The reluctant pioneers: when Norwich City made history

The reluctant pioneers: when Norwich City made history

In 1985 Norwich City made history when they pulled off a then unique feat which has since been emulated by both Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic.

While it’s usually celebrated to be a pioneer in any field or walk of life, it’s debatable if members of the Norfolk-based club thought so at the time. This is because the piece of history they made was to become the first club to ever win a major trophy and suffer relegation in the same season.

Embed from Getty Images

To experience such a season of contrasts is undoubtedly extremely surprising, but while the biggest surprises in the cases of Wigan and Birmingham were winning the FA Cup and League Cup respectively, for Norwich the shock came not with the equalizing success part, but with the relegation disaster.

With all due respect to Wigan and Birmingham, both sides had struggled in the league all season and their final defeats were far from expected, but Norwich’s demotion came as an absolute shock in the way it came about.

Led by former West Ham player Ken Brown, Norwich have been in the First Division since promotion in 1975 under former Brown boss and former playmate John Bond.

When Bond left Carrow Road in October 1980 to succeed Malcolm Allison as Manchester City boss, Brown took over but unfortunately got off to an unfavorable start. The side went into free fall in the postseason, suffering a relegation on the final Saturday of the 1980–81 season that was both surprising and potentially demoralizing.

Norwich City’s board showed admirable loyalty and foresight, stood by Brown and were rewarded when the promotion was achieved on the first try. A stable couple of seasons followed, during which Norwich earned a reputation for playing good football and being a decent side.

Embed from Getty Images

As winter gave way to spring, the 1984/85 season went in the same direction as the previous pair, with Norwich sitting fairly comfortably in midfield without really uprooting many trees.

On 16 March Norwich City met Sunderland in a league game at Carrow Road and a 3-1 win saw the visitors bag all three points and move up to 16th in the 22-team table 34 points from 30 games ahead. Norwich, meanwhile, were 12th with four points more from a game down. At this point, Sunderland were eight points clear of the drop zone, while Norwich were a dozen points from danger.

The following week the two sides were due to meet in Wembley in the League Cup final, then sponsored by the Milk Board and hence dubbed ‘The Milk Cup’. Norwich’s road to the final was not, on paper at least, the most difficult in the history of the competition, overcoming lower division opponents in every round leading up to the semi-finals.

It had started with a two-legged win over Preston North End in the second round when a 6-1 home win erased a slight stumble in the first leg at Deepdale, which ended in a 3-3 draw. This was followed by a home draw against the bottom-tier club Aldershot in round three, but all thoughts of an easy draw were quickly dismissed as the fourth-tier side emerged from Carrow Road with a more than credible goalless draw. The replay a week later allowed Norwich to put things right and this time they made no mistake and emerged 4-0 victors.

Notts County entered the fourth round with a 3-0 result at Carrow Road before a lone goal against Grimsby Town secured a place in the last four and a date with East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town.

For their part, Sunderland reached the same stage thanks to victories over Crystal Palace in round two (2-1 on aggregate), Nottingham Forest (1-0) and Tottenham (2-1) in rounds three and four, both after replays. and a lone goalscoring win at Watford in the last eight. Chelsea were waiting for them with a seat at Wembley Stadium.

Embed from Getty Images

Both semi-finals were full of drama, with Norwich losing 1-0 in the first leg to Ipswich Town at Portman Road and Sunderland leading 2-0 at Roker Park against Chelsea. So both games went into the second leg very lively and both made headlines, but for very different reasons.

While Norwich and Ipswich were locked in a titanic battle at Carrow Road that would require extra time to separate clubs and send the Canaries to Wembley 2-1 aggregate, a different kind of took place at Stamford Bridge fight instead.

1985 was in many ways the low point of hooliganism in English football and a large minority of Chelsea supporters used their 3-2 home defeat as an excuse to constantly stage invasions on the pitch, fight with the police and generally as Pringle- to appear carrying idiots.

Anyway, to Wembley and a rainy afternoon in North London. Fears that the game would be less than a sell-out were soon allayed as both clubs easily sold their entire quotas. The atmosphere on the day was unique in that both sets of fans freely mingled and with such a sense of camaraderie and lack of negative feelings that solid bonds were formed between the clubs that have lasted to this day.

As a lasting legacy, a ‘Friendship Trophy’ is still played between clubs when teams meet in a competitive game.

The game itself was, to be honest, a rather pompous affair, with little of note happening in the first half at all. However, shortly after the restart, the game came alive when Norwich played a long ball down the left touchline. Sunderland defender Dave Corner tried to shield the ball for a goal kick but failed to get his body in the way of Norwich’s John Deehan, who stole the ball and crossed it into the Sunderland penalty area. With it cleared halfway to the edge of the box, Asa Hartford hit a shot into the scrum of players on the six-yard box and saw his shot deflected wickedly by Gordon Chisholm for a tragically unfortunate own goal.

Within two minutes, Sunderland had the perfect opportunity to equalize when Norwich defender Dennis van Wijk inexplicably managed in the box but Clive Wilson, usually reliable from the point, saw his shot go wide of Chris Woods’ left post.

Norwich maintained their narrow lead for the rest of the game and so it was captain Dave Watson who lifted the rather aesthetically challenging trophy at the end of the game.

Embed from Getty Images

An open bus celebration was held in Norwich city center and the future looked very bright with major European football on the horizon for the first time and a developing squad expected to continue.

Unfortunately, Norwich City then just went into free fall in the league. After a win and a draw in their next two league games against Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich promptly suffered five straight defeats which saw them plummet down the table.

A hard-fought 3-2 win at the already doomed Stoke City promised a bit of respite but proved a false dawn as the next three games were all lost. This chain of events resulted in Norwich finishing in 19th place, just one place above Coventry City, who were bottom of the relegation zone. Norwich had just two games left and were five points ahead of Highfield Road’s team, who had three games in hand.

Their defeated cup final opponents Sunderland had suffered a similar loss since Wembley and were now doomed to relegation.

On 11 May, as Coventry lost 2-1 at Southampton, Norwich picked up a point in a goalless home draw with Newcastle United to move six points clear of their rivals. When the Canaries finally found form in their last game of the season with a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge while Coventry were only able to manage a goalless draw at Ipswich, it looked like the late-season wobbles were on the rise prove insignificant, as if Coventry still had three games in hand, the deficit was now up to eight points.

Coventry needed to win all three games to stay top and didn’t stand much of a chance of pulling off a major escape from the pundits. The first of the three games was away at Stoke City, who had endured a terrible season, winning just three times all season. Tough affair ensued but Coventry prevailed by scoring the game’s only goal to keep their dream of survival alive.

Next came Luton Town at Highfield Road and an identical 1-0 scoreline was enough to defeat the Bedfordshire side and earn a final game against newly-crowned champions Everton.

If Norwich were counting on the Merseyside side to do them a favour, they would be sorely disappointed as the Blues had endured a long and trying season which had seen not only the title win but also the FA and European Cup winners’ finals. cup achieved. With the title already secured and limbs tired, it might not have come as the world’s biggest surprise that some Everton players were ‘on the beach’ and the 4-1 defeat that followed was irrelevant to them.

However, it was of great importance to Norwich City and the club bitterly complained that Coventry were allowed to finish their last three games after the end of the regular season.

Disappointment at relegation was a blow, compounded when UEFA banned English sides from European competitions following the Heysel tragedy in the spring, and an exciting time for the Norfolk club turned bleak instead wet squib.

Embed from Getty Images

Staying with Ken Brown for another stint in League Two proved to be a wise decision as a solid consolidation season proved fruitful and the League Two title was won fairly comfortably. Brown was able to hold most of the squad together and with another year of experience the team mingled well and the following season, 1986-87, momentum was maintained with an excellent fifth place finish in the First Division.

However, the following season got off to a bad start and by December 1987 the club were once again in the throes of relegation. After twice helping Brown to the point of relegation, Norwich City board were unwilling to turn it into a hat-trick and so, perhaps a little harshly, they relinquished his services as Christmas approached.

Brown was replaced by reserve team manager Dave Stringer, a former player at the club who guided the side away from the relegation zone in his debut season. The next season, 1988–89, Norwich struggled for a rather unlikely League and FA Cup double in the final weeks of the season before finally losing to Everton in the FA Cup semi-finals and drifting away to finish fourth at the table .

Brown was appointed manager of Plymouth Argyle, where he reigned in the hot seat for eighteen months before being sacked again. It was his last managerial position.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *