We went down together in 2016 and back up together three seasons later, in 2019. Shared emotions, from the depths of relegation despair to the unbridled joy that comes with promotion and, with it, an invite to football’s biggest party.
Aston Villa, the second former European Champions to visit Carrow Road this season, which says it all about our visitor’s stature and heritage. Saturday’s game is another match-up for the footballing connoisseur.
We don’t have to go far back in time to recall a significant Norwich v Aston Villa match! Five months to be precise, when Norwich was hoisting aloft the famous Championship trophy after securing the title in Villa’s backyard.
Under the early summer sun, in one of England’s grand footballing venues, it marked the perfect conclusion to a perfect season.
Villa, themselves, would be partying to, at the end of May, at another famous stadium, Wembley, after beating Derby County in the world’s richest game, the play-off final.
Norwich have had a few last day encounters with Villa.
14th May 1995, was a much sadder occasion. The Villa fans, in the Carrow Road away end, serenaded the Barclay End with renditions of We’ll meet again, as City, their fate already sealed, played their last Premier League game of the 1994/95 season. The 1-1 draw marked the end of nine consecutive seasons of yellow and green in the top flight.
Another memorable final day fixture came at the end of the 2011/12 season. This time the Villa support in the South Stand was serenading City legend/manager Paul Lambert. Lambert had overseen an incredible journey from League One to 12th in the Premier League.
Despite finishing four places higher than the Midlanders, the cracks had begun to show and by the time Villa arrived in Norwich on 13th May 2012, it was one of football’s worst kept secrets that he would be Villa manager come next season.
The Lambert saga soured relations between the two clubs and certainly left a bad taste with the Canary faithful. It didn’t help matters that on his, heavily publicised Carrow Road return, his Villa side put four passed his old team, winning the fifth round League Cup tie 1-4.
Lambert’s Villa also won the Premier League game later in the season, a closer 1-2. His claret and blue record versus Norwich was pretty impressive; played five, won four and one draw.
Long before Lambert and the Premier League, City first played the Villans in the 1936/37 season. Villa, one of English football’s most famous and successful clubs still had an aura about them despite slipping into Division 2. Because of their history, it made Norwich’s 5-1 home win particularly special, another result that would announce the Canaries onto the national stage.
Norwich’s first win in the historic old stadium, Villa Park, also came in Division 2. The first game of the 1969/70 season and a 0-1 victory. It would set the tone for Villa, in what was a pivotal season in the club’s history. A new low, they finished second bottom and with it relegation to the Third Division for the first time in their history.
When the two teams next met it was another big season, for both clubs. 1974/75 was a good one for Norwich. We only took one point of ‘The Villa’ that year but still secured third place and immediate promotion back to the big time. Joining us in second place were Villa, who were returning to their rightful home after an eight-year absence. Division 2 champions that season – Manchester United!
Despite plying their trade in the second tier, City and Villa met in that season’s League Cup final. A huge achievement for Norwich, in what was only their second-ever Wembley final and it’s the only time a major domestic final has consisted of both teams playing outside of the top division.
A near-capacity crowd of 95,946 witnessed an uneventful final that sprang to life in the 81st minute when Norwich defender, and Hall of Famer, Mel Machin produced an acrobatic save to concede a penalty. Norwich keeper, and another Hall of Famer, Kevin Keelan was almost the hero as he pushed the spot-kick onto the post only for Ray Graydon to score on the rebound. It was enough to settle a tight game and with that goal, Villa went on to lift the cup.
The Villa manager in 1974/75 was City club legend (and an obvious Hall of Famer), Ron Saunders, rightly remembered as a great Norwich City manager, whose claim-to-fame is being the first manager to lead the club into the top division. That was some feat after almost 70 years of trying.
Saunders is equally held in high esteem by those in claret and blue. His League Cup win over Norwich in 1975 surpassed six years later when he led Aston Villa to the big one. Their first Division 1 title in 71 years.
Villa’s next genuine title challenge came in the inaugural Premier League season – 1992/93. Their fellow title challengers in a three-horse race were Manchester United and of course, Norfolk’s finest. Without a doubt, our best-ever season.
Our two top-of-the-table clashes in 1992/93 were absolute classics.
The first on 28th November 1992 was at a packed, noisy, Villa Park, the famous Holte End silenced by a City winner scored from an unlikely source, Daryl Sutch.
Norwich’s 2-3 win was only their second at Villa Park in 16 attempts and was Villa’s first defeat in ten Premier League games. The first on that evening’s Match of the Day and a real statement of intent that Norwich was no flash in the pan, that we had a side that could genuinely challenge for a most unexpected title.
Both were still in with a shout by the time Villa came to Carrow Road for the return fixture on 24th March 1993. Villa dominated under the floodlights but it was a late winner from the boot of central defender, John Polston that eventually won it for City.
— Rewind Norwich City (@RewindNorwich) April 7, 2018
The noise inside Carrow Road when Polston’s close-range shot hit the back of the net was incredible. A deep passionate roar that symbolised a belief that Norwich could achieve the impossible – that they could be crowned Premier League champions.
We all know now both Norwich and Aston Villa would miss out that season, and for many seasons since both sides have struggled. However, in tandem, both are on the up. A season full of positivity, but Norwich, with a win in our last three games, hold the upper hand.
Especially with those title celebrations still fresh in our minds.