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.