A History of Norwich City in 100 Goals No. 6: Phil Mulryne v Reading

16/12/20

Ahead of the away game against Reading tonight, here's Nick Hayhoe to relieve Norwich's most famous goal at the Madejski as part of his History of Norwich City in 100 Goals series.

Think of the most bizarre goal you’ve ever seen. There are probably a few candidates. Own goals, crazy deflections, goalkeeping blunders, goals where the ball didn’t even go in. They are a fantastic subcategory of goal scoring, one that sits away from the usual compilation YouTube videos and DVDs, and yet are no less fascinating for the supporter.

In April 2004, Norwich City were enjoying their best season in nearly a decade, sitting top of Division One and on their way to promotion as title winners. Despite some excellent streaks of form, of which this game was eventually part of a run of winning seven games on the trot, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland still kept pace with City throughout the second half of the season – looking to jump on any potential classic Along Come Norwich loss of form.

A huge contingent of away support (which had become something of a theme that season), made the journey to the Madejski Stadium on an Easter Monday night, for the game was being broadcast on Sky Sports due to being one of those matches you get towards the back end of the season where “it might not mathematically possible, but if we win today we’re up”. Earlier in the day, Ipswich Town, in one of those hilarious quirks of football that causes you to hate your own side for winning, beat 3rd place Sunderland to do Norwich a favour and put pretty much place destiny in their own hands.

The match was tight and Norwich were nervy, as Norwich are right when we don’t want them to be. But on the 86th minute, before everyone could have a chance to start talking about “missed opportunities” and “failure to take advantage” and even the old “typical Norwich”, something extraordinary happened. Norwich actually benefited from some luck.

A Marc Edworthy long throw (this was the mid 00s, they still existed outside of Tony Pulis’ head then) was half cleared out of the Reading box and hit the referee, Neale Barry, on the back – deflecting the ball up towards Phil Mulryne, who executed an astonishing turn-and-volley to rocket the ball up and over the despairing (in more senses than one), Reading goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown. The goal came in front of the away end and saw the eruption of an all time limbs moment from topless and flag twirling Norwich fans all thinking that, “this is it we’re actually going up!”. Mulryne slid on the floor. The Norwich players all piled on. Craig Fleming fist pumped away. The Reading players complained to the referee, though the laws of football hadn’t suddenly changed in those two minutes to allow Barry to rule to goal out.

Since his retirement, in a “I will just read that twice to check it’s true” story, Mulryne has become an ordained Catholic priest back in his native Belfast. This, coupled with the fact that the “back of God” (as it has never been nicknamed by Norwich fans) occurred on an Easter Monday, could lead to some lazy writers to state that it was something of a divine intervention that the ball looped up to Mulryne off the ref as it did. But this writer would never make such an easy connection…

Football, rather boringly, has now changed the rule over the ball hitting the referee – in that it is now a drop ball in such a circumstance (and an “uncontested” one at that). Because of this, we will never see a goal like Father Mulryne’s ever again.

Such changes only seem to serve to demonstrate the increasing “blandification” of football to rid it of all the quirks and charms that made us enjoy it in the first place – but, regardless, it will never stop us enjoying them when they happen, or remembering the times when they did. Especially when they cause you to score a potential last minute title winner away from home…

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