Norwich Milk Cup special: Day 3

As part of our week long special celebrating 25 years since Norwich City's Milk Cup win Canaries correspondent David Cuffley spoke to then manager Ken Brown and former player Steve Bruce about the big day.

As part of our week long special celebrating 25 years since Norwich City's Milk Cup win Canaries correspondent David Cuffley spoke to then manager Ken Brown and former player Steve Bruce about the big day.

Asa Hartford and Steve Bruce took starring roles in Norwich City's 1985 Milk Cup triumph against Sunderland - but it was not the first time they had been on duty at the same Wembley final.

The Canaries' goalscorer and their official man of the match had both appeared beneath the famous twin towers nine years earlier, when Hartford was a member of the Manchester City side that won the League Cup, beating Newcastle 2-1.

Bruce, just 15 at the time, had a much more junior role on the big day.

'I was there in 1976 when Newcastle Boys provided the ball boys for the League Cup final against Manchester City and I was one of them,' he recalled.

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'I remember Dennis Tueart scoring the winner with that famous overhead kick, but I don't actually remember Asa playing.'

Little did the boy from Northumberland imagine that he would be taking centre stage years later alongside Hartford in the final of the same competition, just a few months after moving into top-flight football for the first time when he joined Norwich from Gillingham for �135,000 in the summer of 1984.

Centre-back Bruce cemented his place in City history by booking them their Wembley ticket with his semi-final, second leg goal against Ipswich at Carrow Road, clinching a 2-1 aggregate success when he headed in Mark Barham's corner.

He said: 'I think Terry Butcher was supposed to be picking me up and I just managed to wriggle free of him. The kick from Mark came in fairly flat and I knew my head was on it. After that it, the place went crazy - with Ipswich being our big local derby.

'I had been at the club only six or seven months and if you remember I had quite a shaky start when I scored an own goal against Liverpool in my first game.

'I had been playing in the third division with Gillingham and here I was six months later scoring the winner almost in injury time to take the club to Wembley. It was fantastic - the stuff dreams were made of.'

Despite three Premier League titles and three FA Cup wins later in his career with Manchester United, plus another League Cup triumph and a European Cup Winners' Cup win, Bruce's first Wembley visit remains a special memory.

He said: 'I remember going to the game, the game itself, the whole occasion. I remember John Deehan, who was more experienced and had played in the final with Aston Villa, saying on the morning of the game 'Take it all in because the last time I was here, it passed me by'.

'We had a good side - people like Chris Woods, Dave Watson and experienced players like Mick Channon, Asa Hartford and John Deehan.

'Asa's goal took a big deflection off Gordon Chisholm and the game was never a classic, but when you are out there the result is everything because Wembley is a fantastic place when you win, but when you win it's a very lonely place.

'It was my first time there so it will always stay that little bit special. I can't believe it's 25 years ago.'

In one of those coincidences so often thrown up in football, Bruce is now manager of Sunderland and brought his team to Carrow Road earlier this season where they won 4-1 in the second round of the Carling Cup - the latest name for the competition he won with the Canaries.

He said: 'People here in Sunderland still remember me as part of the Norwich team that beat them and now I'm manager of this football club - it's quite incredible 25 years on.

'I'm pleased Norwich are doing so well and it looks as if they will be getting promoted. They're still getting 24,000 at every home game and it just shows what the club means to the supporters.'

Bruce played 180 first team games for City before his move to Old Trafford for �825,000 in 1987. His son, footballer Alex, currently on loan to Leicester from Ipswich, and daughter Amy were born in Norwich.

'I still have great memories of Norwich. I had 3� years there, my kids were born there,' he said.

'For a little while after I left I don't think I was very popular but I think they realise that you have to go when Manchester United are calling.

'But I will always be extremely grateful to Norwich for giving me my chance.

'The whole Wembley day was most enjoyable, not playing there before. The problem was the party went on a bit too long and we got relegated, but we put it right the next season.'

Manager's memories

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.

As a young Norwich hack Chris Wise was lucky enough to get the call-up to cover the big match. Here are his memories of the day.

Young journalists are no different to fringe players when a big match is looming. Just like the reserves they will be hoping for a late call-up - and should it arise from someone else's misfortune they'll make all the right noises in public, while secretly savouring an unexpected opportunity.

I was an inexperienced member of the Evening News sports team back in 1985, toiling away in the background on the less glamorous aspects of local newspaper production, in much the same way as a young footballer tries to work his way up through the youth and reserve teams.

Bill Walker was the undisputed No 1 as far as our coverage of Norwich City was concerned. A fresh-faced Chris Wise covered darts and local football, edited pigeon results and was generally to be found in the office when the Canaries were in action as part of the team that produced the Pink 'Un. If he was lucky enough to get to Carrow Road it was with the rest of you - as a paying customer.

Once Steve Bruce's soaring header (still my favourite moment in over 35 years of watching City) had seen off Ipswich in the semi-finals all I was worried about was getting time off to be at Wembley and, of course, securing my seat at the famous old stadium.

Then something happened that solved both problems in an instant. Bill Walker's wife had a baby. Some indifferent planning on Bill's part had ensured the due date was in March and, as luck would have it, Walker junior - named Kelvin - arrived on the day of the big game, in time for his father to watch the match on TV.

And so it came to pass that Bill's young understudy was switched from writing about Unity Emeralds and the latest goings on at the Norfolk Darts and Social Club in Rosary Road to report on one of the biggest sports stories in the Evening News' history.

To be honest, I was bit like an inexperienced player once the big day arrived - nervous and a shade overwhelmed by it all - and all these years later my memories of City's victory over Sunderland are hazy to say the least. Many games I attended as a supporter in the 1970s remain a good deal clearer in my mind.

It certainly wasn't a classic, that's for sure. Norwich were the better side, and deserved to win, but there were long spells when nothing really happened at all.

But at least there are two incidents that do stick in the mind 25 years on.

Firstly there was the Norwich goal and the bizarre lead up to it, with Sunderland defender David Corner being robbed by John Deehan near the corner flag and the ball then rolling as if by magic along the goalline before it was pulled back for Asa Hartford to score via a huge deflection off Gordon Chisholm. Nobody seemed to know who to credit the goal to afterwards and it remained a matter of debate for years.

And then there was the penalty, which came from one of the most obvious, and completely unnecessary, handballs you are ever likely to see, from Dennis van Wyk. Thankfully for City another Walker - Clive - failed to even hit the target from the spot and, while the final minutes were nerve-racking, Ken Brown's side held out with the minimum of fuss to clinch the club's first, and so far only, major knockout trophy.

Afterwards, the sight of Mick Channon with his son on his shoulders, and fans of both clubs mingling happily outside Wembley, are images that remain clear - as does the memory of great club servant Greg Downs missing out altogether.

It was to be another 16 years before I started reporting on City's fortunes on a regular basis - and the only occasion that ever came close to matching my unexpected debut was the play-off final at Cardiff in 2002. What a shame Clive Walker wasn't playing for Birmingham that day.