In the third part of his look at City in the 90s, Martin MacBlain looks back to a game in Nottingham, then one that followed at Carrow Road, and asks ‘what if…’
I wonder what the age demographic is of readers on this site? Sometimes you can glean insights from other writers or from comments written, but I’m sure that for every comment written there are 50 other ‘lurkers’. So, this article will either appeal to the sense of nostalgia of those of a certain vintage – or for the more modern reader they’ll wonder how we ever managed without the internet!
Ceefax – Pg301. Teletext 141.
You were either one or the other. Sure, you might check both, but you undoubtedly had a preference. For me, it was Ceefax. Pg301. The sports page. The original internet. Nine times out of ten there’d be nothing Norwich City related. But when there was… boy was it exciting.
Ceefax was how I learned we’d signed such luminaries as ‘super’ Matt Jackson and Ulf Ottosson. For those who unfamiliar with the workings of television-related news pages, each article would have a number next to them and you punch said number into your TV remote and hey presto you had your news article.
So when I saw the headline ‘Everton defender heads to Carrow Road’ – boom! I was all over that article before you could say ‘’the return of Mike Walker’’.
The other highlight of Ceefax and Teletext was on matchday when the lives scores used to flash up. Each page would be filtered by division and then each fixture would be listed alphabetically usually taking up two or three pages. One would have to wait patiently for the pages to scroll round to see if there had been a goal. And it was through this that I tended to follow the fortunes of Norwich City ‘live’.
Occasionally Norwich were selected for live coverage on BBC Radio Five Live, but that was a rarity and sometimes only the first half. Some memorable (well, for me) games that I ‘followed’ on Ceefax – Bolton 1 Norwich 0 (Lee 67) League Cup Q/F, Luton Town 1 Norwich City 3 (Newsome 2 Adams 1) our first game under O’Neill and Norwich City 2 Newcastle United 1. ‘That’ Andy Marshall game.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Newcastle game, let me take you back. I believe, to this day, that this game was the moment the club was set on a downward trajectory that arguably still hasn’t ever been fully reversed. Were it not for this game could we have been an ‘Everton’ or a Tottenham? Possibly? Potentially? Probably not, given their respective fan-bases, but there was a chance… let me explain.
Nottingham Forest away. December 1994. Evening kick off and ‘watching’ the game on Ceefax. I checked BBC 5 Live and realised the game was actually live – great! But almost to the minute that I start listening, I begin to realise that there has been a serious injury. This is bad. But who is it? Broken legs? Player carried off on stretcher…
But for whom? Who is ‘Andy Marshall’ – the player who is warming up. Then the sickening realisation that the injured player is Bryan Gunn. A key position and not one that is easy to replace.
The match continues and the ball goes out for a corner. Lars Bohinen goes to take it – the ball sails in and quite spectacularly sails over Marshall’s head and straight into the goal. Oh dear. A 1-0 loss but it’s okay. We are seventh in the league and sailing.
So onto Carrow Road and Andy Marshall’s home debut. By this time enough media coverage had made its way to the South West for me to realise that we had a special young goalkeeper on our books. An England youth international and highly rated, perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad after all. Newcastle rolled into town, Andy Cole and Paul Kitson up front and a flying Ruel Fox on the wing (who also scored – but didn’t celebrate) a penalty.
Back to Ceefax, back to being glued to that rotating page.
Now, when you’re following a match on Ceefax you literally have no understanding of how the game is playing out. You look at the score and it’s either win, lose or draw. It’s not until afterwards and a quick grab of the Sunday newspapers that you can glean how the match went.
And, as it turned out, we got battered. Andy Marshall had a blinder and we were lucky to sneak two goals from Neil Adams (yes him) and Ashley Ward, both inside 11 minutes. To the actual on-looker we did not need a goalkeeper with this young lad in the sticks. What a shot-stopper!
But, as it would later painfully transpire, not a presence and certainly not one to command a back line or dressing room of experienced players.
At the time none of us realised it. How could you? But that was the last time the club was ever anywhere near its peak. Imagine a bell curve. Let’s say, arguably, 1992/93 is the very top. Europe drops ever so slightly (due to league position) and up to the Newcastle game we are still sitting pretty high (7th in the Premier League in fact).
The squad, although ageing slightly, is still filled with Premiership quality players. Newsome, summer signing and new Captain. Ashley Ward, possibly signed too late, but nevertheless firing in goal after goal. Yet what the club failed, perhaps criminally, to do, was adequately replace Bryan Gunn. The Simon Tracey experiment perhaps scaring them? The Andy Marshall heroics perhaps averting them from looking too closely?
But if we had signed an experienced presence in the shape of a new goalkeeper, we could and should have maintained our Premier League status in the season before which the riches of the TV money began to explode into life.
As it transpired, we won one more game that season. One. Out of twenty. From 7th to 20th and straight into the Endsleigh Division One.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into the Chase era, that can be saved for another time, and I am of the Chase Out persuasion, but we will never know how he would have handled the additional riches, but perhaps, just perhaps he wouldn’t have felt the need to auction off our best players.
Could Jon Newsome have captained for the remainder of the decade? Would Ashley Ward have topped the Premier League goal scoring charts? And even more tantalisingly, would Darren Eadie have done a ‘Ryan Giggs’ and seen out his career with us?
All ‘ifs buts and maybes’, but if I’d known, whilst watching that Newcastle game on Ceefax, what it led to, perhaps, just perhaps I wouldn’t have cheered so hard.