Norwich City’s morale-boosting 1959 FA Cup tonic

The late 1950’s wasn’t an entirely happy period at Carrow Road. As the decade came to a close, wages had gone unpaid and the club had been forced to apply for re-election to the Football League in 1957 having finished bottom of the Third Division South. The Canaries even required help from the local newspaper and a supporter appeal fund just to stay afloat. Having signed for £5,000 from Sheffield Wednesday, defender Barry Butler was asked what he knew about the club: “Only that they are bankrupt,” was his reply. Change was needed and came in the form of a new chairman. Geoffrey Watling appointed Archie Macaulay as manager, luring the former Scottish international south from a coaching position at Dundee.

The season started well before a run of draws and defeats towards the end of the year left the side in need of a pick-me-up. A decent run in the FA cup would give them a boost to both the club’s finances and morale.

It started with an uninspiring 3-1 win at Carrow Road against Isthmian league side Ilford; Swindon Town were then dispatched 1-0 in a replay after the first game was drawn at the County Ground. In the crowd on that Thursday night replay was the manager of the side that awaited them in the third round: Matt Busby.

Manchester United had been runners-up in the previous two finals, defeated by Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers respectively. Just 11 months earlier they had been decimated by the horrendous plane crash at Munich-Riem Airport which killed eight of the players, three of the club staff and 12 others. It was a moment that would cast a shadow over the club, but they remained a major force and would have still expected to win against their lower league opponents.

United still had quality all over the pitch, especially in attack where the triumvirate of Bobby Charlton, Albert Quixall and Dennis Viollet – who would score 54 goals between them that season – had set the Red Devils on an eight-match unbeaten run before the two sides met at a frozen Carrow Road.

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On a bitter Saturday afternoon, 38,000 people turned up for the game, the biggest crowd at Carrow Road since a 1953 cup defeat at the hands of Arsenal. A fair few would have been there to see the stars from Manchester but there was an optimism that City could pull of the biggest upset in their history.

“If it’s impossible, we can do it,” announced Macauly before the match, the usual hollow platitudes of an underdog manager. However, as the match progressed his charges seemed to realise that a shock could be on the cards. City seemed more confident playing on the frozen surface, the defence ably containing their more illustrious opponents. Errol Crossan and Bobby Brennan forced United onto the back foot with their wing play, allowing the home side to take control of the game.

After 31 minutes a ball from Terry Allcock found Brennan, whose cross was met by the onrushing Terry Bly who hammered the ball past Harry Gregg in the United goal. The score would stay that way until half-time and Norwich were fired up with the adrenalin a potential upset brings. Busby’s men seemed withdrawn, unable to deal with the opponents or the conditions.

The second half started as the first had ended. Norwich continued to press forward with United seemingly unable to find an answer to the questions they were being posed. Just after the hour Gregg could only parry a driven shot from Bly and Crossan was there to head the ball home, the linesman giving the goal after some initial uncertainty. With two minutes to go Bly got his second, cutting in from the left and leaving the chasing defenders confounded before calmly finishing. One report at the time said Gregg applauded the effort.

On the United bench Busby cut a confused figure, flat cap and scarf failing to hide his disbelief. Norwich had got their first major scalp and would go on to reach the semi-final, the first time a third division club achieved such a feat. The following season the Canaries were promoted to the second division for the first time in their history.

There have been bigger matches at Carrow Road, and grander achievements, but this match has to go down as one of the most inspiring victories in the club’s history, one that was a catalyst for so much more

By Phil Withall

Part of our Magic of the Cup series

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