Ipswich Town v Norwich City: East Anglian derby returns

By Chris OsborneBBC Sport
Norwich City and Ipswich Town players tussle
Norwich have won three of the last four East Anglian derbies
East Anglian derby: Ipswich Town v Norwich City
Venue: Portman Road Date: Saturday, 23 August Kick-off: 12:15 BST
Coverage: Full match commentary on BBC Radio Suffolk and BBC Radio Norfolk

Jamie Cureton's decision to dye his hair green for an East Anglian derby was a dangerous one. Having the audacity to score was just plain reckless.

"I got a bit of stick. I got spat at when retrieving a ball for a throw-in," he recalls of a game which his Norwich City side lost 2-1 at Portman Road in April 1996.

"Ipswich fans ran on the pitch at the end. It was a bit tasty. Scoring didn't help. I think I stood next to Ade Akinbiyi for protection."

It may be overshadowed by the rivalry of a Manchester derby, the emotion of a Merseyside encounter, or the tension of a Tyne-Wear clash, but Ipswich Town against Norwich City matters.

Separated by a 40-mile stretch of the A140, meetings between the sides are strange affairs.

It brings together two sets of fans who never see the whites of each others' eyes until match day comes around.

John Wark celebrates
John Wark is the East Anglian derby's leading scorer, with nine from 19 games, including a hat-trick in 1980

No genial banter around the office, no gentle ribbing in the local pub. Just nameless faces constituting the enemy, bringing their masses to your backyard every year or so.

"It's different because you can get away. If you've been at Ipswich you come back to Norwich and a safe territory," Cureton, whose East Anglian derby record stands at three goals from four games, told BBC Sport.

"People talk about the distance between them, but they still hate each other. It's intense. But you can get away.

"Norwich and Ipswich fans won't see each other for four or five months and then they give it as good as they can. On those days that you win, it makes a whole city happy."

But there has been a drought of derby delirium across the Norfolk-Suffolk divide recently. Town fans barely need reminding that the Canaries have spent the past three seasons revelling in the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

City's relegation in May cheered the blue army. Not only did they bathe in the schadenfreude of Norwich's demise, it signalled the return of the derby for the first time since April 2011.

Tale of the tape

John Wark, an Ipswich midfield legend if there ever was one, played numerous times for Liverpool against Everton.

His second of three spells at Portman Road coincided with the longest ever gap between derbies, stretching seven years from 1985 to 1992. The wait was unbearable.

"You missed it so much. The fans always talked about it," said Wark.

"Ipswich fans have been talking about it since Norwich were relegated.

"The Merseyside derby is bigger in terms of size. But I think the atmosphere at an Ipswich-Norwich derby is just as good."

Glasgow-born Wark is synonymous with the fixture, having scored nine times in 19 appearances across three different decades.

Instantly recognisable - the trademark moustache remains fixed to the upper lip - Wark is a hero to Town fans and a pantomime villain to those of a yellow and green persuasion.

"It's probably why whenever I go to Carrow Road I get a little bit of stick," he said.

"I've got the train to Norwich a few times and when you pull into Diss the abuse comes. But I can give as much as I can take."

Jamie Cureton scores for Norwich with green hair
Jamie Cureton scored in his first East Anglian derby in 1995 and a year later scored again, sporting green hair dye

The 1996 derby proved to be a sobering experience for Cureton, the striker who, at the age of 38, notched a 260th career goal for Dagenham & Redbridge this week.

Young and brash, the concept of antagonising the home crowd at Portman Road 19 years ago by spraying his hair green seemed like a good idea at the time.

In truth, it was a sign of how he needed to smarten up and mature. Which he did at numerous clubs before a Carrow Road return in 2007.

"It was maybe one of the reasons why I ended up leaving," said the Bristolian.

"I still had a carefree attitude. Fans at clubs after have asked me to dye my hair. I've played in a lot of derbies, so my hair would probably be falling out now if I had."

Both men recall the spoils of victory - days of having beers thrust into their hands by grateful supporters.

But the prospect of defeat is inconceivable.

"It's terrible. The worst one was at Carrow Road when I got sent off in a 3-0 loss," said Wark, who played more than 500 times for Town, recalling a 3-0 defeat in March 1995 that saw Cureton score the opener.

"I blamed myself. I was off and I couldn't help the team. I was gutted.

"It's an awful feeling, it lasts beyond the day of the game."

Cureton added: "I think I wised up. It was OK if you won. But not so much if you lost.

Big derby wins
Ipswich 1-5 Norwich, April 2011
Ipswich 5-0 Norwich, February 1998
Ipswich 4-0 Norwich, March 1978
Ipswich 5-0 Norwich, February 1977
Norwich 1-5 Ipswich, September 1947
Ipswich 5-0 Norwich, September 1946

"It's best to keep your head down and if we lost I would probably have stayed in that night."

A 40-month wait makes the craving for victory this weekend even greater - possibly even more so for Ipswich fans, who are still smarting from the 9-2 aggregate whitewash from 2010-11.

Norwich are reshuffling their pack after their departure from the top flight, with promotion an explicit aim.

Town boss Mick McCarthy has less expectation on his shoulders, particularly with a side constructed without barely spending a penny on transfer fees.

But maybe he can channel some of the derby magic of legendary former Ipswich boss Sir Bobby Robson.

A mentor to Wark, he presided over 21 encounters between the sides and lost just six.

"He would say 'if you want it, you've got the ability to win it'," the big Scot recalls. "And that's generally what happened."