21 April ~ “Mustn't grumble. Could be worse” is the type of answer that my Dad's generation of Suffolk people will characteristically give to the question “How are you?” It would be a fair summation of Ipswich Town's season too. Town go into the East Anglian derby sitting exactly in mid-table: mathematically safe from relegation and with no realistic chance of reaching the play-offs. Could be worse: many Town fans would argue that it should be better.

For evidence of their own side's underachievement they'd point 40 miles north and nine places up the league table towards tonight's high-flying opponents, Norwich City. It's easy to forget that Norwich were in League One last season, so effortlessly have they made the transition back to the Championship. Despite a couple of recent wobbles, automatic promotion remains a strong possibility for Paul Lambert's team, a fact which gives a distinct edge to Thursday's clash.

The Ipswich-Norwich rivalry works because it's genuinely reciprocal: each club is the prime focus of the other's resentment. There are no distractions in the way that, say, the Liverpool-Everton derby became overshadowed by Liverpool-Man Utd during the 1990s.

It also works because the two clubs have more in common than the respective sets of supporters would care to admit: each is situated in the middle of a large rural county and the size of the fanbases are comparable (I will note at this point that Norwich's recent attendances have been higher, to save their supporters the trouble of posting it as a comment). Each club has tended to find a natural level somewhere between the top two divisions (at which point I'm contractually obliged to note that only one of the two clubs has a League title, an FA Cup and a UEFA Cup to its name, and it's not the one that Stephen Fry tweets about).

2011-12 will be Ipswich's tenth consecutive season in the second tier of English football; should Preston get relegated next month, Town will become the second longest-serving side in the division. During that time, Norwich have been up to the Premier League, stopped off to resume local rivalry on their way down to League One, and returned again to the Championship. If Ipswich can put a dent in their chances of making another upward move, it will go some way to redeeming what has been a generally frustrating season. Could be worse. Gavin Barber

Comments (8)
Comment by hullabaloo 2011-04-21 12:43:53

Just so that we don't have any N*rwich fans posting first about the reference to recent attendances...

Yes, they are bigger than ours (ITFC) at the moment. But, and you might need to read this slowly to take this in, we have generally, over the years, been better supported than you. Largely on account of being a bigger and more successful club of course.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-04-21 13:35:47

When I walk around Lincoln or London I see far more Norwich shirts than I ever do Ipswich. Probably because they were in Europe when football really took off. Not really scientific but attendances are a bit more, however that is discredited for some reason.

Nice to see you doing the old Liverpool thing of arguing about the present with things that happened years ago. I was on a stadium tour of Anfield when the guide said that facilities are not as good as Arsenal or Man Utd, "but we have our history and you can never take that away". I feel as sorry for Ipswich fans like hullabaloo as I did for that young lady.

Comment by Arturo 2011-04-21 16:25:13

Lincoln, the big rise in attendances is actually something that's only happened in the last decade. Even after Europe, the crowds bottomed out somewhat thanks to the nadir of the Robert Chase years (worth a thread in itself one day). The rise is mainly due to a lot of groundwork by the club over the years (especially our former CEO Andrew Cullen) which saw 'Kids for a £1' nights, prices kept low, and direct debits for season tickets which was a rare thing at that time. It's taken a lot of work (and helped also by our brief stint back in the Premier League) but it's certainly been worth the effort.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-04-21 17:22:34

This is true, but I was seperating the two strands as Hullaballo has. Attendances were dispensed as being significant so I didn't really focus on them and didn't intend to make the point they rose due to trips to Bayern and Inter.

The incentives for season ticket uptake were good with 3 season offers and Neil Doncaster, now chief exec in Scotland, should recieve praise for that. However I was pointing out that there are seemingly more Norwich fans when you look around places.

It is all pretty much irrelevant anyway because presently Norwich are in the better position, historically Ipswich have had more sucess. Except in the league cup. The argument over who is bigger is subjective

Comment by double hipness 2011-04-21 20:50:15

@hullabaloo Is that strictly true?
Historically what's Ipswichs highest average attendance for a season and how does that compare with say, Norwich's?

But as Lincoln rightly says, what happened in the past is pointless .

Comment by Janik 2011-04-22 08:54:47

I'm sure it is. He would have checked such a claim, before making it.
Ipswich are not 'bigger' than Norwich by any sensible measure, the clubs occupy exactly the same level in the English football hierachy, and I get the impression they are thought of by non-East Anglians as basically interchangable entities (such people are often suprised when they discover just how bitter the enmity is). But the more historically successful claim is justified, and given that Ipswich once managed a decade when they had a succesion of teams that were serious competitors for trophies, that they got high attendances in that period is perfectly logical. If Norwich have ever been consistently in possesion of sides as good, then that gap wouldn't exist.

Comment by cc82 2011-04-22 16:07:52

No distracting presence to overshadow the rivalry?

Norwich have had Colchester and Ipswich have had Roy Keane.

Comment by double hipness 2011-04-22 19:37:05

I think Janik calls it right with regard the level each club is/was at and the facts (rather than rose tinted memories of past glories) kinda prove that with regard to attendances.
Since the war Ipswich's average has been better in 33 seasons and Norwich's (after this season) will have been better 32 times.

I think the pride Norwich fans have with regard to their current crowds is more to do with how they've been unaffected by relegations and a fall to their lowest league position for over 50 years. A combination of loyalty and the marketing Lincoln touched on, undertaken by the club over the past decade would seem to be the reason for that.

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