Friday, 30 July 2010
The first league match for the Citizens saw them up against Beccles Caxton away on 27th September 1902. Happily, it ended in a 4-2 victory, thanks to goals from Bertie Playford, captain Bob Collinson and a brace from Jimmy Shields (in the only competitive game he ever played for Norwich City).
The next league match did not occur until the 15th November and it was the occasion of the very first encounter with Ipswich Town. A reported crowd of 1,700 people at Newmarket Road saw a 1-0 win to City, courtesy of a Fred Witham goal. Our third game of the campaign on 13th December was the return fixture which was again won, 2-1. It should be noted that matches in the Norfolk & Suffolk League were often weeks apart - in between Norwich City played friendly games.
An even bigger event than those meetings with Ipswich Town was the hugely awaited Norwich Derby, which took place on Boxing Day in front of 4,500 people. Norwich CEYMS were the well established and prominent football club in Norwich, and had been more than a little miffed at the formation of Norwich City, not least because it had cost them the services of a number of players and officials. City made it four wins out of four for the perfect start to league life, beating CEYMS 4-2 with Playford and Collinson both scoring twice. An indication of the needle surrounding this game may be illustrated by the fact that both of Collinson's goals came from second half penalties !
Early in the New Year, the Citizens were brought down to earth with a 7-0 drubbing at Kirkley. However a third place finish in their very first league season was considered a good start.
In 1903-04, they again finished in third place, once more behind Lowestoft Town who finished as champions, and runners up Kirkley. The only change in the make up of the Norfolk & Suffolk League that year was the introduction of Cromer FC in place of Beccles Caxton, who had finished the previous season with only a single point. Cromer followed suit in their first season by finishing bottom of the league, though they did secure 5 wins from 14 games in a very competitive division.
1904-05 was to prove to be a very special and dramatic year for Norwich City. They built on their two previous campaigns and by virtue of winning ten of their sixteen matches (Beccles Caxton re-entered the competition) were duly crowned Norfolk & Suffolk League champions. One hero was Herbert Vigar, who in his only season in blue and white halves netted 12 times. Significantly, they beat Lowestoft Town 3-1 away where Vigar scored twice. The only slight disappointment was a 1-0 away defeat to Ipswich Town on the last day of the season - though it should be said that Norwich had already secured the championship by then, and it was Ipswich's only ever win over Norwich in the Norfolk & Suffolk League.
The drama came in the form of an FA Commission investigation in December 1904 that looked into the financial affairs of the club. They were not alone, both Lowestoft and Kirkley were also put under the same examination. Even in those days, there was always a temptation to slip the odd payment to players in order to retain their services, help with travelling expenses, or even entice a star from another club. Norwich City were found guilty of being a professional business. Their continued presence in the Norfolk & Suffolk League was therefore put into question, though thankfully it was decided they could continue competing to the end of the season and duly lifted their first ever trophy after only three years in existence.
A way forward for the club needed to be found and a decision was soon taken that they should turn professional. At the end of the 1904-05 season they withdrew from the Norfolk & Suffolk League and on 30th May 1905, they were successful in gaining entry into the Southern League. The amateur days of Norwich City Football Club were over.
The Norfolk & Suffolk League had been formed in 1897 and continued until 1964-65 when it merged with the East Anglian League to form the Anglian Combination, which is still of course going strong to this day. It is interesting to note that all of the other main clubs in the area were established before Norwich City and were therefore much stronger in the early 1900's. Lowestoft Town were originally East Suffolk FC and were playing as early as 1884, and they won six of the first seven Norfolk & Suffolk championships. Lynn Town go back even earlier to 1879 and a club in the town had gone out of business before then. It is widely acknowledged that King's Lynn was the dominant place of East Anglian football at the time. They were N & S League champions eight times.
Great Yarmouth Town FC were formed in the same year as the Norfolk & Suffolk League and joined it straight away, becoming champions in 1913-14, 26-27 and 27-28. Gorleston Town joined soon after Norwich City left and were champions seven times up to 1921. Norwich CEYMS also go back to the late 1800's and they were champions in 1900 and 1907. Cromer Town had a year of glory in 1908-09, winning the Sterry Cup for finishing as champions. The trophy is still awarded to the top club now the competition is called the Anglian Combination, with the champions also qualifying for promotion to the Eastern Counties League.