Not one, but two people chose 2004/05 as their favourite City season. Here's Matt Barton, making his AlongComeNorwich debut with his take on following City away from home during 2004/05.
Played 19, Won 0.
How palpable the excitement leading up to the kick-off of the 2004/05 campaign. How tangible and immediate. And how right we were to be excited. Almost ten years of tedium and disappointment put to the sword by a swaggering season winning the First Division at a canter, inspired by the crucial loans of Darren Huckerby and Peter Crouch. And while we had to send Crouch back whence he came, we still had Huckerby. Mercurial, all blonde highlights and a decent tan, unstoppable, tearing down the left and cutting in to leave defenders on their arse in his wake. Delia’s greatest Christmas present to us.
To add to my own excitement, Mrs B and I had signed up for our first ever Away Season Tickets. Our only ever Away Season Tickets as it turned out. You live and learn, don’t you?
August arrived, and our first trip of the season to the glamour of Salford. Get the big boys out of the way early. Helveg set his stall out early, using all his international experience to bring Giggs down in agricultural style. He took pelters for that all season, but I liked it. It was the kind of gamesmanship we badly needed. David Bellion (remember him?) put United ahead, and Alan Smith, all snarling bleached-blond Leeds-ness, doubled the advantage. We’re away at Man U, you didn’t expect a result did you? And then a glimmer of hope courtesy of Paul McVeigh’s - stocky Belfast confidence curling one in from 18 yards. A chap behind me in the stands said “little old Norwich came to Old Trafford and we got something! We actually got something!” Steady on chap, I remember thinking, we didn’t get any points, and it’s a long old season.
Next was Newcastle, and an oxygen-thin atmosphere right up in the gods at St. James’s. Still, you get a good view of the pitch from up there, as long as you bring your binoculars and can cope with the vertigo. Obviously it was Craig Bellendamy that opened the scoring. Obviously. Still, we got our first away point, and were treated to the always top-value sight of a barely mobile centre-half playing up front for the last five minutes. Oh Gary Doherty. Gary bloody Doherty.
As summer turned to autumn the magnitude of the challenge ahead became clearer. The occasional ray of light: creditable draws at Manchester City and Spurs, but mainly misery.
In September Mrs B and I stepped off the plane from a week in Greece, tanned and lovely, feeling fantastic, straight to Anfield to watch us take on Liverpool. 3-0. Another capitulation. That’s sometimes what football does though, isn’t it? Just when you’re feeling great, Along Come Norwich to hoof you in the knackers and bring you back to earth. Looking good there Icarus, how does that cold, hard ground feel?
In the New Year it began to get a little desperate, and to be honest, we began to feel like we didn’t want to do this any more. Following an early exit from the FA Cup at West Ham, and stood in the queue for the Upton Park tube, listening to the Boleyn Ground’s banter lads go through yet another chorus of “Yer sister is yer muvver, yer farver is yer bruvva,” it was hard to mount an argument against the voice that said “just stop going.”
Losses at Middlesbrough, Villa, and Everton. A draw at bloody Portsmouth (which we actually did swerve, because we live in Yorkshire, and that is a bloody long drive). And then, for me the nadir of that part of the season: away at Blackburn on a cold, wet February afternoon. Do my eyes deceive me, or is diminutive, unconvincing full-back-cum-central-defender Simon Charlton lining up at left midfield? What on earth is Worthington thinking? The weather was horrific, there was snow and hail, we were soaking wet, chilled to the marrow, and we got humped 3-0, with a short-arsed clogger filling in at left midfield. Thanks Worthy. Another away defeat, and another long drive home.
The denouement of the season at Craven Cottage felt, in a lot of ways, like the start of the season had. A win would guarantee survival, regardless of other results. We could do this. It’s in our hands. Sure, we haven’t won away all season, but we could. We’ve had draws away at Tottenham and Man City. We’ve beaten Man Utd at home. We can totally do this.
The day set itself up majestically. It’s beautiful drinking in the sun by the Thames in that part of West London at any time, but when all your mates are there too, the yellow army’s in full voice, and there’s a job to be done? Magical. This is what it’s about lads, these times, this is why we do this. Drink it in. Not too quickly though, it’s £5 a pint.
And then the game itself. One down after ten minutes, two down at half-time. Heartbreak. “We can do this,” turned into “we’re not going to do this.” Three down after 54 minutes. Four down after 72 minutes. Poor performance turned into capitulation. Five down after 86 minutes.Capitulation turned into humiliation. Six down after 90 minutes. Fucking six! Humiliation turned into... just, nothing. Stunned emptiness. No emotion, no rage, just a void where feelings should be. And that lasted for a long time. Football had hollowed me out. Norwich had hollowed me out.
Recriminations were for later – that day was for quiet reflection on how savagely the game of football can cut you to the bone. If I’d known then, on that day, how bad it was going to get - Glenn fucking Roeder, getting done away at Fulham again, 5-0 this time, Bryan Gunn risking his legacy, further relegation - I might have packed it all in.
Obviously, I wouldn’t have packed it all in, not even then. Because that’s not what it’s about, is it? That’s not what we do. We pick ourselves up, and we go again. Even when our only ever season with an Away Season Ticket ends in no away wins all season. We go again.
And that’s why, even with all that litany of misery that 2004/05 was my favourite season. Because it spells out in black and white what it means to have a club in your heart. What it means to really get it. Not some trophy-hunting wanker who used to like Chelsea but likes Man City now “because their net spend shows more ambition.”
Every football fan has been let down, and let down by their club, but every now and again, you get the moments of magic that makes it worth it. Yousseff Safri spanking in a 45-yarder against Newcastle. Safri, again, leaving Wayne Rooney sprawled on his arse in the Carrow Road centre circle, before Hucks and McKenzie combine to make it 2-0 against United. You give me a Glenn Roeder, I counter with a Paul Lambert. Which means yes, you might have to wait years for the good times, but they’ll come, one day. Yes, getting snowed on and losing at Blackburn in February, but also taking apart Middlesbrough at Wembley in the warm May sunshine in the most clinical and one-sided play-off final I can remember ever seeing.
“Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight. For the greatest tragedy of them all is never to feel the burning light.” That’s Oscar Wilde. He knew the score.
AND BEFORE YOU GO
At Along Come Norwich we want to ensure our site is advert free and continues to bring you some of the best Norwich writers and imagery around. We also want to support the Barclay End Norwich's plans for improving the Carrow Road atmosphere.
YOU can help with that, and get something in return. If you fancy grabbing yourself a lovely t-shirt or set of stickers.