My piece for this site last week lamented the steady disappearance from the game of the traditional striking partnership, once relied upon by clubs to get them the goals that won matches, points, trophies and glory.
In many cases, teams were defined by their front pairing. Back in the 1970s for example, you could go through most of the teams in the old First Division and name their front two, even if you weren’t do sure of who the rest of their team was.
Take the 1972/73 season for example; Norwich’s very first in the top flight of English football. Twenty two teams, twenty two pairings in attack. Some great, many formidable, all highly capable of wreaking considerable havoc on their day. Allan Clarke and Mick Jones reigned supreme at Leeds United whilst at Liverpool were Kevin Keegan and John Toshack. Reigning Champions Derby County could boast Kevin Hector and John O’Hare; John Radford and Ray Kennedy ruled the striking roost at Highbury with Malcolm McDonald and John Tudor sharing the responsibilities up at Newcastle.
Even some of the divisions less renowned clubs at the time had names in their front line who caused ripples of panic to tumble their way down the spines of opposing back fours; players who would, had they been playing today, have probably got a chance or three with England, such is the relative dearth of strikers in today’s game.
Take, for example, the attack pairing of Jeff Astle and Tony Brown at West Bromwich Albion. Brown only ever made one appearance for England; scant reward for a Hawthorns career that saw him score 218 goals in 574 league appearances. It’s perhaps fair to say his prowess in and around the opposition’s goal would, had he been playing today, have seen him a near regular international for England. It’s even more probable he wouldn’t then have spent much of his playing career at West Brom but would, after a season, a season and a half or so have found himself on the move to Chelsea; his peak years spent either making substitute appearances in the League Cup or spent on loan at clubs like Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City.
We lucky folk at Norwich started that season with an attacking partnership that featured David Cross and Jimmy Bone. Neither were household names, indeed both had very humble footballing backgrounds, having arrived at Norwich from Rochdale and Partick Thistle respectively – a far cry from more recent Canary hunting grounds where such players are concerned, the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Celtic and Galatasaray. Put another way, had Norwich gone into this season with a contemporary version of Cross and Bone, we would have been lining up against Everton in August with Bobby Grant and Kris Doolan in attack. Except, of course, the team selected would have just the one of them leading the line.
Imagine the cries of “little old Norwich” had that been the case! The Pink Un message board would have imploded.
Yet, despite their modest footballing CVs, both Cross and Bone made a huge impact – not just at Norwich but in English football in particular, especially the former. David Cross ended his first season as a top flight footballer with sixteen league and cup goals, a hugely respectable haul for a man who – like Grant Holt – worked his way up the divisions, defying the critics wherever he played.
Cross would, having signed for Rochdale straight from playing for both his Grammar School and a Boys XI, have had his detractors at Spotland from the start. A total of 21 goals in 59 league games soon put those doubts to bed, as did – upon his initial elevation to the Second Division with Norwich – 8 more in 32 appearances during the Second Division Championship winning campaign of 1971/72. Hardly stellar stuff, but more than enough to convince Ron Saunders of his potential and, critically, his bravery. For Cross was one of those players who thought nothing of putting his head where most players would think twice about placing their boot, his courage and tenacity unrivalled.
With Cross ready and able to take the kicks and elbows from opposing defenders, time, space and protection was afforded to Ken Foggo and Peter Silvester who managed 25 goals between them that season – nearly half the Canaries final total of goals scored.
Foggo’s part during that promotion winning season at Norwich was about as good as it got for him at Carrow Road. He featured only twice in that debut top flight season that followed, both of those appearances coming from the bench as, with Peter Silvester a victim to long term injury worries, Saunders traded Foggo’s pace and goalscoring ability for the rather more gnarly qualities of Bone. Foggo did, and will always have, his devotees at Norwich… even today. However, the one aspect of his game that concerned Saunders was his unerring ability, intentional or not, to occasionally ‘go missing’ in games.
This is perhaps an unfair slight on Foggo the player. He was the archetypal winger of the day, a steadily diminishing rarity in Alf Ramsay’s inspired days of the 4-4-2 formation and, for all his speed and guile, he was either show stealingly brilliant or totally anonymous – more often than not in the same game.
Bone, on the other hand, was an ‘in your face’ player – opponent, teammate, supporter, he didn’t care or discriminate. He played the game with the sort of abandon you’d expect to see in a school playground; wherever the action was, he would be there, whatever and wherever it was and regardless of whether the ball was involved. For a player like Cross, a partner like Bone must have been manna from heaven, the type of player and strike partner you need in the pressure cooker of a promotion race as well as the different pressure that any first season at a higher level brings.
Bone came, performed and went; a short term fix maybe, but nonetheless he helped Cross to shine with each player benefitting the other – whatever qualities Bone had would be the ones that Cross was lacking – and vice versa.
Cross acknowledged this in an interview he gave to this site’s founder Rick Waghorn in 2004, explaining that whilst he was a “…back to play, keep the ball, blend it back to the midfield or touch it onto my co-striker” type of centre forward, Bone was more an exponent of the “face them up, go at you” approach. Opposites attract – and, as it had long been shown in football during this era, that was often the key to a great striking partnership.
At Leeds United for example, Clarke was the more languid member of the pairing, looking for space and chances in and around the penalty area whilst his strike partner, Mick Jones, worked the entire pitch, looking for the ball, winning it and seeking to make things happen. It was from his pin point centre that Clarke scored the winning goal for Leeds in the 1972 FA Cup final. Take a look at it on You Tube. All of the work is done by Jones, taking the pass, running with the ball, beating the full back before sending over a cross that any winger might have been proud to call his own. That ball may as well have had Clarke’s name, address and postcode on it. He is there ready to score one of the more memorable FA Cup final goals and, with it, to take the glory – yet the work, the application and the energy that had gone into the goal had been from Jones.
Cross and Bone were a similar pairing. Bone was, in the twelve months or so he was at Norwich, almost a leading light, a star name in a field of artisans, the player who most opposing fans would have named first as being in their opponents starting XI. Cross acknowledges this in the same interview, admitting that, “Jimmy became the instant star attraction for the fans.” Yet, despite all of that, it was the hardworking, hard running and courageous Cross who went out to carve a more than respectable career in the game.
Those sixteen League and Cup goals that Cross contributed to the Canary cause during that inaugural top flight season were a heady mix that only commenced for him in the club’s tenth league game of the season with a headed contribution in the 3-2 win over Arsenal at Carrow Road on 23 September 1972. A fortnight later, poacher Bone turned provider, his low centre being turned in by a lurking Cross in the 3-1 defeat at Newcastle. He scored a brace the following week in Norwich’s 2-1 win over Tottenham here before scoring for the third consecutive game in an impressive 2-1 win against Leicester City at Filbert Street. Cross and Norwich were up and running; he’d now scored five goals in five games whilst Norwich, who commenced the season as top flight relegation favourites (for the first, but not last time) had, with that win, lifted themselves to 6th place in the Division One table – just four points behind leaders and eventual champions Liverpool.
It was a season that was not too dissimilar to our Premier League campaign last time out. True, there was no unbeaten run to boast but, after a 2-0 win against West Brom on November 18th, the Canaries remained in sixth place having won eight and drawn five of their first eighteen league games. It was a run that, had they matched it last season would have seen the Canaries lying in eighth place in the Premier League by early December – which would have raised more than one eyebrow then, just as our similar run of form at that time did.
It was a tribute to Ron Saunders and his side who had started out the 1972/73 campaign with an attitude of “no fear”, some of their high tempo, attacking football at odds with the somewhat dour reputation Saunders had – then and now. However, following that win and again mirroring what happened a year ago, Norwich had a dreadful run of form that saw the club winless for a run of eighteen games, one that saw them crash back down the table into bottom place; the position we occupied when Chelsea came calling on April 14th.
Despite that run, little or no pressure had been put on Saunders, either within the club or from the fans. Faith, if not blind, had certainly been placed in him to arrest the slump but by the time of that Chelsea fixture, the phrase “must win” entered the Canary lexicon for the first time. And, cometh the hour, cometh the man…
The single goal that secured a priceless victory for Norwich was as good a team effort as had been seen at Carrow Road that season. Neat interplay between Ian Mellor and the unplayable Suggett cued up the opportunity for Cross who sent a shot of such strength and intent past Peter Bonetti, the ex-Chelsea keeper probably doesn’t know, even today, that he’d conceded. Cross was by now without his old mucker Bone, who’d moved onto Sheffield United as part of the deal that brought Caledonian warrior Trevor Hockey to Carrow Road, and as a result had been expected to work even harder. He duly responded, repeating that happy goalscoring habit a week later as Norwich won 1-0 at West Brom, seizing the ball from not even a half chance and burying it before anyone could react, least of all the West Brom defence. It was another priceless two points, a win that lifted Norwich out of the bottom two places and going a long way to helping secure the club’s place in the First Division.
Norwich had arrived. A little battered and bruised maybe, but they had lifted themselves out and away from the danger zone just when they had most needed to. The timing of those late wins (three in their last five games) was a tribute to the faith that had been placed in Saunders and his players – with David Cross emerging from it not only as the clubs highest goalscorer but, in a team of few stars, one who looked as if he might just break with tradition and go onto be one himself; eclipsing Bone, who burned brightly but briefly for the club in the opening half of that campaign.
By his own high standards, David Cross struggled at the start of the following season – as did the Canaries. We failed to repeat our flying start of the previous season and, by the time we travelled to Stoke City on November 10th, Norwich were 19th in the table and falling fast with only two wins in their first fifteen league games. Cross had netted just twice in that run – yet that didn’t stop his list of admirers growing from amongst Norwich’s peers.
Cross eventually signed for Coventry City on 14 November 1973, leaving a gap in the Canaries’ front line that was, at the time, impossible to fill with both Paul Cheesley and Ian Mellor the fall guys who attempted to do just that before also eventually moving on themselves. Neither was able to fill the void or expectations of the supporters, aghast at the sale of yet another (Cross following in the footsteps of the likes of Bly, Davies and Curran) centre forward to a rival.
For Ron Saunders it was too much to bear. He had been, for the first time in his Norwich career, under extreme pressure to deliver that season. Now, with his star striker and talisman gone, all he could offer for the league game against Everton three days after Cross had left was a side bereft of a target man and outlet. Everton duly made hay, winning 3-1 at Carrow Road, the final whistle seeing disgruntled Norwich fans throwing their seat cushions onto the pitch in protest.
Ron Saunders quit in the club boardroom after a brief but reportedly vocal altercation with club board members shortly after that final whistle. He had been appointed because he was a man who people didn’t mess around. The sale of Cross would have meant, as far as he was concerned, that him and his team and plans *were* being messed around with. His exit was the end result.
David Cross, meanwhile, carried on where he left off, scoring 30 goals in 91 league games for Coventry City before moving onto West Brom and West Ham, where he won an FA Cup winners medal. He currently works for Blackburn Rovers as a performance analyst – a man with his work cut out you might think – but then David Cross never did shirk a challenge.