East Anglian Derby: Norwich City v Ipswich Town Rivalry & History

Ipswich v NorwichThe East Anglian Derby between Norfolk's Norwich City and bordering Suffolk's Ipswich Town might not be the best know sporting rivalry but to their fans these fixtures will be the most anticipated of the season. There's no love lost between the Tractor Boys and The Canaries and matches between the two can be closely contested and fiery affairs.

Map of Norwich City & Ipswich Town Stadiums

Map of Norwich City & Ipswich Town Stadiums

About The East Anglian Derby

East Anglian Farmland

When those not from the area think about Norfolk versus Suffolk, the stereotype of two sets of farmers doing battle over who has grown the best marrow might easily jump to mind. That’s largely because the location of both counties in the south-east of England lends itself to farming, thanks to the arable land and low-lying nature of the area. Neither country has a particularly close relationship to sport, though the fact that Suffolk boasts both Suffolk County Cricket Club and the horse racing town of Newmarket might see many of the locals there disagree with that notion.

The main time that sport does capture the imagination of those that live in the area happens when Ipswich Town and Norwich City go up against each other in football matches. The reason it’s such a big deal is that the two teams are the only professional sides playing the sport in the neighbouring counties.

When the two teams go head-to-head the match is given the nickname of the ‘Old Farm Derby’, which is an amusing and gentle nod to the Old Firm match between Celtic and Rangers in Scottish football. Whilst few would claim that the games have the same potency of the matches that take place in Glasgow and have any number of religious and political connotations linked to them, it’s still a match-up that can cause families to fall out and neighbours to exchange stern words.


Despite the two clubs being the only professional sides in the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, they haven’t always progressed a the same rate as each other. In fact, the rivalry began when they were both still amateur sides that went up against each other in the Norfolk and Suffolk League at the turn of the twentieth century. Given that Ipswich Town was formed first but didn’t turn professional until after Norwich City, it might help to understand the rivalry if we first look at both club’s histories.

The Formation Of Ipswich Town

Ipswich Town Hall
Ipswich Town Hall, Photo © Stephen Richards (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Ipswich Town AFC was formed on the sixteenth of October 1878, the brainchild of a local MP named Thomas Cobbold who had played football at Charterhouse School and felt that it was a good way to introduce the sport to the local area. Though they were able to organise matches against the likes of Stoke Wanderers, the club found it difficult to organise competitive games and one lost once in seventeen outings in its second season. That didn’t stop increased interest from locals in the team and sport, however, allowing the club to create a second team. The side also moved to Portman Road in 1884, sharing the ground with East Suffolk Cricket Club.

Ipswich continued to take part in the major competitions that it was allowed to enter, winning the Suffolk Challenge Cup in 1887. The following year the football termed merged with the local Rugby Club to create Ipswich Town Football Club, though still there was no real clamour for the side to turn professional. The first encounter with Norwich City occurred in 1902, with Norwich winning 1-0. Five years later and Ipswich Town helped to form the Southern Amateur League, but still there was a refusal to turn pro. That didn’t occur until 1936 when a local businessman named Leonard P Thompson threatened to create Ipswich United, leading to the club President gathering rival factions together and agreeing that it was time the club became a professional enterprise.

The Creation Of Norwich City

Norwich Castle
Norwich Castle by Juha Agren, Wikimedia Commons

How much might the perceived success of local rivals Norwich City have influenced the decision of those in charge of Ipswich Town to turn professional? It’s a little bit like asking how long a piece of string is, but what we do know is that Norfolk club was formed as an amateur side in 1902 and entered the Norfolk & Suffolk League the following year. Originally nicknamed the Citizens, the club earned its moniker of the Canaries by 1905 on account of the fact that locals were known for enjoying canary rearing. Even the national press were using the term by 1907 and it became so widespread that the club adopted its now famous yellow and green shirts ahead of the 1907-1908 season. That all came after the club’s decision to turn professional in 1905, just three years after forming.

As football became a more and more popular pastime in the UK, so too did interest in watching Norwich play the sport grow. They were forced to move away from Newmarket Road because of increased attendances, but the suspension of football activity because of the First World War saw the club get into increased financial difficulty and forced to go into voluntary liquidation in 1917. In 1930, with the War over, the Football League decided to start a Third Division and Norwich City was one of the clubs that they invited to join it. Again, whether the continued success of the Canaries was part of the reason that there was such a clamour for Ipswich Town to turn professional is a matter for some debate, but what is certain is that the Tractor Boys were invited to join the Football League in 1938 and the rivalry has grown ever since.

The Inconsistent Derby

Green Tractor and Blue Tractor Ploughing Field

Whilst the match between the two teams is best-known by the amusing moniker of the Old Farm Derby, it could just as easily be called the ‘Inconsistent Derby’. That’s because the two teams have enjoyed varying degrees of success since they each chose to turn professional, including the fact that they haven’t always been in the same division. At the end of the 1985-1986 campaign, for example, Ipswich Town were relegated from the First Division whilst Norwich City remained in the top-flight. The two clubs were kept apart until the Tractor Boys gained promotion into the Premier League ahead of the 1992-1993 season, allowing hostilities to resume.

Interestingly, the fortunes of the two clubs have tended to mirror each other reasonably well in the years that followed Ipswich’s return to the top-flight. They both dropped out of the Premier League at the same time at the end of the 1994-1995 league season, for example. It was actually Ipswich who returned the soonest, gaining promotion back up at the end of the 1999-2000 campaign thanks to their third-place finish in what was by that stage the new First Division. By the time the Canaries had gained promotion, however, the Tractor Boys had dropped back down, resulting in the two sides missing each other again. Obviously when they’re not in the same division there is no derby match unless they’re drawn to face each other in a cup, hence the idea that the derby can be somewhat inconsistent.

The Country’s Second-Fiercest Rivalry

Whilst most football lovers would look to the likes of the all-Merseyside clash between Liverpool and Everton or the North London battle of Arsenal and Tottenham when it comes to a conversation about the fiercest rivalry in the sport, it’s considered by some that it’s actually the battle between Ipswich and Norwich that is one of the fiercest to take place on the football pitch. That is according to a Football Rivalries Report published in 2008 that asked around six thousand supporters of some of the Football League clubs for their opinions on the biggest rivalry in the sport. Ninety-nine percent of supporters from both clubs named the other as the side that they dislike the most, making it one of the most reciprocated of all mutual dislikes in the game.

There are countless reasons why the two sides have such mutual enmity. Though they are forty miles apart from each other in geographical terms, the fact that there’s only one professional club in each county certain stops other sides from causing a dissipation of the anger and hatred. When you look at the aforementioned rivalry between Liverpool and Everton, for example, the red half of Merseyside also have Manchester United to focus their ire on. There’s no such situation in Norfolk and Suffolk, leading to an atmosphere that former referee Keith Hackett once described as ‘the most aggressive atmosphere’ he’d come across. That isn’t helped by the fact that each club represents the entire county, adding a level of spice to proceedings that doesn’t necessarily exist within other derbies.

Famous Clashes Over The Years

Given the fact that the two sides have essentially ‘grown-up’ together, it’s hardly surprising that there have been a number of high-profile clashes between them on the football pitch. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones:

The 2015 Play-Offs

In terms of a huge match that means a lot, does it get much bigger than a play-off? The ability to earn promotion at the expense of your fiercest rival is pretty much as good as it gets, so it’s no surprise that the match-up between Norwich City and Ipswich Town in the Championship play-offs of 2015 is high up on a list of well-remembered clashes. Indeed, it was seen as something of a shame by many that they met in the semi-final of the event rather than the decisive match. That they met in the earlier stage of the competition did allow both sets of supporters to cram their home grounds for the two legs, showing their partisan nature in an attempt to roar their club on to the final. The first-leg was a close-run thing, with Norwich taking the lead just before half-time only for the home side at Portman Road to strike an equaliser with the last kick before the break.

That set up a tense second-leg, with both teams knowing that a win would see them go up against Middlesbrough in a match that many people consider to be the richest in football. That’s because of the finances associated with promotion to the Premier League, though on the night of the second-leg at Carrow Road most of the supporters will just have been thinking about the pride that comes with beating the team you hate the most. It was the Canaries that took the lead thanks to a Wes Hoolihan penalty, though the sending off of Christophe Berra for a deliberate handball did as much to influence the outcome as anything. The Tractor Boys gave themselves a bit of belief when Tommy Smith equalised on the hour mark, but in the end the superiority of the home crowd showed. They ruined their local rivals’ chance of gaining promotion, rubbing salt into the wounds by beating Middlesbrough 2-0 in the play-ff final and heading into the Premier League.

The League Cup Meeting

Do good cup runs make it difficult for teams to maintain solid league campaigns? There’s no definitive answer to that one, but if you wanted evidence to prove a claim that they do then you might want to have a look at Norwich City and Ipswich Town during the 1984-1985 Football League season. The two sides were struggling to make things work in the First Division, with Norwich ultimately finishing twentieth and seeing themselves relegated by a single point. There were three teams that finished a point ahead of them, with one of those sides being who else but Ipswich. The reason mentioning a cup run is relevant is that the two sides met in the semi-final stage of the League Cup in February, with a likely final against Sunderland their reward.

The Tractor Boys won the first-leg 1-0 at Portman Road thanks to a Mich d'Avray goal, but it was cancelled out by John Deehan at Carrow Road a couple of weeks later. It looked as though the game would be heading for extra-time, only for Steve Bruce to pop up with a winner in the dying moments to send the Canaries off to Wembley for their first cup final in more than a decade. They went on to beat Sunderland 1-0 and lift the trophy, but at what cost? Might they have survived in the First Division if they’d ended up losing to Town at the semi-final stage? That in itself welcomes a philosophical question that football fans have asked forever, though: what’s better, silverware or survival in the top-flight? Ipswich ended up being relegated the following year anyway, whilst Norwich won the Second Division by seven points and bounced straight back up.

The Texaco Cup

Originally known as the International League Board Competition, American oil company Texaco began sponsoring the little-known cup competition and give it its name in the early stages of existence. The idea behind it was to give clubs in both England and Scotland that had only just missed being able to compete in European competition something to play for, with sixteen clubs entering and playing two-legged rounds from the start. Even so, the new cup wasn’t something that either supporters or the clubs themselves were overly enthused by, with such uninspiring finals as Wolverhampton Wanderers against Heart of Midlothian and Derby County versus Airdrieonians taking place in the first two years.

What it needed was a match to get the blood pumping, so the organisers were delighted when Ipswich Town made their way past St. Jonhstone, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United to set up a final with their local enemy Norwich City. The Canaries, for their part, had taken on Dundee, Leicester City (coming back from a 2-0 first-leg loss) and Motherwell to set up the fiery encounter. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the final was that it followed the format of the rest of the tournament in having two legs, with the Tractor Boys winning the first 2-1 at Portman Road and Norwich losing by the same scoreline at Carrow Road. In the long-running battle between the two sides, Ipswich won that round but the war would continue raging.