United up for a cup test in Norfolk theatre of dreams
Archant Â© 2009
There are myriad explanations for the origin of the word “derby” – perhaps as many as there are incorrect uses.
We’re told that, apart from being, among other things, a town in the Midlands, a horse race and a type of hat, in sporting terms it is “a match between two teams from the same district”.
It has been hijacked by all and sundry over the years, because the very inclusion of the word adds a lustre, an emotional attachment that may otherwise be lacking.
It’s okay if you’re talking about AC Milan v Inter Milan, City v United in Manchester, Wednesday v United in Sheffield and Tottenham v Arsenal in London.
But can a team have more than one derby? Was it right that Tottenham v Chelsea recently was labelled as a derby match? Is that a rivalry rather than a derby. And does distance matter?
Norwich is 40 miles, give or take, from Ipswich, but woe betide anyone who suggests it isn’t a derby, in the truest sense of the word.
Geographically Ipswich is the closest to the outpost that is Norwich, and, fortunately, the two teams have, in recent times, usually been in the same division.
When City spent a season in League One, the games against Colchester were billed as derbies. But they weren’t. One side can have only one real derby – unless there are extenuating circumstances, which relegation doesn’t cover.
You have to take what you can get in some circumstances. Take Norwich United – a Ridgeons League Premier Division club formed in 1987 – who have always been totally eclipsed by their more illustrious City rivals.
If they regarded Norwich City as their true derby rivals they’d be looking at the odd pre-season friendly and nothing much else as an occasion to engage in hostilities. Until now.
Some time early next month, Carrow Road will host the first competitive match between Norwich United and Norwich City.
Paul Chick is manager of Norwich United, a man who knows as much as most about the local football scene. For him, the footballing distance between the clubs doesn’t matter. But the prestige of taking on City, of playing at Carrow Road, does.
“I suppose you could see it as a derby match – but I see it as good for Norfolk,” he said.
“It’s good for the Norfolk Senior Cup that Norwich City have come into the competition. I think that this year, with King’s Lynn and Norwich City coming in it increases its value and the interest. I don’t agree with some people who have said to me that it is unfair because they are a full-time professional side and used to playing at Carrow Road.
“The majority of players around here would be only too pleased to play at Carrow Road because players from the Ridgeons League and the Anglian Combination don’t usually get the opportunity to play at Carrow Road in their careers.
“From a Norwich United perspective we are really looking forward to going there. You only have to see the joy when North Walsham scored against us in the last round on Saturday – and with all due respect I don’t think too many of their players have played at Carrow Road. They would have loved it.
“The players in our club are looking forward to pitting their wits and their skills against professional footballers. I assume Norwich City will start as favourites to win the Norfolk Senior Cup but if they don’t it will be a very prestigious trophy to win.” So if it’s business as usual for City v United in the heart of Norfolk, what game really does get the juices flowing?
“Our derby game is Wroxham,” said Chick. “We’re a stone’s throw away from them. It’s like Yarmouth against Gorleston for us. If Blofield were in the same league then that would be our derby.”
Will it change for just one night only at Carrow Road next month?
“I suppose you could look at it like that, realistically – we’re just looking forward to going there.”
It’s not easy selling to Chick the idea that Norwich City v Norwich United is a derby.
But Norwich isn’t the only place where the gap between the “big” team and a lesser one is so vast that the word is rarely used.
For Wigan Robin Park, who play in the Vodkat League, their derby isn’t against Robert Martinez’s Premier League side but against Ashton Town, with games, according to their website, “feisty and competitive but always played in the right spirit”.
In the same league, Bootle and Formby are regarded as bitter rivals – but as Tony Onslow’s book ‘The Forgotten Rivals’ illustrates, the original ‘Merseyside derby’ was Bootle v Everton.
Many Premier League and Football League clubs have non-League rivals that bear a similar name, but little else. Ditto Norwich United and Norwich City.
United’s average home attendance in the league this season is 84.
Their players don’t make any sort of living from wearing the yellow and blue of the Planters. For some, it may actually cost them money to play.
City’s Carrow Road, on the other hand, recently attracted record-breaking crowds in consecutive home games and the average home gate is just over 25,000.
Fixtures aren’t arranged so that City and United don’t clash; there’s no need. It’s not really a derby.
Quarter-finals – Blofield U v Dereham (January 8); Wroxham or Cromer v King’s Lynn Town (January 8); Norwich St Johns or Diss v Thetford Town (January 8); Norwich City v Norwich United (date tba).