Relegation clock - harmless banter or a step too far?

It is incredible to think it is 11 years ago that Ipswich Town won their promotion play off into the Premier League.

I wonder how many Town fans remember that the Star’s sister paper in Norwich, The Pink ‘Un, immediately started a countdown clock to Town’s supposed relegation. I must admit that it had passed me by but Star editor Nigel Pickover clearly had not forgotten. Anyone who looks at the sports webpages is greeted with a green and yellow clock counting down to Norwich City relegation at the end of next season.

In the six years that I have been the Star’s ombudsman I don’t think there has been an issue that has gained such condemnation from readers. A glance at the thread will show that the overwhelming majority of contributors believe that the clock should be taken off the Star’s website. As expected it has ruffled the feathers of Norwich fans, but it has to be said that most Ipswich fans are opposed to the clock also.

The reaction to the clock raised a number of issues. Many felt that it was an example of sour grapes and a few even suggested that it would contribute to poisoning the atmosphere between the two sets of fans even to the point of contending that it could incite violence at future derby matches.

The clock has never appeared in the print version of the Star so many readers may be unaware of its existence, but given the strong reaction to its inclusion I felt that I should review it and interviewed the editor to get his views.

Mr Pickover mounted a strong defence of the countdown clock. He felt that Norwich supporters did not object to the actions of the Norwich Pink ‘Un all those years ago. He also drew a distinction between the website and the print version of the Star. In short it was a bit of fun designed to prick the Norwich City bubble a bit.

“The web pages should be edgy and provoke a reaction, it is a place where contributors can express shock, anger and outrage, while the print version needs to be more considered. We did congratulate Norwich City on their promotion in the Star and help to promote the Have a Safe Derby campaign”.

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He regards the countdown clock as a bit of light-hearted banter and believes that readers can tell the difference between banter and malicious comments and pointed out that it has now been significantly reduced in size.

I have to say that I agree with most correspondents that the clock appears to be sour grapes and that it may have been better to maintain a dignified silence. I can understand the desire to retaliate to the action of the Norwich paper’s editor, but would it be better to publicly take the moral high ground? Might it be better to see The Star being magnanimous, while pointing out the cheap shot by our not so close neighbours in 2000?

I am always concerned that contributors to websites say things under the cover of a pseudonym that they would not be brave enough to say face to face or if their comments were to be attributable. This can get out of hand as the “banter” gets more and more vicious. I believe that while it is important to preserve freedom of expression on websites, contributors should be identifiable at least to the editor of the site.

Coming from Stoke on Trent where there are two league clubs within six miles of one another I am always surprised by the Ipswich - Norwich matches being described as a local derby. It’s a bit like calling Manchester United vs Leeds a derby match. Nonetheless the passion that the games create is evident and provide the police with one of their busiest times of the year. We have seen the evidence of fans’ loyalty and passion getting out of hand. This year the treatment of Celtic’s Neil Lennon by so-called fans shamed football.

I do not believe that the clock will provoke reactions anything like these extremes but will no doubt be remembered the next year when hopefully Ipswich gain promotion. I think that we all need to keep football in perspective, it is after all a game. We have to accept that other than the top four clubs, success and failure run in cycles so both states are therefore temporary. Only a couple of years ago Norwich had been relegated to League 1, now they are in the Premier League. It is a truly remarkable achievement, but realistically neither Town or City have the wherewithal to build a club that will dominate at the top level. The way that football shares its riches means that the richer clubs continue to strengthen while the rest try to hang on to their status for as long as possible.

Ironically in 2000 Ipswich had a magnificent first season finished fifth and qualified for Europe. By mid season the Pink ‘Un’s clock was looking a bit sick and was eventually taken down. Time will tell whether the Star’s clock meets the same fate. I don’t think it will make much difference whether the countdown remains or is taken down. I am sure that once the season starts fans will concentrate more on the football,

I just think that the majority of Town fans would rather act with dignity and wait for the wheel of soccer fortune to turn again. Let’s concentrate on getting Town promoted and not worry too much about what is happening 40 miles away! Derby, some derby.