What were you doing thirty years ago this coming weekend?
If you spent it following the Canaries, then there’s a fair chance you’d have been off to Hillsborough in order to watch our thirteenth league game of the 1984/85 season.
It was lucky thirteen as it turned out, for we put in a somewhat untypically gritty and hardworking performance to win the game 2-1, recording not only our first away win of that campaign but also the Owls first home defeat – one of only two they suffered for the whole of that season.
The Norwich side selected by Ken Brown on the day was as follows: Woods, Haylock, Downs, Bruce, Mendham, Watson, Devine, Channon, Deehan, Hartford and Donowa with Van Wijk replacing Devine in the second half.
That’s a quality starting XI. Chris Woods was a standout keeper; one who would go onto play for England during his time with us. At the centre of the Canary defence, Steve Bruce and Dave Watson provided as formidable and as good a partnership there as any the club had previously had – or have had since.
The centre of midfield combined the energy, verve and passing ability of Peter Mendham combined with the nous and artistry of Asa Hartford. In attack, Mike Channon and John Deehan dovetailed perfectly, contributing 29 goals between them over the course of the season, many of the goals coming from the pace and trickery of Louie Donowa, a traditional winger of the chalk on your boots type.
More than decent then. The proverbial mix of experience and youth with some hard work, guile and artistry thrown in for good measure.
That win at Hillsborough lifted us into 13th place in Division One. By the end of the first week of 1985, and by virtue of a 1-0 win over Southampton at Carrow Road, we were up to 8th place – just five points shy of Manchester United in third.
All that and a League Cup quarter final to look forward to.
Long before the days of the internet of course, but, had it been around, you suspect the denizens of the WOTB and the Pink Un message-boards would have been reasonably content with our lot.
There was, after all, no reason for anyone not to be happy with how things were going at the club.
Steve Bruce had proved to be an outstanding signing whilst, on the pitch, there had been some notable victories, especially at Carrow Road. A Deehan hat trick had seen off Watford, Everton – the eventual League Champions – had kept five consecutive clean sheets before their trip to Norfolk and went home have suffered a 4-2 defeat; Deehan a major player again with two of the goals, Arsenal were also sent home, this time with no goals as well as no points, as we saw them off on Boxing Day.
Yep, Deehan again.
And then there was the League Cup.
I don’t know if the club are planning anything to commemorate the 30th anniversary of our last, and, indeed only, major trophy success at Wembley next spring, but it would be nice to think they might.
We steamrollered our way to the semi-finals, scoring 17 goals in just six games before, as fate had surely decreed it, only Ipswich stood between us and a first appearance at the venerable old stadium for a decade.
The story of those two games doesn’t need to be retold here, suffice to say that Steve Bruce’s late header in that second leg win, the one that took us to Wembley, has gone down in Canary folklore – and rightly so.
Yet the man who opened the scoring on that night, the one responsible for getting us back into the game and giving us the position to go on and win both game and tie should maybe not be forgotten either. For it was the ubiquitous Deehan, our leading scorer in the competition who did so, his more than speculative shot in the 35th minute finding its way past Paul Cooper via Ian Cranson’s knee.
Not, as it turned out, the first time the Canaries owed much to a deflection in the competition that season. Or Deehan.
The final, played on a day of drizzle and gloom at Wembley, where the highlight of the pre-match entertainment was the sight of one of the RAF’s elite Red Devils parachute team miscalculating his trajectory and crashing into the stadiums roof (he was unhurt) was, for the main, as dour as the weather itself. But no-one cares about the weather or bemoans the lack of quality on show if your side wins.
And win we did, beating Sunderland 1-0, courtesy of an own goal by Gordon Chisholm. The luckless Sunderland defender, like Cranson in the preceding semi-final, was wearing the number 5 shirt, and, again like that Carrow Road opener against Ipswich, an own goal helped us on our way to victory; the initial shot from Asa Hartford net bound from the moment it hit Chisholm’s chest.
But who made the chance in the first place, who chased and harried David Corner near the corner flag, winning the ball, pulling away and finding Hartford with his pass? Who chased down a ball that was going nowhere and fashioned an opportunity out of nothing?
Yep, that man Deehan. Again.
A week after our Wembley win, Coventry were the visitors to Carrow Road. The trophy was paraded around the pitch pre-match and everyone was in fine voice and full of good humour, not just for the rest of the season but our first ever foray into competitive European football that would follow during the next one.
We saw off Coventry, Stuart Pearce, Cyrille Regis and all, to the tune of 2-1. Channon scored both goals but Mark Barham stole the show and the plaudits, putting in one of the best performances in a Norwich shirt over the 90 minutes that I have ever seen from one of our players – then or since.
Barham was just 23 and seemed to have it all – pace, skill, strength and a venomous shot. He’d already won 2 caps for England and a long and successful career at the very top looked guaranteed.
What a player he could have been had injury not interrupted his career so cruelly and, eventually, terminally.
The win against Coventry should have been a springboard to bigger and better things at Carrow Road. With top flight status pretty much assured at Carrow Road for another season, a major trophy secured and a UEFA Cup place to look forward to, Ken Brown and his side had everything to play for. These were good times. Or should have been.
Following our win over the Sky Blues, Norwich won just two of their remaining twelve league games, a run that included four games without a goal and home defeats to Ipswich and Leicester City. Our last game of the season, played in torrential rain at Stamford Bridge, saw us beat Chelsea 2-1 thanks to goals from Asa Hartford (in his last game for the club) and Steve Bruce.
That win came at a welcome time. That poor run of form had seen us slip right down the league and into the bottom three, the late, late three points in London giving us a provisional final placing in the league of 18th. Disappointing yes, but something to work on and, most importantly of all, a placing that saw us end our campaign eight points clear of Coventry who had three games left to play – and who had to win the lot to send us down.
We’re all familiar with the last day extravaganzas of any league season now. Every club’s final league game, no matter what league they are in or their status, is played at exactly the same time; the fixture lists worked out so that the final weekend of any league campaign really is the final one. Everyone goes into it as equals. One game left to play for all, one kick off time for all.
And one of the reasons that rule was (eventually) introduced?
Because Coventry, safe in the knowledge of what they had to do in order to stay up duly won those last three games, the final of which, against an Everton side who were already Champions and not so much on the beach as hungover and asleep on their towels, ending in a farcical 4-1 win and safety at our expense.
They survived whilst down we went.
Of course, we shouldn’t complain really. Coventry City did what they had to do and I have never held it against them, how could you? I wasn’t too chuffed with Everton at the time mind you – but then again, their season was over and they had no professional obligation to us.
No, the slump and eventual relegation was of our own making. To win at Wembley, to then win, playing some glorious football in the process, your following league game and then, unfeasibly, to have a playing record of P-12 W-2 D-2 l-10 GF-8 GA-21 PTS-8 (from a possible 36) tells its own story. It included a run of eight defeats in nine games at one stage that included five in a row by two goals – and with a defence that boasted Chris Woods, Dave Watson and Steve Bruce amongst its ranks.
A post-Wembley hangover? You could say that. Maybe, just maybe, if we’d have lost the final to Sunderland, we might have rallied and stayed up, seeing them go down instead? But then we beat them in that final – and they went down anyway.
A rum old job all round really.