Who will be the pride of East Anglia?
Apparently, nobody in Suffolk actually cares that Colchester United are about to cruise up the A12 and into Portman Road, because people in Ipswich are refusing to buy into all this talk of a rivalry between the two teams.
Those in Colchester, on the other hand, have already convinced themselves that this weekend`s match is a matter of personal honour, and seemingly need little excuse to shoot verbal arsenal across the mere nine miles that separate the sides.
From the safety and comfort of Col U`s current League position, that is all very well, but in terms of acting the part, Ipswich are unwilling to follow the unwritten autocue, which compels them to partake in a full-blooded charge.
The rhetoric we expect to be reading prior to Saturday`s match is that both camps are preparing for serious and absolute combat, spun to whet the appetite in advance of a titanic fixture.
Roll the sleeves up, apply war-mongering paint, and begin the spitting: this is supposed to be a catfight of the counties. But it`s not happening – and a look at Ipswich Town`s illustrious history, including glory in both Europe and the Premiership, might just tell us why.
UEFA Cup winners under Sir Bobby Robson in the 1970s, and third in the Premiership a few seasons back, the Tractor Boys are certainly not low on the fuel of success; pity it now only takes the form of memories.
The side of the tale they won`t recount to you in Ipswich is that the dream exploded, resulting in a long period of administration, and a fall in attendances. Who can blame them, since the financial scars of poor Premiership investments still run deep? However, much as Town would like to be flying-high, they must face facts.
The fickle nature of football only allows a brief lament on what has past, until the focus of attention is demanded by the next season, game, or new tactic – each of which instantly becomes more important than the last. And, despite what they might contend, this clash is important to Ipswich Town, because Jim Magilton is looking to pick up as many points as possible. If that can be achieved at Colchester`s expense, so much the better.
Yet, you suspect that the denial of any rivalry between the clubs is just a front – or at least, that`s how it looks from the Colchester side of the fence. The allocation of only 2,200 spaces to U`s fans for the game was probably not the best way to stay neutral, and the word is that several thousand more will invade the Greene King stand on Saturday, such is the demand for tickets.
Lest we forget the ’90s, as the U`s have still not forgiven Town for seducing one-time boss George Burley into leaving; those who wonder what all the fuss is about are obviously missing a trick.
Colchester clearly care about this mini-clash of cultures – their third East Anglian derby of the season – and will want to win. The statistics from other heady local games against Southend (3-0 win), Norwich (1-1) and the home tie against Ipswich at Layer Road (1-0 win) begin to swing the odds Colchester`s way. That is, until form on the road is factorised into the equation.
Away form might be a sticking point, but this game, just a stone`s throw from home, will still be the method by which punters gauge the true measure of Colchester`s progress under Geraint Williams. While U`s vice-captain, Wayne Brown, will also be out to prove his former club wrong for declaring him surplus to requirements, there is no room for those seeking personal retribution. This derby will be a day of reckoning for United as a team, not as a bunch of individuals.
An afternoon of swashbuckling awaits, then, and one suspects that Ipswich fans may live to regret their open rejection of Colchester as an authentic rival. Now, only Saturday`s score can determine exactly how much humble pie they may – or may not – have to eat when judgement is finally served.
Touché to Ipswich Town!
Who will be the pride of East Anglia?