Is the balance of power shifting in East Anglian football?



This is a question firmly on the lips of football fans on both sides of the Norfolk-Suffolk border. In 2018/19, Ipswich Town were consigned to relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time since 1957. That same year, Norwich City were promoted to the Premier League as Championship winners. Four years later, Ipswich finally have their act together and look set to return to the second tier. After 44 games of the 2022/23 campaign, Town were even-money to lift the League One title with bet365. The Stoke-on-Trent based operator has long been one of the most trusted sources for EFL odds, with oddschecker noting its links to Stoke City. The Coates family, who founded bet365, are also majority owners of the Potters.

While the Tractor Boys look Championship-bound after three seasons of floundering in League One’s mid-table, their bitter rivals also look set for another season in the second tier. Norwich City have seemingly failed in their quest for an immediate return to the Premier League, with Dean Smith unable to arrest the Canaries’ slide into the EFL Championship this season, costing the former Aston Villa boss his job.

Norwich City’s high-risk yo-yo strategy appears to have hit the rocks this term

The Canaries have been the archetypal yo-yo side between the Championship and the Premier League in the last five years. Some have said the club’s owners, celebrity chef Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, have been savvy to use their 12-month spells in the top flight to take the Premier League riches and strengthen City’s off-field infrastructure. Meanwhile, others have criticized the board’s lack of ambition to try and cement their Premier League status in the same way that Brighton and Brentford have achieved.

The flaw with Norwich’s yo-yo approach is that it has relied on them bouncing back into the Premier League at the first time of asking, leaning on their parachute payments to retain the core of their playing squad. Unfortunately for City, this season’s squad simply hasn’t cut the mustard. Star striker Teemu Pukki has been starved of service and is choosing to depart this summer after five successful seasons in Norfolk, with few shining lights from a season of inconsistency and underachievement.

Perhaps the one bright spark has been the emergence of midfielder Liam Gibbs, a former Ipswich Town academy graduate who swapped Portman Road for Carrow Road in July 2021 and has adapted well to life in the Championship.

With dissenting Norwich supporters growing tired of sporting director Stuart Webber, who has oft irritated fans with his trite public messages and personal ambitions away from Carrow Road, the picture couldn’t be starker for Portman Road.

Gamechanger 2020 have truly changed the game for Ipswich

Since Ipswich’s takeover by Gamechanger 2020, a US consortium backed largely by the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS), the Tractor Boys have reconnected with their fan base and rejuvenated a tired playing squad, underpinned by elite-level coaching from former Manchester United assistant Kieran McKenna. Many in the game believe McKenna has a ceiling higher than Ipswich Town, but the hope within the club is that the Northern Irishman can drag the Suffolk club up the pyramid with him, at least in the short-to-medium term.

Under Town’s new owners, the club has restored its off-field foundation, helping to regain its presence in the local community. This has clearly resonated with citizens given this year’s average attendance of 26,040, which is only bettered by Derby County. North of the border, Norwich’s average attendance is only fractionally above this at 26,670, which is further proof that the clubs are operating on a more level playing field.

Promotion back to the Championship could see Ipswich’s momentum snowball into at least a playoff tilt in 2023/24, particularly with their ambitious owners unlikely to realize a return on their investment without promotion to the Premier League. As for Norwich, many of their supporters are holding on to hope that Milwaukee Bucks owner, Mark Attanasio, follows through with his ambition to increase his minority shareholding in the Canaries. This would give them a 2023/24 war chest, enabling David Wagner to rebuild the squad in his mold.

One thing is for certain, Ipswich fans will be counting down the days ‘til they lock horns with Norwich if promotion is secured. April 2009 was the last time Town got the better of Norwich in a competitive fixture. Given the way they are playing, you wouldn’t bet against them breaking their duck next term.