For reasons I can’t adequately explain I’ve always felt a pang of excitement whenever we are due to play West Ham. So much the better if the game is a night fixture when the glow of the floodlights seems to act as a catalyst to everything caught in their honest glare.
The atmosphere seems to have more snap, crackle and pop about it. The ball zings about and around the turf with more pace and purpose whilst the players – like the fans around them – throw themselves into the encounter with renewed frenzy and purpose. Supercharged, you suspect, by the milieu of equally excited photons that are also in attendance on the night.
And West Ham. The nearest thing we have, I suspect, to a local rival whilst our more traditional one with the team that shall not be named is put on temporary hold. A club who are like us in many ways, their roots deep within their local community, a reputation for attractive football and a tendency to fight above their weight; located, as they are, in close proximity to the genuine big hitters in the capital.
Many a fine player has graced both the claret and blue and the yellow and green. Ashton, Bellamy, Gordon, Green, Paddon and Peters to name but six.
Then there are the managerial connections. John Bond and Ken Brown both had sparkling playing careers with the Hammers before going onto have memorable spells in charge at Norwich. Glenn Roeder has managed both clubs whilst Peter Grant was Alan Pardew’s deputy at Upton Park before joining us for his brief spell at the helm in 2006. Even the current man in charge at Carrow Road, Chris Hughton, is an ex-Hammer having joined them on a free transfer from Tottenham in 1990; later on describing the move as “going home” having been born barely ten minutes walk away from Upton Park.
Much footballing romance and the occasional headline is made whenever Norwich happen to meet Tottenham or Newcastle United; the two clubs with whose name our manager is the most closely linked. Yet, as far as he is concerned, maybe tomorrow’s game at West Ham is one of the more special events on his calendar. Maybe, given his connections with the area and club, someone will ask him?
From a playing point of view, our first ever game against the Hammers was in 1905, albeit whilst both clubs were in the Southern League. A crowd of around 6,000 is estimated to have turned up at Newmarket Road to see Norwich win 1-0 courtesy of a Duncan Ronaldson goal in the first half. Ronaldson went on to form one half of perhaps the very first of the Canaries distinguished roll call of strike partnerships as he and David Ross scored 47 goals between them in the 1906/07 season. It was enough to also see them become amongst the very first Norwich City players whose form and ability meant that the club could not afford to turn down reasonable offers for either. Ross joined Manchester City before the end of that season whilst Ronaldson joined Brighton at the end of that campaign.
The two clubs first met at Football League level in October 1935. By this time, both had managed to elevate themselves to the rarefied heights of the old Division Two; City by virtue of strolling their way to the Division Three (South) title the previous season. West Ham were the victors on that occasion at The Nest, the Canaries goal coming from Ken Burditt in their 2-1 defeat. It was their fourth loss in a row and one that saw two players, Stan Ramsay and Thomas Scott, appear in the yellow shirt for the very last time.
Of much more significance to the club and its history was the meeting between the two sides on the opening day of the 1935/36 season. It was the very first league game played at Carrow Road.
A crowd of just under 30,000 turned up for the big occasion, with Russell Colman, the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk and President of the club, officially undertaking the pre-match ground opening duties.
A thriller duly took place on the pitch to the delight of those in attendance with Norwich prevailing by the odd goal in seven; the scorers being Jack Vinall (2), Doug Lochhead and Billy Warnes with Lochhead having the honour of being the first man ever to score a goal at our present ground. Unsurprisingly, that crowd was the biggest that had ever attended a football match in Norwich at the time, the official figure of 29,779 remaining the record for all of four and a half months until 32,378 attended the FA Cup 3rd round tie against Chelsea.
The two clubs enjoyed a further seven league clashes in Division Two before the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 curtailed competitive football for its foreseeable future. A total of 25 goals were scored in the four meetings at Carrow Road during that time, the lowlight of which would have been the game played on 11 March 1939 when the Hammers literally ‘hammered’ us 2-6; the second consecutive week that saw Norwich concede six goals in a league game having lost 6-0 at Millwall a week earlier.
Harry Dukes had been dropped as Norwich goalkeeper following that defeat at Millwall with Fred Hall coming back into the side for the West Ham game. Another six goals later and Dukes was back in the team as Norwich enjoyed a particularly unhappy campaign, conceding 91 goals in 42 league games and finishing just one place off the bottom of the table. It was enough to ensure that, when football returned in 1946, the Canaries would be back in the Division Three (South); destined, as a result, not to meet the Hammers in the a League fixture again until their promotion to the top flight for the very first time in 1972.
That game, played at Upton Park on 16 September was another unhappy one for the club; City losing 4-0 courtesy of goals from Trevor Brooking, Tommy Taylor and a brace from Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson. One can only imagine what the reaction of Ron Saunders might have been to the performance and result, however, thankfully for the Norwich players, he opted to miss the game; spending the afternoon scouting a prospective player instead. That player turned out to be Jim Blair who the club signed from St Mirren ten days after that defeat.
Our first win over the Hammers at this level came on 6 December 1975; our first win over them of any kind since that game at the start of our residency at Carrow Road over forty years earlier. For the scorer in our 1-0 win, Ted MacDougall, it must have been a particularly sweet moment. He had previously been with the Hammers but was turfed out on his ear for having the temerity to question the word of the West Ham Captain Billy Bonds who sat the game out with injury. Either that, or the fear of meeting Ted again – his place in their starting XI being taken by John McDowell who would also later go on to join Norwich.
Ted’s feeling of justice must have been tripled because in the return league fixture on 27 March at Upton Park he again scored the only goal in Norwich’s 1-0 win. Bonds was, by then, back in the Hammers team, and, almost as if it was demanded by the pre-match script, he and Ted had a bit of a set-to on the pitch; a skirmish that led to the West Ham fans throwing whatever they could find at him from the safety of the stands.
Amongst Bonds’ team-mates that day were the father of current Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard, Frank senior and the current manager in waiting at Fulham, Alan Curbishley.
Having had a few pastings at the hands of the Hammers it was somewhat gratifying when Norwich finally managed to hand one out of their own.
This welcome result came in the League fixture at Carrow Road on New Year’s Day 1988 when Norwich won 4-1 after West Ham had gone 1-0 up, courtesy of Tony Cottee – another Hammer who would later, albeit briefly, don the yellow and green. That lead was swiftly dismantled in the second half thanks to strikes from Dale Gordon, Kevin Drinkell, Mark Bowen and Robert Rosario, with both Gordon and Bowen due, in time, to also play for West Ham.
That victory, just over 13 years since our first of the two league victories, saw one link with those games maintained; namely the presence of Ted MacDougall’s nemesis Billy Bonds, now 41, and still considered good enough for a place in the Hammers line up that day.
The two clubs met again less than a year later; City’s 2-1 at Carrow Road significant in that it was the first time the club had appeared in a live televised league game. The honour of scoring our first goal in front of a watching nation went to Dale Gordon whose opener beat Allen McKnight from the tightest of angles in front of the River End.
The return league fixture at Upton Park, played on 27 March 1989 also saw a Norwich win; Andy Linighan and Malcolm Allen the scorers. That particular game saw the debut for Norwich of the man who had been signed with the intention of taking a little of the goalscoring burden from the shoulders of Robert Fleck who had prior to this game not found the net since 22 January.
Fleck’s replacement, Dean Coney, sadly did not prove to be the answer. It was also the last time Norwich have won a league game at Upton Park. Five have been played since, three of which have been in the Premier League, with our record in that time being three draws and two defeats. They form part of a rather miserly record we hold overall at West Ham, having played there on 21 occasions and winning only four times with five games ending in draws.
However, West Ham’s record at Norwich is equally poor. On the 22 occasions we have met in a league game at Norwich, the first of which was at The Nest in 1934, the Hammers have only won on three occasions; the very first being the aforementioned fixture at The Nest, with their other two successes coming in 1939 and 1973. Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson did the damage in that early 70s 1-0 win, the match turning out to be the 39th and final league game played for Norwich by Jimmy Bone. The Scot was unceremoniously substituted on the day and replaced by Neil O’Donnell; a man who even Jimmy might not have chosen to pick a fight with, O’Donnell being born and raised in the Gorbals area of Glasgow.
Tomorrow’s game will be the 44th competitive league fixture between the two sides during which time an impressive total of 125 goals have been scored – an average of 2.84 per game. Not bad going in a fixture that has seen only three 0-0 draws in its history.
The honour of scoring the 100th goal in league games between the sides went to an ex-Norwich player, Matthew Rush; the centenary coming up with the first of his two strikes in West Ham’s 4-0 win at Upton Park on 11 April 1992 – a game that, yet again, featured the ubiquitous Billy Bonds who was then the Hammers’ manager.
With our 3-1 win at Carrow Road earlier this season our first in league games between the clubs since 1994, it would be good to think tomorrow’s fixture might just see us end up doing the league double over them for the first time since the 1988/89 season.
25 years of East London hurt… and counting. It’s time to put that right.