Leading up to derby day Jon Punt takes a look at whether it's really worth hating them lot down the road that much...
The Barclay’s defiant roar of ‘We only hate Wolves and Ipswich’ often rings round Carrow Road, usually serving to confuse me as to the purpose of the song. Is it the fact we’re a friendly club who only reserve our loathing for those deserving of scorn, or are the two clubs mentioned just really that bad? Our recent spats with Leeds, Aston Villa, any team managed by Neil Warnock or even the Robbie Cowling inspired flirtation with disliking Colchester during our time in League One suggest otherwise. It seems we’re pretty adept at picking fights with other clubs when in direct competition with them, especially if they hold a sense of superiority over us.
The thing is, I can only muster up an intense dislike for our neighbours down the A140 for 2 weeks every year. If you remove the anticipation and dread that accompanies derby day I’m left with only a sense of feeling slightly sorry for the self-styled Tractor Boys. I just don’t get the hype about our rivalry anymore. They’re nothing more than an irrelevance, sent only to mildly annoy rather than frustrate.
I realise I’m in the minority. The mindless jokes about swathes of empty blue plastic seats do nothing for me, in fact I understand the apathy Ipswich fans must feel towards their team. 15 years of drudgery, served up on a cold plate of disappointment will always mean attendances go only one way. The fact our season ticket sales are so strong is largely based on the premise we’ve had some excitement to look forward to at 3pm on Saturday afternoons. If Norwich continued to dwindle in the Championship wilderness like our ‘friends’ of a blue and white persuasion have I’m pretty sure you’d see many of our supporters choosing to spend £500 on an alternative form of entertainment every year. It’s understandable, they’re down to only the hardcore of their fanbase now attending matches, and even they are questioning whether it’s really worth it.
Maybe some of the sympathy I feel towards them is based on Big Mick. Whatever your thoughts on his mind numbingly dire brand of hoofball, there’s no denying the fact he’s a genuine and honest character, well respected in the game for good reason. His teams aren’t pretty, expansive or remotely watchable, but they usually achieve more than the sum of their parts. Very few managers would have plucked a Freddie Sears or a Cole Skuse out of obscurity, even fewer would make them respectable Championship performers. On a shoestring McCarthy is ensuring Ipswich punch above their financial weight, as much as Blues’ fans don’t like it. Controversial as it might be, I’d even go as far as to say if he was in charge of the current City squad we’d be contenders at the top end of the league.
Of course, there are good reasons to pity them, but some introspection might leave you thinking we’re not so different. Norwich fans will point to the Blues’ obsession with the past, yet when any English team visits Munich in a competitive tie you can guarantee social media will be awash with pictures of Gossy, in full Daniel-son Karate Kid pose, sticking it to the German giants. If Norwich hadn’t had it so good, for so long, I reckon we’d be looking back on the late 80s and early 90s with rose tinted spectacles too, its natural human behaviour to long for days gone by when all the present provides you with is utter interminable shite.
And then there was the Mind the Gap nonsense. Did we really take so much offence at a couple of teenagers pointing at a piece of painted concrete? They’d lived in our shadow for so long they probably deserved a couple of days in the sun.
When you look at it objectively, there’s not much between the two clubs. Similar sized stadia, some level of history to be proud of and a hardcore of support that stays with them through thick and thin. Yes, they’re stadium currently is too big for them, but better days will probably return at some point. Football is cyclical, just as we’ve been the dominant force in the East of England for what seems like an age, Town will have the wood over us in the future. It’s just the natural order of things and I’m ok with it, that’s football.
Don’t get me wrong, as I take my seat on Sunday, mildly terrified the law of averages is about to catch up with us, I will despise every player and every fan wearing blue and white. I will mock their stupid 3 stars above their crest and revel in the fact we can be proud of our home grown twins, while theirs are only worthy of ridicule. If Norwich manage to scuff a last minute winner off Steven Whitaker’s backside I’ll probably celebrate as hard as I did at Wembley. On derby day it really does mean everything. But as the dust settles, when bragging rights are decided for another few months, Ipswich will just go back to being that irrelevance down the road.