Norwich games against West Ham were once regarded as being almost sacred, potential works of footballing art that should have been played on some vividly verdant faraway field of Elysium.
A different age of course. Both teams and their players were still held in very high regard, noble sportsmen and warriors naturally endowed with rare and precious qualities, gifted performers who were born to entertain; to entertain and, on more than one occasion, to hell with the result.
Hardly surprising when you look at the calibre of men charged with the responsibilities of either playing for, or coaching either of the two clubs over the years, with more than one of them exchanging one footballing school of thought for the other. It may, after all, have been a different club with some unfamiliar faces about the place for any new boy who chose to swap Upton Park for Carrow Road or vice versa. But the footballing philosophies remained the same.
Consider three of those who have swapped east London for Norfolk over the years. Yes, for all it was a rather circuitous route. But maybe they were delaying the inevitable, taking a footballing sabbatical before they came home?
John Bond joined the Hammers in 1950, rapidly establishing himself in their first team as a strong, adventurous yet unflappable right back with an eye for goal; a quality that was aided, no doubt, by a shot that was so fierce and unerring in nature, that West Ham fans took to nicknaming him Muffin after the famous mule.
Yet, despite being a professional footballer – and a very fine one at that – Bond’s real passion for the game was in coaching and he would, on most away trips, have sooner had the salt, pepper and sugar cellars out on the table as he discussed formations and tactics, while most of his team mates would only have been interested in playing cards.
His coaching career began at Gillingham where he served a quick but enthusiastic apprenticeship at the side of Gills manager Basil Hayward, himself a former full back, one who had been described by former team-mate, Roy Sproson as a defender who displayed genuine “attacking flair”; a player who had, in his time, been considered “… one of the best full-backs in the country. He was quick, had a good left foot and was particularly good going forward”.
Hayward, it seemed, had seen something of himself in Bond and was keen to tap into the ambitious young man’s ideas and commitment to attacking play. Bond was however destined to bigger and better things and had barely began the process of sharing his footballing ideologies onto Hayward and the Gillingham squad before he was headhunted by Bournemouth as their new manager, replacing the rather dour and old school, even then, Freddie Cox in May 1970.
Hayward lasted just over another year at Gillingham before being sacked, the club’s board blissfully (or not) unaware of the potential managerial gem they had on their hands who had been allowed to slip away virtually unnoticed.
Bond arrived at Bournemouth when he was just 37, a ridiculously young age for a football manager at that time. He had inherited a team of battle hardened old pros who had been used to and even comfortable with Cox’s almost military zeal to coaching; a dreaded mix of medicine balls, cross country runs and push ups.
That might have suited the complacent but it wasn’t for Bond and it wasn’t a regime he was willing to impose upon his up and coming young players either, something that Tony Powell, who would later join Bond at Norwich celebrated, declaring Cox and Bond to be like “chalk and cheese”.
Yet, as his career in football coaching took off – one that for Bond, peaked at Norwich and Manchester City – he never forgot Basil Hayward, the man who had given him that very first opportunity at Gillingham. Upon his appointment at Norwich, one of Bond’s first tasks was to appoint a new chief scout for the Canaries – and it was to Hayward to whom he turned.
One of Bond’s closest friends at West Ham had been Ken Brown. He joined the Hammers a year after Bond but, unlike his friend and colleague to be, found securing a first-team place a little more difficult. He eventually established himself as a first-team regular in the centre-half position at the beginning of the 1957/58 season, missing just the one game as the Hammers ended it as Second Division Champions, scoring 101 goals in the process.
Their defence however was, alongside that of Liverpool, the joint second best in the division, conceding just 54 goals in 42 games, an average of 1.28 goals conceded per game. Brown played alongside future Crystal Palace and Manchester City manager Malcolm Allison at the heart of that unforgiving back four, one that would welcome one Bobby Moore into the fold for the first time the following season.
Brown went on to win an FA Cup winners medal with the Hammers in 1964 and, a year later, played alongside Moore at the heart of the defence as part of the club’s victorious European Cup Winners Cup side that beat TSV 1860 München 2-0 in the final at Wembley.
A little over two decades later, Brown would again be a Wembley winner as he led out his Norwich side for the 1985 League Cup Final against Sunderland; one of that scarce breed of men who have won at the famous old stadium as both a player and manager.
The final member of my trio of Canaries who were once men of iron is Martin Peters, a man who, for me, remains the best player I have, or probably ever will, see play for Norwich City.
He cost us, if you remember, just £50,000 when Bond lured him away from Tottenham, the club he had joined from West Ham in 1970 as part of a deal that took Jimmy Greaves in the opposite direction.
Peters was 31 when he joined Norwich. An England international and, less than a decade earlier, a World Cup winner.
Imagine Stephen Gerrard winning a World Cup with England in 2002 before joining Norwich at the tail end of the 2010/11 season for a similarly small amount, written off as ‘too old’ by Liverpool but given a second chance in Norfolk, just as Peters had been.
In truth, no-one, least of all Bond, saw Peters as being given a ‘second chance’ when he came to Norwich; neither that nor an opportunity to ease himself into quiet retirement. Far from it. He was still a class act, and, if anything, went on to play some of the best football of his career whilst he was at Norwich.
He ended up playing more games for Norwich than he did for Tottenham; the club which, despite his East London roots and East Anglian swansong, remains the club which he is most closely associated with. He was also, at one point, being seriously talked up for an England recall in 1977, such was his form and influence on a Norwich side that has swiftly re-established itself as a top flight member. Peters fitness was not in doubt either as he went from August 1975 to May 1977 without missing one competitive game for the club – 95 consecutive matches played in and 21 goals scored.
He seemed a natural fit in an England midfield that Ron Greenwood, Peters’ one time boss at West Ham, was filling with the not so stellar talents of Brian Greenhoff, Sammy Lee and Gordon Hill.
Peters for England? Not likely said Greenwood, dismissing his one-time charge’s chances of a recall for two reasons. Firstly, it had been three years since he had last represented his country and, secondly, Peters was, at nearly 34, “too old” to be considered at a time when the priority had to be building a vibrant young team for the 1978 World Cup and 1980 European Championships.
This didn’t, ultimately, stop Greenwood from calling up Ian Callaghan of Liverpool who was not only older than Peters but who had last played for the national team eleven, rather than three, years earlier.
Big club bias? Or someone who had something against Peters and used his position as England manager to publicly demonstrate it? We’ll never know of course. But the decision to snub him in favour of Callaghan, given the reasons originally cited for not recalling the Norwich captain, remain bizarre, almost unforgivable one to this day.
The famous trio could have been joined by perhaps the greatest Hammer of them all. John Bond tried to sign Bobby Moore twice during his time as Norwich manager, as well as recommending him to the Norwich board as his successor when he left Carrow Road for Manchester City in 1980.
To their credit, the Norwich board took note of Bond’s recommendation and approached Moore who had, at the time, just been appointed as manager of Oxford City And that’s not a typo, it really was Oxford City, a club who, at that time, were buried in the nether regions of the non-league game.
Moore had a get-out clause. He could walk away from the club and the footballing depravities of non-league football for an immediate return to the top flight and an opportunity to work alongside Brown, the man whose on-pitch company he had shared at Wembley in 1965.
Yet, flattered as he was, Moore turned Norwich down. He had, he explained, agreed to join Oxford City and did not think it right to walk out on them so soon after they had put their faith in him.
Ever the professional, ever the gentleman whose word was his bond.
In the case of Bond and Norwich, the former was replaced by his old friend and coach Ken Brown, another ex-Hammer who went on to prove himself in management over and over again during his seven year spell at the club; one that saw him lead the Canaries to what would have been a place in the following seasons UEFA Cup on two occasions – opportunities denied Norwich because of Heysel.
Ken Brown is 82 three days after we play the Hammers this weekend.
Have a very very Happy Birthday Ken.