This year marks the 20-year anniversary of one of Norwich’s most memorable second-tier campaigns: Division One Champions 2003/04. For the then 11-year-old Nick Hayhoe, it was a life affirming one. A story that'll be shared monthly.
The summer of 2003, the hottest on record. Thirty-two degrees Celsius with tarmac melting on the M25. In the cricket nets up Chilton Fields, all scorched earth and dust, I am practising my wrist spin. I want to be Shane Warne. He’s the greatest bowler in history and so, if I want to be as good as him I should also bowl leg spin even though all of my cricket coaches are telling me not to. It’s too hard. Too wayward. Their voices echo in my head as I fail to get my wrist around yet again and lob the ball high, landing on the top of the net. We climb on shoulders with a bat in hand to swat it back down again.
I’ve measured my disappointment of any Poor Early Season Norwich City against the yardstick of 2003
Norwich City FC are barely on my radar. They finished below Ipswich last season and I was sick of the teasing; besides, it was cricket that was becoming my real obsession. I get home that Saturday to find we’d blown our first game of the season after being 2-0 up with 10 minutes to go. Figures.
That Bradford result was to teach me a very important lesson. Every August since that sweat and suncream summer, I’ve measured my disappointment of any Poor Early Season Norwich City against the yardstick of 2003. A mere seven points from a possible 15 in Month One was to ultimately become winning the division title by eight points come the end. Automatic promotion by 15. It’s about how you finish Hayhoe, not how you start.
But the trouble was that Norwich City were a very meh team at this time. While Cardiff 2002 provided a highlight, my early Norwich supporterdom had otherwise coincided with one of the poorest periods in club history. Hearing about away losses to Grimsby via Ceefax had become a routine that rarely involved physically going to matches. August 2003 Nick was barely registering Norwich City.
The draw against Bradford City was a blow, but as my father no doubt said at the time, “I’d have taken a point before the game,” and it was time to bounce back at home the following week.
Home games took on a weird atmosphere where the fourth wall was, almost literally, removed and the outside world was bared for all to see
So it was to Carrow Road for the visit of Rotherham United where the players ran out of the tunnel into the crucible of Carrow Road and were greeted by… nothing. The South Stand, with its rickety wooden seats and Ames Room-like concourse, was being replaced with a brand new stand and with it the quirk of the away support sitting along the touchline in a single temporary row – much like a non-league crowd. As such, home games took on a weird atmosphere where the fourth wall was, almost literally, removed and the outside world was bared for all to see. A simple 2-0 ensured against Rotherham…presumably. I was elsewhere, going about my summer holiday, doing other things yet to realise how important that the result was going to come to me as I laboriously scanned the season stats in the back of programmes come spring.
I did clock the Sheffield United game. Sort of. Sheffield United were one of the favourites to go up. There was a notable amount of chatter around it and it was also one of those excellent days where England were also playing a test match at the same time. The old radio in the garage had TMS for most of the day, and Radio Norfolk at 3pm. As did the car. This may well have now been firmly into the age of the internet (indeed I think we got our first broadband connection in 2003), but the cricket and the football on the radio was still purely a medium and long-wave affair – all pops and crackles and that funny whine you used to get when passing underneath an electrified railway over a level crossing. Both England and Norwich lost. Naturally.
While the record shows 3-2, the two MK goals were classic later-game lapses in concentration rather that something that provided a proper nail-biter
The Milton Keynes game was notable for two reasons. First, this was Milton Keynes’ first season in Milton Keynes and, as such I will only refer to them as this in this retrospective as Milton Keynes, even though record books refer to the name they were using at the time: Wimbledon (which goes to show that sometimes technically correct isn’t always the best kind of correct). The actual Wimbledon was in the infancy its reformation as AFC Wimbledon, and as a result of most supporters joining this, the total away attendance for that game was in double figures. Surely an all-seater record low for a league game at Carrow Road. Second, it showcased a prototype of the sort of dominance that would become a standard later in the campaign.
While the record shows 3-2, the two MK goals were classic later-game lapses in concentration rather that something that provided a proper nail-biter. At least, that’s what it seemed like from my seat in the Coca-Cola family area with my packet of skittles and cheese and onion pasty because, yes, I was actually at Carrow Road for the first time in the season. Perhaps Dad took a punt on this match because they were the lowest band and cheapest tickets? Maybe. Regardless, I still didn’t register much to memory except for that cheese and onion pasty – picked up from the hot food counter in Morrisons. It would become the first of a running theme for the rest of the season. On the pasty front at least.
There were plenty of guffaws on ITV Anglia that night, and by Sunday the Green clip was well on its way to becoming a proto-viral hit
Nottingham Forest away. And this being the golden age of the football blooper DVD (I had James Nesbitt’s Eat My Goal if you were wondering), Robert Green decided to get on board by lobbing the ball in front of him to take a kick from the ground, not realising David Johnson lurking behind him like a stalker in the bushes. He nicked the ball away and tapped into an empty net. A soft penalty in the second half ensured a second away loss in a row (naturally). There were plenty of guffaws on ITV Anglia that night, and by Sunday the Green clip was well on its way to becoming a proto-viral hit. Luckily he would never make a goalkeeping gaffe ever again.
And with that the end of August. Norwich off to the most unremarkable of starts. As the cricket season at the time started to fade out of view, I was instead too preoccupied with SSX3 on the PS2 to care that much. As the new Premier League season fired up, I had still never known Norwich to be anything different than a mid-table, second-tier team that occasionally caused my dad to swear at Teletext. And frankly, I couldn’t be bothered with it all. What 11 year old would? They were only a secondary part of my life after all. Weren’t they?
August 2003 results
9 August / Bradford City 2 – 2 Norwich City
16 August / Norwich City 2 – 0 Rotherham United
23 August / Sheffield United 1 – 0 Norwich City
26 August / Norwich City 3 – 2 Wimbledon
30 August / Nottingham Forest 2 – 0 Norwich City
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