Ex-Canary Paul toasts the rocking Robins

David Cuffley Next Saturday's Coca-Cola Championship match at Bristol City will be something of a trip into the unknown for Norwich City players and fans alike.It will be only the second visit to Ashton Gate for the Canaries in 28 years.

David Cuffley

Next Saturday's Coca-Cola Championship match at Bristol City will be something of a trip into the unknown for Norwich City players and fans alike.

It will be only the second visit to Ashton Gate for the Canaries in 28 years.

The Robins were already doomed to relegation when they chalked up a 1-0 home win over Bruce Rioch's Norwich team on the final day of the 1998-99 Nationwide League Division One campaign.

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And you have to go back to 1980 for the Canaries' previous visit, when two goals from Keith Robson and a penalty save from Roger Hansbury helped John Bond's men win 3-2 and effectively condemn the red half of Bristol to relegation from the old first division.

Now, however, the tables are turned and it's the West Country club who have their sights on a return to top-flight football for the first time since that 1980 encounter, while Glenn Roeder's team still seek the points they need to be sure of Championship survival.

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The sight of Bristol City in the promotion places has certainly brought back happy memories for one ex-Canary - hardly surprising as it's his home city and it was his goals that helped the Robins book their place among the elite 32 years ago.

Striker Paul Cheesley scored 15 league goals in season 1975-76 as Alan Dicks' team were promoted from Division Two with champions Sunderland and third-placed West Bromwich Albion.

Cheesley made 24 first team appearances for Norwich before returning to his native city in 1973, and it was his partnership in attack with Tom Ritchie that fired Bristol City into the first division for the first time since 1911.

"They were heady days. It was the first time in 65 years Bristol City had been in the first division - it was some achievement at the time," recalled Cheesley, who now runs his own public house, the Knowle Hotel, in Bristol, with wife Debra.

"The manager, Alan Dicks, and I didn't see eye to eye at first, but in a pre-season game at Cardiff I came off the bench and scored a goal, and struck up a partnership with Tom Ritchie," he said.

"There were a lot of good players in that team. We weren't massively individual. We were a bit like Ron Saunders' Norwich team but not as robust."

Cheesley also got the Robins' return to the first division off to a dream start the following season with the winning goal on the opening day, but a cruel twist of fate was just around the corner.

He said: "We played Arsenal in our first game and won 1-0 at Highbury and I scored the goal, but in the next game against Stoke I went for a ball with Peter Shilton and landed awkwardly."

Cheesley was out for two months and knew there was a major problem with his knee.

He said: "I had a pretty good pain threshold but I kept saying I thought there was something wrong. They didn't even have it X-rayed but I wanted a second opinion."

There was cartilage and ligament damage and a chipped bone in his knee.

"I played once more against Birmingham in October but that was it," said Cheesley.

"I had two big operations and 37 weeks either in hospital or rehabilitation, but there was too much damage to the knee."

His professional career was over at 24 - a career that had begun promisingly at Carrow Road under Saunders and, briefly, Bond.

Cheesley's first team outings for Norwich included the famous League Cup semi-final, second leg against Chelsea in December 1972, abandoned six minutes from time at Carrow Road because of fog, with the Canaries leading 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.

"I scored my first goal for the club that night but it was wiped off the records," he recalled.

"I scored when the game was replayed, too, but that was disallowed, although I easily outjumped Peter Bonetti."

The final against Tottenham at Wembley in March 1973 brought more heartache for the teenage Cheesley.

"Jim Bone was sold in the week before the final, but Ron Saunders played Jim Blair in the final instead of me," he said.

"Jim was a nice fella' and when the teamsheet went up I was the first to shake his hand, but I was gutted.

"I think I cried all the way through the game but I was only 19 and I wasn't experienced enough to deal with it. It was character building, I suppose."

Saunders' resignation and Bond's arrival as manager saw Cheesley briefly restored to the first team and he scored a memorable first league goal for the club in the opening seconds of a 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool in December 1973 - but before the year was out, he was sold.

He said: "I was in the team, doing well, then I looked at the teamsheet and I wasn't on it.

"I went to bang on John Bond's door and asked him why I wasn't playing and he said 'I think you need a rest'. Then he admitted he'd agreed a price with Bristol City and it was up to me to say yes or no.

"As it happened the reserves were at Bristol City the next day and he wanted me to travel down with them. I said no. In the end, Alan Dicks phoned up and came to see me and we did the deal."

The fee was £30,000, but Cheesley later discovered there had been another bidder. "At the same Ron Saunders at Manchester City had offered £60,000 for me, but he didn't last there very long so perhaps it wouldn't have been a good move. I may have been on a bit of an island there."

After his retirement, Cheesley had spells in non-League football - including a stint at Yeovil alongside a certain Ian Botham - and worked in insurance and as a salesman. Until the end of last season, he was a matchday host at Ashton Gate.

"Now I'm concentrating on the pub I don't really have time to get away to games and I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon like the cardboard fans who come out of the woodwork when you're doing well," he said.

"I think most fans would have been delighted to be halfway up the table after winning promotion last season but Gary Johnson has done brilliantly and they're up there on merit."

Cheesley is in occasional contact with former Norwich team-mates Steve Govier and Steve Grapes and has attended ex-players' events at Carrow Road, including the 1972 squad's reunion.

"The Norwich fans are lovely - they always seemed to like me - and it's a stunning stadium now," he said.

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