‘Make yourself a derby hero like me’ urges Norwich City old boy Leon
Leon McKenzie won promotion with Norwich City and scored a Premier League winner against Manchester United but his Carrow Road career was defined by an opening 89 minutes at Portman Road.
"I never knew it was that big a game. I still didn’t know after the game. It was probably years later when people are still actually talking about it and you think, ‘really, wow, that is fantastic.’"
McKenzie’s derby day brace to beat Town on home soil in December 2003 endeared him to the Norwich public and earned him instant acceptance inside the City dressing room after a prolific spell at lower league Peterborough. Now the current crop will get their chance to earn legendary status when they head down the A140 on August 23.
“That was one of the best days of my career,” he said. “I never knew it was that big a game. I still didn’t know after the game. It was probably years later when people are still actually talking about it and you think, ‘really, wow, that is fantastic.’ I got both the goals and it was like the Leon show. It was a little bit overwhelming and a memory I will always treasure. It was funny the other day I played in a charity game and scored two goals and people were talking about it then.
“I didn’t feel under any pressure. Everyone was probably a little bit disappointed at the time about Hucks (Darren Huckerby) leaving and a lot of the focus seemed to be on that. I knew they’d heard of my name because I scored goals pretty much every other week at Peterborough. The question was whether I could do it at the higher level.
“I was a different player to Hucks but I had to gain that respect quickly and the day went extremely well. I knew I had the ability and the heart to do that. Sometimes I didn’t always play well but it took some player to have a bigger heart than me.”
McKenzie warns it will take similar battling qualities alongside skill to avoid the wilderness years that enveloped the club following top flight relegation for Nigel Worthington’s squad back in 2005.
“There is no reason they can not get back to the Premier League. It is about getting the right players in and building up again,” he said. “But it takes a while to adjust. When you get knocked down it is about adapting and handling the psychological and emotional downside of relegation. It might take a while to get into the thick of it again because you have gone from playing some of the best teams and the best players in the world. You have to get used to it and get on with it. There is a transition, but if you have the right players there is no reason why it can’t happen. My first season after we went down was interrupted by injury so that was also frustrating on a personal level.”
McKenzie knows City will be a marquee scalp in the Championship after three seasons operating at the sharp end of the game.
“Norwich is a fantastic club and a big club. The stature of the club is very high. It is seen as a Premier League club and they know a lot of other clubs in the Championship will up their levels, and that makes it harder,” he said. “They have to treat those teams with respect and almost believe they are still playing a Premier League side. If you start the season badly it is very hard to get in the flow and play catch up. If you are floating about in mid-table you are not really going to do anything. You need strong-minded players to break that cycle. If you have three or four who can win games then you have a hell of a chance.”