Part of the fun of compiling Tales From The City books comes when two or more contributors give accounts of the same events or deal with the same subject.
Together they provide a much more complete picture.
When I was editing Tales 3, for instance, I realised that Terry Allcock, Dion Dublin and Gary Doherty had all written about being able to play at centre-back and at centre-forward. They approached the challenge very differently, and those differences disclose a lot about their divers characters.
That was a happy fluke. It is not co-incidence, though, that all three books include descriptions of the changes wrought when John Bond replaced Ron Saunders as manager.
That was 44 years ago next month. Yep, that’s an awful long time ago, when football, and the world, was very different. But it was such a wholesale reconfiguring of the club that it has resonated down the subsequent decades — and that is why I’ve ensured each of the Tales books has revisited that era.
I think it is possible that we are watching an equally profound remodelling of Norwich City at the moment. So — while I obviously recommend you read all three Tales volumes! — here are some précised adaptions about the Saunders-Bond transformation.
I cut my teeth as a football reporter in the Bond era and tried to put his impact in context in Tales 1, in which I write:
“For the first 70 years of its existence, the club had never managed to play in the top division. Saunders finally took City into the top tier in 1972, playing a kick-and-chase style based on effort, but the stay lasted only two seasons. That was when Bond arrived — and found a club with, frankly, second division facilities and outlook. When I started reporting his work, he was spending much of his time trying to improve things: setting up a proper youth team for the first time, building a relationship with Norfolk schools, insisting on getting the training ground pitches improved and demanding the decrepit old changing hut at Trowse was replaced a modern building. He dictated, too, that his team played a passing game.
“As a player at West Ham he had listened and learned as manager Ron Greenwood led a cultural change in football, stressing the value of the arts and skills of the game. Bond shared a changing room with men like Bobby Moore and Malcolm Allison, who played with their minds as well as their muscles, and he was among those at West Ham who, almost daily, held informal discussions about the latest tactical ideas in the ‘Café Cassettari’ around the corner from the stadium. Years later, when he arrived at Trowse, Bond propounded the Greenwood gospel of ‘good’, attacking football. It was the genesis of ‘the Norwich way’.”
In Tales 2, Dave Stringer — “one of our own” who devoted all but four years of his playing, coaching and managerial career to City — gives greater praise to Saunders than I was able, but also acknowledges the need for the changes ushered in by Bond.
Stringer writes: “I wanted to play at the top level. But it seemed as if the club was just plodding along.
“Saunders was what the club needed at that time: someone to pull it up by the bootstraps. He was a no-nonsense man who didn’t mess about. Either you did it his way or you were out.
“We were so fit that we ran teams off the park and he drilled and drilled and drilled us. A testimony to the way he did things was that, years later, we all met up again for a testimonial, and it was like a jig-saw. We all fitted in. We all knew each other’s game, still. We knew each other’s deficiencies but we knew each other’s strengths as well. It was remarkable.
“But I think being so rigid under Ron was our downfall in the top division because we needed more flair to open teams up, combined with our discipline and work-rate. And when John (Bond) arrived the training sessions were a different style all together to all the fitness work and drills. John wanted more flair in the play, and where Ron had made us very regimented, John wanted us to express ourselves and use our own initiative.”
Bond’s right hand man was Ken Brown, who would go on to become City’s longest-serving manager. And in Tales 3 Brown recalls the state of the club upon their arrival:
“The training ground was at Trowse, and we told the chairman, Sir Arthur South, that it needed some work doing on it. So he had a changing pavilion built and spent some money trying to improve the pitches.
“We wanted a proper youth set-up. Norwich only had an A team, who played in the Eastern Counties League against men’s sides like Yarmouth and Lowestoft, so we applied to put a team in the South East Counties youth league, which is where all the professional clubs in London had their under-18s. But the London clubs said, ‘We can’t afford to go to Norwich every other week’. So we said, ‘We’ll play all our games away from home’. And that was what we did for a few seasons, till they accepted us.
“We appointed a schools liaison officer and I used to go regularly and talk to teachers who were involved with running school teams.
“So one way and another we were spending quite a bit of the club’s money, but Sir Arthur was as good as gold about that. He could see what we were trying to do and he wanted the same sort of club as we did: a club trying to play good football on the pitch and trying to be as good as we could off it. We thought, ‘You’ve got to keep trying to improve everything — the training ground, the scouting, the youth set-up, the players, the way we play. You’ve got to keep trying’.”
Bond and Brown are the only men who have managed our club for more than 300 competitive games. Bond was in charge for 340, Brown for 367. And because the metamorphosis of Norwich City began under Bond, Brown’s role is sometimes under-appreciated, yet he did much more than merely assist and then continue the work.
Here is his description, in Tales 3, of winning the League Cup. Perhaps someone will show this bit to Daniel Farke:
“I’d played at Wembley three times and won three times. I earned my only England cap there in a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland, and I won there twice with West Ham: the 1964 FA Cup final and then, the following year, the European Cup Winners’ Cup final. Then I went to the League Cup final with John and Norwich in 1975, when we lost.
“To be able to go back, yet again, ten years on, as a manager was a really great thing to happen to me. I knew the people of Norwich and Norfolk would love the occasion, and I felt proud to be a part of giving them that experience again.
“In 1975, the team had frozen at Wembley. And I knew they’d done the exact same thing two years earlier when they’d been there with Ron Saunders. So I had to try and make sure that didn’t happen to us in 1985. I tried to prepare the lads for the experience. Some wanted me to tell them everything I could. Some didn’t want to think too much about it. I treated them as individuals and, with the squad, tried to strike a balance. But on the way to the stadium on the day of the final, I got them all singing. We sang the same song over and over again. ‘It’s now or never!’
“When the 1985 team was brought together by the club 20 years later for a big gala dinner, everybody was staying at Sprowston Manor and got picked up by coach, and as the driver turned the corner just before the ground, everyone burst into song again. ‘It’s now or never!’
“That 1985 final wasn’t one of Wembley’s finest matches, but we beat Sunderland 1-0 and when the players put the cup in my hands afterwards, I looked around for Sir Arthur and gave it to him. I knew what it meant to him and that was my thank you to him for giving me the chance to be manager.”
Brown was in the dugout, either next to the manager or as the main man, for just 18 days short of 14 years. That was extraordinary enough at the time, but now we can see how truly remarkable it was.
So I hope that his chapter in Tales 3, and his appearance at the book’s launch night at Carrow Road, establish exactly who Browny is — a lovely man, a wonderful servant for Norwich City and a uniquely significant figure in the history of the club.