With November’s manager of the month award nestling on the corner of his (old) desk, it seemed fair to assume Vladimir Ivić would be in the opposing dugout on Boxing Day. But no… this is Watford.
So, it’s with Xisco Munoz in charge that City face the Hornets, hoping the Spaniard is unfamiliar with the phrase ‘new manager bounce’.
Personally, Norwich City vs Watford holds special memories for me. The 13 March 1982 was my first visit to Carrow Road. My first experience of live football, from which point I was hooked. It certainly helped that I witnessed a thrilling 4-2 Norwich win, including a goal (I believe) from future Norwich manager, Martin O’Neill.
I’m not alone in having fond memories of this particular game. Watford were flying high with a talented squad that included a young, future England star, John Barnes. Norwich were marooned in mid-table, but this win would transform our season.
Before Watford, our record that season was 11 wins in 28 League games. After Watford, it read 10 wins in 13. A relentless run that propelled the Canaries to third place and the most unlikely of promotions.
Our paths first crossed as non-league teams. Watford were promoted to the Southern League in 1904-05 and Norwich elected the following season. They both competed in the Southern League over the next eleven seasons, Norwich generally finishing above the Hornets.
The run continued with both sides joining Division Three South in 1920-21 and extended until 1933-34 when Norwich finally got promoted, by which point we had faced each for 25 consecutive seasons. During the 1933-34 promotion year, City recorded two 3-1 wins over Watford, the latest of which came during the run-in, leaving us on the verge of promotion and the title.
We met again at the conclusion of the Second World War. That sparked an amazing run of nine home wins in ten and an even more impressive run of just one defeat in 12 trips to Vicarage Road.
Losing to Watford was almost unknown.
When the clubs faced each other on the 29 April 1972, we didn’t win, we drew 1-1, but what a crucial point that would prove to be.
The hard work had been done five days earlier, at Leyton Orient, where promotion had been sealed. Now for the icing on the cake – the Second Division Championship. A green and yellow army estimated at 15,000+ descended on Hertfordshire hoping to witness history in the making. On this occasion, they were roaring on the boys in red (Watford away was a rare opportunity to dig out the away strip!).
It was fitting that the all-important goal was scored by Norfolk boy and club stalwart, Dave Stringer. It was a momentous evening at Vicarage Road, as Norwich secured their first-ever Second Division title and with it the big prize of top-flight football for the first time in the club’s history.
Watford meanwhile dropped down to Division Three. We would not meet again until my Canary watching debut season in 1981-82.
Our first meeting in the top tier came on 9 October 1982, a 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road. This was followed by four consecutive top-flight wins over Watford.
One of these wins stands out: 7 April 1984 – Norwich City 6 Watford 1!
This was City’s biggest ever top-flight victory and was especially memorable for Canary number 9, John Deehan, who helped himself to four of the goals. Deehan was at it again five months later, when this time he ‘only’ managed a hat-trick, in Norwich’s 3-2 success.
Deehan loved to ‘poke the Hornet’s nest’. He ended his stint at Norwich with 10 career goals versus Watford. Next on the list, with seven, was Norwich’s all-time record scorer, Johnny Gavin, who himself is three clear of Iwan Roberts (four). Both Gavin and Roberts also played for Watford
History nearly repeated itself on 24 April 2004. Vicarage Road would again host a Norwich promotion party after it was confirmed by a WBA midweek defeat. It was 1972 all over although on this day, Norwich didn’t quite clinch the title – that would become mathematically secured a week later – but a 2-1 away win was still celebrated wildly by another large travelling contingent as they savoured a return to the Premier League.
Two parties and plenty of big wins, Norwich have generally enjoyed good times when Watford are in the opposite corner. There were 3-0 wins the last time both clubs got promoted in 2014-15. Even during the disappointing 2015-16 season, Norwich ended their relegation season on a small high, beating Watford 4-2 in the final game of the season at Carrow Road.
Alas, last season was an underwhelming one for City in the clash of the yellows, with Watford winning 2-1 at Vicarage Road, as City’s Premier League season petered out, after they had won 2-0 in the Carrow Road ‘leg’ earlier in the season.
Overall, City’s head-to-head record against the Hornets is excellent, with 42 wins to Watford’s 29. Even in the cups, Norwich are undefeated in four games.
Here’s to number 43.
Have a safe and merry one.