East Anglia Derby: Grant ready with his shark riposte
Great White welcome awaits Norwich's new manager today - but his team will bite back
Sunday 19 November 2006
Ipswich fans will be flaunting plastic sharks at Portman Road today. Not in a desperate bid to frighten away a Norwich team who last lost on this ground eight years ago, but to embarrass the Canaries' new manager, Peter Grant, who was once the victim of a classic Godfather-style sting.
It happened a dozen years ago when Grant was the captain of a Celtic side who included Paolo Di Canio. Grant explains: "We went on a pre-season tour to Sweden and the manager, Tommy Burns, arranged for us to share, explaining that Paolo could not understand English and I could not speak it. Paolo was a big pal and at one time I told him I had this thing about sharks.
"We had been to a function where they had a table full of fish dishes, with the centrepiece a shark's head. Before we left Paolo slipped it into a bag and before the two of us went to bed he slid it under my covers. We put out the lights and to say I got a fright when I put my feet between the sheets is an understatement."
Di Canio has subsequently written about the episode in his book, hence the prospect of the 41-year-old Grant facing trial by shark today.
For someone who played a record 54 times for Celtic in Old Firm derbies such tactics stand about as much chance of deflecting him from his self-appointed task of the annexation of three points as all the fuss being made in East Anglia this weekend over the latest of the "Old Farm" clashes.
When he left Celtic after 15 years to join Norwich as a player in 1997, Grant was involved in two games against Ipswich. "We won the first one 2-1 at home, not long after I arrived. I thought I played very poorly and wasn't happy with the win, but the supporters went home happy as Larry, all they wanted to know about was the result." His second match, in February 1998, was the last time Norwich have lost at Ipswich, a 5-0 humiliation. "I thought I played well that day," Grant chuckles.
Grant acknowledges that East Anglia derbies generate every bit as much fervour, if possibly less noise, as the Old Firm clashes. "I felt as nervous and excited in my last one for Celtic as I did in the first," he says. "So I know about the passion and people going to work happy on Monday if we have won. But for me, above all, it is three points, a massive three points, because they are also our biggest rivals.
"In derby matches you just try to have that coolness in your mind. You know everybody else is het up, so it's the ones with cool brains on top of that who are successful. That's what makes Sunday a special day, two groups of supporters desperate to beat each other. We know what we represent and we know what the prize is at the end."
For the past few days Grant has been starting practice sessions at 11.30am, roughly the time they normally finish, because that is the kick-off time today. Such is the attention to detail of someone who gave up his job as assistant to Alan Pardew at West Ham to take on his first managership, and who has turned round Norwich's floundering season with four wins in his first six matches.
"I thought it was too good an opportunity to knock back," explained Grant, who was appointed on Friday the 13th (of October). "It was a difficult decision because I loved my time at West Ham working in the Premiership against the best coaches, bosses and players. I want to take Norwich back to that, but as my own man, making an imprint with my team. Norwich giving me the chance to do that was my reason for leaving a club like West Ham."
Grant denied he had returned to Norwich because it is a pleasant place to live, saying he could twice have accepted managership of Bournemouth, where he ended his playing days, if he had wanted the easy life. "The easy life doesn't suit me, I'm a typical Glaswegian, the first time you relax is when you're in your box, going to the big man in the sky. Yes, Norwich is a lovely part of the world but that's not the thing that excites me, it's the football club and the challenge."
He praised his sacked predecessor, Nigel Worthington, whose legacy, he said, was "a good bunch of boys who work very hard in training", adding: "They give 100 per cent effort, if not always the quality I am looking for. I knew Nigel had built a good foundation. I am trying to build the house on top."
That the quality is emerging is shown from recent victories, all by a single goal, over promotion rivals like Cardiff, Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion. Another win today and the team who were 19th when he arrived will be in a play-off position, a run achieved, he insists, by attacking football.
"At Stoke [where Norwich were beaten 5-0] we were down to 10 men but I kept two strikers and two wingers on. I don't play to draw games, I want to win as many as I can. That way you get promotion, become champions."
As the American Civil War admiral David Farragut famously said: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." Damn the plastic sharks of Ipswich, too. Grant, a fish lover but shark hater, has his own antidote planned: "I'll take a tin of salmon on the pitch with me."
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