I’m wondering if Mario Balotelli might consider lending us one of his T-shirts?
The one labelled “Why Always Me?” will do. Except, of course, on this occasion, we are exercising the Royal ‘me’ whereby the question in hand might be the one on the collective hearts and minds of many a Norwich City supporter.
Fresh from having to play a Liverpool side that is galloping towards a Premier League title on a surge of unconditional love that was formally the exclusive preserve of the late Queen Mother, we now face a trip to Old Trafford where, no doubt, the home side and their occasionally fanatical support will be in the mood for a post-Moyes party.
We all knew the last four games of the season were going to be difficult. But few would have suspected, back in June, that Liverpool would be heading to Carrow Road on the cusp of glory or that the Red Devils would be getting the party hats and bunting out in order to celebrate the Coronation of King Ryan.
Or that we’d have to travel down to Stamford Bridge to play a Chelsea side still smarting after their own title aspirations were seen off by their first home league defeat under Mourinho in 77 league games.
No doubt Arsenal will now travel to Carrow Road on the last day of the season knowing that three points, and only three points, will guarantee them a Champions League spot next season.
Manchester City and West Brom were both topping up their tans on a tropical beach somewhere when we played them at the end of last season. Sun Factor 40, iced tea, loungers by the pool and afternoon naps for all.
For one reason or another, all of our opponents in the final games of this season are on the beach as well. Except that these beaches are not frequented by chilled out footballing superstars lazily paddling in the incoming surf, but invigorated, energised and frighteningly motivated professionals, focused minds and hardened hearts as one, pledged to defy anything, anyone and any team that dares to come up against them. Not so much the Maldives as the Normandy beach that served as the setting for the opening of Saving Private Ryan.
With our already beleaguered team in the guise of the invading Army.
There was a time, of course, when a fixture against any one of the big clubs held little fear for us. We might have had, for example, every reason to dread the visit of Manchester United to Carrow Road on 1 October 1983. They’d ended the previous season by winning the FA Cup; a satisfying end to a campaign that had also seen them reach the League Cup Final as well as a third place finish in Divison One.
It’s more than likely that their first choice XI of the day would have given their present day equivalents a good game as well. Who’d be your preference. Darren Fletcher or Ray Wilkins? Nani or Bryan Robson? Danny Welbeck or Frank Stapleton? Paul McGrath or Chris Smalling? Shinji Kagawa or Arnold Muhren?
Admittedly, the players from that early 80s squad will all be in their early to mid-fifties now, but, even so, I reckon they’d run the present lot close.
They’d certainly started the 1983/84 season well with a convincing 2-0 win over Liverpool in the “traditional curtain raiser to the new season” (you have to say that about this particular game, it’s football writer law), the Charity Shield, as it was then, at Wembley.
This was followed by another win over them in the league, one of five victories in their opening seven games. It was a sequence that saw them arrive at Carrow Road second in Division One and, you would think, confident of triumph over a Norwich side who had won just one of their opening seven league games and who sat one place above the bottom three.
Thus Manchester United arrived at Carrow Road as an early season title favourite and, of course, holders of the FA Cup. But that wasn’t the only piece of silverware that had been claimed by either of the two clubs the previous season.
Because the Canaries had ended the 1982/83 season as winners of the FA Youth Cup.
And, as today we hold out great hope and expectation for the members of our winning 2013 FA Youth Cup team, the likes of Jacob and Josh Murphy, Callum McGeehan and Carlton Morris, to break through and impress as first-team players in the not too distant future, so we did back then for the class of 1983. It included, amongst its ranks one Louie Donowa.
With first-team appearances already to his name that previous season as well as a FA Youth Cup winners medal to call his own, Donowa might have been excused for thinking that he had already made it in the game – or at least assured his step up from the Youth to the First Team and all the fame and glory that was associated with it.
You might think that anyway.
The truth, of course, is markedly different. FA Youth Cup success brings with it but one cast iron, irrevocable guarantee to the young, ambitious, newly professional footballer.
That there are no guarantees in this game.
But Donowa had done well. He was, alongside teammates Mark Metcalf and Mark Crowe, amongst the first clutch of Stringer’s young side to taste first team football; doing so as a substitute against Nottingham Forest in the familiar confines of Carrow Road on 18 December 1982.
Both Metcalf (the first to appear in the first-team) and Crowe had made it before Donowa, but, as pre-season progressed in that hot summer of 1983, Donowa had stole a march on all of his team mates and was, in the minds of Stringer and Brown, ready for a first team start.
Brown broke him in gently. Another appearance as a substitute, again at Carrow Road, and against the same opponents in Nottingham Forest on 17 September, a third defeat in six games for Norwich who were finding the going tough; a maybe not so ideal time to introduce young players to the side?
On the other hand of course, if they can make an impact in a side that is struggling for form and results, then how are they going to perform in a side that is playing well and winning games? A tantalising prospect – and perhaps, just perhaps, what Brown had in mind when it came to Donowa.
Donowa, Ipswich born, had been missed by his hometown club, signing for Norwich as a youth player in 1980 when he was sixteen. This was a satisfying result for the Norwich Youth set up who had previously ‘missed’ Norfolk born duo Trevor Whymark and Clive Woods (a Norwich fan),who both signed for Ipswich as schoolboys – with Whymark going onto play for England.
Donowa would redress some of the balance, which had begun to swing back in Norwich’s favour once John Bond had made the revitalisation of the Youth set up one of his priorities when he arrived at Carrow Road. Bond had long gone but the legacy of his vision lived on, the fact that the FA Youth Cup had been won in that thrilling three game encounter with Everton more than justifying both his efforts and those that helped make it happen. You would hope, in the celebrations that followed that success, that a glass or two were raised in his name.
But that was then. Football inexorably moves forward; the minds of the great and the good in the game have, even as their club has lifted a trophy at the end of a season, had only thoughts for the next one in their minds. Brown – seen in the eyes of fans and media as the quintessential ‘nice guy’ (sound familiar?) did, for all of the avuncular image that people saw (and loved), have a steely-eyed determination and ambition for success. Both for him and his young charges. Sink or swim. My way or the highway. For players like Donowa and his peers, the hard work started now and the options were chillingly simple. Prove yourself or move on.
Some of that 1983 FA Youth Cup winning side never made the first-team. The Manchester United team that reached the final in 1992 and 1993 contained such luminaries as David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, and Paul Scholes. But, for everyone of those that went onto footballing fame and glory, there was another story. A Richard Irving; Joe Roberts; Steven Riley and Leonard Taylor. Who? Exactly.
The erstwhile teammates of the Beckham and co, good enough to share in their successes at a young age, but, when it came to the senior game? Thanks but no thanks.
It happens. Paul Clayton, the scorer of eight goals in Norwich’s run to that final. Ten starts plus five appearances as a substitute for the first team-failing to score in any of them. He left Carrow Road for spells in Finland and Sweden before time (and goals) at Darlington and Crewe Alexandra before drifting into non-league. Mark (Chick) Crowe, tipped to shine more than any of his contemporaries didn’t make it – a brief sixteen minute first team appearance before, again, a disappointing exit and time with Cambridge United before ending locally with Watton, Thetford Town and Wroxham.
That these youngsters were all talented footballers was beyond doubt. At the time and in their age group, they were amongst the best players in the country. But, at such a tender age, ‘mere’ ability as a footballer is usually not enough. There has to be a little more; a certain something. The bright spark of footballing youth has to be tempered into a fiercely burning fire that propels them onward, into maturity and a long-term career in the game.
For whatever reasons, it just didn’t happen for Clayton and Crowe amongst others (from both the Norwich and Everton teams). They all were, invariably, the rule rather than the exception.
The question that Ken Brown would have been asking Louie Donowa prior to that visit of Manchester United back in October 1983 would have been to demand if he was going to be the exception? “Can you handle it, how much do you want it son? Because if you do, if you really convince me that you want to be a professional footballer and will work at it, from now on, seven days a week, you’ll be starting against Manchester United.”
A glorious chance for Donowa to succeed where some of his one time friends and team-mates had failed. How could he not have grabbed it with both hands?
So Donowa was in from the start; the first of that Youth Cup winning side to begin a league fixture.
Despite the gap that existed between the two clubs in the league (plus their respective resources, fan base, playing squad and finances), the game itself was fairly level pegging for most of the first half. Donowa, playing on the right of the Norwich midfield and instructed to run at the United defence and at pace whenever he was in possession, was certainly doing enough for United’s seasoned left back Arthur Albiston to know he was in a game but as half time beckoned the score remained at 0-0.
United though, a team rammed with power and pace often entered games in exploratory mode, testing their opponent’s mettle in different situations, identifying patterns of play and possible weaknesses and, like all great teams, waiting for the right moment to pounce. And that’s exactly what they did a minute before half time.
Wilkins breaks a habit of a lifetime and pings a forward pass to the marauding Arthur Graham – once of United’s arch-rivals Leeds United. Graham is an under-rated player; the sort of ripe, succulent and rich winger that the fledgling Donowa can become and you would like to think there is approval in the young man’s eyes as Graham finds an arriving Whiteside – a pass, not a cross – in the middle who dispatches it past Woods with aplomb. 1-0 United.
Brown and Machin play good cop/bad cop at half-time. Machin ablaze, indignant, “…why did you let happen, who was supposed to be marking him – that was your responsibility….” whilst Brown is calm, extinguishing Machin’s fire. No need to panic.
“We’re playing well. Had some chances. Louie, well done son, just keep having a pop at Albiston, he’s scared of you son…”
Just the sort of words Donowa wants to hear. Let me out there he thinks, I’ll show the red shirted so and so’s.
Unfortunately one of the red shirted so and so’s has other ideas. Graham again, dancing his way down the touchline, an old fashioned winger, chalk on his boots – and, invariably, his opponents backsides. He roasts the turf again and sends in another cross. This time it’s Stapleton who accepts the gift. He’s an old fashioned centre-forward, red in tooth and claw and not prone to niceties in the penalty area. 2-0 United.
Heads drop in the River End, sullen faces, admissions of defeat, gesticulations, questions asked of the manager, his selection, tactics, ability. Opposite the dour faces stands the Barclay End; vibrant, defiant, rolling up their vocal chords for another verse of On The Ball City. It’s meant to inspire those who grace the pitch and it does. Oh it does. Only it’s United again; confident now and enjoying themselves. It’s McGrath, a man who gets nosebleeds if he crosses the halfway line in open play, yet here he is, loitering with arrogant intent in the Norwich penalty area. A pass, a dismissive flick of the head and the ball finds Whiteside. Is he going to miss? Stupid question. 3-0 United.
But maybe that confidence is United’s undoing?
64 minutes. Devine crosses, long and looping, met by Bennett who heads it over the stranded Bailey. 3-1.
The United hoards sneer; a consolation. Their minds are already planning the long trips back to Hampshire and Hertfordshire where supporting your local team never happens. But this is Norwich, Carrow Road, don’t expect the unexpected, DEMAND it!
78 minutes. Clumsy tackle by McGrath, free kick. Mendham, flame of hair and midfield brimstone, floats the ball into the United area where Channon, momentarily distracted from thoughts of the 4:00 at Haydock Park heads home.
3-2. Sing your hearts out for the lads.
The digital clock over the Barclay stand advances at speed as time always does when you are losing, Minutes gone…’85’, ‘86’, ‘87’, ‘88’….’89’……it’s Mendham again – a future captain surely – driving his legs forward, determined, passionate – it’s just like watching Billy Bremner.
In possession he looks to get the ball in the United penalty area where red shirted defenders are panicking like pigeons being circled by a predatory Hawk, three steps forward, two steps back. Amidst the pandemonium Mendham delivers; the ball is laser guided and Donowa, the debutant, is the target. He rushes to meet the ball and, in a flurry of arms and legs stretches, makes contact and scores!
It’s 3-3. Good afternoon everyone, my name is Brian Louie Donowa. But you can call me Louie. Pleased to make your acquaintance.
In a game like this, a scenario like this, it had to be Donowa who got the last minute equaliser. Footballing fate. It happens in sport but never in film scripts or fiction where it would be regarded as unbelievable, fanciful and far-fetched.
And in a profession where the young, gifted and talented fall by the wayside like leaves from trees in autumn, it is heartening to see that one of them might, just might, have a chance.