My Norwich City Story #3: Jon Newsome – in his own words
Watch and read the third edition of our EXCLUSIVE new Canaries documentary series, as figures from the club’s past tell their Norwich City Story. Next up: Former City captain, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday centre-back Jon Newsome – in his own words.
- Jon Newsome (1994-96: 76 appearances, 8 goals)
- In the beginning…
I always felt when I was at Leeds United that I was sort of on the periphery of the team. Even though I played quite a number of games that season, I felt probably - due to the fact that Howard Wilkinson had me as a young lad at Sheffield Wednesday as well - that I was always the one to get moved out or dropped, and never really secured a place in the first team.
We went into the summer and funnily enough it was about two or three weeks before the move actually came about, that I had a phone call from a journalist who just said, 'I don't know if you're aware but Norwich City have made a bid for you and I think the club have accepted it. I just thought I'd give you the heads up'.
I never heard another thing from the club, nothing at all. I felt it had probably gone a little quiet maybe and I didn't know if there was any truth in it or not. And then one day I came home and there was this answer machine message from Howard's secretary saying the gaffer wants to speak to me; can I come down and see him? So I did and he very bluntly said Norwich City have put a bid in for you and we've accepted it; would you like to go and have talks?
I just thought the writing is on the wall then. What do you do? Do you stay and fight for your place and try to prove him wrong? Or effectively I think his mind is made up if they've accepted a bid for you. So I was more than happy to go down to Carrow Road and meet with John Deehan (manager) and Gary Megson (assistant), and it went from there really.
It was a Premier League club, played good football, just been in Europe the year before. Got numerous good players. I didn't think it was a backwards step. I felt it was a really positive move for me and it proved to be that.
At the time I got an agent, we arranged we were going to go down the following morning, so we flew down from Manchester into Norwich. John was there to meet us, took us back to Carrow Road and showed us round. Then we met Robert Chase (chairman), we sat and had discussions and thrashed out… Well, we didn't really thrash it out as such. Robert Chase told us what we were getting and basically that was it really. There wasn't much manoeuvring - but he was pretty up front and honest, and just said, 'We've got a pay structure, nobody earns above what our best players earn. They all earn the same. That's what we'll put you on, but we want you to come here'.
It didn't take me any time at all to decide - I enjoyed what I'd seen and I liked the fact that I was moving to somewhere that they wanted you, rather than being at a club that no longer wanted you. So that was a big part of it for me. I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw and was delighted to make the move.
Norwich's first £1m player? Yeah, bit bizarre that isn't it? I had no idea about it. We had a press conference after I'd agreed to sign and I had signed that afternoon, and one of the journalists said, 'what do you think about the fee?'. And I honestly said to them, I have no idea what the fee is. Nobody has told me. Then they told me I was the first million-pound player Norwich City have ever signed - and it was a great honour, to be honest with you.
But I think my answer on the day is true to today, that it was irrelevant to me really. It was a number decided between the two football clubs and it was between Norwich City and Leeds United really, and I had no bearing on that. I had no input at all. They then asked me would it weigh heavy on my shoulders and I just felt that to be a club's record signing is a massive compliment I think. There was then responsibility on my shoulders to prove it was money well spent.
It was still a record a decade later - and I think that was more to do with what had happened at the football club, the fact we got relegated and they struggled financially. I don't think it was that I'd blown the bank or anything! Was it Dean Ashton who then broke it when they signed him from Crewe? (2005 for £7.5m) And he then went on to West Ham. So it stood for quite a while, which is a bit bizarre really in this day and age.
- Skippering a new ship
John Deehan was a really nice guy. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. My standing in the football club had altered somewhat in that I got down there and had gone to a club that wanted me, they had paid a record fee for me - and then he turned round and said I want you to be my captain, which was a massive honour for me.
I'd gone from being at a club where I was probably questioning whether I was going to play every week, to a club that basically where you have to play every week, you're our captain - and there were times when he actually pulled me into the office and asked for my opinion on things. So it was a massive swing for me but something that I really, thoroughly enjoyed and just a really nice guy. It was just a shame that we didn't have the greatest back-end of the season because I thought his heart was in the right place, and him and Gary Megson made a good duo and I really enjoyed playing under them.
Your first day is a bizarre day really. The back-story of it was at the end of the previous season when I was at Leeds, we had gone on an end of season trip to Marbella - and on our first day there, Norwich City were there. So we were walking down the road and they were sat in a bar and as you do, we had all gone over and said hello, shook hands and met a few of the lads - and unbeknown to me, five or six weeks later I'm suddenly one of the players there.
I went into training and I think at the time it was before Colney, before the new training ground, so they took me up. I think Gary Megson took me in and introduced me but obviously the lads knew reading the papers who we'd signed and not signed, and then it's out and there's a bit of pressure on you really.
The first day at training is a bit of a nervous day. You're suddenly having to show people that you're worth the money. Sometimes it's difficult because there are other lads there who you might actually be taking their place. Other centre-halves there who will welcome you with a smile and a shake of the hand, but I suppose deep down inside they're thinking, you might be taking my spot. So you've got to tread carefully but at the end of the day, you're there to do a job and once I'd settled in it felt like home to be honest.
I think it was Ian Butterworth who was captain, and then he had damaged his knee - I think he got that knee injury and that was part of the reason they went out and bought me. But yeah, it was a massive responsibility really, walking into a dressing room full of strangers who are now your team-mates. But the way that a dressing room works, there are the jokers like Bryan Gunn who were quick to pull my leg, calling me skip or captain, getting into your ribs a little bit and it's just one of those things you have to deal with I suppose.
Looking back it's quite a lot of pressure and a big weight on your shoulders really. But I supposed that's why they deemed me captain material I suppose, because they felt I could deal with it and hopefully I did.
My debut was Chelsea away (1994) and I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call that it's going to be a tough season. But I felt we'd got enough about us. There were some exceptionally good players at Norwich City and I was not surprised, but when I got there and I played with them, it was pleasing that they were good quality and the way that they played, we got the ball, we passed the ball, we didn't lump it forward… I felt really at home and there were some really good footballers, and I did feel we'd got enough to easily survive in the Premier League and if not, push on for midtable.
- The Canaries unravelling
I thought we had a really good start to the season. We were something like sixth or seventh at the start of Christmas, and all of a sudden you're looking forward and you're looking above you - and the teams around you or the bottom and relegation wasn't a consideration at that time.
And then I think there were a few things that happened behind the scenes, I think we sold a couple of strikers and we didn't really replace them. Then I think one of the big parts for me was Bryan Gunn got that injury and Andy Marshall came in goal. For all I think Andy Marshall was a good goalkeeper and he developed into a great goalkeeper, I just think it was probably a little bit early for him. And then we just seemed to nosedive a little bit and I just felt towards the end of the season and end of the campaign, the last six or seven games there were things that went off where we just didn't have the rub of the green.
I think we hit the woodwork in three or four matches where we got beat by the odd goal, and it was as if the writing was on the wall and no matter what you did, it turned against you.
We sold Mark Robins, Efan Ekoku, and I think at the time we'd then given debuts to Ade Akinbiyi and Jamie Cureton who were 18, 19-year-old lads. And again, both went on and Jamie is still scoring goals - fantastic. They went on to have great careers and played at a good level. But I think anybody would realise now, to have two 18, 19-year-olds leading the line in the Premier League is a massive responsibility for them.
When we off-loaded Efan and Robbo, we needed to replace them. The two young lads just couldn't carry the weight of a Premier League team on their shoulders and it was unfair to expect them to do that - and have a 19-year-old goalkeeper behind you at the same time. It's a lot of responsibility put on their shoulders.
I wasn't contemplating (relegation). I just felt we needed to dig in and grind some results out - and again, I just felt the tide had turned a little bit and with where we were. On occasions we were coming away from away games or coming away from Carrow Road having got three points and thinking, 'wow - what a great result that is'. And now we were coming away thinking, 'how have we lost that game today? I thought we were the better team, we created more chances'. I just felt lady luck had deserted us a little bit.
I felt the club needed to invest in some players and to be fair we did sign Ashley Ward, who I thought was a great signing - albeit I think it was a little bit late in getting him in there. I think we needed something before that. And then obviously the devastation of eventually being relegated.
Gunny dislocated his right ankle, which fractured his leg - it was away at Nottingham Forest. Really bizarre circumstances again. I think we played Tottenham at home on the Saturday and the following day we played Nottingham Forest away, so we played two games in two days - which you would just never do in this day and age.
And there was a strike which went to his right-hand side, and I think he went down with his foot to deflect it away - and it must have caught the end of his toe, snapped his foot back. Devastating really because he was as good as any goalkeeper I played in front of.
He was around the place but he had to have an operation to pin his ankle, and then he's on crutches and so it's not the same kind of thing. He's coming in but he's in having treatment and you're not seeing him on a day-to-day basis really. And I think more than anything else, you're trying to gee him up and keep his spirits up - when he was one of the characters in the dressing room that kept everyone else's spirits up. So that was a massive blow.
We played Spurs away, we got beat 1-0 and I hit the post from about 30 yards - and I remember walking off, and it was Ian Walker in goal. He came up to me, you shake hands after the game, and he said something like I'd done him all ends up; he never even saw it. It was things like that when I thought, that could have easily just sneaked in off the post and we'd have got a point.
Then we ended up going to Elland Road and that was obviously a big game for me - it was my return to Elland Road after leaving the club - and I felt we were the better team. We felt like we dominated and we ended up getting beat 2-1 again, and a bit of a… It was never a penalty and I felt we should've quite easily got something out of the game. I think at the time, the bench was shouting at us get forward, score a goal. I think we were drawing 1-1 and it transpired that when we came in after the game a draw would have been all right for us.
So yeah, it was a disappointing day. Very disappointing. Massive occasion for me. Going back to a club that has got rid of you, so you want to make a statement. You want to go back and say, you know what? You made a mistake selling me. And then to go and get beat 2-1 and effectively put a nail in the coffin, was disappointing. But again, I felt we'd done enough on the day to get something out of the game.
- The stain of relegation
Probably my worst day in my football career really, when the final nail has gone in the coffin (last day of the 1994-95 season at Carrow Road against Aston Villa). And just a feeling that you'd let people down. You'd let your team-mates down, you'd let the supporters down, you'd let the club down. A tough day.
I felt we got relegated the week before at Elland Road, if I'm honest. I know this was the one that made it mathematically that we were down, but I actually felt the week before was where we got relegated and that was where the pain was. There's just not nice games to play football in really - when you know you're down and you just want to draw a line under it.
Obviously I was delighted that I was voted player of the season and I felt like I'd had a good season - probably my best season in my playing career in terms of the level I had attained. But it papered over the cracks of the disappointment of being relegated. I look back and yes, I've got fond memories of being chosen - but it doesn't take away the negativity and the bad feeling that you get from such a drastic thing because it is a massive, massive hit to take. It stays with you a long time. A long, long time. I think the hardest part is probably in the summer, when you're on your break and you've got the time to think about what's happened and the fixtures come out. You look at the fixture list and rather than playing Manchester United or Liverpool, you're playing other clubs that obviously aren't as big and as bright and as appealing to you. I think that's when it hits home.
And I had got a decision to make as well then, because there were clubs that had come in for me. Norwich City were very good in keeping me abreast of what had happened. Robert Chase pulled me into the club one day and said Aston Villa had made a bid for me and he didn't want me to go, but he was leaving that down to me - and I was happy to stay at Carrow Road, because I felt like I had got some unfinished business.
I felt responsible partly for what had happened and Robert Chase had said we wanted to give it a real go next season - we want to get back into the Premier League as fast as we can, we're going to sign some players and we're going to give it a real go - and I want you to be part of that. I was delighted to commit to that and stay, and hopefully have a good season and try to get that promotion.
- The new man in charge
I think Gary Megson was caretaker at the time and then there was talk that Martin O'Neill was coming. I didn't know Martin O'Neill. I knew of him, obviously. I knew what an exceptional player he was and that he'd won European Cups, so was really looking forward to working under him and his staff, because he brought a whole new staff in. So I went into the start of the season (1995-96) on a really positive note thinking let's have a real go at this and see where it takes us.
He was a bit of an unusual character, if I'm honest. Trying to put it nicely, he came in and he was a bit… aggressive possibly is the right word. He came in and he was a bit distant with the players. There were things in pre-season where, I don't know, he just showed his teeth a little bit at times. I remember one day when we were doing a run around the lake at the university campus and it was a red hot day, scorching hot day. There was dust flying everywhere. We'd done this two or three-mile run round, got to the end and we were all gasping for breath. We went to get the water bottles and he banned us from drinking water. He said, 'You're not having a drink because when I did pre-season training we didn't get a drink' - and then he made us do all the run again. And it was all a bit surreal really.
I think he was a bit like that as the season went on; he was very extreme. We didn't see him a lot on the training ground, the staff did a lot of the training. In games his pre-match and post-match comments were very short and sharp, but if you won a game it was like you'd won the cup. It was like, get beers on the bus, everything's jolly. And if you lost, you were the pits of the earth. So he was quite extreme in how… Whether he's mellowed and changed, I don't know because obviously you look back in hindsight and he was probably cutting his teeth a little bit at the time. And also you don't know what the pressures from above were.
I do recall halfway through that season before he left, he pulled me to one side and told me that they'd had interest from Tottenham Hotspur. They'd made a call and for nothing else he was just informing me and keeping me in the loop, which I thought was really good of him.
I never worked under Brian Clough. I was never really in his presence. But when I was at Leeds I shared a room with Steve Hodge, who spent a lot of time under Brian Clough, and I felt that Martin O'Neill had probably taken a lot from Brian Clough; a lot of the traits and implemented it himself.
He knew his football. He knew good players and he knew how to win games of football. He obviously knew how to play the game in the right way and he's gone on and been massively successful, especially when he went to Leicester; I thought he did an amazing job there.
The first game was a big game. Luton away, live on TV and you're thinking right, we really want to make a statement. We want to go there and get a result. I scored two goals, we won 3-1, I think I got man of the match and couldn't have asked for a better start. It was just one of those days where things went right. I might be right in thinking Danny Mills made his debut at right-back and obviously went on to play umpteen games for England.
We'd worked on a couple of things in training and one of the things I thought about Martin O'Neill was the set-pieces we did were fantastic; the way we set up for corners, attacking corners. Effectively it was me and Ashley Ward and he just said, 'It's you two and it's a competition between you and the defenders - if you want to win that header more than they do, you'll score goals' - and it was a really simple corner routine, but it generally tended to work that season.
Luton was the only day I scored two goals in a game in my career. I remember after the game I was interviewed on the pitch and given man of the match, and all the Norwich fans were behind us and they were all singing and shouting. I think it was Kevin Piper (ITV Anglia) who was the guy interviewing me and he was obviously a mad Norwich fan as well, so it was smiles all round. Then we went in the dressing room and Martin O'Neill was delirious, dancing around. It was like we'd won the cup. Neil Adams scored an absolute stonker as well, outside of the box, outside of his right foot and he just faded it in. And their goal was a penalty. It's amazing how you remember things like that, isn't it? Bizarre really.
The game at Leicester (December 1995) was live on TV too, and there had been a bit of a run up to before the game really. There were a couple of things that happened. I'd been informed that the club was trying to cut back on finances and things like when we went to away games, we would stay over the night before and all of a sudden we were effectively staying in bed and breakfasts, not a hotel. You could tell that Martin O'Neill wasn't happy with what was happening above him I think, and the constraints that were being placed on him.
Then we just got a whisper, I think it was on the Thursday, that he was going. We came in for training on the Friday and I think he'd gone. And that was it. It was as quick as that.
We went to Leicester, went out for the game and I think it was after that game they announced he was taking over at Leicester. That's football, isn't it? One door closes and another door opens, and you don't have time to reflect really. You just have to dust yourselves down and get on with what's in front of you.
I can't recall who took us for the Leicester game but I know Gary Megson eventually came back in. I don't think Meggy was there then. But listen, it disrupts it because you've got no pivotal… no manager who's calling the shots - but when you cross that white line, you still play the same game. So it is disrupting but if you're being professional about it, you have to just get on with the game really and you're paid to go out there and win football matches. That's what you're wanting to do. I think we were leading and I think they scored two or three goals in the last four or five minutes, which was a bit like the Alamo towards the end.
- Fire sales and shenanigans
I left in March, just before the deadline day, but there was a lot of talk for a few weeks before that. Martin O'Neill had kept me in the loop about stuff, and then he went and Gary Megson came in as caretaker to begin with I think. Then they gave him the job. I was close with Meggy. He was number two under John Deehan, and I was an apprentice at Sheffield Wednesday when Meggy was playing so I know him from those days as well.
There was a lot of talk that the club was struggling financially and they were going to have to offload a couple of people, and I think I was earmarked as one of them - so yeah, you've just got to carry on playing your football until that happens really.
I think there was a bit of shenanigans from the chairman. At the end of the day I think the club was struggling. Financially, the club was close to going pop. I think he was trying to get as much money in the door as he could and I later found out Sheffield Wednesday had come in for me, he'd accepted a bid from them, and Tottenham had come in from me and he'd not accepted the same bid from Tottenham - he'd wanted a bit more money off Spurs. So I think he was trying to play one club off against the other, that kind of thing. Then I had a couple of days up in Sheffield, where eventually I'd agreed to move and sign for Sheffield Wednesday - and then it became knowledge that Ashley Ward had gone as well.
It was head down, train, do the best you can on a Saturday. At the end of the day you might not go anywhere. It might just be rumours. So you play for Norwich City, you want the best for Norwich City and effectively you want to get as high in the table as you can and you do your utmost to try to perform every week and if something changes… The thing about football is it happens so fast and so quickly, when it does happen it's a bit like a whirlwind really.
I was at home. I got a phone call from David Pleat, Sheffield Wednesday manager, to say they'd had an offer accepted by Norwich City and they'd like me to come up for talks. So I then rang my agent, who was based in Manchester and we'd agreed to meet in Newark. So I set off, got about 10 minutes from Newark and my phone rings - it was Gary Megson.
It was a Wednesday because it was our day off, and he said to me, 'Where are you?'. So I said I was just meeting a friend… in Newark - because I didn't know if he knew anything or not. And he said, 'You know the club have accepted a bid for you from Sheffield Wednesday' - to which I told him I had been informed of that. Then he said the chairman wanted to see me - and I wasn't going anywhere until he'd seen me, and that I'd better turn my car round and get myself back to Norwich. It was all a bit cloak and dagger really. So I told my agent the situation but he couldn't get down there because he had something on in the afternoon. He was with the PFA so they were busy lads.
I got all the way back down to Carrow Road and met with Robert Chase, and the deal had been - to wind the clock back - when he'd approached me about staying for the second season, he'd said to me he wanted me to stay and that he'd put a clause in my contract that if they sell me, they will still pay me the loyalty payment I would have been due at the end of my contract. They couldn't give me any more money, but that was the little cherry on top of the cake - and I said fine, yeah. I'm happy to stay.
So I went back and we had this discussion, and he was trying to tell me how much money he owed me because they owe you so much of your signing-on fee and that kind of thing, and I was like… I think you owe me a bit more than that. He was adamant that it wasn't and we sat in the boardroom from probably two hours. He was coming up with all these ideas of paying me this money and they'll pay the tax - and I kept ringing my agent and he was saying don't accept that because it will be classed as a benefit in kind and this and the other. It all got a bit funny really.
Eventually I got a copy of my contract off him (Chase), I went through it and I found this clause that he'd put in - and he stormed out of the boardroom. I think the club solicitor came walking in and said, 'Right, we agree this is what we owe you, get yourself off to Sheffield and we may see you again' - something like that. And that was it. He never came in and shook my hand or said all the best, thank you, whatever it might have been. And off I went.
I went up to Sheffield, had talks the following day. We didn't really agree anything and then on the Friday morning we went back and eventually signed. And then you've gone. It was a whirlwind really because we went for talks on the Thursday and hadn't really agreed anything and then he said come back Friday morning. We knew Spurs were interested and Gerry Francis was there, and I remember him saying they weren't paying £2m when Norwich have agreed £1.6m with Sheffield Wednesday and there was this big debate and a bit of a messy scenario really, between the clubs.
Then I went back on Friday morning, ended up signing - but then realised I'd not done any training for three days, and the following day Sheffield Wednesday have got Aston Villa at home. And I was playing. It was start afresh, so I just remember going up to the training ground on the Friday, I did some running and some fitness work to try to just get myself ready for the Saturday, came in at Hillsborough on Saturday at 1.15pm, met my new team-mates and effectively you've drawn a line under where you were, there's no point looking backwards - you just look forwards again.
I never actually went back to Norwich - although I've been back a few times since all that. I love the place. My daughter was born down there so it's got a special place in my heart and I generally tend to get down there once a year. I was married at the time and my daughter was born in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, so when I came to Sheffield on the Wednesday evening, signed on the Friday, played on the Saturday, that was it. I stayed in Sheffield and my wife and daughter then came to join me a couple of weeks later in a hotel, we had to put the house in Norwich up for sale and when that went through, got all the stuff brought up and just made a new home up here.
It happens so quickly you don't have time to reminisce. You're starting a new venture, and then you've got that repetition of a big transfer fee, you've got that wanting to go out and play and do well, and try to make people proud or make them feel they've got value for money. So that cycle starts again.
I was a Sheffield Wednesday fan from being six years old when I went to my first game with my brother and my dad. I was an apprentice there, I signed for two years as a pro, made my debut for them and then went to Leeds, so I felt like I was coming home in some respects - but equally, if there had been a deal to go to Spurs, obviously I'd have quite happily gone down there as well. And the bizarre circumstances were that on the Friday I signed, we came out of the offices at Hillsborough. They are underneath the stand so there is no phone signal. So as we came out my agent's phone beeped. He'd got an answer machine message and it was Gerry Francis, saying Norwich City have agreed £1.6m so get yourselves down to Spurs - but it was too late, because I'd already signed. So yeah, that was Mr Chase obviously trying to get as much money for the club as he could really.
- Thank you for the memories
I still keep in touch with a couple of the lads. Gunny especially. And I always watch for their results and Nigel Worthington, who I played with at Sheffield Wednesday. He went down there as manager and did a great job and they got into the Premier League again. I've got a real soft spot for Norwich City and I think like most players, for every club you played for you have got an affinity for them. I loved my time down at Norwich and look back on it with fond memories - even though it was not successful that first year with the relegation, but I still loved my time down there.
My favourite memory? One of them was probably scoring the brace at Luton. That was up there with as happy as I'd been. And walking out at Stamford Bridge as the captain on my debut. That was a poignant, proud moment for me.
I miss playing. I miss the supporters. Everything about it. Who do I miss as an individual? I find that impossible to answer. As a professional footballer, it sounds bizarre but the changing room has effectively got a revolving door on it, because there are people coming and going all the time. And I always think that you make a lot of acquaintances in football - but I think the cliché is you can count your real friends on one hand. So there are lots of people who it's great to catch-up with when you bump into them and you come across them again, but to pick one out is impossible for me.
I regret that we didn't do enough to stay up that first season. Relegation is a big stain on your career, on you as an individual. It was the worst experience of my footballing career, seconded only by having to retire through injury. I wish we'd have done things just a little bit different and I wish the cub had seen the foresight to invest what they needed to, at the time. The annoying bit is I think we were good enough to stay up. Easily good enough. I think that's the difficult part.
Was the grass greener? No, I don't think it was. But I didn't leave because I felt the grass was greener - I left because I had to leave. I would say my time at Norwich City was as enjoyable, if not… I think I played the best football of my career at Norwich City. I loved my time there and when I moved to Sheffield Wednesday, although it was good and I enjoyed it, it didn't really take off in the manner that I wanted it to. The club was going in a different direction to the one I thought I was joining.
My message to the Norwich City fans? I would say just love your time in the Premier League. You've just done so, so well getting there. I had a great rapport with them when I was down there. They've got a special place in my heart and it was just a lovely time in my career. So thank you.
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