Seldom a dull moment for Norwich City under John Bond
Two games in one season against tomorrow’s Carrow Road opponents, Liverpool, neatly summed up John Bond’s philosophy on football.
Every ex-player, supporter, journalist or broadcaster who remembers the reign of the former Norwich City manager – who died this week at the age of 79 – will be able to pick out significant matches from his seven years in charge.
The two legs of the League Cup semi-final against Manchester United in 1975, the match at Portsmouth later the same season when the Canaries clinched promotion to Division One, the 3-2 win that effectively robbed Queens Park Rangers of the title a year later, or the famous Match of the Day classic against Liverpool in 1980 that featured Justin Fashanu’s Goal of the Season and Kevin Keelan’s final first team appearance for the club, and ended in a 5-3 defeat . . . all have their rightful place among the list of classic games in club history.
But back to those two encounters with the men from Anfield in season 1975-76.
The first came at the end of November, when things were not going too well for newly-promoted City. They had started the season with a bang, thanks in no small part to striker Ted MacDougall’s 15 goals before the end of September. But a run of just one win in eight games left them on the slide.
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A fourth successive defeat in November, 2-1 at home to Newcastle, was featured on Match of the Day that Saturday night. MacDougall had scored just once in eight matches and City, it seemed, had lost their sparkle.
However, Bond told a nationwide TV audience in a post-match interview he honestly believed his players could go to Anfield and beat Liverpool the following week.
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Even his biggest admirers must have wondered at the wisdom of such a bold forecast.
But not only did the Canaries live up to that prediction, they did so in style. Liverpool, unbeaten at home, were outplayed and lost 3-1, courtesy of goals from Colin Suggett, Martin Peters and, inevitably, MacDougall.
The following week, MacDougall struck again, gleefully scoring the winner in another classic at home to West Ham, his former club, and that of his manager.
Thanks in no small part to Bond’s faith in his under-fire players, the season was back on track, and after further notable wins over Leeds, Arsenal and Tottenham, City were heading for mid-table security by the time Liverpool arrived for the return fixture in March.
This time, Bob Paisley’s team exacted their revenge thanks to a second-half goal from the relatively unknown David Fairclough, but the manner of their victory left the City boss fuming.
After Liverpool had taken the lead, a crowd of nearly 30,000 spent much of the second half watching Emlyn Hughes and Phil Thompson stringing the ball back to goalkeeper Ray Clemence, in some cases from almost the halfway line. This was some 16 years before the change in the backpass rule.
Bond, ever conscious of the need to entertain, was furious, not with the result but with the tactics, and blasted Liverpool in a radio interview – comments that were thrown back in his face after Paisley’s men snatched the Division One title from under QPR’s noses with a helping hand, ironically, from the Canaries.
But it was typical of the man that he felt the public had been short-changed. He was not afraid to speak his mind and risk offending some of the biggest personalities in the game, or providing the opposition with extra ammunition.
Sometimes it backfired spectacularly, as when he told fourth division Bradford City they should not be in the Football League if they couldn’t field a fit eleven.
The Yorkshire club’s FA Cup fifth round visit to Carrow Road in 1976 was postponed twice because of a flu’ outbreak that wiped out much of their squad.
When the game went ahead at the third attempt, Bradford won 2-1, the shock of the season. It was not untypical of the Canaries in the Bond era – they could beat the best and occasionally lose to the lesser lights. But there was seldom a dull moment.
Goalkeeper Keelan, whose 17-year career with City ended shortly before Bond’s exit to Manchester City, summed up the impact his old boss made in his autobiography.
He wrote: “One of Bond’s greatest talents has been this tremendous gift to make people want to play for him. I think that in general the players like him.
“Most of them realise that underneath that bluff exterior which he often adopts for the media is a warm, kind-hearted and generous man with a great sense of humour. Bond has got together the happiest bunch of players that I have known in my time at Carrow Road.”