Unforgettable Premier League Champions in 2015/16 and serious contenders for a Champions League place (or better) this season under Brendan Rodgers. Leicester City have become the model, the inspiration, the hope for every club in the land – Norwich City included.
They have made the transition from bouncing between the top two divisions to one of the top teams in the country. As such City’s trip to the King Power Stadium on Saturday represents one of our toughest tests of the season.
Leicester doubled Norwich on their way to that magnificent and memorable title win. Inevitably Jamie Vardy was among the goals in their 1-2 win at Carrow Road but they needed a last-minute, Leonardo Ulloa winner, later at the Walkers Stadium (as it was then), to see off a resolute, relegation-threatened Canaries.
Leicester’s triumph left many a Norwich fan thinking back to 1992/93 and what could have been. As a club similar in size and stature to Leicester, we embarked on our own unexpected title challenge. Eight points clear in early December, still top around Easter, Norwich sadly crumbled with the finishing line in sight. They finished 12 points behind eventual champions Manchester United, but if they had won the two games v United then that would have been the swing – fine margins. We fell just short while Leicester, to their credit, finished the job.
Returning to 2015/16, the home match against Leicester, set, at the time, a new attendance record at Carrow Road as an all-seater stadium.
Norwich’s all-time record home attendance was also set when Leicester visited Norfolk. It was on 30th March 1963 as cup fever once again gripped the City. Having already dispatched First Division Blackpool and Manchester City as well as thrashing fellow Division 2 opponents Newcastle, City faced Leicester at home in the quarter-finals.
It says a lot about the magic of the FA Cup when the game, despite Leicester not being the most glamorous of ties, attracted a record gate of 43,984. Sadly the vast majority went home disappointed after Leicester’s 0-2 win. It is a record that, despite proposals for Carrow Road expansion, is unlikely to ever be beaten.
Our first-ever meeting with Leicester also came in the FA Cup. It was our only game against the old Leicester Fosse (Leicester’s previous name), and Norwich further enhanced their reputation as Cup underdogs defeating Division 2 Fosse convincingly 1-4.
Over the years we have had some massive games with Leicester that have defined league campaigns sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.
The first was during the 1980/81 season, with both teams locked in a relegation dog-fight. Leicester was already down by the time they visited Carrow Road for the final fixture in the season. The equation was simple beat the Foxes and Norwich would survive. It should have been straightforward but the pressure told as a Jim Melrose hat-trick confined Norwich to a 2-3 home defeat and a final day relegation.
The two were at it again at the end of the following season 1981/82 but this time fighting for an immediate promotion back to the top-flight. It was a May Day showdown at Filbert Street and City put their promotion rivals to the sword with a fantastic 1-4 away win thanks to goals from John Deehan, Mark Barham, Keith Bertschin and an own goal.
The win proved crucial as three games later Norwich’s promotion was confirmed despite a final day defeat at Hillsborough, as Leicester’s draw v Shrewsbury meant they could no longer catch the Canaries.
There were further costly defeats towards the end of the 1984/85 and 1994/95 campaigns both home games and both ones that Norwich would have been confident of winning. They lost both and ultimately it proved fatal as Norwich were relegated. Had they won those home games versus Leicester, Norwich would have stayed up.
After the 1994/95 relegation, Norwich turned to old boy Martin O’Neill to lead the bounce back. It got off to a good start with the Canaries flying high, but off the field, problems were mounting and by mid-December it came to a head with O’Neill resigning leaving Norwich in the top three. He resurfaced at Leicester who, by chance, was Norwich’s next opponents. His new club Leicester beat his old club 3-2 and with that Norwich’s season began to unravel.
The Leicester forward line that day was Iwan Roberts and Mark Robins. Roberts had yet to grace the Yellow and Green but Robins, at the time, was a former Norwich goal-scorer who was highly thought of in Norfolk. Robins wasn’t the only one to move from Norwich to the East Midlands. Robert Ullathorne, Spencer Prior, Darren Eadie and Lee Marshall all followed the same path during the late 90s to early 2000.
It represented an unusually high level of transfer activity between the two clubs and while disappointing at the time for Norwich fans (particularly the Eadie transfer) none went on to achieve much at Filbert Street.
The combined transfer for these five was around £7.5m an amount dwarfed by the deal brokered in the summer of 2018. That of course was the £20m upwards that Leicester splashed out on for the talent that is James Maddison. Maddison’s transfer was a Norwich City record for a player sold and is likely to rise as he realises his potential with England.
There is an interesting stat that in 13 of the 22 seasons that Norwich and Leicester have been in the same league, one or both clubs has either been relegated or promoted. Sadly that is a fact that could be extended whether it is Norwich going down or Leicester winning the league.
Maddison’s transfer represents the gulf that has developed between these two, once similar size clubs. Few would bet against him hitting the top corner on Saturday.