Matthew McGregor on the words, with a look at another season in which an unfancied, but absolutely flying, City side faced back-to-back season defining games.
Ahhhh, Norwich City… riding high in the league. Totally against expectations. The media said we wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the league come this stage of the season. None of us thought we would be either, honestly. Then we kept winning and winning and all of a sudden we started to believe. Then along came two games back to back against our main championship rivals that totally changed the season.
That’s right, it’s 1993 and Ian Crook, Ruel Fox and Mark Robins are taking the inaugural season of modern football by storm.
With Sheffield United under our belts and Dirty Leeds coming up, I’ve been thinking back to the two games, back to back, against our main title rivals, Aston Villa and Manchester United that took place around this time that season. Two games in succession that felt then, and feel like now, like deciders. We beat Villa. Then along came United.
It was all pretty tinpot back then. Sky Sports brought massive sound systems to game. Bart Simpson dicked around and some fireworks were set off. They really tried to make the act of televising a game an event in itself. Even back then, without the nonsense that happens at Premier League grounds now to compare it to, we knew it was pathetic.
The football was anything but. That season was properly fun. I was only a young ‘un but how me and my brother and my dad laughed and laughed at the thought of Arsenal losing to little old us on opening day. From 2-0 up. How silly they must have felt. We were relegation fodder. But then Norwich kept on winning.
We only lost once all August. We didn’t lose at all in September. Even when we lost to Blackburn in November, it led to the infamous “Blackburn 7 (seven) Norwich 1” vidiprinter scoreline on Grandstand, which made the whole thing somehow fun.
It was all just somehow… funny.
When the two games against Villa and Man Utd came around, I remember it suddenly seeming more real, and less fun. The Aston Villa game was first. They were two points behind us when they came to Carrow Road. We didn’t have Along Come Norwich and Barclay End Norwich to marshal things but the Barclay was still absolutely rocking. John Polston won that game with an 81st minute goal mouth bundle. The feeling was relief more than joy.
And then came Manchester United. It was grim. I think I knew deep down before the game that this was do or die for our championship hopes and that it was more likely those hopes would die than, um, er, do. We were in it for much of the game but once we were 2-1 down, the various contingents of Yarmouth Reds and Lynn Red Devils that were dotted around the home fans went from antagonists to belligerents. Then they added a third. It was pretty sour (and sporadically nearly violent) from that point.
Those two games stand out as ending our season. Even though we won one of them, the two together are locked together in my memory of the year that I’d forgotten that we beat Villa until I double checked the score for this piece. Norwich slipped away after the Man Utd defeat to finish 12 points back (with a minus 4 goal difference! In third place! Scenes.)
We have Klose instead Polston, Hernandez instead of Fox, and Pukki in place of Robins nowadays. The team we got to watch take on Sheffield United was just as fun as the team that beat Villa.
Now it’s time to do Dirty Leeds. We are as entertaining as we were in 1993. We are at least as fun. But, while a league lower than that 1993 team, I feel like this team is more robust. There’s some steel in this team that (hopefully) won’t buckle like we did against United.
It’s not that often that cliche of ‘a season-defining stretch’ is actually season-defining. Those of us who were on the Barclay in 1993 were certainly defined by those two games. Let’s hope Saturday’s game has a different ending.