Down, down, Ipswich Town

This piece was published in the matchday programme for the game against Rotherham on 20 February 2021. The Norwich City programme is really great and it is worth subscribing imho. You can do that here.

I miss Ipswich Town. They’ve been out of our lives for a while now. After years of struggling to come out on top as the pride of Anglia, we’ve done it. They’re struggling with the likes of Accrington, and we’re back on the brink of the Premier League. We can’t stand the neighbours down the road, but I am starting to wonder if total victory is all it’s cracked up to be. Will we ever have another derby day? And what does their demise say about our part of the country, and the game itself?

We had a good run together, starting with the two legs of the Milk Cup semi-final and Steve Bruce wheeling away in celebration, and ending, to all intents and purposes, with the two legs of the play-off victory. The nervy 1–1s, the comprehensive thumpings. “Oh no! When are we ever going to beat them” and “Pacheco on the rebound! Five! One! At! Portman! Road!”. There’s been some amazing games. Ipswich being awarded a penalty in front of the Barclay, then having it taken away again, as City won 2–1 back in 1995. I was lucky enough to have witnessed Ipswich hero John Wark be sent off at Carrow Road.

We’ve had some bad times too. There’s some recency bias in my pining for the return of Town. Losing 5–0 at Portman Road was a low, low point. Losing — surrendering, really — 3–2 on our way to League One still gets me a little riled up. Losing against Ipswich is so upsetting, it is almost offensive. If you’ve been at a game we’ve lost, you can probably visualise now the gleeful fans in blue. It’s never nice, and, being our rivals, it has been fun to see them fade away into near-oblivion. The sight of the whole of Carrow Road joining in the “we’re going up, they’re going down” actions after Pukki scored our third in the win 2018/2019 almost felt like the final victory, the competition of the boss level,the end of the rivalry.

But something is missing without out. As strange as it sounds, I want Ipswich back.

It’s just not the same without them. Rivalries are good. Twice a season, we get something special. It’s not quite a cup game, it’s more than that. It’s definitely more than three points. Derby games float about the others, a moment of stress, intensity and worry. And then, hopefully, the sheer joy that comes from relief at not losing as the happiness of winning. Managers will sometimes play these games down in the week ahead, but we know they don’t mean it, and the players know they don’t mean it (just ask Jaime Cureton).

There really is nothing like looking across at the South Stand from the Barclay after a goal has gone in. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything with as much as passion as when we let out the first “Who are ya?” after we’ve gone ahead. Equally, there’s no feeling quite as low as looking across at gleeful Town fans going potty when they’ve stuck one in. (For the younger readers, you’ll have to take my word for it.)

But there are bigger reasons than selfishly wanting derby day back again. I love East Anglia. I am proud of being from our little bit of the country — and Suffolk is part of it too. I want Cambridge, and Lynn to do well. We’re looked at as out of the way, a bit irrelevant, a bit odd. As much as I want Norwich to be on top, it’s so grating to have the rest of England demean Anglia. Of course, that doesn’t mean I want Ipswich to do really well. But they’re doing so badly, it is embarrassing the whole region, and that just won’t do.

As much as we want to do better than Ipswich, we are all football fans, and one of the reasons for their demise is the idiocy of the financial imbalance in the game. Our victory in playoffs came at a fork in the road for the game as a whole.

We took the fork that gave us a substantial dividend in promotion, and in relegation, Ipswich took another step backwards. To compound that problem, the hit Ipswich have taken in League One — and the limitation of the salary cap situation — has made it even harder. Of course, Norwich are one of the best run clubs in the game, and Ipswich…. Well, Ipswich are not. But the lack of a level playing field hurts us in many ways too, and could hurt us even more in the future. It’s not something we should wish on our worst enemies.

In years to come, I will probably regret writing this, as Town in the Champions League or some such (stop laughing.) I am sure I wouldn’t be writing it if they weren’t in such desperate straits. I want Norwich to be comprehensively better off than Ipswich. But I don’t hate them, and I do miss them. Hopefully they’ll come back… just not too strongly.