The first ACN debut of the week, sees Andrew Jarvis look back at one of the finest periods in Norwich's history, both the city and club, in his memories of 1959. Warning; contains nostalgia.
Aaaah, 1959. Say it slowly, relishing each syllable, and for any Norfolk lad of my generation the memories come flooding back.
What a time to be in your mid-teens. Elvis had entered our lives just three years earlier, and had spawned a host of British impersonators. Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, Johnnie Gentle, Duffy Power, Vince Eager, all guaranteed to send our parents into rages of “Turn that row off, you can’t call that music’”, exactly the sort of reaction that we intended.
It was an age of innocence, when life seemed somehow cleaner and finer - no Brexit, no smartphones, no global warming, no Jamie Oliver - although we did have telly. Just the one channel, as Anglia did not start until October 1959, and we all stayed in to watch Dixon of Dock Green, the Billy Cotton Band show, and of course The Lone Ranger.
We still had something called the working class, and the master of the house would sally forth to his place of work, probably one of the many shoe factories or engineering works in the City and come home in the evening to his stay-at-home wife, have his meat and two veg, then head down to the Rose and Crown for a couple of pints of wallop.
As for me, then at the City College studying for my what were then called O levels, with just a pound note in my pocket I could get a return bus ticket into the City, buy five Woodbines, into the Regent cinema, followed by fish and chips at Valori’s on Rose lane, a couple of illicit pints at one of the scores of City centre pubs, and still have enough change to put down the deposit on a three bedroomed terrace house. Such were the joys.
It was, I think, a more settled life. I don’t recall any drugs anywhere, and there was less violence, although one sharp look at one of the Teds could get you into a fight. And, of course, there was the football.
The Canaries had endured a wretched season in 1956-7, finishing bottom of the old Third Division South, and having to seek re-election and local businessmen were required to pump money into the club to prevent it going under.
Archie Macaulay was appointed manager, and the following season City finished 8th, earning themselves a spot in the new, non-regional Third Division. New players were brought in; Terry Allcock from Bolton, Barry Butler from Sheffield Wednesday, and Matt Crowe from, I think, Partick Thistle, but 1958-9 did not start well, and by December we were near the foot of the table.
But then things really started to happen.
First, Macaulay bought in a crew-cutted Canadian flyer of a right winger called Errol Crossan from Southend for the extortionate sum of £6,000. This allowed him to move Jimmy Hill to inside left, which in turn allowed the man who to so many of my age regard as the greatest Canary of them all, Saint Bobby Brennan, to move out to the left wing. Then a young lad from Foulsham, called Terry Bly, who had been going nowhere as a full back in the Reserves, came in at centre forward.
The result was immediate and mesmeric, and the team began to click.
We had rather fortuitously made our way into the Third Round of the Cup, beating amateurs Ilford, then Swindon, after a replay. Now, we were drawn at home to Manchester United. No, this was not the great Busby Babes side, as so many had perished on Munich airport the previous year, but they were still, after Wolves, the great power in the land. 38,000 of us made our way into the ground, more in hope than expectation. It was a game that might well not have been played today, with a carpet of snow on the ground, and an old fashioned red ball in use.
The history books show that we won 3-0, and some carpers say it was the conditions that won it. Rubbish. We played them off the park. It could have been 4, as Jimmy Hill hit the bar with a scorcher. For the first time I heard the anthem On The Ball City ring round the ground, and joy was unconfined, occasioning perhaps the most famous Pink Un headline of all, ‘Bly Bly Babes’, a reference to Terry’s brace. It still brings a tear to my eye.
Next, Cardiff City, a respectable Second Division side, again at home. Another full house, and the main thing I recall about the opposition is that they had a centre half called Danny Molloy, a gargantuan giant of a man who scowled through the game looking like Desperate Dan in search of his cow pie. With the score at 2-2 with three minutes to go, it was that Bly man again, who shot from out near the corner flag, but somehow squeezed it in. It was claimed that the clamorous reception to the goal could be heard in Sprowston, and the Pink Un managed ‘Ta Ta, Taffies’.
After that, the City simply went mad. Every shop seemed to have yellow and green ribbons, there was an old Steward and Patterson beer dray parading through the streets every day festooned in the City colours, and the clamour to get tickets for the away Fifth Round tie at White Hart Lane was on.
I don’t know how I acquired one, but I did, and along with 25,000 other fans, we made our way to North London, and a full house of 63.000. The endless choruses of ‘On the Ball City’ caused one newspaper to say that we turned it into a home tie. We thought that a Terry Allcock goal would see us through, but Cliff Jones equalised setting up a replay.
Of all the games of the run, this is the game that sticks most closely in my mind. To say that the atmosphere was electric is simply to repeat an old cliché. It was more than that. Danny Blanchflower, who was right half for Spurs on the occasion, said that in a career of more than 20 years, he never experienced anything to equal it. People were sitting on the advertising hoardings at the top of the terraces, kids on the touchline, and when Terry Bly- who else - scored the only goal of the game, there was a pitch invasion of delirious fans. We began to dream the dream. No Third Division side had ever graced Wembley. Could we make history?
Sheffield United, away, was the worst possible draw for the Sixth Round. They were on a run of about 15 games unbeaten, and Blades fans still regard that side as one of their finest. Numerous special trains were laid on for the occasion. The excitement of that day - the seemingly endless journey to South Yorkshire (car ownership was still confined to a relative few), the strange accents of the locals, all made it seem like a trip to Mars.
The game itself exceeded all Roy of the Rovers imaginings. 57,000 of us were privileged to be there, and we went a goal down after 3 minutes. In the second half, Goalkeeper Ken Nethercott dislocated a shoulder, and despite Macaulay’s urgings, refused to come off - no substitutes in those days. Errol Crossan got the equaliser, and back to the City for the replay.
We got back at about midnight, and with a few mates, I didn’t go home but went straight to the ground to queue up for a ticket. By 6am, the queue stretched into Trowse at one end and beyond Clarence Road at the other. The replay itself was almost too much. Sandy Kennon replacing the injured Nethercott in goal, and when I met him years later, he told me that so overpowering was the noise from the crowd that big Barry Butler had to push him out of the changing room and onto the pitch. But he did his stuff, we won 3-2, and were in dreamland; the semi-final.
I won’t linger on the two semi-final games, it hurts too much. 66,000 saw the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane against Luton, and of course Billy Bingham broke Norfolk’s heart in the replay at St Andrew’s. The dream was over.
Norwich has experienced many great moments since; The Beatles at the old Grosvenor Rooms in May, 1963, Jimi Hendrix at the old Cellar club, and Muhammed Ali opening a Sainsbury’s in 1971 to mention a few.
The Canaries have had other moments of their own – the two play off finals come to mind. But for me, the winter of 1959 was the most exciting period of my life. Nothing, absolutely nothing has touched me in such a personal way.
Perhaps that’s the beauty of football, and loving a club. You’re part of something that was there before you, and will still be there long after you’re gone. Win, lose, or draw, you will always love them, and that’s as it should be.