Cue sighs of relief all round after the West Ham game then?
A welcome win and performance to go with it as well as a chance to see a few goals at Carrow Road, one of which, Robert Snodgrass’s free kick was as good an execution of a set piece as you’ll see anywhere in the Premier League this season. Indeed, as the hackneyed old saying goes, “…if it had been <insert name of superstar here> who’d scored that goal, we’d all be hearing about it for months afterwards.”
And indeed we would. But to hell with the perceived lack of positive publicity for our players and our results, a win is – as another hackneyed old saying goes – is a win, and I’ll take the three points and quiet indifference about it from the world at large compared to going down with all guns blazing by five goals to four and winning plaudits in the process.
So yes, that win did come at a good time (mind you, is there ever a time when it isn’t good to win?) breaking, as it did, a run of poor form that has seen the Canaries win just three of their opening eleven league games this season, conceding 21 goals in the process.
A sequence of games and results that had caused, shall we say, no little consternation amongst some sections of the Canary support. And whilst people might have had some justification in their concern at how things were going, I do wonder how all of we armchair critics might have coped back in the 1956/57 season.
Because if there was ever a dark nadir in the annals of Norwich City history then that was the time.
But first of all, a little background story.
The 1955/56 season drew to a close with Norwich in a respectable finishing place of 7th in the old Division Three South. And there is reason for optimism in and around Carrow Road. Tom Parker has recently been reappointed as manager, the man who, over two decades earlier had led the club to the top of the pile, Division South Champions by seven points, 88 goals scored and, in Billy Warnes and Jack Vinall, two forwards who had wreaked, Holt and Martin-like, considerable havoc in what is now the equivalent to League One, scoring 42 of those goals between them. It was the club’s first ever piece of significant silverware and elevation to the Division Two for the first time in the Canaries history as a result.
It’s May 1934. With all of that and a new ground just eighteen months away, it was a good time to be a Norwich City supporter.
Little wonder, therefore that, following the departure of Norman Low in April 1955, the club turned again to Parker, long since departed, to ask, beg, cajole of him – could he repeat that magic again? Five men had come and gone since Parker’s initial departure with none of them able to even come close to achieving what they had done under his leadership. But could he be tempted to return at all?
Now bear in mind that, following that first title success in 1934, Parker’s stock in the game rose considerably. It came as no surprise, therefore when he was eventually lured away by Southampton, the club he had spent the first part of his playing career with. That clarion call to return to The Dell came in March 1937 and, unsurprisingly, Parker found himself unable to resist the chance to manage his boyhood team. He did, however, leave the Canaries in relatively good shape – a 0-0 draw against Blackburn Rovers in his last game in charge had been preceded by an impressive 2-0 win at Blackpool; two good performances that saw Norwich comfortably in mid-table with a third of the season left. A more than decent legacy and one, you feel, that any half decent manager would have been able to build upon.
Except of course, this was Norwich City we are talking about. So it was time for a little drama and quite a lot more controversy in and around Carrow Road.
The club’s initial choice to replace Parker was ex-Sunderland player Bob Young. He was not, however, able to build on the progress that the club had made under Parker, ending the season with the Canaries in 17th place, their lowest finishing position since promotion. Things didn’t pick up during the 1937/38 season either and, after a miserable start to the 1938/39 campaign that saw Norwich lose their opening four league games, form that never picked up and which saw them, ultimately, enter the Christmas period one place off the bottom of the league, a 0-5 defeat at the hands of Manchester City in the FA Cup 3rd round tie at Carrow Road seals Young’s fate.
Young, as have so many managers, found the task of following a popular and relatively successful one just a little too much to ask. Thus, once again, Norwich were on the lookout for a new man at the helm – only now they are in one of the relegation places and struggling. A safe pair of hands, you would assume, would be the standout quality of any replacement, someone who has been there, done that, knows the league, knows the players.
Or so you would think.
The man who Norwich eventually appointed to replace Young and, in doing so, strive to bring back the air of positivity and progress the club had been making under Parker was Arthur Jewell or Jimmy, as he was more well known. He was certainly experienced in football, having spent several years at the very top of his profession including, less than a year before his arrival at Carrow Road, having appeared in the FA Cup Final.
As the referee. Because Jewell was, at the time, the country’s leading man in the middle, the Howard Webb of his day. Yet he gave all of that up in order to become the manager of Norwich City where he remained, winning just six of his twenty games in charge before, if thankfully for the club, then most certainly not for most of the rest of the world, war broke out and the domestic football programme was suspended until 1946.
Young duly returned to guide the club through what football was played during the war (the late, great Bill Shankly was a guest player for Norwich during that time) until, with football’s return to the calendar in August 1946 Norwich found themselves, as a result of the Young and Jewell’s time at the club back in the Division Three South where, a decade and three further managers* later, the club remained having gone through ten years of footballing mediocrity. Little wonder therefore that, when Parker accepted the invitation to return to Carrow Road in May 1955, eighteen years after he originally left the club (has there been a bigger gap between managers rejoining a club for a second time?) hope once again sprang eternal.
Thus we find ourselves at the end of his first season back in charge, 1955/56. That seventh place finish and goals a’plenty in the form of Ralph Hunt who scored an extraordinary 31 times in 45 league appearances that season. Hunt had been one of Parker’s first acquisitions for Norwich upon his return to the club and had repaid the man who had plucked him from Bournemouth with some style. With Parker back at the helm and Hunt scoring at will, the 1956/57 season couldn’t come quickly enough for Norwich fans – and who could blame them?
That season certainly began well. Norwich won four and drew two of their first six league games meaning that, after the 3-0 win over Coventry City on September 5th 1956, they were top of the table. Things were looking good.
Which is why the dramatic fall from grace that followed is such an unlikely tale.
Two away defeats followed that win against the Sky Blues, but they only seemed a hiccup as, on September 15th, Norwich beat Plymouth Argyle 3-0, Hunt scoring twice, moving back up to third place in the table as a result, one point behind Parker’s old club, Southampton. It was to be the Canaries last league win that season for twenty five games, a duck that they didn’t break until Millwall came to Carrow Road on March 2nd and lost 2-0. But by now the damage had been done. For despite that win, the abysmal run of form that had come before it, one that had included a 7-1 defeat at Torquay United, a 6-3 mauling at Walsall and a humiliating 5-2 reverse at home to Reading – City had been 0-4 down at half time – Norwich were in bottom place; the position they ended the season in with just eight wins from their 46 league matches and 94 goals conceded – a 3-0 win against Shrewsbury at Carrow Road on the last day doing little to mollify the fans with a sparse crowd of just 7,620 in attendance.
Parker had, by then, long gone; dismissed after the 1-1 draw against Brentford on March 30th. His second coming had ended, as seems to be so often the case in the game with either players or managers, in disillusionment and disappointment; the lowlight of his and the clubs miserable season coming in the FA Cup 1st round tie against non-league Bedford Town on November 17th, right in the middle of that barren spell of winless games and poor form with the non-leaguers winning on the day by four goals to two. It was the lowest point of what had been a terrible season for the club, one that, quite possibly, remains the very worst in its long and proud history.
Parker, 60 at the time of his dismissal, left the game in order to work at the Southampton shipyards where, you would hope, he was rather more adept at keeping vessels afloat. He returned to his first and prime footballing love, Southampton, in 1962 in a scouting role – one he kept until 1975, a year before the Saints won the FA Cup Final. He stands out in Norwich City history as having had one of the best and one of the very worse seasons in the club’s history under his charge – and it is, I would hope, as the man who led the club to its very first major domestic honour that he should be remembered, that Division Three South title success in 1934; the springboard perhaps for all that was to follow at the club in terms of progress as well as, critically, expectancy.
I don’t doubt that he and Chris Hughton would have had a lot in common to talk about.
With re-election to the football league won, Norwich City found themselves – at the start of the 1957/58 season – in the unusual position of being able to go in only one direction: up. The fact that they managed to do this is not surprising – what is surprising and what is a story in itself is how. Barely two seasons after that FA Cup humiliation at the hands of Bedford, the club found itself just 90 minutes away from a place in the FA Cup Final as they went from near footballing extinction to the brink of not just Wembley, but an unlikely promotion to the First Division in less than five years after Parker left the club for the second and final time.
That remarkable upturn in the club’s progress was largely down to the impact made at the club by the man chosen to replace Parker – a passionate and fiercely ambitious Scot who, having made his playing name at West Ham United and Arsenal (where he won a First Division Championship medal) was determined to bring that sort of success to his new club as an up and coming young manager.
His name? Archibald Renwick Macaulay.
And he more than deserves a piece all to himself.
*Duggie Lochhead, Cyril Spiers and Norman Low.