This weekend’s meeting at Carrow Road might be a financial mismatch, but at the dawn of the Premier League, nye-on thirty years ago now, it was the men in yellow that pushed Manchester United all the way for the inaugural Premier League title. Since then, the two clubs’ fortunes couldn’t have been more different, as United went on to dominate English football and Norwich City became the archetypal yo-yo club, but let’s take a look back at when the two clubs fought it out for the biggest prize in English football.
As the Premier League media-storm began to take hold in the summer of 1992, few would have imagined that the East Anglian club would be challenging for the title, or even in the top half. They lost seven of their last eight league games in the previous season and slumped to an 18th place finish, just three points away from relegation. United meanwhile, had finished just four points behind champions Leeds as Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to win his first league title.
At Carrow Road, things were uninspiring. The club had chosen Liverpool legend Phil Neal to be their new manager, but given he had recently been sacked by third tier Bolton Wanderers, it seemed a bizarre choice. However, in a strange turn of events, Neal turned down the East Anglian club after they requested he moved to Norfolk. It was a decision that gave them their best ever season.
Given the board didn’t have a second choice, reserve team manager Mike Walker stepped up to the plate. The club however, was still trying to make ends meet and when they sold star striker Robert Fleck to Chelsea for a club record fee of £2.1m, pundits tipped them for relegation.
However, the signing of striker Mark Robins from United, the man credited with scoring the goal that saved Fergie’s job, proved to be a masterstroke. Along with Robins came in Gary Megson and Efan Ekoku, but it was Walker’s knowledge and trust in the young players that made them such an exciting outfit.
As the class of ‘92 graduated at Old Trafford, the likes of Chris Sutton and Ruel Fox joined up with experienced heads like Bryan Gunn and Ian Culverhouse to form an exciting squad. But the mood when the season began was still one of pessimism that was only compounded when the Canaries found themselves 2-0 down at Arsenal.
So much to appreciate here: a kit with bird shit on it, Mark Robins' tight curls, and Ruel Fox doing bits.
Whole new ball game.
However, the introduction of Robins off the bench, transformed that game, and their season. The forward scored twice off the bench to lead his side to a 4-2 success at Highbury and from that moment, the Canaries unexpectedly soared. One defeat in their opening ten games saw Walker’s yellows at the top of the table and they were the loveable underdogs that the entire nation could get behind. Well, except those on the red half of Manchester.
Despite the strong performances, Norwich would come unstuck against the more traditional big boys. In October they were beaten 7-1 by Blackburn Rovers and 4-1 by Liverpool but despite that, they were able to extend their lead to eight points in early December. However, in the winter, United pulled off a masterstroke of their own that would ultimately win them the title. Eric Cantona arrived from Leeds.
Norwich battled on but seemingly came unstuck in the winter months as their rivals gained momentum, but then, to the surprise of many, they dug in once more. Four wins in five, including four clean sheets took them back to the top of the league by the end of March with a title showdown against Manchester United up next.
Ferguson’s men came to Carrow Road and showed the spirit of champions. Three goals in eight first half minutes, including one from that man Cantona, led United to a 3-1 win that would send their title rivals into a slump that saw them lose three games in April and eventually lose second spot to Aston Villa.
In the end United finished twelve points clear of Norwich and secured their first ever Premier League title, but had the Canaries won on that day at Carrow Road, it could have been a whole different story. Despite the disappointing finish, this season was still the best in the club’s history as the likes of Walker and Robins etched their name onto this club's illustrious past.
It may not have ended in a Premier League title but this season did provide the prelude to a historic UEFA Cup run and the most famous goal in the club’s history. Jeremy Goss’ volley in a win over Bayern Munich was simply fairytale stuff, made possible by their incredible top three finish in 1993.