What have the following ex-Canaries all got in common?
Neil Adams, John Benson, Ian Butterworth, Simon Charlton, Paul Crichton, Ian Crook, Ian Culverhouse, John Deehan, Robert Fleck, Adrian Forbes, Duncan Forbes, Jeremy Goss, Peter Grant, Bryan Gunn, Asa Hartford, Gary Holt, Darren Huckerby, Doug Livermore, Mel Machin, Gary Megson, Martin O’Neill, Mike Phelan, Joe Royle, Dave Stringer, Colin Suggett, Steve Walford and David Williams.
A total of 27 names, a gathering of the Norfolk footballing great and good. Canaries all with an impressive total of career appearances in the old yellow and green between them. Plus, of course, one other significant factor – they’ve all been employed by the club in a non-playing capacity in one role or another.
Adams, Deehan, Grant, Gunn, Megson, Stringer and O’Neill all made it to the top of the non-playing tree at Carrow Road as First Team manager, with six of the seven (we all hope that Adams’ achievements in that role will eclipse those of all contemporaries) enjoying, enduring even, a rich mix of success and frustration along the way.
With regard to the darker side of things, Martin O’Neill’s 21 league games in charge from the start of the 1995/96 season certainly struck a chord. But that’s another story, another column, another day – for, short and sweet as it was, there is a lot to be said, and which still needs to be said, about O’Neill’s spell in charge at the club. It accompanied two playing spells here, the first of which saw him play just eleven games for the Canaries before his first abrupt departure from Carrow Road.
Stringer, of course, famously won the FA Youth Cup during his time in charge at that level in 1983 whilst Machin, a no nonsense full back who once scored a hat-trick against the Nottingham Forest of Clough and Taylor, became a respected member of Ken Brown’s coaching staff before spells in charge at Manchester City, Barnsley, Bournemouth and Huddersfield.
Yet he’ll always be Norwich to me.
But I digress… as usual. The fact remains however that we, as a club, are very fond of promoting from within; of giving a chance to those who have served us as players to do so again from the touchline. Or, in the case of scouts Suggett and Fleck, from other teams’ touchlines. And it’s by no means, both as far as the Canaries are concerned, or the game in general, a unique or recent footballing trend.
Take Liverpool, for example. Since their formation in 1892, the Reds have had a total of just nineteen different men in charge at Anfield on a full-time basis; an impressive total (we’ve had only one fewer full-time managers since Ron Saunders took charge in July 1969) and one which includes seven men who played for, as well as managed, the club – all, again, with varying degrees of success.
That philosophy, that ‘Liverpool way’ (haven’t we heard something like that before?) of promoting from within has certainly served them well through the years with one man in particular, Bob Paisley working his way right through the Anfield ranks. Paisley started his post-playing career at the club as the purely self taught physio (Anfield legend has it that Paisley could diagnose a player’s injury just by looking at them) through to Reserve and then First Team coach under the legendary Bill Shankly; a man whose own playing career didn’t include a spell with Liverpool but did, for three games at least, see him wear a Norwich City shirt as a guest player for the Canaries during the Second World War.
Liverpool are not unique amongst our top clubs to have had a fair share of their ex-players eventually step up to manage the club as well. Taking the Canaries first ever promotion to the top flight as a convenient benchmark, Manchester City, the current Premier League Champions, have seen three of their former players go onto take charge of the first team since 1972, whilst Chelsea fans have seen eight* of their one time players have spells as manager at Stamford Bridge in that time.
Even Manchester United toyed with the idea of putting Ryan Giggs in permanent charge at Old Trafford before succumbing to the siren call of one Louis van Gaal.
But did the club hierarchy at the club take Giggs’ interest in becoming their permanent manager seriously? You bet they did and his eventual appointment as assistant to Van Gaal pretty much suggests that it will be him that they turn to take control once Van Gaal’s contract ends in three years time.
As far as the Canaries are concerned I have almost certainly missed a few names with regard to those who have also managed, else taken on another role within the managerial and coaching side of the club, especially as the names listed at the beginning only include players who were at the club from 1972/73 onwards.
One man, for example, who served the club as both a player and manager was Ron Ashman.
Ashman was, and remains, a Canary legend if ever there was one, especially in these modern times when it seems ever easier to earn such a footballing sobriquet. His time as a player with the club is well documented and deservedly respected. He made at least one first-team appearance in seventeen consecutive seasons at the club as well as scoring in eleven successive years.
Ashman was an ever present on five occasions, was captain, took most of the penalties and played in a multitude of positions for the Canaries (including in goal) and not only led from the front during our run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1959, but also during our promotion campaign the following season. He had the honour of lifting the League Cup with the club in 1962, Norwich’s first major trophy success and went onto make 662 first team appearances for the club from 1947 through to 1963.
His last playing appearance was on 19 October that year in a 1-1 draw at home to Southampton – the club he and the Canaries had also faced in his first game as the club’s player/manager on 1 December 1962 – that game ending with a 3-1 defeat to the Saints at The Dell.
The fact that, following his appointment to the Canaries hotseat that month, Ashman continued to select himself as centre half, captain and penalty taker says a lot about the self-belief he had in himself as both a player and manager. His position of club captain eventually went to Barry Butler, a man who many had tipped as another likely future manager of the Canaries, someone who might almost have certainly followed Ashman into the role following the latter’s resignation at the end of the 1965/66 season had Butler not been so tragically lost to football and life two months previously in a car accident.
Ashman certainly knew a good footballer when he saw one. With no real rival for the number one shirt to established goalkeeper Sandy Kennon at the time of Ashman’s appointment as player/manager (interestingly, for as long as he continued to play for the club, that twin role was always regarded as a ‘temporary’ one, and only made permanent following his retirement from the game), he paid Wrexham just £6,500 for the services of one Kevin Keelan in July 1963.
Ashman was also responsible for the signing of one of the Canaries most renowned goalscorers ever, certainly as far as those pre-First Division years were concerned, the player in question being Ron Davies – part of the Luton side that had put seven goals past Norwich in the clubs two league meetings in the 1962/63 season.
That had been a personal and professional affront that Ashman, who’d played in both games, hadn’t forgotten. He managed to persuade the club chairman at the time, Geoffrey Watling, to fork out the not inconsiderable sum of £35,000 (equivalent to around £700,000 today) in order to secure Davies. The formidable Welshman went on to score 66 goals in 126 appearances for the Canaries before being sold, against just about everyone’s wishes, including his own, to Southampton prior to the start of the 1966/67 season.
But by then Ashman had gone; his place at the club taken by Lol Morgan who, at just 35, had impressed in the lower leagues with Darlington and was now set to do the same at Carrow Road – or so everyone hoped.
Ron Ashman’s time as manager of Norwich City wasn’t, it has to be said, a particularly successful one. As a player he had led the club to an FA Cup Semi-Final, promotion and success in the League Cup, yet, as a manager, he was unable to replicate any of that success, the club’s finishing positions in the old Division Two during his time in charge being 11th, 17th, 6th and 13th.
Yet that 6th place finish at the end of the 1964/65 season was, at the time, the club’s second best ever league placing; an improbable promotion to the top flight seven years before it was finally achieved under Ron Saunders only falling away because of a poor run of results –six defeats in nine games- at the end of that campaign. Unfortunately for Ashman, Gordon Bolland, the club’s top scorer despite the presence of Davies, was to miss seven of those games due to injury.
We can only hypothesise of course. But had Bolland been fit to play alongside Davies in those games, things might have turned out very differently. It could instead have been Norwich City who, along with Newcastle United, won promotion to the Division One at the end of that season with Ashman, rather than Ron Saunders, lauded as the man who had made it all possible.
Interestingly, the men who eventually succeeded where Ashman fell just short (by winning promotion for the club to the top flight of English football) – Ron Saunders (1972), John Bond (1975), Ken Brown (1982 and 1986), Nigel Worthington (2004) and Paul Lambert (2011) also have one thing in common: none of them ever played a competitive game for Norwich City.
Let us hope that in just under a year’s time Neil Adams has bucked that trend.
(*Eddie McCreadie, Ken Shellito, John Hollins, David Webb, Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo).