'It's totally different... it feels special around the town' - Counago on his Norwich memories
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:36 16 February 2018
It all comes flooding back when Pablo Counago is asked about his memories of the East Anglian derby.
The Spaniard, now 38 and still playing in his homeland, scored against Norwich both at Portman Road and Carrow Road, and was part of the last Ipswich side to beat the Canaries all the way back in 2009.
His goals never directly contributed to victories over the old enemy, as he followed up to turn home a Darren Bent missed penalty in a 1-1 draw in 2002 before netting in 2007, in a game which ultimately ended 2-2, but the games are among his fondest memories of his time in England.
Nearly 10 years on from his last derby appearance, as the Blues prepare for Sunday’s trip to Norfolk, Counago can still recall the tingle he felt as the hours ticked down towards derby day as excitement washed over the town ahead of a game he describes as being like no other.
“It’s totally, totally different,” he said.
“In the days leading up to the game it feels special around the stadium and around the town, and in the hours before you always know it’s going to be a different match.
“At the end of the day, of course, it’s only three more points and the league continues but the fans have so much more passion and you can feel that.
“That is a plus to the players and you can feel how special the day is.
“In training it is the same as usual but you know a big game is coming. You want to win every game but you have the extra responsibility for everyone in the town.”
The 3-2 victory over the old enemy in 2009 proved to be Jim Magilton’s final game in charge, as he was fired days later and replaced by Roy Keane, and it is from that game Counago has the strongest memories.
“I will always remember those days because they are special ones for players and for the fans,” he said.
“One of my best memories is from one of the last ones, which we won 3-2, and at that time it was Alan Quinn, Giovani (Dos Santos) and Jon Stead who scored for us. In that derby we played a great match and I remember it was such a special day for us.
“We started 1-0 down but we came back so well to beat them.
“Football is quite strange sometimes. It wasn’t just the result but how we played and how much we deserved it. In that time we were in a quite good position in the table, so it was a strange moment to sack a manager. We know in football anything can happen.
“You always remember the ones where you score goals, but unfortunately on those for me we only got a draw at Portman Road and Carrow Road.”
The striker is still playing for CD Choco in the fourth tier of Spanish football, having played in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Finland since leaving the Blues for a second time in 2011.
He still keeps a firm eye on the fortunes of his former club and is disappointed to see them struggling to make a major impact on the race for promotion.
“It’s always important but at the end of the day it’s important for three points,” Counago said.
“If you are in the middle of the table it’s not the same feeling. You want to win these big games but what you want is to be in the play-off positions and play for those promotions.
“I follow Ipswich every year and the position they are in now is not the one the fans and club want to be in, you want to be fighting for the play-off spots. I think they have realised now that is quite difficult.
“You always have that dream and you think ‘why not’ but being realistic you can see for Ipswich that it is now difficult to catch the top six.”
Counago’s Choco side are in action against Noia on Sunday, meaning he is unlikely to be able to watch his old club play Norwich, and the veteran is still enjoying lacing up his boots after returning to his home in Galicia.
“I’m still really enjoying it because it’s my local team and you are playing in like League Two or Conference (National League),” he said.
“The fitness is not the same but I still enjoy it and know a lot of the staff in the club and know everyone so well.
“Things are harder now I am getting older but I still enjoy it, playing with friends and playing football. It’s not the same but I still have the feeling I want to keep playing.
“The end of the season is coming in three months and after that I will decide if it’s enough, time to change and do other things or maybe play another yeah.
“At the moment I just want to enjoy playing as much as possible.”