Norwich City's Cup heroes of a golden age

Jonathan Redhead "It is very difficult to explain, they all say it's comradeship - it's something else. There was another ingredient there." Former goalkeeper Sandy Kennon can offer no other reason for the success of Norwich City in the FA Cup during 1959, but when the 75-year-old South African speaks with tears welling up in his eyes, you know that whatever it is, it runs deep.

Jonathan Redhead

"It is very difficult to explain, they all say it's comradeship - it's something else. There was another ingredient there."

Former goalkeeper Sandy Kennon can offer no other reason for the success of Norwich City in the FA Cup during 1959, but when the 75-year-old South African speaks with tears welling up in his eyes, you know that whatever it is, it runs deep.

Kennon, who played three games during the 59ers run to the semi-finals of the world's most famous cup competition is just as modest as the other remaining members of the team who were in the city at the weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the Canaries'greatest ever cup run.

But beneath that modesty it's still easy to see the enthusiasm, vigour and drive that led an average team from Division Three to the cusp of an FA Cup final after victories over Ilford, Swindon, Manchester United, Cardiff City, Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur.

The Canaries were denied an appearance in the final by Luton Town after defeat in the semi-final replay, but by then they had already captured the imagination as the city, and indeed the whole country, was consumed by their exploits.

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And on Saturday, some of the remaining 59ers, Kennon, Terry Allcock, Terry Bly, Jimmy Hill, Roy McCrohan, Bobby Wilson, John Wilson, Derrick Lythgoe and relatives of the late Bryan Thurlow, Ken Nethercott and Barry Butler gathered in Aviva's sumptuous marble hall on Surrey Street and then went on a half-time walkabout at Carrow Road to celebrate the efforts of half a century ago and cast their minds back to the days when the little club from Norfolk hit the big time.

"It's an unbelievable feeling for us - I can't remember what happened yesterday but I can remember the cup run, my share of it and what I have learned since then," said Kennon who came into the cup team for the final three games after regular goalkeeper Nethercott was injured in the quarter-final draw against Sheffield United.

"When the club held the 40th anniversary at the club it surprised me a lot - we came down from the council offices and came down to Carrow Road in an open top bus.

"I didn't think anybody would turn up but they did and it was amazing and today I think because we are so far on with our lives now - there are not too many people - they remember it but they don't know who we are, except the spectators who are regular at Carrow Road.

"It's unbelievable to see the boys again - some haven't been able to come today because of their age, and the travelling and illnesses, but I think to get us together like this by Aviva is a wonderful thing.

"Terry (Allcock) and I see each other regularly because we are both local boys - it takes you back. My part in the cup was only three games - Kenny Nethercott played all the others and it takes me back to how I was welcomed when I arrived from Huddersfield and the comradeship that they showed towards me - the fact that Kenny the King wasn't going to play any more. Somebody else had to go in his place and luckily it was me, I went in."

Forward Terry Allcock, who scored against Tottenham during the cup run and went on to bag 127 goals for the club and become City's second highest goalscorer, agreed with Kennon that the secret to the 59ers success was stability and the spirit of the players.

"It's amazing to think it is 50 years, but when I see my colleagues and obviously, unfortunately, the ones who are not with us any longer then yes, we can remember 50 years ago," he said.

"Great memories, anyone who was here in that period of time will endorse any remarks that any of us make of what a fabulous four months that was in 1959.

"Meeting up with your colleagues again, one of the beauties of that team was the camaraderie that we had. Obviously there was quite a lot of ability in the team but the camaraderie to see them again after 50 years, it's unbelievable because you just fall into each other's arms and you're just like you were in 59.

"It was a blend of experience and quality players, there were six of us who had come the previous year from premier clubs so we were reasonably competent.

"There were three or four very senior players who had hundreds of games experience behind them, even if they'd played at a lesser level, and the blend was ideal.

"And in those days the loyalty to clubs was because you couldn't earn any more moving elsewhere."

But Allcock admitted that for all the pride the players had for getting as far as they did half a century ago, there was still a tinge of regret they could not quite go the whole way to Wembley especially as they had controversial goal from Errol Crossan ruled out in the semi-final.

"It was a double-headed thing for myself because the year before Bolton had won the FA Cup and I went to their 50th reunion last year because I had played in a couple of rounds and scored goals in that game and so if I'd stayed there I would probably have got a cup winners' medal.

"But I had no thoughts when I arrived at Norwich that the following year I would be going along the same route. It was disappointing in the end but we were on such a high for the majority of that short period that you didn't have time to think about it.

"It was only afterwards that it kicked in how close you actually were.

"When we look back there was an occasion in the first semi-final which, in my opinion and in the opinion of many of my colleagues, was probably our worst performance, we drew 1-1 with Luton who were a premier team at that time.

"We had a goal disallowed which we all thought was a very legal goal. I jumped with the goalkeeper, in fact I jumped before him and he tried to come over the top of me and he fumbled the ball and dropped it.

"Errol Crossan knocked it in - in those days you could actually challenge the goalkeeper anyway so we were very disappointed with that because that would have meant we would have been at Wembley - but you can't go back, you can't go back unfortunately."

If there was a single star of the cup run then it was arguably Terry Bly. The striker scored seven goals as the club reached the semi-finals including a famous brace in the 3-0 win against Manchester United's 'Busby Babes'.

'Bly, Bly Babes' sang the headlines.

"The memories are very, very nice," Bly said. "They seem to be more great now than they were when they were actually happening. It's lovely seeing everybody again.

"I have missed Ron Ashman very much because he was the leader of everything 'C'mon you do this and you do that' and we used to follow along.

"We were very, very fortunate to get on without injuries you see. The only serious one was Ken (Nethercott). The rest of the time we all played and just got stronger and stronger and stronger. I got injured in the Swindon game, away, and missed the replay but after that I hardly missed any between then and the end of the season."

As modest as his other former team-mates, Bly said he is still confused at all the fuss made of some of the greatest names in the history of Norwich City Football Club and he does not believe history can be repeated.

"I still can't to this day understand why we are made such a fuss of, the 59ers," he said. "We didn't get to Wembley, they got promotion the next year, they've been up into the Premiership, they been into Europe, and yet they all go back to the 59ers and we won nothing.

"The only thing I really think about it must have been prior to the cup run we were struggling badly with the public and the club was struggling for money and whatever and that just gave them a footing. Since then the footing has got stronger.

"It was remarkable at the end of the really and truly we won nothing - I do like being spoiled though!

"I think it's getting more and more difficult, because the gap is widening between the leagues. When you look at teams going up into the Premiership, they struggle to stay there. Not to win it, they go up to try to stay there. That's the difference."

With the current Norwich City side in a bit of turmoil, Allcock said the next boss of the Canaries needs to take a leaf out of the book of the 59ers boss Archie Macaulay.

"He was a great psychologist and I think as a manager you have got to be a great psychologist, you have to know your players individually, you have to be able to go to the weaker characters and put your arm round their neck and encourage them and in the second half hopefully they will respond to that and get a better performance," he said.

"The hard men in the team you've got to be a bit stronger with them and give them a kick up the backside if you want to call it that and get the same response and that is the ideal scenario."

But the final word about the success, camaraderie and spirit of the 59ers belongs to Kennon - the latecomer - who reveals how Nethercott put aside the physical and mental pain caused by his own injury against Sheffield United which caused him to retire, to help out the young South African.

"I can remember Kenny coming in and putting his arm around me and saying, 'Look Sandy, you're a far better goalkeeper than I am', he didn't know.

"But he was so encouraging, he was saying, 'Look, this side will look after you, don't worry, I played with a dislocated shoulder in the last match. This side will look after you, they're brilliant', and he gave me all the confidence in the world. He was marvellous."

And so were all the rest.