‘It was a very emotional time for me’ - the story behind one of Norwich City’s greatest ever away days
- Credit: Archant Library
It is one of the most iconic Norwich City performances of the last 30 years.
Trailing 2-0 at half-time on the opening day of the 1992/93 season against Arsenal at Highbury, Mike Walker’s Canaries looked set for the kind of result many hardened fans have come to expect on such occasions.
But, famously, that wasn’t how it played out as substitute Mark Robins’ introduction proved the turning point with the striker bagging a brace whilst a Ruel Fox strike and a typically classy finish from a certain David Phillips completed the job.
Phillips’ clever volley from a tight angle demonstrated the kind of coolness fans had come to expect from arguably one of the most technically able footballers the club has ever boasted.
But that finish belied the personal anguish Phillips was going through at the time having 24 hours previously attended the funeral of his father, John.
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“It was a very emotional time for me and I remember being asked if I was ready to play mentally,” said Phillips, who made 186 appearances for City over four years at Carrow Road. “I had buried my father the day before so the season really didn’t get off to a great start. I wanted to be ready for the game the day after and I’m glad that I was mentally strong enough to come through it.
“It wasn’t a bad goal in the end was it? I even did a little Arab Spring (gymnastic move). It turned into a really great result for us and set up a memorable season.”
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Mike Walker’s Canaries side would go on to finish third in that inaugural Premier League season with City right in the title hunt until the final weeks.
Phillips believes it was something of a missed opportunity for a Norwich side that had reached its peak.
“There was a time I remember when I really thought we could do it,” he said. “We had our little issues in the season and I think we went five matches without a win over Christmas, losing to that side down the road.
“But we had some really good players and I think it was a time when that group of players peaked.
“We were a bit like the Leicester side (of 2015/16) but unfortunately it didn’t have that same happy ending for us.”
Life after City
It would prove to be Phillips’ last season as a Norwich player as a contract dispute the following summer resulted in the midfielder joining Nottingham Forest for a tribunal set fee of £500,000.
It of course meant the former Wales international missed out on that famous Uefa Cup run but the now 56-year-old insists he has no regrets.
“That’s just part and parcel of football,” he said. “I remember going to see the manager (Mike Walker) and he said ‘this is what we are able to give you’.
“I just thought ‘no thanks, that’s not for me’. That was where it ended really – I moved on to Forest - there was no animosity.
“I remember the game (against Bayern Munich) and the Gossy (Jeremy Goss) goal but I had a great time at Forest, particularly in that season when we got promoted and I was voted player of the year.
“Whenever I’ve returned to Norwich I’ve always got a great reception. I’m sure they see me as someone who gave four years’ really good service there.”
After four years at Forest, Phillips moved on to Huddersfield and then Lincoln before finishing his playing career at Stevenage. He went on to be a youth coach at Coventry City’s academy but now works at Future Pro Elite Training Academy at Racing Club Warwick, which offers youngsters the chance to get back in the game having been released earlier in their careers. He also regularly does media work, which offered him the chance to return to Carrow Road this season for the first time in 20 years.
Bright future for City
Being the technically gifted player he was, Phillips admits he would love to have had the chance to play in Daniel Farke’s side.
“I can see similarities between Daniel’s side and that 92/93 squad,” he said. “We used to work in triangles all the time and I really like how this current side shifts the ball so well.
“Considering they have spent a relatively low amount on new players then I think they have done really well. They have beaten a few sides and given some of the bigger teams some major problems.
“They’ve got a really good core of young players who they will do very well to keep hold of. I really like Todd Cantwell – he’s had an excellent season.
“You also have players like (Teemu) Pukki – he has to be considered one of the best free transfers of all time.
“They’ve got some really good players and they will be thinking that they can still avoid relegation.
“The points are there to be won – they’ve just got to stop giving daft goals away.”
Phillips admits he was made to feel very welcome upon his return earlier this season.
“I got to meet up with Michael Wynn Jones and Delia (Smith) and they have invited me for a meal for the next time I come back,” he added. “I still believe I’ve been awarded a place in the Hall of Fame so I’ve still got that to pick up at some point!”