A traditional Saturday afternoon kick-off seems appropriate for the visit of one of football’s historic old clubs. At 3 o’clock, City will kick off against another founder member of the Football League, the famous old gold and black of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Wolverhampton were the Kings of English football during the 1950s. They won three League titles and played a series of European friendlies cumulating in a famous victory over Hungarian champions, Honved. A win under the floodlights that left Wolves dubbed ‘Champions of Europe’.
Norwich meanwhile were at rock-bottom having suffered the humiliation of having to apply for re-election into the Football League after finishing last in Division Three South.
However, things change quickly in the world of football. Just six years after Wolves last title win, we faced them for the first time, as equals, in the old Division Two. The first meeting in October 1965 ended in a 0-3 home defeat for Norwich and we suffered another loss in the return fixture, this time 2-1 in our first visit to Molineux.
Norwich had to wait a long time before finally tasting victory over Wolves. Eleven games to be exact. It finally came on the 8th October 1977 with the Canaries triumphing 2-1. Even then it was close, Wolves forward Alan Sunderland netting a 90th-minute equaliser before an even later Martin Peters winner saw City over the line. At last a 1 in the ‘W’ column after D4 and L9!
During that winless run came a couple of huge games in the 1973/74 League Cup semi-final. City were beginning to make the tournament their own having reached the final the year before and a second successive Wembley final would have been some achievement. The cup was a bit of light relief from a struggling league campaign (we finished bottom that season) but Wolves was a step too far.
The first leg at Carrow Road finished 1-1 mirroring the same score as the league match just a week earlier. The second leg at Molineux was a tight, intimidating encounter where another John Richards goal edged the Black Country boys through to the final, which they subsequently won 2-1 against Manchester City.
1974 was not the only time we have faced Wolverhampton in a semi-final. In 2002, the stakes were much higher and this time the ending happier. The occasion, the Division One (Championship) play-off semi-finals; the prize a place in the final and with it a chance of Premier League promotion.
Both teams entered the semi in contrasting form. Wolves had slipped up, missing out on automatic promotion when for most of the season it was in their hands. Norwich meanwhile had scraped into the play-offs on the last day of the season having outscored Burnley. Wolves may have finished 11 points clear but momentum was with the Canaries.
And so it proved, as three second-half goals including a Paul McVeigh header and Malky Mackay injury-time strike gave Norwich a cushion going into the second leg. Mackay’s late goal was crucial as City lost at Wolves but progressed overall 3-2 on aggregate.
It was City’s first experience of the thrills and spills of the play-offs and a tense and emotional couple of games versus Wolves. Both will live long in the memory.
But even in play-off success, we still lost at Molineux. Our record there is awful.
In 30 attempts there have been just two wins. The most recent of which came in Alex Neil’s largely uneventful final season. The first was early in the 1995/96 season as City adjusted to life back in the second tier for the first time in a decade. Ashley Ward (wearing the blue checked away kit – remember that one?) scored in a 0-2 victory that continued our excellent start to the season.
After the play-off game, we failed to win the next eight, losing six. When we did finally put one over them it came against the form book. An out of the blue 5-2 home win on the 21st October 2008. That game proved to be a rare highlight in a period of gloom as Leroy Lita’s hat-trick shocked a top of the table Wolves side. It was an incredible result when you consider that Wolves finished that season Champions, while for Norwich it was our worst season in decades ending in relegation to League One.
Actually, despite the pessimism, our recent record, particular since bouncing back from League One, is pretty good. Our first Premier League meeting ended in an eventful 2-2 draw while we went one better in the return at Carrow Road as a Grant Holt double gave us a 2-1 win (a certain Matt Jarvis scored for Wolves that day).
Those have been the only top-flight games since we regularly met in the old First Division back in the late 1970s/early 80s. Since those days, both clubs have suffered good and bad days. Wolves almost went bust in the mid-80s with Molineux crumbling and the club rocking from three successive relegations to the bottom division before a resurgence thanks to Jack Hayward’s cash and Steve Bull’s goals.
There has been a bit of a rivalry since we resumed battle in 1995 and beyond driven by that play-off encounter and a Kevin Muscat tackle in December 1998 that ended Craig Bellamy’s season and with it Norwich’s promotion hopes, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
Wolves will bring to Carrow Road a slick footballing machine that took the Premier League by storm in their first season back last year. There will also be a strong Norwich connection as on Saturday we welcome back to Norfolk former players, John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett.