In the first of a two-parter, Ed looks back on some of City’s less successful relegation battles of yesteryear…
So there you have it.
No repeat of the agonising seasons endings of 1974, 1981, 1985, 1995 and 2005, nail biting run-ins all that imploded with the common conclusion of relegation despite, in each and every one of those seasons, a glimmer of hope occasionally appearing on the horizon, a suggestion that everything, after all, might have been alright.
Two successive home wins in March 1974 gave us the optimism that maybe, just maybe, John Bond was going to drag us out of the mire. We’d drawn three successive games before then, following that improvement up with a 2-1 win over Birmingham followed, three days later, by overwhelming Stoke City, Geoff Hurst and all, Johnny Sissons (remember him?) contributing two of the goals on that day. The Canaries were up and running again, off the bottom of the table and just four points from safety. We’d done it the previous season, surely we could escape again?
Well no, we didn’t. Two defeats followed that put us right back in it, including a 4-1 capitulation at Everton that saw the Toffees score all of their goals in a suicidal thirteen minute second half spell. We lost our last two as well and finished bottom, eight points from safety.
The alarm bells were ringing again in March 1981. Following a 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest, we were in 21st place, two points the gap between us and Brighton in the promised land of 19th. Following that defeat, we girded our feathery loins and won four games in a row, decent victories as well – at home to Manchester City and second placed Ipswich, as well as trips to Tottenham and Everton. Form that would, in normal circumstances – and certainly this season – had seen us shoot up the league and banish any lingering relegation thoughts long before the last couple of games as has been, again, this season. The trouble is – all of the clubs around us were winning their games as well, complete and utter bounders that they were – Brighton for example, also won four of their last six, whilst Coventry and Wolves also defied the odds – and our hopes – by winning some of their pressure matches. Hence, by the time we’d seen off Ipswich at Carrow Road on April 20th, we were out of the bottom three – but were just two points ahead of Coventry and Brighton who won when it mattered the most. Consequently, by the time we’d lost to already relegated Leicester City on the last day, Wolves drew whilst Brighton and Sunderland (at Liverpool!) both won. So down we went.
The denouement of the 1984/85 season still rankles with a lot of Norwich fans. Following an impressive 2-1 win at a rain soaked Stamford Bridge in our last game, we were safely sat – or so we thought – in eighteenth place, nine points ahead of Coventry City – and with a better goal difference. There was no way, after all, that Coventry were going to win their last three league fixtures, especially as one of them was against league Champions Everton.
Or so we thought. We’ll draw a veil over what happened next. Suffice to say, following Coventry winning their last three games and sending us down in the process, the Football League decided it might be a rather good idea if all of the final fixtures were played on the same day and date from then on. So nice to think we contributed something via our relegation woes that season. Because, believe me, that one probably hurt more than any other, such was the long, drawn out way in which it took place.
Looking back at the 1994/95 season, it’s not difficult to see why we eventually went down. Seven defeats in our last eight fixtures contributed to that but, even so, the safety margin between us and Crystal Palace was just two points. Two measly points. You have to shudder, even now. After all, that was the season that should never have seen us go down. Following a 4-2 win over QPR on October 22nd, we were sitting pretty in 6th place, having lost just two of our opening eleven league games. We’d played in Europe the previous season, beaten Liverpool at Anfield and, in an extraordinary game across the road from them, beaten Everton 5-1 at Goodison. That form was carried on into the following season with convincing wins over Blackburn, Leeds United (both recent Champions) and Newcastle as well as a rare Cup run, this time to the League Cup quarter-finals. Things were looking good and, if mid-table Premier League obscurity was perhaps a little disappointing, given the exploits of the previous two seasons, we had a new Manager in John Deehan who was steadily rebuilding, a task that his replacement Gary Megson continued. Under Megson we convincingly beat Ipswich 3-0, a game in which John Wark was sent off. It was all highly satisfying – that is, until it became our last win of that season. One point from a possible twenty four followed – and down we went. It has long been cited that the loss of Bryan Gunn to injury earlier that season contributed much to the eventual plummet down the table, with that season’s top scorer, Ashley Ward later admitting in a recent Canaries programme that, “…Bryan’s gloves were big gloves to fill; he was a big influence on the team. He was a major player in the dressing room and on the pitch and to lose someone like him was a massive blow…
Many saw parallels between that season and this one. A good start interrupted by a long term injury to an established and inspirational keeper, as well as an inability to score goals. Ward was the club’s top scorer that season with just 8 goals, just one more than the total so far scored by this season’s equivalents, Grant Holt and Robert Snodgrass. In 21 away league games, that season’s Canaries only scored ten times – we’ve managed just three more so far this season. No wonder more than a few Canary fans were saying that they’d seen it all before as this season progressed. Maybe we had some of the luck of the green we didn’t get that time around this season? Who knows. But if we did-it’s not before time.
Thus we come to the most recent departure from the Premier League for Norwich, that of the 2004/05 season. To be fair, of all the campaigns mentioned here, it’s perhaps fair to say that a lot of people suspected that it was going to end that way in anycase. The overall feeling in and around the club as the new season dawned was that we were going to ‘enjoy the ride’ and that no real, concrete plans had been made to consolidate what Nigel Worthington delivered in the Spring of 2004 – in itself hardly a surprise, as both team and manager had proved their mettle and ambition two years earlier by reaching the Divison One play off final. Was it a case of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail?’ It certainly seemed like it at the time. However, despite the fact that we did seem to know our place and acted accordingly, when it came to the last game of the season, out Premier League fate was, astonishingly, in our own hands. Four wins and one draw from six fixtures meant that a win at Fulham – marooned in mid table – on the last day would mean we maintained, against all the odds and most of our own making – our Premier League status. We all know what happened next however, and I won’t dwell on it – it wasn’t, perhaps, so much the relegation that was disappointing in the end as the manner that it came about. Thankfully, as Saturday showed, when the pressure is on, the class of 2012/13 are collectively made of stronger stuff.
Part two to follow..