Cris Freddi reflects on a stunning win for Norwich City in their UEFA Cup run of 1993
Bayern were at home, where they had never lost to a British team. Their last three results in the Bundesliga were 4-0 against Hamburg and Cologne and 3-1 against a “masochistic” Mönchengladbach. They were playing their 185th European match, Norwich their third. Morten Olsen, coach of Cologne, regarded them as the best team in Germany: “Their blend of youth and experience is exactly right.” Bayern’s team sheet included more than a few familiar names, including Matthäus, Jorginho, Scholl, Wouters, Helmer and Ziege. Norwich boasted Prior, Culverhouse, Butterworth and Newman. And yet Norwich were not written off beforehand, at least not in England.
Lying second in the league, they had just won 2-1 at Chelsea, whose manager Glenn Hoddle thought: “Bayern should beware of Norwich’s abilities... you can get quality players for £80,000 and £50,000; it doesn’t have to be millions.” (Even the recent past is a different country.) In the first round of the UEFA Cup, after initially struggling against the technical skills of Vitesse Arnhem, they should have won by more than 3-0 on aggregate.
Bayern in Munich was a different prospect, of course. “Will we be overawed?” wondered manager Mike Walker. “Quite honestly I don’t know, but I would be surprised... I have always suspected European football would suit us.” City could take confidence from rumours of disunity in the Bayern camp, most of them centring on their captain, Lothar Matthäus. General manager Uli Hoeness criticised Matthäus for “behaving like the world No 1, though he doesn’t play like it”.
On the pitch, an injury to Olaf Thon had led to Matthäus dropping back to sweeper. It prolonged his international career, but it’s still a bit hard to take him seriously as a central defender. It certainly was against Norwich when Rob Newman got behind Jorginho, and Matthäus met the cross with a weak header.
He was a little unlucky that it fell in front of Jeremy Goss is acres of space. Goss was a Welsh international, but won his caps for industry, not goals from midfield: he scored only 14 in 188 league matches. But one of those had been a beauty against Leeds that season and his confidence was up. The volley flew high past the keeper from the edge of the area, a really sweet strike.
We all knew the match would depend on how Norwich dealt with Bayern’s reaction – and they did it wonderfully well. Injuries to Efan Ekoku and then Mark Robins during the game made them pull the lively Ruel Fox back into defence and leave Chris Sutton on his own up front, yet they didn’t just sit back and hit long balls up front. “There are good passers in the Premiership,” said Walker, and they carried on proving it in the lions’ den. Substitute Daryl Sutch got away from Matthäus and his shot was turned past the post by the keeper.
Then the “wispy, stooping” Crook took a free kick on the right. Jorginho, always suspect in defence, was caught ball-watching, and Bowen, another Welsh international, headed in at the far post. On the bench, Walker stood up and punched the air.
To their credit, Bayern didn’t panic. They had almost scored in the first two minutes, when Helmer released Ziege and Witeczek got past Prior to shoot just wide. Now, after a patient build-up, Jorginho, much happier going forward, put in a long cross from the right and Nerlinger scored with a powerful header.
According to tradition, the goal arrived at just the wrong moment for Norwich (close to half-time) but again their response was admirable, even when things became a bit tasty. Sutton was tackled high and late, Culverhouse copped Ziege’s elbow in the face, Butterworth was booked for a two-footed tackle. But City kept passing their way out of trouble. Late on, Bryan Gunn made exceptional saves from Adolfo Valencia’s close-range shot and sharp header.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung described their second goal as “Cross, header, goal, die Evolution des kick and rush”, but it was the English papers who got it right this time: “Norwich were never in any serious distress... a credit to English football, a delight to watch... it was a joy to behold.” And the German press came round in the end: the Canaries beat the birds of prey, the Canaries pulled the leg of the animal trainers (definitely something lost in translation). They even claimed “Jan” Crook as one of their own.
In the return leg, Norwich held their nerve again to go through 3-2 on aggregate after conceding a very early goal. In the next round, they matched eventual Cup winners Inter blow for blow, losing each game 1-0 to a very late goal from Dennis Bergkamp, the first a penalty at Carrow Road.
City’s season fell away after that. They finished 12th in the league and Walker left for his brief stay at Everton, citing a lack of ambition that allowed Fox to be sold to Newcastle and Sutton to Blackburn, the same financial priorities that led to Bruce Rioch’s recent resignation as manager.
The Bayern match isn’t in here as a contrast with City’s present position, but with that of the England national team. Six days before Norwich’s victory, their defeat by Holland effectively cost them a place in the World Cup finals and Graham Taylor his job. In Rotterdam, Jan Wouters hadn’t had many problems with an England midfield who just seemed to fill the space (no Gazza for him to elbow in the face again); in Munich he was blue-arsed flying as Crook & co moved the ball around.
If provincial little Norwich City could do it, against an equally talented side away from home, why not England? Well it wasn’t simply a case of picking different players. Put Butterworth or Crook in against Holland and they would have disappeared without trace like Lee Sharpe or Carlton Palmer. But Norwich had a system and a game plan and stuck to it, and England didn’t and didn’t.
City’s performance in Munich, one of the most uplifting by any English team, was a case of what might have been if England had passed the ball around or (just a thought) Mike Walker had been national coach instead of Taylor. Hard to be sure why he has been out of football recently.
By contrast, Bayern’s coach Erich Ribbeck is now in charge of the national team. Although whether that represents progress for German football is equally unclear.
From WSC 159 May 2000. What was happening this month