‘I put out calls to all the boys to come to my house for a big party’ - Paul McVeigh’s promotion party
- Credit: Matthew Usher
He’s a Norwich City cult hero for sure – Paul McVeigh spoke to David Warman after his Carrow Road career
When Paul McVeigh first walked through the doors at Colney, 20 years ago last month, it was fair to say that no one was to know how big an impact the Northern Irishman would make at Carrow Road.
In March 2000, McVeigh had been told by then Spurs boss George Graham to find a new club, having spent four years at White Hart Lane but failing to break into a first team which contained the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand and Steffen Iversen in the striking department.
It was a chance phone call to his former boss at Northern Ireland that set the platform for the boy from Belfast to play his way into the Hall of Fame at Norwich City in years to come.
“I knew Bryan Hamilton, who was the former Northern Ireland manager, so I gave him a call when George Graham released me from Spurs and he invited me up for a trial and a signed a one-year contract soon after,” recalls McVeigh.
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“When I first joined and started playing games, Norwich were only getting gates of around 12,000. It felt like a team that was going nowhere and the fans had almost given up hope at that point. There was a lack of spark and we were having to sell our best players just to stay afloat.”
A poor start to the 2000-2001 season resulted in Hamilton exiting Carrow Road, with McVeigh finding himself on the fringes of the first team. It didn’t look promising for the forward when he was replaced by Nigel Worthington, who initially had reservations about whether McVeigh could go on to be a hit for the Canaries.
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“Nigel had originally told me that ‘I didn’t have what it takes to be a Norwich City footballer’ and that I was surplus to requirements, but eventually I was given an opportunity, which I managed to grab with both hands.”
In the second half of the season, McVeigh worked his way into the first team as the Canaries managed to keep away from the relegation zone in Division One.
It was the subsequent season that saw McVeigh catapult himself into Norwich City folklore.
“The catalyst for Norwich’s successful period and personally my favourite game in a Norwich shirt was the home game against Manchester City,” he recalls.
“We’d been hammered by Millwall on the opening day. They (Manchester City) had Kevin Keegan in charge and were overwhelming favourites to win the league.
“I started on the bench that day but after 10 minutes Chris Llewellyn suffered a fractured cheekbone and I came on to replace him on the left wing, which is not my natural position.
“Marc Libbra scored an amazing goal to put us ahead and Phil (Mulryne) set me up to win the game against the future champions. That was the springboard for the entire club following the downhill period in the previous few seasons.
More great memories were to follow that season, where McVeigh played a pivotal role in the Canaries successful late surge into the play-offs. He made match winning contributions against Bradford and Barnsley before scoring with a superb header against Wolves in the play-off semi-final to help set Norwich on their way to the final in Cardiff, which ended in penalty shootout heartbreak against Birmingham City.
Despite the agonising defeat in front of 70,000 at the Millennium Stadium, McVeigh looks back on it as one of the greatest experiences in his 17 years as a professional.
“After the game, we did a lap of honour after the game to thank the fans for coming down. I remember looking round to Nigel and saying to him, ‘Well, that was one hell of a journey!’
“Even though we lost the game, it was still an amazing experience, to play in front of tens of thousands of Norwich fans that had made the trip. Playing in front of a crowd that big with the roof closed was an experience that would never be topped.”
The following season McVeigh further endeared himself to fans, finishing as top goalscorer in the 2002/2003 campaign, with 14 league goals, before going onto achieve promotion, as Norwich returned to the Premier League as Division One Champions in 2004.
Norwich were not in action the night they won the title, as Cystal Palace’s win over Sunderland confirmed silverware, and an impromptu house party at the McVeigh residence ensued.
“When the final whistle went, I put out calls to all the boys and told them all to come to my house for a big party. The beauty of living in Norwich was that all the players lived within five miles of each other, which is rare for most clubs and it was great for team cohesion.”
An immediate return to the Championship was to follow a year later, with Premier League minutes at a premium for McVeigh, but he was able to enjoy a special moment when scoring away at Old Trafford in Norwich’s first away game back in the top flight.
“I didn’t really have time to celebrate it as I was running straight back to centre circle as we were 2-1 down, there was only two minutes to go. We lost the game so at the time it felt like a pointless goal, but looking back on it now, it was a really nice moment.”
McVeigh left the club in 2007 and returned for a short spell in 2009 as Norwich won promotion back to the Championship under Paul Lambert.
The winger racked up 246 appearances across the two spells, contributing 40 goals in yellow and green, before going on to forge a successful career in punditry and key note speaking.
“I was always told to keep playing as long as you can and playing days are the best days of your life, but I simply don’t agree with that. Since I hung up my boots it’s been an absolute whirlwind.
“Things have been very enjoyable since I’ve stopped playing and as much as I was lucky enough to live out every boy’s dream, getting paid to kick a ball around, coming away from it to do the work I’m doing now, was the best decision I ever made to retire when I did.”