May 12, 2002 - great day out but no happy ending for Norwich City
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2002
May 12 is the anniversary of one of Norwich City’s great days out – but it wasn’t meant to be for the Canaries, as Chris Lakey reports
It may be every player’s dream to play at Wembley, but that didn’t take anything away from the spectacle that was the 2002 First Division play-off at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium,
With English football’s home undergoing a huge rebuild, all roads led to the principality and on May 12, as the roof closed because of the bright sunshine, the stadium was a riot of Canaries yellow and green and Birmingham blue.
Before kick-off, pop group Atomic Kitten were called upon to set the atmosphere in what proved to be one of the least effective pre-match burners imaginable: they were drowned out by the fans... thankfully.
Goal weren’t forthcoming in the regulation 90 minutes so the match went into extra-time. When substitute Iwan Roberts headed in Alex Notman’s cross less than a minute in, the proud Welshman thought for a few magic moments that the game was to be settled on golden goal - de rigueur at the time.
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It wasn’t, and 10 minutes later Geoff Horsfield levelled.
The only reason it went to penalties was thanks to the magnificence of City keeper Robert Green. Shootouts are a time for heroes or villains - however unfair that is. Stern John, Paul Devlin, Stan Lazaridis and Darren Carter were Blues heroes, while Phil Mulryne and Daryl Sutch – the last time he would kick a ball for City – both failed from the spot for the Canaries. Blues fans invaded the pitch – a first for the Millennium Stadium – while 30,000 City fans headed home disappointed.
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For the winners there were the financial spoils of victory: in 2002 it was estimated that promotion was worth – wait for it – £20m. For City, it meant another season in the First Division struggling to make ends meet.
Free transfers were to be the order of the day for City boss Nigel Worthington, but Birmingham’s then managing director Karren Brady said she had already been making plans to spend. Incidentally, before the game she and Delia Smith shook hands on a deal that the losers would take all gate receipts. Perhaps little consolation to the Norwich players as they stopped to sign autographs on the way to the team coach – while the sulky faces of Atomic Kitten traipsed past, still unwanted by the waiting fans.
What they said...
Nigel Worthington “The players have been terrific all season and I’m proud of each and every one of them. A lot of hard work has gone in and there is still a lot of hard work to do but we are on the right path. We have laid the foundations this season to go from strength to strength. There were a few tears in the dressing room and rightly so – there are a lot of very disappointed people in there. But it’s like that rubber ball thing – if you keep bouncing back then hopefully things will go your way. It a club effort. Everybody’s been in there doing their bit – the supporters and everyone who works for the club – the players, the staff and the coaching side. It’s been a wonderful ride. We thoroughly enjoyed it, we’ve gained a lot and we’ve learned a lot so let’s hope we can carry it on.”
Malky Mackay “It took Birmingham four goes to get back where they are now and I don’t see why we can’t bounce back. We were in relegation danger last year and now we have been so close to the Premiership. It shows you the spirit there is in this club, how many good people there are here, how everyone is pulling in one direction – and when that happens there is a lot of power. It is important that we get on with it, bounce back, start again and do it all again next year.”
Gary Holt “Everyone knows we are a team of nobodies – there are no big stars. You ask anyone outside East Anglia and no one will know us and that is the way we like it. There are no big time Charlies in there.”
Daryl Sutch “I felt cool, I wanted to take it and I knew where I wanted to put it. Unfortunately it didn’t go in. We’ve been practising penalties for two or three weeks now and I was confident. I’ve always said I would take one if it came to it and I was there on the pitch and thought ‘yes, I’ll have one’.”
Iwan Roberts “Gutted, disappointed, devastated. It’s a massive, massive disappointment. It was nice to score but the feeling has left me now because we are still in the First Division next year. Ipswich did it, Birmingham
This column is dedicated to the memory of our much-loved colleague Rachel Buller, who was part of the reporting team at the Millennium Stadium. Rachel sadly died last month.