Roy Keane’s nice side, winding up Fabregas and that infamous goal celebration – David Norris looks back on his time at Ipswich Town
David Norris is still playing football at the age of 38. STUART WATSON caught up with the midfielder to discuss his time at Town, including that infamous celebration, winding up Cesc Fabregas and how he found Roy Keane.
'I played last night in the FA Cup, scored too!'
The enthusiasm David Norris still has for the game comes down the phone line loud and clear.
These days the 38-year-old plays for Step Three non-league club Lancaster City. Based in Bolton, he runs two gyms and works as a personal trainer to several footballers and boxers.
'I've always been fit and it's not like I've lost a yard of pace because I didn't have any in the first place!' he jokes.
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Such self-deprecation is a theme of our chat as he reflects on his three-and-half years at Portman Road.
'I have two or three clubs that I look back on fondly and Ipswich is one of them,' says Norris. 'It was a big move for me at the time. I was thinking 'what a club, what a massive club'.'
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That big move was a protracted one. Marcus Evans had just completed his takeover and Jim Magilton had money to spend in January 2008. His pursuit of Norris, who was making a name for himself at Championship rivals Plymouth, was relentless.
Two bids were rejected and finally, on deadline day, a £2m deal was done.
'I'd been there five years and felt I'd gone as far as I could with them. There was a sense the club had peaked, was about to go on a bit of a down and I wanted to keep on going up,' said Norris, known as 'Chuck' to team-mates and fans.
'We had an issue with Bolton (Norris' previous club) who had a 50% sell-on clause that over-inflated my real value.
'Plymouth stayed strong and in the end it went down to the last day. I went to the chairman's house and said 'you've got to let me go, I've done my best for this club, please don't stand in my way'.
'It wasn't a great conversation. He obviously wanted to get as much money out of the deal as he could, but thankfully it did get done.'
He continued: 'It's always nice when a manager shows interest in you for that long a period of time.
'Jim was the first manager who fully showed me that sort of backing. To come after me like he did and pay the money he did… I was desperate to repay that faith he showed in me.
'I had a slow start. I struggled with the price tag and moving to a dressing room with big players and big egos.
'People who know me, know how I play. My game is about hard work, tackling, running, getting in the box. I'm not technically gifted, I'm not going to beat five players and score loads of worldies, but I felt that, with the price tag, that's what people expected. I felt I had to do more than my normal game.'
Magilton was sacked in April 2009, just three days after a 3-2 home win against Norwich and the club placed just outside the play-offs.
'That shows you the level of expectation at that time,' said Norris.
'For me I felt doubly disappointed because I was thinking 'he has brought me in to help, I haven't done that and now he's lost his job'.
'I felt a little bit responsible. I was gutted for him. I was a little bit in shock.'
Within 24 hours Roy Keane was appointed at Portman Road to great fanfare.
'To be honest, when I heard the news I thought it was going to be a good thing,' said Norris. 'We had quality players, I just thought we needed that injection of desire and character to win tight games. I was thinking Roy Keane would be the missing ingredient.
'Obviously it didn't work out quite that way. We started one season flying, but then it quickly faltered.'
Jon Walters, Ben Thatcher, Pablo Counago, Kevin Lisbie... The number of Keane v player fall-outs documented during that time are numerous, but Norris paints a different picture of the enigmatic Irishman.
'With me personally he was pretty good,' he says. 'He made me captain and I had no reason to complain. We had an okay relationship.
'But I saw how it was with other players. Half of them he seemed to have fallen out with and the other half were scared of him.
'There was one time I answered him back... We were leading going into injury time, so when the ball came to me I chested it and hooked it on. He started going mad at me from the sidelines shouting 'bring it down and play'.
'I acknowledged him, but he just kept on shouting. We won the game, but he carried on going on about it in the changing room afterwards.
'Eventually I said 'look, gaffer, if I bring that down and they score then you'd be going mad at me'. He went 'yeah, okay, fine' and that's probably where I should have left it... Instead I said something along the lines of 'exactly, for f**** sake'. Well that was it!
'First I got the eyes and then he really went at me, shouting and screaming about 'how dare I answer back like that'.
'At training the next day he announced the team for the next game and I was out. He made the point to the lads 'if anyone answers me back then they don't play'. That's how he was.
'The man has an aura about him. When he walks into a room people look. I had massive respect for him and he was a massive hero of mine growing up.
'I had confidence in myself and I could take the shouting and screaming for what it was, whereas the younger lads or the foreign lads didn't react well to it.
'I guess some of the stuff, looking back, could be viewed as bullying. Ultimately it meant he lost the dressing room and when that happens then things tend to go into free fall.'
Before the conversation moves on, Norris is keen to share one more Keane anecdote.
'One day I was in Woodbridge with family and friends having a meal and suddenly I saw him looking at the menu outside the window,' he recalls.
'I was thinking 'oh no, keep walking' because I'd seen him absolutely blank players at the training ground and I didn't want that to happen to me here in front of everyone. I'm fearing the worst, but instead he comes over and says hello and I'm like 'phew'.
'Then, later, when I go to ask for the bill, the waiter gestures to Roy's table and says 'it's all taken care of'. So there was another side to Roy that people didn't always see.'
Norris gave his all for Ipswich. He ended up captain and, in his final season, was both top-scorer and Player of the Year. Sadly, one incident rather defines his time at the club.
In November 2008, the midfielder celebrated a goal at Blackpool with a crossing of the arms gesture that he admitted afterwards was a show of support for his jailed friend and former Plymouth team-mate Luke McCormick. The latter had been returning from Norris' wedding in June that year when he fell asleep at the wheel due to the effects of alcohol and caused the death of Arron and Ben Peak, aged 10 and eight respectively.
'Looking back now it was stupid and naïve,' says Norris. 'I would never condone what he did, but I was just trying to tell him that, no matter what, I'd still be a friend.
'Naively I went about that the wrong way. That should have been expressed privately. I know that now.
'I have got two young boys myself now (Jack, 10, and Alfie, 8) and I have a new understanding of how people must have viewed me at that time.
'I don't think I ever appreciated just how badly I'd messed up until I had children of my own. If I saw someone doing what I did then now I'd be thinking 'what are you doing you idiot?'
'I was just trying to be a friend to someone but I made a huge, huge mistake.'
He continues: 'I was asked what the celebration was about and initially I tried to deny it and say it was something else. Then I got a call to say 'they know, someone is going to run the story' and that's when I thought 'I've really screwed up, this is going to go off now'.
'I had to face the consequences of my actions. The press were turning up at my mum and dad's house. I apologised, I went to see the family and I paid some big fines. I just took it all on the chin as I knew I was wrong.
'I was happy to go and see the family because I knew I hadn't done anything malicious. I thought 'if they want to speak to me then I owe them that'. I travelled up to Manchester and sat down with them for probably an hour an a half. It was humbling. It gave me a chance to show them I wasn't a bad guy.
'I was embarrassed that I had brought shame and negativity to the club.'
If that was the low point in Norris' time at Town, then captaining the team during a memorable League Cup run in 2010/11 was the high.
After dispatching West Brom in the quarter-finals, the Blues beat Arsenal 1-0 at Portman Road in the first leg of the semis courtesy of Tamas Priskin's goal. Gunners midfielder Cesc Fabregas accused the Blues of 'playing rugby' after that game, with Town holding the Premier League side for an hour at the Emirates before eventually succumbing to a 3-0 loss.
Norris, who had scored extra-time goals against Exeter and Crewe in the earlier rounds, recalls: 'During the first game he (Fabregas) went down a couple of times and when I picked him up off the floor I gave him a little twist and pinch. There were a few verbals.
'Usually that sort of stuff gets forgotten about at the final whistle, but when I went to swap shirts with him he smacked my hand away.
'Then came those comments about us playing rugby, or whatever he said, and come the second game it was clear he was still bitter.
'After their first goal he ran over and celebrated in my face and I thought 'we've got to him here'. We had him shook. I was thinking; 'You're a top class player? Why are you lowering yourself to this?''
In his final six months at the club, Norris partnered larger than life loan player Jimmy Bullard in midfield.
'There are loads of Jimmy stories, most of them unprintable!' he laughs.
'He had a driver who brought him up from London every day. The car would pull up, the door would open and he'd emerge from under this big blanket with his hair all over the place and then be brilliant in training.
'At times he'd drive me mad because it felt like I was doing all his running. I was thinking 'come on Jimmy!' and then he'd score a worldy from 30 yards. He was a great laugh. Let's just say we had some good nights out.'
In the end, Norris' contract expired and he left on a Bosman-free transfer to join Portsmouth. After a year at Fratton Park, he moved on to Leeds before finishing his professional career with brief stints at Yeovil, Blackpool and Salford.
'I never wanted to leave Ipswich,' he says. 'I was hoping to get a new contract sorted as soon as possible. I wasn't asking for any more money or anything like that, I just wanted to get it done.
'The club let it run and run though at it reached a point where I could speak to other clubs.
'It got to January and I had three-year offers from elsewhere. Ipswich offered me a two-year offer which, to be fair, if that's what they could do, that's what they could do. Maybe the uncertainty surrounding the manager (Keane was sacked on January 7) put all the contract stuff on hold.
'Ultimately it boiled down to me wanting a longer contract at that stage of my career.
'Paul Jewell was appointed, he knew I was going to leave and he could easily have just put me in the stands. But I still kept giving everything, even at the risk of injury and losing a move. Whatever anyone thought about me as a player, I don't think I could ever be accused of lacking effort.
'I have to say, the Ipswich fans were brilliant with me - even when things were a little bit difficult. It will always be a time I look back on fondly.'