Canaries' wings clipped in the cup once more
For our second guest post of the day, we welcome William Abbs, whose site Saha from the Madding Crowd provides a well of thoughtful, elegant writing on a range of topics. William is working towards a PhD and recently contributed to the already influential book, Pay as You Play. Here, he muses on Norwich City’s failure to get to grips with the world’s oldest competition.
The joke about the teabag that stays in the cup longer than some perennially unlucky football team is about as old as the FA Cup itself. In Norwich City’s case, though, the punchline is starting to become as tired and dreary as the brew that the teabag of legend would be left capable of making after all these years.
The Canaries lost 1-0 to Leyton Orient at Carrow Road on Saturday and, had there not been quite so many surprising results involving Premier League sides over third round weekend, an upset involving a team towards the top of the Championship and one in the wrong half of League One might have garnered a bit more coverage. After all, this was an event with a bit of backstory attached to it.
Since a 2-1 home defeat to Brentford in 1996 Norwich have failed to make it past the third round a further 12 times. Last season, when the Canaries were playing in the third tier of English football for the first time in 50 years, they were even out before January. Carlisle despatched Paul Lambert’s men in the second round, meaning that Norwich did not play a single FA Cup tie in the year 2010. The last time they had been eliminated from the FA Cup before Christmas was in 1999 when a quirk of the football calendar saw the third round played in December. That year it was Coventry that kept Norwich out of the last 32.
The Canaries’ dearth of FA Cup success has not gone unnoticed by the club’s fans. One such supporter, Nick Richards, wrote about the issue both before and after the Leyton Orient tie. He pointed out that, with Norwich having progressed no further than the fifth round during the Premier League era, a whole generation of the team’s support have yet to experience a proper cup run. Richards even noticed that a season ticket holder who sits in front of him, who is usually accompanied by his teenage son, was at Carrow Road alone on Saturday. On the basis of that evidence, the blogger notes, younger Norwich fans are being turned off the FA Cup.
The sad thing is that Norwich City are not without a distinguished cup history. I am old enough to recall the team reaching an FA Cup semi-final in 1992, which they lost 1-0 to Sunderland. Furthermore, just three years earlier the Canaries had been beaten at the same stage of the competition and by the same narrow score, that time to Everton. Those two appearances in the last four concluded a decent run of form in knockout competitions for Norwich. They won the League Cup for the second time in their history in 1985. Sunderland were again the opposition and were beaten by a single goal.
Going back even further, the Canaries’ 1959 FA Cup run — in which they also reached the last four — is still eulogised over by those old enough to have witnessed the then Third Division side’s victories over Spurs and Manchester United. Norwich beat United again in 1967 on their way to the fifth round, during the season in which Matt Busby’s men would go on to become First Division champions.
However, for many years now Norwich’s poor record in the FA Cup has been echoed in the League Cup. The happiest memories that City fans under 25 have of cup football must still be those attached to the club’s UEFA Cup run in 1993/1994, in which they knocked out Vitesse Arnhem and — unforgettably — Bayern Munich, before Inter Milan squeezed past Mike Walker’s team in the third round thanks to a single Dennis Bergkamp goal in both legs. Since those heady days, Norwich have lost cup ties to Bury, Grimsby, and Cheltenham. For fans in Norfolk under 20, those are the games that they have come to associate with cup football, the one against Leyton Orient being just the most recent example.