The 20th anniversary of City’s UEFA Cup run has triggered memories galore for those of us of a certain age; the autumn of 1993 providing us with six of the headiest of heady days.
Having been fortunate enough to follow City on that European tour – and with the permission of our own, Ed Couzens-Lake – I hope you’ll indulge me if I offer a few memories of my own of those magical three months.
With UEFA finally granting us permission to enter a European competition – the Heysel disaster precluding our path to the UEFA Cup eight years earlier – the arrival of Vitesse Arnhem to the fine city on 15 September 1993 was one of those occasions that will stay forever in the mind.
The 3-0 win was more than any of us had dare dream of – second half goals from Ekoku, Goss, Polston sealing the deal – and a young, fresh-faced Darren Eadie was given his first-team debut that evening, as a replacement for Gary Megson, in front of a crowd of around 18,000 (!). Twas a different world back then…
From my seat in the Upper-Barclay I can distinctly recall the first-half being one of those where you wanted another ball be thrown on for City to play with, such was the comfort and ease of the Dutch in possession. However, once City had got to grips with the occasion and had managed to actually get hold of the ball they never looked back; game effectively over before the return trip.
The second leg was less memorable for the game itself – a fairly drab but ultra-professional 0-0 draw – but more so for the journey to and from Arnhem. The majority travelled to Holland via a convoy of Club Canary coaches that departed Carrow Road the previous evening, and I’m fairly sure I speak for most when I say it was one of the least comfortable or enjoyable journeys ever experienced.
As a mate put it: “Around Europe in Eighty Days with Club Cabbage”.
With lessons learned we set out for Munich courtesy of an independent travel package that included flights to and from Stanstead and an overnight stay. On the face of it, it sounded OK… what could possibly go wrong?
What we hadn’t reckoned on was a passenger plane that had been reconditioned from World War II (at least that’s what it felt like) with the weirdest seating arrangement seen since the days betwixt old South Stand and new Jarrold stand when away fans were offered a single line of seats.
But we got there and the hotel was fine – more Travelodge than Dunston Hall, but still fine.
The game itself was arguably the greatest in the club’s history but, with yours truly having disgraced himself on strong German pilsner lager that same afternoon, is far less clear and vivid in the mind than I’d like it to be.
How could I get it so wrong?
The mind’s not a total blank of course, I can still recall Gossy’s shot flying in shortly followed by Bowen’s glorious header, but a combination of beer goggles and an athletics track around the pitch rendered a feeling of watching events unfold from afar.
With seemingly hundreds of City supporters using the same hotel, the celebrations in the bar afterwards were deservedly boisterous; the sights and sounds of a young Mike Liggins and his BBC camera crew being given the ‘treatment’ still resonating to this day.
The ensuing morning-after feeling was rounded off nicely with the return journey to Stanstead on the Luftwaffe reject; the smoke emanating from one of the plane’s engines of far greater concern to the City supporting passengers than to its crew.
But land safely we did… just in time to head straight to Carrow Road for the second leg.
With Gossy providing John Motson with his finest ever Norwich moment, and the site of one Robert Chase lauding it over his kingdom, the second leg joined the first in the annals of City history. Unlike for the Vitesse game, European football had finally captured the Norfolk imagination and Carrow Road was full; the Bayern fans loud and proud in their corner of the South Stand as Valencia gave them an early lead.
Luckily for City that was as good as it got for Matthäus and co, as Bayern and their fans eventually succumbed to Jerry’s equaliser and the overwhelming tide of emotion that swept over the old place that night. I defy anyone to watch the YouTube clip without the hairs on the back of the neck standing to attention (Try it…).
What Man City would have given for a similar result…
The two games against Inter Milan were of a different ilk. Both resulted in 1-0 defeats with the Milanese not permitting City the chance to build up the head of steam in the way they had so successfully in the previous two ties.
My abiding memory of the home game is the sight of Bergomi literally standing on the boots of Chris Sutton as a cross came in; no chance of leaving the ground let alone heading the ball. The 1-0 defeat dangled enough of a carrot for City fans to travel to Milan with hope… not loads of it, but still a ray or two.
And this time the club excelled itself with regard to travel arrangements; chartered flights from Norwich to Milan ensuring the Yellow Army travelled (almost) as one for the second leg.
The day itself was the Italian equivalent of a Bank Holiday, meaning the kick-off time was curiously in the afternoon, but still the San Siro resembled the Olympic Stadium in that it was less than half full.
The game was similar in pattern to the first leg, with Inter epitomising Italian football of the 90s with their clinical professionalism – but I do recall Efan Ekoku spuring a chance to pull City level right in front of the Y’Army.
Alas it wasn’t to be and Dennis bloody Berghamp hammered the final nail in the Canary coffin with a second-half goal that signalled the end of our European dream.
Little did we realise at the time it would be our one and only taste of Europe; the departure of Mike Walker a few months later, and the resultant relegation, consigning City’s UEFA Cup ambitions to Canary history all too quickly.
For the record, the journey home from Milan wasn’t without its drama either; some horrendous weather over East Anglia meaning the pilot only landed the plane on his third and final attempt before being diverted to goodness knows where.
Once safely on terra firma the European tour was rounded off rather appropriately with Mike Walker and the players greeting the fans as they made their way through Norwich airport.
Once again, little were we to know that Mike Walker’s rallying cry of “Let’s make sure we do this again” was to be nothing more than hollow words as the Chase empire crumbled around him and the club as a whole.
But the memories remain…
Happy days indeed… and with Stoke and Swansea having recently sampled similar journeys, is it really too much to ask that another generation of City fans should one day soon get to experience a similar European journey?
As Des Lynam put it… “The best moments in Norwich City’s history”.