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Ken Brown's Milk Cup memories

PUBLISHED: 14:31 24 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:05 02 July 2010

David Cuffley

Leading his Norwich City team out in the 1985 Milk Cup final was the last leg of a notable treble for Ken Brown.

Leading his Norwich City team out in the 1985 Milk Cup final was the last leg of a notable treble for Ken Brown.

The former centre-half had played for club and country at Wembley, but to step out of the tunnel as manager on such a big occasion completed the set.

Brown won an England cap in a 2-1 victory over Northern Ireland at the famous old stadium in 1959 and was back with West Ham when they beat Preston in the 1964 FA Cup final, then again when they beat Munich 1860 in the European Cup Winners' Cup final on the same pitch the following year, playing in the same defence as none other than Bobby Moore.

“There are no words to describe the feeling. I'd played an international, I'd played for my club but to lead your own team out in a final, well, that was special. That was quite a hat-trick,” said Brown. “It's only when you start talking about it, it seems like yesterday.”

The Canaries' victory over Sunderland was one of the highlights of a rollercoaster reign as manager for Brown, who had spent his first seven years at Carrow Road as John Bond's assistant before taking the reins in 1980 when Bond quit the club to take over at Manchester City.

There were highs and lows in his seven years in charge - two promotions and two relegations included - and though the Milk Cup win was perhaps not as big an achievement, in footballing terms, as taking fifth place in Division One in 1986-87, it was the most notable single day.

He said: “I always think the cup is a one-off spectacular, but there is more satisfaction in getting promoted.

“But I wouldn't swap winning it. It is a one-off thing. You get chances to change things in the league, but with the cup you only get one chance - and we took it.”

Brown, now 76, admits that there was a painful double blow for the Canaries after their Wembley success - more than one ex-player now accepts complacency set in - as they were relegated from Division One along with fellow finalists Sunderland when they won just two of the last 12 league games, and then had their treasured UEFA Cup place withdrawn in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster.

“There are mixed sort of memories because we were not allowed to go into Europe and we were very disappointed to get relegated,” he said.

“That made it hurt more, one thing after the other. Going down was very disappointing. Perhaps we took our eye off the ball, perhaps we eased off somewhere along the line, but at least we got back at the first attempt.”

Nothing, however, will erase Brown's special memories of the final as City overcame their tendency to blow it on the big occasion and finally took the silverware back to Norfolk. The blend of youth and experience in the squad was a key factor as the club's home-grown youngsters blended with old hands such as Mike Channon and Asa Hartford and rising stars like goalkeeper Chris Woods and central defensive pair Steve Bruce and skipper Dave Watson.

“We had Asa and Mick and John Deehan and you couldn't have asked for three better, experienced pros,” said Brown.

“I remember going up to Wembley on the coach and someone had a tape with 'It's now or never' playing and Mick led the singing and that took all the tension out of it, because, believe me, playing at Wembley was a very special, very big occasion.

“The fans on both sides were brilliant, too, and I could understand why they called it the friendly final.”

In one sense, history repeated itself for the Canaries on their first visit to Wembley since the 1975 League Cup final, when they were beaten 1-0 by Aston Villa.

Dennis Van Wyk gave the penalty away for handball against Sunderland, which was ironic, because Mel Machin (chief coach) had done the same thing 10 years earlier when we lost the League Cup final under John Bond, when he palmed one off the line.

“But Mel played a very, very big part in our success,” Brown added.

Tomorrow: Fans' memories of the big day.

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