Continuing on the theme of Canaries at Christmas, a further look back at Yuletides past and how, why and where it affected the fortunes of our club. For the period 18 December – 24 December, please refer to last week’s column.
25 December 1956
The last ever league fixture played by Norwich in Christmas Day fell on this date 57 years ago. Colchester United were our opponents and it was down to the team and support to make the short journey down to Layer Road on the day, the game attracting a modest 6,376 spectators – the second lowest* crowd the Canaries had played in front of that season. Had top level football matches played on Christmas Day lost their allure? Probably. The last time the majority of league games were played on the ‘big day’ was in 1957 when 38 games were played** but, after that, the number of games arranged for and played on that day declined dramatically largely due to the lack of public transport and the wish of fans to stay at home and be with their families.
The last game to be played on Christmas Day was not, however, until 1965; a First Division game that saw Blackpool defeat Bolton Wanderers 4-2 in front of a crowd of 20,851.
With regard to the Canaries seasonal responsibilities at Colchester, a goal from Terry Bly, his first of the season earnt Norwich a 1-1 draw in a game that saw right-half Keith Bannister, signed from Chesterfield a year earlier make his Canary debut.
*The game at Torquay United on 23 February saw a crowd of 6,375 – one fewer! – at Plainmoor.
** The Canaries chose not to, winning 1-0 at Northampton on Boxing Day before welcoming Torquay United to Carrow Road two days later, triumphing again by three goals to one in front of 24,706 fans-the second highest gate at Carrow Road that season. Our next league game wasn’t until January 11th-a trip to play Brentford which Norwich lost 7-1!
26 December 1979
The new River End stand is opened at Carrow Road in time for the traditional local derby match against one time local rivals Ipswich Town – and it’s a belter! Eric Gates, one of the most annoying of footballers to ever play the game put Ipswich ahead after a quarter of an hour only for goals from Peter Mendham and Alan Taylor to give the Canaries – 6th in the Division One table at kick off – a 2-1 half time lead. A Boxing Day pall of gloom falls over Carrow Road in the second half however, as Arnold Muhren and John Wark put Ipswich ahead, the latter celebrating his 71st minute strike in front of the Norwich fans in an arrogant manner that suggests as far as he is concerned, that is game won and goodnight. More fool you, Mr Wark., for, in the 89th minute, Keith Robson’s outstretched leg deflects home a wayward shot past Paul Cooper in the Ipswich goal to win Norwich a deserved point.
Robson, signed for just £25,000 from Cardiff City in August 1977 ended up making 71 appearances for the Canaries, contributing 14 goals before joining Leicester City in September 1981, Norwich making a profit of £3,000 in that deal-not a bad bit of business at all for someone who defined the phrase ‘journeyman striker’.
27 December 1994
The start of the 1993/94 season had been a reasonable one for the Canaries who entered the Christmas programme in 7th place in the Premier League under the management of John Deehan with only five defeats in their opening nineteen games, a run that has included impressive victories over Ipswich (1-2 at Portman Road); Blackburn Rovers (2-1) and Chelsea (3-0). Canary fans had been disappointed therefore to lose their Boxing Day fixture at home to Tottenham – the first reverse at Carrow Road that season – so there was much hope that the following day’s trip to the City Ground to play Nottingham Forest would be the starting point of a decent run of form.
Events in that game however, took a turn for the worst when Bryan Gunn is stretchered off with a broken leg early on, one sustained in the process of blocking a fierce shot from Ian Woan. His replacement, Andy Marshall, is therefore thrown in for his league debut in a high pressure, high stakes game against a fellow top six side, and, as a result, the trust and faith the City defence normally have in the reliable Gunn is replaced by them perhaps trying a little too hard to protect the young debutant.
As it is, Marshall is, understandably nervous and a combination of both his and his defence’s uncertainty leads to him flailing at a cross from Lars Bohinen which proceeds to sail into goal, that one goal securing victory for the home side. It is a bitter blow to the Canaries to lose such an experienced and inspirational player, one that precipitates a dreadful run in the league that sees only two victories in their remaining 21 fixtures, a season that ultimately ends with an unexpected relegation and, in Gary Megson, a new albeit temporary manager after Deehan resigns in April.
Norwich’s relegation that season has long been attributed to the injury to Gunn and subsequent arrival in the team of Marshall but is it really as simple as that? Thoughts and opinions welcome.
28 December 1946
Fresh after a 1-6 humiliation at home to Bournemouth on Boxing Day, City manager Cyril Spiers ring the changes for the trip to Cardiff City, making five changes from the team that received the Christmas stuffing at Carrow Road. For two of those five, Aubrey Darmody and Billy Furness, that game was their last for the club with Furness, then 37, retiring shortly afterwards.
Another player dropped after the Bournemouth debacle was, unsurprisingly, keeper George Wiseman who had made only his second appearance for the club in that match – he must have feared the worst when he was replaced by Harry Dukes, the proverbial prodigal son who had previously played for the club in the middle of the last decade. Did all of the changes make a difference? Not really. The Canaries lost 6-1 for the second game running with Dukes and Harry Proctor, who had played over a 100 games for the Canaries never being seen again in a Canary shirt following this second consecutive heavy defeat. The Canaries conceded 100 goals in their 42 league games that season, the most they have conceded, to date, in any one season in the club’s history.
29 December 2001
Norwich earn their biggest away win for several years with a 5-0 stroll at Sheffield Wednesday in Nigel Worthington’s first return to the club where he had previously served as a player. Goals from Darren Kenton, a brace from David Nielsen and one from Paul McVeigh gave the Canaries a 4-0 lead at half time against a team that includes the man who scored the Canaries first ever goal in competitive European football – Efan Ekoku.
Sadly for the jubilant Norwich fans at the game, the goal rush is not repeated in the second half, although they are privileged witnesses to the Canaries fifth and final goal of the game; a 30 yard strike from Gary Holt who seems as surprised as anyone to see the speculative effort go in.
30 December 1933
Norwich play their sixth game in just over a fortnight when they travel to East London to play Clapton Orient. That 1933/34 season had been a good one for the Canaries who had lost only four of their previous 21 league fixtures, going into the game against the O’s on top of the Division Three South table. Sadly, as has been the case in more recent seasons, going to the Orient whilst you are top of the Third Division* doesn’t always mean a routine win, even if the Canaries had brushed them aside 3-0 on the opening day of that season. Billy Warnes and Doug Lochhead scored for Norwich but it wasn’t enough to prevent a shock 3-2 defeat.
As things turned out however, it was a slight hiccup along the way, rather than a catastrophe of Andy Marshall/Nottingham Forest proportions, with the Canaries only losing one more game that season and ending it as Champions of Division Three South seven points clear of runners up Coventry City.
*On April 13th 2010 Norwich met the same opponents at Brisbane Road when they were eight points clear at the top of the table. Two goals for Sean Thornton on the night earnt Orient their 2-1 win.
31 December 1988
The Canaries, led by Dave Stringer, are – against all expectations – top of the Division One table when Middlesbrough call at Carrow Road for this New Years Eve fixture; one which only the most pessimistic Norwich fan would have down as anything other than a home win. Norwich had, after all, already seen off Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool that season (the wins against the two northern giants had been in their own back yards) whilst Middlesbrough, then managed by a future Canary, Bruce Rioch, were winless in their last six games and struggling.
Along, as the saying goes, came Norwich. We’d won our last Carrow Road fixture against West Ham four days earlier in what had been the club’s first ever televised live league game – however, even in that match, some of the nerves that came with being unexpected leaders had been showing, with the Hammers more than giving us a game – and so it proved again against Boro. Dale Gordon, who had scored from a near impossible angle against West Ham went close on a couple of occasions. However, if it hadn’t been for frantic goal line clearances from Ian Crook and Mark Bowen, Norwich might have lost.
With Arsenal winning against Aston Villa, Norwich toppled from the summit of the table, a place they had proudly held almost all season, one that they ended in 4th position, the then best in the club’s history and one which many might have thought would be one that would never be surpassed.
Where, I wonder, will Christmas 2014 see Norwich City? Your thoughts would be most welcome.
A very Happy Christmas to all MyFootballWriter Contributors and readers – many thanks to all of you who take time out to read my musings and for all the comments received. It is, and will remain, highly appreciated.