Do you remember Liverpool Are On The Tele Again! ?
It was one of a number of celebrated Norwich City fanzines of the 1970s and 80s that celebrated the club and its players in a rather more unorthodox manner than that adapted by the national and local media.
Produced and printed on a meagre budget with production values that reflected their photocopier origins, they were nonetheless hugely popular at the time amongst supporters of the club, not least because of the original and erudite musings of their creators.
LAOTTA! remains my favourite simply because of its title. Because, regardless of whatever was happening in football at the time, any time, any place, anywhere, there was always one reassuring/sickening (delete as applicable) comfort: Liverpool’s games would be televised and analysed to the nth degree, their players worshipped, their support venerated.
“They really know their football, these Liverpool fans”, was an all too familiar reference to the Kop at the time, as if, somehow, they had a superior knowledge of the game, the players and all of its tricky nuances, whilst the rest of us, knuckle draggers in shades of footballing grey, barely knew one end of the pitch from the other.
Yet if that and all the other sycophantic nonsense that surrounded the club at the time was over the top, one fact could not be denied.
They could play.
In the ten top flight seasons between 1975/76 and 1984/85, Liverpool’s finishing position in the old First Division was 1,1,2,1,1,5,1,1,1,2.
In that time they also won the European Cup four times, the UEFA Cup once, the Super Cup once, the FA Cup twice and the League Cup on four separate occasions.
So you can see the reasons behind the worship. They were dominant, world-beaters, footballing gods from a pitch on high.
They attracted praise, plaudits and attention in the same manner as wasps are attracted to a summer time picnic. Only wasps, in time, become less tiresome. Plus you can always swat a wasp.
Liverpool FC refused to go away. And everyone loved them.
At least that was the belief at the time. The reality may not have been quite so straight forward; a reality reflected in the title of the Norwich fanzine in question.
Yes, it was all about Norwich. But Liverpool still stole the show and the front page.
For Canary fans, the commencement of the 1975/76 season came with many of the doubts and fears that, four decades later, surrounded this one.
Norwich were one of the newly promoted sides having returned to the top flight after an exile of just one season. The Canaries had also enjoyed a day out at Wembley during that preceding campaign, albeit in a League Cup Final that they lost, rather than a play-off final they won.
But Wembley is Wembley.
The close season today is regarded as one of the more critical times of a club’s year, an opportunity to do business on the playing side, to improve the squad with better ones whilst shipping out those thought surplus to requirements.
Last summer, one that was regarded as quiet at best and woefully negligent at worse by some Norwich fans, still saw four new faces arrive at the club on permanent deals whilst nine said their farewells.
This was in marked contrast to the summer of 1975, one that saw John Bond add no new players to his existing squad at all, preferring to go into a new season with what he had and only, eventually, adding to it that October with the acquisition of centre half David Jones from Nottingham Forest.
Bond started the 1975/76 campaign in Division One by picking nine of the players who had also lined up for the opening match of the previous season in Division Two. He stuck by those he liked, trusted and felt could do a job for him.
The elevation of the club’s status made no difference. Bond was loyal. But then he had to be. The Canaries were amongst the smallest clubs in the division operating on a miniscule playing budget. The club’s record transfer outlay was still the £145,000 Bond had paid Bournemouth for Phil Boyer in 1974; a fee that Leeds United had first paid for a player seven years earlier.
The haves and have nots in football, as obvious then as it is today.
And it showed. By the time Newcastle United came to Carrow Road on November 22, Norwich had won only five of their opening 17 league fixtures, with Newcastle themselves handing out a 5-2 thrashing at St James’ Park a few weeks earlier; the game in which Jones had made his debut and, to add insult to injury, had scored an own goal.
The Mags duly completed a league double over Norwich at Carrow Road, winning 2-1 in a game that was concluded, as had been the last one of the Ron Saunders reign two years earlier, by a cascade of seat cushions being thrown onto the pitch in protest by the home support. Only this time, their anger wasn’t directed at the players, management or board, but referee Michael Lowe who had turned down a late and very genuine looking penalty appeal by the home side.
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Next up for Norwich was a trip to Liverpool at Anfield. There was never a good time to play the Reds and this was certainly as bad a time as you could get. The Canaries home defeat to Newcastle had been their fourth in a row, a poor run that had taken them down to 18th place in the table.
The club’s away record wasn’t anything to shout about either. Nine played and just one win, a fortuitous 1-0 victory against a Sheffield United side that would end the season in last place.
Liverpool, by contrast, had only lost four league games at home in the previous three seasons and had only lost two away games so far that season. They were 3rd in the table at kick off and looking good to go even higher with a side that picked itself.
This wasn’t, yet, the Liverpool team of Dalglish, Rush, Souness and McDermott but it was as good, if not better in places, with Bob Paisley having the likes of Clemence, Neal, Ray Kennedy, Keegan and Toshack to choose from.
So they were handy.
Handy enough to see off Norwich anyway. A crowd of 34,780 duly turned up to witness the formalities.
Except that wasn’t the case.
Indeed, as the game progressed, Norwich looked to be the form side. Their passing was crisper, their attack sharper. It was led, as ever, by the fearsome duo of MacDougall – poacher extraordinary, all snarl and sinew – alongside Phil Boyer, a prototype Teddy Sheringham, the hard working, hard running first mate to the man in the number nine shirt, an intelligent player who read the game as well as Ted bossed opposing centre halves.
The Canaries midfield wasn’t to be found lacking either. Peters provided the guile and Suggett the pace whilst Mick McGuire busied himself about the tackle, harrying and niggling at red socked feet, determined not to let Liverpool get into their stride, a permanent pest at the tail of the talismatic Keegan who struggled to get into the game.
Then there was Peter Morris, a former Ipswich man, putting on one of his best performances in a Norwich shirt and, in doing so, showing Kennedy, his opposite number, up for what he really was: a forward in a midfielder’s position. Kennedy’s time in that position would come. But it wouldn’t be yet and most certainly not in this match.
Thus, with Norwich’s famous and reliable defensive triangle of Keelan, Forbes and Stringer (aged 33, 34 and 31 respectively) typically robust at the back, Norwich began to take the game to their illustrious opponents, something which neither they, for all the meticulous pre-game ‘planning’ that Paisley and his backroom team would have done (in effect-none, their philosophy at the time was “go out and play”, so convinced were they of their side’s superiority) and their supporters would have expected.
The Canaries were taking Anfield liberties, their fierce and competitive play knocking the Reds out of their accustomed stride. It was 0-0 at half time as a result but no-one at Anfield was panicking, their team would come good in the second half.
They always did. That was the way of things.
Except the first goal, when it came, was courtesy of a yellow shirt. Norwich had, much like Leicester City this season, defended well and with purpose, yet, when the chance came to attack, they did so in numbers and with pace. Morris duly set Suggett up for the first, his taking of possession and subsequent exocet-like through ball finding the former West Brom man who took the shot in his stride, beating Ray Clemence from fully 25 yards out.
Impetuous little birds.
Liverpool gathered a head of steam for the inevitable reprisals yet Norwich not only weathered the storm, they struck again. Sullivan on the ball, as good a full back as the club has ever had, his perfectly timed ball behind the Liverpool back line finding Peters, always Peters, ghosting into position from nowhere to make it 2-0.
No boos from the Kop. Just stunned disbelief.
Eager to get something, anything, from the game, Liverpool sacrificed their footballing beliefs and threw both men and the ball forward in an effort to reduce the arrears. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. Emlyn Hughes scored after a penalty area melee of epic proportions with three minutes left and set up the proverbial grandstand finish. The red clad hoards licked their lips in anticipation.
They were licking their wounds two minutes later when a fine shot from Boyer could only be palmed by Clemence into the path of MacDougall, who slotted home in his usual imperious and arrogant manner. 3-1 and game over.
A day to remember. And a team that had, bar Jones, performed regularly for Bond in the Second Division the previous season as had Keelan, Forbes and Stringer for Ron Saunders at the same level four seasons prior to this one.
Players who, like their charismatic manager, were able to raise their game. Players like Morris, like Mel Machin and Colin Sullivan, all good pros with respectable rather than stellar careers behind them who, through a precipitate mix of self belief and hard work graced the same stage as the likes of Keegan, Ball, Bremner, McDonald and Marsh. They stood on that day, and for most of Bond’s reign, on the shoulders of footballing giants and enjoyed the same rarefied view.
One they fully deserved.
Norwich finished the 1975/76 season in 10th place, a high point buoyed by five wins in the last four weeks of the season including that epic 3-2 Carrow Road win over QPR that ultimately denied the visitors the title.
They’d lost because they thought they only had to turn up to win on the day. Much like Liverpool.
But then along came Norwich.