Let’s call the whole thing off

11/05/2014

Thanks to everyone for the fantastic response to our idea about having a Fans United day on 18 May. We appreciate that the very short notice and the expense of ticket prices at Wembley (plus, as several people have pointed out, that the revenue would go to the FA) made it a difficult proposition.

However, we still think that Tom Davies’ idea is an excellent one. We’re open to suggestions of alternative dates and venues for a Fans United day. It’s still vitally important that we work together to ensure that football supporters come together to protect the future of the game we love.

We want to work with Suppporters Direct, the Football Supporters Federation and all the groups that are “against League 3″ to oppose the FA’s proposals about B teams and “league 3″ and ensure a future for football at all levels, including lower league, non-league and grassroots teams.


Fans United Day

10/05/2014

FansvL3

 Written by Gavin Barber.

Judging by the response that the FA Commission’s proposals for the creation of Premier League B Teams and a “League 3” have had since their launch, football fans seem almost unanimous in their angry opposition to the plans.

What can we do about it?

An organised collective called Against League 3 (@AgainstLeague3 on Twitter) has made a great start by starting an online petition which, at the time of writing, had almost 28,000 signatures. If you haven’t signed it yet, please do so now.

Leyton Orient fan and regular When Saturday Comes contributor Tom Davies (@tomdavieseE17 on Twitter) suggested a Fans United day at the Skrill Premier (Conference) play-off final, which is on Sunday 18th May at Wembley Stadium.

I think this is a great idea, so this article is an attempt to get it going.

What is a Fans United day?

It’s a day when football fans come together to make a statement or a protest about something which affects all those who care about the games. Previous Fans United days have usually centred around the plight of a particular club – the most famous example being the Fans United day at Brighton & Hove Albion in 1997.

By attending a game in a wide variety of club colours, and making a vociferous but good-natured protest, fans can make a powerful statement to those administrators who continually treat supporters with contempt and disregard.

We think that the FA’s plans are so dangerous to the culture of our game, the structure of the League pyramid, the integrity of English football and the lives of supporters, that a Fans United event is an appropriate response. The Conference play-off final seems a good time and place for it – the Conference is one of the leagues under direct threat from the proposals. Imagine Wembley Stadium filled with 80,000 passionate fans, making a bold and very public statement against the FA.

A Fans United day at the play-off final would not seek to disrupt or in any way undermine the day for the fans of the teams taking part, Cambridge United and Gateshead. It’s their day more than anyone’s. By coming along and showing support and solidarity, Fans United could make the occasion even more special and memorable for those teams’ supporters.

What do we need to do?

  1. Show your support by leaving comments under this article, by tweeting and following @fansutdvslge3 on Twitter, and by emailing fansunitedagainstleague3@gmail.com. It’s really important that we know how many people are prepared to get behind this. Without significant numbers, it won’t work.
  2. Buy a ticket for the Skrill Premier Play-Off Final at Wembley on 18th May 2014. These are being sold through the online ticket agency See Tickets.
  3. Get visual! Think of what you could do to make a bold “Against League 3” statement at Wembley. Wear your club’s colours. (Probably best not to wear Peterborough colours if you’re in the Cambridge section, but you get the idea). Banners? Balloons?
  4. If you can provide practical help, for example by producing a large banner, or t-shirts, or anything else that might draw attention to the cause, please get in touch.

Fans United days are organic – there isn’t an organisation behind them. They only work if large numbers of fans from all clubs are prepared to support them. There’s no money behind it and no-one will be asking for any. Any support that can be offered ‘in kind’ – e.g. by making banners or t-shirts, would be gratefully received.

The most helpful thing to do is to commit to attending the event. If there seems to be a big level of interest, we’ll put this out to the media to try and gain more publicity. But only if large numbers of people are prepared to get behind it!

It’s our game at stake. Let’s take it back.


The Turnstile Blues Alternative End of Season Awards

05/05/2014

cleggies

Naturally, we at Turnstile Blues had to hold our own end-of-season Alternative Awards ceremony, the Cleggies. The champagne flowed, the party went on into the small hours and the boys all looked fabulous in their glittery designer frocks. Or possibly we thought them up in the garden of the award-winning Greyhound after the last match of the season.

The Young Player of the Year Award

Goes to Luke Chambers’ son. Sign him up etc.

New Signing of the Season

The Big Mick Burger.

The Richard Naylor “Early Reducer” Award

Goes to Frank Nouble for a magnificently gratuitous clattering of Joey Barton just seconds after coming off the bench at Loftus Road. Such a thing of beauty that it almost compensated for QPR scoring their late winner from the resulting free-kick.

The Turnstile Blues We Love Him So Stop Slagging Him Off, OK? Award

Goes to the Hyamighty Luke Hyam. Want to make something of it?

The Danny Haynes Memorial Premature Celebration Award

Goes to Reading fans for their pitch invasion when they didn’t get into the play offs.

The Darren Currie Distinctive Ink Award

To Luke Chambers for having one complete tattoo sleeve and one arm bare of artwork. Daryl Murphy’s dual tattoo sleeves made him a contender but we like the bold artistic statement made by Chambers’ contrasting upper limbs.

Away Fans of the Year Award

Sheffield Wednesday.

The Tyrone Mings Example To Us All Award

Goes to Tyrone Mings!

The 1970s Revival of the Season Award

Goes to the industrial-sized toilet roll that was hurled on to the pitch from the away end at Huish Park. Great effort, guys. And it must indeed have been a great effort.

Best Pub Award

No contest here. For another fabulous season in which Dan wisely rotated his squad, brought in some innovative tactics and once again stayed at the top for the entire season: The Greyhound.

Beard of the Year Award

Goes to Mick McCarthy. We don’t care that Ando’s is better, we liked Mick’s. #bringbackthebeard mickmask

The Malcolm Tucker Omnishambles Award

To everyone at ITFC responsible for the opt-in / opt-out direct debit fiasco, setting the already-high Public Relations Cock-up bar at Portman Road to frankly Olympian levels. As the great man himself might have said: “This is like the Shawshank Redemption, only with more tunnelling through s**t and no f***ing redemption”.


Issue 5 on sale this Saturday, 3rd May

02/05/2014

TB5

The latest issue of Turnstile Blues will be on sale outside Portman Road before and after the final game of the season on Saturday. Our sellers will be by the statue of Sir Alf from 11 a.m. and again after the match. There will also be people selling around the ground after the game.

The fanzine costs £1 and has an international theme. It’s been edited this time by Alasdair Ross, well-known Town supporter and former editor of the legendary fanzine, Dribble!

In this issue: East to East by Graham Downes; Fair’s Fair (on FFP and the Championship) by Rob Freeman; a sideways look at some of our – er – less successful signings by Gavin Barber, who has also written amusingly about a youthful trip to Moscow; Grant Bage pays tribute to a woman who “never played football and very rarely went,” but was nevertheless an important part of his Ipswich Town experience; journalist Nick Ames writes about Town’s connections with players from the Balkans; Susan Gardiner has spoken to Shane Supple about his time at PR and considers “life, football and the pursuit of happiness,” and there’s the usual fun stuff.

Significantly fewer copies of this issue have been printed, and we anticipate selling out quickly, so make sure you buy your copy on Saturday. Any remaining copies – and a downloadable version – will be available from the Fanzines page of this website on Monday, 5th May 2014.

 


With A Little Help From My Friends

01/05/2014

This tribute, written by Susan Gardiner, to the late Dale Roberts, ITFC player and coach, first appeared in issue 4 of Turnstile Blues which was published in February 2014.

DaleThe writer George Eliot once asked ‘“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” In an age which elevates the individual beyond all reason and devalues co-operation, which celebrates “celebrities” without quite explaining what there is to celebrate about them (erm – Joey Essex, anyone?), it’s easy to forget the contributions of those who work quietly in the background, often selflessly allowing others to take the credit for their achievements.

 

Football – stating the obvious – is a team game. It’s only been in relatively recent years that individuals have been picked out and transformed into superstars. Of course, supporters have always had favourites – Town fans adored George Sherrington, Ernest Kent and Ernie Bugg long before the club had moved to Portman Road or become professional – but it was only between the First and Second World Wars that players like Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Dixie Dean became national stars, winning media attention and adulation from fans all over the country. Later, the England cricketer, Denis Compton – who also played football for Arsenal between 1936 and 1950 – took it on to the next level, winning lucrative advertising contracts and presumably earning quite a lot of money in the bargain.brylcreem

Over the last few years, Ipswich Town fans have had their fair share of the notoriety that tends to come with the “star” player of the 21st century – the Jimmy Bullards and Michael Chopras whose undoubted natural ability brought us such great expectations – only for it to be dashed, leaving us with an empty feeling of unfulfilled possibilities and disappointment. What a waste, as Ian Dury sang. If only we could learn to appreciate the contributions of those who quietly work away at making Ipswich Town the club it is, without the newspaper headlines or the “incidents” at nightclubs. There have been many players, coaching staff, groundstaff, cleaners and secretaries, who have given ITFC so much over the years and have never – not that I know of, anyway – posted a photograph of a large amount of cash on Twitter.

Now it’s not only the footballers who get the attention. Since the inception of the Premier League skewed football further in the direction of money and big business, other participants in the sport have been picked out as stars, especially the managers. Alf Ramsey, Bob Paisley, Matt Busby and Bobby Robson won deserved acclaim and attention for their achievements in the game, but in the last 20 years the ever-present cameras have panned to the face of any PL club’s manager after every trivial incident, whether it’s a superlative goal or a bit of handbags involving some of his sillier players. Every unedifying spat between the likes of Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson has been elevated to back page headlines as if they were speaking with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the wisdom of Eric Cantona when mostly it’s about the level of a school playground bragfest. More recently, the supposed importance of the corporate side of top-level football has drawn media attention to the owners and chief executives of football clubs, particularly if they’ve done something to really piss their own fans off. Now the cameras stray, all too frequently, to the rather unprepossessing figures of Vincent Tan at Cardiff City and Assem Allam at Hull City AFC. I suppose you could describe it as “the money shot.”

There’s nothing wrong with football having stars; the glamour of a Beckham or the sheer breathtaking ability of a Ronaldo or Messi are part of football’s appeal but one of the problems with this media-led cult of the individual is that a lot of people who contribute to the success of a club are ignored. I’m not talking about the many “unsung heroes” that exist at every club, although they too should be acknowledged of course, but most football managers don’t work alone. They have a whole array of coaches, physios, and other staff – and some of them contribute a great deal. Occasionally, a manager will have a coach that he works so closely with that they are identified as a partnership and one of the most famous examples of this is, of course, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor – although I’ve no idea whether the reality was quite as it was portrayed in the slightly fanciful, but very enjoyable film, The Damned United. At other clubs, it may well be that managers owed more to their assistants than fans and journalists ever realised: Bobbies Robson and Ferguson are a case in point, although often an assistant is never quite able to achieve the same success on his own.

In the recent history of Ipswich Town, one partnership stands out – although I’m hopeful there may be another dynamic duo at the club, you never know – the ultimately very successful pairing of George Burley with Dale Roberts, and whereas I wouldn’t ever wish not to give Burley “all credit” for what he achieved, I’ve always felt that Dale must have been an integral part of that sublimely successful period for Town at the beginning of the 21st century.

Dale Roberts was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1956. He began his football career at Portman Road when he joined as a schoolboy in November 1972. He became an apprentice in January 1973 and turned professional in September 1974. He was a member of the squad that won the FA Youth Cup twice in 1973 and 1975 – a remarkable achievement. It’s clear that the young central defender had great promise. Among his teammates in that first Youth Cup winning team was fellow 16-year-old, George Burley, and the two boys, both far from home, formed an enduring friendship. In the squad that won the youth trophy in 1975 were David Geddis, Russell Osman and one John Wark. Roberts’ problem as a player for Ipswich would be that it was a time when there was an “embarrassment of riches.” Bobby Robson’s youth team policy combined with his brilliant network of scouts meant that competition was fierce and Roberts was competing with players of outstanding quality.

Former ITFC Chairman, David Sheepshanks, recalled: “I can remember watching him as a player in the mid-70s where he was an understudy to Allan Hunter and Kevin Beattie. He was a top quality centre half but was also unfortunate to be at the club at a time when we had Russell Osman and Terry Butcher coming through…. Dale was a hard, totally determined and dedicated tough-tackling, no-nonsense player.”

He ended up only making 24 full appearances for Town before moving to Hull City AFC for a reported figure of £50,000 in February 1980, although it seems he spent a very brief time playing in the North American Soccer League in 1979. Roberts made nearly 200 appearances for Hull in Divisions 3 and 4. Manager Brian Horton described him as “popular… enthusiastic… a player’s player.” Matthew Rudd, a Hull City supporter and journalist, says he was a “popular player. Talkative, quick and hard as nails. Played in both City’s best and worst sides of the 1980s. … Partnered Peter Skipper through the best times until injury got him in 1984/5, and he went to Ferriby. By then he was playing at right back as Brian Horton preferred Skipper and Stan McEwan in defence. All three of the managers he played for seemed to rate him, especially Colin Appleton, who put him in the side at the start of 1982/3 after an opening day defeat and never looked back.”

Roberts’ career at Hull ended prematurely when he suffered from a serious injury to his pelvis. It looked as if his days in football were over and he was training as a driving instructor – while playing for non-league side Bridlington Town – when he was given the chance to rejoin Colin Appleton at Hull City as youth team coach. He was there from 1989 until 1993 when he teamed up with his old friend George Burley at Ayr United, later joining up with him again in what would prove to be a controversially short spell at Colchester United. Burley was doing well at Colchester when – after only 20 games – he was lured back to his old club, Ipswich. It was a move which resulted in acrimony, legal wranglings and the payment of compensation. Colchester’s chairman at the time, Peter Heard, said that he offered Roberts the chance of the manager’s job at Layer Road: “We asked Dale to stay on and take over but he was very gentlemanly about it and said no. He had great loyalty to George, who had brought him in and wanted to stay with him. … I felt he was very much the unsung person behind the amazing run.”

David Sheepshanks: “He was the perfect foil to George [Burley], someone who never sought the limelight but played an invaluable role…. He was the ultimate professional at whatever job he was given.”

It’s never going to be possible to know the extent of Dale Roberts’ contribution to the success that Town enjoyed in the Burley era or how much he was responsible for the promotion to the Premier League in 2000. He was certainly liked by players and coaching colleagues alike. Matt Holland described him as “a terrific guy…. I can’t speak highly enough of Dale,” and another first team player from that time told me: “I had a lot of contact with Dale, probably as much as any coach. He was the main organiser for training, travel, etc. They [DR & GB] worked very closely together, they were very good friends and complemented each other.They obviously knew each other from their playing days, as in most manager-coach relationships. I can’t ever remember them falling out. Dale was very loyal to George.I think it [DR's illness] had a big impact on George and players that had worked with Dale for a while.In my opinion a manager is only as good as his number two, right-hand man. A good coach won’t always agree with the manager, but he’ll always back him up and be very loyal. A coaching role can often be a link between the players and manager. Dale did this very well.”

The partnership between George Burley and Dale Roberts became part of Town legend in May 2000 when they were filmed celebrating on the touchline at Wembley stadium after Martijn Reuser scored for Town in the play-off final, taking us up to the Premier League. (You know the one: “Reuser – Premiership!“) Dale and George danced and hugged while the rest of us went bananas.

Despite being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Dale Roberts went on to take Town’s reserves to win the southern section of the Premier Reserve League Championship in 2001-2. It was a prestigious title to win. His captain, Justin Miller, then only 21, said: “Dale is the reason I made it. … Even when he was going through the toughest of times, he was there for us.”

Dale Roberts died on 5 February 2003, aged only 46. Sir Bobby Robson, who felt close to him as someone from his native north-east, said he was distraught. The funeral, at St. Augustine’s church on Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, was attended by many players, past and present, as well as youth team players dressed in their Town tracksuits. George Burley read the eulogy. There is no doubt that this was a deep personal loss for him. As well as losing someone with whom he’d worked closely for many years, he had lost one of his closest friends.

So back to George Eliot. At the end of Middlemarch, she wrote “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.” It is the quiet work of those who are not celebrated that in the end counts the most. Ipswich Town should always remember Dale Roberts.

 

 


Feta accompli

29/04/2014

greek flagIn England and Wales, fan owned clubs have a successful model that they can be set up from, created by Supporters Direct. Elsewere in Europe, different rules apply. In Germany for example, every club, by law, has to be 51% owned by the supporters. In Greece, things are a little less orthodox. Stephen Skeet takes
a look at how fan ownership from one of Greece’s biggest clubs has come under the control of a media mogul.

In October last year, just 24 hours before their Europa League clash with Spurs, Panathinaikos F.C. parted company with their talismanic captain Kostas Katsouranis by mutual consent. Chairman Yiannis Alafouzos arrived at the training ground to break the news to the club’s shocked players with local media reporting Katsouranis’ poor attitude and negative influence in the changing room.

The fact that Katsouranis was the Greek vice-Captain and holder of 98 international caps made this decision surprising enough, but it was also notable for the simple fact that since May last year Panathinaikos had been fan owned, and this decision had effectively been one ratified by the fans. This has been just one notable episode in a turbulent and challenging ten months of fan ownership, and highlights some of the perils that can be encountered when a once family run club mortgages itself chasing the dream.

Panathinaikos were founded 105 years ago last month. They are Greece’s most decorated team, and considered pioneers in the Greek game; they were the first team in Greece to boast a grass pitch and floodlights, and under the tutelage of the great Ferenc Puskas were Greece’s only ever European Cup finalists in 1971, losing to the Cruyff inspired Ajax Amsterdam.

The club was also the first club to have a supporters club in Greece; the infamous ‘GATE 13’. In 1979 Greek football went professional, and the club was taken over entirely by the Vardinogiannis family who had made their money largely through oil. Domestic trophies flowed through the 1980’s and 1990’s and there were two more European Cup semi-finals in 1985 and 1996. The early 2000’s saw some initial success but the emergence of Olympiakos as a force in domestic competition suddenly challenged the authority of the Greens as the major force in Greek football.

This heralded a change in strategic direction at the club, and in April 2008 the Vardinogiannis family decided to reduce their stake in the club from total ownership to 56%, inviting in outside investors and thus raising 80m Euros in capital stock investment. This financial investment initially seemed to have an impact and over the next two seasons big name players arrived for large wages; Gilberto Silva from Arsenal, Gabriel from Fluminese, Boumsong and Govou from Lyon and Djibril Cisse from Marseille. The club started to rent the Olympic Stadium in Athens as their new home, season tickets rocked past the 30,000 mark and in 2009-10 the club captured the domestic double.

So, how do we get from here to an effective fan bailout of the club in less than two years? In short, the European economic crisis struck exactly at the time that the club had speculated their newly acquired finance on massive wages and transfer fees. The club started to sell the players as quickly as they had arrived to reduce the wage bill, this in turn impacted upon results on the pitch and the club missed out on qualifying for the Champions League.

The financial turmoil at the club began to spiral (more on that later) and in September 2011, the Vardinogiannis family announced their intention to leave the Club. The club treaded water for six months, but after serious riots at the Panathinaikos-Olympiakos derby in March 2012 the entire Board quit. Panathinaikos would remain rudderless for the next two months.

Step forward Giannis Alafouzos, media mogul and the guy at the beginning of this article who let Katsouranis leave by Mutual Consent. He devised a plan to take the 54.7% remaining shares of the club from the Vardiogiannis family and make them available to fans around Greece so that anyone and everyone could contribute an amount to allow the club to overcome the crisis. In May 2012 the Panathinaiki Symmaxia (Panathenian Alliance) was born and a twenty member board was elected. The Vardinogiannis family agreed to transfer their 54.7% of shares to the Alliance, but It remained to be seen whether the fans would respond to the call for finance in any serious capacity.

From July 2nd 2012, fans started to contribute investment in return for shares and although the numbers of shares were linked to the level of individual investment, each investor received only one vote, irrespective of the level of their investment.

Around 3000 fans invested 1.8m Euros in the initial month, including former players such as Cisse and Gilberto Silva, and current playing staff agreed to delay their salary payments, meaning that the immediate future of the club at last looked secure. Alafouzos announced the transfer of shares to the Alliance on July 18th 2012 by stating “Panathinaikos belongs to its people…the Alliance represents the fans.”
So what of this turbulent ten months of fan ownership I referred to right back at the beginning? Well, on the field the club began to struggle. We already know what happened to the Captain in October. The Alliance began to find out the extent of the economic turmoil at the club; it was left with 35m Euros of debt to be financed (largely to the Vardinogiannis family) from whom they also rented their training facilities.

The club was also tied into renting the Olympic Stadium for ridiculous sums from the state (also in economic turmoil), and in November last year the stadium management wrote to the Greek FA stating that the club had not been able to meet its electric bills. Its solution was to offer to play games in daylight hours, but this was deemed impossible as Greek broadcaster Nova had many of the Greens match scheduled for prime time evening viewing.

Also in November, after a run of just 2 wins in 14 matches, Coach Ferreira was sacked. (He was the first donor to the Alliance for shares). Former Panathinaikos icon Juan Ramon Rocha replaced Ferreira, only to be sacked by the Alliance in January this year. Fabri Gonzalez (of no real managerial pedigree) was plucked from Spain by the Alliance to be the third Coach in as many months.

And what of the way forwards economically? The club has been courted for a number of years by Middle Eastern investment, and in January this year Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia pulled out of a takeover bid in which he planned to invest hundreds of millions of Euros in exchange for a 67.5% share in the club, due to being continually rejected by the club’s shareholders (The fans). Alafouzos was reported as saying he was “allergic” to the idea of the takeover. Meanwhile the club has negotiated a leaving date from the Olympic Stadium and will be returning to their spiritual home on The Avenue in Athens. The Avenue is a modest 15000 capacity stadium currently in disrepair built across from the refugee housing put up to receive Greek refugees from Asia Minor in the 1920’s. Attendances have dropped to 3000, but the supporters club has hired a clubhouse close to The Avenue and is engaged in the process of moving. A recent article in The New Athenian interviewed fans in the clubhouse who were prepared to give the Alliance a chance, but felt that until the Vardinogiannis family assume the 35m Euro debt the club couldn’t move forwards. The general consensus seemed that although 9000 fans had invested anyone who did so now that the details of the finances have become clearer were foolish.
It seems a long way away, and perhaps a bit melodramatic to look at this in the context of ITFC, but I for one will be following the story of Panathinaikos and the Alliance closely to see how they progress together. I have great respect for those engaged in trying to keep their club afloat in Athens. One could cite the above highlights issues with fan ownership and management of personnel, although coaching staff turnover is a characteristic of Greek football generally.

Conversely, one could also cite the fans have had a real say in who should be investing in their club. What it highlights for me, however, is just how vulnerable a club like ITFC may be whilst in the control of one man and his business empire (of whom we know little or indeed their intentions) who has spent millions chasing a dream, and who has continued to accrue a debt at the club of which we know little in terms of construct, conditions, and liability. Should he walk away it’s not entirely inconceivable that the club could face a similar set of issues to those in Athens.


A light that never goes out

29/04/2014

 

FA Youth Cup Final 2005

As issue 5 of Turnstile Blues is coming out very soon – and is on sale at Portman Road on Saturday, 3rd May 2014 – I’m posting some of my favourite pieces from the previous four issues in an effort to show you what we’re about. First, a particular favourite from our first issue, by Gavin Barber.

A few years ago, Heinz announced that they might have to stop making salad cream because everyone was buying mayonnaise instead. “Imagine that!” exclaimed a woman I worked with at the time, “no salad cream in the shops!”. “But hardly anyone’s buying it”, I replied, “do you actually buy it yourself?”. “Well, no”, she admitted, “but it’s nice to know it’s there”.

There was, of course, a subsequent mad rush on the purchase of salad cream and the product was saved. The whole thing was probably just a clever marketing ruse by Heinz, tapping into a basic truth: there are some things that comfort us simply by their continued existence in the background of our lives, whether it’s the presence of a condiment on the supermarket shelves, the smell of the coffee stall we pass on the way to work or the continued international career of Dennis Rommedahl. They don’t make much real difference to us, but we’d miss them if they weren’t there.

Does Ipswich Town fall into this category? I started thinking this when I was challenging myself to work out exactly why the bloody hell I had been so determined to pass the Portman Road habit on to my son. Was I handing down a precious gift, a timeless expression of parental love with value beyond measure? Or was it more like one of those irritating hereditary quirks such as premature baldness or eczema?

My Dad was a much better and more responsible parent than I am. He followed Ipswich himself and would respond cheerfully to all my questions about them, but never made any particular effort to foster my interest, perhaps sensibly deciding that if I wanted to open myself up to the same lifetime of frustration as he’d had, then it was my own lookout. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was pleading with him to take me along: the idea of actually going to Portman Road held the sort of allure for me that Disneyland had for other kids. Even then, I think Dad was a bit surprised, and not really convinced that I’d like it as much as I thought I would, but of course, when I eventually did make it through the turnstiles I was irretrievably hooked.

I wasn’t allowed to go every week but I’d mark on the fixture list the games that Dad had said I could go along to (this being the early 80s, these were mostly determined on the basis of having the lowest hooligan risk) and these, like Prufrock’s coffee spoons, would become the punctuation marks of my young life, each one as eagerly and as long anticipated as the last, regardless of how Town were playing at the time. Often we’d go with my extended family – my Grandpa, who always seemed to think it was cold and who judged each new signing according to whether or not they were as good as Tommy Parker (they never were), and my Uncle, who loved the Dutch players and whose own moustache I imagined to be his personal tribute to Frans Thijssen. I could disappear at this point into a quicksand of clichéd reverie, but I’m sure you get the picture: the boy in a man’s world; the always-lingering cigarette smoke; above all, the excitement of Christmas fixtures and the massed ranks of pocketed hands afterwards as the crowd shuffled, heads bowed against the biting winter wind, towards their trains and buses and cars and the New Year.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and I’m faced with the chubby cheeks and enquiring mind of my own progeny. By now I am located far from Portman Road, living in Oxford. Do I take my Dad’s wise, calm, dignified approach, allowing my son to plough his own footballing furrow and hope it leads him to the same field? Of
course not. The poor child has ITFC-branded tat shoved in his face from day one. Babygros, teddies, woolly hats, the lot. His baby bouncer pointed towards the screen for televised Ipswich games, in the hope that some formative connection will be made. Ostentatious attempts at bonding, even while the child is still in nappies: “Daddy’s off to football now! At Ipswich! I expect you’ll be wanting to come with me soon? Won’t you? Won’t you? Won’t you?” It was the sort of evangelistic approach that the Jesuits might regard as being a bit extreme.

In any case, it worked: he did start wanting to come along and now, at the age of 8, he’s a season ticket holder with me in the West Stand. We make the long journey by train, we have fun on the way, meet up with friends for lunch, watch the game, and then relax again on the train home. By that stage, the effects of a long day’s travelling and socialising can be taking their toll, but he usually wakes me up when we get to Liverpool Street.

But – that question again – why? Why was I so determined to bring another sacrificial lamb to the altar of underachievement? Is Ipswich the background music to my life, a comfort blanket that I wanted my offspring to grasp so that he can carry it for me when I’m too old and bewildered to remember the full name of Eric
Lazenby-Gates? Is it something that provides reassurances just because it’s there? If so, all well and good, but couldn’t I have kept it to myself?

I think the answer is that it’s more. It’s about maintaining a family tradition, but not just for it’s own sake – it’s because there is something about Ipswich Town as a club, as an entity, that can – in amongst all the frustration – bring moments of great joy and community. One of the things that always impressed me as a child about matchdays was that, no matter how mundane the fixture, the game was always, unquestionably, the most exciting and important thing happening in Ipswich that day. And in that way it brought people together and was a force for good.

There are many other football clubs whose fans would say exactly the same, and they’d be right too. Change, like death, taxes and the UK’s annual poor showing at Eurovision, is inevitable. Over time, players, managers, kits and even the physical structure of the ground itself are altered until they’re almost unrecognisable from those you grew up with. But something remains at the heart of the club that transcends all this. It’s the fans, basically – the togetherness, the humour, even the traditional Portman Road moaning – that make our club a special one: and that’s why we want to hand it on to our kids. We’re not only giving them a gift, we’re preparing the way for them to take their own turns at its stewardship, just by being there.

I’m not at all sure that Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg [This was first published a couple of years ago. - Ed.] get this. Their approach seems distant, a sort of “you let us get on with running the football club and we’ll paint the turnstiles occasionally so that you know we haven’t forgotten about you”, missing the point that we – like our parents and grandparents before us, and hopefully our children after us – are the football club. Clegg and Evans are people who happen to have functional roles for the moment, but one day they’ll be gone and we, the fans, will still be here.

But I think I can still justify my zealous approach to my son’s upbringing. That stuff that made me want to share it with him in the first place – the spirit of community – is still there. These days it’s not just in the pre-match pubs and in the ground itself, but it’s on Twitter and the message boards too, and is all the more fun for that.

This isn’t, then, about tradition for its own sake. It’s not like the outraged howls of protest at proposed changes to the Radio 4 schedule, made by people who never listen to Radio 4. It’s not just sitting in your favourite seat on the bus to work. It’s worth preserving because Ipswich Town stands for something. It’s up to us to do that preservation and right now it feels like we’re doing it in spite of the owner and the Chief Exec, rather than with them.

My uncle remained a season ticket holder in the West Stand until he died last November. On the day after his funeral, Town threw away their game against Reading in spectacularly slack and incompetent style, turning a 2-1 injury-time lead into a 2-3 defeat. Leaving the ground, my mind still laden with the grief of the previous day’s events, I was furious, feeling an irrational but unavoidable sense of affront at what I’d just seen from Town, in addition to the obvious annoyance that we all shared. Muttering to myself in fury, I heard my son’s voice cutting
through the discontented hubbub. “Never mind, Dad”, he said. “It was good to see Josh Carson score for us, wasn’t it?”

Without meaning to, he’d pulled me round in an instant, from a rapidly darkening mental state to a realisation that actually, yes, if we can only see the world through a child’s eyes then there is always something to take comfort in, whether it’s seeing your favourite player scoring or simply that there’s another game next week. When it comes to ITFC I’ve got big concerns about the present, but I’m learning to put my faith in the future.


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