It’s been a bit of a retrospective time for Norwich City supporters over the last week or so.
Much capital has been made in the local media of the fact that it is now twenty years since our famous UEFA Cup victory over Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium. There have been souvenir editions of the Pink Un, interviews with Jeremy Goss and Mike Walker on Radio Norfolk and a further interview and feature with the former on Anglia News. Even the BBC have deigned to retell the story on their national website, reminding the wider world of just what ‘little old Norwich’ achieved both on that night and during that first ever Premier League season that preceded it.
Thus, fleetingly, we have had our moment in the sun again – locally and nationally. And it’s been enjoyable, no doubt about that, especially for those of us that remember those games, the players and that time in the clubs history. That team and players are now feted and held in high esteem just as much as those that took part in another Canary cup run, that being, of course, when, as a Third Division side, we knocked out, amongst others, Manchester United and Tottenham on our way to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Was that the greater achievement? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Because the wider issue that has been come to the fore at this time has been the suggestion that we all give rather too much time and energy reminiscing about times past and should, perhaps, dwell more on the here and now as regards Norwich City rather than focusing on a flock of yellow and green yesterdays. It’s one I’ve been thinking of for much of the season, not least when someone from the wrong end of the A140 chose to mock the opening page in the club programme, the one that lists all the relevant information about the club – from how we can be contacted to who is on the board and the names of those on the football management team.
Plus the clubs list of honours.
And that’s where he or she had their little bit of fun. Because, when all is said and done, that list is not a particularly distinguished one. Canary moments of triumph and glory do not roll off the tongue in the manner they might flow for a Manchester United fan – a steady and never ending flow of cups, championships and honours won that take up most of a page – likewise many of the great, good and not so good of English football, all of whom can boast a history that is positively littered with trophies and acclaim.
Even Ipswich Town have three major honours to their name for goodness sake, one each of a League Championship, FA Cup and UEFA Cup – feats celebrated with little white stars above the badge on the clubs shirts – and why not. After all, if Brazil can show off their five World Cup wins, the most recent of which was in 2002 (no doubt they’ll add another next year) on their famous yellow shirt, why shouldn’t Ipswich show off their one League Championship success from over half a century ago?
And that’s the point.
We may be guilty of dwelling a little too self indulgently on our past every now and again, but so does every club. Bar none. But is it a good thing or an exercise in nostalgic futility, a yearning for a perceived golden age in a game that is so relentless in going forward it is sometimes in danger of eating itself?
I’ve already mentioned Manchester United. If any English club has the right to celebrate their past it’s them. And they do. In an era where statues of club greats outside football stadia have almost become the norm, there are eternal monuments to five figures from their past outside Old Trafford, one of whom, Sir Matt Busby, has also had a road named after him. There are also statues of ex-players and managers outside, at the last count, 25 Premier and Football League clubs, many of whom have more than one, whilst Middlesbrough, Derby County and Nottingham Forest all lay claim to Brian Clough.
That’s over a quarter of teams in England and Wales who feel so strongly about some of the treasured personnel from their past they have felt the need to preserve them forever, a permanent reminder of a golden age.
Take Carlisle United for example and their statue to ex-player Hugh McIlmoyle. He had three spells at the club, from 1962-1965, 1967-1970 and 1974-1975, playing in 174 league games, scoring 76 times in the process. More than respectable. But it isn’t as if he was a one club man (McIlmoyle played for six other English clubs as well as for Morton in Scotland) or led them to a trophy or two. True, he was there during their one season in the top flight, the 1974/75 campaign, but, even so, his impact then, when he was 34, was modest with him only contributing two goals all season.
Yet his memory and achievements at Brunton Park were deemed enough for Carlisle to invest in that statue in 2005. Maybe local lad Holty wants to join him there in bronze one day – Norwich legend but Carlisle fan. You never know.
So it isn’t just us that contentedly bathe in the warm waters of our not-so illustrious past. All clubs do it to one extent or another; whether its Manchester United with their holy quintet or Arsenal with their impressive mural that surrounds the Emirates. A visual celebration of their own impressive past; one that celebrates the abiding memory of club greats like Patrick Viera and Dennis Bergkamp as well as Steve Bould and Ray Parlour. That’s right. Footballing deification of Ray Parlour. Ridiculous? Not if you’re an Arsenal fan.
Those aforementioned three white stars that adorn the shirt of our once league rivals commemorate silverware won in 1962, 1978 and 1981; the latter being the year of their UEFA Cup success. And yes, they may have won the trophy that year whilst we went out in the third round.
However, had our early rounds in that year’s competition been against opposition like Aris Thessaloniki FC, FC Bohemians Praha and Widzew Lodz, then we may have gone further. Ipswich didn’t play any seriously ranking opposition in that year’s tournament until they reached the semi-finals where they came up against Bundesliga team 1. FC Köln. They may well have gone onto win the trophy – but it’s not as if they slew any European giants on the way with those that could have been regarded as such, then and now – Barcelona and Juventus both exiting the competition at an early stage.
Regardless of that, their achievement in winning the UEFA Cup that season is still a laudable one – just as the successes of Eintracht Frankfurt and IFK Goteborg in the years immediately before and after their win – but do they commemorate lifting the trophy with a star as well? No. Admittedly, there is one single star in the current IFK Goteborg shirt. But that’s there as a modest tribute to their eighteen Swedish league titles.
Just as well really that they don’t have one for each of their domestic trophy wins really as that would mean finding room for 49 stars on their shirt. Maybe they’ll go crazy when it reaches fifty, as it probably will this season, and make the existing one a little bigger. Or more prominent. Or maybe not, maybe they’ll just get on with winning things, something which they do seem to be rather good at.
And something which we seem to be very good at in England is this habit of celebrating historical moments of glory – be they international, national or strictly parochial affairs – that relate to our favourite clubs. And if we seem to have placed rather too much emphasis this week on what was, after all, ‘only’ a run to the third round of the UEFA Cup, then we still do so with pride and pleasure – just the same as all of our contemporaries in the game do, have done and forever will, as long as their club exists.
Just as Colchester United fans will always remember their FA Cup win over Leeds United in 1971. Likewise, all of those Parka-clad lads who invaded the pitch when Hereford defeated Newcastle United a year later. And how about Coventry City? They may currently be in the type of footballing wilderness that we found ourselves in a few years back, but it didn’t stop former players and management gathering last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their solitary FA Cup win. And neither should it.
Three example of how other clubs, just like us, honour great moments and wonderful memories from their past. But there are many others, indeed, too many to list here. But rest assured, we are not the only ones who celebrate our past and, just as the Euro memories have come pouring out this year (and may do again in five years time!) then, next week, next month, next year, another club will be doing just the same.
Indeed, long lost days of yore become a benchmark for many clubs. We’ve all heard it in recent years, how it had been ‘x’ years since Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City had won a league title, how its ‘y’ years since England won the World Cup and ‘z’ years since Liverpool qualified for the Champions League.
So much of what happens in football today, right here and right now, is defined by what happened in the past and success is measured not so much by what you might achieve on the day but also by how many times you have done it before and, critically, when you last did it. Even Wigan’s success in the FA Cup last season seemed to be dwarfed by the constant reminders of how their owner, Dave Whelan, broke his leg playing in the final over 50 years prior to then.
So even when we look forward in football there is always half an eye looking back. But I don’t have a problem with that, and, as such, don’t think we spend too much time immersing ourselves in the clubs past glories, however modest they may seem compared to those of others. And that includes Ipswich Town.
Firstly because we’re not the only club or set of supporters that choose to celebrate our past. Because all supporters and all clubs do so – whether that be a Champions League trophy, a Championship, Cup, single match or even a significant goal. It’s part of football and long may that continue.
Secondly because looking to remove all traces of a clubs successful history in some sort of attempt to prove a point, to have a ‘year zero’ moment and start anew can, and often does, rebound on the perpetrator. When Brian Clough took over as Leeds United manager in 1974 he famously had all the old fixtures and fittings of the Don Revie era removed from view. Photos and other assorted tributes were taken down or even destroyed, Clough even went as far as to have Revie’s perfectly serviceable desk removed from his office and replaced by a new one. This act of denial at Elland Road ultimately cost him his job. Needless to say, upon his appointment as Clough’s successor, the somewhat more genial Jimmy Armfield had them all put back up again and Leeds promptly reached the European Cup final where only a refereeing display of some eccentricity prevented them from winning the trophy and, in all possibility, re-launching themselves as a major player in the game once again.
Managers have done it ever since. More recently it was Paolo Di Canio who, upon his appointment as Sunderland manager earlier this year did exactly the same thing as Clough, removing as much evidence as he could of the clubs past from both the Stadium of Light and training ground. We all know how that ended up, that act of disrespect making him enemies at the club from the very start.
And thirdly because championing a clubs past achievements should serve as that benchmark for what is to come. The nostalgia that surrounded the European run last week has prompted new discourse, this time on how it should be possible for the club to do it again, either by a high league finish or success in one of the Cups. We’ve all been told that, financially, it simply isn’t worth qualifying for the Europa League but, lest some people forget, this is, first and foremost, a football club that we are talking about here and that aspiring to play at the highest level of the game should always be our goal.
Yes, the Europa League has its critics. But participation in it is still the reward for success. And success on the pitch is as important as success on it, indeed, each should begat the other.
So in looking back we can strive to look forward again. And if the oft-shown scenes of those great moments can’t inspire the players of today to want to experience some of that for themselves, then what will?
Hunter Davies famously called football “the glory game”. So let’s celebrate those past glories in Norwich City history. And feel inspired enough by them to want to do it all over again. And as soon as possible.
Special Pink Un pullout in the EDP in 2034 anyone?