The Friendly Clubs: Norwich City

There was a period in the early 1980s when the great clubs of England’s industrial cities gave way to smaller clubs from quieter places. Southampton, Ipswich, Norwich, Watford and Luton all had their great days between Clough’s first European Cup and the end of the Falklands Conflict. To this south-eastern boy, they were  home teams, teams you could conceivably go to watch. They  hadn’t the big names or the history. But perhaps they were the future. They were the Friendly Clubs.



“And now, the news where you are!” No, Huw, we want to stay with you.. but here we are in the BBC Scotland studio being told about yellow lines in Arbroath by someone whose bestial visor has..

The violent homesickness local news brings on doesn’t require you to actually leave home. Take the plight of Bedford in the 1970s and 1980s. It was no good our protesting about it, or reminding the authorities that it had remained outside the Danelaw: we were in BBC East and under Anglia Television and that was that:

If Camelot does come again, that knight had better run. But in the 1970s, he had work to do. When not required by his TV turntable, he’d roam Norwich, slaughtering anything that hinted at talent or interest. The East of England, a flat, waterlogged nothing with the Bressingham Steam Trust in the middle, suffered under him for twenty years.

Out there somewhere, under all that overcast sky, was Martin Peters. He played for a First Division football club called Norwich City, and he’d won the World Cup!

I’d discover later that he’d done this playing for England. It came as news: in the 1970s, the Boys of 66 could still spend a day apart and free from lifetime award ceremonies. The Martin Peters who’d won that World Cup was as skinny as me, far removed from the burly window-cleaner who smiled vaguely out of the ’77 Panini card.

According to the library book, “England! England!” – its plastic jacket cut my skin – Alan Ball was in the team too. Alan Ball? The Southampton player?

If Peters and Ball had been good enough to win the World Cup, then what kind of disaster had tossed them out to the margins like this? Especially Peters, who was playing in front of dogheads on a mud sponge at the edge of the known world.

Recent archaological work on the site has revealed that he was brought to Norwich by his old West Ham pal, John Bond. Bond had become Norwich boss during the Ford Administration, and won them promotion and a cup final almost straightaway. He brought in Peters in 1975.

Peters had been at Spurs, playing in the UEFA Cup Final defeat against Feyenoord. The ’70s had been disturbing for Tottenham, their contrasting experiences of relegation and European success acting as a surrogate for what the nation was going through as a whole. The long, bumpy drive across country to Norwich must have felt like an escape, albeit one into a kind of limbo haunted by lawnmowers and a belligerent model knight.

Norwich City played in a cheery, unserious yellow and green. It was a safe, unthreatening strip, which made anything they did actually achieve seem all the more remarkable. Winners play in red, or blue, or white socks: no side has ever dominated wearing yellow.

Of the friendly sides, Ipswich built a great team from gargoyles and garden gnomes, Southampton built a decent one from back-of-the-garage parts, Watford launched a dozen big careers, and Luton…

The great thing about Norwich City is that they did almost nothing. It was as though they spent their First Division years in camouflage. No one can remember anything about the John Bond years at all. Once the dust Martin Peters’ car had raised on the outback roads had settled, the great wet gloomy silence of the East of England closed in again.

Clouds like great suffocating blankets sit over Norwich cathedral with its chocolate factory font and kiddie’s maze in the cloister. Justin Fashanu happened, but it didn’t take him long and John Bond was gone by then. My John Bond memory sees him on Match of the Day, smiling at a television replay of Paul Power’s winning FA Cup semi-final goal for Manchester City. Bond kept them up too.

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This is Norwich City’s ground, Carrow Road, under uncharacteristic sunshine in 1935. The image is from the collection of a great amateur urban photographer, George Plunkett.

Plunkett understood what so many photographers never have: that you should photograph the things around you that are so mundane and everyday that you can barely see them. No one else bothered to photograph, for instance, the new 1930s roadside pubs. Plunkett did, and now, as they are closed and torn down, we have his record. A genuine unsung hero, and the new website is a fitting memorial to his work.

Carrow Road was new in 1935. Their old ground, known as “The Nest”, had featured a concrete wall a short way past the goal line, which you would meet head-on if you were a winger foolish enough to chase down a long ball. The cars in the picture don’t belong to supporters: they’re awaiting distribution to dealers. On the other side of the relatively crude embanking is a sea of ill-fitting brown coats under a cloud of blue cigarette smoke. That stand won’t stay white for long.

For the majority of the friendly clubs, the early ’80s departure of their “classic” manager meant decline. But when John Bond left Norwich City, he left Ken Brown, his long-time assistant, behind. Brown would oversee some actual events: two relegations, but, best of all, a League Cup win in 1985. The belligerent knight caught up with him in 1987. Wembley was an insult that the East of England just could not ignore:

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One response to “The Friendly Clubs: Norwich City

  1. A propos of absolutely nothing, I did enjoy hearing last week’s Norwich-Ipswich match referred to as “the Old Farm derby”.