Ahead of the 101st East Anglian Derby, we spoke to Gavin Barber from Turnstile Blues on how they feel south of the Waveney. Charting the shift from dominating hubris in the early 2000's to hope tinged dread today.
I’d never claim to speak for all Ipswich fans, but I know I’m not alone in noticing a change to the way I react to the release of the fixture list. Looking for the Norwich fixtures used to be a task approached with an aggressive enthusiasm which bordered on lustful. “Where’s that Norwich fixture? Come on, where is it? My god, I want it”. Well, something like that.
Whereas now, finding out when we’re playing Norwich is more like a prisoner getting a date for a parole hearing. You know it’s got to happen, you know that something really really good might come of it, but you also know it’s more than likely to end in disappointment.
Ipswich, as everyone knows, have only beaten Norwich once since 1863 (or thereabouts), so the only Town fans who get child-on-Christmas-Eve-type excited about an East Anglian derby these days are either relentless optimists (not many of those in football at all, never mind at Portman Road), or those who really like seeing large numbers of police horses on a Sunday morning.
As an Ipswich fan, you have to be comfortably seated in the sort of demographic that gets YouTube flinging adverts for gardening equipment at you to have a half-decent stack of derby day memories. For me, the double over Norwich in the 1992-93 season stands out – a smash and grab raid at Carrow Road just before Christmas (live on Sky Sports, when that meant something outlandish and alien), and a 3-1 win at Portman Road towards the end of the season. We needed the points at that stage: we’d been bothering the top of the Premier League table around Christmas, only to turn the second half of the season into a relegation scrap. Sort of like Leicester are doing now, only in the course of a single season rather than two.
Later on in the 1990s, Norwich defenders developed a magnificent knack of scoring very late own-goal derby winners at Portman Road. This was an excellent habit and one which should probably be revived about now, what with the whole T2 Trainspotting vibe giving the 90s a bit of a cultural revival. I for one would certainly applaud such artistic statement from any member of the Norwich back line this Sunday.
A couple of years after another cherished memory – the 5-0 win at Portman Road in 1998 – there was also a very brief period in the early 2000s when Ipswich were not only in the Premier League, but doing very well in it, and Norwich were in all kinds of disarray. I even wrote an article for When Saturday Comes, contrasting the two clubs’ fortunes and trying not to be smug about it. Watch the hubris count to go right up to 11.
I’m not recalling these moments of Suffolk superiority on a Norwich website in any kind of attempt at goading, but merely to point out how distant they now seem. Even when Ipswich’s last derby victory, in 2009 (2009!!!!!!) sent Norwich into League One, City accelerated past Town shortly afterwards on their way back to the Premier League, and in some style too. Despite the received wisdom around local derbies, the East Anglian form book has proved markedly resistant to defenestration for the last 8 years.
Which all goes to indicate why, despite some recent improvement in Ipswich’s form, and some tentative steps towards a less agricultural style of football, Town fans won’t be approaching Sunday’s game with a huge amount of confidence. If we do get anything out of the game, it’ll likely be because of the increasingly dominant role that David McGoldrick is playing. Tom Lawrence has been grabbing the headlines, but he won’t be there on Sunday, and alongside him in recent weeks, McGoldrick has been returning to the form which saw Town fending off multi-million pound Premier League bids for him a couple of years ago. Whether the skill of McGoldrick – who, in Lawrence’s absence, is likely to be partnered by the nippy, determined, Freddie Sears – will be sufficient to break down the Norwich defence is a different question.
The Norwich player who I fear most on Sunday, and for the last few local derbies, is Wes Hoolahan. Earlier this season at Portman Road, in the 1-1 draw, Town gave a better account of themselves than many were expecting, and could perhaps have won the game, but Hoolahan was comfortably the best player on the pitch. Mick McCarthy is currently favouring a 3-5-2 formation – told you there was a 90s revival going on – which is so far going well, but is likely to leave the sort of gaps that Hoolahan can exploit.
I personally will be watching the game from somewhere other than Carrow Road, because being an away fan at a derby match isn’t much of a fun experience these days, unless you like getting up really early on a Sunday so that police officers can justify their overtime payments by herding you around like cattle. I’ve always genuinely enjoyed the rivalry between Ipswich and Norwich, and the extra edge that it brings, but much of the so-called “banter” between the two sets of supporters on derby day involves the expression of unpleasant values which are entirely unrelated to football, and quite frankly, if I want to hear someone attempting to legitimise aggressive misogyny, I can just turn on the TV news and get the latest from the White House.
I do, of course, reserve the right to go completely over-the-top loopy and delirious about the East Anglian derby, at some point in the future when Town start winning it again. I don’t think that point is going to arrive this Sunday, but – as I’ve demonstrated above – when it comes to the balance of power between Ipswich and Norwich, I’ve been quite spectacularly wrong in the past.