It will soon be thirty years since Norwich City last played at Wembley. And after last night’s events, who knows…
OK admittedly, we don’t have the greatest of pedigrees at the old (or new) place. Just three appearances in total since it opened in 1923, and none, so far, at the ‘new’ version since its opened its gates in 2007.
All of those appearances came in League Cup finals of course and all within a twelve year time span from 1973 through to 1985. Interestingly, despite those three appearances and despite being victorious in one of them, we have yet to score a goal there as well, or at least one to call our own, although we have conceded two penalties there, both of which, and this is a rarity for the old place, that were missed.
Even these were both given for the same offence, handball, which, on both occasions was committed by one of our full backs, both of whom escaped red cards-or, as it was back in the day, the long outstretched arm and pointing finger.
Mel Machin was the transgressor in yellow back in 1975, his salmon-like leap to keep the ball out of the goal being equalled by Kevin Keelan who managed to do the same with Ray Graydon’s penalty only for Graydon to tuck away the rebound, that strike providing decisive on the day. It was a hard defeat for the Canaries to take, not least because the Villa manager had, three years earlier, taken Norwich up to the First Division, following up that unlikely rise in status by defying the odds (as well as the pundits) the following season, by keeping us there.
A Canary hero then but a grade A Villa villain on the day. Sound familiar? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Ron Saunders’ god-like status at Carrow Road had never been higher two years prior to that disappointing defeat at the hands of his then team. A Second Division Championship success in 1972 had been followed by a swashbuckling, ‘up and at them’-type inaugural campaign in top flight football that included wins over Derby County (then the reigning Champions); Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Norwich’s route to the final that season had also seen wins over two of the above teams, including an unforgettable 3-0 win at Highbury in the last eight, courtesy of a Graham Paddon hat-trick.
Never mind the danger? We laughed in its face and tickled its tummy.
One of the exceptions to that rule, sadly, being in the final against Tottenham where, if truth be said, the Norwich play lacked the urgency and energy that was demanded of them by Saunders. We could still have won – there were chances, not least a header from Duncan Forbes that went over the bar. But Tottenham prevailed. To lose was no disgrace – after all, it turned out to be, at the time, the best season in the club’s history.
We’d arrived – and you knew, you just knew, there’d be other days out, other trips to Wembley to come. We nearly repeated the feat the following season, losing to Wolves at the semi final stage, the men from Molineux going onto win the final against Manchester City.
Anyone remember the name of the defeated Manchester City manager on the day? Yes, one Ron Saunders, his second consecutive defeat in the final of the competition. How sweet that success against one of his former clubs must have been the following year when he came, saw, and finally conquered – at our expense.
The one time hero of the terraces had left Norfolk determined to find the pathway to bigger and better things in the game. That League Cup success was his first trophy with the club, a prelude to the sort of glories he knew he was capable of achieving, proven when, in 1981, he guided Villa to their first League Championship win for 71 years. Indeed, even though he ended up quitting the club the following year, it was still pretty much his squad and team that won the European Cup the following spring.
So he didn’t do so bad.
Following their defeat in that final, Norwich marked their overall domestic Cup and Wembley aspirations very firmly in the ‘set aside’ file, our renowned cup fighting prowess and aspirations being somewhat dulled by a series of disappointments in both the League and FA Cups.
The subsequent nine seasons from 1975/76 through to 1983/84 were, for the most, forgettable with perhaps a quarter final appearance in the FA Cup in 1983 our most notable cup run of that footballing decade, our dreams that year of an all too rare appearance under the gaze of the twin towers being put to bed by Jimmy Case.
Two years later of course, we finally got there again, meeting Sunderland in the 1985 League Cup Final, the successful denouement of same perhaps remembered as fondly by some for the two-legged win over Ipswich Town in the semi-finals than the actual win on the big day itself. And rightly so perhaps.
The sight of Steve Bruce impaling the Ipswich defence as he headed the winner in front of the old Barclay stand is one that no-one will ever forget, the final act in two games that had everything – chances galore, physical intensity, tension a‘plenty and, at the end of it all, a just and deserved win for Norwich.
How on earth we all mused, after that apocalyptic semi-final, could the final, regardless of the fact that it was a final, it was at Wembley, it would be live on television and that victory would ensure a place in the following seasons UEFA Cup, be anything like those two matches that preceded it?
Well, as things turned out, it didn’t and it couldn’t. That final, played out on a dull and rather damp Sunday afternoon had its moments but, more than anything, it will be remembered more for the occasion than the match itself.
It was a day that started, as so many do for legions of travelling Norwich followers, in the dark. A dank, cold dawn, too early for some. Yet not as early as that which the supporters of our opponents would have had to endure to make Wembley in time. And, if we’d had every right to cock a snook at our semi-final victims, then so did they. We’d eliminated our deadliest rivals whilst they’d seen off, in Chelsea, the proverbial London fancy dans, all West London swank and vulgarity, even then.
Sunderland, fans and club alike were, like us, a side fashioned from hard work and dedication, one followed by devoted, vocal supporters.
Like us, they had an irritant down (in their case, ‘up’) the road – we had Ipswich, they had Newcastle. And, like us, they weren’t TV and newspaper darlings. No-one got worked up into a lather about us or our players, no-one banged our respective drums or championed the cause. We both just got on with it, decent teams, honest managers, good players. Only this year, we’d got a bit of a reward for our efforts, we had a day out at Wembley to look forward to.
Nothing typified the mutual celebrations of the day than the infamous game of football played out between both sets of supporters in the Wembley car park before the game. Did you play in it? Newspaper accounts reckon it was around fifty a side, but I’d say that was an exaggeration – it was probably more than that.
This time, this game, remember, was played at a time when football, at least in England, was laying in the gutter – and, in this case, looking down at it rather than up to the stars. Hooliganism prevailed in our game, violence and disorder was standard and had been for well over a decade.
We weren’t oblivious to it in Norwich. Manchester United fans had rampaged their way through Norwich in the autumn of 1974, just as they did many an unsuspecting City or Town centre throughout that season, whilst, in the spring of 1975, Leeds United fans, enraged at their sides failure to overcome Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup Final rioted in Paris.
Two years after that it was Manchester United’s turn again, their fans rioting before, during and after a European game against St Etienne whilst, in 1978, the thuggish elements from Millwall and Ipswich took part in running battles at the same time as their FA Cup game was being played. Onward and downward. Euro 1980 and the game between England and Belgium was temporarily held up due to fighting England fans behind the goal.
This litany of shame, at both club and international level went on and on and on with Millwall fans disgracing themselves again after an FA Cup game against Luton only days before Norwich and Sunderland met.
Football was public enemy number one, never more so than in the eyes of PM Margaret Thatcher who ultimately wanted every football supporter in the country to carry an ID card. We were going to be branded. I remember going to games and being filmed as we walked the streets to whatever ground we were playing at, mounted police suggesting, in tones that seemed to suggest they’d more than welcome a little physical encounter should the opportunity arise, that you “look at the camera” as you passed.
It wasn’t a happy time for the game. Or the very great majority of supporters.
Yet, on this gloomy Sunday afternoon in London you had dozens of Norwich and Sunderland supporters running amok outside of Wembley. Playing football and loving every moment of it. Smiles, banter and friendships made-all in the space of an afternoon. Footballs rank and file were fighting back.
By not fighting.
The match itself was not a classic and one which didn’t really come to life until early in the second half when a hopeful pass down the Sunderland right was met by David Corner, blissfully unaware, as he shepherded the ball, of the attending John Deehan who robbed him of the ball, that challenge sending it, via Mike Channon, towards another veteran, Asa Hartford.
He was as grizzled and hewn in the rigours of the game as Corner was green and fresh. Hartford, dreams of glory in his mind, attempted to bend the ball around Chris Turner in the Sunderland goal but his shot took a deflection off the static figure of Gordon Chisholm and bounced into the goal, much to the delight of the watching Norwich fans who promptly detonated in a yellow and green technicolour cloud as a delighted Deehan looked towards them, fist clenched in solidarity.
Norwich still haven’t a goal to call their own at Wembley, but what the hell, we’ll take this. One up and all to play for, steady now boys, steady, no need to do anything rash. City Hall awaits the victors.
But this, remember, is Norwich City we are talking about. There has to be some drama, hearts have to leap into mouths, heads must be raised to the heavens in despair. It’s the law. Those more long in the tooth Norwich fans can see it coming, one proclaiming, to anyone who’d listen that “it hin’t over yet” – and it isn’t, oh no, it most certainly is not.
Sunderland break, fast and true, its Barry Venison, a footballing Bee Gee advancing with the ball, cutting into the Norwich area with only Chris Woods between him and immortality, that is, until he is thwarted by the Flying Dutchman, one Denis Van Wijk. His tackle was clean but inconclusive – Venison remains a threat and Van Wijk is going to ground, all looking lost, at least from his perspective, so, in desperation, he sticks out an arm and palms the ball away, as clear and obvious a penalty as you will ever see.
Sunderland rejoice as Woods, head in hands, dances a jig of despair. There has only ever been one penalty miss in a Wembley final and that one doesn’t really count as Ray Graydon had, a decade earlier, scored seconds after Keelan’s initial save. And Walker is as good a penalty taker as there is in the game.
He takes the ball and prepares to go through the motions, the red and white devotees gazing at him in adoration as they prepare for ecstasy. But this is the cunning ecstasy, its darker brother that becomes despair; Walker has fired the ball fractionally wide with Woods even looking as if he might have got a touch to it. He momentarily bows his head as Van Wijk, the most relieved man in the stadium, trotted past in relief, his moment of footballing madness forgiven if not forgotten.
Norwich, of course, held onto to win the game via that solitary goal and the sight of Dave Watson lifting the trophy aloft from atop the 39 steps is one that neither I, or a legion of Norwich fans will ever forget – even if the soundtrack to that moment was a rousing chorus of Blaydon Races coming from the defeated yet still content Sunderland fans.
For that pre-match bonhomie continued as both sets of supporters decanted from the stadium and made for their coaches, with scarves, rosettes and other souvenirs being exchanged amidst the football chat and camaraderie at the end, much to the astonishment of the Met’s finest who found their steeds being offered as many Polo mints as they could ever wish to have as we mingled together in the late afternoon gloom.
It was as good a feeling as the match and its result itself, proof positive that football did have its good side and good people within it, people who had, on that afternoon at least temporarily (for there would be more horrors to come) patched the open wound that was English football in the 1980s.
We can be very proud of our win that day. But we should be even prouder of the day itself. Because, cliché or not, the real winner was, just for once, the game of football. And we were part of it.
It’s a bloody pity that the bus the team did the open topped City tour the following day in was blue though!