The Old Farm: a yardstick for Norwich City
To some, the rivalry is quaint; two teams more than an hour apart in some sleepy rural backwater. It fails to evoke the same feeling as a heated Merseyside derby or the recent turnover in North London. But when Norwich host Ipswich, live on the BBC this Sunday, Matt Wallace recommends that you tune in.
The old cliché says form goes out the window, and this is likely to suit both teams. Norwich have won only once in their last eight games, though they’ve drawn five of those and surrendered winning positions in three, while Ipswich are in a particularly poor run of form having lost three in a row. But nothing stirs the blood like a local rivalry and with snow forecast across the country, they’ll be happy for the raised temperature.
Last year was an odd one for Norwich fans. No derby games meant a replacement rivalry with Colchester sprang up. It was good while it lasted – 7-1 to Colchester on the opening day and Norwich stealing the best young manager in the country from them before gaining a measure of revenge with a 5-0 win in the return fixture (while former Norwich youth product Ian Henderson managed to get himself sent off almost immediately after coming on).
It passed the time for the Canaries as they coasted back to the Championship, increasingly bemused at the crazed rants of Colchester chairman Robbie Cowling demanding compensation, a points deduction, then a points penalty at the start of this season. But it wasn’t the real thing.
Last year was odd for Ipswich too. Maybe it was the expectation that held them back, but a bizarrely slow start put paid to any promotion hopes they had all too early, and they only showed signs of the team they could be in the back end of the season. To all outside Suffolk, it looked like some players just didn’t want to be there.
But this year, things are back on track. Both teams have had good starts, if a little inconsistent, and there is parity between the teams that a few didn’t quite expect with Norwich spending a year in League One. Ipswich have made a song and dance about their supposed financial backing from Marcus Evans, but that is yet to translate past Roy Keane’s wages and a couple of Championship standard signings.
As things stand, the two sides are on an even keel, and a victory this Sunday would show exactly how far Norwich have come since Paul Lambert took over. A defeat would highlight for far they still need to go.
The fact that it’s the biggest match of Norwich’s season is backed up by an expected record attendance, beating the recent game against Leeds which itself was the biggest gate in 26 years, and the fourth biggest crowd in England that day behind Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool.
One man set to join the crowd this weekend is Paul Lambert, on the receiving end of a two-match touchline ban for speaking the truth about embryonic referee Michael Oliver’s dreadful decision to send off Grant Holt. While that red card was rescinded, the subsequent loss of two points is something Norwich won’t get back and Lambert dealt with the incident with his customary poise, labelling it pathetic.
True as it may be, the Scot will watch from the stands alongside the Norwich supporters as they hope their TV hoodoo doesn’t return. Appalling red cards against Reading, Tranmere and MK Dons in the last twelve months alone have cost points. Norwich fans do not welcome the TV trucks.
But to see how much the fixture means, you just have to see what it brings out of players not from the region. Darren Huckerby, who now runs a Norfolk and Norwich based charity, was quite entertainingly sent off after scything down Ipswich’s Jon Walters in what he called the only tackle he made in sixteen years, and has spent much of the last week winding up rival fans on Twitter.
He continues to endear himself, as if necessary, to Norwich fans by repeatedly ending tweets with the hashtag #slapthescum and generally mocking everything to come out of Ipswich. A true adopted Canary, he said the East Anglian Derby was up there with the Mancunian equivalent for atmosphere.
And then there’s Fabian Wilnis, the retired Dutch full-back who spent most of his career at Ipswich. After Norwich began to run away with the old Division One title in 2003/04, Wilnis unleashed a stinging attack which caused some idiotic City fans to threaten the poor bloke.
A reminder, perhaps, that as fun and ferocious as derby games are, they still are only games. And in this sleepy backwater, Norwich and Ipswich fans are usually lucky enough to treat them as such.