In the second of his series of guest blogs looking at the ‘forgotten Nineties’, Martin MacBlain tackles, amongst other things, the thorny issue of the Bryan Hamilton era…
Text alert – ‘Neale Fenn’
Hmmm – that’s a tricky one, I ponder.
I’ll need to pull out the trump card for this;
Text reply – ‘Jim Whitley’
For those of you who are reading my second article, thank you for continuing with my nostalgic look at this era. For those of you who are new to my articles, thank you as well for reading. For all of you who are reading and am wondering what the hell the text alerts mean; let me explain.
Wigan away, April 2019. The Wall of Yellow. Driving up from Bristol with a few fellow South West Canaries, well Darren was driving – top Yellow that he is – on a not insubstantial journey, and the occupants of the car soon realised that I have an uncanny knack of remembering obscure Norwich players from the 1990s.
Thus followed a game over the next few weeks, where at random points, we would text each other an obscure NCFC player. The aim being to ‘out-obscure’ each other. Jim Whitley was my trump card.
Can you guess against which team he scored his only goal, for us? Answers in the comments section below, please.
I wanted this article to be staged in two parts. Firstly, how dull and stagnant the season was, begun by the ‘fantastic’ Bryan Hamilton. And secondly, whether this was the season when the seeds of recovery from the awful mid-late 1990s were actually sewn?
The 2000/01 season began, for me, with a trip up to Norwich (I was home for the summer) to watch a pre-season friendly vs SC Heerenveen. I remember very little about this game other than it rained, a lot. And that there was an away fan who wore a Viking helmet. In the South Stand. On his own.
So, another listless season appeared on the horizon. Back to Glastonbury and to my summer job, the rather insalubrious surroundings of a well-known baby food processing factory and night shift work.
For any readers who’ve done factory work as a student, there is precious little to occupy the mind. So you find yourself thinking of things to think about. Anything. And assessing Norwich’s summer signings was certainly one of them, which segues me nicely back into the relative merits of one flying midfielder – Jim Whitley.
A rather low-key signing on loan from Manchester City. Not much of a track record to shout home about, a previous loan spell at Blackpool that hadn’t worked out that well. Yet, perhaps he was the missing piece… the cog that could turn the yellow wheel; the talismanic star who could catapult us back into the big time.
And for one fleeting moment, he did. Like a salmon soaring from the water, he rose… and rose… and looped a stunning header over the keeper into the net. Two Iwan Roberts goals later and we were on our way to victory.
Now you’re probably wondering where factory work and Big Brother One come into this. Well as an exile, I didn’t actually see Whitley’s goal until the end of season review came out. But I do recall quite vividly sitting in the canteen of the aforementioned factory with a copy of the Sun newspaper – the front page adorned with tales of ‘Nasty Nick’ and ‘Craig’ (Google Big Brother One if that doesn’t ring any bells) and a tiny insert on the back page with a write up of said football match. As close to being there as an exile could get.
Could this be our season?
Sadly not. Back to uni. Back to Carrow Road. Crystal Palace 0-0. Blackpool in the cup 3-3 (and that was with Tony Cottee up top!) and we regained our usual mid to bottom place in the table. As an aside, I managed to get a hire car up to Norwich in the middle of the fuel crisis – I’ve never seen the M11 so empty.
I’ve already stated that I wanted this article to be in two parts. The first designed to convey the absolutely dire nature of this season and some of the signings. And the second… to ascertain whether this may just have been when the seeds of recovery were sewn…
It was while researching this article that a sudden thought struck me. I noticed player after player who were not only in our playoff squad but also in the league winners squad of 2003/04.
I started to join the dots and look closer at what was beginning to be assembled, slowly and gradually, by Nigel Worthington. Yes, he inherited a lot of players who either weren’t interested or weren’t good enough (Fernando Derveld and Raymond De Waard – I had the misfortune to see both play live). Yet in his squad were; Rob Green, Craig Fleming, Malky Mackay, Phil Mulryne and Iwan Roberts (albeit some of those weren’t playing).
Some astute signings in March (the true slamming shut of the transfer window for those older readers) of Gary Holt and Adam Drury (I saw both their debuts vs Grimsby) and I began to see parallels with 2001/02 and 2003/04; still two of our most successful seasons to date. And I began to wonder if this was where Worthy started to assemble the spine of his squad.
Were the shoots of recovery now starting to show through? Was this oft-forgotten season where it all started?
2000/01: Green, Drury, Mackay, Fleming, Kenton, Holt, Mulryne, McVeigh, Roberts
2001/02: Sprinkle in Easton, Rivers, Notman and Nielsen and you reach the playoffs
2003/04: Top off with Huckerby, Francis, Svensson and McKenzie and promotion awaits.
The spine of the team remained the same throughout all these seasons. I had never quite realised it before, but Worthy had the makings of an excellent team a long time before they realised their potential. Robert Green – the heir apparent to Andy Marshall. Malky Mackay – a far superior centre-back to Matt Jackson, he just had to bide his time. ‘Wee’ Paul McVeigh hiding in the wings. Once Worthy had them assembled we began to soar. And soar we did.
I’ll leave you with a ‘what if’. What if Gaetano Giallanza hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury…
Did you manage to guess who Whitley’s goal was against?