I don’t know about everyone else out there in My Football Writer land – but I really, really don’t enjoy the “close season”.
There was a time, not that long ago, when football really did stop in May. You’d have the FA Cup Final followed by the Home International Championships – which lasted all of a week – then that was pretty much it until around about the last week in July/first week in August.
There’d be no football on TV and little mention of it elsewhere. As the football boots were put away then the cricket ones came out. And so it remained until, on some unexpected Sunday, deep into the Summer, you’d be pouring a lazy eye over the sports news in the papers and, tucked away in a corner somewhere, there’d be a little heading along the lines of “Friendly Football Matches” – and, underneath that a list of games that had been played the previous day. Most would be of limited appeal, say Luton 1 Doncaster 0 or Newcastle United XI 4 Stalybridge Celtic 0. And there’d be no accompanying details – no attendance or scorers and certainly no match report, perish the very thought! But, never-the-less, that tantalising little list was enough, just enough, to get the football juices flowing again. I’d scan each and every result in minute detail, Oxford’s plucky 1-1 draw at Wolves, else some early season torment for Tottenham as they went down to Alloa Athletic during their week long tour of Scotland.
If you were particularly adept at scanning the inside pages of the then broadsheet Eastern Daily Press, you might have found, tucked away, a brief mention of how the Canaries were getting on in their pre-season games. Happy days on August 7th 1971 for example, a 1-0 win over Peterborough United at London Road. Not so good, mind you, on August 12th 1974 when the Canaries turned up at Torquay United on a stifling hot Monday evening, losing 1-0 in the process. Mind you, they were one of John Bond’s former clubs so he’s done them a favour going there in the first place, maybe the result didn’t matter too much?
At the end of the 1974/75 season Norwich headed to far more exotic climes for what was then the more traditional ‘end of season tour’. Yes, rather than the players all heading off for their holidays shortly after the last fixture, heading back for pre-season training around six to seven weeks later, tired minds and aching bodies were immediately put into further action. The Canaries completed their league campaign on April 30th, losing 4-1 at home to Aston Villa. It didn’t matter that much of course – both clubs had been promoted and a healthy crowd of 35,943 turned out at Carrow Road to wish John Bond and his promotion winning side all the best for the summer. Eight members of Bond’s squad had played in over fifty competitive games that season, so you’d think they might all have been looking forward to a break, some time with their families and a chance to recharge the proverbial batteries? Not a chance.
Just two days after that final league fixture, the Canaries were in action again, playing an All-Star XI for the benefit of Cambridge United’s Jimmy Thompson at the Abbey Stadium. Somewhat pleasingly and, showing no deference whatsoever to the esteemed Thompson, the Canaries won 4-2. A nice little exercise then, a chance to wind down and do someone a favour. Now, surely, the holidays could begin?
Not a chance. Five days later Norwich were on testimonial duty again, this time taking the short trip down to Layer Road to play Colchester United for the benefit of Paul Aimson whose career at the U’s had been cut short by injury. Colchester won that one 3-2 and, although it isn’t shown in any records I can access, I wonder if Aimson had scored the winning goal? You wouldn’t bet against it.
And so it went on. Two days after that game it was the turn of Dave Stringer. His testimonial was played at Carrow Road against West Ham United, ending in a 1-1 draw. The following Monday, Norwich were off on their travels again, the short trip to Lowestoft Town for a meeting with the Trawler Boys in benefit of, fittingly, the Fishermans Fund. No doubt plenty of fishermen celebrated the result in that case, as Lowestoft won 1-0, a result that might have prompted cries of, “they’ll be dancing on the Waveney Road tonight” – or maybe not.
Four friendlies in ten days for the Canaries then – and all within a few days of the end of a gruelling season. But still it didn’t end! After just over a week off, the squad were summoned again, this time to play a friendly in Gillingham. The game ended 1-1, its purpose remains unclear. Maybe it was simply to serve as a ‘warm up’ for that summer’s main event for Norwich which was their ‘proper’ pre-season tour, a two week, five game trip to Kenya.
For yes, barely a week after the final whistle in that Gillingham game, the Canaries became globetrotters in every sense of the world, flying off to Nairobi on what turned out to be an exhausting but ultimately successful trip to and around the East African nation, then led by Kenya’s first President since gaining their independence, Jomo Kenyatta. He would, no doubt, have attended at least one of the games, all of which ended in victory for Norwich, the details as follows;
- May 31st 1975 Gormahia 1 Norwich City 4
- June 1st 1975 Abaluhya 1 Norwich City 6
- June 7th 1975 Champion Kenya 0 Norwich City 8
- June 8th 1975 Mwenge 1 Norwich City 3
- June 10th 1975 Young Africans 1 Norwich City 2
A successful trip therefore. Five wins, 23 goals and lot of opportunities for the players to go on safari which, no doubt, they would have done – after all, the opportunities to picture Ted MacDougall with a headline along the lines of “big game hunter” would have been too good to miss, surely? Maybe Mick Dennis went out there with them, did you Mick?
The Canaries flew back to Norfolk the following day, nearly six weeks after the season had officially ended. Six weeks and ten matches. Only now could the players start to think about their own holidays – and let’s hope that their plans had been made in advance because there was the small matter of the Anglo Scottish Cup to be thinking of in just a few weeks, a then traditional, if you will, “curtain raiser to the new season” – at least for some clubs who, it seemed, just couldn’t get enough football! The Canaries evidently could not, playing another four games before the 1975/76 league season kicked off on August 16th, making that a total of fourteen games played during that pre-season, an average of just over one game a week.
And this was supposed to be the pre-season! Little surprise therefore, that Norwich lost their first game of that season, a 3-0 tonking to a far more rested and relaxed Manchester City for whom Denis Tueart ran riot – but no wonder, he and his team mates had taken most of the summer off!
It wasn’t as if things got any easier for the Canaries. The final league fixture for Norwich that season was on April 24th 1976, an impressive 2-0 win at Stoke City, Ted MacDougall and Colin Suggett the scorers, that win confirming a then best ever finish of tenth place in the First Division. Yet, just three days later Norwich were on the South Coast, drawing 2-2 at Brighton before heading off again, this time for a three game tour of Norway followed by two more matches, this time in Trinidad.
Much has been said of the club’s pre-season tour to the USA which commences shortly. But, as can be seen, these tours are nothing new and certainly, as far as Norwich are concerned, neither is their magnitude. Because we’d been there before; May 1978 to be precise, a tour that included a game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. With it being America of course, a draw was never going to be the permitted result, and Norwich duly prevailed, 11-10, on penalties. One year on, and, in May 1979 the club managed to top all of their previous efforts by touring New Zealand and Australia, playing a staggering seven games in sixteen days before another five back in England before the season had even started, whilst in 1980, Norwich became one of the first English football sides to tour and play in China, returning to the US the year after that.
So yes, pre-season tour of the US? Been there, done that, swapped our plain yellow shirt for a Tampa Bay Rowdies one. We may well be touring the world now and flying the yellow and green flag accordingly, but we’ve been there before – and no doubt we will again. Only this time, every last little detail, every nuance, every aspect of every day of our US tour will be reported to the finest detail and we will, I am sure, end up knowing what the players are having for breakfast before they do.
Unless they tell us on Twitter first. It’s like we’re going to be out there with them.