I should have been anticipating the footballing trip of a lifetime but I’d picked up a free Eastern Evening News and was instead distracted by the front page headline.
It never dawned on me at the time but those four words would have major repercussions for our football club. You could argue they have lasted to this very day.
The date was 8th December 1993. The place was Norwich Airport, where the City masses were congregating ahead of boarding flights bound for Milan for the second leg of the UEFA Cup tie with Inter.
The headline in question: “Release the Purse Strings”.
You probably know the rest.
The words were those of Mike Walker as he picked what he calculated to be the moment of optimal leverage to urge his chairman to give him more money to spend on new players.
As it transpired, it was the first sign of discontent from the manager and also the first indication that all was not well off the pitch, specifically in relation to the club’s finances.
We’ll never know the exact timings and the exact numbers, but it was clear that Walker thought his squad needed strengthening if it was to get anywhere close to repeating the heroics of 1992-93.
It subsequently became clear that even if the purse strings had been loosened, there would have been no pot of gold inside for Walker to spend. The purse was empty.
Despite City losing the Inter game 1-0, as we disembarked at Norwich Airport after the return flight, Walker was there greeting the fans and thanking them for their support. A friend (Juddy) shook his hand and said to him, “let’s do this again”.
Walker replied, “That’s exactly what we want”.
Just over a month later, amid much acrimony, Walker was gone. Lured to Merseyside by the blue half who, in the previous September, had been blown away by City in a thrilling 5-1 win at Goodison Park.
For Robert Chase, the departure of Walker was the first domino to fall. The chairman’s magic touch was no more. Never again was he to be lord of all that he surveyed, as he was the night when we drew at home with Bayern Munich to earn ourselves that shot at Inter Milan.
The BBC images of him standing at the front of the directors’ box and drinking in the moment will endure.
Even though he didn’t realise it, from there the only way was down.
For the first half of that season, City hovered in or around the top six but once Walker had departed, so too did the team’s form and belief. His replacement, John Deehan, was subject to the same lack of resources as his predecessor and they finished a disappointing 12th.
November 1993 may have been the beginning of the end, but the summer of 1994 was the start of the break up of that wonderful team. Chris Sutton, the most prized possession of a prized crop, would depart for Blackburn amid more acrimony.
With more rumblings of unrest, the 1994-95 season began poorly, faded away in the middle and ended disastrously. We were relegated and, along the way, Deehan was handed his P45 by Chase and Gary Megson appointed as his successor.
Megson was only officially in charge for five games, and in the summer, as the club prepared for life in the second tier, Martin O’Neill was appointed as manager.
Despite a promising start for the Ulsterman, the unrest continued as the money dried up and star players were sold in a failed attempt to balance the books.
O’Neill lasted until November but departed for Leicester City after he and Chase clashed over a perceived lack of ambition, with the failure to sign Dean Windass from Hull City the final straw. I say perceived because, in reality, the cupboard was already bare.
Promises that money originally designated for a rebuilt South Stand could be used to strengthen the squad never materialised and civil war ensued.
The appointment of Megson to permanently replace O’Neill only served to pour oil on already troubled waters and the fans had simply had enough. Petitions were organised, protest meetings were held and Carrow Road echoed to the sound of “Chase Out”.
It wasn’t the only sound to echo around the place. The sound of horses’ hooves thundering down Carrow Road was also heard as police from outside Norfolk were shipped in to control and quell the protesting crowds.
There was no way back and on 1st May 1996, Robert Chase announced he was stepping down as chairman of Norwich City FC. He was never to return to Carrow Road.
His passing last week brought all of the above flooding back and the depth of feeling is still such that I need to choose my words carefully.
Yet it also feels the right time to recognise the things Mr. Chase did right for our football club as opposed to doubling down on the things he did wrong.
Along the way, during the good times, he was the driving force behind buying various parcels of land adjoining Carrow Road whose future sales were to prove invaluable as the club continued to struggle to balance its books. He also oversaw the move from a basic, dilapidated training ground in Trowse to the one they currently occupy at Colney.
And, of course, he presided over what was unquestionably the club’s most successful era on the pitch – one to never be repeated.
He was elected to the board in 1982, became chairman in 1985 and so in his 11 years in charge oversaw three top-five finishes in the top tier as well as the UEFA Cup run. And but for the Heysel disaster, there would have been other forays into Europe.
So, for me, it’s what happened on the pitch during the good times that we should remember on Sunday during the planned minute’s applause.
Rest well Mr. Chairman.
Martin P says
Andy W says
I remember thinking as I planned my trips to Munich and Milan that I had better make the most of it, as it would probably be a once in a lifetime experience for a Canary fan. Looks like I was right, as we have not flown anywhere near those heights again. The game itself has certainly changed in the last thirty years, and a club like Norwich will struggle to compete with the cash rich super clubs. However, Robert Chase must have made some good decisions during his time in charge, giving us our time in the limelight, and for that he deserves a good send off from the Carrow Rd crowd.
Bob [ juddy] judd says
What a great article.
It was wonderful to, remember some great times shared with great friends.
Mr Chase should be respected in his memory, by those of us who were lucky enough to see NCFC performing at the highest level of football.
We know the wheels fell off,
but the model had to be built in the first place.
Gary I look forward to reading many more of your outstanding, informative articles ,
Your good friend Juddy🙂👍
Gary Gowers says
Thanks for commenting Juddy ol’ friend. Hope you’re well. Happy days indeed.
And thanks for the nice words, mate.
You and Delfie have commented … about time Mr Veasey did! 😀
Dorset Canary says
Possibly my best memories of watching City. I agree with the tone of the article for Mr Chase surely only had the best interests of the club at heart even though I and many others did not always agree with his decisions. I just hope tomorrows minutes silence is respected by all.
Andy L says
He will never be anything other than a villain for me… but that’s as a result of getting a few meaty whacks from the mounted police during the infamous charges down Carrow Road. And then the old bugger getting directly involved in trying to get me banned form all football stadia.
That mounted police charge could have and should have been averted, but thanks for confirming to those that will read this post that it did indeed happen. Memories of that time have faded for many.
However, all things aside, well done on a fine balancing act in your words.
martin penney says
As you’ll see from my comment to Gary [below] I was there too.
Almost all the horses were hired from the Met – most of us got close enough to see their Mounted Branch logo unfortunately!
A faded memory? Not if you were there and many of us were.
Dave Cole says
Check your dates Gaz 😉
Keith B says
One factor about the Chase era that’s never considered is how much the Liverpool scumbags cost us. We should have been in Europe after winning the League Cup – then Heysel happened. European football may not have swelled the coffers the way it does now, but it was still pretty lucrative and we lost out through no fault of or own – or of Robert Chase. Might our finances have been a little more robust come 1990 had we taken our rightful place in the UEFA Cup a few years earlier? I guess we’ll never know.
martin penney says
You’ve achieved a tone and balance in the article that I could never have accomplished.
Of course there were good aspects in there somewhere too, as in when I was told that Chase’s purchase of Read’s flour mill on Riverside generated the £5 million we quite literally needed to stay in business at the time it was eventually sold.
Unfortunately my abiding memory will always be that of Andy L [above].
The most important point is that the minute’s silence is immaculately observed on Sunday. I am sure it will be and that the Mackems certainly won’t let us down in that respect.
David C. says
Looking back over the Chase era it seems strange to me – not at the time, but after these past couple of troublesome years- that the supporters in the main were so vehemently demonstrative against Chase yet have meekly (like sheep) and almost silently fallen in line behind our current regime who in hindsight have been far worse owners and managers than that of Robert Chase.
I first knew Robert in the mid sixties, doing business with his building company over many years, and I can say you would not find a more fervent supporter of Norwich City than Robert and his dad Jack, both nice men and that’s how I want to remember him- as a nice man.
Gary Gowers says
Nice words, Dave.
I‘ve been a City fan since the ´50‘s but I was away in Yorkshire from the 70‘s to the 90‘s so I saw the Canaries from a distance. For me those years seemed fabulously successful for City and then so tragic, I couldn‘t believe my eyes when I saw the mounted police that some security idiot used against the fans. For me Chase was neither sinner nor Saint but he deserves a few minutes of respect at the match on Sunday, he‘s a big part of the Club’s history and it might ease his family’s grief.
A well balanced read Gary. With hindsight I believe we were too critical of Chase at the time, me included.
It was the beginning of big money in football and we simply couldn’t compete.
He did the right thing in purchasing land to secure the future of the club and if we’d known what lay ahead we might not have been so keen to see him go.
Inside Right says
An excellent, sober piece Gary.
Everyone of a certain age has a view on Chase. Mine is far more good than bad and preceded over an era when the fans were more ambitious than they became in later years.
He got lucky and even he could not have anticipated the level of success achieved under Stringer and Walker. But sometimes you make your own luck. The late John Motson once commentated on a Liverpool v Norwich match and famously said it was like watching Liverpool v Liverpool. That’s how good we were folks.
The Stringer era being my all time favourite. We were seriously good.
I could mention the mistakes he made, but the time for the likes of Chase was over as football was changing and he did leave, with some significant persuasion from many fans.
Chase leaving wasn’t the issue. It was who eventually took over and unfortunately, the club was never the same with the low level celebrity duo of Smith & Jones. They were the wrong people then and the wrong people now.
In a parallel universe, the fans who wanted Chase out – me included – may have waited a little longer if they knew what eventually was around the corner. But as I said, the fans were more ambitious then and nobody wanted to be in the second tier, let alone the third.
So Bob, you were a bit of a rascal. But we will never scale those heights again.
Whose fault is that?
Exactly this. Fa cup semis. Contention for the Premier league title. Qualifying for Europe and being robbed by Liverpool. The man was reviled for selling footballers. Delia Smith sells footballers and is deified. Its a matter of presentation.
All a long time ago really, I think?
Whatever people think, Robert Chase was a Canaries fan and has now passed away, he deserves respect from the fans.
Canaries v Black Cats, lets hope we get a good game with a great result – we’re very capable of getting three points, and we have nine points up for grabs over this week – could be defining moments!
Tim Ball says
Brilliantly put Gary.
Funnily enough I found Mr Chase to be very easy to talk to and a very good host at Carrow Road, despite knowing what I know. The two things are separate for me. And as people we are many thing to many people.
But I will say is, no we were not too hard on him!
And for all his faults he was very good to us lads in the FSA all those years ago and would often pop his head around the corner for a chat.
He steadfastly refused to accept that we would get relegated in 1995. It was the night of April 6th 1995, a horrible wintry evening, the night after we had unluckily lost 1-0 to Leicester and I said with great respect, that we were sinking faster that the Titanic. No he said we have plenty of games left to get the points we needed.
He was certain we would do it. To put it mildly I wasn’t.
From 2nd January 1995 until 14th May 1995 we won 1 in 20 matches against a equally poor Ipswich Town side.
The problem was we had Liverpool, Leeds, Forest, Newcastle, Spurs and Villa to come and in those days there wasn’t a easy game amongst them.
The trouble with Mr Chase was he kept everything to himself, I know this through conversations with people who were there and sadly no longer with us, so that I will keep that too myself.
But relegation opened up everything, he was caught between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to go.
I think he really did love Norwich City Football Club and did make some good decisions like purchasing the flour mill and Colney but sadly I believe his legacy will be of what might have been.
Keith B is correct Heysel was a hammer blow to the club, only us and Spurs qualified 3 times in that 5 year ban.
Nowadays it would not be like that, Liverpool would quite rightly get 15-20 year ban while the innocent clubs would be allowed to play but be warned of what the penalty would be if it happened again.
But as for Mr Chase I think he became seduced by the trappings of the Chairmanship and all that went with it. He won’t be the last will he ?
Mike Corbs says
Compared to the crimes of today the misdemeanours of that era do come into perspective. Now that others have gone into comparison mode – that was the only time in my life I’ve taken to the streets about football, but I’d do it again if current owners needed support. Sing up the flour mill!
A nice piece and thank you for sharing Gary.
I started supporting Norwich in 1992 and what a time to be a fan, that period 92-94 will never be repeated but I, like many others, will never forget it.
I don’t want to get into the debate about Chase vs the Smiths, for me it’s pointless, but just wanted to give me two penneth on Bob…
Without doubt he deserves massive credit for Ncfc’s success at the time and yesterday’s applause was lovely to see.
However, I don’t think Chase was quite the visionary some make him out to be – this was an era when ourselves, Cov, Luton, Oxford and Wimbledon all won major trophies. The playing field was even and similar-sized clubs were achieving similar success – Bob had several peers put it that way.
Whatever your view, his place in our history is secured and rightly commended.