I hate the derby.
There… I’ve said it.
It’s an age thing of course, and on the off chance there is a teenager reading this right now, he/she will be incredulous at anyone not positively salivating at the prospect of engaging with ‘that lot’ again.
Social media this week has been brimming full of #NCFC folk counting down the days, hours and minutes until Big Mick’s boys roll into town; the same folk positively itching to take the first ‘bantz’ potshot of the weekend.
I no longer ‘get it’. I used to. But not now.
I cringe every time I see a ‘bring it on’ tweet. My heart sinks every time I hear we’re going to hammer them. The sphincter twitches every time I see someone in yellow and green giving it large to someone in blue and white.
Like I said, in days gone by I was all for it. Part of it. The recklessness of youth saw no downside to letting those from the south have it with both barrels.
In my dotage, I can only see downsides. Loads of them.
These days the pre-match powder is kept as dry as a bone.
Why? Well, as the years have ticked away I’ve become the opposite of battle-hardened. Battle-softened I guess. And the more time that passes with the bragging rights being held north of the border the worse that gets. [Brazil got to keep the Jules Rimet trophy for winning the World Cup three times – shouldn’t we get to keep the bragging rights after eight seasons unbeaten?].
Defeat by the old enemy should be easier to take as the years pass but then City go on a nine-derby unbeaten run and defeat – and the pain that goes with it – has become something of a distant memory. And that’s made it harder.
We know the worst is going to happen at some point… the waiting is (kind of) agony.
Quite whether this knot in my stomach would be quite so pronounced if we were used to winning a few, drawing a few and losing a few I somehow doubt, but the longer this run continues, the doubts and fears increase.
Irrational, yes. Idiotic, probably. But such is the lot of a City supporter in these weirdly successful derby times.
And maybe that’s the rub.
Because it hasn’t always been this way. Far from it. My formative years were riddled with derby-day pain; the ecstasy of victory was an emotion enjoyed sparingly. And part of my initiation – as it transpires – was a 4-0 defeat at Portman Road in 1978, which was about as brutal as a derby-day experience can get.
As we lived in ‘the sticks’ near Halesworth, my dad, for a reason unknown at the time, decided we would go to Portman Road on a bus from said town that was not intended for away supporters. He also decided we would stand with the home supporters (something to do with getting back to the bus, which wouldn’t wait for the City fans to be released from their North Stand ‘pen’).
Portman Road in 1978 was a far cry from the empty, soul-less echo chamber it is today and in the midst of the Bobby Robson era and with modest, compact stands on three sides of the ground, it generated what is known in the trade as an atmosphere.
That schoolboy – who ironically stood in the area at the front of the Cobbold Stand near where away fans are located today (it was a standing area then) – was, in truth, a little intimated. What made it worse was that Bobby Robson’s Ipswich were better than John Bond’s Norwich. A lot better on the day.
A 90-minute dissection of City defence on an industrial scale left its mark. To this day I can still see David Jones and Tony Powell floundering against Paul Mariner and Eric Gates. Just to sit here at my desk and contemplate it rekindles that gnawing pain in the gut. Even Mick Mills scored!
If watching it all unfold among the dim, guffawing and whooping locals wasn’t bad enough, we then had to endure the coach trip home amidst more celebrating, gurning and undiluted pi$$-taking. For an odd reason, they seemed to assume we were unaware of the score and needed reminding of it.
As you can tell, the scars remain.
In the years that followed I exacted my revenge at every given opportunity, but always on the premise that whatever I dished out would always be returned with interest. And as the years pass, the skin it seems has become thinner.
Some will no doubt be telling me to ‘grow a pair’. Maybe they’re right. But in the cyclical world of football Ipswich Town will beat us again and nine years of hurt will be unleashed on us. And, despite the bravado of some, it could happen on Sunday.
So, forgive me if I save any celebrating or banter until after the game, if indeed victory is to be ours. I’m one of the ‘been there and done it’ brigade.
The young and fearless will learn… eventually.