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Fan Zone: Renewed rivalry with Leeds brings back great memories

PUBLISHED: 17:00 17 December 2018

Anthony McNamee, left, and Simon Lappin, right, congratulate Chris Martin on his late Carrow Road winner against Leeds in 2010 Picture: Archant library/Andy Darnell

Anthony McNamee, left, and Simon Lappin, right, congratulate Chris Martin on his late Carrow Road winner against Leeds in 2010 Picture: Archant library/Andy Darnell

Archant © 2010

This is an exciting time for every Norwich City fan, but for our Fan Zone writer Lee Payne it’s extra special.

In 2010, I started a sports journalism degree in Essex. I was going to classes with a group of guys I did not know from Adam. I’ve always said that football is a fantastic ice breaker when meeting new people – it establishes a rapport and gives you something new to talk about every week. So most of us introduced ourselves by saying which team we supported.

There was a Manchester United fan, a Chelsea fan and an Aston Villa fan. At the time I was sitting there with my Norwich season ticket hidden away in my wallet, not feeling much in common at all with these guys who followed Premier League teams. Norwich had just been promoted from League One.

Also in the group was – that rarest of things – an Ipswich Town supporter, and a Leeds United fan. Feeling much happier alongside fellow Championship followers, I proudly showed the Leeds fan my season ticket.

That Leeds fan became my closest friend at university, and I think it was football that started it. Of course, we met just after Norwich and Leeds had been in a League One title battle, and in that first year of knowing each other our two teams drew both league meetings.

Chris Martin battling with future Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson during City's 1-0 win over Leeds in March 2010 Picture: Archant library/Andy DarnellChris Martin battling with future Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson during City's 1-0 win over Leeds in March 2010 Picture: Archant library/Andy Darnell

City ended up being promoted to the top flight, while Leeds just missed out on the play-offs. The next few years consisted of my friend complaining about how rubbish his lot were and me gloating that we were buying their best players, such as Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass.

By the time our clubs faced each other again – after Norwich had been relegated in 2014 – we had finished our courses more than a year before. The two clubs were now in the same league, but worlds apart in terms of their aspirations. Leeds were going through managers like they were going out of fashion, toiling around the middle of the table, while Norwich were always looking upwards and were promoted again through the play-offs.

Everything has changed this year. This is exactly what my friend and I have been waiting for in the eight years we have known each other. Norwich and Leeds are sitting pretty in the automatic promotion places as Christmas Day approaches, with a gap opening up between us and the rest. The next five months are going to be fun, whatever happens.

With the season only halfway through, it feels premature to say that the Championship is a shootout between the Canaries and the Yorkshire giants, but it seems to be heading that way. On Saturday, the two sides swapped positions at the top after City’s disappointing performance brought only a draw at Bristol City, and I think that this will happen quite a lot between now and May.

Norwich players scramble the ball clear during the March 2019 victory over Leeds at Carrow Road Picture: Archant library/Andy DarnellNorwich players scramble the ball clear during the March 2019 victory over Leeds at Carrow Road Picture: Archant library/Andy Darnell

Leeds caught the eye when they managed to lure the internationally renowned coach Marcelo Bielsa to the club in the summer, and with a gameplan of very high intensity he has got the squad playing better than they have done in years.

They remain the only team that I think have actually outplayed Norwich so far this season. Leeds genuinely look like they could soon be playing Premier League football for the first time since 2004.

In September I wrote a column just after the East Anglian Derby saying that the future looked bleak for Norwich and Ipswich. It turns out I was only half right. It is a testament to the City players and the hard work of Daniel Farke that we find ourselves where we are at this stage. No one really saw it coming and that has made it all the more enjoyable.

I’ve waited a long time for Norwich and Leeds to be in this kind of position, and fingers crossed that they can maintain it in the second half of the season.

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