After our article was published on Friday, Bryan Klug and Simon Milton gave interviews to the local press, which related to some of the topics that we’d raised. Simon Milton, in particular, was keen to emphasise, when quoted on Those Were The Days that the club’s owner would be making up the shortfall in funding as a result of the failure to gain category 1 status, in order to fund the Academy at a full rate. We hope this happens and in particular we hope that the Academy will be resourced as a priority for the football club – including facilities and staffing. We trust that existing staffing levels will be maintained.
by Gavin Barber
Lots of people ask for money. Most of us – me included – conduct a kind of instantaneous, subconscious cost/benefit analysis of each request before giving a response. Context is important. Earlier today I was asked for a charitable donation and gave the full amount, without hesitation. The charity was a random teenager who was 10p short of his bus fare. I paid in full because a) I could afford it, and b) it would mean that he could end his long-running argument with the driver, meaning that I could finally get off the sweltering pavement, onto the bus, and on with the rest of my life. Philanthropy and self-interest, perfectly married in a moment.
Rightly or wrongly, if you’re prepared to ask people for money then you need to be ready to make them feel that they’re Doing Something Good or Getting Something Back, or, preferably, both. Which is why the decision to ask supporters for cash to fund ITFC’s bid for Category One Academy status was such a bold one. And, on the basis of today’s announcement that the bid has failed, a potentially ill-advised one too.
We are told that the bid for Category One status has failed to reach the required 75% standard by just 0.3%. Who knows what complex algorithms lie behind this outcome? “IF facilities.PITCH >64% AND coaching.YOUTHDEV >72% THEN value academy.LEVEL must = 01”. That sort of thing. Maybe. Myriad factors, we are told, are considered. Investment. Coaching. Facilities. It all gets churned into a big buttery Audit Vat, and for ITFC it apparently comes out at 74.7% proof.
One could speculate on the maturity of a process which allows for such fine margins of error in an area of such inexact science; one could speculate further on how the application of the audit process might vary between clubs of different levels and status – particularly given that this whole thing was begat by the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), itself yet another downwards kick from the jackboot of the super-rich clubs into the faces of the rest.
And yet. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, and ITFC’s response to these challenges was, firstly, to opt rather defiantly for Category Two – like a spurned suitor petulantly de-friending the object of their affections on Facebook – only to decide that, actually, we did want to play with the big boys after all. But we needed someone else to pay for it.
That initial decision was important. ITFC weighed up the options available under EPPP and decided that Category Two was the least-worst of them. Or perhaps that Category One was not worth the risk. Not only was there a 5,000-strong petition raised in protest, but statistics provided by the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Trust proved that investment in Academies was more than likely to repay itself several times over in revenue from player sales, and transfer fee costs saved. Category Two, however, remained the preferred option at that time. It was a decision that now appears to have been costly, both in footballing and financial terms. Perhaps one that Marcus Evans now regrets.
And yet. When Town did decide to pursue Category One status – and let’s go right out on a limb here and suggest that the potentially beneficial effects of Category One on the overall balance sheet may have helped to prompt Marcus’s change of heart – it was the supporters who were asked to foot the bill. Not just a few quid for some fluorescent cones and training tops, but a sizeable chunk of the overall funding required for Category One.
Ipswich Town FC is part of the Marcus Evans Group, a multinational conglomeration of Stuff which employs squillions of people to make gazillions of dollars. It is not, perhaps, the most obvious cause when it comes to charitable giving, yet several supporters decided that it was worthy of donations. In issuing that appeal, ITFC sent out two distinct messages: firstly, that a Category One academy was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have, and supporters should therefore be expected to contribute to it. And secondly, if it was an enterprise inextricably attached to a cause, rather than a business decision about allocation of resources – as would presumably be the case in every other division of MEG – then supporters could arguably be seen to carry an implicit level of blame in any subsequent failure to achieve the desired outcome.
Like I said earlier, you can ask people for money any old time you want, but there’s an implied contract in any request for funding, particularly for a private organisation with an already-significant cashflow. And here we come back, rather cynically perhaps, to our two tests for charitable giving: am I Doing Something Good and will I Get Something Back?
The answer to those questions would both have been ‘yes’ if ITFC had found an extra 0.3% from somewhere. But we didn’t. We failed on the margins. And yet – as frustrating as it is to apparently miss out by such a tiny amount – it is always the case that, like a first serve in tennis, if you aim for the margins, you risk hitting the wrong side of them.
It’s easy, of course, to point the focus of attention towards those who carried out the audit. EPPP is a disastrously ill-thought-out initiative, so there’s no reason not to assume that the processes which underpin its implementation might also benefit from some improvement. But however flawed the process might be, the story to take from today’s announcement is surely not the fact that ITFC missed out on Category One by 0.3%, but that we put ourselves in a position whereby that might ever have become an issue. Why aim for the margins? Why look at the criteria and the processes, and decide that scraping around for 75% is the best approach to take – rather than determining to invest whatever is necessary to reach Category One, from the start? Why opt for Category Two, then spend time and effort recruiting a team capable of delivering Cat One, two years later?
These are business decisions and it’s not for me to say which is the right one and which is the wrong one. But as a supporter, it is for me to say something about asking fans to subsidise the shortfall left by some of those business decisions. And that is this: if you are going to ask fans for money to provide a Category One Academy, over and above the investment that fans already make via season tickets etc., and in the full understanding that Category One brings financial benefits to the club and its owner as well as sporting benefits to the team and its supporters, then you had better make damn sure you get it right. We are told that financial investment is only one of the criteria used to determine Academy status. In that case, if fans have contributed to the financial side of things, then it is down to the club to make sure that everything else is in order, to the extent where a margin of 0.3% in an audit score shouldn’t ever have become an issue.
Having put supporters in an arguably invidious position by asking for contributions in the first place, only to let them down by failing to deliver the aim that they were being asked to contribute to achieving, the Club and its owner once again have questions to answer. What will happen to those contributions? Why, with supporters’ contributions behind them, does it appear to be the case that ITFC aimed for being ‘just good enough’ to achieve Category One – and turned out to be not quite up to it – rather than reducing the risk by aiming higher than that? What happens next? Will there be a new approach or will supporters be asked for yet more money? As ever, we eagerly anticipate answers.
Today I visited cremation plot OC 194 in the old Ipswich cemetery. This is where the ashes of Sir Alf Ramsey are buried. I had heard from someone that he had never seen any flowers there and so I decided to take him a few from my garden. Sadly, the white flowers have all gone over and so I had to take pink and blue blooms. As it’s the World Cup finals at the moment, I wanted to thank the man who built the England team that won the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966, the most successful national manager of all time, who was also the man who transformed my team, Ipswich Town, from a provincial club to a renowned side that won the English football league championship in 1961/2. In fact, when I eventually found his plot, there were some flowers there, but it was good to be able to leave something on behalf of Turnstile Blues. To find his last resting place to be as modest and humble as the man was in life was very moving. Thank you, Sir Alf Ramsey, 1920-1999.
Recently we asked ITFC a question via the medium of Twitter
We haven’t had a reply, but what’s new?
So we’d like to ask the Club a few more questions. Firstly, we ask again, when can we expect to hear official news about the final decision on our application for Cat. 1 status for the Academy?
We understand that additional information has been provided already but the required standard has still not been achieved and therefore an appeal has been lodged with the FA.
Has the FA given an indication to the Club as to when the decision on that appeal will be made, and, if so, when will that be?
How much money has been donated by fans/local businesses/sponsorship to the Academy Friends’ scheme to date?
Is the Academy paying the Club to use the training ground (bought from ITFC by Marcus Evans (Guernsey) Ltd in 2012) and, if so, how much is being charged?
How many people were employed by the Academy at the time of the audit and how many people are still on the payroll today? How many people who work for the Academy are also employed in other roles at the club?
We are disappointed that ITFC has not answered any of our questions about many different issues that concern a significant number of supporters – which we have sent them in the form of letters, e-mails and tweets – in the past and hope that they will engage with us now. We are all fans of long standing. Many are season ticket holders. All supporters, even if they are merely “customers” in the Club’s eyes, have the right to know what is going on at our football club. We believe that, in particular, those people who have given the Club donations through the Academy Friends’ scheme, in some cases substantial amounts of money, should be kept informed of what is happening on a more regular basis.
We look forward to hearing the answers to these questions and some others that we will be asking over the next few days.
By Susan Gardiner, who would like to make it clear that she hasn’t asked the rest of the Turnstile Blues group what they think.
I’ve had two experiences of serious violence which involved football supporters. Neither was anything to do with Ipswich Town and both were a very long time ago, in the bad old days when football supporters were given a certain notoriety by the actions of a minority who were up for a fight. One was when I was a very small child and my mother and I were trapped in an underpass near Molineux with Wolves fans coming one way and Stoke City supporters coming straight towards them from the other direction. I was terrified and had to press myself against the rather insalubrious subway walls as they met and started to punch the living daylights out of one another, oblivious to my existence.The second time was as a teenager in North London, waiting for a bus at Finsbury Park, a bus that was unfortunately full of Spurs fans who, spotting some Arsenal supporters, smashed every single window in the double-decker, indiscriminately showering us all with broken glass. That was pretty scary too.
I wasn’t at the infamous Millwall game, or at Elland Road when Leeds fans behaved disgracefully and attacked Town fans. My only experience of trouble in Ipswich was when there was a fight in Princes Street after we thrashed an already-promoted Portsmouth. When I reached the station, I had the privilege of having 2p coins thrown at me by Pompey fans who were presumably trying to make some kind of point about us having been in administration. Oh the irony.
I write these things to demonstrate that I’m not completely without direct experience of violence, nor unconcerned by it. I have also, unfortunately, seen violence in other contexts: a fully-fledged riot in the academic library that I worked in (it’s a long story) and I was present when an 19-year-old student (a rugby fan, as it happens) was stabbed to death at a disco. As far as I know, the authorities have never imposed draconian measures on indie discos.
This may seem like a slightly OTT response to the announcement that the police – yet again – want to move our Derby game against Norwich City from Saturday, 23 August to the following day. I’m not going to be very badly inconvenienced by this personally. I live close to Ipswich and even though I’ll have to catch a rail replacement bus service into town, and not be able to have a civilized lunch at a civilized hour with my friends, my day won’t be entirely ruined. However, the alteration is going to make it difficult for people who have to travel some distance.
The justification for making the change and for the early start of 12 noon is to avoid any potential trouble between opposing groups of supporters. Having travelled to very nearly every home match at PR for thirteen years on the Norwich-Ipswich train, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced any trouble – or even much hostility. There’s been a bit of muttering, occasionally the word “scum” has been uttered (on both sides), but nobody died.
Let’s look at some facts: the most recent Home Office figures – full details can be found here – for banning orders, by club, show that in 2012/3 Norwich supporters received 10 as compared to Arsenal (59), Chelsea (110) and Cardiff City (121). In the Championship, only 6 of our fans received banning orders. Only three clubs had fewer: Reading (5), Watford (4) and Yeovil (1). Similarly, arrest figures (for 2012/3) show Norwich among the best behaved, with only 12 arrests and Town were Champions – well, I’m taking it as a win! Only four Town fans were arrested in that season (all at away matches), well below Blackpool’s 11. Of the four, only one was for “violent disorder,” another for “public disorder” and the other two were for “alcohol offences.”
I’m really proud of these statistics, and yet, instead of being rewarded for having such top fans, it seems that the local police, with the agreement of ITFC, are going to continue to regard us all as potential criminals. There is no reason, in my view, that this game cannot be held at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon with normal levels of policing.
It’s not just having the game moved. When I used to come down from Norwich, we were often corralled, along with Norwich fans, and led down to Portman Road by the police. I ended up taking the earliest possible train to try to avoid this. I’ve never been able to understand why, having never been as much as cautioned by the police in my life, I should be treated as a criminal, merely for wanting to watch my team.
The arguments about an earlier kick off time being a way of reducing alcohol consumption don’t stack up either. The last time I travelled to a match on the train from Lowestoft, yellow and blue shirts all together in the same carriage, several supporters were drinking from concealed litre bottles of vodka. It was a train that reached Ipswich at about 10.30am.
Restrictions on alcohol consumption only appear to apply to football supporters. If you’ve been to a Test match, you’ll be aware that many spectators do not confine themselves to consuming fizzy lemonade. I once saw someone being carried IN to Trent Bridge at 11 o’clock in the morning (there’d been rain). My experience of obnoxious behaviour by cricket fans has been far worse but I’ve never come across any organized policing strategy at a cricket match.
There were a total of 34 arrests during Royal Ascot this year, according to one report, although the BBC reported 29, as an improvement on the previous year when there were 50. Once again, I don’t imagine that Her Majesty and her chums will be subjected to any restrictions on how they can travel to and from the race course.
So why are football supporters treated differently from those attending other events? It’s an authoritarian society that treats innocent people as if they need to be controlled. Perhaps the police lack the staff levels or ITFC don’t want to pay for the policing (they didn’t last time we played Cardiff City, with their highest number of banning orders, which doesn’t strike me as very logical, to be honest), but it’s still not a justification for assuming the worst about what are, on the whole, a very well-behaved and good-natured group of people. I’m all for the police dealing with people who have committed an offence or have form – but this is not yet the society depicted in the film Minority Report where people are arrested and punished for “PreCrime.”
A final concern. There is a possibility that the police might one day impose what is known as a “Bubble” on travelling supporters. This means that fans are only allowed to travel to an away game on designated transport, normally club coaches, from specified pick up points and bussed straight to the ground. This happened a couple of years ago to that notorious firm Hull City AFC, when they played Huddersfield Town. It’s yet to happen to Chelsea fans, I believe. An attempt to impose one when Sunderland played Newcastle last year failed when both clubs refused to back the idea.
It’s clear that many Town fans don’t feel that this is such an important issue. It’s just moving a game to the next day, after all. Except that I don’t believe it is. It’s an authoritarian approach to managing largely law-abiding crowds. It’s ill thought out and quite frankly, lazy. Lazy in its assumptions about football supporters, lazy in its approach to dealing with football supporters and not tackling the problem of genuine offenders, lazy in the lack of consultation of supporters.
Watching football is not a crime.
Here at Turnstile Blues we like to think that we present a different perspective on ITFC from that which you’ll find in the mainstream media. To keep up this tradition, we asked Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish, society columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times from 1871 – 1903, to review this year’s Player Of The Year dinner and awards evening.
“It was a most welcome surprise to be invited to review the 2013-14 Ipswich Town Player Of The Year Awards evening via the medium of time travel. I had feared that my elaborate evening-wear and celebrated fulsome beard – quite the talk of the dinner-dance scene in late 19th century Woodbridge – might rather mark me out as a man out of place and time, but I was relieved to discover that a goodly proportion of the assembled gentlemen and players were also sporting fine sets of whiskers!
“The event was hosted by Mr Milton Simons, a jovial sort of a cove with a charmingly estuarine dialect. I am given to understand that Mr Simons had previously been an Ipswich Town player of some note himself, and much merriment was made of his shiny bald head. Mr Simons appeared to be suggesting that the primary culprit in this regard was some fellow called Banter, but I could see no record of such person amongst the list of guests.
“As the evening progressed, it was clear to note that many of the assembled company had attained a state of light-heartened relaxation. Several of the menfolk discarded their neckties and some even stepped out of their frock-coats. I was intrigued to observe the elaborate markings on the forearms of several of the Ipswich Town players. One can only assume it is a requirement of the modern factory that workers are required to ink themselves in company insignia, and can only be hoped that this does not interfere with the athletic regime of the amateur sportsman.
“It was a matter of some curiosity for the pan-temporal visitor to observe some of the customs of this strange modern era. There appeared to be a great deal of excitement around something called a ‘Chambers Fist-Pump’. Alas, your correspondent was unable to discern the precisions of this ritual, but we can perhaps safely assume that a gentleman’s chambers are no longer the stronghold of privacy that they once were. Such ‘Fist-Pumping’ may have become a necessity in this regard.
“One further noted the presence of a rangy young man by the name of Myrone Tings. Mr Tings was acting quite the philanthropist – tossing morsels of food from the windows to feed hungry-looking badgers, and organising a collection in aid of the local sailors’ refuge. It was a matter of some relief to this observer that Mr Tings was not a recipient of any award on the night. Whilst he may be a young man of most worthy character, such individuals are naturally prone to the giving of painfully long acceptance speeches.
“During the awarding of the prizes, there appeared to be quite the commotion around the antics of a well-fed looking fellow, who I was given to understand was a Club official of some sort. Said official had taken it upon himself to enliven the prize-givings with a colourful commentary of his own! Some lively chit-chat was observed as the gentleman loudly annotated the awards with what appeared, to this observer at least, to be some rather fruity observations about the recipients – including some noticeably odd comments about quantities of money allegedly being earned by each, which quite shocked the ears at such a gathering. A rather gruff-sounding Yorkshireman appeared to take a particularly dim view of the gentleman’s frivolity.
“I should say that it was most enlightening to spend some time in 2014 and to note the peculiarities of folk some decades distant from my own era. I will admit to my readers that by comparison to the assembled company, I did feel rather ‘senior’! But then I saw John Wark”.