Everything you always wanted to know about… ITFC Italian Branch

04/12/2013

Susan Gardiner asked ITFC Italian Branch chairman, Simone Longo a few questions about how they came to support Town and this is what he wrote for us.

Simone Longo In my family we’ve supported ITFC for a long time. My big bro Claudio in 1981 was 14 years old and he remembers very well the epic period of Sir Bobby Robson’s Superblues! I was born a year later but I heard a lot of about that team.

My love for ITFC blossomed definitely in 2001 when the Blues beat Inter (I’m an AC Milan fan!) at Portman Road in UEFA cup. At the return match at the San Siro (I live in Milan) I went to see the game with the blue army in the away stand. That was an amazing experience.

I started as Italian branch chairman in March 2011 and now we are circa 40 members. We are based in Milan but we have some members also in other places in Italy. Some of us already knew one another before, others no, but it’s more important now that we share our passion and spend a good time together when it’s possible. A mention goes to Frank, he lives near Milan and he is English (was born in Dulwich). Frank and his sons are members and we are very happy to have them with us. In Italy there are a great number of fans of English teams and we are proud to support and make Ipswich known.

In our branch, our members also support mostly the big clubs of Italian football:  AC Milan, Inter, Juventus and Roma.

We organize and take part in different events: we have founded our football team and we have a partnership with ITFC Charitable Trust (now Inspire Suffolk); we raise money for them every time that we play. Usually we play against the Italian branch of other foreign teams. Moreover, we watch together the ITFC games when they are transmitted on TV, and we meet often only for talk about blues and drinking a good beer in one of the English pubs in Milan!

When we are in Ipswich, usually for the supporters’ day, we have the time only to watch the match and visit the town: we like every place in Ipswich; the centre, the waterfront and the Christchurch park. We would like to visit also the other places in Suffolk and one day we will stay more than a week-end and we will organise a Suffolk tour.

At the games we had the honour to meet some ITFC personalities, players and legends: especially Carlos Edwards (top pal!) and Simon Milton (always very kindly) but the Legend of the Legends for us is the mighty John Wark! We met him for the first time two years ago and when we came back last year at Portman Road he came to say hello to us and was amazing! We considered each other to be friends and this is the symbol of how ITFC is not a club like others, it’s a family. Supporters from all over the world, players, and club…we are one team, a big blue family… is fantastic for us this football idea in this modern world (and modern football).

CE with Italian shirtCE in Italian shirt 2

About the current team we say that in Mick we trust. For this season will be good to stay near the play offs and try to enter in the top six. We are not the best team in the league but we are better than the latest seasons, the Championship is strange and all is possible. The hope is to see as soon as possible ITFC in Premier League, but if it does not happen the important thing is that the club is solid and will try to be promoted every season.

See you at next supporters day Saturday 15th March 2014 for the match vs Wigan!

Forza Town!

There are more photos of the ITFC Italian Branch, generously supplied by Simone in our Gallery.


With Milts involved, fans might just ‘Be Part Of It’ again

29/03/2013

Once again, we’re privileged to be able to present a blog by top writer and ITFC fan, Dave Gooderham

One of the first things I learned in football journalism school was to expect criticism.

‘Clueless’, ‘gutter journalism’, ‘talking b******s’ were some of the many barbs directed at me – and that was just from Paul Jewell!

At the start, I had to placate my wife not to jump to my defence. Feisty one, she is. But it soon dawned on me that any backlash simply underlined why I love football.

Every supporter of every club has an opinion and everyone is entitled to that opinion. It would be a boring game if we all agreed that Lee Martin lacked an end product or Michael Chopra should do his talking on the pitch. Ah, bad examples, but you get my point.

So when I ended my brief writing hiatus by penning an opinion piece on this very website, it was inevitable that some criticism would come my way.

Tyrone Mings’ incredibly gracious gesture – in giving a hard-up Town fan some free tickets – had inspired me to share my thoughts.

But, I wondered, was Mings an exception rather than a rule?

I was too negative, some said, as I questioned whether role models still existed in football. I had allowed the fact that I had fallen a little out of love with football to cloud my judgement, it had been suggested.

Things have started to change. Problems remain at Portman Road, a number of them, but I have started to become more interested in Frank Nouble’s hamstring and the reasons behind signing a thirty-something keeper who last played for Aberdeen in January. A relegation scrap certainly refocuses the mind.

The club’s connection with the ordinary fan remains a big concern – something I hope a new Marketing Manager will help address.

But there remains hope and it comes in the shape of a six-minute, 28-second promo video:

http://www.itfc2013.co.uk/

 Asking fans to part with hundreds of pounds to watch football that has been mediocre at best in recent seasons can be a hard sell.

 There are those who will pay the money regardless – the real football fanatics.

 There are others, and I count myself in this number, that just want to see that their club is listening, that it is trying to be part of the community once again.

  The season-ticket promo video won’t win any Oscars – sorry Milts – but for a fleeting six minutes or so, I remembered why I will always be a Town fan.

 Cheesy at times? Of course. But then it should be. But the cast-list was ideal, with Carlos Edwards and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas likeable fellows off-the-pitch, however ‘relaxed’ they seem on it. Throw in a fans’ favourite, Luke Hyam, and one that is catching him up by the day, Tyrone Mings, despite the 20-year-old still not kicking a competitive ball in anger.

 Saluting the simply incredible support of George Stannard was a nice touch…

 … and then there is Simon Milton. The local boy made good who resonates with the everyday supporter. It is clear how much he loves his Ipswich Town.

 The club have realised that Milts plays a key role in relating to supporters – something Mr Evans and his two side-kicks probably never want to aspire to. In all, a massive congratulations to everyone involved. Last year’s ‘Tractor Boy’ promo was slick, but getting back to basics was, in my opinion, an excellent piece of PR but also a good bit of fun aimed at really connecting with supporters. I haven’t been able to say that about Ipswich Town many times in recent years.

 Of course, take a look at the ITFC strand on Twitter and you will find people criticising it. One said it was one of the worst things he had seen in a long time.

 There will always be opinions – and criticism – in football.


How to win friends and influence people… or not

04/03/2013

I’ve thought of writing about ticket prices at Portman Road for a while. I’m particularly concerned about the cost for visiting fans, but I’d almost decided against it until today when I saw yet another complaint about our ticket prices, this time from a Bolton Wanderers’ fan on Twitter:

swfc tweet

When I first started supporting Town, I was surprised and a little bit pleased at the reaction of friends who supported other clubs. We had a reputation for being a decent club with a history of playing good, entertaining football and hospitality – I don’t mean the Mr. John type of boardroom largesse, but the generally warm and welcoming atmosphere at PR. I can remember Pat Murphy on 5Live waxing lyrical about ITFC’s return to the Premiership in 2000: “a town with good football, good people and good beer,” he’d said, having possibly enjoyed a couple of pints of Broadside first. We were a kind of anti-Millwall: “Everybody likes us and we’re feeling quite nonchalant about it.”

The Trotters’ fan’s tweet was by no means the first that I’ve seen complaining about ticket prices. It’s becoming quite common. And, let’s face it, we’ve hardly been offering much in return for their money. However much I enjoyed myself at the game on Saturday – and I really did enjoy it – it’s a long time since we’ve been the most attractive team to watch. I used to sit next to the away supporters’ area in the Cobbold and it’s not exactly the most luxurious environment either.

At a time when it’s tough financially for most football supporters, it seems wrong somehow to be acquiring a reputation for ripping people off. The growing area of empty blue seats in the away section means that people are staying away and the atmosphere at Portman Road will, in my humble opinion, be the worse for it.

SG


Joyce Wade, 1933-2012

15/12/2012

ITFC programme 1957

 Grant Bage pays tribute to a Town supporter and purveyor of “friendship, chocolate bars and chat.”

‘Football’ is a restless beast and football’s blogs, tweets and print media are twitching with unease; not just amongst Town fans, but amongst all fans. That unease centres on some simple questions.  Exactly why do we love football, follow a club and spend vast amounts of money and time in the process? Does coming to Portman Road every other Saturday really mean anything, anymore, in a 21st century consumed by consumerism?

In my heart the fan’s romance beats strong. Yet there is a decent argument to be made that wage levels are obscene, ticket prices are crazy, players are cynical, the sport is over-exposed and a lust for money has degraded what used to be spontaneous and comparatively egalitarian entertainment into a televised and repetitive ‘product’.

OK yeah … but despite such blatant shortcomings, football retains a mysterious hold over my middle-aged mind. And I have finally worked out, after the recent dull seasons of Town toiling at home, that my fidelity is inexplicable when linked simply to events on the pitch.  If we relied only on what ‘professionals’ serve up as ‘entertainment’ would most of us bother to watch – let alone PAY?

I doubt it. The worse the actual football has grown, particularly at Portman Road during the last few years, the clearer it becomes that football as a fan is so much more than 90 minutes of sport: football is really about ritual, community and friendship. That is why this blog bears tribute to a woman who never played football and very rarely went;  but whom for me, over the years, grew to signify so much about what football really ‘means’, at the bottom of my blue and white heart.

Joyce Wade died on 14 November, 2012. For the last 53 years she had been a (more or less) unbroken presence to her many and varied neighbours in Elliott Street, Ipswich. That was because, like scores of others fifty years ago, Joyce lived above and ran a local corner shop.  She and her prospective husband Roy opened their few square yards of floorboards, shelves, tins and jars in July 1959.  Sandwiched between London Road and Portman Road, the lattice of Victorian terraces from which Joyce drew customers was in the early 1960s a hive of active pubs, clubs, shops, garages, small factories and businesses.  This was an age when the supermarket, out of town shopping and credit cards were still distant or unimagined. This was ‘The Town’ not of football fame but the town of the community behind the club, the town of Ipswich which pre-dated ‘the club’ and the kind of neighbourhood typical of the thousands of urban and rural communities across the UK, from which football had grown in the first place.

Whilst Joyce and her husband Roy were founding their shop in Elliott Street, a few hundred yards away at Portman Road Alf Ramsey was building a legend. Joyce and Roy were married on 15 July 1961. Six months earlier football’s ‘maximum wage’ had been abolished, leading to the amazing phenomenon of the ‘£100 per week footballer’.  Market logic would suggest this favoured rich clubs with large crowds and big money. Yet in April 1961 Ipswich were promoted as Champions, from the Second to the First Division. Sheffield United were runners up, a little club called Liverpool were third and a tiny club named Norwich were fourth. Twelve months later, in April 1962, Ipswich Town achieved the unimaginable. We, the lads from Suffolk, the minnows, the newcomers, the country cousins, won the First Division (today’s Premiership) at our first attempt: tipping the glamorous Spurs and another outstanding provincial club (Burnley) to a hard-fought title.

And this is where we go back to that corner shop in Elliott Street. Joyce spent most of those 53 years, from 1959 to 2012, watching the people walking past her shop and talking to those who came in. One of those people was me, cutting down Elliott Street on match-day Saturdays with my own father in the 1970s and 1980s; and visiting Joyce’s shop each match-day with my own son in the 1990s and 2000s. We would buy a lucky chocolate bar or a bottle of drink of course, but most of all we would chat. Joyce loved to chat and the stories flowed: about her son Julian, about her home town of Dundee, about the war, about opera singing, about being born with her twin sister on Christmas Eve, about the sadness of her older sister’s deaths, about being the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher, about her school days and friends, about her memories of loves and hates and pretty much everything else in between.

And of course there were football-related stories in which she delighted: like the one about a cheeky kid from round the corner running errands for his mum. Knock-kneed and bandy legged, as Joyce remembered him aged nine “Kieron couldn’t even walk straight let alone run straight – I don’t know how he EVER managed to play football.” For younger readers the ‘Kieron’ of Joyce’s story was of course Kieron Dyer, who by the age of 17 was one of the most talented youngsters our famous Academy had ever produced, and who brought the club £6 million when he was sold to Newcastle in July 1999. Then there was the story of Jason, another young lad who frequented Wades’ Stores. Jason Dozzell grew up in Elliott Street, played over 300 times for Ipswich and was sold for £1.9 million to Tottenham Hotspur in August 1993. His mother stayed in the street and remained a valued customer and friend until Joyce’s recent death.

Over the years Joyce and I became firm, match day friends: and over the last few years it has been genuine friendships like that, costing no more than time and care, which have been a stronger reason to spend match-days in Ipswich than much of the expensive nonsense on and off the Portman Road pitch.  For despite the fact that Joyce claimed not to know much about football it felt to me that she knew masses about Ipswich, about living in the changing Town we love, and about serving her community.

Rest in Peace, Joyce Wade.  Thank you for the friendship, the chocolate bars and the chat; and most all for helping me to remember that football is about so much more than a slightly daft game, with way too much money.

JOYCE WADE Born 24 December 1933, died 12 November 2012


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.


A Family Affair?

29/10/2012

Gavin Barber and son went to the most recent “Family Day” at Portman Road and he was less than impressed.

On pages 9-11 of the Turnstile Blues fanzine, Alistair Rattray gave an excellent and thoroughly comprehensive description of Town’s recent failure to connect with supporters through media, public relations and matchday entertainment. So when the club announced that the Sheffield Wednesday game would be a “family day”, with discounted prices and special events for kids, I was hopeful that it might have been a move in the right direction.

Sadly, like an Aaron Cresswell set-piece or an item of New Labour legislation, it appears to have been a decent idea which was let down by being badly executed.

The discounted prices meant that kids tickets were priced at £5 – a decent reduction on the normal price, but at a time when the ground was set to be barely more than half-full anyway, why not accept it as a loss-leader and admit accompanied kids for £1, or even for free? There are other clubs in the League structure who admit under 7s for nothing as a matter of course. Surely better to have some better-populated stands for once.

More significantly, and much like the recent discounted ticket promotion for the game against Cardiff, the event suffered from very few people apparently knowing about it in advance. There were a couple of press releases which were picked up by the usual outlets (such as TWTD) and something on the Club website, but very little detail. I’m aware that resources are limited, but there seems to be a very one-dimensional approach to public relations from the Club at the moment – as though the mere release of information into the public domain will suffice for bringing things to the attention of people who might be interested to hear about them. Were efforts made through local schools, play centres and Children’s Centres?

Details in advance of the day were vague – my son was particularly interested in the “mascot race” which had been mentioned in the press release, but it was only through tweeting Planet Blue on my way to the game that I found out when and where it was happening (credit, incidentally, to whoever manages the Planet Blue Twitter feed for getting straight back to me). As can be seen from what I believe to be my EXCLUSIVE video footage of the race, there was a sparse crowd in attendance to see Crazee romp home in first place.

There were face-painters in Planet Blue – which, again, I found out about through Twitter – unsurprisingly there was no queue for their services when we arrived. The Suffolk Playbus – an excellent facility for pre-schoolers – was parked way on the far side of the practice pitch (a long walk for little legs). There were golf and bowling events which were fine in themselves but – again – suffered because very few people knew they were happening.

From my dealings with the Club I’ve always got the impression that there are some very hard-working and dedicated members of staff there. It’s a shame that they – and by extension, supporters – are being let down by a lack of infrastructure which means that well-meaning initiatives such as Family Day are nowhere near as good – or as effective – as they could be.


‘This is the face that you’ve got': my view of the Supporters’ Club AGM

25/10/2012

Despite the removal of Ipswich Town’s manager “by mutual consent” earlier in the day (for a superb account of the Paul Jewell era at ITFC, please read Gavin Barber’s article here ), local media were at the Supporters’ Club AGM in force last night, as if they suspected that the club’s representatives would be besieged by furious smock-wearing peasants brandishing obscure, pain-inducing agricultural implements and flaming torches. Reports that a Simon Clegg shaped Wicker Man had to be dismantled by stewards yesterday are thought to be exaggerated.

In the end the meeting was low-key and friendly and although Town fans have a great deal to be concerned about, the Chief Executive must have left Portman Road last night with the comfortable feeling that he had gently nurdled the supporters’ long hops down to fine leg and safety. He mentioned cricket himself at one point and perhaps that’s more Simon Clegg’s game. A shame, then, that there was no equivalent of Michael Holding present at the AGM.

The peasants were not revolting (for the most part anyway). Liz Edwards, who did a competent job of going through the formal business of the AGM quickly, repeatedly thanked the club’s representatives, Simon Clegg, Simon Milton and Bryan Klug. The latter two were hastily-arranged replacements for Chris Hutchings – now “caretaker manager” and club Captain, Carlos Edwards. When pressed on why no player was at the AGM, SC said that he had made the decision that Carlos should not attend as “football is a confidence game” and CH was in Blackburn watching our next opponents, Sheffield Wednesday.

Liz Edwards said that there were very few clubs that would send representatives to a Supporters’ Club AGM amid such “turmoil” and expressed her gratitude that the trio had agreed to attend. She thanked ITFC for their continuing support for the Supporters’ Club and said that she was honoured to have accepted a position on the board of the PLC. She intended to use that position to “extend the ties between the club, supporters and the community.” She again thanked Simon Clegg.

“I don’t speak for the fans,” she went on, ” but I do my best to try to put their views across.” Speaking emotionally about Town’s current situation at the bottom of the second tier of English football, she was highly critical of supporters who had sent back their season tickets or criticised the club while “hiding behind usernames” on social networking sites. She was also critical of the local media. She was not critical of the club’s owner or Chief Executive.

I’m not going to dwell upon the administrative business of the AGM or the “election” of the committee members which was a formality, presumably because so few people are willing to put themselves forward to serve on the committee. What the media and most of the supporters who attended last night’s meeting were there for was the Q&A session with Simon Clegg and his colleagues.

What follows is a very personal view of proceedings. It’s not intended to be a verbatim report but an impressionistic account of the meeting as one supporter and season ticket holder saw it. I’m sure I’ve omitted things and I may even have embroidered a bit but there is no intention on my part to mislead anyone.

All questions were addressed to Simon Clegg unless indicated otherwise.

Q. If you were writing your CV tomorrow, what would you say was your greatest achievement at ITFC?

SC: We’ll be judged by what happens on the pitch. … I haven’t achieved what I set out to achieve… I’m ambitious as is Marcus… I believe I’m the person to do the strategic planning for the tough challenges ahead with Financial Fair Play (FFP) & the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).

Q. Would a technical football director be helpful to you given the lack of football experience in your background?

SC did not agree with this. He said it was quite usual for Chief Executives of football clubs not to come from a football background and he considered himself to be in the “top half ” of CEs when it came to football knowledge. A Director of Football “wouldn’t work.” … It’s been a “big learning curve.” … Some advice is now coming from “different experts.”

Asked about academy policy, SC said that he and ME are “totally hands off” and would prefer to leave it to the manager and Bryan Klug but emphasised the importance of the academy to the club.

A supporter asked: “What about Luke Hyam?”

SC: “We empower our manager” … it’s not the CE’s role to tell the manager who to pick.

Q. Is Marcus Evans running ITFC as a football club or as a business?

SC [this is the only occasion when he appeared to be quite combative]: “Football is a business. ” He went on to say that there were hard times ahead and that he would not take the club into administration. He was not prepared to allow the club to end up in a similar situation to Portsmouth.

Asked about fans voting with their feet and that there was a feeling that the fans felt alienated from the club – “no togetherness” – SC replied: “I hear that.”  He didn’t address the question or the follow-up about explaining to the fans what ME’s plans for the club were. He used the phrase “whether you like it or not” several times, began to say “I don’t have to be here…” then changed it to “I could have copped out of it.”

“If anyone sends me a letter or e-mail, I will always respond.”

Questioned about ME’s anonymity – which clearly rankles with many fans – “I wasn’t here when ME bought the club…. Marcus watched the game last night on TV [in Barbados]. … He’s put a lot of money into the club. … ” He wanted to take the opportunity to remind us that “this club has a history of getting behind managers.”

Q. ITFC’s bids for some players have been accepted by other clubs but those players haven’t signed – is that because their wage demands were too high?

SC: “We’re not going to be held to ransom. …” Many of those stories were the result of “spinning” by the media. Some players might have used Town as a “stalking horse” to influence negotiations with other clubs with whom they then went on to sign.

Q. Where did George Boyd go to then?

SC: We’re not going to offer above our assessment of a player’s worth.

Q. Does ITFC have a salary cap and, if so, where is it in relation to those of other clubs?

SC: We have no cap but we’re somewhere in the middle. … Flexibility. …

Q: The club has a proud tradition of bringing through young talent, what assurances can you make that it will continue to bring youth through rather than buy players in?

SC praised Bryan Klug. A 4-day inspection of the academy is coming up. “No hiding place.”

BK: said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the youth policy hadn’t gone. He wouldn’t have returned unless ME was committed to the academy and the production of young players. There are players coming through. There is competition with clubs like Norwich who “have put a lot of money into their academy” and Colchester, but he feels confident that ITFC will remain attractive to young players.

Q [to BK]: Are you frustrated that the youth players are not in the first team?

BK: Yes but it’s up to the player to “batter down the door.”

Q [to SC]: Football is a business. Could you describe the product you’re trying to sell to the supporters?

[Note: your reporter may have lost the will to live at this point.] SC: “Entertainment on the pitch.” Every aspect of the business is in crisis because of failure on the pitch: retail, ticket sales, conference/corporate … all of it is made or broken by what happens on the pitch. Marcus spends a lot of time trying to sell to “corporate customers.”

SM:  We’re trying to do what we did for 30 minutes last night, for 90 minutes… it’s frustrating. What you deliver [should be] top class – rooms, food, environment, the tour… but everyone comes for the football.

[At this point, sitting in Legends without WiFi, in a bar that on match days has little seating, no comfort, poor media facilities, high prices and is often not even clean, I wondered what was meant. Then I realised that he was talking about "corporate customers" and not season ticket holders like me.]

SC: “We take the rough with the smooth. … We deserve a bit of smooth at the moment. … We’re losing fans – it’s down to the entertainment business… results are absolutely everything. … Fans would feel closer if we were winning.”

Supporter: Some people didn’t renew their season tickets, and it has been painful for them, but the club – unlike other businesses – has made no attempt to contact them, find out why, encourage them to return.

SM said that the club did contact the corporate customers in such circumstances.

SC: I’ll discuss it with John Ford [Ticket Office & Call Centre Manager]. I recognise it’s a big decision to cancel a season ticket.

Q: Roy Keane had 20 months, Paul Jewell had 21 – how long do you have to get it right?

SC: It’s up to the owner.

Q: Why are there so many coaches?

SC: At times like this we need more coaches.

BK: The game has changed and it’s “compulsory” to have a certain number of support staff such as sports scientists. I would always try to find the best staff.

SC: It comes down to the manager. You’ve got to trust the manager… “empowerment of the manager.”

Q: Do we get a new long-term strategy when a new manager is in place?

SC: We don’t have a God-given right to stay in the Championship. We need to fight and back the manager.

Questioned about players leaving for free and contracts running down (Lee Martin was mentioned), SC replied that he didn’t want to talk about individual players… “financial management must be sustainable… fine negotiations… within a budget.”

A supporter stood up and said that he and a group of friends had spent over £1,000 on the trip to the match v. Hull. At the end of the game, the players disappeared down the tunnel, only 2 remained to applaud the fans – one was Higginbotham.

SC: “I’ll take that on board.” He said he’ll talk to the team captain but “in the players’ defence” they were “absolutely devastated.”

[This produces the first angry reaction from supporters.]

SC: “I’d like players to thank the fans because without you we wouldn’t have … [your] money.”

Q: A player should have been here tonight – they have some responsibility. They should be here to face us.

[Aside from a supporter: "Preferably not a loanee."]

SC: I take responsibility. I made the decision that it wouldn’t be in the team’s best interests for Saturday.

The next question concerned the frequent signing of older players: “Town is becoming a final stop on the journeyman’s tour of England.”

SC: “You have to back your manager.” He does not want to interfere. Keane and Jewell both had records of taking clubs to the Premier League.

Supporter: We need a young, hungry manager – maybe not a big name.

SC: Neither Keane nor Jewell were there just to pick up the pay cheque and “one of them didn’t need to.” [Laughter.]

Supporter: Both managers had been out of the game for a long time…

SC: We now have 39 candidates on the short list.

Q [for SM]: How do you find a new generation of “us” [i.e. fans]?

SM talked about the charitable trust, going into schools – some schools had been disappointing, whereas others such as special schools particularly, had been very welcoming and positive. “We’re doing our utmost to build within the community.”

Q: Who is making decisions on which youth players are kept on [example of Cody Cropper]?

BK: There has to be a very good relationship between the academy coach and the manager. … We don’t have enough U21 players to make up a U21 side and so have to include older players like Ellington. … “Hopefully, looking forward, we’ll have a development group.” … Some young players have to play too frequently because we don’t have enough youth players at the club.

Q: Why wasn’t Jewell sacked during the international break?

SC: Hindsight’s a great thing, isn’t it?

In answer to a question about overseas recruitment and scouting, SC said that it was a very expensive business “being out there on the European circuit” … can “rack up huge costs.” We have “feeder” systems in place and some ex-players are helpful and “give us the wink.”

SM: We’ve had a succession of triallists.

Supporter [referring to social networking]: Shouldn’t you tell some of the players to “button it.”

SC: This is an area of concern across all “high performance sport.” It’s ridiculous to attempt to stop players using such media – he said that he would encourage it, in fact, but try to educate young players about how to use it better.

SC was asked about bringing in a loan keeper (Henderson) and whether it undermined other players.

SC: I can’t be accountable  – I back the manager.

Q. Given the failure of the appointment of the last two managers, are you going to review the recruitment procedure and look again at the criteria used to select the manager?

SC: It’s down to Marcus who’s putting money in and requires a return for his money. … He will be taking advice from different people this time.

SM: There’s lots of success on the list of 39 candidates.

SC: Fans only have half the picture and I like to think I have the whole picture…. We need to find someone who is passionate… who inspires confidence among players and coaching staff… who can work with Marcus… no point getting a manager who is asking for money every five minutes. … I’m not ruling anything out and not ruling anything in. … Most important to get the right person.

Q. [on ME's anonymity]: Do you think the evident divide between the club and the fans is because of that?

SC [pointing to self]: This is the face that you’ve got. … We video-conference and I speak to him most days. … It is the way that it is. … There’s no point spending time on this because it’s not going to change.

SC doesn’t think the owner’s anonymity has an effect on the unity of the club. “I do what I can. … We do more interfacing with fans than most clubs.” … “The temperature would be different if we were winning.” … “Marcus has put a lot of money into the club. He has invested heavily in this club.” … “Be careful what you wish for. … Your support is not taken for granted.”

My general impression of the meeting was that there was a genuine attempt on the part of all three panel members to answer the supporters’ questions honestly. It was disappointing that, although Liz Edwards spoke about there being a list of questions sent in advance by people who couldn’t attend, none of those questions were read out. Any attempts to ask more searching questions about Marcus Evans’ motives in managing the club, his plans for ITFC’s future and – what to me is the most worrying aspect – the club’s dire financial situation were met with pat (and very repetitive) replies about ME’s investment in the club. A Supporters’ Club AGM may not be the best or most appropriate forum in which to ask such questions, but they need to be asked.

About half-way through the Q & A session, a confessional element emerged – rather surprisingly – Simon Milton revealed that he was “frustrated.” Paul Jewell, too, has been very frustrated. Everyone at ITFC, it seems, is frustrated. …

“In an inspiring peroration, Simon Clegg said that things were certainly going to get harder for everyone, but he recognised an urgent and swelling desire for action and promised nights of ecstasy for years to come.” [OK, I made this bit up.]

In fact, I left Portman Road feeling a lot like the people I’d been listening to: frustrated.

Susan Gardiner


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