MY FAVOURITE CITY SEASON; 2003/04

30/06/17

Andrew Lawn continues the My Favourite City Season series with a time we can probably all remember. A sun drenched Carrow Road celebrated Division One title glory. Take a step back to 2003/04

When I look back on the 2003/04 team, all my mind's eye sees is sunshine.

As far as my memory can recall, every single home game that season was a glorious attacking triumph, framed by, and viewed from, a sun-drenched Barclay.

Perhaps the title winning glory of that season has been coated in sunshiny sepia, or perhaps it was because for the first two-thirds of the season, there was no South Stand to block out the solar rays.

As the old 'Cow Shed' was demolished and a shiny new Jarrold Stand was slotted into place, away fans were housed in 2 long, lonely rows, backed by construction boards. Having the visiting supporters spread out in a paper-thin line did little to help them create any rousing support, a fact City used to their advantage by not dropping a point at home, until Watford nicked a 2-1 win in mid-November. By then we'd already beaten; Rotherham, Wimbledon, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Reading, Derby, Sunderland and Millwall. The new Jarrold Stand was eventually opened in February, witnessing a 1-1 draw with West Ham, by which time we were top of the league and flying.

Being just too young to fully comprehend our European adventure, I began 'properly' supporting City around 1994, a year which marked the beginning of our slow tumble out of the Premier League and into the kind of seemingly never-ending second tier mediocrity that Ipswich are now so accustomed to.

Long seasons of bottom half finishes and immediate eliminations from both the League and FA Cups gave me a solid 15 years grounding in what supporting a football team is all about; long fallow periods, punctuated by tiny bursts of joy. Back then, those moments of tiny joy were just that and include a 4-3 defeat at Gillingham, which I remember fondly because we nearly didn't lose.

During this period I began a run of going to every Norwich FA Cup tie for over a decade (beginning with a 2-1 defeat at Leicester's Filbert Street and ending with our trip to Paulton, via replay defeats at Bury and two hammerings at Sheffield Wednesday). Such was our lack of success, to keep the run going I essentially had to attend one game a year.

This long, fallow, introductory period, did much to cement the place of the 2001/02 Play Off team in my heart, but they have been pipped as my selection here by their predecessors two years later, in no small part thanks to the absence of Darryl Sutch (the physical embodiment of that fallow spell in my mind) and the arrivals of; Kevin Harper, Leon McKenzie, Peter Crouch, Darren Huckerby and my then favourite, Mathias Svensson. Note - Damien Francis would have made this list had it not been for his despicable behaviour at Craven Cottage the following season. Unforgivable.

That for me was the great joy of this team, it contained the spine of the 2001/2 side; Rob Green, Craig Fleming, Malky (ugh), Adam Drury Gary Holt and Iwan Roberts but with some additional frilly heroes bolted on.

The horrible, horrible Proton kit (the exception that proves the rule that every great team has a gorgeous kit - 1992/93 the case in point) very nearly ruined it for me, but these boys did enough to overcome that two-striped monstrosity that resembled the knock-off brand tracksuit bottoms I was forced to wear by virtue of my parents having 3 kids and little money for branded clothing. Humph.

Looking back at that season, there were some highs that will live with me through to my dying day; serenading Leon's brace that sent us top of the league at Portman Road (a position we wouldn't ever relinquish) and coming just before Christmas at that.

The week before that triumph, Darren Huckerby put on possibly his best showing in a City shirt as we demolished Cardiff 4-1, including a slaloming run through 107 Bluebird defenders followed by a composed finish. Even Peter Thorne scored in that game, albeit for them.

December's Huckerby transfer saga was a harbinger of future January transfer windows and long-winded "will he, won't he" transfer gossip but pre-dated that stupid yellow tie and involved Huckerby slapping down his agent for saying we couldn't afford him, before (so legend has it) local businessman Carl Moore stepped in to prove Hucks' agents point and paying Hucks out of his own pocket.

With Huckerby signing permanently on Boxing Day (ahead of a 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest), this was a team chock full of attacking talent. We won 4-0 at Derby, 3-1 at Walsall with all the goals coming in a second half blitz and 5-3 at Turf Moor. We drew 4-4 at Rotherham with a last minute equaliser from Damien Francis, in celebrating which I accidentally punched a women in the back of the head so hard that my hand was bruised for a week. I think she was fine.

There was a 1-0 win at MK Dons' Hockey Stadium that featured two red cards for the home side within a minute, another tonking for the binmen capped off by a last minute OG to seal a 3-1 win, a Phil Mulryne 'in off the referee's arse' wonder strike at the death to clinch a 1-0 win at Reading and a run of 7 wins in a row from late March to early May, to all but seal the title.

The title itself was sealed by an ex-City man, who had gone but would ultimately come back; Darryl Russell. As City lost 1-0 at Sunderland (future City man Carl Robinson with the goal), Russell scored for Stoke City against West Brom, meaning we were Champions with a game to play.

The final game was an away day party at Crewe's Gresty Road and proved a perfect send off for Iwan, who would score twice in a 3-1 win (Craig Fleming no less scored the other), culminating in a friendly pitch invasion.

The only thing missing was a Cup run, where a characteristic defeat to lower league Northampton Town ended our League Cup run in August. We followed that with a 3rd Round defeat at to Premier League Everton in January, memorable for Joseph Yobo mistaking City fans calling Wayne Rooney a "fat bastard" for racist abuse and a performance by Thomas Gravesen, that foretold his later move to Real Madrid.

There was some cup joy for City though as the Play Offs saw Ipswich lose (again) in the semi-finals, succumbing to West Ham, who would themselves go on to lose to Crystal Palace.

The season was rounded off with a open top bus parade through the City, which gave me and my mates an ideal excuse to take the afternoon off from A Level studies, choosing instead to get a takeaway and stand on the large concrete pillars atop the stairs from the market. We took our spot at 12:30pm, ready for a trophy presentation not due until 7ish.

We were far from the first there and over the course of the afternoon, the City turned yellow and green as the whole County came out to watch a bus drive by. The mound of the Castle was invaded by the Y'Army, giving football photographer Stuart Roy Clarke this iconic shot, a copy of which now hangs in my dining room.

What more can you say? This was a team brimming with Canary heroes, who racked up 94 points and 79 goals from 46 matches. Over the course of the season we only suffered 2 home defeats and won almost half of our away games. A time to remember indeed.

AND BEFORE YOU GO!

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