A week ago I invited people to nominate their choice as the greatest Canary hero of all time; the person who, in their opinion, had contributed more than anyone else to the cause, life and soul of Norwich City.
And you know what? Almost as soon as the article went ‘live’ and the responses started coming in-on here, Twitter and in myriad other places, I realised just how tough a question it was to ask and how unreasonable my request had been. But not because of any perceived difficulty that people would have in giving an answer.
Not at all. You could fill the Gunn Club with deserving candidates.
No, it was because of the great and the good who would to miss out. You could, for example, have nominated your choice and then thought, on reflection that you couldn’t possibly pick them as it meant ignoring another great from our past. But then what about…? And him. And him. And her.
So you can see where this sort of thing tends to go. It’s an impossible job.
The club have done their best to make being a Canary ‘legend’ inclusive, thus, in doing so, making it very hard for anyone to feel left out or neglected. The current list of Norwich City Hall of Fame members stands at 119 individuals deemed to have been worthy enough to have earnt such an accolade and, whilst there are several names on the list who more than deserve the honour, there are those who you feel – with the greatest of respect to them – may not have quite reached the heights that others will have done in their time at the club.
But is being a member of our Hall of Fame just about reaching the loftiest heights and achieving Canary greatness in the process?
Or is it something about embodying that unique spirit, heart and soul of our club, of wearing the shirt and being proud to have been one of us, even in the darkest of playing times?
I’ll leave that one for you to decide.
Me? Well, I’m a soppy old fool when it comes to our club. You could have made one first-team appearance for the club as a substitute in the whole of your time at Norwich City* and I’d end up hanging onto every word you said if we ever met.
Or you could be Duncan Forbes, Kevin Keelan, Martin Peters, Darren Huckerby or Grant Holt.
You were a Canary. And that’s good enough for me.
My own choice for the Greatest Ever Canary is John Bond.
And therein, as you can see, lies the problem with this particular debate.
By deciding to make him my choice I’m immediately relegating the likes of Geoffrey Watling, Archie Macaulay, Kevin Keelan, Duncan Forbes, Martin Peters and Dave Stringer to the bench.
Plus, of course, latter day candidates, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones.
Well, they always say the true strength of a side is the quality of players it has on the bench. And that particular octet are all names many other clubs would have been proud to have called their own as, of course, some did.
With Martin Peters someone who could, justifiably, be a Hall of Famer for West Ham, Tottenham and England as well as ourselves.
Did he really play for us?
Yes. Yes he did.
I don’t know if you can make a modern day comparison, indeed, make any sort of comparison at all to what Bond managed to do when he persuaded Peters to sign for Norwich for just £50,000 in March 1975.
It wasn’t as if he was some knackered old has-been, a former great whose best days were well and truly behind him when he took the money and ran all the way to Norfolk in greedy gratitude-and we’ve had a few of them.
Not at all. Peters was still just 31 when he signed for Norwich. That’s the same age as Arjen Robben is now. Or, come to that, two years younger than Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now.
And I don’t think anyone would turn their noses up at either of those on the grounds that they were “too old”.
Neither of them had a World Cup winners medal either. Game, set and match Bond. 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.
Peters ended up making 232 League and Cup appearances for Norwich, scoring 50 goals in the process. His form with us was so good that, for a time, he was heavily linked with an England recall. Hardly surprising really, when you consider some of his rivals for a place in the England midfield at the time included Mike Doyle, Brian Greenhoff and Tony Towers.
Despite that rather underwhelming competition however as well as the near total campaign from the media for Peters to be recalled, it never happened. Ultimately, England manager Ron Greenwood pointed out that Peters was too old to be reconsidered and that he and England had to move on with its next generation of players, one of many that were subsequently labelled, at that time, as one which might be considered ‘golden’.
So who did Greenwood include in the first England squad named after the Peters debate had, as far as he would have been concerned, been irrevocably put to bed once and for all?
Liverpool’s Ian Callaghan, called up for his third and fourth England caps, eleven years after he had gained the first two. Callaghan was 35 at the time – two years older than Peters who had been written off by Greenwood, despite all that he had, and was, achieving at Norwich, including, at one point, starting in 94 consecutive league games for the club over two and a bit seasons.
Too old? If anything, the England manager was. But then he had been the overwhelming choice of the FA as opposed to the overwhelming choice of the fans, media and most of the people who played or were otherwise involved in the game.
Bond’s masterstroke in signing Peters was just one of many decisions he got spectacularly right during his time at Carrow Road.
One of those was made during his early weeks at Norwich and is one I am particularly fond of. I am therefore indebted to fellow MFW writer and friend Mick Dennis for sharing it with me over a coffee one sunny morning a few years ago.
Bond had, immediately after his appointment, been doing what any new manager would be doing at his new club. He put all of his attention and focus on the playing staff and various representative sides and players at Carrow Road – right from the established first team members down to the club’s various schoolboy teams.
He had, in doing so, been shocked to discover that not only were the facilities that the players were expected to use far below the standards expected at the time but that the administration and management of the club’s junior and reserve sides was almost completely neglected with only the first-team part of an organised and properly ran league.
As a result of this, the club’s junior and reserve sides had to contend with hastily arranged friendly matches played on an semi-regular basis against local non-league sides, which meant the likes of all the local bruisers at places like Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Wisbech Town were given regular opportunities to kick a young Canary in the air in order to keep him “in his place.”
With Norwich not able to even be aware of, let alone attract, the best of the young local talent (Trevor Whymark and Clive Woods were both Norfolk born, indeed, Woods was born in Norwich yet both were lost to Ipswich Town as schoolboys) in the first place, those players that they did manage to tempt were then expected to prove themselves in such circumstances. It was anathema to Bond who had already put into place a thriving schoolboy and youth set-up at Bournemouth.
Things clearly had to change. And quickly.
Hence one of the first calls Bond made when he’d settled into his new office was to the Football League to ask about his youth and reserve teams joining the South East Counties leagues.
“Can’t be done” was the answer. “Norwich is too far away.”
Bond was ready for that. “Then we’ll play all of our league games away from home”
How could the Football League refuse such an offer?
It meant, of course, that the club’s young players now had access to the first-team coach in order to travel to some of their away games with the opposition now being their peers at places like Tottenham, Arsenal and Crystal Palace.
It also meant, again, under Bond’s insistence that the facilities for the players were improved as well as plans made to move into a permanent, club owned training complex rather than splitting training sessions between the ground and Mousehold, with Trowse being the preferred location from the start.
Things were being taken seriously.
Yet even then Bond wasn’t satisfied, Why was it the club didn’t visit all the local schools in the area, not only to see all the up and coming players in the county for themselves but also to foster good relations between the club and its next generation of supporters?
Bond spoke, the club was compelled to act. A new position within the club of ‘schools relationship manager’ was duly created. That close relationship between our club and local schools continues to this day with the Norwich City CSF Youth Development Programme, a thoroughly contemporary investment in football at its most junior levels throughout Norfolk and one which is very well thought of throughout the game.
A scheme that can trace its roots all the way back to John Bond.
To my ever-lasting regret, I never got the opportunity to meet John Bond who, very sadly, passed away shortly before the one chance I might have done to do so was scheduled to take place. I did, however, meet up with his son Kevin who was more than happy to talk about his dad for my Norwich City-The Seventies book. One particular part of that conversation has stuck with me to this day, it is Kevin comparing the game today to how it was played and preached by his dad nearly four decades earlier:
Sometimes a team will defend and look to keep possession for eighty-odd minutes, just to wear their opponents down, then finally break through and score to take the 1-0 win. Do you want to watch that? Keeping possession like that might look good, it might appeal, but is it entertaining? We are in the entertainment business. I think people have forgotten that. At Norwich if we had the same situation, if we’d kept hold of the ball and were in a good position offensively, we’d be expected to go forward, to look to score a goal. Someone like Jimmy Neighbour would be somewhat discouraged to pass the ball back else try to keep possession, we’d be expected to try to create a chance, to take the risk. To risk losing the ball in doing so? Maybe, yes. But it’s worth it if you score a goal. If you lose the ball? Then win it back again. It comes back, again, to the entertainment business. We were expected to entertain. The fans expected it. And Dad wanted the game played accordingly.
We’ve long been used, as Norwich fans, to hearing or reading about how we are a side that “likes to play good football”, one that “plays the passing game” and “keeps the ball on the deck.” All of that too, is John Bond’s legacy.
Under Ron Saunders, his immediate predecessor, we were indeed effective – but easy on the eye? Not always. Bond took the organisation and fitness that had been the cornerstone of Saunders’ Norwich and added both flair and individuality, the epitome of which was the signing of and influence that Martin Peters had on the side. Peters could never have played for Norwich under Ron Saunders or any of those that came before him.
Yet under Bond, he and the club became a natural fit. And with it, we became a football team that the rest of the footballing world began to take seriously.
Thanks for the memories, Bondy. My number one Canary.
*Amongst those who have achieved that particular honour are Gary Sargent, Andrew Hart and Bally Smart.