England caps (13 goals scored) was regarded by many in the game, even when he was at his peak with Tottenham, as an lazy player, an arrogant one even, who was more trouble than he was worth. He certainly tested the patience of Bill Nicholson at Tottenham on more than one occasion, but, regardless of all of that, he knew where the goal was, his record of 118 goals in 278 league games for the North Londoners proof of that.
He’d been supplanted, forced out even at White Hart Lane, by the arrival of the clubs “next generation”, players who were, in theory, meant to be taking Tottenham onwards and upwards and into the 1980s. This included names like Alfie Conn, Ian Moores and Colin Lee, decent players all yet, in all fairness, a trio who came nowhere near to Chivers level as footballers.
Tottenham’s loss therefore became Servette’s gain, 33 goals in 66 league games for the Swiss side evidence enough that. Wherever he played, and regardless of age and reputation, this was a man who not only scored goals but had all of the experience and professional know-how wanted in order to be able to mentor the likes of Reeves and Gibbons.
The chase for his signature was a long and protracted one, Huckerby’esque in its duration and ‘will he, won’t he?’ speculation. But Bond eventually got his man (who would almost certainly have been the Canaries’ highest earner by some considerable distance) on July 1st 1978, with Chivers given the number 9 shirt for his debut on the opening weekend of the season, lining up alongside Reeves against Southampton.
Roger Gibbins was, by then, no longer at the club. He’d joined US side New England Teamen in March 1978, the lure of a £60,000 transfer fee too much for a club that was, not for the first time, approaching its financial uppers, to turn down. That sudden, unexpected but very welcome injection of cash at least meant that, for now, the Canaries could afford to hang on to Reeves with Gibbins’ place in the team taken by Keith Robson – a talented but widely travelled striker who’d joined the club from Cardiff City and who was, at 24, more than ‘eligible’ to learn from Chivers in the same way that Gibbins might have done.
Chivers made an immediate impact against Southampton, scoring one and playing a big part overall in the Norwich side that won 3-1, Bond choosing to play both Reeves and Robson either side of Chivers in a 4-3-3 line up that, supported by Jimmy Neighbour and Martin Peters on either flank, was as attack minded and entertaining as any Bond selected for Norwich.
Chivers then scored in three consecutive games for Norwich in early September, a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City followed by another draw (2-2) against West Brom before a 4-0 win over Birmingham City on September 16th; one that took the Canaries up to 6th in the table with Chivers having contributed four in six in that good early season run.
It seemed that all of the patience that Bond had shown in signing the ex-Tottenham and England striker was paying off. Six games played, 12 goals scored and Chivers in an all too familiar place, near the top of the goalscoring charts. Talk of a move to a bigger club already abounded as did that of an England recall for the reborn, if not rediscovered striker.
But that was as good as it got for Martin Chivers and Norwich City.
Injury sustained at Bolton kept him out of the side until December, his absence meaning that Bond had to go out and sign another striker; in this case, Dave Robb, formally of Aberdeen and Scotland who came in from Tampa Bay Rowdies. He had an impressive debut, scoring Norwich’s final goal in a 3-0 win over Derby County at Carrow Road in front of the Match of the Day cameras. That win took Norwich back up to 8th and, all of a sudden, talk at Norwich was not all about Chivers but of Robb who’d worked hard for his goal and displayed more energy and passion for the shirt in that one game than Chivers had done in any of his previous seven.
When Chivers returned from his spell out injured in a dull 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal on December 9th, something seemed missing from his game and character. His performance was so listless that an exasperated Bond replaced him with Robson, substituting him again on Boxing Day in the 1-0 win over Ipswich Town at Portman Road. A little under three weeks after that, Justin Fashanu made his full debut for the Canaries and from that moment on everyone could tell that Chivers time at Norwich was at an end.
He had, a week earlier, been one of three players put on the transfer list by Bond after a listless display in a 3-0 home defeat to Leicester City in an FA Cup 3rd round game. To be fair to Chivers, all 11 of the Norwich players who’d started on that day had perhaps the worst game of their Norwich careers, but it was ‘Big Chiv’ who bore the brunt of Bond’s wrath post-match and he never played for the club again.
If Bond had hoped to tame the big striker, he had failed with the Norwich manager citing Chivers refusal to move from London to Norwich as a major reason why the move hadn’t worked out. He moved to Brighton that March, playing just five games for the Seagulls before joining Norwegian club Vard as a player-coach later that spring.
Yet no-one missed him and, it seemed, no-one particularly cared. His signing had been a gamble by Bond that, despite looking as if it had been inspired to begin with, hadn’t even come close to working out; Bond now concluding that, in Reeves and Fashanu, he had as good a pairing in attack as MacDougall and Boyer and that the two of them were indeed the way ahead for the club.
It was a pity that covetous eyes would, all too soon, bring it to a premature end.