Managerial speculation, gossip and counter gossip.
It’s all a bit wearying. Especially that which is spouted by some of the more lowbrow media outlets with their endless references to their ‘sources’.
In other words, if they stick their grubby paws into the guessing game lucky dip and get it right, they can blag and boast about it for days afterwards. Whilst if they (invariably) get it wrong then they can blame their sources, deflecting the blame for their poor journalism onto someone, anyone else.
Remember how a certain man ‘in the know’ had Alan Pardew as nailed on, signed, sealed and delivered before Daniel Farke took the job? The same man who has now given two if not three different names as being ‘the one’ who will be our next manager?
Easy work if you can get it. And, sadly, a lot of them do.
It brings to mind the story behind another case of Canary yellow ‘The King Is Dead, Long Live The King.
Except this was back in November 1973.
Ron Saunders had, in 1969, been wooed sufficiently enough by the Norwich board to become the club’s new manager after the dismissal of Lol Morgan. He’d been at Oxford United for less than a year, taking charge for just a dozen games in which he saved them from what had previously looked like almost certain relegation to the old Third Division, a demonstration of managerial prowess that, unsurprisingly, meant that the U’s were more than a little reluctant to see their new man, one who was fast developing a reputation for himself as a strict disciplinarian who put fitness first, second and third in his list of player expectations.
Norwich, therefore, had to haggle with both club and Saunders, with the latter only agreeing to come to Norwich if he was given a salary that matched the best in the Second Division at that time, one that would, therefore, have been on a par with that enjoyed by the likes of Tommy Docherty (Aston Villa) and Frank O’Farrell (Leicester City).
It also made Saunders, by quite some considerable distance at the time, the most highly paid manager of Norwich City in the club’s history.
That didn’t come without some accordant pressure. The club was ambitious with a chairman and board of directors who believed that First Division football was not only feasible but immediately desirable.
So they gave Saunders three years to attain that goal. You can only imagine what might have happened had he not achieved it. But he did, albeit in the third and final season of that pre-ordained timeframe, guiding the Canaries to the Second Division title at the end of the 1971/72 season.
The club managed to stay up, albeit only just, by the end of their debut season in the top flight. This had been earnt by an unexpectedly good start to that campaign, one that had seen them, following a 2-1 win over Leicester City on October 21st, rise to 6th place in the First Divison table.
Three winless games followed before another win, this time by 2-0 at home to West Brom that, again, put the Canaries into the top six. Saunders was rapidly becoming footballing hot property and the speculation, inevitably, started about where he might head next, having more than proven himself at Norwich.
But then things turned a bit sour and Norwich failed to win another game until April 14th, a 1-0 home win over Chelsea that, for all the good it did Saunders and the Canaries, still left them rooted to the bottom of the First Divison table with just four games to go. The fact that we went on to survive, with two wins (against West Brom and Crystal Palace) in that last quartet of games was therefore little short of a footballing miracle, an unlikely second chance with the elite for a club that had, at one point, gone nineteen games without a win.
Saunders now had to build on that unlikely success story and look to push the club forward during the following campaign, aiming, as he would have been told for at least a mid-table finish and certainly no worries about getting wrapped up in another relegation battle.
If only. The 1973/74 season commenced with the resignation of popular and long-serving Chairman Sir Geoffrey Watling and didn’t get much better from that point onwards. By November 1973 the Canaries had only won two out of their opening sixteen matches, poor form that was now being accompanied by regular tabloid tittle-tattle claiming that Saunders was set to walk out of the club in order to take over at Manchester City.
It didn’t help that he and Watlings’ replacement, the bluff Sir Arthur South didn’t always see eye to eye, a fractious replacement that came to a fiery head after a home defeat to Everton. Saunders, who had remained focused on his job despite the overtures being sent his way from Maine Road, took rightful offence to South’s criticisms of the team’s performance and resigned on the spot, leaving the ground whilst some of his embattled players were still soaking the pains of the night away in the communal bath.
Desperate times in NR1. Norwich were in 20th place and had a tough run of league fixtures coming up, seven to be exact, between that Everton defeat and a visit by West Ham on New Year’s Day.
Speculation about who would replace Saunders included a few fairly predictable names. George Petchey had only just failed in his unlikely attempt to get Orient promoted to the First Division whist, up in Scotland, Eddie Turnbull had done well enough at Hibernian to end the season bisecting Celtic and Rangers in their First Division by ending it in 2nd place, a remarkable achievement.
But the man South wanted was making waves down at Bournemouth.
He was also, unlike Stuart Webber, a man who probably likes to keep under wraps what he had for his tea, very public about his and the club’s pursuit of Bond, announcing that he and Bond would be meeting up for formal discussions about the role on the afternoon of Sunday, November 25th.
The talks went well and, later that day, Bond formally accepted South’s offer and, typically, celebrated the moment with a glass of champagne before heading off to Bournemouth to secure his immediate release from his obligations at Dean Court in order to take training at Norwich the following day.
But Bournemouth were playing hardball, demanding a sum of £10,000 in order for Bond and Norwich to be able to join forces in Norfolk, a fee, it seemed, South wasn’t prepared to pay as, that Monday evening, the Bournemouth chairman, Harold Walker announced that Bond was not going to be released from his contract, leaving South to admit to his disappointment, adding that he would now return to some of the other names on his shortlist, all of whom, no doubt, would now be aware that they were the second, third or even fourth choice for a team that looked as if it was going to be relegated at the end of that season.
Then, a few hours later and quite unexpectedly, Walker rang South later that day and told him that, providing Norwich were prepared to pay the sum that they had originally asked for, they would, after all, release Bond from his contract.
South, originally very reluctant to sanction such a costly deal now realised he was caught between a rock and a hard place-he either had to go back on his original decision not to commit to that outlay and make it look like, in a game of footballing bluff, that Walker had bested him or he had to stand firm, pay the money and get the man who he’d wanted all along up to Norwich.
He chose the latter of course. Which, to this day, is probably the best £10,000 Norwich City have ever spent.
Splendidly simpler times. Two clubs and their respective chairmen haggling over a deal for a new manager between them. No agents and no trusted sources, just two elderly men and one manager and his ever-ready bottle of bubbly.