Tale of the unexpected

European competition hasn't always been comprised of the continent's biggest clubs. Joe Ferrari looksback at Norwich City's remarkable run

The Heysel disaster having denied us three times, Norwich finally reached Europe after finishing third in 1992-93. And what an Odyssey it turned out to be, started fittingly amongst the familiar surroundings of Carrow Road in September 1993 and ending on a surreal night three months later with ‘On The Ball City!’ reverberating around the San Siro.

Dutch ‘dark horses’ Vitesse Arnhem were the visitors for our European debut, and were duly dispatched 3-0. The highlight of the professional and tidy 0-0 draw in Arnhem a fortnight later was the return flight home, when only thick mud at the end of the Norwich Airport runway saved a plane full of City fans from continuing their in-flight entertainment down the nearby Cromer Road.

When the draw for the next round was made, we exchanged rueful smiles and talked of concentrating on the League. Bayern Munich – first leg to be played in the Olympic Stadium, where they had never been beaten by a British side in European competition. In the build-up to the game, a German paper described Norwich as “a city of mustard-eaters where men walk to Carrow Road when the hooter sounds at the shoe factories”.

I watched the game in a packed King’s Lynn pub, and my jaw was slacker than usual as European superstar Jerry Goss lashed a 25-yard volley home for our opener.

We laughed incredulously as £1 million-rated defender Mark Bowen headed us 2-0 in front. Bayern may have pulled one back, but it didn’t matter. Bayern Munich 1, Norwich City 2 read the caption on the pub’s telly.

I went to the return leg at Carrow Road, and lifted myself to new moral heights as I joined in the singing of the Dambusters theme tune. It was impossible not to. Not when that-man Goss shot home from close range to cancel out Bayern’s early strike, and when Matthäus started moaning at the ref… “Norwich will not progress far in the competition – they are a very average side,” he whined afterwards.

Who were to be the next victims of the Canary crusade? Italian giants Inter Milan? Pah! By now the BBC gave us star billing – groovy trailers with pumping house music and montages featuring goal-machine Goss, the full monty. We lost the first leg at Carrow Road to a Dennis Bergkamp penalty at Carrow Road, but my Dad redeemed himself for years of apathy toward the yellow and green cause in the space of a three-minute phone call, when he mentioned casually that he had two tickets to the return leg in Milan and wondered if I might like to go….

The game itself is a blur – I know our suspension-ravaged squad did themselves and Norfolk proud; I know Chris Sutton and Efan Ekoku spurned glorious chances to snatch an unlikely away goal; I know Bergkamp eventually applied the coup de grace with a typically disdainful finish at the end.

But what still brings a lump to the old throat even now is the memory of Italian fans clapping us at the end as we sang, “Mike Walker and his green and yellow army (N-C-F-C!)” until the great man materialized on the pitch to share the moment.

Of course he’s back now. I caught a glimpse of him when we lost 3-1 at Barnet the other day. He looked a lot older.

From WSC 128 October 1997. What was happening this month