Yes. Pinch yourself. It really did happen. The first leg of the UEFA Cupâ€™s second round saw the bookiesâ€™ predictions well and truly crushed as the Canaries soared towards the stratosphere.
And what a night it was. No matter how many times you watch Jeremy Gossâ€™s wÃ¼nderstrike, it still takes your breath away. Alright, so the footage may be a little old and a touch grainy, but the magic shines through. Rob Newmanâ€™s long ball sends Lothar MatthÃ¤us frantically backpedalling, hassled all the while by Mark Robins. As the German legendâ€™s weak defensive header hangs in the air, it feels – for a split-second – as if only Goss and the ball are in motion. The rest of the tableau sees Bayernâ€™s red-shirted defensive line almost statuesque against the brilliant emerald of the turf. The shot dips and falls, as if itâ€™s borne onward by some higher power. Between the posts, Raymond Aumann can do little other than helplessly spectate. It is this instant, more than any other in the campaign, that was Norwichâ€™s high-water mark; the moment that had them briefly dining at the top table of footballâ€™s elite. Indeed, the 20th of October 1993 saw them become the only English team ever to beat Bayern at their Olympiastadion.
Younger fans will be forgiven for doubting that Norwich â€“ these days seemingly the very embodiment of a yo-yo team â€“ could ever have reached such heights. The early 1990s, though, were their glory years. Minnows for much of their earlier history, the club only reached the First Division in 1972. Even then, it struggled to consistently maintain a place at the top. 1985 was a prime example of its fortunes: the sweet taste of a League Cup victory was embittered by relegation alongside fellow finalists Sunderland at the end of the season. City missed out in European involvement in the wake of this; although their Wembley triumph would have secured them UEFA Cup entry, following the Heysel disaster, all English sides were barred from continental competition. The ban was still in place in the 1988/89 season, when their finishing fourth would otherwise have assured them of European adventures. Fast forward to 1993, though, and the ban had been lifted, with Norwich pitted against the German giants in the second round.
So, how surprising was the result against Bayern Munich?
Unlikely â€“ yes, but probably not quite as improbable as the home team might have predicted. Goss himself recalls that â€˜thereâ€™s no doubt Bayern assumed it would be easy.â€™ Throughout much of the footballing world, the general consensus was that the home team would trounce the visitors. Norwich conceding a few goals was considered a safe bet and most pundits expected them to pursue a policy of damage limitation. City boss Mike Walker, though, didnâ€™t get the memo; the day before the game, Times columnist Martin Samuel recalls that â€˜…he [Walker] was telling anybody who would listen that he fancied it.â€™ Although they maintained an air of being newcomers, by the dawn of the 1990s, Norwich were ascendant. They reached the FA Cup semi-finals in both 1989 and 1992 and, having topped the newly formed Premier League for much of its inaugural season, finished in third place.
The passage of time has muddied memories of the first-round tie but, as an opening foray, Cityâ€™s convincing victory over Vitesse Arnhem demonstrated their credentials at this level. Twenty minutes of the second half saw goals from Efan Ekoku, Goss and John Polston which effectively put the tie to bed. Footage of the first leg reminds us of just how energetic the Canaries were in attack, and Ekokuâ€™s right-footed volley is sublime. In the second leg, Vitesse were held to a goalless draw in a game where Norwich never looked particularly troubled. However, it remains a match which is but a footnote to the epic encounter played out in Bavaria.
Seeing photographs of the teams lined up prior to the whistle, one cannot help but have a sense of a David versus Goliath-style contest. The mismatch is apparent through looking at the shirts alone: Bayern â€“ bedecked with the logo of motoring giant Opel (General Motorsâ€™ European cash-cow); Norwichâ€™s shirts sponsored by the lowly Norwich & Peterborough Building Society (a local concern that reflected their far lesser status). Bayernâ€™s trophy room, replete with four European victories and a dozen Bundesliga titles, was simply on a different plane; Norwichâ€™s two League Cup wins and a selection of title victories in lower divisions only served to highlight the disparity further. Added to this, were the individual talents with which the German side was littered: Aumann and MatthÃ¤us were in the World Cup winning squad in 1990. The former also possessed a European Championship winning medal from 1980; Thomas Helmer had been a runner up in the 1992 European Championship and Jan Wouters had been in the Dutch side that had triumphed at the 1988 version of the same. Then, there was Jorghino, who would go on to earn a World Cup winnersâ€™ medal with Brazil in 1994.
Norwich had no such honours.
Nevertheless, going into the match, they were in second place in the domestic table (seven points behind eventual league winners Manchester United) and were on an unbeaten run of nine matches in all competitions. Norwich were a good team and one that it seems were clearly underestimated by many of Bayernâ€™s coaching staff. Indeed, it was only Uli HoeneÃŸ â€“ the clubâ€™s general manager â€“ who sounded a cautionary tone, pointing to Cityâ€™s particular strength when playing away from home. The remainder, though, seemed to regard the fixtureâ€™s outcome as a foregone conclusion. Indeed, goalkeeper Bryan Gunn remembers how â€˜there was an air of arrogance about them [the Bayern management]. We used that as a stimulus.â€™
As it was, the first goal exploited a key shortcoming in Bayernâ€™s defence. Simply put, MatthÃ¤us was past his prime and a yard off the pace. Walker had claimed that the German legend simply â€˜wasnâ€™t good enoughâ€™ and saw him as a weakness to be exploited. Newmanâ€™s targeting of him with the long ball was therefore a masterstroke; it was his inability to meet the pass that effectively put the volley on a plate for Goss. Less than twenty minutes later, Mark Bowenâ€™s far post header doubled the score line and City were in dreamland. The German team pegged one back at the 40-minute mark and, unsurprisingly, the second half saw Bayern in full attacking mode. Norwichâ€™s aim from that point was simple: to see out the game while protecting their precious away-goal advantage. And protect it they did. Gunn made a series of magnificent saves â€“ the most notable denying Adolfo Valencia of a certain goal which meant the Canaries had the advantage going into the return fixture.
John Motson famously commented that, â€˜this is almost like fantasy football,â€™ after Bowen made the score 2-0. The second leg, however, proved that the away result had been no mere flash-in-the-pan: Norwich were contenders. Though they fell behind to an early Valencia strike, the East Anglian side maintained their discipline and were justly rewarded in the 51st minute. A ball in from Bowen found three of his teammates pitted against a trio of their counterparts. Sutton rose, drawing the full backs to the near post and, once again, it was Goss who was on hand to score the vital goal. As he reeled away in celebration, the German defence were left arguing amongst themselves. Despite a few heart-in-the-mouth moments in the closing stages, the score remained the same and Norwich advanced to the next round of the competition on a 3-2 aggregate.
Where Bayern underestimated the Canaries, Inter Milan made no such mistake. A scrappy encounter at Carrow Road saw the inimitable Goss hitting the crossbar before a young Dennis Bergkamp slotted away a penalty in the 80th minute to secure victory for the Italian side. The second leg on the 8th of December at the San Siro told a similar story. Norwich were not without chances â€“ Ekoku, in particular, coming very close â€“ but Bergkamp once again proved the difference, scoring the decisive goal in the 88th minute. While the Yellows had dared to dream of going all the way, this was a match that stopped such wistfulness dead in its tracks.
Could the story have been different?
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see how supporters can get swept up in such circumstances. However – on balance – Inter were convincing victors in both legs. They went on to win the competition that year and, with Bergkampâ€™s 8 goals, possessed the tournamentâ€™s joint top scorer. In many respects, there was a quiet sense of inevitability about the outcome of the third-round tie. Throughout the 1980s and the first half of the nineties, the status of Serie A as the worldâ€™s preeminent league was irrefutable. It had the most money and clubs could therefore afford to fill their rosters with overseas superstars. Where Norwich defeating Bayern had been unthinkable, the idea of them beating Inter was probably marginally less likely. That said, though, UEFA success aside, the Italian clubâ€™s domestic form during the season in question was poor. With a little luck, a higher crossbar and some more clinical finishing a different tale might have been toldâ€¦
But did it matter in the long run?
Probably not. Once the heartache had dissipated there were those who reflected how unlikely it was that anything could have topped that Munich night. It is a golden moment enshrined in folklore and is surely tattooed upon the brains of all those fans who witnessed it. To all intents and purposes, the second-round match was the de facto European final the club had always dreamed of.
The story for City ever since has been one of declining fortunes. These days they are a club that seems to fluctuate between the top two tiers of English football without ever threatening to attain the heights reached in the mid-1990s again. Having peaked in late 1993, the decline was swift. A mere month after the Inter game, Walker was gone; his success at Norwich paved the way for him taking the reins at Everton. In his wake went so many of the players who had contributed so much to the clubâ€™s success. While their transfer fees seem paltry in the modern era, they were significant amounts at the time, therefore proving just how good the team had been. Ruel Fox went to Newcastle for Â£2.25m; Chris Sutton was transferred to Blackburn for Â£5m; Ekoku moved to Wimbledon for a shade under Â£1m, and Robins joined Leicester City for the same price. By seasonâ€™s end in 1994, Norwich had slumped to a 12th place finish. Bayern Munich, in contrast, revived their fortunes after their UEFA Cup defeat and went on to win the Bundesliga that season. At the time of writing, they have gone on to win four subsequent European titles.
In many respects, events in Munich represent a bygone era. Where such an upset felt virtually impossible then, in the modern age, the chances of a similar occurrence are infinitesimal. These days, serious European contenders are populated with a smorgasbord of international superstars; back then, Norwichâ€™s players were all British. Motson summed up their appeal by highlighting the teamâ€™s ethic forged by utilising â€˜â€¦loyal, unsung players.â€™Â The gulf now existent between big clubs and provincial outfits is clearly evidenced by the way the millions poured into the club by TV chef Delia Smith now look insignificant when viewed alongside Gulf investment elsewhere.
The idea that such an improbable event will, in all likelihood, not be repeated is a sad indictment of the modern game. However, until things change, we can always console ourselves with sweet memories of that night at the Olympiastadion when the uncaged Canaries touched the sky.