Did anyone here get either Tiger & Scorcher or Roy of the Rovers comics when they were younger? I remember the arrival of the Christmas issues for both publications marking, for me, the real beginnings of the festive season. The comics title had an obligatory layer of snow on it, there were festive stories inside and the inevitably either Roy Race or Hamish Balfour would wish “…all of our readers a very Happy Christmas!” in a garish centre spread that was probably hastily drawn the previous August.
Billy Dane would lose his boots (again) and, as a consequence, have the proverbial nightmare in the first-half of the game against the toffs at the local public school, only for them to miraculously turn up at half-time after which, in a thrilling and snow laden second half, Billy would score five goals to earn Groundwood School an unlikely 5-4 win.
Happy days for Billy. And for his Gran, both of whom went home to a sumptuous Christmas dinner afterwards. Football and Christmas – made for each other – and long may that tradition continue, even if we no longer have a full programme of games on the big day itself.
For Norwich City players and fans alike, this time of the year has had more than its fair share of both highlights and lowlights, some of which I am going to look back on now and over the next couple of weeks as we reflect on days of Canary Christmases past…
18th December 1976
Bottom of the table Sunderland are the Canaries hosts in a lively clash played on John Bond’s 44th birthday. It isn’t the happiest of days for our larger than life manager however as, following a tackle from Sunderland’s Jim Holton, Graham Paddon is left with a broken leg. Rightly aggrieved, Bond takes to the pitch to remonstrate with the giant Sunderland centre-back – however, to his credit, Holton seems as distressed about the injury to Paddon as anyone and peace is soon restored. For the unfortunate Paddon, it means the end of his season in only his third game back at the club since his move from West Ham – indeed, it is nearly a year before he pulls on a Norwich shirt again. Thankfully for Bond and the travelling Norwich support, the long journey back from Wearside is softened somewhat by virtue of a 1-0 victory, Viv Busby heading home a John Ryan cross after 25 minutes.
19th December 2003
Mathias Svensson joins Norwich from Charlton Athletic for an initial fee of just £50,000. That fee is a good omen – many great players have arrived at Norwich for that relatively small fee; amongst them Martin Peters, Kevin Reeves and Tony Powell. Svensson makes his Canaries debut two days later in a typically fierce local derby clash against one-time closest rivals Ipswich Town at Portman Road, only to have his thunder not so much stolen, as ram raided away from him by a certain Leon McKenzie; two goal hero on the day. Svensson turns out to be another useful bargain buy for Norwich, scoring 11 goals in his 44 appearances for the club.
20th December 1930
Norwich beat Gillingham 4-0 at The Nest in front of a precariously perched crowd of 6,048 – less than half of that season’s highest attendance of 13,380, all of whom, no doubt, enticed and enthralled at the prospect of seeing Thames in their first (and penultimate) season in English football. The goalscorers in the romp against the unfortunate Gills are Thomas Williams (3) and Thomas Hunt. Williams was a former Gillingham player and, although his career at Norwich saw him make just 28 appearances in total, he scored 13 goals during that time – a more than respectable return. His goalscoring namesake in this game, Thomas Hunt, is the main character in one of the Canaries more unusual transfer tales. He’d arrived at Norwich from Wolves in May 1929, making a sensational start to his Norwich career by scoring 9 goals in his first 10 games for the club. This form and penalty box prowess embarrassed his former club so much that, rather than admit they had let a potential star go for nothing, they claimed that he was still their player and was only “on loan” to the Canaries. This claim brought a spirited response from both club and supporters, with enough money swiftly raised to ‘persuade’ Wolves to change their mind. However a fashion that would be repeated by one David Nielsen many years later, Hunt went off the goalscoring boil once his ‘permanent’ agreement with Norwich had been finally confirmed; ending the 1930/31 season with seven goals from 16 appearances, a modest return compared to his 25 from 29 the previous campaign.
21st December 1985
Millwall turn up at Carrow Road for the Canaries last game before Christmas – and end up perhaps wishing they hadn’t bothered after being on the end of a 6-1 mauling. Four goals in less than half an hour earn the Canaries a standing ovation at half time from the disappointingly low crowd of just 12,349. Peter Mendham gets things started after just four minutes with David Williams making it 2-0 five minutes later. Mark Barham made it 3-0 with a fine solo effort before Williams adds the fourth after 33 minutes. Millwall’s performance befits the name of the match referee, Vic Callow and it is Mr Callow who is soon put to work again in the second half with Kevin Drinkell adding the fifth after just over fifteen minutes of more non-stop Canary pressure. The Lions go onto concede a sixth via a powerful shot from Mike Phelan before grabbing a late consolation through Teddy Sheringham. This was a fifth consecutive victory for Norwich, a winning run which they went onto double, a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace on 25 January making it ten wins in a row; a sequence which did much to secure the Division Two title at the end of that season.
22nd December 1979
The Canaries travel to Highbury for a Division One fixture, emerging with a creditable 1-1 draw. The game is played on a snow covered pitch, but, rather than postpone it as the authorities would doubtlessly do now, the players are given an orange ball and told to get on with it. Frank Stapleton opens the scoring for the Gunners after 53 minutes only for Norwich to equalise a quarter of an hour later via Kevin Bond; one of eleven goals the manager’s son scored for the club that season. The two sides’ respective goalkeepers, Pat Jennings and Kevin Keelan, are amongst the more venerable professional footballers performing at the top level on the day – their combined ages at kick off are 72, with Keelan only a fortnight away from his 39th birthday.
23rd December 1996
Norwich sign Matt Jackson from Everton for, at the time, an eye watering £450,000. Mike Walker’s decision to spend big on defensive reinforcements is hardly one that needs explanation – in the two games leading up to Jackson’s arrival, the Canaries had lost 5-1 to West Brom and 6-1 to Port Vale; the latter game earning a surprisingly critical comment from the EDP post match, the paper saying that the result and performance was an “insult to the supporters”. Ouch! Port Vale midfielder Stuart Talbot made 137 league appearances in his six year spell at the club, the hat-trick he scored on that day representing exactly one quarter of his total goal output for the club during that time. Jackson makes his Norwich debut three days after signing for the club but things don’t immediately get any better defensively for the Canaries as their three game aggregate of goals conceded increases to 14 after the 3-2 defeat at QPR. Two consecutive clean sheets follow however with Jackson scoring his first Norwich goal in one of them, the 1-0 win over Portsmouth at Carrow Road on New Year’s Day 1997.
24th December 1949
Fixture congestion? Clubs today don’t know how lucky they are! Norwich’s trip to play Bristol City on Christmas Eve is followed two days later by a home game against Nottingham Forest; the Canaries travelling up to Nottingham immediately after that match for the return fixture just 24 hours later. The Canaries win their game against their Bristol counterparts by two goals to one, goals from Noel Kinsey and Les Eyre sealing the points in front of an Ashton Gate crowd of nearly 16,000. The corresponding fixture the previous season had lured only 10,969 to watch. Clearly, it would seem, football so close to Christmas was a winner as far as the spectators were concerned. Goalscorer Eyre is another Canary with an interesting past. He’d been noted by Norwich Manager Cyril Spiers as a dazzling and fleet of foot left-sided player whilst representing the RAF overseas; joining Norwich and the professional ranks at the relatively advanced age of 25. His Canary goalscoring record of 69 strikes in 201 appearances leave you wondering quite what he might have achieved in the senior ranks of the game had he come to it five years earlier.
What Christmas-related football memories and recollections do readers of MyFootballWriter have, Norwich City related or otherwise? There are plenty of tales to tell and I’ll continue in this vein next week with more trivia and miscellany for the Canary period 25 – 31 December.
In the meantime, thanks for reading my articles throughout the year and for all the comments and thoughts shared. Here’s to maximum points over this year’s Christmas and New Year period – and to a very Happy Christmas and peaceful and prosperous New Year to everyone out there who makes this site such a joy to both read and contribute to.