In the last of the interviews with former Canary players I have adapted for inclusion on MyFootballWriter I’m revisiting one I did with former captain and, for a very brief period, caretaker manager, Ian Butterworth.
Ian joined us from Nottingham Forest in 1986 after starting his career at Coventry City, joining Forest at the same time as Stuart Pearce.
A real student of the game and an extremely nice chap to boot, Ian looked back at his time in the game with Norwich as a player as well as his subsequent career in coaching.
Ian, it shouldn’t be forgotten that you played in more than one good Norwich team-the sides you played in under Ken Brown and Dave Stringer both had some success?
Yes, in the season when I first came to Norwich we finished fifth under Ken and then fourth with Dave Stringer two years later-and would have qualified for Europe on both occasions.
You were a regular starter in both those sides, but originally came down here on loan from Nottingham Forest?
I joined on loan in 1986, my debut game was against Aston Villa (Norwich won 4-1 at Villa Park) that September. I played for a few more games, and then I was back up at Forest. But I wasn’t getting a game under Cloughie and I just wanted to play! I played to the best of my ability when I was picked, but I was having a bad time, wasn’t a regular, so, when Norwich put in a bid of £160,000 for me I moved on.
Were you happy to come here?
Yes, definitely. I wanted to play and I would be playing at Norwich. Mind you, I didn’t really know where Norwich was at first! I was travelling down here with Ken Brown and Nigel Pleasants (club secretary at the time), we were going along the A47, and, well, that road – it just goes on forever, doesn’t it? I’m sat there thinking, ‘where are we going?’ Ken looks at me and says ‘you’ll get used to this’. And I did get used to it – and all those long coach journeys that were to come!
You slotted into the first team straight away didn’t you?
Yes – Brucie (Steve Bruce) was here at the time, so was Sean Elliott. Sean got injured, so I initially came in for him. In fact I ended up playing alongside Brucie for just over a year and really enjoyed it – we had a decent season or so together.
A fifth, fourth and third in the top division whilst you were here, that’s not bad going?
Well yes, it was. Remember, we were a small club, we didn’t pay massive wages, neither could we attract the top players – but the crowds were good, we could get 19-20,000.
You might have come from Nottingham Forest, but you started at Coventry?
I remember I was in the Coventry side that put Norwich down! I played in that game against Everton, at right back. We had to win to stay up and we did. Mind you, they’d just won the league, so I think it was a case of they were taking it easy. Anyway, they put some reserves in on the day, good players mind, people like Alan Harper and Derek Mountfield. I remember it well, it was a really hot day, a Sunday morning and we played well, got the win and put Norwich down.
After that, the league made sure that all the final day fixtures kicked off at the same time!
They’ve always had a problem with fixtures. The problem now is with the FA Cup, the way it’s treated now, well, it’s more of a Mickey Mouse Cup. I’m a traditionalist, play it at the proper time of day and season. It used to be so special. It was on TV all day, you’d have to get up early to watch all the build-up and still be in your pyjamas by 3pm, and on your thirteenth bowl of cornflakes by then. And now, now (expresses annoyance) they’re playing it in the evening.
I guess football really began to change with Sky?
It was an exciting time when Sky came on board though. They were showing a lot of games and putting a lot of money in. Clubs were spending the money on new players and improving their grounds, so there was a lot happening. When they were at Norwich, we met Richard Keys and Andy Gray (of Sky Sports) – they did a fantastic job over the years. I liked Andy Gray, his analysis was very good, he could relate to the ordinary football fan when he was talking about the game.
And your first game was against Arsenal at Highbury? I ‘ve got to ask you about that one…
Yes, 2-0 down at half-time, then Robbo (Mark Robins) comes in and scores a couple.
What do you say or do at half time? What did you do? Remember, it’s the first game of the season, you’re away to Arsenal and they’re winning 2-0.
Well, it was a pretty even game. We hadn’t been walloped or anything – two defensive mistakes from them, two free kicks, two goals- I think Steve Bould scored one? But no, we weren’t doing too badly; they’d had a couple of chances and had taken them, so their tails were up. We chatted at half-time and just said, OK, well, we’ve got to get the next goal, it’s a vital one. We knew we’d come into the game sooner or later, you have to… anyway, Robbo scored with a header and it all snowballed. Then, all of a sudden, our season, from being so flat at half-time, it’s like, well, your tails are up and you’re ready and waiting for your Tuesday night game.
Chelsea at home.
Yes, that’s right. We won, despite going behind again. We went on and won the big Sky TV game as well (Forest), so we had a really good start and were soon clear at the top. With that good start and being clear at Christmas, I always thought that was the time we should have brought in a couple of players – that’s always the time to do it, it can make a difference. We got Efan (Ekoku) in March, but that was a bit late, we should, perhaps, have pushed the boat out a little earlier. It might have helped push us across the line. I’m not saying we would then have won the Premier League, but it would have been a lot closer, I’m sure.
Thinking back to the start of the season, what was the reaction of the players to Mike Walker being appointed as manager?
Well, we all knew Mike well as he had been reserve team manager – so most of the players got on with him OK and knew how he worked. So for us, it was a smooth transition. He already had our respect, so it went from there, and yes, we were happy with his appointment. He changed a couple of things – managers always do. Gossy is perhaps the prime example – he’d played very few games for the first team under Dave Stringer, but Mike soon elevated him to the first-team, and he went from there, prospered, played well and scored some important goals.
Remember, five or six of us have been together for quite a bit by then though, so we all knew each other’s games, our respective strengths and weaknesses, so Mike knew what needed to be done. What we did change that season was the pace of the side, we had more of it up front with Foxy (Ruel Fox) and Chris Sutton, then Efan came on board – none of them slouches. They would all worry teams – we’d suck them into us a bit and then have the option of hitting them fast on the break, hitting the ball over the top and running at them.
Did it get to the stage where you were going into games and just enjoying yourselves?
I think it did, yes. We did get to that stage. Okay, we got caught out a couple of times, but, for what we were – a small, provincial club – stuck out on its own. We did very well. We got lots of attention, lots of media coverage… can you imagine what it would be had we won it? Certainly the extra pace that Mike brought to the side and our game made a lot of difference. I suppose if you do want to be a little bit cynical, a little bit critical, well, maybe we did tend to overplay at times previously.
Was Mike more of a leader and motivator, with Dixie (John Deehan) more of the tactician?
Yes, I think so. Dixie was very much a connection with the players of course, on a day to day basis, but, in the end, it’s the manager who has the final say in everything and you do what he decides. So it was a partnership, a good partnership, but Mike always had the final say. And the lads never had a problem with that – it worked well.
Talking of managers, you worked under Cloughie at Forest, didn’t you?
Well (smiles), he was a one off wasn’t he? I think your opinion of a manager changes once you’re actually playing regularly under him. I know that, I’ve been in coaching, you get a little bit older, a little bit wiser and you start to think like them, look back at things that have happened and you think, yep, that’s why he did this or changed that…
When making the adjustment from playing to coaching, is it hard to suddenly detach yourself from players who have been your team mates?
You don’t want the detachment. You’ve still got to have an element of interaction – if you’re the coach you’ve actually got to have more of it to a certain extent, you’ve got to be able to interact with people in order to work with them well and to help them improve as players.
All the aggro that you must have had Ian, coaching and management, yet you keep getting back into it, there must be something about it?
That’s the football drug. Sometimes you think, ‘bloody hell, I’m doing this and I really should be…’, and yes, sometimes you do get the proverbial shitted on and it’s not your fault. I was caught up in the middle of things here for example, but that’s life, that’s football. You accept these things because you enjoy it, despite the strains and pressure, you enjoy working with professionals. I’ve been in football since I was a school kid and want to stay involved, it’s all I’ve ever known – and, as I’ve always said, it’s better than working.
Lots of ups and downs?
You get these incredible highs and lows. One season can be brilliant and you’re enjoying every moment of it. The next and it can go wrong and you’re a duck egg.
The second part of Ed’s interview with Ian Butterworth will be here tomorrow…