‘I know what’s coming... it doesn’t faze me’ – Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert anticipates hostile reception on return to Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 14:36 08 February 2019
Paul Lambert spent three years in charge of Norwich City (2009-12), guiding them from League One to a mid-table Premier League finish. On Sunday he returns to Carrow Road as manager of Ipswich Town for a top versus bottom Championship clash. Here’s what the Scot had to say ahead of the East Anglian derby (12pm ko).
Q: Sum up your emotions heading into your first East Anglian derby as Ipswich Town manager.
A: The same as going into every game!
Q: It must be different?!
A: For a lot of people maybe. I have my own feeling. I’ve been involved in derbies, I know derbies like the back of my hand. I’ve played in some ferocious ones, some really big ones where there’s an incredible amount at stake.
It’s a game that we have to go and try and win. It’s been 10 years since this club beat them. Somewhere, somehow that’s got to change.
We have a game plan to try and win. It will be a difficult game, but in any given game you can win. In a derby game it doesn’t matter whose top and who’s bottom. Anybody can win it.
I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a difficult game for both sets of players. We have to try and win. That’s what we’ll try and do.
It’s people on the outside that put the animosity on it. That doesn’t faze me. I can’t wait.
Q: Have fans and staff been reminding you the magnitude of this game?
A: I separate myself from that. I don’t get caught up in the emotion of it. I know. You don’t need to tell me what it entails.
I’ve been involved in derbies. I’ve never really changed my way of thinking about them. I keep my cards close to my chest, but I know what a derby means to people. I’ll be ready for it.
Q: Happy with the underdogs tag or is there no such thing in a derby?
A: Probably no such thing. I’ve been favourites and lost them and underdogs and won them. Let’s see what happens on the day.
Q: What sort of reception are you expecting?
A: Brilliant! (laughs)
Listen, it doesn’t faze me. It doesn’t bother me. The Norwich fans have always given me a hard time when I’ve gone back.
Listen, half the city of Glasgow doesn’t like me and I managed that for eight/nine years. I know what’s coming.
Q: This will be different now though, as manager of Ipswich Town, as supposed to going back there with Villa?
A: Not really. I don’t think so.
It’s 90 minutes. That’s why I’ve brought Gilly (first team coach Matt Gill was recruited directly from Norwich City). He can take the flak!
Listen, I’ve been involved in football a long time. I know the passion of the game. I used to play the game myself you know. I played in some big derbies. That’s why I can handle this.
Q: Did you enjoy those derbies?
A: Loved them, absolutely lobed them. I thrived on the pressure of it. It’s ferocious. You tend to find that separates a lot of people from a lot of things. You step up to it, you meet it head on and you go for it.
Q: It would be sad if you got a negative reaction, wouldn’t it, given what you achieved at Norwich?
A: It’s always been that way. I don’t expect anything less.
Q: Have you been surprised that Ipswich Town fans have taken to you the way they have given your Norwich past?
A: Honestly, they have been brilliant with me. They really have. Not just with me, with the players too. They’ve given us everything.
We have to try and win for them. They come in their thousands to watch us and I think they have been a credit to the club in the way they’ve supported it.
It’s not a normal situation that support for a team that is bottom of the table. We will try everything we can for them.
Q: Why do you think it’s not taken off for you here in the way it did in those early days at Norwich?
A: Someone asked me that the other day. When Norwich were in League One they had Championship players. That’s the difference. You could go through them all – Holt, Hoolahan, Daryl Russell, Chrisy Martin, Fraser Forster, Russell Martin.
They were top players who all knew they were better players than League One.
All they had to do was gel together, get a wee bit of momentum and get out the league. That’s what they were.
This football club went the way it did. It lost a lot of players, an incredible amount of goals went out the team, it recruited eight or nine guys to come in one transfer window. It is where it is for a reason. We’ve not won enough games.
That’s football. You have to take the good with the bad.
Q: Would you take a draw?
A: No, I want to win. I want to win. I’ll got here and try and win.
Q: Do you have to temper your approach? We know how you like to get on the front foot and play football. Do you perhaps need to be a little bit more pragmatic and reserved for this game?
A: No. We’ll go there and try win. Let’s see what happens.
Q: It would be reward for the fans, wouldn’t it?
A: It would be brilliant for them. Ten years (without a derby win)… *puffs cheeks out* It’s far too long. We have to turn that at some point. Sunday would be a good time to start.
Q: This could have a massive impact on your season couldn’t it? It’s more than just three points at stake in terms of the lift it could provide everyone.
A: I get that. If we can get a result against them then I am pretty sure the Ipswich fans will be over the moon.
Q: Are you surprised Norwich are top? Not many would have tipped them at the start of the season.
A: I don’t know because I’ve not really followed them. I don’t know major, major things about them. I know they’re doing well. They are where they are. They are playing well. But let’s see what happens.
Q: Putting the derby rivalry to one side, their position shows what can be done with smart recruitment and bringing kids through from the academy.
A: Norwich have been in the Premier League, up and down, and got incredible finances from that. This club hasn’t been in it for what, 17 years?
That puts you on the back foot. The Premier League gives you that opening. We’re miles behind that. That’s the reality of it.
But we’ll go there with so much heart and so much enthusiasm to win.
It’s a difficult game, but on any given day you can win.
Q: Will there be any nerves?
A: For me?! (Laughs) Nerves? No.
As I said before, I can’t explain how I feel, but I know my emotions and what I feel. The only people who will know, deep down, how I feel will be my staff. I’ll be ready for it.
Q: When it comes to derby matches the focus is usually on the fans and the players. Because of your Norwich City past there is a greater focus on you heading into this one. What are your thoughts and emotions heading into it?
A: Number one, I don’t want to answer questions about Norwich. I’m not there anymore. I’m Ipswich manager.
All the stuff that’s coming with it is not a problem for me.
The team will be fired up and they’ll do all the stuff we’re asking them to do. Whether it’s good enough we’ll have to see.
But I’m looking forward to going back as manager of Ipswich. My job is here, my duty is here. I’ll go and try and win.
Q: What sort of reception are you anticipating?
A: The reception I get from the Ipswich fans is more important to me.
Q: What do you need to do to beat Norwich?
A: A bit of luck, we’ll need that. We’ll need some good play. We’ll need some fight. All the things you need for any game.
Nobody knows if it’s going to be good enough, but we’ll be ready for it. I know that.
Q: You’ve got a lot of derby experience. What do you think this one will be like given Norwich are top and Ipswich are bottom?
A: I don’t think it will be any difference to the ones previous. A derby game is brilliant wherever you play it. You could play on the moon and it would be brilliant.
There’s no fear. We’ll do everything we can to win the game.
Any derby game is about the supporters.
Q: As Norwich manager you beat Ipswich 5-1 and 4-1…
A: How long ago were those games? Six years ago? I can’t remember six minutes ago, let alone six years ago. I wouldn’t put too much significance in that.
Q: How do you shackle someone like Teemu Pukki?
A: He’s a big threat, but I’ve got to trust in my own team. Let them worry about us. I’ve got faith in my own team. We will play the way we play.
I respect Norwich as a team, but we’ll go there and try and win.
Q: How do you rate Ipswich’s chances of staying in the Championship?
A: The same as I did when I first came. We’ve played really well in games and not had a break. If we keep playing the way we have then we’ll get a break.
One or two games we’ve not played well and not deserved anything, but there have been games where we’ve deserved more points. That’s the most frustrating thing.
Fight-wise and commitment-wise I can’t ask for anymore.
Q: How difficult is the balancing act between imposing your style on them and trying to counteract their strengths?
A: I don’t have a balancing act. I just go for it. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to go for it. That’s my balancing act.
It’s going to be difficult. I know that. But I’d rather go and give it a go than not.
Play my way, play the club’s way – my message to the players this week has been what it’s always been.
Q: There was so little between sides last September. It must come as a surprise when you look at where the sides are now?
A: That’s football. It’s a momentum thing. If you get that it’s amazing what can happen. We’ve not had the momentum and they’ve had the momentum.
Q: Deep down, do you still have a soft spot for Norwich?
A: (Long pause and a fixed stare). You were told not to ask me questions about Norwich weren’t you? I’m not going to answer anything like that.
Q: How proud are you to have that Ipswich Town badge on your chest?
A: I was talking to John Wark this morning. I grew up watching his era. What a player he was with all those goals from midfield. He’d be worth about £400m these days!
I’ve seen guys like him and Butch (Terry Butcher) and it’s a reminder of what a club it is. It has got an incredible history.
And the support behind it is phenomenal.
It gets me annoyed when I see it where it is. It’s lost something, but we’ll try and get that back.
Q: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a manager cross a rivalry divide as you have – granted with a gap in between – and form such a quick bond with a set of fans in the way you have. Has that surprised you?
A: Yeah, possibly. You’re never quite sure. When I watched the Middlesbrough game (before taking over) I saw how flat it was here.
This is the first I’ve encountered a team being bottom, not winning games and the support not turning its back on it.
Normally you get everybody not coming, protests, mayhem.
Whether we’ve generated that support I don’t know. But I can understand what the fans are going through at the minute. It’s horrible for them.
It’s an absolute brilliant support. That’s what frustrates me because, in my opinion, the club doesn’t deserve to be where it is.
Things have drifted, but I think people can see we’re trying to put little building bricks in place and say ‘okay, we can start from here, regardless of whether the club goes up or down’.
I think people can see we’re trying to look after the club and put it in the right place on and off the pitch.
It’s a huge club this. We have to try and pull things back together.
Q: Because of your background, when you got that phone call to say ‘we want you to be Ipswich manager’ there must have been an element of trepidation in terms of how you might be received?
A: That’s why I brought in Gilly – I knew he’d take the flak before me! He’s just left Norwich about three minutes ago! He gets the stick.
Was there any trepidation? When I spoke to Marcus (Evans) he was brilliant. I thought ‘okay, let’s go and see what happens’.
As soon as I walked through the door everybody made me feel welcome. Maybe the football helped a bit, but people were like ‘what’s happened in the past happened’.
What you get from us is 100% commitment, 100% enthusiasm, 100% fight and drive. I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I’m never in between. I’m full on.
Q: Has Matt Gill been able to give you any inside info then? We’ve had ‘Spygate’ in the Championship already this season…
A: He started that! That was his word ‘spygate’ and I thought ‘that’s a good word, I’m going to use that’.
He knows the club better than I do. He was there longer than I was. I was there at a time when the club was really low and things hadn’t gone well for the club.
We had a bit of success, stabilised everything, but it was the players who were the ones that did it. Not me. They are the ones that galvanised it.
Q: Does a little bit of this feel surreal to you? There was probably a moment in your life where you’d have laughed had I explained to you that you’d be doing what you’re doing now, preparing for a game at Carrow Road as Ipswich Town manager...
A: (Laughs) I don’t know. I really don’t know. It would be different were I going back to Norwich and people were saying ‘how are you doing?’ and things like that.
Ever since I’ve gone back there’s never been anything like that.
I gave Norwich everything – everything – for three years. I was tired, absolutely tired. I needed a break. I gave them everything.
Now I’m at Ipswich and I’ll give Ipswich everything. Nobody can ever point the finger at me.
Q: Do you have to rise above the atmosphere in these games?
A: Do I rise above it? I used to think that until I started fighting Stefan Klos one day in a Rangers-Celtic game. He was one of my best mates (an old Borussia Dortmund team mate), but it was the emotion of the derby and I probably went over the top.
Sometimes it can get the better of you.
Q: Will your team talk be to keep a lid on that sort of thing?
A: I don’t want us to be a soft touch. I don’t want us to sit back, let them have the ball and let things happen. No, no; We go there and we have to have aggression, controlled aggression, enthusiasm, tempo – everything you associate with football.
If we don’t have that we’ll have a hard time. If we have that then we’ll be in the game. I won’t curtail anybody.
Q: You must look back on your time at Norwich, from a professional perspective, with great pride?
A: I’ll go back to what I said earlier (about not asking Norwich questions)... I’d leave that if I were you.