Cup fever and congestion. The last time Norwich’s season was put on hold
- Credit: Archant Library
Football is suspended while society tries to deal with a global pandemic. Since the Second World War only the great freeze of 1962/63 halted the game for a comparable spell. Bill Punton spoke to Paddy Davitt about his personal recollections.
It might appear a bygone era but the last time Norwich City’s season was suspended for such a lengthy period it also contained a memorable FA Cup run for the Canaries.
Not only a surge to the same quarter-final stage as Daniel Farke’s squad, who set up a home tie against Manchester United, but also an historic game the like of which Carrow Road has never seen before or since.
A record attendance approaching 44,000 watched a City side featuring Terry Allcock, Bill Punton and pals try to edge past Gordan Banks’ Leicester City.
Perhaps it was not just cup fever back in March 1963 that swelled the crowd, maybe it was also a recognition how much football had been missed after the harshest winter recorded since 1740 decimated the two previous months of the calendar.
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Punton forged a reputation for his story-telling antics during a long period as a radio summariser when he finished playing.
Time for the Scot to pick up the tale in his own inimitable style.
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“It was 0-0 and Terry missed a penalty. He was always a smart dresser and we would call him The Count. All I will say is we changed his name after that. I can’t repeat it,” joked his former team-mate. “There was a huge crowd at Carrow Road that day. If you go there now there is a big picture of Terry having an effort saved by Gordon Banks.
“We thought if we got past Leicester we had a good chance of going all the way and they of course reached the final. We had beaten Manchester City on their own ground.
“We should have beaten them.
“Straight after the penalty they scored from a corner. The boy (Mike) Stringfellow. I’ll never forget it.”
Leicester were eventually beaten at Wembley by Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United in a final played three weeks later than usual due to the sheer backlog of fixtures caused by the weather.
Norwich played 20 times between March 4 and May 21. Yet such a congested schedule was the norm.
“That was not unusual,” said Punton. “I remember one Easter we played Sunderland on the Friday, came back to Sutton Bridge. Stayed in a hotel there and then on the Saturday we beat Derby 3-0, and on the Sunday we travelled up to Blackburn to play on the Monday. Three games in four days and all the travel, but we never complained. Every team was doing the same.
“It was the same at Christmas. When we got back playing that year I think we had some weeks when it was Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday on poor pitches deep in mud with a heavy ball.
“I tell you, when we got to the end of that season we needed a break.”
Punton had another reason to be wary of the cold weather during his entire career.
“I had to do special exercises because pace was one of my biggest assets and I needed to try and avoid pulling muscles,” said the Scot, who spent eight years at Carrow Road. “I used to cover my legs in vaseline because I was susceptible to pulling muscles and I relied on speed.
“I suffered with that terribly until a chap from the hospital gave me that tip before training and matches to keep the cold out of the muscles. After that I used to do it every season.
“When I played up at Newcastle, and you’ll laugh at this, even in the winter they had this round shower.
“The water came from the side, not above, and you walked through a door into the shower and the trainer was there with a stopwatch and you had to stay in for two minutes, and it was cold water. Freezing water.
“When you came out you would put your playing strip on ready to go out on the field and they reckoned this gave you a shock to the system and would make you think quicker. I know one thing, when you were on the field you couldn’t stop running to try and keep warm. A daft idea.”
Punton may have long since retired but he feels one thing will never change.
There is a huge onus on Farke’s squad to put the work in away from Colney, should they get the green light to return.
“It is okay saying they have fitness routines to follow at home but I know from my day, there will be some players who can push themselves and others who need a physio or a sports science person right beside them to make sure they are following the programme they need to,” he said.
“It is one thing having all the advice about nutrition and exercise and training routines but if they are told to come back you will quickly see who has done what they needed to, and who maybe hasn’t put the work in.”