Pre-season friendly matches. What do you think?
Academic? Nothing more than a glorified fitness exercise? Of minimal interest?
Or, a harbinger of the season to come, an indication of what our expectations might be over the coming months in terms of preferred personnel, playing-style and whether or not, even at this early stage, the players seem up for it.
In other words, who and what is looking hot. And who is most definitely not.
The first ever pre-season game played by the Canaries, or the ‘Cits’ as they were then known as, was on Saturday September 6, 1902 against Harwich and Parkeston. It was also, of course, the very first match the club ever played.
Newmarket Road was the venue as Norwich, clad in blue and white halved shirts (the actual design seemed rather arbitrary with the blue part of the shirt either on the left or right hand side of the garment) took to the field with a starting-line up that demonstrated a belief in the popular 2-3-5 formation of the time with one of that five-strong forward line; Jimmy Shields equalising for Norwich after Harwich and Parkeston had taken the lead.
Contemporary reports at the time state how, in response to Norwich’s goal, spectators from both sides in an attendance that was estimated to be around 2,000 shook hands with one another and opted to cheer for both teams rather than opt for the rather unsporting edifice of seeming to prefer one above the other.
Shades of Harry Enfield’s image of the game at around that time.
A century later the two sides met again to commemorate that first ever encounter. The Canaries starting line up on that day was not quite as adventurous as it had been then, but, even so, it boasted the likes of Dale Gordon, Robert Fleck, Peter Mendham, Jeremy Goss and Ian Crook. Norwich won that game 5-4, which means, you can suppose, that we have to be regarded as Harwich & Parkstone’s ‘bogey’ side because in just under 114 years they have yet to beat us.
Pre-season games now have, of course, the added incentive for non-league clubs to cash in on the prospect of a July visit from one of the ‘big boys’. However, back in the 1970s, when money, or rather the lack of it, was a constant worry at Carrow Road, the club’s hierarchy found it difficult to turn down any invitation to take a summer trip abroad if the hosts were willing to pay. And that would have been however demanding or inconvenient said jolly might have seemed.
Participation in foreign tours also helped raise the Canaries’ profile in addition to providing an unexpected off-season income. One such example was the club’s tour of Kenya in May and June of 1975.
This would have had nothing to do with getting the players fit for the coming season, indeed ‘pre-season’ started almost straight away with Norwich opting to play an ‘All Star XI’ in a testimonial match on May 2, 1975, just two days after the end of that season’s league campaign.
Yet it didn’t stop there. The Canaries then played a further four friendly matches in just seventeen days, one of which was Dave Stringer’s much deserved testimonial (a 1-1 draw at home to West Ham) before flying off to Kenya in order to play a further five games there in just 11 days with three of them packed into a four day period from June 6 to June 10.
Clearly, there was going to be little time for going on safari or relaxing with a few beers by the pool, for as a newly promoted Division One club the Canaries were going to be in great demand whilst they were out there with their hosts determined to make the most of their presence.
Playing wise, the club encountered few difficulties – all five matches were convincingly won with 23 goals scored for only four conceded and as far as PR objectives were concerned it was a triumph.
Yet it had not passed off without incident, albeit that being a locally focused issue that, whilst it did not affect the club or their reputation, made newspaper headlines across on the other side of the world.
Prior to the Canaries arriving in the country the practice of witchcraft and its role in the game had created a stir as Kenyan soccer officials, increasingly concerned at its influence in the game and its increased use of the same in order to help them win matches, threatened sanctions against any club that hired a witchdoctor, with the Kenyan Soccer Federation secretary, Obare Asiko later saying, “Witchcraft should have no place in Kenya soccer. The practice of witchcraft is unsettling our efforts to clean up soccer.”
His quote had been prompted by reports that some officials were, rather than wanting to act and speak out against the use of witchcraft, promising to not only sanction its use but pay the salaries of any witchdoctors employed by a club that managed to beat Norwich during their tour. The story even managed to reach the esteemed pages of the LA Times, such was the controversy and interest generated at the time – and one can only think just how much more interest it would have caused had Norwich duly lost any of the games they played.
The success of the trip therefore, promotions and results-wise, made everyone happy, especially Kenneth Matiba, another high ranking sporting and political figure from the Kenyan Football Federation. He was reported to have been delighted with the Canaries performance and dominance in their 8-0 win over Champion Kenya as it proved, beyond doubt, that witchcraft did not have any part to play in the Kenyan game and could not influence a result.
That Kenyan tour was one of nine different playing trips abroad that the club undertook in the 1970s. France and Yugoslavia were visited in the summer of 1970, the latter including a playing itinerary of three games played in what is now modern day Serbia.
The following summer, Norwich accepted an invitation to travel to Portugal in order to compete for the Dr Caecor Moreira Batista tournament, organised by the Portuguese Tourist Board and including a trophy that had cost £700. This would ultimately be presented to, and kept by, the tournament winners. Norwich beat Atlético Lisbon 2-1 and Dundee 5-3 before triumphing in a penalty shoot-out against Sporting Lisbon 4-2, winning the trophy in the process.
Such exotic trips were a far cry from the somewhat more humble pre-season arrangements the club made a decade earlier. Prior to the 1966/67 season for example, Norwich played just two pre-season matches, both against Queens Park Rangers, firstly at Loftus Road (1-0 defeat) and then at Carrow Road four days later (0-2 defeat).
A few years prior to that, Norwich’s pre-season campaign had consisted of just one match; a 1-1 draw up at St Mirren on August 4, in the Paisley Charity Cup. We took them on again during pre-season two years later, that game ending in a 0-0 draw with, on both occasions, the trophy being shared between the two clubs. No penalty shoot outs then!
Modest requirements for a modest, at that time, club.
Yet things were about to change. With John Bond eager to play his part in the plans of the club board to make the Canaries a global brand, the 1970s would see the club flying off to many a far flung destination to achieve just that.
Kenya had whetted the appetite. Where would the globetrotting Canaries go next?
Part of this article was taken and adapted from Ed’s book Norwich City: The Seventies (Amberley Publishing). To get a copy for just £10, including postage, please contact Ed via his Twitter account @edcouzenslake or, if you are Twitter-less, through MFW. Thanks.