Ipswich Town in decline: but why?

06/11/2012

Stuart Hellingsworth asks the ITFC Chief Executive a few pertinent questions.

 Back in the days when it was difficult to get a ticket to see Ipswich Town Football Club, (the days when town were flying high, the fans loud and the players proud) some fans would accuse others of being glory hunters: “Where were you when we were losing to Stockport?”  Times when fans were there to experience the lows were used almost as a badge of true loyalty against any Johnny-Come-Lately, as a mark of how far we’d come as we beat Liverpool, Tottenham and won plaudits on Match of the Day.

The abomination of the 3-0 defeat to a second from bottom Sheffield Wednesday was that new low.  It was the match that showed just how far we had plummeted.  We may yet suffer relegation and be a fixture in League One or lower, but that match will always be referred to as “that match”.  The match where it was spelt out that Ipswich Town fans had had enough.  The fact that our manager, Paul Jewell, had departed days earlier was not enough to prevent the vitriol that was dished out to the players and Simon Clegg.

Often, the sacking of an unpopular manager brings fresh hopes, renewed vigour and an air of positivity.  Players will put in a much improved performance to show the departed manager that he was wrong about them as they audition for prospective managers.  Not this time.  The players put in a performance that they could be proud of: if it was pre-season.  Tackling appeared to be banned for fear of injury or perhaps in a ploy to make Sheffield Wednesday look like Brazil circa 1982 (I did check, but neither Sócrates or Éder played for Wednesday).

That lack of commitment was matched by low confidence from some and little cohesion amongst the team, something that is inevitable within an unsettled side – a side that is changed more often than something that is changed a lot.  And don’t start me on the ludicrous tactic of using a lone striker who is just 5ft 8.  The crowd turned on the players.  “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” rang out from many (and not just the North Stand) as fans’ frustrations spilled over.  Aaron Cresswell was booed after a number of free kicks that were well below par for last season’s Player of the Year, a notable lack of confidence to blame.

So not your usual post-managerial sacking performance and positive atmosphere.

But where did it go wrong?

Many will point to Paul Jewell and certainly he has to shoulder much of the blame.  Some still refer to Roy Keane as the man who started the rot. Jim Magilton is also a candidate in the blame game from some quarters.  None of these were victims to chants during the match, mainly because they had all paid the price for poor performance.  Instead, only one staff member was highlighted: Simon Clegg.  “Clegg out” and “We Want Clegg Out” were sang at Town’s CEO who has been in place since April 2009.

Was this a fair chant?

Simon Clegg was appointed Chief Executive in April 2009.  Amongst his first duties was to fire Jim Magilton.  It seems the rationale for this was that town had failed to make the play-offs.  Yes, he sacked a manager for failing to make the play-offs. Indeed Jim tweeted on Saturday 3 November 2012: “I was sacked for not getting in playoffs…”  And many agreed with this sacking.  Agreed because we were building a club to challenge, a squad to get promoted; we wanted promotion.

That promotion has not happened but an escape route appears to be via the trap door to League One.  So how did we end up here?  From 9th in the table, when Jim was sacked in April 2009 to our current position of rock bottom in November 2012.  (I should add that our debt has also doubled in this time.)

Players and managers have come and gone – too many players and too many loans.  We can all find a list of quotes about how we plan to build for long term; how we won’t repeat the problems of letting contracts run down.  But these never happen.  Players are purchased for the short term, contracts are run down and loan players arrive.  With such short termism, no wonder players appear less motivated.  Someone who has signed for town or even developed via our legendary academy and has performed well is then dropped in favour of a loan player needing match fitness.

You could blame the manager for this.  He is (usually) the one who identifies the players he wants.  Some arrive: Bowyer, Bullard, Scotland, Creswell etc, but some don’t. Austin and Derry being two notable players for whom we agreed a transfer fee, arrived and were impressed with our facilities only for the deal to fall apart due to negotiations breaking down.  Then there is the group who arrived for a lot of money but departed for nothing: McAuley, Norris and Leadbitter being the standout names here.  Their contracts were allowed to run down and for them to be allowed to leave for free.  These were players that other teams wanted.  When asked if McAuley and Norris should have been offered a contract the previous summer to their release, Simon Clegg replied “I don’t think that at all. Hindsight’s a great thing. We are where we’re at.” (Taken from TWTD, Wednesday, 11th May 2011 13:49 )  So we bought expensively and ‘sold’ cheaply; no wonder the debt has doubled.

Peterborough developed a cunning strategy for players who do not wish to sign an extension: they sell them.  They sell them before their contract runs out.  Other clubs have a strategy whereby they look to agree a deal long in advance.  To 99% of clubs and fans, this would appear to be sound business sense.  At Ipswich, Lee Martin’s contract talks stalled because… because… Well you tell me.

Such contract talks are often the domain of the chief executive.  I believe that it may have been referred to in despatches that Marcus Evans and Clegg take a lead on these.  Even were it to be the responsibility solely of the manager, can it be that both Jewell and Keane allowed it to happen in more than one season?  Or is it an Ipswich Town Football Club problem?  Either way, I urge Clegg and Evans to ensure that they do not allow this to repeat itself yet again.

Attendance is another failing of Ipswich Town.  The table below shows how our attendances have dwindled from 25,651 in season 04/05 to 19,641 last season.  A loss of 6,000 spectators on average per game over six years.  That’s quite a loss both in terms of support and income.

Season Average ITFC  attendance Rank in division (attendance)
04/05 25,651 5th
05/06 24,252 3rd
06/07 22,444 7th
07/08 21,932 7th
08/09 20,873 8th
09/10 20,840 8th
10/11 19,641 9th
11/12 18,266 12th
12/13 (as of 4.11.12) 16,953 11th

Stats courtesy of http://www.football-league.co.uk/page/Home/0,,10794,00.html

Given, there has been a recession and with people having far less to spend than six years ago, attendances will drop.  But then this should be mirrored across the Championship.  However, as the rankings show, we did have the 3rd highest average attendance in 05/06 yet last season were down to 9th.  (The early part of this season being even worse.)  Why have we fallen down the attendance table?  These are areas that the club should investigate.  The fall in attendance is quite shocking and does not bode well for the club.  6,000 people x tickets + other goods (tea, beer, programme, cuddly toy for kid) = a big drop in income.

Can town not do anything to address this?  Upon his arrival at the club in April 2009, Mr Clegg announced: “That catchment area is quite solid and we can draw 28,000 people, as we did for the home derby.  One thing I want to do is to make sure the stadium is full week-in, week-out” (as published in TWTD http://www.twtd.co.uk/ipswich-town-news/14498/clegg-premier-league-the-number-one-goal )

So what happened there?

We know that many clubs offer discounts.  A cheap beer offer was available for the Sheffield Wednesday game.  Sometimes we reduce the costs of matchday tickets, but what do other clubs do?

  • Middlesborough are offering tickets for their next home game at just £12.
  • Crystal Palace did not appear to have any special deal available, but I did note that their cheapest adult ticket is £20 for certain games (not special offers that are only available if season ticket holders buy them).  Previously, through Groupon, it was possible to buy two tickets for £20 for a certain match.
  • Derby have also offered a similar deal via Groupon.
  • Leicester, it would appear, have some tickets available for £15.
  • Birmingham, against our good selves, did the “Kids for a quid” offer.
  • Sheffield Wednesday last season offered two tickets for £20 for a game.
  • Barnsley are offering members of the armed forces tickets for their game against Huddersfield for £10.
  • Wolves allowed season ticket holders to bring a friend for free for one of their games.
  • Charlton are offering tickets for £10 for one of their matches.
  • Bristol City also offered tickets for £10 for a certain game last season.  They also did an offer for season ticket holders of bringing a friend for free.
  • Sunderland’s game with WBA has an offer through Orange of £12.50 a ticket.
  • West Ham did Kids for a Quid.
  • West Brom via Groupon did an offer of two tickets for £25.

These are good offers that beat ours.  Why can we not be more considerate about this?  The club needs to be more proactive in attracting fans.  Yes, these are difficult times, but that’s where quality club management and business sense comes in.

And why are fans attending less?  Well, we can all offer up a few reasons, but does the club know why?  Whenever I have changed mobile phone provider or moved bank, I get asked for feedback as to why.  This does not happen with Ipswich Town when season ticket holders do not renew.  Why not?  The customer feedback is vital in developing a business.

And there we return to the facts that we have gone from 9th in the table to bottom whilst our debt doubles.

I have no doubt that the job that Simon Clegg does is extremely difficult.  I could not do that role.  Indeed, I do applaud him for the way that he has handled Michael Chopra’s problems.  He has done the right thing in my book and been most supportive.

However, if you are going to sack managers for not making the play-offs, then you need to be something special yourself and producing in other areas.  Namely:

  1. Not allowing expensive players to leave for nothing time and time again.
  2. Not allowing our attendances to drop considerably.

Some of these may indeed be difficult to manage, but they are roles that the chief executive is paid handsomely for.  For such an amount, the contracts of players needs to be far better managed.  Our debts should not be as high and programmes need to be developed to entice fans back.

So when considering the original question of was it fair for town fans to chant “Clegg out,” perhaps the above should be taken into account.

Simon, if you’re reading this, show us that it was wrong to chant Clegg out.  Get those attendances back up, sort the players’ contracts out and perhaps this will help with the debt that has been built up under your watch.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers