Flight Of The Canaries


This year being the 30th anniversary of us going toe-to-toe with Bayern and Inter (have we mentioned this before?), let’s soak in a lovely deep dive from Ewan Flynn, courtesy of The Blizzard magazine.

The away fans have turned their backs to the vast Olympiastadion’s pitch. Many of them are pointing cameras at the giant electronic scoreboard to prove as much to themselves as anyone else that this is really happening. With 30 minutes played, incredibly, impossibly, preposterously, it reads:

Bayern Munich 0, Norwich City 2.

14 months earlier…

On the eve of the inaugural Premier League season, football writers delivered a near-unanimous verdict in their previews. Norwich City were certainties for relegation. The Canaries had ended the 1991-92 campaign abysmally, taking a solitary point from their final 8 games to finish only three points clear of the relegation zone. The club legend Dave Stringer stepped down as manager, exhausted after five gravity-defying years of establishing Norwich in the top flight. The search for his replacement proved a chastening experience. The club’s fans had become increasingly disillusioned with their chairman Robert Chase and his long-standing policy of selling star players. Newspaper articles linking Bryan Robson with the club as player-manager were scornfully dismissed in the city as propaganda timed to coincide with the season-ticket renewal deadline. While another idol of 1980s English football, Phil Neal, rejected the job after Chase refused his request to commute from Liverpool. And so it was that the club’s unheralded reserve team manager, Mike Walker, came to fill the vacancy. His one-year rolling £50,000 contract was least lucrative in the Premier League. It was reportedly lower than the salary Martin O’Neill commanded for managing Wycombe Wanderers outside the professional ranks in the Football Conference.

Walker – a former goalkeeper who’d made close to 700 appearances in the lower reaches of the Football League – had only previously managed Colchester United. His brief spell with the Essex club ended bizarrely in 1987. Walker was sacked – and then won the manager of the month award – shortly after guiding the team to the summit of the embryonic Fourth Division table. Despite a near-perfect start to the season, the Colchester chairman had concluded that Walker’s progressive style of play was doomed to failure. These same quixotic principles of how the game should be played would characterise Walker’s Norwich City.

With the Carrow Road manager’s jacket finally embossed with Walker’s initials, he prepared for the season’s opening fixture: a daunting trip to title-favourites Arsenal. The crowd darling Robert Fleck’s decision to abscond from training to force through a £2.1million transfer to Chelsea three days before the trip to Highbury only heightened the sense of gloom around the club, although there was a brief moment of levity before kick- off for those fans who had made the trip from East Anglia to north London: a parachutist from the Red Devils display troupe missed his mark on the pitch, disappearing behind the 225-foot mural Arsenal had installed to cover the redevelopment of the North Bank.

The opening 45 minutes, however, appeared to confirm their worst fears as the hosts swept into a two-goal lead. The author and Canaries fan Kevin Baldwin remembers the mood in the away end at the interval, “It was 2-0, but it could have been a lot more. Arsenal were absolutely battering us. We were all thinking this season is going to be grim.” With the Gunners dominance continuing after the interval, Walker threw on the substitute Mark Robins. The diminutive striker – hurriedly signed from Manchester United for £800,000 to replace Fleck – had only trained once with his new teammates. His 69th-minute goal sparked a remarkable late comeback that no one in the ground or on the pitch had forecast. David Phillips levelled the scores soon after, before Ruel Fox and Robins again sealed an unlikely 4-2 win.

The result had a transformative impact on the direction of Norwich’s campaign. As Baldwin explains, “It sounds daft to say one game can make a season – especially the first match – but it effectively did. It was a miraculous turnaround. That was what kick-started the whole thing. I still think that if we hadn’t recovered in that game, things would have panned out very differently. Tim Sheppard, Norwich City’s physiotherapist from 1980 to 2001, agrees. “When we won that match at Highbury – which, by the way, was like the Savoy Hotel with its marble floors, gold door handles, and stewards in posh long coats – you could sense there was renewed respect between the club, the staff and the supporters. I remember we stopped for a pint and fish and chips in Epping on the way home, and the bar staff were saying to the players, ‘Good on you for beating Arsenal.’ It made us feel like we had credibility.”

One of Walker’s early moves was to champion three players he’d seen at close quarters in the reserve team: the teenage centre-back-cum-striker Chris Sutton, the pacey winger Ruel Fox and the hard-running midfielder Jeremy Goss. All three flourished. Goss had joined the club in 1983 as one of British football’s first Youth Training Scheme apprentices but had struggled to establish himself in the first team. So despondent had Goss become by his limited prospects that mid-match during a second-string fixture with Oxford he resolved to quit the game altogether and compete in triathlons. Thankfully for Norwich City and connoisseurs of magnificent volleyed goals (more on that later), he changed his mind.

In Ruel Fox’s assessment, Walker’s time with the reserves was the perfect preparation for the top job. “When you’re a reserve team manager you’re almost stuck between nurturing the 18-year- olds who are looking to break through and keeping the senior pros interested who have dropped down from the first team, disgruntled at playing in matches where only ten people are watching. Mike had to find the right blend to manage that, and he did it brilliantly. He was a bit of a lad, different from the other managers I had in my career. He still thought he was about 30. He loved himself a bit, tanned skin, sharp suits. He was a good-looking man. If we went on a night out for a drink, he’d turn up! We all liked him, so when he needed to get serious with us – tell us to buckle down – nobody got the hump. Mike freed everyone up and encouraged us always to be positive with the ball. We were a free-flowing team.” From his vantage point in the dressing room, Tim Sheppard saw first-hand the respect Walker garnered among the squad. “Mike had his own inimitable style. He wasn’t one for the ‘hairdryer’ or throwing teacups. Rather, he was one of those chaps who, when he spoke, you could sense the players listened. Believe me, that isn’t always the case.”

They couldn’t, could they?

Bucking the trend of direct, muscular football that by 1992 was ubiquitous in England, Norwich, after ten games, had passed their way to the top of the table. A memorable win at Stamford Bridge was emblematic of the exuberance, camaraderie, latent talent – and good fortune – Walker had tapped into. Stuck in heavy traffic on the King’s Road, the Norwich players were forced to change into their kit on the team bus. Barely making the 3pm kick-off, they took directly to the pitch and swiftly fell two goals behind. Just as at Arsenal, they rallied in the second half. And thanks in large part to the calamitous goalkeeping of Chelsea’s Dave Beasant the visitors came back to win 3-2. Beasant was to pay a heavy price. The Blues manager Ian Porterfield publicly sacked him in the post-match press conference. It had been a difficult week for Davids associated with Chelsea: the tabloids had been full of the salacious details of government minister David Mellor’s affair with Antonia de Sancha. To stoke publicity having sold her story, the actress fabricated a claim that Mellor was fond of wearing his Chelsea kit while having sex.

With Mellor’s indiscretions and widespread Conservative Party sleaze dominating the headlines for the remainder of the year, another sensational story began taking hold on the back pages. Could the unfashionable ‘country cousins’, Norwich City, really go the distance? October’s trip to second- place Blackburn was portrayed as the acid test of their credentials. Walker’s team failed it spectacularly. Inspired by record-signing Alan Shearer, Rovers demolished the Canaries 7-1. Most of the country’s football writers rushed
to dismiss Norwich’s title hopes out of hand. Within the club, the result was immediately put into perspective as tragedy struck. The goalkeeper Bryan Gunn’s two-year-old daughter Francesca, who had been diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukaemia, died a few days after the Ewood Park match. As the physio Tim Sheppard reflected, “What the hell did a 7-1 defeat mean compared to something like that?”

Norwich’s first game after Francesca Gunn’s funeral came at Carrow Road against QPR. Having consulted a local vicar, Gunn decided to play. He would keep a photograph and a lock of his daughter’s hair in his glove bag for the rest of his career. Riding the outpouring of emotion in the stadium, Norwich battled to a 2-1 victory. Gunn has since written in his autobiography of how the loss of Francesca galvanised and bonded the squad. Tim Sheppard recognised that effect too. “You don’t always get a harmonious group of players in football teams, but that brought us together as
a unit. You never forget going through something like that with each other.”

The team’s esprit de corps radiated through the city. Norfolk’s easterly location, poor transport links and economic dependency on agriculture had long made it the butt of tired jokes depicting the county and its people as parochial and slow-witted. With Norwich leading the Premier League, the city found its voice. “I remember talking to the vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia at a function,” said Sheppard. “He told me, ‘You won’t believe the impact the team is having on our profile around the world.’ It was the same in the business community. They’d say to me, ‘Make sure we keep winning’. People were associating the excellence of the football club with excellence in other walks of life in the city.”

A run of four straight wins across November and early December gave the team an eight-point lead. The Sunday Telegraph extolled Norwich as having “a bit of Brazil” about them and “a dash of the Dutch too” before wryly noting that some of their defending was reminiscent of East Stirling. Norwich City’s title odds – 250-1 at the start of the season – were now slashed to 10-1. “We were as surprised as anyone,” said Ruel Fox. “It’s funny looking back on it now, but we kept coming back to win games – it seemed like we always went behind – and the first thing we’d be talking about in the dressing room after we’d won was our bonuses. At the start of the season, the club captain would go in and negotiate the win bonus. Ian Butterworth got us a ridiculous deal as the chairman looked at us and didn’t expect us to win too many. So I don’t think he was too happy at how much it was starting to cost him! After an away win, we’d get back on the coach and say, ‘You know that’s another two grand!’ It was worth more than our wages. We had some great banter with the chairman over that.”

If the media were still reluctant to embrace Norwich as bona fide title contenders, Alex Ferguson was in no doubt. Alarmed by the gap Norwich had opened up, he sent for reinforcements. Eric Cantona was signed from Leeds. The Canaries would provide the opposition on his Old Trafford debut. Ferguson hailed the forward’s transformative effect on his team in the post-match press conference after the hosts secured a narrow 1-0 win. “He showed today he is a Manchester United player. Some of his touches were superb. But what he added most of all was his vision.” However, more detrimental than the defeat for Norwich was the injury sustained by Mark Robins against his former club.

The striker had rattled in 12 goals in his 19 games in yellow and green. His subsequent absence over the Christmas period coincided with a dreadful run of form, which saw Walker’s team gather just three points from six matches. It was a spell in which the Canaries endured their longest goal drought in 65 years, as they failed to score in five consecutive games. According to Tony Francis of The Times, “This has been the period Mike Walker secretly dreaded. As those of little faith chorused, ‘I told you so.’ Norwich have been living dangerously all season, surrendering goals because defenders who are perhaps not up to it were encouraged to play the ball about. Until recently, Walker’s attackers have been blessed with the talent and self-esteem to rise above those defensive frailties.” The Today newspaper gleefully claimed: “Norwich City’s championship credentials look about as genuine as a dodgy Rolex. They have been exposed as fakes.”

But as winter gave way to spring, the Canaries regrouped. A burst of three wins in March brought them within two points of the leaders Aston Villa and level with second-place Manchester United. Grudgingly, the Observer was forced to accept Norwich were “still absurdly in the championship race despite looking more like relegation candidates.” The Guardian was even less generous: “One of the horses in the race is riderless, a minor menace to the two contenders.” Expanding on this theme, their chief football writer David Lacey witheringly declared that the title was being contested by “two horses and a mule.” The fixture list put his words to the test. Carrow Road would play host to these thoroughbreds in consecutive matches. Kevin Baldwin – who attended all of Norwich’s fixtures that season – chronicling the campaign in his book Norfolk ‘N’ Good – has a lump in his throat as he recalls the game against Villa. “I don’t know why I’m getting teary thinking about it, but that was the best football match I’ve ever seen.

For 90 minutes, both teams were brilliant and went at each other. We were still in with a shout of doing it at that point, and traditionally when we’d had the chance to do something – FA Cup semi-finals and the like – we’d usually wilted. But that night we didn’t.” With Gunn superb in the Norwich goal, the match was decided nine minutes from time. The centre-back John Polston snaffled a rebound from close range after the Villa keeper Mark Bosnich had parried Gary Megson’s diving header. It had been a momentous day for Polston, as on the stroke of midnight, he’d become a father for the first time. With 36 games of their season played, Norwich topped the Premier League by a point. A league, lest we forget, that had been formed specifically to enshrine the hegemony of English football’s ‘traditional big clubs’ over the domestic game.

The match against Manchester United was billed as the title decider. Looking back on it three decades later, Ruel Fox said with a twinge of regret, “If we’d beaten them that night, I think that would have been it. But they were unbelievable in the game. Knowing what we know now about Alex Ferguson, you can just imagine what he’d have been saying in the changing room. They were so up for it.” United blitzed Norwich with three goals inside the opening 20 minutes. Despite Robins finding the net in the second half, there was to be no famous comeback this time. The damage inflicted by the 3-1 defeat was compounded the following Saturday in a dispirited 5-1 annihilation at White Hart Lane. As Trevor Haylett succinctly put it in his match report for the Independent, “Now that really must be it. Surely there will be no coming back from this for Norwich.”

By the time the final round of fixtures was played, Manchester United had already wrapped up their first league title since 1967. Norwich made the long trip from East Anglia to relegated Middlesbrough, consoled by the knowledge that a point would secure third place and a potential first foray into European football. The game reflected their season in microcosm. 1-0 up, 2-1 down, 3-2 up, before conceding an equaliser that left them desperately hanging on at 3-3 for the draw they needed. At full-time, Bryan Gunn raced to the away fans, stripped down to his underpants before joyously throwing his entire kit into the crowd. Poignantly, Gunn received the club’s player of the season award. Remarkably, Norwich had conceded 65 goals across the league campaign – more than Nottingham Forest, who finished bottom – to finish with a goal difference of -4.

Even the club’s highest-ever position had not automatically guaranteed their passage to European club competition. England’s rehabilitation within Uefa after the Heysel disaster was still at a tender stage. The continent’s governing body limited England to just two places in the Uefa Cup. This was particularly punitive for Norwich, who had actually qualified for the tournament in 1985 by beating Sunderland in the League Cup final. That match was dubbed ‘the friendly final’, reflecting the bonhomie displayed by the two sets of fans in staging a jovial 60-a-side ‘final’ of their own in the Wembley Stadium car park. The two clubs share an affinity to this day. Norwich’s entry into the Uefa Cup for the following season, however, was rescinded once English clubs were banned following the horrendous events in Belgium.

In 1993, Norwich looked set to miss out again. The first of England’s Uefa Cup places would go to Premier League runners up, Aston Villa, while the second was reserved for the winners of the League Cup. However, this allocation was complicated by the improbable occurrence that season of Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday contesting both domestic cup finals. Arsenal had already triumphed in the League Cup. If they could now complete a cup ‘double’ they would vacate their Uefa Cup place, contesting the Cup Winners’ Cup instead. The net result would be that England’s second Uefa Cup place was returned to the Premier League and Norwich City.

The Norwich squad – on a post-season jaunt to the Cayman Islands – watched on from the Wharf bar as their fate was decided 5,000 miles away in northwest London. In the last ever FA Cup final to be settled by a replay, Arsenal clinched a last-gasp victory in extra- time. Serendipitously, it was the former Norwich defender Andy Linighan who rose highest from a corner to head home past another ex-Canary, England keeper, Chris Woods. “I remember that night in the bar,” said Ruel Fox, “Someone managed to get Andy on the phone. We were all over him, thanking him for that goal.”

Going continental

The draw for the Uefa Cup was made at the Hilton Hotel, Geneva, in mid- July. Chairman Robert Chase told reporters covering proceedings, “Rubbing shoulders with the Milans and Barcelonas, I was allowed to think for five minutes, for a so-called small club, we have come a long way.” Chase’s humblebrag could be forgiven. He had supported Norwich from the age of seven, first standing on the Barclay terrace in the mid-1950s as the Canaries toiled at the foot of the Third Division South. Starting out in the building trade with only £12 and a bicycle to his name, Chase had built a highly lucrative construction business before joining the Carrow Road board in the early 1980s. His parsimonious stewardship had now brought European football to the city for the first time in the club’s 91-year history. Vitesse Arnhem provided the opposition.

Before kick-off, Mike Walker pinned a single sheet of paper to the dressing room wall. Its message to the team, written in block capitals, simply read: “GET THE TEMPO UP”. Used to facing 4-4-2 – the orthodoxy of teams in the Premier League – Norwich struggled to come to terms with the Dutch side’s three-man attack in the first half. Early in the second period, however, Ian Crook – who’d served his footballing apprenticeship at Tottenham as the midfield understudy to Ossie Ardiles – caressed a beautiful first-time pass over the visiting defence. Efan Ekoku volleyed home with aplomb from the angle. The Carrow Road crowd was enraptured. Crook, whose pre-match ritual involved smoking two cigarettes and downing a pint of Coca-Cola, was again the creative force behind Norwich’s second goal. Escaping down the right on 68 minutes, he pulled an astute low centre back to the penalty spot where Jeremy Goss was stationed to sweep home. Just as the BBC’s John Motson reached a crescendo in his commentary – wondering whether the slow pace of the Dutch league left Vitesse ill-equipped to withstand the waves of Norwich attacks now crashing
down upon them – John Polston bundled in a third.

A fortnight later, Norwich made the short journey across the North Sea to Arnhem with little jeopardy. The second leg was an anticlimactic 0-0. Only a rare outing for Norwich’s away kit and the refereeing of Theodoros Kefalas were worthy of note. The Greek official booked four Norwich players but failed to dismiss either Theo Bos or Martin Laamers for blows aimed at Fox and Crook. So outraged was the Daily Mail’s Nick Townsend, his match report stated Kefalas “should never control a game at this level again.”

Damagingly, Norwich had accrued six bookings from their two Uefa Cup outings. The physio Tim Sheppard’s main memory of that trip was a visit to the Airborne Museum. There the squad learned of the Battle of Arnhem and the privations endured by the Dutch people during World War Two. “Those sort of experiences were priceless,” he said. “The players weren’t myopic, and it was an education beyond football for all of us.”

Norwich’s progress into the second round could not have been more handsomely rewarded. They would travel to Germany to face the three- times European Cup winners Bayern Munich, who boasted the World Cup- winning captain Lothar Matthäus among their ranks. The game was to be played just as English football was slipping into a generational crisis of confidence. A week earlier, Graham Taylor’s England had lost 2-0 in Rotterdam – all but ending the national team’s prospects of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, while Manchester United would be dumped out of that competition by unfancied Galatasaray. The vibrancy and sophistication of Norwich’s football under Walker – deploying Ian Culverhouse as a sweeper while playing out from the back – was held up as a paragon to which English football should aspire.

Bayern’s preparations for the match had been overshadowed by a controversy entirely of Matthäus’s making. During Munich’s Oktoberfest, Bayern’s number 10 had been approached by a tourist seeking a photograph. Having established the man making the request was Dutch, Matthäus tersely sent him packing with the words, “You must have been one of those Adolf missed.” His contributions on the pitch were also under scrutiny. The club’s general manager Uli Hoeneß reproached Matthäus for “behaving like the world’s best but not playing like it.”

Kevin Baldwin made the trip to Bavaria by road and immediately encountered the legacy of past English hooliganism. “With Munich being in the south, there are a lot of autobahnen to navigate. We were all starting to get hungry after so many hours on the coach. But at each of the service stations we passed, armed guards ensured we didn’t stop. Eventually, we came to one where we were allowed off, patrolled by a phalanx of policemen with sub-machine guns. Fair play to them – after a few minutes, they stood down when they saw we weren’t the typical ‘English fans’ they were expecting. But it was a real eye- opener of how we were perceived.”

Within the confines of the stadium, the Norwich fans were amused to read the match programme’s description of their team as “hailing from a county of mustard farmers.” Baldwin recalls, “The gist of our conversation before kick-off was ‘let’s still be vaguely in the tie at the end of this. Let’s not get embarrassed.’” Any similar trepidation in the away dressing room dissipated when the players came in from their warm-up. Ruel Fox picks up the story: “Our kit-man was a great guy called Jock Robertson. He loved the kit, treated it like he’d gone out and bought it himself. For the Bayern game, he’d laid it out beautifully. Everything was perfect. Then Sutty [Chris Sutton] comes in, and it all goes off.” As Tim Sheppard recalls, the striker chided Robertson, saying he wouldn’t have “gone to this trouble for a match with the Dog and Duck” and began tossing kit onto the floor. According to Bryan Gunn’s account of the incident, the pair started wrestling. While Mike Walker’s recollection is that Robertson even threw a few punches before they were prised apart. “It was unbelievable,” smiled Sheppard, “but in a daft way, it relaxed us.”

“I remember in the tunnel, Matthäus insisting that we wait and let them go out first,” said Fox, “You could see what a winner he was. It felt like it took about five minutes to get onto the pitch with that running track they had. But I wasn’t overawed. Of course, historically, they are a massive club, but so are Manchester United, who we competed with. I didn’t spend time reading up on their players to make myself nervous. We knew how good our league was and thought we could do well.” It took only 12 minutes for Norwich’s self-belief to reap reward. A hopeful punt into the Bayern box by Rob Newman was met by a weak Matthäus header which barely cleared the penalty area.

Loitering with intent as the ball dropped was Jeremy Goss. His scintillating volley left Raimond Aumann motionless. Such was the quality of the goal – allied with its broadcast on free-to-air television – schoolchildren across England spent the rest of the season screaming “Jeremy Goss” any time a ball was volleyed goalwards in the playground. 14 minutes later, a good start became a great one. Crook’s flighted freekick eluded the errant Bayern defence allowing Mark Bowen to plant home an emphatic header. “This is almost fantasy football,” gushed John Motson on the BBC. Mike Walker, hands in pockets, chewing a stick of gum, was determined to play it cool. The pattern for the rest of the match was set when Christian Nerlinger pulled a goal back just before half-time. But due to the excellence of Bryan Gunn – who made perhaps the save of his career to deny Adolfo Valencia in the closing stages – Norwich hung on, becoming the first English team to beat Bayern Munich in the Olympiastadion.

A wide-eyed Jeremy Goss explained post-match that hearing the final whistle “was the greatest moment of my career. I just wanted to dive into the fans. I was looking around the stadium, thinking of the teams that won European Cups here and how Franz Beckenbauer had lifted the World Cup. I thought of the atmosphere of the place and its history. And here were Norwich City creating a little bit of their own. I never thought it would happen to me… I want to watch my goal on TV again and again.”

For Tim Sheppard, the euphoria of the victory was slightly soured by a letter that arrived from Uefa a week later. “It said I was suspended from the second leg. In the second half in Munich, Foxy had gone down over on the far side. I’d treated him and then stayed on that side of the pitch for a few minutes to keep an eye on him. The linesman wasn’t happy and told me to go back to the dugout, which I did once I knew Foxy was ok. It was so petty to be banned for that. But in a way, I was pleased as it meant my assistant got to do the match. And with the atmosphere the way it was that night at Carrow Road, I’m sure it will have been the pinnacle of his career.”

Bayern, veterans of 185 European fixtures, appeared unfazed by the frenzy gripping those in the stands as the return match got underway. Markus Schupp forced a seventh-minute corner which was taken short by Christian Ziege. Schupp teased in a cross which Rob Newman rose to meet. The defender’s clearing header, however, struck the unwitting Polston and fell for Adolfo Valencia to flash past Gunn. Momentarily Carrow Road was silenced, but then the home support burst into song again, rousing the Norwich players for the task now before them: ‘On The Ball City’. Never mind the danger. Gunn saved brilliantly from Jorginho and bravely from Ziege to preserve Norwich’s precarious away-goals advantage. Then early in the second period, Sutton leapt to flick on Bowen’s swirling cross. The striker diverted the ball down into the six-yard box, where Goss had ghosted between the Munich defence to plant a side-foot volley into the net. As Kevin Baldwin recalls, “That’s the loudest I’ve ever heard Carrow Road. There were stories in the days after the match of people saying they could hear the roar ten miles away on the other side of the city.” At full-time Goss further demonstrated his knack for being in the right place at the right time, beating his colleagues to Matthäus to swap shirts. While Goss still prizes the memento, Matthäus immediately tossed Goss’s shirt at the feet of the referee. Living up to his reputation for surliness, he told reporters, “If people say we lost to a top-class team, they are wrong. Norwich are very, very average.” Simon O’Hagan of the Independent was far more effusive. “Mike Walker has produced one of the most startling results in Europe by an English side”. His colleague Joe Lovejoy praised Walker for doing “more than anyone to blend the best, up-to-date ideas from Europe with the yeoman strength of the traditional British game.”

Back in the Premier League, Norwich continued to confound their much wealthier competitors. At the start of November, the Canaries were in second place as they travelled to Yorkshire to face Sheffield United. “We were on the coach to the match, and I think we were just passing through Chesterfield,” recalled Tim Sheppard. “The draw for the next round of the Uefa Cup was on the radio. Of course we wanted the big clubs. We got Inter, and the players were as happy as Larry.” The day was made even better when Goss netted his sixth goal of the season in a 2-1 win. Before the 1993-94 campaign, his testimonial year, Goss had scored just five times across nine seasons at the club.

Ahead of Inter’s arrival in East Anglia, Graham Taylor’s torrid reign as England manager ended. Mike Walker was considered a serious candidate to replace him. Bookmakers Coral priced the Norwich manager at 8-1 for the job, shorter odds than the 12-1 they quoted for Terry Venables. Readers of World Soccer magazine voted Walker the tenth best manager on the planet. Newspaper reports stated that upon the Canaries’ exit from Europe, Atlético Madrid would make Walker their next manager. Ominously for Norwich, Walker’s response to the speculation was to say, “It’s not the kind of opportunity you would pass up.”

Despite a cold snap and temperatures of five degrees below freezing in Norfolk, the club’s newly installed under-soil heating ensured the first leg of the Uefa Cup third round went ahead, although not before the kit-man Jock Robertson had hurriedly overseen modifications to what had already become the most iconic strip in the club’s history. Ribero, designers of the garish yellow number with strobing green and white flecks, had run into financial difficulties. So for the Inter match, a make-shift patch bearing new supplier Mitre’s name had been sewn on.

With little separating the teams, Norwich came closest to opening the scoring in the 76th minute. Goss chested down the ball on the edge of the area and looped a shot over Walter Zenga that rebounded off the crossbar. Four minutes later, the tie turned decisively in the Italians’ favour. Rubén Sosa burst beyond a weary home defence into the box. As the Uruguayan steadied himself to shoot, he was felled by Rob Newman’s desperate sliding challenge. Inter’s £7.1 million summer- signing Dennis Bergkamp sent Gunn the wrong way from the spot. Fatally for Norwich’s prospects of staging a recovery at San Siro, Crook, Butterworth and Culverhouse had all received yellow cards. As a result, all three were banned for the second leg. Mike Walker bemoaned the contrast between the two bookings his side had received in 15 Premier League games compared to 11 in five Uefa Cup matches. Rather than fault lying with overly officious European referees, it’s instructive that on the same night, a bludgeoning elbow by Wimbledon’s John Fashanu responsible for stoving in Spurs captain Gary Mabbutt’s eye socket wasn’t even given as a foul.

With Polston succumbing to an ankle injury on the eve of the game, a severely depleted Norwich took the field under a murky Milanese sky. The dreadful San Siro pitch did neither team any favours. While Sutton and Efan Ekoku missed presentable chances, Ruel Fox acknowledged the Italian side’s superiority. “I must admit we did feel a little bit intimidated going there. We’d never played against a team as fit as them. They were so fast and so strong. It was a lesson. The Italian league was way ahead at that time. They were the elite. We hung in there. But we needed one to go in, and it didn’t happen. Sometimes your luck runs out.”

In the 88th minute, with Norwich defenders pushed forward in search of the goal they needed to force extra- time, Bergkamp sprinted clear on the left touchline. Cutting inside onto his right foot, he curled a low shot across Gunn into the far corner. The odyssey was over. Inter coach Osvaldo Bagnoli was magnanimous in victory: “Norwich are one of the best teams to have played here at San Siro in a decade.” The visiting supporters won admirers too. As Kevin Baldwin recollects. “Just as in Munich, we’d been ‘greeted’ by Carabinieri toting machine guns. But by the end of the game, lots of them were draped in Norwich scarves. I think they were a bit bewildered by our continued singing of ‘Mike Walker’s yellow and green army’ for 30 minutes after the final whistle, even though we’d lost.”

Mike Walker told the press, “There are tears in the dressing room and you can’t wonder at it … We’ve played so well. I’ve got a lump in my throat because I wanted to come here and win by playing football. We so nearly did, and I have nothing but pride for my team. We have to pick ourselves up and get on with climbing the table because all of us know European football is the place to be.” The BBC’s Barry Davies agreed. He concluded his match commentary by emphasising how much the Norwich players would have learned from the experience. The clear implication was that the club could soon expect to be back playing at this exalted level.

The Independent’s Rob Hughes, however, presciently began his write-up of the game with the question, “Where do Norwich City go from here?” Interviewed on the airport tarmac upon the team’s return to England, Mike Walker immediately urged the chairman Robert Chase to seize the moment and “open the purse strings”. He wasn’t only referencing a desire to make new signings.

An acrimonious ending

Five days after the Inter match, Norwich beat Leeds 2-1. By then, Walker was being mooted as the leading candidate for the newly vacant manager’s job at Everton. He did little to quash the speculation. “Don’t talk to me about loyalty. Loyalty doesn’t pay. I was successful at Colchester, and all it got me was the sack. If I left Norwich it would be with my head held high.” Robert Chase informed the press that the board were working on a new contract for Walker but threatened Everton with a High Court action if the Merseysiders approached their manager.

A seething Walker began briefing against Chase. He told the Daily Mirror: “I am the lowest paid manager in the Premiership. I asked Mr Chase for assurances that we keep the players we have and strengthen the team. He was not prepared to do that. I wonder if my ambitions outstrip the ambitions of the club. The fact is the chairman didn’t think Everton would come in for me … I don’t want to leave. I’ve worked very hard to build something, but there is no incentive to carry on … All I want is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and I’m not getting that … I’ve seen the chairman, and he says I’ve done well. Then he tells me to wait. I did wait until Christmas, and still, nothing was done.” In another interview, Walker pointedly quipped, “I keep hearing I could earn £400,000, but to do that, we would have to win the league, the cup, the Boat Race and the Grand National.”

Steve Coppell, the new chief executive of the League Managers’ Association, urged Walker to proceed with caution. “Our advice to Mike is that he must think very carefully about breaking his contract. We could never advise a manager to break his terms of employment. If it happens, you can see a situation where there would be total anarchy, with managers moving all over the place.” Walker’s solution was to tender his resignation before immediately faxing Everton to ask for an interview. Less than a month had elapsed since Norwich’s defeat at the San Siro. To nobody’s surprise, Mike Walker was appointed manager of the Toffees on a bumper four-year contract, reportedly worth triple his Norwich salary.

Rob Hughes in The Times condemned the “tawdry” manoeuvre and said, “the little charade… insulted the intelligence of football followers.” Having dithered in rewarding Walker for his achievements, Robert Chase wasted no time reporting Everton to the Football Association for a breach of rule G(vi). “That prohibits a club from inducing or attempting to induce an employee of another club to break his contract.” A three-man panel was appointed to preside over what was seen as a test case for the nascent Premier League. In sworn testimony, Walker said that a ten-minute telephone conversation, held two days before his resignation, with the agent Jerome Anderson was solely related to the future of his son Ian Walker – the Tottenham goalkeeper. Norwich, by contrast, cited the dialogue as evidence of backchannel negotiations between their manager and Everton.

Everton’s club secretary, Jim Greenwood, was adamant no wrongdoing had occurred. “It is totally untrue to say we contacted Jerome Anderson and used him to poach Walker. We did everything by the book. He was acting as Walker’s agent and came to help him with the contract negotiations. Mike Walker paid Mr Anderson the fee of £10,000, and we then paid Mike Walker. It is normal practice.” Nevertheless, as Mihir Bose pointed out in The Sunday Times when Anderson’s invoice arrived, it was addressed not to Mike Walker but to Everton FC. Ultimately, the Goodison Park club were found guilty of “indirectly inducing” Walker to leave Carrow Road and issued a record £125,000 fine. After all that Walker had achieved at Norwich City, it was an unedifying parting of the ways.

“That was a bit of a sore one when Mike left,” said Ruel Fox, “He’d had such belief in me, made me believe in myself. But you couldn’t blame him. Everton gave him financial security and money to spend on the squad. It made me look at my situation. It was the realisation for me: what do I want for myself as a player?” At the beginning of February, Robert Chase accepted a £2.25 million offer from Newcastle for Fox. Norwich City’s decline had begun in earnest.

John Deehan, who had stepped up from assistant manager, presided over a dismal run of two wins from 19 as they limped to the end of the season, finishing 12th. Walker fared no better at Everton, winning four games from 17. Only a white-knuckle last day comeback, in which his team came from two-nil down to beat Wimbledon 3-2, maintained their Premier League status. Failure to win any of the club’s 12 opening games of the following season saw Walker sacked after barely ten months at Goodison Park.

The antipathy of Norwich supporters towards Robert Chase that had dissipated during the highs of Mike Walker’s tenure returned with a vengeance. Having lost Walker and Fox, Canaries fans demanded the club hold on to Chris Sutton. The 21 year old’s 25 goals in the 1993-94 season had attracted interest from Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. Chase moved to placate the Norwich supporters, insisting Sutton would not be sold and vowing to step down as chairman if he reneged on this promise. However, in the summer of 1994, Blackburn offered a British transfer record of £5million for the striker, which Chase accepted.

Mindful of his vow, the Norwich chairman insisted the deal be kept secret and called a press conference, ostensibly to end the speculation surrounding Sutton. Sutton, by this point already a Blackburn player, was forced to sit next to Chase, maintaining kayfabe. The Norwich chairman duplicitously told supporters if the club received a £5m bid for the striker, they would have to reluctantly let him go. Shorn of Sutton’s goals, Norwich tanked in the 1994-95 season and were relegated from the Premier League. Amid widespread fan protests, Chase relinquished the chairmanship in May 1996. Mike Walker returned to Carrow Road as manager soon after but proved unable to bottle lightning for a second time. Since their demotion in 1995, Norwich City have spent only seven seasons in English football’s top flight.

As of summer 2022, the club holds the record for the most relegations (six) from the Premier League. Kevin Baldwin is philosophical about the years that have followed since the halcyon days of Munich and Milan. “Whatever happens following Norwich – and the last decade has been crazy with all the promotions and relegations – it will never be the same as that 1992-1993 team. That was my Norwich City. Each generation connects with a certain team, and they will always mean the most to me. I’ve still got that kit in the loft. I don’t think it can ever happen again. I’m happy just going to the games now and don’t really worry about the results. It doesn’t matter which level you play at, it’s the moments and memories that count – especially the shared ones. That side gave us some incredible times.”

Ruel Fox echoes the sentiment. “Those were the best days of my career. I grew up on a small estate in Ipswich in a single-parent family. I would kick a ball around the street, dreaming of playing professional football … If I close my eyes, I can still see myself on the Carrow Road pitch against Bayern Munich. That night was electric … I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that Norwich team.”


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