This Saturday it’s a week off from Premier League struggles as City travel to Preston North End in the third round of the FA Cup. It’s one of the most anticipated weekends of the football season, a tournament those magic extends across the football-loving globe.
Be it a classic giant-killing or a famous cup run, the competition has frequently appeared throughout my ‘meet again’ series. It’s a reflection of the significance of the cup in Norfolk.
We may never have won it but the FA Cup is still ingrained in Norwich City’s history.
The FA Cup has certainly featured heavily in our opponents Preston’s history. They have won it twice, the most famous in 1888/89 when the ‘invincibles’ won the elusive double and whose cup win was achieved without conceding a single goal.
We have only met each other once in the cup, as recently as 2015, when we suffered a sorry 2-0 defeat in the third round. Preston at the time were a league below us (League 1) and the nature of the defeat would have serious repercussions for Norwich boss Neil Adams.
It was a defeat too far for Adams and proved to be his final match in charge. By the time Norwich faced Bournemouth the following week, Alex Neil was in the dug-out and the rest is history.
Neil himself would face the axe at Carrow Road and, of course, is now in the hot-seat at Deepdale. Popular with the Preston faithful, Neil has created a team challenging for promotion and one of the few to beat Farke’s Champions last season with a 3-1 defeat.
If a meeting in the FA Cup has proved rare, the opposite can be said in the other domestic cup competition, the League Cup. In the 1980s Preston and Norwich were drawn to face each other on four separate occasions – 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1988. Each time it was in the second round which were two-legged affairs, meaning a total of eight games.
During this period City were clear favourites, residing in the top division (1985 aside when City were riding high in Division 2) while Preston were struggling in the bottom two leagues. Every game went with the form book, Norwich winning six and drawing two, enough to progress each time.
The highlight of these meetings came in the 1984/85 season, which Norwich won 9-4 on aggregate, including a 6-1 thrashing of Preston in the home leg. It was the first victory on a glorious march to Wembley, which ended with Norwich winning their first major trophy.
The first Norwich v Preston fixture took place on 11th November 1961, a routine 2-0 win for City, coming in Preston’s first season since the retirement of footballing legend Sir Tom Finney. It would become a regular feature in the Division 2 calendar over the next decade (we have never met at any other level including the top division).
During that period Preston got to another FA Cup final (their last one to date) losing 3.2 to West Ham, the final coming just over a month after they had defeated Norwich 3.0 at Deepdale.
This run of games was finally ended after Norwich’s promotion to the top flight in 1971/72. A turning point in the fortunes of both clubs as Preston, similar to their Lancashire rivals Burnley, crashed down the leagues and by the mid-80s faced financial ruin and suffered the indignity of having to apply for re-election to remain in the Football League (it would be the final season of the old re-election process, a season later and Preston would have been relegated to the conference).
There was a gap of 28 years before we finally played a league game again. This time in the new millennium, where play-off contestants North End doubled Norwich 1-0 and 1-2.
Probably the one NCFC v PNE that stands out in modern times came on 1st May 2004.
It was an emotionally charged Carrow Road as the Green and Yellow army came to say goodbye to ‘one of their own’, City striking legend, Iwan Roberts. With promotion and the title in the bag, the day was all about honouring Hall of Famer, Roberts who, despite his 94 Canary goals, would not be following the team into the Premier League the next season.
Preston were guests to the Roberts’ party and put up a good performance, in the end, losing 3-2. The late winner came from a Darren Huckerby shot that was so close to being converted by Iwan in what would have been the perfect finale on his big day.
Deepdale in January will be a long way from that glorious sunny day in May and it was one draw that both players and fans could well do without – a long trip with a decent chance of defeat. For Preston too it could prove a distraction. Alex Neil’s men currently sit in seventh place with a play-off place well within their grasp.
With this in mind, wouldn’t it be great if 2020/21 would be the first season to host a top-flight game between Norwich City and Preston North End ……