Why Norwich City are better off than Championship stalwarts Ipswich Town
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Head of sport Chris Lakey takes a sideways look at the renewal of the East Anglian derby rivalry.
There may be those of a blue bent who believe there is a bit of egg on face of everyone associated with Norwich City Football Club.
Having gloated over promotion last year – an achievement made all the more satisfying because it involved disposing of Ipswich Town in the play-off semi-finals – City are quickly back in the Championship, with their country cousins.
It's a bit like the angry car driver who flashes a V-sign at a motorists – and then his car conks out. The eye of the storm reappears before his eyes. And so Ipswich Town fans will be waiting, fresh from drawing breath over the summer, to exhale another stream of Suffolk wit in a northerly direction.
But they might just do well to consider the positions of the two clubs before they start: because while Norwich City were relegated, they are still in a much better position than Ipswich Town.
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First of all, who was in the Premier League last season? Norwich, of course, while Ipswich were languishing in the second tier for yet another season – their 14th in a row. Is it not better to have gone up, enjoyed life at the top, and then come down, than to have moved not an inch?
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While Norwich can look back at a famous win at Old Trafford, Ipswich's highlight might be their 1-0 win at Brighton in December. Or was it five goals at Rotherham?
While City struggled in the Premier League, the crowds didn't waver: average attendance at Carrow Road remained high at 26,972 – at Ipswich, the fans can hardly be accused of embracing the Mick McCarthy ethos. The average crowd was not even 19,000.
Football isn't all about money – but for a club with 'poor' millionaire owners in Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones, Norwich City have a decent amount at their disposal: Premier League relegation comes with the comfort of a parachute payment to ease the blow. Ipswich have Marcus Evans' thousands. To his credit, McCarthy has done well to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear: give him money and who knows what might happen? But unless the owner's attitude changes, MM is going to have to mix and match.
And what of those managers?
McCarthy has been around the block, but that's the thing – he keeps going around the same block. Alex Neil is new to it all: six months in the Championship, a season learning in the top flight, and now a chance to give this season a good run-up. He's young, eager and, hopefully, has learned a bit.
The players? Both clubs need a clear-out. Neil will be sitting with his players this week to work out who stays and who goes – but there should be plenty to start working with. Can McCarthy say the same?
Perhaps he needs more: a magic formula maybe. While Ipswich may laugh at City coming down, at least they are trying to get a foothold in the top flight. It seems so far away for the Tractorboys that you wonder if they have just got stuck in the mud, destined never to return.
I can't say a spying mission to Portman Road has been on my agenda, but I'm guessing the atmosphere is at its best when Norwich play there – so that's something Ipswich can look forward to: the neighbourly gift of a nice, full house.
And favour number two: the trip to Carrow Road. What could be better than a day out in Norfolk? We have nice agreeable pitch announcements; no trampling on your blue shirt at Carrow Road.
There is of course the question of six points, possibly the most important issue of them all. Forget the joking, the mickey-taking and the unnecessary poking of the hornet's nest that is derby rivalry.
Games between Ipswich and Norwich can rarely be forecast with any great confidence. They are huge games and if both teams are in the promotion picture at the time, then they will be even more memorable.
And before I forget, as far as I am aware, Grant Holt won't be returning to Norwich City – at least Ipswich have that in their favour.
Joking aside, may the best team win. Again.