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AlongComeNorwich debut time once again. Adam Brandon talks about walking in a Robins wonderland and when Ceefax was a thing. It can only be 1992/93...
The new season was approaching, and Norwich had just released one of the most riotous yet beautiful garments known to man. Love it or loathe it, twelve months later you had to have it.
There were adverts on the telly from a certain satellite broadcaster telling us 'a whole new ball game' was on its way. No chance it was making it into our household though. My dad (a Spurs fan) didn't want to hand over his money to that crook Murdoch (his words), and preferred saving for the annual family holiday instead.
So when Norwich first appeared on Sky against Nottingham Forest at the end of August, I didn't actually get to see the game until a couple of days later. Luckily my brother's mate had given money to that crook Murdoch (my words) and was kind enough to record the game and lend us the VHS for a couple of days.
Watching back some of the footage from that evening, you can hear Andy Gray laughing at the idea of Bryan Gunn trying to pass it out from the back. A goalkeeper passing the ball and being laughed at, imagine that in England these days.
The match is also memorable for other pieces of commentary. On Crook's free kick that put Norwich one up, Ian Darke remarked "...if that had happened in Brazil, they would lavish about 10,000 replays of it..." while Andy Gray eulogised about the trajectory "...what a lovely bend on that ball..." Incidentally, Gray's contribution ended up on the opening credits of a computer game the following year titled: Premier Manager 2. It was a game that saw you do all the role of head coach, chairman, sporting director and marketing manager combined. Farke and Webber have it easy.
We had started the season at 250/1 to win the Premier League; Leicester15-16seasonesque odds back then. Moreover, we were favourites for relegation having narrowly avoided the drop the previous campaign.
Pessimism was fuelled further by the appointment of Mike Walker - a man with not much of a reputation to speak of - to replace club legend Dave Stringer. And to top it all off we had lost cult hero and top scorer Robert Fleck to Chelsea.
Yet as we all know, no matter how bad things look, few things still bring football fans quite so much excitement as the first day of the new football season.
Back then the main ways to catch all the latest scores were either by listening to Radio Norfolk (and hope the wind was blowing in the right direction if you lived just outside Norfolk like I did) or follow via Ceefax/Teletext. For this one it was the latter, and by half time it read:
Boring, boring Arsenal were beating us comfortably. My brother was there and has since told me Norwich fans were discussing the likelihood of relegation in the concourses at half-time. We looked doomed.
At half-time Mike Walker encouraged the players to keep attacking, and with just over half an hour left he brought on new signing Mark Robins.
Thirty minutes later we had completed a remarkable turnaround and stuck four goals past one of the finest defences in the league, with debutant Robins grabbing two.
We wouldn't have to wait long for another Mark Robins star turn, as he helped us come from behind again, this time in a 2-1 home win over Chelsea.He had cost us 800k and was looking a bargain already..
Then came my first match of the season as I witnessed a 1-1 draw with Everton, before our traditional yearly surrender at Maine Road: a match that marked the first defeat of the season.
A 2-1 win over Palace at Selhurst Park (yes, we used to beat Palace away) as well as a 3-1 victory in the aforementioned debut on Sky versus Nottingham Forest put us back on track. As an aside, both games are notable for technically brilliant strikes by David Phillips. He was one of many players who hit the form of his life under Walker's management.
This would mark the first time I was lucky enough to see Norwich score a last minute winner. The Barclay was bouncing even though the goal had come in front of the River End. The roar and then chanting of 'we are top of the league' afterwards is something I can easily recall twenty-five years later.
Another win over Chelsea followed, mostly thanks to Dave Beasant having the sort of game that would make Theoklitos blush. Then it was back to Carrow Road to see Rob Newman power a header past ex-Canary Chris Woods, this time in front of the Barclay, to extend our winning run to five matches.
October saw our heaviest defeat of the season, a 7-1 trouncing at Ewood Park that I mostly remember for my brother coming back from the game and declaring that we actually hadn't played that badly. Something I believed until I went to Blackburn thirteen years later and realised just how much drinking can be done on that away day.
Far worse was to follow as Bryan Gunn's two-year-old daughter, Francesca, tragically lost her fight against Leukemia. Incredibly, Gunny played just days later and helped Norwich to a 2-1 win over QPR at Carrow Road.
Looking back, I remember the great reception and support Gunny received inside Carrow Road that day, and like everything that season - he handled it all magnificently.
The next time a VHS from my brother's mate would turn up at our house was the day after a dramatic 3-2 win over Oldham Athletic. This featured another Robins mic drop as he completed his hat-trick with a last minute winner to put us back on top of the Premier League. The neat triangle to set up the first goal that night was Walker's side at their constructive best.
Wrong. While Ebenezer Scrooge was putting a dampener on the Muppets' Christmas that year, Norwich were simply trying to ruin mine. Defeats to Manchester United, Ipswich Town (yes kids, they were in the Premier League once) and draws against Spurs and Leeds meant that by the end of the year our lead had been cut to just three points.
At the start of 1993, things didn't get any better. The jokes about us coming down with the festive decorations were ringing all too true.My first experience of watching a game live on Sky saw Nigel Worthington ruin my weekend - and not for the last time in my life. That narrow defeat to Sheffield Wednesday was followed by a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Coventry. It stretched the winless run to six matches.
Just as it looked like winter had frozen Norwich's title challengewe recorded three wins in the next four matches; including a victory at Goodison Park and another at home to Manchester City. The latter featured a celebration between Lee Power and Ruel Fox that would have to be copied down the park the next day. The dream was still alive.
The famous 1-0 win over Aston Villa saw John Polston become the hero just hours after he had become a dad. For many Norwich fans it was the loudest they had ever heard Carrow Road. It was a victory that put us top of the league again, and with just over a month of the season remaining, it looked like winning the inaugural Premier League was a real possibility. And then...
The evening of Monday 5th April arrived. This was the day it felt like Norwich's title hopes were effectively blown away. United had been winless in four and were under severe pressure having bottled the title the previous year. So it was primetime for an Along Come NorwichTM moment.
Manchester United produced a devastating first half counter-attacking display, a performance and result that helped put Alex Ferguson on the road to greatness at the Red Devils. It was a school night and my only option was to listen to Radio 5 Live in bed and cry under the covers. I woke up the next morning hoping it was just a nightmare. It is probably the match I would most like the club to have a second chance at, but that's a discussion for another day.
Norwich's remarkable role in the title race received less coverage than it should have at the time. Retrospectively it is even worse, we barely featured in some of the reviews of that season that were released at the end of the decade.
After that crushing defeat to United, we then suffered a hiding at White Hart Lane and another gut-wrenching defeat to those down the road. We ended the season hanging onto third place and the chance of a place in the UEFA Cup. Those three defeats also meant we would somehow manage to finish the season with a negative goal difference.
My final game of the season was Liverpool at home. There was plenty confusion on the hour mark as a corner came into the box and the ball was caught by a young David James. Just as everybody in the Barclay Upper sat back down, a loud roar went up as one of the officials had spotted something and given us a penalty and James was sent off. Phillips converted from the spot - meaning a point at Middlesbrough on the last day would seal our highest ever finish in the top flight.
Although there were no more Norwich games, one of the most important matches in our history was yet to be played. Back in 1993, third place didn't even get you an automatic place in the UEFA Cup. Arsenal had already won the League Cup so we had to hope they won the FA Cup so they would qualify for the Cup Winners Cup and we would take their UEFA Cup spot. In a household originating from Tottenham, this was a bit awkward for my brother and I to say the least.
So much so, my brother took me to his friend's house so we could watch it together, away from the disapproving glare of the Lilywhites in our home. However, it finished a draw and in those days that meant a replay.
Despite it being a school night, I was allowed to stay up and watch the match even when it went to extra-time. My abiding memory is my brother hurdling the sofa in delight, and I dutifully followed, after ex-Norwich man Andy Linighan had headed home a dramatic winner.
That night, we sang "we're all going on a European tour..." and my naive 9-year-old self thought that Norwich were going to be that good forever. Little did I know that my heroes were about to be sold and our brilliant manager poached within a year.
It is the first season I can recall from start to finish with clarity. Mike Walker managed to get the very best from a group of players that twelve months earlier had nearly been relegated. Useful yet unspectacular players such as Goss and Culverhouse excelled under him, and would both play starring roles the following season in a brave new system.
At the start of the Premier League era every team in England played a 4-4-2. However, Walker had us playing a far more attacking version of the tired old formation than English football was used to at the time, with the full backs regularly involved in the attacks. We also kept the ball better the most.
Daring, exciting and comfortable in possession - this is how I want my team to be and that's how I remember Norwich City 1992-93.
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