It is one of England’s largest cities and home to two professional football clubs but neither Bristol City nor their city neighbours, Rovers have played in the Premier League. The closest Norwich’s next opponents, Bristol City, have come was a play-off final defeat in 2008. Capable of beating, but equally losing, to anybody they are the epitome of inconsistency.
Norwich’s first visit to Ashton Gate was way back in the winter of 1909 and a 2-0 defeat in the third round of the FA Cup. A disappointing result after Norwich had produced the shock of the second round beating the mighty Liverpool, but not a surprising one as Bristol City were, at the time, a first Division club (Norwich a few rungs down the football pyramid). Bristol’s pedigree as a top side was evident as they went on to reach the FA Cup final (their only final appearance to date), where they narrowly lost 1-0 to Manchester United.
The first league meeting took place in Division 3 South with the Robins visiting the Canaries’ Nest in March 1923. The game ended honours even, followed by a 4-0 defeat in the return fixture a couple of weeks later.
These results set the tone with Bristol holding the upper hand in those early meetings. This was to be expected as they bounced between Division Three South and the Division Two, winning it twice in 1922/23 and 1926/27.
In nine fixtures in the 1920s, Norwich won just the once. However, on 28 August 1933, in only the second game of the new 1933/34 season, Norwich thrashed Bristol City 7-2. A huge victory in a momentous season that ended with The Canaries first Division Three South title.
Other high scoring meetings included a strange set of games in the post-war years. City suffered a heavy defeat at Ashton Gate, losing 6-0 in October 1947. On their next visit to the South West (1948/49 season) they won 6-1 achieving a remarkable 12 goal swing. Norwich also won the home game 4-0 completing an aggregate 10-1 for the season.
It was now Norwich’s turn to go on a long unbeaten run, losing just twice in the next 16 games. The run continued into the 60s and 70s with both sides now regulars in Division Two and another run of two losses in 16 (ten of which were wins).
With that dominance in mind, it is surprising that Norwich lost the first-ever top-flight game between the two 3-1 in November 1976. Bristol City spent four seasons struggling in the First Division before eventually dropping down at the end of the 1979/80 season, their plight not helped by two defeats to Norwich. The second of those would prove particularly fateful as Norwich won 3-2 in Bristol’s final home game of the season. The 3-2 Norwich win was the last top-flight game witnessed in Bristol – that’s forty years and counting! They have not played at the top level since.
One Bristolian who did feature in the Premier League was Norwich City Hall of Famer, Rob Newman. Before he arrived at Carrow Road, Newman wore the red of his local club 483 times, seventh highest in the all-time listings. Newman enjoyed a late swansong at Norwich including playing in the UEFA Cup run and scoring a winning goal at Portman Road.
Since 1998 the two have resumed battle in the second tier, with City (Norwich that is) largely on top. In fact the Yellows are unbeaten in the last eight. A run that included a 3-0 away win during the Paul Lambert promotion season, and more recently a 3-2 home win in the Farke promotion campaign; a win, thanks to Kenny’s double, that was vital in City’s campaign as they had to come back from behind. It also halted Bristol’s promotion push having arrived in East Anglia as the division’s form team.
As an exiled City fan, Ashton Gate is now my local ground, so this Saturday could have been an away day from home.