Ex-Ipswich Town defender John McGreal recalls ‘brilliant’ derby days

John McGreal

John McGreal - Credit: Archant

He may have only played in two East Anglian derbies during his five year stint at Portman Road, but former Ipswich Town defender John McGreal is well versed in the significance of the occasion.

The current Colchester United Under-21s manager, who went up to the Premier League with Town, via the play-offs in 2000, played against Norwich in a 1-1 draw and a 2-0 loss at Portman Road, during his spell in Suffolk.

Born in Liverpool, McGreal was brought up on the Merseyside derby but, having also played for Tranmere and Burnley, is unlikely to have played in a bigger one than the East Anglian.

“It was a brilliant, new experience for me, coming from Tranmere, where the derbies were really very small against Chester and Wrexham,” said McGreal. Portman Road and Carrow Road would be packed to the rim and there was a great atmosphere.

“The build-up during the week was fantastic and because Ipswich was such a tight area, you knew a lot of fans and knew how important it was to them.”

Saturday’s clash, while not only offering local bragging rights was also a first opportunity for Ipswich and Norwich to stake a claim for a place in the play-off final and it proved a tough, cagey affair.

McGreal remembers how tense the atmosphere was around derby day when he played.

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“Players got a bit more fired-up, the likes of Jim Magilton, you knew straight away the significance of the game,” added McGreal.

“George (Burley) had been around Ipswich a long time and knew the expectancy levels of the fans and what we wanted as a club.

“We had some strong characters, the likes of George (Burley) and Dale (Roberts), while Tony Mowbray was part of the coaching set-up.”

The expectation levels were eventually met, Town progressing to the top flight following a 4-2 victory over Barnsley under the Twin Towers.

Recalling the play-off final, McGreal recalled: “I had been out injured for a month before the play-off final missed the semi-final against Bolton.

“I remember the late Dale Roberts (Burley’s assistant) had me doing extra running in the lead-up to the game and George brought me back for the final.

“It was an occasion not to be missed, the build-up was fantastic.

“We just missed out on automatic promotion. We played Bolton in the semi-final who were a tough team but we knew mentally, once we got to the final against Barnsley, we were going to win the game.”

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