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One game we'll be glad to see back of

PUBLISHED: 10:57 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:25 02 July 2010

David Cuffley

Things must be getting pretty serious ahead of Saturday's East Anglian "derby" if Colchester United fans have been asked to report to the ground over the next few days with shovels and wheelbarrows.

Things must be getting pretty serious ahead of Saturday's East Anglian “derby” if Colchester United fans have been asked to report to the ground over the next few days with shovels and wheelbarrows.

U's chairman Robbie Cowling has made no secret of his club's determination to root out any Norwich City supporters found in home areas during the League One fixture at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, but disposing of them in this fashion may be taking things a bit far.

Joking aside, assuming the U's army of fans and allotment holders can shift the snow from the playing surface - they could always borrow the braziers from Walsall - this is one local showdown surrounded by so much bad feeling that it might best be described as nervously awaited rather than eagerly anticipated.

To call it a grudge match may be something of an understatement. The acrimonious atmosphere of the past five months should guarantee that this one has more needle than Cleopatra.

It could make some of City's more spicy encounters with Ipswich Town seem like friendlies in comparison.

In case anyone has been out of the country since August, it was the biggest home defeat in the Canaries' history - 7-1 at the hands of Colchester on the opening day of the season - that triggered off the sequence of events that has so infuriated the Essex club, and led to a bitter dispute that has still not been resolved.

The sacking of Bryan Gunn and manager Paul Lambert's switch to Norwich, just 10 days after presiding over that remarkable Colchester victory, was only the start of the saga. He took his backroom team of Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa with him and, three months after the event, by which time City's recovery under Lambert was so dramatic that they were breathing down Colchester's necks in the league table, Cowling decided to take the dispute to the Football League, reporting the Canaries and their management team for breach of League regulations and misconduct, as well as demanding compensation and a points deduction.

One is tempted to ask why it took three months to register this protest with the League and whether Colchester may have overlooked what they perceived to be Norwich's rule-breaking had they received the kind of compensation they wished for from Carrow Road. If so, it rather undermines their high moral stance.

Or perhaps the sound of Norwich's hooves thundering up behind them - en route to overtaking them at the halfway stage of the promotion race - had made them nervous.

But whether Colchester's motivation is justice or revenge, nearly all the talk in this dispute has come from one direction with Cowling saying he “would rather see an empty seat than an away supporter” at Saturday's game and that he “has never wanted to win a game of football so badly”.

City have said as little as possible, but the latest controversy over their ticket allocation - as much the Colchester chairman's comments as the decision over the allocation itself - has merely served to raise the temperature ahead of the game itself.

Yet, on the face of it, both clubs seem to have come out of the managerial changes pretty well.

Colchester have continued to prosper, ironically under new manager Adrian Boothroyd, who many felt may have topped City's wanted list in August given his Colney connections and his success at Watford.

Boothroyd has had one major setback, but believes that Colchester's 7-0 defeat at Preston in their last match, in the FA Cup third round, was as much of a freak as their 7-1 Carrow Road victory.

“The best way to put that right is to go out and smash somebody,” he said this week - fighting talk but no mean task against a side with just one defeat in the last 18 league games.

The football disciplinary commission has, thankfully, yet to sit - a decision before the match would only have made the atmosphere worse - but privately, I reckon both clubs will be glad to get this game out of the way and get on with the rest of their season.

But whatever happens on Saturday, or at the Football League hearing, I'm perfectly confident City have what it takes to finish above Colchester.

t THE GRUDGE ENCOUNTERS

t Saturday, Dec 6, 1975 (Division One)

Norwich 1, West Ham 0: Ted MacDougall was unpopular as a player at West Ham after a punch-up in the showers with Billy Bonds following a 4-1 defeat at Leeds. He got his revenge with a late winner at Carrow Road and saluted the Hammers' bench accordingly. He also rugby-tackled a West Ham fan who ran on the pitch in a game marred by serious crowd violence. MacDougall scored the winner again later in the season at Upton Park, where he was pelted with eggs.

t Saturday, Apr 4, 1981 (Division One)

Norwich 2, Manchester City 0: Six months after walking out on the Canaries for the brighter lights of Maine Road, manager John Bond returned with his new team, but they were sent packing by a Mick McGuire goal and a John McDowell penalty. It was the Canaries' first win over Manchester City for 17 years.

t Monday, Apr 8, 1985 (Division One)

Norwich 0, Ipswich 2: Terry Butcher, a self-confessed Norwich hater, kicked a hole in the dressing room door after his side's Milk Cup semi-final defeat at Carrow Road. But he was back a month later to score one of the goals in an Easter Monday victory that ultimately helped keep Town up and send City down. Happily, the two clubs swapped divisions 12 months later.

t Mar 21, 1994 (FA Premiership) Norwich 3, Everton 0: City's first Premiership win under John Deehan came against their former boss, Mike Walker, who 10 weeks earlier had waved goodbye to the Canaries and chairman Robert Chase to take the Goodison Park job and was making his first return to Carrow Road for the TV game. The Hallelujah Chorus may just have been heard floating over Halvergate marshes that night. Everton were later fined £75,000 and ordered to pay compensation of £50,000 for “indirectly inducing” Walker to move.

t Saturday, Mar 18, 2006 (Championship) Norwich 2, Sheffield United 1: There was invariably an element of friction when United boss Neil Warnock brought his team to Carrow Road, much of it stemming from disparaging comments he made during their 2003-04 Nationwide League title success. After this defeat, he earned himself a charge of improper conduct and a suspended four-match suspended ban after sticking two fingers up at City boss Nigel Worthington, who he accused of refusing to shake hands with him.

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