December 12 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Yes, they were only six games. But arguably they defined more – especially for Norwich City. Especially for Mike Walker. Not even the Canaries’ remarkable success in the inaugural Premier League campaign, finishing third which remains the club’s highest ever league finish, was enough to book a first European tour.
No. City fans had to rely on Arsenal doing a domestic cup double – something that arrived thanks to former Canaries defender Andy Linighan’s header in the final minute of extra-time of the 1993 FA Cup final replay against Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal had also beaten the Owls a month earlier to lift the League Cup.
That was the cost of proper, worthwhile European competitions in the 1990s – limited places available to get involved.
What Walker’s Canaries managed to do was not only make the most of their continental debut with a Uefa Cup run. They also paved the way for how English clubs could compete on the European stage.
After all in just three ties, City: put a Dutch side to the sword; knocked out a European behemoth thanks to a victory no British club matched in 20 years; and narrowly exited the competition to another European giant, who went on to lift the cup that year by going on to beat Borussia Dortmond, Cagliari and Red Bull Salzburg.
It wasn’t just the results. It was the style. It was the swagger and passing ability that so many Premier League teams struggled to cope with the season before that helped the Canaries make their mark on the biggest club stage of all.
“The previous time when Norwich could’ve qualified was when the European ban (for the Heysel stadium disaster) was on,” recalled Walker. “They missed out there so it was obviously exciting just to be involved – for me, the coaches, staff and fans as well. It was an opportunity to go into the unknown. So there was excitement and maybe apprehension, just thinking about playing at a different level.
“One of the best comments we ever had was from Andreas Möller, one of the German players at the time. He was introduced to us before a game and he said ‘Ah, you’re the coach of the team that doesn’t play like an English team’. And I always thought that was one of the best compliments we had, because we tried to play a bit. We tried to play football, while other teams played the longer ball, or the English style.
“It was nice that it was recognised by a foreigner.”
The learning started with City’s first draw, as City prepared for two legs against Vitesse Arnhem and Walker embarked on what at times became his own personal European tour – missing domestic first-team games to scout European rivals.
“Vitesse probably thought little old Norwich from England, that’s a good draw for us, because the Dutch league at that point was quite strong,” said Walker. “They probably thought we were easy meat.
“I went out to see Arnhem play home and away before we played them, so we did our homework. We did what any big club would do. I even rang Bobby Robson because he was at PSV Eindhoven not that long before and asked him for his advice, and he said they play 4-3-3 but not the regular way. They played it with the front three split – two wingers and a front man. The English way would’ve probably been three straight through the middle.
“I preferred to go and see the teams play, so I saw Bayern Munich and Inter Milan play home and away. And it was just as well.
“The Italians for instance, I saw them play at Genoa and then at home, and they played two different systems. They were quite flexible, not like English teams.
“So that was impressive and it opened my eyes, not just to see that against us but to tactically understand different teams and cultures. Never mind now when people are saying we’re not as good as some of these teams – no we’re not. Even in those days, it was totally different. The way teams played and set-up, the technical side of the game, was much better abroad.
“I certainly educated me. Milan played about five different players in the second game, and a different system completely. I remember speaking to Ray Wilkins who played with AC Milan a few years earlier.
“He said to me the Italians play three different paces – they have a slow mode, a quicker mode and an even quicker one – which was incredible. English teams just played ‘get out there and get at them’. It’s why we’re still lagging behind even now.”
While City were ultimately comfortable against Vitesse, and perhaps unfortunately hit by injury and suspension against Inter, those 180 minutes of football against Bayern will be forever etched in Canaries folklore.
The first-leg victory in Munich was the only British win over Bayern at the Olympic Stadium. Arsenal’s Champions League win last season is the only other British success in the city. The effects of that are still felt 20 years later – but they were also profound ahead of the second leg.
“When you play the big clubs and beat them, there’s always the fact the big club will come good in the second leg,” recalled Walker.
“I remember a couple of the Bayern players, Lothar Matthaus for a start, saying it was a disgrace Norwich beating them. It was a fluke and so on, and they would bash us over here.
“I mentioned it a few times in the build-up and one or two of the players felt they were a bit… it happens with a few of the big teams.
“Not all of those players are like that but one or two of them are above themselves, thinking they’re better than they are.
“I mean, he was a great player – let’s be fair. But I remember thinking that’s a bit out of order. Take it on the chin, you lost. And if you think you’re confident then come back, beat us and then say something.
“So it helped, for sure. Certainly psychologically. Who did they think they were? We knew they were good players and we respected that, but they were there to be beaten and the good thing was that we did it.
“I don’t know what Matthaus felt after the second leg. I never spoke to the guy again. I wasn’t interested – who cared?”
Aston Villa’s Uefa Cup campaign – Europa League in today’s speak – perished before City’s, while Manchester United’s European Cup – or Champions League with actual champions – bid finished at the same time as City. Arsenal were the big success, winning the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup under George Graham – and under the antithesis of Walker’s philosophy. But it was City who won the friends.
“In the end it was all too short,” added Walker. “It wasn’t like we got to the semi-final. But for the club and the quality of the teams we played, it was fantastic. The fans appreciated it, that’s for sure.
“European games were not 100mph like the Premier League so people that could play and pass were going to excel. People with a bit of intelligence. And we had a team more or less like that.
“That’s why I think, although we didn’t go that far, we managed to give everyone a good game.
“And we went out to the team that won it. You may say that doesn’t mean much, but they beat everyone else. So it certainly counted for something.”