Andrew Lawn continues his look back at what became of the 2002 Play Off Final team.
Part 2 looks at the midfield and strikers that day; Mark Rivers, Gary Holt, Phil Mulryne, Clint Easton, Paul McVeigh and the fascinating story of David Nielsen.
The 2002 Play Off Final team were the first Norwich City XI Andrew Lawn fell in love with, so we indulged him a trip down memory lane by looking at what happened next for the squad who went to Cardiff's Millenium Stadium to face Birmingham City.
We covered the goalkeeper and back 4 (as well as the referee and forgotten TV pundit Robbie Earle in part 1. Here we move on to the midfield 4 and striking 2.
RM - Mark Rivers
Allegedly a heavy smoker, Rivers was your archetypal winger; fleet of foot but scattergun with his end product. Aged 25, Rivers signed for City from his hometown club of Crewe, where he had made 239 appearances, scoring a healthy 58 goals. Fitness was an issue however and despite appearing 37 times during the 2001-2 season, he only completed 90 minutes once and would be replaced by Alex Notman during the final, just before full-time.
Rivers remained at City until 2004, when he almost joined Ipswich, featuring for the binners in a pre-season friendly with Peterborough. The move never materialised however and Rivers returned home to Crewe, before finishing with a 4 game flurry for Carlisle retiring in 2006 aged 31. Rivers can now be found enthusiastically joining Radio Norfolk’s commentary team.
CM - Phil Mulryne
While the term “sweet” is normally reserved for left-footed players, the Irishman had the sweetest of right foots. Signed for £500,000 from Manchester United, where he had broken into the first team just once (against Ipswich in a League Cup game), Mulryne was a ball playing wizard who marked his second City appearance with a trademark whipped free-kick to beat Grimsby. A first season of promise was cut short early the next year as a horror tackle from Blackburn’s Christian Dailly left Mulryne with a shattered lower leg and would rule him out of the rest of the campaign.
Mulryne recovered to play a substantial role in this season, but in a warning of what was to come would miss a penalty during the season v Gillingham. Disregarding that, Mulryne bravely stepped up again in the shoot-out here. He missed again. Mulryne would remain at City for 4 more years, helping us win promotion in 2003-4 and featured during the subsequent Premier League campaign. He departed as we were relegated, but would go on to play only 6 more professional games, 4 at Cardiff and 2 for Leyton Orient. Two years on from his retirement, Mulryne entered the priesthood in the Catholic Church and was ordained as a deacon in October 2016.
CM - Gary Holt
Three lungs. The tireless enforcer alongside Mulryne’s delicate craft, Holt was the engine room of this City side. Formerly a chef in the British Army, Holt didn’t turn professional until he was 21, when he joined Celtic. On the move again before making an appearance Holt joined Stoke, failed to play again and eventually joined City for £135,000 following a 6 year, 138 game spell at Kilmarnock. A fondness for spectacular goals and willingness to run and run and run and run and run, meant Holt had just been crowned City’s player of the season heading into the play-offs.
Like Mulryne, Holt stayed until 2005, leaving the club after first taking us to and then being relegated from the Premier League. On leaving Carrow Road, Holt spent 2 years at Nottingham Forest and 2 more with Wycombe, before winding down his playing career with Lowestoft. A move into coaching and management followed, with Holt first being appointed the Assistant Academy Manager at Colney in 2010, before taking the reins at Falkirk and then returning to Norfolk as part of Alex Neil’s coaching staff. The Scot left by mutual consent at the end of last season with an eye on moving back into First Team management, but according to his Twitter is still patiently awaiting the right opportunity.
LM - Clint Easton
Really. In a Play Off Final. Not only did he start ahead of Notman, an unfit Iwan and Marc Libbra, the poor man’s Simon Lappin, played all 120 minutes here and tucking away his penalty. A former England u20 international, Easton joined City from Watford at the start of this season and would go on to make 50 appearances for the club, scoring 5 times, before being released in 2004.
Easton’s career then went into a managed descent with productive spells at Wycombe, Gillingham, Hereford and Ebbsfleet, before he retired in 2012. A move into coaching followed (handy if you check the spelling on his LinkedIn page) where he became a Director at Ex Pro Academies in Essex.
ST - Paul McVeigh
Surely this is the shortest starting XI in play-off final history? At 5’6, McVeigh was 2002’s Wes Hoolahan, a diminutive Irishman who could pick a pass and chipped in with the occasional wonder goal. McVeigh joined City on a freebie (the first time) at the start of this season from Spurs, where he had made 3 first team appearances and scored against Coventry. His City career got off to a goal laden start, with 10 coming that season and 15 the season after as McVeigh was often chosen as the little’un in the classic big man, little man strikeforce alongside Iwan Roberts.
McVeigh would stay with City through to 2007 which included a goal at Old Trafford, before leaving for first Burnley on loan and then, despite spending some time that summer training with Serie B side Pisa, Luton. More glamourous trials saw McVeigh pitch up at San Jose Earthquakes, but City’s fall into League One, saw Bryan Gunn offer him a Carrow Road return, where he would appear 9 times during our title-winning campaign. McVeigh was released at the end of that season and retired from football. Now a motivational speaker and author, McVeigh can also be found, like Mark Rivers, working as a summariser for Radio Norfolk.
ST - David Nielsen
Thank you very much for David Nielsen. The ultimate loan player, David Nielsen gave City fans one of the most enjoyable afternoons in an excellent season with that glorious game against Wimbledon. Born in Skagen, Denmark, Nielsen began his career at Danish giants OB aged 17 before embarking on an exciting journey man career which took in Lyngby, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Grimsby and Wimbledon, before the striker joined us on loan from the Dons earlier that season. In just his second appearance for us, we met his parent club, who had helpfully not included a clause stopping him from playing against them, at Carrow Road. It was perfect. First Nielsen opened the scoring with a diving header. Not stopping there, Nielsen won a second-half penalty which Iwan converted after Nielsen had goaded Dons keeper Kelvin Davis into getting sent off by throwing the ball at him. Lovely stuff. Nielsen would go on to score 5 in 5 while on loan, forcing City to sign him at which point the goals dried up (3 in 21).
The Dane would be replaced by goalscorer Iwan after 83 minutes here, staying for 12 more months before leaving for AaB in 2003. Unable to settle and dogged by controversy (he racked up gambling debts and admitted to trying to throw the 2004 Danish Cup Final), Nielsen would go on to play for Midtjylland, Start, OB (again), Strømsgodset, Brann and Fyllingan before moving into coaching in 2011. His exit from Aab was preceded by Nielsen physically attacking teammate Allan Gaarde. To quote directly from Wikipedia, Nielsen explained in his autobiography that Gaarde was "pretentious... talking loudly about wine in Italian. "I told him: 'The next time you speak Italian I will break you in half. You're not fucking Italian – you spent eight months there.' So when he did it again I decided to break his shitting legs like sticks. I jumped at him and bang. Jackpot. Felt good.” Seems a reasonable reaction... A colourful career continues and Nielsen is now manager of his former club Lyngby.