With playing hostilities set to recommence next season between the Canaries and a team from one of the counties fortunate enough to border Norfolk, I suddenly realised that next spring will mark the 30th anniversary of one of the most epic nights ever seen at Carrow Road. A game that just happened to be against that lot from down the A140.
I’m talking, of course, about the second leg of the 1985 League Cup semi-final against Ipswich Town.
Ipswich are, as their fans will remind you until the end of time, a giant of the modern game; a footballing behemoth whose mighty name smoothly slips off the tongue with the same ease as it does all of their perceived peers of the game. This includes, of course, the mighty AZ ’67 of Holland who Town squeaked to victory against in the 1981 UEFA Cup Final – the club’s last major success of any note.
Since then, Ipswich have not been so much a sleeping giant but the East Anglian sporting equivalent of the mighty Brachiosaurus skeleton that stands, dusty and pretty much overlooked, in the entrance to the Natural History Museum. Everyone knows it’s there but they’re far too busy rushing off to see more interesting things to take much notice of it.
Besides, it’s just another old fossil.
Things were slightly different back in 1985. Town were still on the cusp of past successes, that UEFA Cup victory was still fresh in the memory whilst there was an FA Cup win in 1978 to savour as well. The club had also provided two England Managers into the bargain. Success beyond compare, a glittering history, possibly the greatest that any club in the whole of Suffolk has, or will, ever achieve – although you have to say that Lowestoft Town FC are fast coming up the rails.
Anyway, there they were, one of the more prominent teams of the late 70s and early 80s. Bobby Robson had long departed to bigger and better things but ex-Barry Town and Newport County manager Bobby Ferguson had more than capably stepped up to the mark with a squad that still included many of the greats who had played under Robson – Terry Butcher, Eric Gates and Irvin Gernon to name but three.
They’d finished the previous season in 12th place in Division One, just two points and places ahead of the Canaries who’d thwarted their Wembley hopes that campaign in the League Cup at the 4th round stage – a Mike Channon goal enough to secure victory at Portman Road.
Now, a season later, the two clubs were set to go head to head in the same competition again. Only this time the stakes were higher, with a trip to Wembley the prize for the winners. Ipswich, previous Wembley visitors just seven years earlier were, naturally, extremely confident they’d seize the day at the expense of their opponents.
And, after all, who were Norwich City to them? Well, then, as now, we were a respected, well run and popular club from a quieter area and era. True, we had no long list of past glories to dwell upon, indeed, at the time of this match we had but one League Cup plus two losing finals in the same competition to call our own.
So yes, a ‘lesser’ team perhaps in terms of trophy history, but bigger in personality and character. And, for a club that was supposedly forever standing in the shadow of our mighty opponents, we were regularly able and capable of rattling their stable door, just to wind them up a little. Which we regularly did. And which they always enjoyed.
Now the semi-finals of the League Cup had paired them together for a winner takes all day out at Wembley; live TV coverage (unusual at the time – Sky Sports can now broadcast more live football matches in a week than used to be transmitted on the BBC and ITV in a year!) and a little bit of space on the back pages for once. Plus a trip to Europe the next season.
So quite a prize.
Norwich’s path to the semi-finals had, admittedly, been kind to them. A 9-3 aggregate win over Preston North End in the second round in which Asa Hartford had netted twice on his debut had been followed by an awkward, but ultimately convincing, replay win at Aldershot.
Comfortable victories over Notts County and Grimsby followed, wins that saw Norwich make that two-legged semi-final. And they did so in a way that would have pleased their flat racing affectionate Mike Channon – coming up on the blind side and taking everyone by surprise with an unexpected win at high odds.
Ipswich Town now stood between Norwich and their first visit to Wembley since 1975 with the accordant excitement and anticipation growing as the date of the first-leg at Portman Road drew close.
That game was played on a Saturday, along with a full league programme. So, whilst Norwich and Ipswich had their little, very personal, tussle going on, the footballing world’s attention was drawn to the more important matters of the First Division.
Leaders Everton won 2-1 at Leicester City, future (and former) Sky Sports analyst Andy Gray getting both of the Toffees goals, whilst Tottenham, chasing hard in second place ground out a 1-0 win at West Brom. And so on and so forth.
Finally, just before the report of the crucial World Cup (Asian qualifiers) Group 8 game between Hong Kong and Brunei Darussalam (a convincing 8-0 win for Hong Kong in case anyone is interested), the nation finally got to hear about the League Cup semi final game being played in Suffolk – well, either that or there would have been 30 seconds of dead air before the news and you can’t really play the potter’s wheel clip on the radio.
Show nearly over and match half over – 1-0 to Ipswich.
Norwich had been fortunate to keep the score that close and, in doing so, giving themselves a fighting chance in the second leg. Barely five minutes had gone when Denis Van Wijk’s youthful exuberance around an opponent led to a free kick which George Burley guided to a completely unmarked Mich D’Avray (if D’Avray had been Van Wijk’s man, you have to feel for him and what would have been coming at half-time from Mel Machin as a result) who easily headed past the unprotected Chris Woods.
No-one had scored a goal within the first ten minutes of an East Anglian derby since, well… the previous month and fixture, when Eric Gates scored after just three minutes. Ipswich went on to win that one with some ease; their first goal then in five games leading on to only their second win in ten games.
Along, as we might have said at the time, come Norwich.
The sporting die is therefore cast. Six minutes have gone, one set piece, a defensive howler and the Canaries are one down already.
‘Hello’, thought the masses of Blue and White; ‘I do believe we are going to give these Canaries a bit of a pasting today’.
Most Canaries fans at the game were probably thinking along the same lines. It didn’t look good and it so nearly got worse when Romeo Zondervan ‘scored’ only for the referee to disallow his effort, claiming the ball had never crossed the line. A lucky escape for Norwich in a game the home side had dominated.
While Ipswich hadn’t increased their one goal winning margin, there was an air of confidence about their manner and display which suggested that the second leg at Carrow Road would be a testing and difficult a challenge for Norwich. A game in which Ipswich would probably start as slight favourites.
A feature of Norwich’s season had been the form of central defenders, Steve Bruce and Dave Watson. Bruce was nearing the end of his first campaign at Carrow Road – making his mark in a memorable opening game against Liverpool, his first meaningful contribution in a Norwich shirt the 2nd minute own goal he headed past Chris Woods.
Luckily for Bruce, his opening faux pas was, on the day, overshadowed by the result as Norwich came back from being 2-0 and 3-2 behind to snatch a deserved draw – the last minute equaliser coming from Channon.
This meant all the talk, post-game and the following day was about typical Canary heroics and Channon’s last minute point saver – taking a little bit of pressure away from Bruce and allowing him to bed down in the Norwich defence alongside Watson.
Bruce’s first goal for the club had been in the first-leg of the 2nd round tie at Preston; an emphatic headed effort that Watson later matched. He repeated the feat in the second leg, scoring the fourth of Norwich’s six on the night and, in doing so – combined with his overall performance – looking every part the safe, dominating and physical presence the side had needed. He was someone who dovetailed with Watson for whom previous experimentation with the likes of Willie Young and Aage Hareide had not proved to be successful or realistic in long term.
Brown was building a side for the next few years with young, British players at its core. Bruce fitted the template perfectly. Willie Young did not.
So it was that Bruce and Watson, impressive twin towers in the Canary rearguard took their places in the Norwich side for the 2nd leg.
Instructions? They – shall – not – pass. Oh, and bang one in from a set piece if you get the chance.
Ipswich arrived on the night with characteristic swagger and a manager, in Ferguson, who thought that the team that had won the first-leg was more than good enough to see off the Norwich challenge in the bear pit that would be Carrow Road.
Unchanged, confident and full of self-belief. They were going to win.
Ken Brown on the other hand decided to make a change, leaving out Paul Clayton in favour of his FA Youth Cup winning team-mate Louie Donowa. Born and raised in Ipswich, Donowa just might have felt he had something to prove against his home town team whilst Brown would have been relishing the thought of Donowa’s pace on a pitch that would be very fast, very slick, and very difficult to defend on.
And, with Barham on the left hand flank, Norwich had two wingers ready and primed to supply Deehan and Channon with all that they needed to finish the job. Steely-eyed confidence and determination warmly oozed from the home dressing room.
Brown and Machin, both of whom had played at Wembley before, made sure the players knew what they had to look forward to, whilst Channon – an FA Cup winner with Southampton in 1976 – might just have put down his copy of the Racing Post for long enough to concur with the words of both manager and coach.
“They’re right lads. You might not have another chance. I know I won’t. Let’s do it, let’s go to Wembley.”
Channon had been there, done that, worn the England shirt. Forty-six times no less, scoring 21 goals. The man was quality. You listened.
Ipswich didn’t get off to the best of starts. First leg match winner D’Avray was escorted off early on nursing concussion and a broken nose – Norwich were getting their challenges in and early. A gaggle of blue shirts surrounded Keith Hackett lamenting the fact but were brushed aside by the bustling man in black.
“You play the game, I’ll make the decisions”.
Were Ipswich rattled? Maybe. But regardless of whether they were or not, Norwich began to take control. Chances were forming, more in the mind’s eye at first, spectators warming to intent and purpose as moves broke down or lines were crossed.
But eventually a breakthrough. Norwich have a free kick near the halfway line that Van Wijk floats to Deehan, lurking with murderous intent in the Ipswich penalty area and being marked by the harrying, snapping Cranson. Both are six-footers, but, crucially, Deehan is quick of thought and surprisingly fast on his feet for a big man, back-heeling the ball through both his and the confused Cranson’s legs.
His audacity pays a rich reward, finding Channon who swiftly plays it back to him. Deehan curled a shot towards the goal with Paul Cooper moving across to cover it.
Threat over? No.
The flight of the ball means it strikes the unfortunate Cranson, taking a deflection so big en-route to the goal it could feature in a school geometry book. Cooper has, regardless, made a leap of Billy Elliott’esque proportions into no-man’s land in a futile effort to stop it – but it’s to no avail.
One nil and all square in the tie.
The game that follows isn’t so much nip and tuck as bite and snarl. It’s physical, rough and a bit ready as well, but it’s exhilarating stuff in the Carrow Road mud. And, as time ticks by, extra-time is looking certain, something that will give some of the older players plenty to think about – not that Channon or Hartford in particular would entertain coming off, they’re both loving it. Dancing their way over that mud like schoolboys. They’ll not be found wanting if an extra half hour is needed.
But wait, Norwich have won a corner. The digital timer on the top of the Barclay Stand is displaying ‘86’. This might be one of the last chances in normal time – a collective breath is exhaled around the ground as the admirable Mark Barham trots over to take it.
Cue eager anticipation from the Norwich fans mixing with fear from the Ipswich end. And you can see why: like lions espying an easy meal on the Serengeti, both Watson and Bruce, prime Canary Alphas, have made their way forward and are placed just on the edge of the area, waiting, just waiting for any scraps that might come their way.
Deehan and Channon, in the meantime, have got their hands full, surrounded by a gnarl of Ipswich defenders, so many it seems that they appear to sink in the blue waves as the ball comes over.
Amazingly however, none of this jostling phalanx have paid any attention to Bruce who throws his forehead at the ball, the connection true and right on the sweet spot – he won’t bury one like that again until he wins a Premier League title for Manchester United.
Crushed, Ipswich offer nothing in the remaining minutes. They hurry and scurry, but the purpose to their play has gone and what was deemed enough to stop Norwich winning isn’t going to be enough to do just that themselves. Not now. Because Norwich are going to Wembley.
In the post-match interview with Anglia TV’s Gerry Harrison, Steve Bruce looked back at the VT of his goal, commenting on how Mark Barham had been working on the corner routine all day in training.
As he talks, an incredulous Ken Brown is heard to say, “you didn’t even jump…!” before looking Bruce straight in the eye saying, “…he was telling me he was about thirty feet in the air when you headed that, you wasn’t (he glares at Bruce) even off the deck…” He continues to chastise Bruce, even as Harrison tries to continue the interview, so much so the viewer is left wondering if Bruce’s reward for getting his club to Wembley is to be a fine from his manager for deceiving him!
Brown’s act softens though, and, with a huge smile on his face, he adds; “…mind you, it was a good header!”
One of the best Ken, one of the best.