Brown's fond memories of trips down Wembley way

PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 10 September 2010

Norwich City players celebrate winning the Milk Cup after their 1-0 victory over Sunderland at Wembley in March 1985: (from left) Chris Woods, Dave Watson, Paul Haylock and Steve Bruce.

Norwich City players celebrate winning the Milk Cup after their 1-0 victory over Sunderland at Wembley in March 1985: (from left) Chris Woods, Dave Watson, Paul Haylock and Steve Bruce.

Chris Lakey

Wembley Stadium can be a cruel place for a football manager, a place where dreams are cruelly snatched away. For Ken Brown it has been relatively kind.

Wembley Stadium can be a cruel place for a football manager, a place where dreams are cruelly snatched away. For Ken Brown it has been relatively kind.

His made his England debut there in 1959 in a win over Northern Ireland and in 1964 won an FA Cup medal there as a player with West Ham, a year later picking up a Cup Winners' Cup medal.

His only loss was when, as assistant to John Bond, Norwich were beaten 1-0 by Aston Villa in the 1975 League Cup final - a matter he put right himself a decade later when he won his biggest individual honour, the 1985 Milk Cup.

The 25th anniversary of that triumph is next week - Wednesday, March 24.

“Bloody hell - 25 years, I didn't realise it was that long ago,” laughs the ever-affable Brown.

“It might have been a long time ago, but I think you remember all your Wembley trips and I was fortunate enough to go there on four or five occasions and come away almost every time with the right result.

“I have good memories of it.”

The build-up to the final was somewhat problematic: City hadn't won in their last five league games and were facing Sunderland just eight days after losing 3-1 to them at Carrow Road.

Then there was a calf injury to Asa Hartford, the man whose City career began with two goals in the second round, second leg tie against Preston, a 9-4 aggregate victory which set the ball rolling.

Hartford passed a fitness test on the day of the game, although Brown admitted he had few doubts that one of his big-name signings would make it.

“I don't think he was ever not going to play. It didn't seem any problem to me.”

He did, and it was his goal just 54 seconds into the second half that won the game - or was it Gordon Chisholm's deflection?

“It got a little ricochet in,” laughs Brown. “It doesn't matter how they go in, all I do know is it ended up in the back of the net, that's the main thing.”

Hartford was a key player, along with a handful of other big names.

“I was fortunate to get a few players with great experience, who were great pros. When you can get the likes of Asa, and John Deehan and Mick Channon and later on Peter Osgood - they were names who helped us out in more ways than one.

“One of the things that stood out more than anything else was Mick Channon. On the way down he was singing “It's Now or Never” - and it helped, too right it helped.

“He was great, he wanted the game played the right way. A lot of people listened to him with great enthusiasm, and I wouldn't stop it. If anything, Mel Machin and myself would encourage it because he was such a good player. The other lads as well, they were all brilliant, people like Dixie (John Deehan).

“It's a one-off job, if you like, going to Wembley for a cup final and you want to come away with satisfaction and I think everybody did on the day.”

It was a stipulation of Brown's well before kick-off.

“I hope the fans will be able to come out of Wembley saying 'that was a good game',” he told the EDP's Norwich City writer Malcolm Robertson.

“It matters,” recalls Brown. “When you are in charge like that I think it matters a lot because you put a lot of work into it and you want the players to do well, but they are the only ones who can do it at the end of the day. And then you want them to do well because the supporters all want you to do well.

“I think if we'd been told we were lucky to win the game - no. I think we just about deserved to win - yes.

“The good thing about it is whoever christened it the Friendly Final was absolutely right, because their supporters were magnificent as well, which says a lot. I don't think you get that sort of thing too often nowadays.”

Clive Walker missed a penalty for Sunderland - the first in a cup final at Wembley - but City were worthy winners, much to the delight of 40,000 fans.

“It was tremendous really because you just kept looking around and all you could see were our supporters everywhere. Where did they all come from? We didn't have that many people in Norwich did we?”

The following day City made their way home, after Brown had received an unexpected bonus. Along with all the usual paraphernalia was a set of car keys - to a Rolls-Royce, handed over by Kenny Cooke, who ran - and still runs - Dolphin Autos.

“Somebody handed me some keys and Kenny says, 'look, that's yours to use whenever you want, I'll fill it with petrol and everything'. I thought, 'blimey, a Rolls-Royce'. And the number plate was KEN 17. He was true to his word as well.

“I had it for a while, not for long. The reason I stopped using it was that I lived in Thorpe End then, in a cul-de-sac, and there were women bowing to me as I was coming by so I thought that's got to go, that's no good. But no hard feelings - we've been friends ever since.”

When the dust settled it became a season that proved the adage that football is a “funny old game”.

City suffered a nine-game losing run which saw them plummet down the table and, after a controversial final day when Coventry stayed up by virtue of a 4-1 home win over champions Everton, finish third from bottom and back in the old Second Division.

Relegation was then followed by another hammer blow when City's hopes of European football were shattered by the ruling banning English clubs following the Heysel Stadium disaster.

“That made it hurt more, one thing after the other. Going down was very disappointing. I spoke to all the lads and said, 'you have every right to want to go to another club and I would understand that, but I would love you all to stay', and not one of them batted an eyelid. They said, 'we're staying' and that lifted me no end.

“All the gloss had been taken off, but they lifted it again and we got back at the first attempt.”

Did City suffer through their Milk Cup triumph?

“Possibly, but you never know. Perhaps we took our eye off the ball, perhaps we eased off somewhere along the line. Everything went to sleep after the cup final. But I wouldn't swap winning it. You get chances to change things in the league, but with the cup you only get one chance - and we took it.”

When your team has won one major honour in 108 years, it sticks in the memory.

I have never forgotten Norwich City's Milk Cup-winning season, having been there at the beginning and the end of the historic journey.

When we played the second round first leg at home to Preston North End, I stood in the old corner infill between the Main Stand and the handful of away supporters in the Barclay.

We won 6-1, with Joe Corrigan (remember him?) in goal. Preston showed a generosity towards the Canaries that re-emerged a few weeks ago when they loaned us Stephen Elliott.

A 4-0 replay win at Aldershot put paid to round three, although no supporter could honestly claim that they saw any of the goals through the pea-souper.

We would, of course, have beaten anybody by now. But, just in case of doubt, the luck of the draw paired City with Notts County and Grimsby before the semi-final showdown with Ipswich Town.

The second leg victory remains my best and worst moment as a City fan.

The best, because of the late drama of Steve Bruce's goal that took us to Wembley at the expense of our rivals, coupled with reports of Eric Gates getting so irate that he spat at the home fans: the worst, because my dad decided not to take my brother and I to the match. I hope one day to forgive him.

He redeemed himself a little by securing tickets for the final.

I remember walking up Wembley Way, gazing at the two towers and wondering whether John “Dixie” Deehan would make history by scoring in every round, whether I'd be able to see anything and whether Norwich would freeze like they did at Wembley finals in 1973 and 1975.

Thankfully, I had a great view of what I remember from watching through my green-and-yellow tinted specs was a magnificent game (the pundits were obviously watching a different game when they called it turgid).

When we scored, it was unbelievable. I've never heard so much noise. And it was made even more enjoyable by the fact that my dad's celebrations included accidentally stubbing out his cigar on my brother's face.

From my position about 200 yards from the action, with the sun in my eyes and my vision obscured by taller fans, Sunderland's penalty should never have been given. And Chris Woods would have saved it if Clive Walker hadn't saved him the trouble by missing.

I even had a link to the Norwich City bench on the day (apart from looking like the long-lost twin brother of Mike Channon's ginger and freckled son, Michael, who was lucky enough to be seated among the squad members).

My Cromer GP, Dr Chris Croton, a fine bloke and a great doctor, was the club doctor at the time and I can remember seeing him stationed near the then physio Tim Sheppard, poised to rush on if the need arose.

I cried at the final whistle, and nearly cried again (and more) on the way home as we got onto a train packed with Sunderland fans. Would they attack us? No, they patted us on the head, congratulated us and wished us well for the rest of the season. It was, after all, the Friendly Final.

I kept all the local newspaper cuttings from the final, including a brilliant squad pull-out that featured a cartoon of each of the 12 players on duty - all with heads so large that they would have toppled over if they had tried to stand up.

For a few weeks after the victory, I could think of nothing else. Mr Bush's efforts to make me focus on Roman sanitation were all in vain as I stared out of the classroom window at Cromer Junior and mentally relived every moment.

Relegation and a European ban soon followed. But, when the bitterness receded from those two blows, I still had the memories of City's greatest day.

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