Uefa Cup memories - The things we do for love and Norwich City

Steve Downes (third from right) with friends on the way back from Norwich City's trip to Internation

Steve Downes (third from right) with friends on the way back from Norwich City's trip to Internationale. - Credit: Archant

For most Norwich City fans of a certain age, the European adventure of 1993 is dominated by marvellous memories that are the highlights of years of following the Canaries.

The figure walking towards the Norwich City fans to acknowledge their support at the San Siro is the

The figure walking towards the Norwich City fans to acknowledge their support at the San Siro is then Canaries manager Mike Walker. - Credit: Archant

For me, though, the leading recollection is the most shameful moment of my football fandom (apart from that incident at Roker Park in 1996, which I don't talk about. Oh, and Swindon in 1994. Not to mention the close-up with a PC during a sit-down protest outside Carrow Road in the same year).

A Canaries-eye view of the San Siro.

A Canaries-eye view of the San Siro. - Credit: Archant

It was September 15 1993, and decades of dreams were about to become a reality as City prepared to face Vitesse Arnhem at Carrow Road in their first ever European match.

As a football fanatic who travelled home and away to follow the boys in yellow, there was a chance that I might spontaneously combust or cry in public.

Instead, I did something that still makes me blush – I went round to my girlfriend's house and watched Pretty Woman.

She gave me the eyelash flutter and I crumbled. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere beat Jeremy Goss and Efan Ekoku: oh, for shame.

I know this confession will lead to alienation or a beating next time I go to Carrow Road, but I was only 19 – and easily led.

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What made it worse was that, having destroyed my reputation as a football fan and traumatised me forever, she dumped me within a week. But the lost love wasn't as painful as the missed match, particularly when I heard that City had won 3-0.

Anyway, this double dose of heartbreak made me determined and galvanised me into action.

Although I could not get the time off for Norwich's away leg in Holland, my elegant combination of one green and one purple Doc Marten and a ginger curtain cut could be seen at the next four Uefa Cup matches.

In truth, the journey to Munich on the coach was interminable. And there were no flashy phones or tablets to make time fly. The on-board toilet soon overflowed, too.

To make things worse, the continental police had clearly not spoken to the Norfolk officers, who could have told them that City fans' most violent outbursts were the occasional tut.

So we had a ludicrous autoroute and autobahn escort of heavily-armed officers with lantern jaws and no discernible sense of humour. And when we stopped for a comfort break, they insisted on standing and watching while we lined up at the urinals. Men, have you ever tried to get the water works going when you are under scrutiny?

That made the break a bit longer, but eventually we arrived at the Olympic Stadium, ready for a great evening – and a thorough thrashing from the legendary Bayern Munich.

Disappointingly, the massed ranks of Munchen-ites had not materialised, perhaps because they were not expecting a competitive fixture. So we were rattling around in the cavernous stadium with hardly anybody for company.

So we huddled together to improve our sound projection and keep warm – before promptly collapsing like a deck of cards over the backless seats when Goss, then Bowen, scored for City. My shins were scraped, my throat was hoarse – but I was in dreamland.

From the moment that Bowen's goal looped in, the Canaries seemed to be trying to repel a red wave. It was nerve-shredding stuff.

But we won, and emerged from the ground to find that the German police had gone home, either pleased with our behaviour or disappointed that they wouldn't have an excuse to try out their hardware on our skulls.

Don't ask me to remember the journey home. Mr Grolsch kidnapped my memory.

For the trip to Milan, the close attentions of German police were swapped for an over-officious coach boss, whose vast bulk filled a 4x4.

I wouldn't like to say that it was deliberate when our driver emptied the toilet over the motorway and the boss' car as he drove behind us, but it was.

He pulled us over and gave the driver a fearful telling off – which was drowned out by the chants of 'driver is our hero, driver is our hero...'

The eventual entry into the San Siro was breathtaking: it is one of football's most awesome grounds.

Shorn of a clutch of suspended players, and 1-0 down from the first leg, the top of the mountain City had to climb was obscured by clouds.

But, backed by the relentless noise of the City fans (watched by incredulous Italians who had clearly never seen anything like our rag-tag army), the players ruffled Internationale's precisely-preened feathers.

Ultimately, we lost. But defeat with valour was certainly preferable to tame surrender.

And at the end of the match, the admiring home fans mingled with us to swap scarves, badges and hats. I still have two Inter scarves, three badges and a hat.

And somewhere in northern Italy, some lofts contain my old Canaries adornments.

Again, I can recall little of the long trip home. Bad Mr Grolsch struck again.

But something else will never be forgotten – and that is the camaraderie among the City fans.

For both away trips, I travelled with all my friends (ie, alone). But on the ferry en route to Munich, I was soon befriended by Darren from Wivenhoe and Chris from Brightlingsea. They remained firm friends and home and away match companions for years.

And on the coach to Milan, I got to know Rodders and Slacksie from King's Lynn. They are still close friends of mine to this day. Ridiculously, I also chatted to a man called Scott Rowntree, who had lived round the corner from me in Cromer for years, but who I only got to know while travelling to Italy. Sixteen years later, he and I travelled back to Munich for the Oktoberfest, where memories of 1993 mingled with much better beer.

Looking back to the end of the Internationale match, I'll never forget how the City fans chanted 'Mike Walker's green and yellow army: NCFC' for at least 15 minutes.

Walker came to salute us with a tear in his eye, and I said to my friends: 'Make the most of this. It might be the last time we play in Europe – and the beginning of the end of Mike Walker.'

Having a few days before made his famous 'loosen the purse strings' speech, targeted at the delightful Robert Chase, his departure was inevitable.

Walker soon walked – to Everton. And the Canaries have never returned to Europe.

Unlike when I chose a film night with a short-lived girlfriend instead of a historic night of European glory, I was right. But it doesn't detract from the gold-plated memories of being there when City invaded the continent.