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US & THEM: Norwich City

23 October 2015

Albion v Norwich from the past

IF you pine for the days when a club like ours could challenge for the title, you should have been around in 1979 when we were – and I’ll take no argument on this – the best team in the country, denied the title by the raging winter that decimated our fixture list while Liverpool, with their fancy dan undersoil heating, carried on playing. 

The weather had begun to bite when we headed off to Carrow Road in mid January 1979, but Albion were in incomparable form, 12 league games unbeaten, 22 points out of 24 taken and playing in swashbuckling style that had the rest of the nation picking us as their second team and hoping we’d topple Liverpool at the top. 

Norwich were enjoying less happy times. Manager John Bond left nobody in any doubt that he was unhappy, writing in his notes, “There is no way I intend to tolerate such displays from the same squad of players who failed to compete as one would have expected them to do last week...our chances had been wrecked before the break by some irresponsible attitudes which crucified the genuine efforts of other individuals...the abject production last week infuriated me..the sick result we had to offer was mainly because of our bad attitude”. Got it?

Perhaps the late, lamented Bond should have consoled himself with the thought that Norwich had invented twitter some 30 years ahead of schedule, a programme ad making fans an offer they couldn’t refuse – the chance to buy bright yellow “Tweet Tops” in 100% polyester. They must have flown out of the club shop.

Bond’s assault on his team clearly fired them up, though possibly he should have turned his red hot tongue on an icy pitch that deteriorated as the afternoon went on, Laurie Cunningham forced into three changes of boots as even the most balanced of players struggled to keep his feet. Brendon Batson did likewise and while he was off the pitch, Norwich scored in the 50th minute through Martin Peters, heading in from a position where Batson would have been picking him up. 

That chalked off Albion’s early lead, courtesy of Cyrille Regis who slashed a vicious shot across goal and inside the far post. Norwich clung on to get their point and restore a bit of pride, but it was the Throstles who were happiest – that point took us clear at the top of the First Division.

They were changed times in May 1983 when Norwich came to The Hawthorns. Albion were no longer the peerless attacking force they’d been but mid-table mediocrities for whom an era was about to end. Manager Ron Wylie gave over his programme notes for the penultimate home game of the season to skipper John Wile, about to leave The Hawthorns for a new role as Peterborough player / manager, Wile reflecting on one of the great Albion careers before heading off to his next challenge.

On the subject of challenges, there was photographic evidence in the programme of a parachutist finding his way onto The Hawthorns’ turf, bearing a cheque for £361,468 from the Football Grounds Improvement Trust, the kind of sum that would do precious little improving in these inflationary days.

With the teams safe, little riding on the game and the nation still reeling in the teeth of the recession, a mere 9,221 turned up to watch, part of a malaise that saw average attendance drop to 15,800, the worst since 1915 – and we had a war on then. 

The crowd was treated to a game that offered precious little by way of entertainment, although at least Albion grabbed the only goal of the game, Garry Thompson giving us a 26th minute lead just after Dave Watson had gone off injured.

Albion were sound defensively, the Wile and Robertson combination easing their way through yet another game together, so comfortable alongside each other they could virtually play with their eyes shut, Norwich given no hope of making any kind of breakthrough. We finished 11th, a cause for mass apathy at our underachievement.  

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