“And the Freedom of the City, is awarded to Mr Robert Chase.”
Humour me. Inspired by the wonderfully evocative (provocative?), Mr Sadler’s article on Robert Chase, I felt driven to write an ‘alternate view’ on what might just have happened, had the purse strings been loosened in those balmy days of January 1994.
As historians, we sometimes look at ‘counter-factuals’, those ‘what-ifs’ and this is my attempt…
Mike Walker: “I’d need to win the League, FA Cup, and the Eurovision Song Contest every year to earn a decent salary”.
6th January: “We are delighted to announce that Mike Walker has signed a new five-year contract. Recent performances have more than shown we are on the right path and we wish to be competing both within Europe and at the top end of the Premier League for many years to come.
“As such, we have offered the remuneration we felt he deserved. Not only that, we are acutely aware of the money now flowing into the game, and it’s importance to remain within the Premiership.” Robert Chase.
So, with Walker signed up and the club having raised its international standing following its first foray into European football and sitting pretty in seventh place, the stage seemed set for further glory.
First up, a potential banana skin in the FA Cup against Wycombe, but throw that banana in the bin with a resounding 4-0 win. A Chris Sutton hat-trick only seeking to enhance his reputation and a fourth-round home draw with Manchester Utd awaited.
The league form remains good and the Canaries stay circling between sixth and seventh. Enter Man United into the Carrow Road cauldron. Alex Ferguson names a strong line-up. Walker ditto, restoring a fit-again Mark Robins up top alongside Sutton.
Eric Cantona stamps on Gossy’s head and the referee, Paul Durkin, brandishes a card. He’s off! Let the seagulls follow this trawler. A nervy encounter follows with a late poacher’s effort by Robins sending the Canaries through to the fifth round and an away trip to Wimbledon.
Ruel Fox has been making noises for some time about wanting to leave – and Walker is happy to let him. A £2.25 million bid is enough to prise him away to high fliers Newcastle, but Walker is happy with his replacement – Neil Adams – who confidently proclaims ‘I never miss penalties’.
Adams, a right-winger by trade, isn’t a like for like replacement for Fox, but can certainly do a job and Walker has the small matter of £2mil left in the bank.
An away win in the FA cup fifth round against Wimbledon (Newman, third minute) is enough to see Norwich through to the quarter-finals, where Charlton are easily swept aside.
Norwich are back into the FA Cup semi-finals (and a trip to Wembley) for the third time in six seasons. Surely with Oldham to come, this must be their year?
The league form remains consistent but not electric and the Canaries slip to ninth in the league, but with an FA Cup semi-final to come, sights are firmly set on this.
The day dawns and the Yellow Army descend on the twin towers. One half of Wembley, yellow, the other half – blue. A strong line up announced for Norwich:
Gunn, Culverhouse, Newman, Butterworth, Polston, Adams, Goss, Crook, Bowen, Ekoku, Sutton.
With Woodthorpe, Megson and Robins on the bench. A certain Craig Fleming takes to the field for Oldham.
The game is tight, tense and nervy. A floated Fleming cross sees Graham Sharp leaping like a salmon and nodding past Gunn. Former Canary, Joe Royle goes crazy on the touchline…
As the game ebbs and flows, Megson replaces Adams with Jerry Goss switching to the flank and Robins, perhaps hoping to emulate what he did for Alex Ferguson in 1991, replaces Efan Ekoku up top.
With minutes on the clock remaining, Norwich have a corner. A short one is taken by Ian Crook before being whipped in by Mark Bowen and there at the far post is Ian Culverhouse to head home an equaliser and a rare goal. The yellow half of Wembley goes bananas and Mr Chase spills his Chardonnay over his new suit.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, a Norwich supporting cook is dancing a jig with her dear mother. But, with what must be seconds remaining on the clock, Walker, who has been urging his troops on for one more push, clocks a hopeful punt by Rob Newman deep into the Oldham box – the keeper punches it clear but falls to the ground.
The ball loops in the air where it is met full on by Goss who hits another thundercrack of a volley over the prostrate keeper and into the Oldham net.
2-1. The Canaries reach their first-ever FA Cup final.
By now the transfer window has shut and Walker knows his remaining stars are safe. The season peters out into an eighth placed finish. A little disappointing, but with an FA Cup final to come this overshadows any lingering doubts about league form.
FA Cup day and Robert Chase is spotted giddy with excitement and wearing his rosette, feasting aplenty on canapés and referring to the experience as ‘bootiful’…
Walker ‘walks’ out hand in hand with Glenn Hoddle, Chelsea’s player-manager, with both naming a strong line-up. Darren Eadie in for Adams and playing as an inverted winger, Robins replacing Ekoku up front.
The game starts well with both Hoddle and Crook pulling their respective strings and Goss’s tireless running alongside him. 0-0 at half time and both in for a team talk; Chelsea still trying to work out how to best counter Walker’s sweeper system.
70 minutes and Walker opts for a double substitution – Ekoku replaces the ineffectual Robins and Adams on for Eadie, who has shown glimpses of his undoubted potential.
As the game ticks on and the 80th minute rolls in, a swift one-two with Crook and Goss sets the latter away. Sutton has pulled his marker wide opening up a glorious channel for Ekoku. Goss threads it through the middle and Ekoku is through 1-1 with Kharine… he feints left and drags right before gloriously smashing the ball into the net!
Squeaky bum time, a deathly hush at the yellow end until someone starts off On the Ball City. 90 minutes and we are into injury time. Stein races through but is scythed down by Rob Newman – also earning a red card for his endeavours. Penalty…. Up steps Dennis Wise. Cue mind-games from the pony-tailed Bryan Gunn.
Gunn guesses correctly and palms it out, the ball is hoofed clear by John Polston and the ref blows for full time.
They’ve done it. Norwich – ably led by Mike Walker – have won the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Walker and Chase embrace before Ian Butterworth proudly holds the trophy aloft.
With the celebrations dying down the players go on their respective breaks. Norwich are informed of a £5million bid for wantaway striker Chris Sutton, from Blackburn. Norwich accept the bid, with the promise of reinvesting that, plus the Fox money back into the squad.
Walker has some much-needed wheeling and dealing to do, but this will be so much more progressive than the sole income of Gary Megson last summer.
Out goes Megson – free transfer to West Brom with the promise of a coaching career.
Jon Newsome. The deal already having been lined up for some time, to replace the ageing Butterworth. £1mil.
Dion Dublin. The striker having reclaimed his fitness, but failing to oust Hughes and Cantona from the first team, is available for £2mil. A great replacement for Chris Sutton.
Darren Huckerby. Norwich’s limited scouting network has come across a talented young striker playing for Lincoln. £500k is enough to secure his services.
Jan Molby. Free transfer. Liverpool have decided to part company with their talismanic midfielder, but Walker, in a move akin to Brian Clough signing Dave Mackay, has convinced the midfielder to come and join him as a sweeper.
With £2 mil left in the bank, Chase decides to buy up the land surrounding the stadium. Perhaps this will come in useful for future re-sale.
With, by virtue of winning the FA Cup, Norwich in Europe for a second season running in the European Cup Winners cup, the club appear in rude health. Norwich Union have approached the club and have offered a multi-million sponsorship deal, providing the club retain the feared ‘egg n cress’ shirt. Out go the Norwich and Peterborough building society.
Norwich now line up…
Gunn, Molby, Polston, Newsome, Newman, Eadie, Crook, Goss, Bowen, Dublin, Huckerby.
Bench: Culverhouse, Adams, Robins
The tantalising spectacle of Eadie and Huckerby in the same team now a reality. The club has invested in its youth scouting network with a few young players, Robert Green, Keith O’Neill and Craig Bellamy making waves at youth level.
A ferocious run in the European Cup Winners Cup sees the Canaries making the semi-finals, notably knocking out PSG, Rangers and Porto along the way, before finally succumbing to Juventus in a two-legged semi-final. The Canaries have, again, captured the nation’s hearts and maintained their position as ‘everyone’s second favourite team’.
Domestically it’s another season of relative success. Early cup exits allowed a focus domestically and the Canaries go one better than in 1993 and finish second, albeit someway behind a rampant Blackburn. The strike force of Dublin/Huckerby being outshone by the SAS of Sutton and Shearer.
An overload of strikers saw Ekoku depart to Wimbledon for £1mil and a swap deal saw Mark Robins and Iwan Robert’s trade places at Leicester.
With two European runs, numerous top-five finishes and an FA Cup win.
Robert Chase decides it’s time to step down. He has left the club in excellent financial health, with a great playing squad and ever-improving youth set up with a significantly raised club profile. The mayor awards him the freedom of the city and a search for a new chairman is ended with a consortium headed by Delia Smith.
A few wry smiles are raised at what the culinary expert can bring to the table.
If only, hey…..