Whoever you support Arsenal or Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool or even Norwich and Ipswich, the truth is all of us secretly love our arch rivals.
You think I'm mad, right? Love your arch rivals? Even just a little bit? Of course you don’t. They are wrong, and you are right, and that’s just way things are. If you could press a giant red button and turn everything and everyone associated with that club into cottage cheese, you would. If you could peel back the Tupperware lid on a deadly airborne virus that would infect every single one of them, you would. You really hate them. Well… I doubt that.
If God is only divine in direct contrast to Him and South of Heaven serves only to validate the better ecclesiastical postcode, then what is Norwich City (my club) without Ipswich? I’m not entirely sure. I love my club and the numerous pointless experiences we’ve shared (peppered with some fleeting joy), but somehow Norwich aren’t enough on their own. It pains me to type this, but if I really, genuinely hated Ipswich then I wouldn’t want them around. So, does that mean that some small part of me… likes them?
If you truly hate your local rivals, and most of us would profess to a toxic, virtually uncontainable hatred, then how strong is it? Are we secretly fond of them. If not, and I’m sure you’re a man who wouldn’t confess to this treason, then where does the punishment you crave for your foes end? At what point would you end the fight? After a couple of short hard punches on the nose part? Not sated until you’ve unleashed a haymaker that knocks him clean out of his loafers? Or is it a full-on shooing? Let’s test this hate of yours.
Let’s say, you’re an Arsenal fan. Just the sight of a lilywhite shirt with the proud chicken sitting atop the ball is enough to make you want to do some damage. Glenn Hoddle appears on your TV set lifting the ball over Pat Jennings and you want to stick your slipper straight through the plasma. Each time, they somehow manage to tilt the pool table in Europe, so that every European ‘giant’ miscues, you can’t even bear to look at a newspaper. You loathe the club to its tiniest atoms, and even the hateful sub atoms that make those up, until your hate searches deeper and deeper until there’s something so small you’re actually hating sub micro particles (do they exist?). Even Brian Cox’s rock and roll telescope can’t see what you’re hating anymore. You really hate Tottenham Hotspur.
So, if you really hate [insert your team’s name] what do you actually wish for the brutes? Mediocrity? Relegation? Obliteration? What’s the deal? Here are your weapons, choose one. Now, you’re really having to think about this. Mediocrity is not a bad choice. If your beloved club can constantly rise up stronger than its sickly, pale foe, then that’s cool. You can wave the silverware in their jealous spotty faces and whip them each time in the derby. But that’s not really, that hateful an option is it? Plus, they will win the odd derby and you’ve got to actually win some things to wave about. You’re wishing underachievement on them. You can do better than that. You hate them.
But there’s still this small merciful part of me that spares them the most serious of the punishments. I want their tiny little hearts to beat. To live.
Relegation? Of course those sunny Saturday afternoons, as the scores filter in, are to be cherished as the scum finally enter the trap door. The buzz lasts all summer. You look at their fixture lists and imagine them scootling down motorways to half-filled stadiums as you get the superior menu with the nice bread rolls. But how long does the relegation curse last? And how long, before you start to face the double-edged truth? You want them to come back up so you can play them again, and yet that, by its very nature, includes a day of fun for them, by dint of sealing promotion. If you prefer for them to stay down, then you can look forward to no more derby days. Hmmm.
But you hate them right? So, you’re quite happy to never play them again. The war has been won, and you’ve got the medals. You’re quite prepared to never play them again, and you hate them so much, why not go the whole hog and select the obliteration package. Wait until the scarves decorate the chained gate, the liquidators having happily gone about their business, and then drink a frothy pint to their actual demise. Their annihilation.
They’re gone. That’s it. No more derby days, no more gloating, no more hate. Nothing. Where their disgusting spawning ground once stood, is now an apartment block called Orchard Heights and the only reminders of their existence are photographic. Hopefully one day even the photos and j-pegs will somehow get lost and there’ll be nothing left. Do you want this? Hats off if you do, but what happens after that?
You start looking for another villain in this soap opera of yours, don’t you? The Arsenal fan suddenly becomes convinced that the West Ham have been laughing at his mother and calling her names and so… the cycle begins again. If you push this to its logical conclusion then you will end up, as you win war after war, being the only club left in an apocalyptic landscape. All your foes are now simply dust in the wind, cow skulls on the road to nowhere. Happy now?
There’s something about Ipswich I love. Now, don’t get me wrong I truly hate them, but I definitely love to hate them. Without Them, my feelings toward my club lack an edge. Without the Town (and it is just a town by the way) we have no one to hate us back. We need them. Walking into their ground makes me feel sick. I hate horses largely because of their association with the Suffolk punch. Ipswich have always been in the crosshairs. But there’s still this small merciful part of me that spares them the most serious of the punishments. I want their tiny little hearts to beat. To live.
Our history is intrinsically linked to theirs. Some of our greatest victories were against Them and some of our most miserable experiences were at their hands. They were not earth-shattering events for the rest of the country, but they were nuclear to us. They have given. Us. Something.
There was a local TV news report last summer of a charity match between some Ipswich old boys and a senior Norwich eleven and although it was good to see how my heroes had aged, it was an Ipswich player that had me transfixed. It was just a fleeting glimpse of John Wark pulling up a blue stocking whilst joking with the Norwich players. Once the walking physical embodiment of evil, Wark was now a gentle old man, laughing with my boys and for a fleeting moment, some neck hairs went up. He’s alright.
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