It's the summer of 1997 and Mike Walker is packing his bags as Delia has decided the time is right to jump off the traditional managerial merry-go-round and try something different. It's too early for Daniel Farke, but luckily there is an 11-year-old boy who's willing to leave the confines of Hewett High School for Colney. Will it work? There's only one way to find out, stick James Chaplin on Premier Manager (Championship Manager was too complicated for this lad) and see how he gets on...
It’s June 1997. ‘The Greatest Summer Ever’TM was a year ago and memories of Three Lions and of Colin Hendry helplessly watching a deft flick go over his head are fading fast, while Oasis have been replaced by Hanson at the top of the charts
Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones have recently become majority shareholders, taking over from Geoffrey Watling who had himself bought out villainous figurehead Robert Chase in May of the previous year. Manager Mike Walker has left under a cloud following one very average season in his second spell in charge. It has been less than four years since those memorable European nights but the mood around the club has darkened and there is talk of slipping into oblivion. Norwich City need a hero for these modern times.
After scouring the very best that Europe has to offer, Delia and Michael decide to appoint a Norfolk boy with zero management experience, in me, James Chaplin. It’s one hell of a gamble. Anglia News sends Kevin Piper out onto the streets of Norwich and feelings are mixed. While some criticise the appointment due to my lack of football management and life experience, others herald my arrival as a breath of fresh air, a sign of a club doing different.
I take the helm at Carrow Road in turbulent times at the club.
My first day in charge is tricky. A meeting with Delia and Michael goes relatively well, but I’m told the transfer budget for the season is a mere £4m and the aim for this season is to avoid relegation.
I bring the squad in and get them working on their fitness. Mike Walker’s last action of note was to secure the signing of 29 year old Iwan Roberts from Wolves, but the powerful striker is substantially overweight and I have a word with the Welshman. I know there is a quality player in there, but he needs to show me he wants this or he will be in the reserves with young compatriot Chris Llewellyn.
The rest of the squad is ramshackle at best. Darren Eadie is well on his way to becoming a club legend and he’s only just turned 22. Keith O’Neill is another hot prospect, but the lanky winger is another one struggling with his fitness.
Elsewhere, quality is severely lacking if this club is going to go anywhere fast. Daryl Sutch and Peter Grant appear to the first-choice central midfielders and are keeping Craig Bellamy out of the team, who has bizarrely decided his best position is as a box-to-box midfielder. Even though he is only on the cusp of turning 18, I don’t feel like I can argue with this lad.
My first piece of transfer business is to release Lee Marshall. On £350 per week, he is absolutely stealing a living and I sense that he could be a bad apple. He later joins Graham Barrow’s Rochdale in Division 3, where he belongs. I wish him all the best.
The transfer market is an unforgiving place. Miguel Nadal has been transfer listed by Barcelona and I see him as an ideal replacement for the now departed Marshall. The Catalan giants value him at a cool £1m, so I put in an opening offer of £600k. They refuse this and Nadal immediately moves to Leicester City.
Lessons quickly learnt, I do not hang about and my first purchase is Vancouver Whitecaps and Everton legend Peter Beardsley for a paltry £6k. That’s roughly the same prices as a new Ford Fiesta, and secures me a player who only just missed out on a place in the Euro 96 squad a year earlier.
The football world moves fast and I get over the disappointing Nadal debacle by strengthening the defence. In come full backs Alan Kimble and David Bardsley from Wimbledon and QPR. Victor Segura will have his work cut out if he wants to keep his place in this team. Colin Calderwood joins the ranks in a £150k switch from Tottenham. With previous club captain Ian Crook agreeing a move to Japan before I arrived, I give the armband to the new Scottish international. Matt Jackson appears at first to be disgruntled by my decision, but quickly gets his head down in training and I have total respect for this model professional.
Signing quality veterans has become my MO and I attempt to buy Teddy Sheringham from Tottenham. He tells me he doesn’t want to play at Norwich’s standard of football and I don’t blame him.
I organise friendlies at home to Carling Premiership champions Manchester United and Roy Evans’ exciting Liverpool side. I unashamedly ramp the ticket prices up to £30 in order to cash in on the demand to see top flight players back in Norwich. Unfortunately, Sheringham has since moved on to United and he gets a brace as they hammer us 4-0. The Liverpool game doesn’t get much better with a 3-1 defeat and pre-season ends with an unconvincing 2-1 win away to Cambridge.
As a young manager with fresh ideas, I change the tried and tested 4-4-2 for the much more exotic 3-5-2. I instruct the players to mark zonally, to tackle with medium intensity and to play possession based football. Mike Milligan gets it and is all smiles in training.
The season starts with a win over Wolves on a warm day at Carrow Road. Darren Eadie gets a brace and Calderwood scores as Muscat and co are swept aside. However the bright start is followed by some indifferent results and a broken leg for Peter Grant. By the time Princess Diana is holidaying in Paris, we’re languishing in mid-table.
I’m working the players hard in training, but the quality is still lacking. I go searching through the transfer market for inspiration and find it in the flowing locks of part-time model, full-time smoker and all round footballing genius David Ginola. For reasons known only to him, he turns down a glamour move to Tottenham and signs for Norwich for £1.2m and £16,800 per week. It is arguably Norwich City’s most pivotal signing ever and when the EDP publish the story, a veritable buzz can be felt all over Norfolk. Ginola goes straight into the starting line-up for the home game against Port Vale and scores on his debut in a narrow 2-1 victory.
I feel like the lads are struggling to adapt to my 3-5-2 system and revert back to an orthodox 4-4-2. Milligan tries to hide it, but I can tell he is crestfallen. However the change in system pays dividends and the next two games are won convincingly, before Ipswich visit at the end of September. The Tractor Boys have had a poor start to the season and I am confident, but David Johnson is on fire and helps that lot take all 3 points with a 3-2 win. This is a low point for the season and it takes all of my energy to get the lads up for a coach trip to Tranmere the following week.
The Ipswich nightmare aside, things are starting to click into place and by Christmas it is a three horse race at the top of the table between us, Birmingham and Charlton. Eadie has been on fire and with Roberts, Ginola and Beardsley all chipping in with goals we have the edge over the other two when level on points, as positions are decided by goals scored rather than goal difference.
The New Year starts with a bang and a win over Rotherham in the FA Cup, but we crash out of the Coca-Cola Cup at the quarter final stage to Sheffield Wednesday after conceding two very early goals to Paolo Di Canio. The next 80 mins are enthralling with four goals shared, but in truth the Premiership side were able to keep us at arm’s length and win 4-2.
After the game, I receive a phone call from Delia Smith asking me to come up to her office. She tells me I am doing a great job and they are willing to continue backing me in the transfer market. There is no transfer window so February sees the arrival of veteran stopper Dave Beasant. I’ve had questions over whether Andy Marshall has the right temperament to handle the increasing pressure and feel like he needs an older head to look up to, rather than just training with 17 year old Robert Green. As it turns out, Beasant is notably better than Marshall and takes his place in the side. By this stage in his career the former Wimbledon and Chelsea man has almost 600 appearances to his name and becomes another wise old head in the dressing room. Marshall is understandably disappointed but gets his head down in training and stays late to have Adrian Coote fire shots at him for two hours. In that time, only two shots are on target. Marshall saves both comfortably.
The FA Cup becomes a big deal and a slightly unwelcome distraction by March, when we face relegation-haunted Newcastle United in the sixth round. Alan Shearer is nursing a long term injury and Ginola and Beardsley both bag goals against their former club. Suddenly we are heading to Wembley and a semi-final against Tottenham.
The number of games are starting to take their toll and with Eadie lacking in form and Roberts in fitness, new signings Trevor Morley and Tony Naylor are seeing more and more game time up front. Coote is training with the kids after a training ground incident with Neil Adams.
Going into April, the top 3 are separated by 1 point, but are 8 points clear of fourth placed Middlesbrough.
Peter Grant has returned from his broken leg only to break it again while easing back into first team action and he’ll be out for another six months. Tim Shepherd is given a dressing down for allowing this to happen. Then Keith O’Neill slips in a match against Bury and breaks his leg too. However, Shepherd cannot be blamed for the Irishman’s brittle bones.
The FA Cup semi-final against Spurs sees the team 2nd in the Premiership facing the team 2nd in Division 1. It’s a tense affair and Calderwood & Jackson manage to keep Jurgen Klinsmann quiet. A late drive from former Canary Ruel Fox comes back off the post and somehow, City earn a replay. It’s been a long season and I can tell some of the older players are now dead on their feet. Even Darren Eadie hasn’t scored in two months. I toy with giving players like Adrian Forbes more minutes, but at this stage of the season I prefer quality and experience to energy.
Shaun Carey has seen far too much action this season for a player of his extremely limited ability and I am finally able to recruit his replacement on the right, sealing a £1.5m deal for German international Stefan Reuter from Bolton. Unable to settle in Lancashire following a summer move from Borussia Dortmund, I’m hopefully this addition of real pace and quality is going to be enough to help us over the line for promotion. As part of his contract, the club pays for a house and car in order to help Reuter settle in. Stefan picks a Mercedes. Classic.
Reuter makes his debut in the FA Cup semi-final replay and with him, Ginola and Beardsley in midfield, we have too much quality for the likes of Andy Sinton and Ramon Vega. We go into an early 2-0 lead with Bellamy applying the final touch in a goalmouth scramble and Roberts getting on the end of a Ginola cross. Tottenham peg us back to 2-2, but in the 72nd minute Reuter scores what would be the winning goal. Spurs aren’t able to muster much, but Beasant makes a smart stop from Les Ferdinand in the dying minutes and Norwich City have reached their first ever FA Cup Final, where they will face fellow Division 1 side Sunderland.
The league is now the unwelcome distraction, but the visit to Ipswich could not have come at a better time as it sharpens the mind. Eadie breaks his goal drought and we romp to victory and go three points clear at the top of the league.
Spotting a couple of bargains, I bring in ‘keeper Neville Southall from Stoke and forward Marco Branca from Middlesbrough to help the lads out.
Charlton and Birmingham both fall away at the very end of the season and the Division 1 title is won in the penultimate game, at home to Manchester City. Calderwood lifts the trophy and leads the celebrations. I give the lads the Monday off training, but we quickly have to refocus for the upcoming match away to Reading and then the big final.
The league season ends with a tally of 85 points and 97 goals scored.
Norwich and Sunderland’s fortunes in the weeks leading up to the FA Cup final could not have been more different, as we secured the title while they lost out on a play-off place on the final day of the season. Glorious sunshine greeted the players and a minute of silence is to honour the recent tragic passing of former City striker Justin Fashanu.
The fixture is a repeat of the Milk Cup final 12 years prior and this result goes the same way, albeit with a much more emphatic scoreline.
Taking advantage of some slack Sunderland defending, Stefan Reuter gets the all-important first goal, with Ginola and Bellamy ensuring that we were 3-0 up at the break. Sunderland continued to wilt in the second half and goals from Calderwood and Roberts completed the rout. This was the biggest final win in 94 years, the first time a second tier team had won the trophy in 18 years and the first time that the double of FA Cup and second tier Championship had ever been achieved. Local lad Daryl Sutch was seen crying tears of joy on the hallowed turf before the game had even ended.
David Ginola has now already written himself into Canary folklore with a quite remarkable season. After I convinced him to turn down the big money move to Tottenham with my vision of what we could achieve in Norfolk, he exceeded all my expectations and ended the season with a total of 24 goals from 45 appearances. An immediate hit with the Barclay, the Frenchman picks up the Barry Butler memorial trophy for player of the season. Peter Beardsley is runner-up and club captain Colin Calderwood is third.
Away from Norwich, Charlton beat Birmingham to 2nd place and it’s ultimately Middlesbrough who would prevail via the playoffs. Swindon Town, Oxford United and Stockport County drop out of Division 1. David Johnson wins the golden boot for the division with 27 league goals, a long way ahead of David Ginola in 2nd on 18.
Elsewhere, Liverpool win their first Carling Premiership title after pipping long time leaders Chelsea in the last couple of games, while Newcastle United, Southampton and Aston Villa are relegated. Karlheinz Riedle wins the top division’s golden boot to go with his league winner medal, ahead of Tottenham’s Andy Sinton and West Ham’s Benni McCarthy. Everton won the Coca-Cola Cup and Dynamo Kiev beat Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup final.
After a 59 game slog of a season, I’ve sent the players away for some well-earned R&R. Rumours of a surprise call up to French World Cup squad for Ginola have proved to be unfounded and I have instructed all the lads to go away and come back fresh for a season in the Premiership. Winning the FA Cup means that we have also qualified for the European Cup.
A new adventure awaits...