The printed aftermath of this game was a headline in the Pink Un that owed nothing to the imagination (but probably got the typesetter a little bit of overtime) stating, quite simply “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and yes 10”.
Subtle. But at least it told the story.
Thus we regard Norwich City’s record victory. And, as if this will be a surprise to anyone, Coventry City’s worst defeat. But it’s probably fair to say that neither set of fans would have seen this one coming.
The 1928/29 season had been yet another rather undistinguished one for Norwich. A lowly final league placing of 17th was hard enough for the supporters to swallow, but insult had been added to injury by their elimination in the 3rd round of the FA Cup to Corinthians.
Norwich had, to be fair, started their road to Wembley in a promising enough fashion. Chatham Town were disposed of to the tune of 6-1 in the first round, whilst Newport County also conceded six goals, with no reply in round two. Percy “give it to” Varco had made light work of that opposition on both occasions, scoring six goals in the two games and more was expected of him and his goal hungry teammates when Corinthians arrived at the Nest on January 12, 1929.
The London based club’s philosophy and origins were interesting, to say the least. They had been formed in 1882 from within the FA with the intention of developing a national England squad that was capable of challenging the then near total international domination of Scotland.
In typical English fashion however, their plans for footballing supremacy were limited by their refusal to join the Football League. This was due to their strict adherence of the club code which stated that they were forbidden from competing “…for any challenge cup or prizes of any description”.
They were, essentially, a team of footballing ‘gentlemen’, most of whom were independently wealthy and had affiliation with one of the leading universities.
Honour and fair play came above everything else for the Corinthians who, albeit reluctantly, finally agreed to enter a team for the FA Cup in 1923, deciding that the pursuit had a whole-hearted and honourable intention, even if (and cue grumbles and tut tuts of disapproval from some of their more learned members) it “…did not have charity as its primary object”.
So it probably hurt the Corinthians more than it did their opponents when they turned up at the Nest on that January afternoon and promptly beat Norwich 5-0. This defeat would have been one of the low points of that entire decade and may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as one Norwich director was concerned.
Said season spluttered to an inglorious end (Norwich lost their last home game to Newport County 5-2) and, with barely the dust settled, voices of dissatisfaction were heard in the City boardroom. The club had finished its first nine years as a fully fledged member of the football league with positions of 16th; 15th; 18th; 11th; 12th; 6th; 6th; 17th and 17th – in other words, the sort of relentlessly nondescript efforts that would, today, have seen a manager or two sacked and numerous ‘new dawns’ promised by the new incumbent.
Which is just what happened at the Nest in the spring of 1930.
The man who decided that enough was enough after a decade of splendid mediocrity at the Nest was club director Robert Pilch, who very publicly and very confidently proclaimed that, “…for too long we have tried the policy of safety first, now, with our new management team we mean our policy to be ‘neck or nothing in the future”.
A brave statement from an ambitious man and one that many a Norwich fan would have been happy to hear coming from the Carrow Road boardroom at various times over the last fifty years or so.
Of course, if it had been said today, his attitude would be thought of as reckless, and extremely risky from a financial point of view. However, Britain was still a nation where the notion of ‘Derring-do’ was still in vogue, and, having talked the talk, Pilch set about walking the not inconsiderable walk required to make things happen.
The new manager charged with achieving Pilch’s dream was James Kerr; the ninth incumbent in the job since John Bowman had taken the job on in 1905. Kerr was recruited from Walsall, and, provided with funds and an ambitious board, set about recruiting new players almost as soon as he was appointed.
Amongst the new arrivals were Doug Lochhead and Mick O’Brien, who both followed Kerr to the Nest from Walsall. Lochhead, a left-half, turned out to be a loyal City servant, making 222 appearances for the club and eventually having the honour of scoring the first ever league goal at Carrow Road; he swiftly became a regular member of Kerr’s team, and made 35 league appearances (out of a possible 42) that season, scoring twice.
Given that O’Brien, a centre-half, was the archetypal all-action hero – combining his football with active service in the Army, Navy and Royal Flying Corp – it seems strange that he chose eventually open a tobacconists in Norwich and accept a somewhat quieter life, post-career.
None-the-less, Kerr knew what he was getting in O’Brien at the time and immediately named him as Captain.
Pilch and Kerr’s brave new Norwich dawn did not get off to the hoped good start. Fulham easily won 4-0 on the first day of the season, a not particularly happy baptism for new goalkeeper John Jarvie, who had also joined the club (from Southend) that summer.
His first match was the worst debut of any Norwich goalkeeper until Michael Theoklitos conceded seven on his debut eighty years later. But Kerr kept his faith in Jarvie, and his new look side drew 1-1 at Luton in their next game before losing 6-3 at Brighton five days later; a James Thompson hat trick in that game the one bright spot for Norwich.
Thompson was yet another new recruit at the Nest, having arrived from Chelsea. He was 26 when he joined Norwich and, despite his relative tender years, City were his eighth senior club.
He left Norwich after one season, ending up at Sunderland and ultimately having a position on the coaching staff back at Chelsea where it is claimed Jimmy Greaves was his greatest ‘discovery’. Greaves scored on his Chelsea debut at just 17, but that was nothing compared to what Thompson did on his debut, scoring five times for Wimbledon!
Another goal scorer – perhaps ‘one for the future’ as footballing parlance goes – was Thomas Hunt, who Kerr brought in from Wolves. Hunt was a typical centre-forward of the time – very quick, tough and good in the air.
However, as the season started and the games began to click up, Hunt found himself in the Reserves, where he made a name for himself by scoring five times on his debut and making a very good impression on all who saw him – even the legendary Varco.
Hunt got his chance in the first team in the home fixture against Exeter City on October 5th. Norwich’s start had not matched up to the high standards expected of them; Kerr and his cast of expensively acquired newcomers were expected to deliver the goods or face the consequences.
On the day of the Exeter match, Norwich found themselves languishing in 15th position, having lost four and drawn two of their opening eight fixtures. More to the point, those games had seen the club only score 12 goals, just two more than the same stage the previous season.
Percy Varco was in and out of the side and the aforementioned Thompson now looked the only reasonable goal threat in the team. It was time to give Hunt his first start made his debut in the number nine shirt, playing alongside Thompson.
And his impact was immediate. Norwich won 3-1 with Thompson scoring one of the other goals. Hunt went on to become a bit of a local sensation after that, scoring a further three goals in his next three games, then, after missing five matches through injury, returned with a vengeance, netting ten times in his next eight games.
Not unnaturally, his scoring feats managed to make themselves known back up at former club Wolves, whose embarrassed management took it upon themselves to inform Norwich that, *ahem*, he wasn’t Norwich’s player at all and that a “contractual wrangle” meant he was still, dash it all, registered to them.
So could he now return to Molineux?
Unsurprisingly, this suggestion did not go down terribly well at the Nest and feathers were suitably ruffled in alarm. Fortunately for all concerned in Norwich, the two clubs got together to further discuss the situation and it was eventually agreed that the club would give Wolves a little bit more money for Hunt.
Quite a responsibility and you feel that the Wolves hierarchy felt sure that Norwich would not be able to afford the extra amount demanded and that, by default, Hunt would return to them. Thanks to donations from directors and spectators alike however, Hunt now joined the club on a permanent basis.
By the time Norwich’s home fixture against Coventry City came around on March 15th, Hunt had scored 14 goals for the club. Both he and Norwich certainly had, if needed, the incentive to do well against the Sky Blues.
The two teams had previously met that season in the FA Cup first round, Coventry’s very late and very controversial equaliser earning them a 3-3 draw. Insult was added to injury when Coventry won the replay 2-0 in a feisty and bad tempered match at Highfield Road.
Thus, with Coventry also having won the league game there 3-1, Norfolk hearts and mind were set upon revenge – not an emotion the chaps of Corinthians would have approved of perhaps, but certainly a factor that Kerr would have seized upon in his pre-match instructions.
The resultant match was one that saw both players and fans enjoying one of those afternoons that you might only experience once in a lifetime of watching football.
Norwich were dominant from the kick off and 4-0 up at half-time with Kerr having little to say during the break other than for his side to carry on in the same vein. Coventry, on the contrary, collapsed, conceding a further six goals in the second half, their two goals, through Billy Pick, coming through no little complacency in a Norwich defence that had grown decidedly bored.
Hunt however, was rampant; his pace and strength causing the Coventry defence all sorts of problems. No matter what they did to contain him, he always managed to get the shot or header in and, unerringly on target. With so many men focusing on trying to stop him of course, it became open season for the rest of the Norwich side, and, in truth, they could, and should, have scored more than ten.
John Scott, who was making only his third start for the club scored twice himself, with another Kerr signing, Lochhead also finding the net.
These are the results that dreams are made of. They bring renewed hope and optimism, belief that corners can be turned and new levels of success and achievement attained.
After so many years of torpor at the Nest, the win over Coventry swept a tsunami of optimism throughout the club, affecting spectators and players alike, but, most of all, giving Mr Pilch a certain amount of satisfaction and knowledge that his vow and subsequent recruitment policy – one aimed at delivering excellence – was going to pay off.
And that the City was going, at long last, to have a successful football club, one it could be proud of.
Suitably recharged and revitalised, manager and players travelled to Watford for their next league game; Kerr picking an unchanged side, Hunt ready to continue where he had left of a week earlier, hungry for more goals and a chance of promotion and glory.
Norwich lost, 2-1.