Norwich City have a better record against Manchester United in the FA Cup than you might imagine. A far better record. United won the first tie between the two clubs in 1906 easily, 3-0 at their old Bank Street ground; they won the last time the clubs met in the cup in 1994, Eric Cantona and Roy Keane doing the business at Carrow Road. But in between, there were three other meetings … and Norwich won them all.
January 1959: United, en route to a second-place finish in the league, are stuffed by third-tier Norwich in the third round. Terry Bly is the two-goal hero of a 3-0 shock in the Carrow Road snow. The legendary John Arlott was in the stand, reporting for the Observer. “The East Anglian roar, which had risen through defiance and hope to expectation, ended in a bugle of exultation. It wasn’t merely a famous, but a well-won, victory.” City made it all the way to the semis, before losing narrowly to Luton Town of the First Division.
February 1967: United are on their way to the league championship this time. But there would be no double. After 26 minutes of a fourth-round tie at Old Trafford, Don Heath romped clear, drew Alex Stepney, and slotted home. “It made me feel ten feet tall,” he grinned afterwards. Denis Law equalised with a characteristically impudent flick, but after 65 minutes Gordon Bolland intercepted a poor Nobby Stiles backpass and City, fourth from bottom of the Second Division, went through. “Anyone will do in the next round,” trilled Canaries boss Lol Morgan. “If you can beat United, you can beat anyone!” Sure enough, they were dispatched 3-1 at home by Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round.
February 1991: United are holders now … but not for much longer. A fifth-round tie at Carrow Road is level after an hour, Robert Fleck and Brian McClair having exchanged goals. At which point substitute Ruel Fox … and here we allow the legendary David Lacey to pick things up … “emerged from between two hoardings advertising somebody’s poultry and treated Alex Ferguson’s defence like a hen-coop.” Within three minutes Fox had sent Dale Gordon clear on goal. He slotted the winner past Les Sealey. The combination nearly paid off again eight minutes later, but this time Gordon hit a post. City were beaten by eventual finalists Nottingham Forest in the sixth round.
Norwich, then, have history on their side. On the other hand, they’re currently rock bottom of the Premier League having lost their last three matches, while in-form United are on a 13-match unbeaten spree, and they’ve won seven of the last eight meetings between the clubs. So make what you will of all that, but remember that in the FA Cup anything can happen, and often does. A place in the semi-finals is up for grabs, and will be decided today, even if there must be penalties. It is, my dearest MBM friends, on!
Kick off: 5.30pm BST.