This week’s nostalgia spot – though I’m not sure he’d be happy to be referred to as an item of nostalgia – centres on a Norwich player who, in many ways, was similar in character and playing style to the recently departed Bradley Johnson.
How could you best describe Rob Newman?
How about… hard working, never hid from the ball or the action, versatile and a player with a venomous shot. Also one who was very popular amongst both his fellow players as well as the Canary support.
Remind you of anyone?
I met up with Rob whilst I was writing Fantasy Football, and enjoyed a long and very revealing chat with a man who was as genial and open about himself and his time in the game as people who had already met, and got to know him, had warned me.
You started your career at Bristol City and played a lot of games for them before you joined Norwich, a long serving player and one club man who made his Bristol City debut when he was still only 17.
Yes and that came about because the club was in a bit of financial trouble. They’d just been relegated to the old Fourth Division and, what with that and the existing players being on big salaries for the time, they went bankrupt. Seven of the club’s highest paid players left the club, they were all paid off to go and Bristol City basically had to start from scratch with a new squad and lots of players who came in through the youth side. Obviously, for me as one of those younger players, and one who wasn’t earning a great deal of money, it was ideal and I got a regular place in the team. It wasn’t a given for me, or any of the other younger lads, that we’d get our chance – you still had to be half-decent, an accomplished player already. But, clearly, those circumstances helped me with the start of my career.
You were there for ten years, so you saw a lot of managers come and go in that time?
Alan Dicks was my first manager; he was there when I was an apprentice. Then Bobby Hughton, Roy Hodgson (now the England manager of course) for a while, then it was Terry Cooper for six years. He was followed by Joe Jordan, then, when Joe went to Hearts, Jimmy Lumsden, who was his assistant, took over. It was Jimmy who sold me to Norwich.
Terry Cooper was the left back in that great Leeds team of the 70s; he was some player wasn’t he?
He was unbelievable. When he came to us, he was still playing, but in a left midfield role. He never gave the ball away. If you were in trouble or just looking for a pass, you’d give it to Terry, he’d look after it.
A good manager?
He was fantastic. In terms of man management, he knew exactly how to treat a player, how to respond to one – either by shouting at them or putting the arm around the shoulder. And he did well at Bristol, he got us promotion back to the Third Division in 1984, we also won the Freight Rover Trophy in 1986, which was played at Wembley.
Wembley meant a bit more back then, didn’t it?
It did. Back then it was reserved for the special games and occasions. I remember standing in the dressing rooms at Wembley, thinking ‘how many great players have been here, played here…and how many great players haven’t played here’? It was special. Nowadays you can finish 7th in League Two and end up playing at Wembley. FA Cup semi-finals are played there as well, it’s not the same. On the day I think I played right back and it all pretty much passed me by. But I was happy to be playing and being involved and kept myself to myself, the quiet lad in the dressing room. Then, especially as my second full season went on, I felt more settled, more confident and more part of everything.
You said that you’d gone to Wembley for that first time and thought of all the great players who have never played there. Now it’s more of a case of are there any players left who haven’t played there yet.
You look at something like the League Two final – why not play it at a big ground where 40,000 fans can fill it up and create a great atmosphere, rather than having a half-empty Wembley? Villa Park is perfect, it’s a fantastic stadium. You could play some of the games here (at Carrow Road) now – great ground. But, the FA, they’ve got to pay for this ground, so… you can’t beat getting there via the semi-final though. When we beat Hereford to get there, the euphoria was unbelievable. Best thing ever.
All these emotions and experiences – do you miss playing?
Yes. It’s never the same once you stop. I still miss playing. There’s nothing like it, especially the banter in the dressing room every day.
So many ex-professional footballers tell me that’s what they miss the most.
Definitely. It’s still there, to a certain extent, if you’re a manager or a coach. But, like I said, it’s not the same. I miss playing but I don’t miss management. It’s tough. Look at the time I was at Southend. I went there, under Dave Webb, firstly in charge of the reserve team, then as assistant manager. Then, one day, all of a sudden-Webb has gone. So, completely unexpectedly, I’m manager. And I was manager there for just 18 months. That’s never enough – as it is, I had no budget and I didn’t have a good team. But we still finished 12th, mid-table, respectable. But not good enough for the chairman: ‘You’re sacked’. Maybe I came into the role too quickly, I don’t know – but I did make a good go of it there, so it was frustrating.
That’s a keyword. ‘Frustrating’. You hear of ex-professionals who have played at the highest level finding working down the lower leagues is just that, frustrating, because players can’t always relate, or even do what their manager is asking of them.
Absolutely. But I never asked any of my players to do something I wasn’t capable of doing myself. I would say. ‘Look, I can do it, so can you’. I can hit that pass, it’s easy to me, I can do it time and time and time again. So should you. But it is more difficult for them, and a lot about management at that level and players coming through is for them to have the character, as well as the ability, to get on and do it.
Leon Cort is a good example. He was with me at Southend. He did well and has had a good career. He was a big character and it showed. But those are the exceptions. It is tough. I ended up, after Southend, going to Cambridge United, working under Steve Thompson. All of a sudden, he’s sacked and the club goes into administration. I become manager and I’ve got very little money. We had a youth team and about eight senior players. I couldn’t sign anyone, we could have a free or take on a trialist, but we still couldn’t sign them on or play them. So, again, no resources, a limited playing squad-out I went.
What really annoyed me was that, after I left (in 2006) and Jimmy Quinn took over, he’s suddenly got a budget three times the one I had. The thing is though, at that level, is that you can have all the money you want, but if you haven’t got the players and they haven’t got the attitude or the desire, then you’re not going to get anywhere. I said to the Southend chairman at one stage, ‘Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t coach this bunch of players’… team spirit is great, having some money behind you is great but you’ve got to have good players.
Thinking of that, was that the great strengths of the Norwich side in 1992/93 – great team spirit but also, critically, good players?
That Norwich side, the squad then, we didn’t need Mike Walker or Dixie (John Deehan) shouting at us, or showing us what we had to do. We knew we could do it; we got on and did it. We had a squad of good players, clever and capable players. We’d be made aware of the situation, recognise it, deal with it. And, if someone was struggling, you helped them out, of course you did. Because it might have been you struggling in the next game, and then you’d want your mates to help you. That was the basis of the great team spirit we had then, the bonding amongst the players.
And yet it nearly started so badly, first game, Arsenal away, 2-0 down at half time.
Ha. It should have been six. We were shell-shocked, we’d had a battering. We sat there at half time and thought, ‘right, damage limitation’. How could it be anything else? There was no way you would have thought we’d turn it around and win 4-2. But we played well, the confidence was there and by the end, if we’d have stayed on the pitch, we would have kept on scoring goals, we were that confident then.
That was four goals scored, at Arsenal, and with that famous defence of theirs’ – Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams – they were all playing.
Exactly. It felt like we’d won the league at the end of that game. It was a great trip home and a great night out in Norwich. It was an especially good day all round for Gossy, as he met his future wife on that night out. But how things turn around-at half time, we were thinking, if we keep it to 2-0, that’s a good result. What we didn’t want was 5-0, 6-0… (Rob is now looking at my reference book and the team-line ups for that game)… I was in midfield for that one, yep, me and Gossy. Chippy was on the bench? That’s incredible – Chippy was the best player ever. Look at the Arsenal team; Jensen, Smith, Campbell, Merson, Limpar…
They had Ian Wright on the bench.
…that’s not a bad team, not bad is it?
That game, that half even, was a huge 45 minutes for Norwich City wasn’t it?
I remember we went down to play Chelsea, and yes, we had been doing well. We were late for that game, delays on the King’s Road, so we were changing on the team coach. I played up front on that day, I remember outpacing Mal Donaghy (laughs), there aren’t many players who can outpace Mal Donaghy. But we must have been a nice team for the neutrals to watch, there weren’t too many 0-0s (three in 42 league games) that season.
There was a 7-1. (Reference to the 7-1 defeat at Blackburn)
Yes, but I scored that day. No, but don’t tell *, but Shearer absolutely smashed him that day. But like I said, in that game, I scored, so… in any case, it was irrelevant in the end, it was the day we heard the terribly sad news about Gunny’s daughter, and that puts it all into perspective. It was just a football match, it didn’t matter.
How had the game moved on, even then, from when you started out at Bristol City?
Looking back at diets and eating properly. That was just coming into the game then, but we’d already been aware of it at Bristol City, many years earlier. Joe Jordan had been playing in Italy and he brought back all ideas on a good and healthy diet with him, so we were eating pasta, chicken, fish long before anyone else was as pre-match meals – they’d been doing it out there for years. We sometimes used to train on a Monday if we had a mid-week game; there was a market stall near where we trained, so we’d nip over if we had the munchies, get ourselves a burger. Joe put a stop to all that, he also took all the West Country pasties off the menu at the training ground. In that aspect, Joe and the club were ten years ahead of everyone else.
The second part of Ed’s interview with Rob will be on MFW tomorrow.