In these days of environmentally friendly products and recycling en-masse, it is always good to be reminded about how seriously football takes its role in ensuring that its constituent parts are eternally being recycled and reused. Different packaging and look maybe but, underneath, it’s basically the same product that we first became familiar with a decade or so ago, maybe longer.
Football is hugely cyclical – and our club is a prime example of how so many take their place on that permanently turning circle. One moment we atop of it, afforded – as if we were on the London Eye – with the biggest and best view possible of the nation’s capital. However, whenever we want to get there, we have to take our place at the bottom, reminding ourselves that, whatever the journey, we can’t get there without first committing to the ticket – and, more often than not, the price to pay for getting there is that we have to come back again.
But that only serves to make us want it all over again and to work towards that aim.
People who have supported the Canaries for far longer than me will be even more aware of the ups and downs of following our club. Times of celebration and local rejoicing are inevitably followed by those of despair and depression which, eventually, are largely forgotten with yet more yellow and green tinged jubilation – only for scarves and hopes to once again fall limp as dark times and furrowed brows once again occupy our everyday footballing thoughts.
That is the nature of the game, the nature of our association with the game. Was, is, forever will be. And I can’t see it changing in the near or even distant future. Or possibly ever.
There is the clamour of course the hope that one day a benevolent new owner will grant the club billions of pounds worth of pocket money in an attempt to make us a serious player rather than an enthusiastic one. But even that argument has its flaws; not least that if, as seems likely, all twenty clubs in the Premier League have a kindly philanthropist at the helm, three clubs will still end a season relegated with another half dozen or so worried about the same prospect.
The game remains the same.
Those of us with a less than able grasp of all things poetic are reminded every year of a few lines from Kipling’s poem If as the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon draw to a close.
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
Well now, come on – never mind the tennis, Kipling’s a Canary isn’t he? Triumph and disaster, we’ve seen them both in equal measure; shared the high excitement with the heartbreak and, in time, pretty much accepted that they are both imposters as one is always and forever supplanting the other.
You want disaster on a Canary scale?
How about the cataclysmic 1956/57 season? One that saw us finish bottom of the Division Three South and then have to apply, cap in hand, to the Football League in an attempt for re-election, despite a season which suggested the club was in no fit state to occupy even the most humble of its senior leagues.
A season that included a winless run of 25 league games, including a 6-3 defeat at Walsall and 7-1 reverse at Torquay United; an FA Cup exit to non-league Bedford Town, at home, and to the tune of 4-2, as well as a porous defence that conceded 94 goals in 46 league games. It’s the season that took all the very worst moments from our last five (7-1 defeat to Colchester, exit, at home to non-league Luton Town in the FA Cup and regular heavy defeats in the league) campaigns and threw them all into one disastrous season long mix, one that saw possible ejection from the league as its ultimate denouement.
You have to wonder what Canary Call might have been like during that season; one that remains, without doubt, the worst in the club’s history.
“Thass all very well Hunt and the boy Gavin gettin’ the goals but if we hin’t gotta defence, whass the point?”
“Tom Parker, he gotta go Rob, he might be a nice bloke an’ all, but he hin’t won a game since September – and why oh why do he keep playin’ that Ken Oxford in goal?”
And so on and so on. Times were bad and, with a cluster of ambitious and well ran non-league clubs hungry for election to the football league at Norwich’s expense at the end of that season, they could have been a lot worse. Fortunately for Norwich, the league clubs tended to look after their own in such matters at the time and, come the Football League AGM that May, Norwich received 48 votes to stay put whilst their nearest challengers for a place and FA Cup conquerors, Bedford Town, got just one.
Saved by the old pals act.
Norwich’s manager for much of that season, Tom Parker, was having his second spell at the helm of the club. During his previous tenure at Norwich from 1933 through to 1937 he had masterminded his own moment of personal and club triumph by leading the Canaries, then still playing at The Nest, to the Division Three South Championship in 1934. We enjoyed 25 wins, with 88 goals scored, garnishing 61 points as we cantered to the title, beating runners up Coventry City by a then (with just two points for a win) massive seven points. Impressive league wins included 7-2 against Bristol City and 6-1 against Bournemouth whilst ever present custodian Norman Wharton, a £750 purchase from Sheffield United kept sixteen clean sheets in Norwich’s 42 league games – an impressive achievement given that most sides played with five forwards at the time.
Parker was eventually, in a move of Lambert to Villa type proportions, lured away from Carrow Road by Southampton; the Norwich board eventually, and with some misgivings, giving him permission to talk to the Saints after a long battle to persuade him to stay. Parker was not, also like Lambert, above taking a promising young Canary talent with him either; nineteen year old striker Edric Bates becoming that episode’s version of Jed Steer as he followed his gaffer from Norfolk to Hampshire.
It was a wise move of Parker’s and an even wiser one of Southampton to take on the precocious Bates along with their new manager because, as the more well-known Ted Bates, he went onto spend over six decades at Southampton where a statue of him now stands outside the ground; eighteen of which were served as the club’s manager.
You wonder what the odds of a statue of Steer standing proudly at the entrance to Villa Park in 2077 will be?
Little wonder therefore that when Parker was, once again, available, Norwich took the opportunity to reappoint him as manager in 1955 after the departure of Norman Low*.
It seems an unusual choice now, reappointing a manager eighteen years after he had first left the club – akin, this summer to Gary Megson getting the nod again.
The City board, however, vaguely reminiscent of past glories achieved under Parker were hopeful that he would repeat the feat and, once again, lead the side out of the Division Three South after a decade’s worth of bumbling around in that league again. This had included the nadir of only escaping bottom place in the 1946/47 campaign by a goal average of 0.38.
More to the point, the previous season had also seen the Canaries finish one from the bottom, two consecutive seasons of under achievement that might, just might, have not resulted in quite such an unfair hearing had re-election originally been sought in 1947.
Parker had, upon his reappointment as Norwich City manager, been out of the game for over a decade, spending much of that time working as a humble Clerk for Lloyds at Southampton Docks; a fact that makes the renewed faith that the Carrow Road suits placed in him seem even more unusual.
Parker would have been used to recording the details of ships going down during his time at Lloyds; now he was occupied, during those particularly dark days from September 1956 to March 1957 with doing his best not to take a football club down – the board’s trust that the return of a former Canary hero would do the trick proving to be spectacularly misguided and, perhaps driven more from sentiment than good sense. In any case, they eventually bowed to the inevitable and, on 31 March he was dismissed as Norwich manager a day after a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Brentford, a result that maintained Norwich’s position at the bottom of the table.
The club had just seven league games left to play when Parker was sacked. Parallels, again, with far more recent happenings except that, of course, it is likely that the club were not very publicly hung, drawn and quartered for taking such a decision with only a tiny part of the season remaining. As it was, the appointment of a Mr Archibald Macaulay was confirmed the next day, the new manager failing, by some considerable margin, to provide some much needed ‘bounce’ as Norwich promptly lost their first four games under his leadership.
Yet football’s inexorable cyclical nature was, even now, beginning to lift the Canaries out of those deep, dark and forbidding sporting places and back into the light. In his first full season as Canaries manager, Macaulay led the club to an eighth place finish in the league, followed by a fourth placed at the end of the 1958/59 season. That latter campaign was, of course, better remembered as the one that saw Norwich reach the FA Cup semi-finals, beating Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur en-route. The year after that Norwich were promoted, as runners up, back to the Second Division; 45 of the clubs 82 league goals that season coming from the feared striking trio of Terry Allcock, Jimmy Hill and Bill Punton.
For Allcock, Hill and Punton read Holt, Hoolahan and Chris Martin and for dour Scot Macaulay read even dourer Scot Paul Lambert.
But such is football, at least for us. Times of despair are followed by those of triumph, just as the differing fates of Parker and Lowe (and Gunn and Lambert?) illustrate and, just as that triumph is, again, overtaken by more heartbreak. Macaulay left the club in 1961 and, although his successor Willie Reid led the Canaries to a League Cup final win in 1962, a decade of mediocrity that saw four managers come and go in fairly rapid succession followed before, in 1969, Ron Saunders was charged with the then onerous and hefty responsibility of getting the Canaries into the top flight. One he of course ultimately achieved.
And, from that moment onwards, and as now as it even was in the decades that preceded it, the footballing story of Norwich City was one of ups and downs as we continue, as we always have, to live the life of that Kipling by poem – treating triumph and disaster as one inevitability of the other and knowing that, just as dark and depressing as this season has ultimately become, it might not be too long before we are celebrating again.
We may end this season with another relegation. We may not. The only near certainty I can offer is that, one day, now, tomorrow or in a few years time, we will be relegated again. Just as, in the years that follow, another promotion will surely follow. Heroes will rise to the top and be lured away whilst villains will be castigated and chased away twice as quickly.
It’s Planet Football, constantly reinventing itself. In the guise of Norwich City.
*Low’s win percentage in games played as Norwich City Manager, 129 from 258 (ie) 50%, is the joint highest of any Canaries’ manager, along with George Swindin. Paul Lambert’s was 49.3%. The lowest (disregarding ‘caretakers’ and allowing for at least any season’s worth of games in charge, that is, at least 38) is John Deehan at 22.4%.