So then, relegation?
It’s never easy to take, never something you can accept, never something that is inevitable. Because despite all the factors we can bring into play for this, or any other, season that can somehow help soften the blow, factors that can make it look like it was always going to happen anyway…
…it still hurts when it comes and you still find yourself looking for reasons why we could, and should, have stayed up, rather than why we went down.
How many, I wonder, Norwich fans were thinking along those lines at the end of the 1930/31 season, the denouement of which saw Norwich finish bottom of the Division Three South table with just 28 points from our 42 league games.
One thing is for certain and that is, unlike the season just gone, you couldn’t necessarily point a finger at deficiencies in the Canaries defence. We conceded just 76 goals in that campaign, an average of around 1.8 per game, a total that league runners up Crystal Palace only beat by five whilst eight other clubs all conceded more goals than Norwich that season, including Torquay United, who finished in 11th .
A shame therefore, that this was a Norwich side that couldn’t score goals. Our total of 47 goals scored from 42 league games was by far the lowest in the league. Even Newport County, who finished one place above us in the league (and that was on goal average) managed to score 69 goals that season whilst Palace managed to combine a fairly tight defence with a free scoring attack. They managed 107 league goals that season, 46 of which came from the feet of Peter Simpson, the former non-league striker’s individual total for that league season ending up just one shy of what the entire Norwich squad had managed between them.
The Canaries would certainly have been aware of his attributes. Simpson had made his Crystal Palace near the beginning of the previous campaign, scoring a hat-trick in the process.
His and Palace’s opponents on the day? Yes, you’ve guessed it. Norwich City.
Norwich’s leading goalscorer in the 1930/31 season was Thomas Williams who netted a highly respectable 12 from 21 league appearances.
The Canaries were the tenth club of Williams’ career, one that had started at Ryhope, his local colliery side on Tyneside and taking in stops that included Clapton Orient, Charlton Athletic and Merthyr Town en-route to The Nest and Norwich City. Despite his proven goalscoring ability however, he was more out than in of the Norwich side that season with, at one point, Canaries Manager James Kerr preferring Frank Peed in the side rather than Williams, faith that Peed repaid with just 4 goals from his 17 league appearances over that league campaign.
Peed more than merits a mention in his own right however. His real name was Francisco Gonsalez, an Argentinean by birth who, in all probability, was the first man from that country to play senior football in England. Francisco became the more prosaic Frank soon after his arrival in England, having determined that his chances of making a career in the game could only be improved if he had a more English sounding name.
Today you’d probably think it the opposite. Most supporters, no matter what their club, would be at least a little but excited about the prospect of signing a player from South America but that wasn’t the case back in the 1930s.
Thus, in a Canary squad that included names such as Joe, Ernest, Ken, Arthur and Wilf, Frank, rather than Francisco, took his chances alongside them as the archetypal Englishman born in Vernado Tuerto. His stay at Carrow Road ultimately turned out to be a short one and, after serving out a club suspension given over matters of a “disciplinary” measure, he moved to Newport County and Barrow before retiring from the game and working at the docks in Swansea.
The other player Norwich depended upon for goals that season was Sam Bell. He could best be described, maybe, as the Darren Eadie of his day. Small in stature but with pace to burn, he patrolled the right wing, often cutting inside to unleash a powerful shot. Described by one critic at the time as a footballer in possession of “…more brains and less brimstone” than most, he ended up making 79 league appearances for Norwich, scoring 27 goals before going onto play for Luton Town and Tottenham Hotspur. Bell certainly started that 1930/31 season at Norwich well, scoring three goals in his first four games for the club yet, like Williams, he was in and out of the side throughout the campaign and ended it with just 6 goals from 20 league appearances.
Norwich used a total of 27 players throughout that campaign. There were no league ever presents amongst them however, with Joe Hannah (38 from 42) the leading appearance maker that season. Joe became, rightly, an inaugural member of the Norwich City Hall of Fame in 2002, his total of 427 league appearances for the club from 1921 through to 1935 still, and comfortably, retaining his place in the Canaries top ten all-time appearances table, a half-back who one observer of the day remarked was, “…the best back in the division. Kept his eye on the ball and never gave an opponent time to manoeuvre”.
Joe, like his team-mates would not have had to worry about the threat of relegation at the end of that season. Yes, the Canaries had finished at the foot of the table but there was, at least, the chance of a reprieve at the Football League’s AGM at the end of the season. That was when those clubs that had finished in the bottom two places would plead to another chance whilst those that had topped the Southern and Midland Leagues could apply for entry at their expense.
The Canaries were fortunate – they had won enough admirers during their, as yet, relatively short time as a full time league club to get 38 votes in their favour, enough to keep them in the league for another, hopefully far better campaign the next time around.
Newport County however, the side that had finished above the Canaries on goal difference only, were not so lucky. They received just 19 votes from their fellow clubs, meaning they dropped out of the league with Mansfield Town, latterly of the Midland League, taking their place for the 1931/32 season.
The Canaries had lived to fight another day but their re-election to the league had been secured via a modest show of faith rather than an overwhelming one. They might not have been so lucky had they needed to apply again at the end of the next season and both the club management and supporters knew it.
The pending new season was therefore going to be one of the most important in the clubs history. It most certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Canaries headed into a close season with that prospect hanging over their heads.