Warren United

22/04/2014

In which our admirably-but-frankly-rather-surprisingly-uncorrupted-by-vast-amounts-of-free-beer-man-on-the-red-carpet, Gavin Barber, reviews ITV’s new animated football comedy, Warren United.

redcarpet

 I don’t know if “attend a West End premiere as an invited guest and get plied with free booze” is on any “things to do before you’re 40” bucket lists, but if it is then I managed it with hours to spare. My last few hours as a 39-year-old were spent, courtesy of the marvellous Socrates football bloggers’ collective and Baby Cow Productions, at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, for a preview screening of a new ITV4 show called Warren United. And some free booze.

Such an event wouldn’t be cause for comment in the life of Mark Kermode or Grace Dent, but for someone whose previous nearest brush with media glamour had been an awkward conversation with Timmy Mallett at an Oxford United testimonial dinner in 1998, the idea that someone might care sufficiently about what the likes of me would think of their new TV show that they were prepared to shove Budweiser in my face for as long as I could stand up caused more than a frisson of excitement. In fact, when I arrived in Leicester Square I was greeted by a fleet of blacked-out limos, a screaming crowd and a red carpet, though it turned out they were for the Spider-Man 2 premiere at the nearby Odeon. Bet our seats were more comfortable though. I find those Odeon seats a bit scratchy.

Anyway, if the producers thought that by schmoozing the egos of easily-flattered geeks like me, they might get themselves some attention in the football blogosphere, they were of course absolutely right. So here goes with a review. Warren United is a perfectly decent and promising new animated sitcom. It has an impressive cast of voice performers, including Darren Boyd, Nitan Ganatra, Morgana Robinson and Johnny Vegas, and a fine comedic pedigree (Steve Coogan’s long-time collaborator Henry Normal is co-producer). It shows signs that it can survive the inevitable Simpsons comparisons to carve out its own niche in the annals of British TV comedy [note to self – can annals have niches? Check with Mark Kermode]. It has several good bits. On the basis of the preview screening, almost none of those good bits are about football.

The premise of Warren United is that the eponymous central character, voiced by Darren Boyd, is a well-meaning but hapless individual whose childlike self-centeredness leads him into trouble and brings frustration to his family and colleagues. This is all fine. The centre of Warren’s universe is his football team, Brainsford United. Of all Warren’s Achilles heels [note to self - can you have more than one Achilles heel? Check with one of the kids’ teachers], devotion to Brainsford is his most vulnerable. He neglects his family, his job and his health in pursuit of this addiction. Scrapes ensue. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, it’s the depiction of Warren as a man obsessed with football above all else that is the weakest element of the show. Particularly unfortunate because it’s being marketed as a football programme. The first episode is being shown immediately after a Champions League game on ITV, in the hope that viewers will switch straight over to ITV4 to see it. They may well do so, and they’ll be rewarded with some decent comedy – but not much in the way of football-related observation.

The opening episode, “July”, sees Warren reach the end of a season and determine that it’s his last as a Brainsford fan. He gives up his season ticket and devotes himself to healthier pursuits. He sees a psychiatrist. He attempts DIY. He spends time with his children. All of these are, of course, spectacularly (and amusingly) unsuccessful. You can guess where the story ends up. It’s Warren’s time away from football that provides the laughs.

The first and third episodes of the series are penned by Simon Nye. Nye is best known as the writer of Men Behaving Badly, a show about laddish wackiness which very sensibly kept football firmly out of its central characters’ world, despite what must have been strong temptation to include it. Men Behaving Badly had its good and its bad points, but when it worked it worked because it struck the right balance between outrage and pity at the actions of its knowingly inadequate central characters. When Warren United succeeds, it does so on the same basis, i.e. a well-observed comedy about a deeply flawed middle-aged man. It’s when the show tries to be hilarious about being a football fan that things become a bit one-dimensional.

Warren United has an admirably quirky ensemble of characters, including Warren’s co-worker Dillip (who’s bemused by football and tries to get Warren into cricket), his sex-obsessed mother and her smooth-talking boyfriend, and some talking police horses. Talking police horses might not sound funny, but they are funny in this. Certainly the funniest talking police horses I can recall seeing in a British animated sitcom. [Note to self- are there any other sitcoms with talking police horses? Google it later].

Context is everything. If Warren United was being presented as a new sitcom which happened to have a football strand to it, there would be no problems. It’s the fact that it’s being presented as a football programme – through its marketing and scheduling – which gets things off on the wrong foot. As a new piece of British animation, it’s fine – a nice combination of characters, scripts and sight gags. As something which purports to portray something that a football fan might find self-referentially amusing, it doesn’t quite work.

You can see why it’s tempting to present a programme which has football in it as a “football programme”. The game has blanket media coverage and a prominent place in the consciousness of the nation. Here’s the thing though: you can’t possibly make being a football fan funnier than it actually is. From the bloke behind you yelling incomprehensible abuse at the opposing full-back, to a striker missing an open goal, to a linesman falling over – none of these things can possibly be as funny in fiction as they are in reality. As it establishes itself, Warren United may well succeed as a sitcom, and I hope it does. The richer comedy in fiction will come from the characters and the scripts – the richer comedy in football comes from real life.

[Note to self – should probably email the producers and thank them for the free beer].

 

Warren United starts on 22nd April at 10pm on ITV4.


Turnstile Blues 3 is coming out on Saturday

09/09/2013

TB3We are pleased and excited to announce that the third issue of Turnstile Blues, the ITFC fanzine, will be published on Saturday, 14th September 2013. Subtitled Children of the Revolution, it has as its theme the Academy: past, present and future.

This issue has been edited by Gavin Barber so you can expect it to be of high quality and of course it will be funny as well. There are articles on the Elite Player Performance Plan by Rob Freeman, Alasdair Ross remembers the youth system of his own youth, Susan Gardiner looks at the way that Bobby Robson cared for his young players,  Joe Fairs observes the Academy over the 2012-13 season and we are privileged to have a piece about youth teams in West Africa by writer, Nick Ames. Gavin has gone even further and contacted someone from beyond the grave to gain an insight into the foundations of the Football League.

The centre piece of this issue is, undoubtedly, Emma Corlett’s exclusive interview with a very popular former Town player. He talks openly and honestly about his time at the club and it is a “must read” for every ITFC supporter. Don’t miss out – buy Turnstile Blues from one of our sellers outside Portman Road on Saturday.

Sellers will be around the ground, including by the Sir Bobby and Sir Alf statues, from 2pm before the match. The fanzine costs only £1.

Turnstile Blues 3 will be available online. This time we will be charging £1 for a download and £2.50 for a mail order copy of the printed fanzine.

In addition, copies will also be available before the Boro match from the Greyhound pub on Henley Road where one of our group, Susan, will be selling (and signing, if asked!) copies of her new book, Ipswich Town: A History (Amberley, 2013. Price: £16.99).


The Clegg Letters

23/08/2013

In the second of our series of articles from our first two issues – heralding the arrival of Issue 3 very soon – Turnstile Blues presents one of our most popular pieces by Gavin Barber. Our former CEO may have gone, but he hasn’t been forgotten.

                              In the name of investigative research, Turnstile Blues make it our business tblue painto scour local bars, restaurants and public transport for any carelessly discarded USB memory sticks. We found one on a train recently which appears to contain a series of draft emails from the Chief Executive of ITFC. In the interests of transparency, we felt it our duty to share them with you.

To: ITFC Public Relations Manager
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 12 July 2012, 15:38

Good afternoon,

Further to our recent discussions about engagement with the supporter base. I fully appreciate the business need to target the Ipswich Town supporter demographic in a public-facing context, as part of a strategic drive towards building business confidence in the brand.

I have consulted with the Owner of the football club, Marcus Evans. (When I talk to the owner I address him simply as “Marcus”: during the course of our time working together we have developed a business interface which supports first-name formatting during informal conversations). Marcus is fully on board with the plan and, indeed wishes to address the proletariat from his hollowed-out volcano issue a bright, encouraging statement to supporters, reminding them that he has put money into the club and wants to see the football team doing well, as a return on investment for the money that he has put into the club. Marcus has enjoyed putting money into the club and looks forward to the day when the money that he has put into the club works to the delight of all fans by getting the team promoted into the Premier League, a move which would generate a lot of money for the club.

(If you want to work this into a press release, please make sure you mention that Marcus has put a lot of money into the club).

With regard to other points raised when we spoke earlier: I must confess to being baffled by your suggestion that I should, and I quote, “never actually attempt to speak to the press or the fans out loud”. I believe you also referred to my communication style as an “omnishambles”, a word which I have instructed my PA to ascertain the meaning of, using any of the various lexicographic resources available online. On the contrary, my public relations skills were recently described as “extraordinary” by Suffolk Business Lunches magazine. I intend to continue acting as a communications interface between the brand and the customer base, combining as I do a robust business sensibility with an instinctive understanding of the Foot Ball supporting demographic.

Yours,
Simon

PS in your previous email you addressed me as “Smithers”. I am sure this was just a typographical error but please do not let it happen again.

To: Ricardo Blas, President, Guam National Olympic Committee
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 13 August 2012, 09:37

Ricardo,

What a Games for Guam! Perhaps next time they will be renamed the Olympic Guams! (I have constructed a “joke” or wordplay here, to indicate an appropriately light-hearted beginning to what remains a business email).

May I say that I was particularly impressed with the performance of your son Ricardo Blas Jr. in the Judo tournament. It was encouraging to see him refute any suggestions that favouritism had played a role in his selection. He was, I felt, unlucky to experience disqualification at such an early stage due to a technical infringement (who knew that steel-toecapped boots were prohibited?) but has, at least, the honour of remaining undefeated by any opponent.

The main purpose of this email is to debrief on our administrative arrangements. At an early stage of proceedings it became clear to me that a number of members of the squad were interested in pursuing agendas relating to “fun” in between their elite competitive sporting performances in the elite competitive Olympic sports of the Olympic London 2012 Olympic games. Whilst I appreciate that a certain amount of leisure time-zoning can be a component part of any elite competitor’s business schedule, I should advise you that the sight of a women’s freestyle wrestler wandering through the Athlete’s Village at 2am, singing “Delilah” with a traffic cone on her head, creates a poor impression of the Guam Olympic brand. Similarly, the swimming team’s late-night attempts to scale the Orbit tower using grappling hooks that they had liberated from an unlocked G4S van, are unlikely to impress the IOC.

All of that aside, I consider the Guam Olympic project to have been a well-executed exercise in partnering small Pacific islands with elite performance sport.

I remain your faithful attaché, and would be happy to talk to you about any luxury holiday opportunities which may become available.

Yours
Simon

To: Mrs Clegg
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 20 August 2012, 11:56

Wife,

Thank you for the Anniversary Card which you sent last week. I write in response to your enquiry, made earlier today at our regular catch-up session in the Breakfast Zone, as to whether I would be reciprocating in any way.

I am aware that Anniversaries are, to many, a vital component of the marriage chronology project and I am sensitive to that need. That said, it is my job as the partner with current business responsibility for the Husband workstream, to ensure that I am taking every opportunity to optimize the business model and reduce revenue costs. To that end I must inform you that, following careful consideration of the cost-benefit analysis, I will not be pursuing anniversary-related procurement on this occasion.

I realise this will come as a disappointment to you but I must bear in mind the wider business needs of the partnership, moving forward.

Thank you for your ongoing support of the Clegg family brand.

Regards
Simon

To: Milkman
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 29 August 2012, 20:04

Milkman,

You will be aware I am sure that we face a time of unprecedented financial challenge. Resource optimisation models are being reviewed at all levels domestically, in order to ensure that our current grocery position matches the needs of the business.

From a milk point of view, the key supply-demand relationship is played out during breakfast. Milk supplies must be optimised to balance a never-predictable arena of choice. Recent weeks have seen a move towards toast-based solutions for some key members of the team.

Whilst I personally remain committed to a corn flakes-based breakfast format, we must move with the times and recognise new opportunities as they emerge. I am therefore requesting that you supply just 2 pints of semi-skimmed at the time of your next business interface with my front doorstep.

Yours
Simon Clegg

To: ITFC Programme Editor
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 15 August 2012, 08:36

(I haven’t had chance to finalise my column for the programme this week. The basic structure is below. Can you please carry out some editorialisation processes in order to optimise the syntactical paradigm? Thanks)

Programme notes, 18th August 2012

Brand brand brand brand, business, business, owner Marcus Evans owner Marcus Evans owner Marcus Evans lots of money, his own money, all hail him. Optimise, strategise, consider new opportunities, brand, grow the brand, cost reduction, customer base.

Going forward, brand growth, risk avoidance, business strategy, sporting strategy, elite competitive Olympic performance interface, strategy going forward. Going forward, [token bit in here about football – just put the usual stuff about having absolute faith in the manager], strategise, brand growth, maximise, optimise, business growth, going forward.

Customer base, loyalty, loyal customer base [a few platitudes in here about being grateful for whatever it is I'm supposed to be grateful to the customer base for], going forward, new season, elite performance, elite brand, elite brand growth.

Yours,
Simon

 clegg word cloud


Fair Play at the ITFC Academy?

01/08/2013

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The Turnstile Blues’ view of recent developments at the ITFC Academy and how supporters helped change the club’s mind by Gavin Barber

Funny how things change. It wasn’t much more than a year ago – March 2012 to be precise – when Town announced that, despite pressure from supporters, the Club’s Academy would be aiming for Category Two status in the brave new world of the Elite Player Performance Programme. A 5,000-signature petition from the Supporters’ Trust was dismissed as the idealism of people who didn’t understand the intricacies of the system: to pursue Category One status, we were told at the time, would risk returning the club to administration.

Turns out that we, the fans, were right after all. This week Town have launched the Academy Association, a new initiative designed to raise the standards of the Academy to reach Category One. In the publicity surrounding the launch, Simon Milton even made specific mention of the Trust’s petition as he urged supporters to back the fundraising drive associated with the initiative.

For Ipswich Town to be pursuing Category One status for its Academy is in all ways A Good Thing. All of the things that supporters said at the time of the original deliberation – that it’s the best investment to make in the long-term future of the club, and that it’s at the heart of what ITFC is about – are now part of the club’s own pronouncements.

It’s also A Good Thing because, just maybe, it signifies that the club is starting to respect the views and wisdom of its supporters, and that’s testament to the determination of those supporters in continuing to ask questions, and to knock at what previously seemed to be a firmly-locked door.

So it’s an opportune moment to recognise this new-found spirit of what appears to be a more honest dialogue with supporters, and ask some more questions.

Firstly, whilst we all applaud increased investment in the Academy, it’s not immediately obvious why supporters are being asked to stump up one-third of the cost of upgrading, and the ongoing running costs. It seems that Marcus Evans has – very wisely though not before time – decided that money spent on the Academy is a better focus for his investment than chucking £18,000-per-week wage packets at underachieving “professionals”. Financial Fair Play places no limit on the amount of money that can be invested in Academies, so at a time when ticket prices are being increased and cutbacks made which affect the quality of customer service that the club provides to supporters, and at a time when many supporters are struggling to meet the cost of the investments that they already make in the club through season tickets, it’s not clear why fans are being asked to provide an additional subsidy.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the business case which the Supporters Trust put forward for pursuing a Category One Academy in the first place, noted that over 10 years the club had made over £35m in transfer fees from the sales of Academy graduates. Should ITFC’s Category One Academy produce the next Gareth Bale, who gets sold for £90m, it’ll be ITFC’s primary creditor – that’d be Marcus Evans then – who’ll benefit financially: another reason why the “you wanted it, now you need to pay for it” approach sits uncomfortably with some. An alternative idea, for which my fellow Turnstile Blues contributor Alistair Rattray takes the credit, would be to run Academy investment as a co-operative, whereby supporters who contribute get a return on their investment when Academy products are sold on for big fees. Supporters could then choose whether to invest that back into the Academy or not.

Secondly, there’s a wider context which I find it impossible to ignore. As has been written about extensively on these pages and elsewhere, Ipswich Town is a club carrying massive debt, whose ownership structure, and in particular its relationship with other parts of the Marcus Evans Group, is distinctly unclear. I have enough internal struggles, frankly, in deciding whether or not to part with £400+ for a season ticket – but at least I know that I get something out of that, i.e. admission to home games. As mentioned above, it was only last year that ITFC were telling us that Category One status could risk putting the Club back into administration. That, plainly, was complete nonsense. I struggle with the idea of donating money to an organisation which so recently tried to scaremonger and deceive supporters about exactly the same entity as it’s now asking for financial help with. An acknowledgement of this, as the start of a genuinely open dialogue with supporters and genuine transparency about the running of the club, would be a more meaningful step towards regaining the trust of this potential investor – and really would be a sign that things have changed.


So farewell then, Rocky Michael Chopra

25/07/2013

chops

By Susan Gardiner.

I don’t know about nominative determinism, but when Mr. & Mrs. Chopra of Newcastle-upon-Tyne named their new son Rocky back in December 1983, they could not have known quite how boulder-strewn his life would turn out to be.

Michael Chopra will not be the most fondly remembered player ever to have graced the deteriorating turf at Portman Road. Long before his arrival at Ipswich Town his life story had been well-documented in the tabloids. Suffice it to say that we knew what we were getting when Paul Jewell signed him: a talented striker who had never fulfilled his obvious natural ability on the football pitch largely due to personal problems and an addiction to gambling.

Jewell’s predecessor, Roy Keane, had also tried to bring Chopra to the club. We’ll never know how that would have worked out. Keane’s tough approach to players may have been better for Chopra than Jewell’s laissez faire approach. In an article in the Daily Mirror on 28th November 2009, Chopra said that Keane had “rescued” his career when he was at Sunderland: “I owe Roy a lot. He was a massive help to me when I had some off-field problems at Sunderland. If I had a problem I knew I could go and speak to him. All I had to do was knock on his door. He was the one who told me check into rehab and sort myself out. I did that and came back a better player. After everything he did for me, I’ve got a lot of time and respect for him. I will always be grateful for the help and support he gave me. I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”

Paul Jewell – who, let’s face it, has had his own off-pitch issues – did give Chopra his support, as the Telegraph described after the player checked in to the Sporting Chance clinic as he once again battled with his problems. It was later revealed that the club had made Chopra a loan of £250,000 to pay off his creditors. This is an aspect of Ipswich Town – even during the difficult period when Simon Clegg was Chief Executive – that many supporters, myself included, feel is important, part of what makes us special. It’s possibly the kind of thing that Bobby Robson – famously caring and supportive of his players – would have done, although I suspect there was an aspect of Robson, the coal miner’s son with a strong work ethic and a steely determination underneath the soft-spoken charm, that would have viewed Michael Chopra with a very beady eye indeed.

His reasonably high strike rate at Cardiff City raised expectations among the Town faithful who had long been suffering from goal starvation. The thought that we now had a player who could actually place a ball in the opposition’s net, rather than just over the bar, or into the side-netting, perhaps raised those expectations too high. In addition, the Paul Jewell era will not go down as the greatest in Town’s history and although Chopra put a few goals away (18 in 78 appearances) he failed to achieve what had been hoped for.

Predictably, it was Chopra’s behaviour away from football that lost him the support and sympathy of the fans. Despite the immense goodwill shown to him by the club in making him that substantial loan, he appears to have been deep in trouble connected with his gambling problems. In October 2012, the British Horse-racing Authority charged him (and others) with involvement in corrupt betting practices, including offering bribes. Still supportive, ITFC allowed Chopra to make this statement about the case, but in January 2013, he was found guilty and banned from involvement in racing for ten years.

It was by this stage clear that Chopra’s problems with gambling were even more deep-seated and intractable than many Town supporters had realised. Once again, however, Chopra did little to help himself. Instead of keeping away from social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, where he would inevitably receive abuse from disgruntled fans and keyboard warriors, Chopra seemed to be unable to understand his responsibilities as a footballer using such media – as Gavin Barber pointed out in When Saturday Comes in March 2013.

On Twitter, he answered his critics by posting this photograph of a bag full of cash:

ash

Perhaps worst of all, he used social networking media to verbally abuse a young female sports journalist because he disliked something she’d reported in the course of her work. (He called her, bizarrely, a “prick.”) The journalist complained to the club, but to date has not had any kind of formal acknowledgement or response from ITFC.

The club remained either supportive of the player or silent on the matter – although it has taken action against players and fans for offensive posts on Twitter and Facebook before and since. From taking a generally sympathetic approach to Chopra’s problems, many fans were beginning to lose patience with him. No doubt the fact that the player wasn’t performing on the pitch didn’t help either.

Following this and several other incidents involving Town players, Turnstile Blues wrote a letter to the club in which we expressed our concerns about some aspects of the players’ behaviour off the field and suggested ways in which there might be better education and pastoral care given, particularly to younger players. The letter wasn’t specifically about Michael Chopra so I am only including a short extract here:

“We are a group of season ticket holders and long-standing supporters who wish to raise our concerns about the behaviour of some players at Ipswich Town Football Club. For obvious reasons, we won’t be making any reference to individuals or commenting on current legal proceedings, but we’re sad that, in recent years, some people associated with this great football club have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Generally, professional footballers have an extraordinary life. They receive, from a young age, the adulation of fans and also great material wealth in some cases. …

“We feel that players should receive education and training in the following areas: media training (in particular, the sensible use of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter), how to cope with success – including managing money – and conversely, how to cope if they have to leave the club or professional football altogether…

“Recent comments made by some players on Facebook and Twitter suggest that these areas are not being addressed. There does seem to be a wider systemic and long-standing problem about some footballers’ attitudes to women. It’s not just an ITFC issue, of course, but Ipswich Town is the club we love and we want continue to be proud of.

“There are some excellent local charities which can provide such training. We would really like to see the club tackle these issues, preferably with the involvement of the PFA.”

We sent the letter to ITFC in March 2013 and are still waiting for a reply. While we applaud the club’s initial attempts to provide support and help for Michael Chopra, we think that there are times when players cross rather obvious lines and their behaviour becomes unacceptable and question whether that support should be continued in those circumstances.

I’m sure that the majority of Town fans wish Michael Chopra well at Blackpool and in the future and we hope that he will get the help he needs to address his problems but overall, it is probably best for all parties that he is no longer a player at Ipswich Town Football Club.


“It’s Batistuta…” & other tales of hope in hopeless times

18/06/2013

Tear yourself away from “the chattering hyenas of transfer gossip” for a moment and enjoy this – by our own Gavin Barber on the excellent The Two Unfortunates website. Another great summer read:

Hopeless Football League Teams 9: Ipswich Town 1994-5

If you like good football writing, you can follow @twounfortunates and @gavinbarber on Twitter.


Meet the new one-off fanzine same as the old one-off fanzine: By Mutual Consent

27/03/2013

BMC cover

A new one-off ITFC fanzine, By Mutual Consent – from the people who brought you Turnstile Blues, the ORIGINAL one-off fanzine – will be on sale outside Portman Road before the home game versus Leeds United on Saturday, 30th March 2013. Price on the day is a super, soaraway bargain: only £1.

Look for our sellers at locations around the ground including by Sir Alf and Sir Bobby.

The ‘zine will also be on sale by mail order and available from A. Ross, 58 Lonsdale Road, Ipswich, IP4 4HD. Please send a cheque for £2, payable to A. Ross.

Copies will also be available via eBay. Please look out for further information on Twitter @ByMutualConsent or this website: http://www.turnstile-blues.co.uk

A downloadable PDF of By Mutual Consent will be available from www.turnstile-blues.co.uk on the evening of Wednesday, 3rd April 2013. Once again, the download will be free, but we are asking people who access the ‘zine this way to make a donation to this charity: http://www.aishopeacademy.org/youth-football-academy-africa/soweto

A link will be set up via this website so that you can make a donation before downloading and don’t forget to follow @ByMutualConsent and @Turnstile_Blue on Twitter.


Not from the Owner

22/02/2013

by Gavin Barber

invisibleSay what you like about Marcus Evans (actually, don’t: he can afford better lawyers than you can), but you could never accuse him of being schmaltzy, ingratiating, or trying to suck up to ITFC fans. His much-heralded “FROM THE OWNER” column, trailed in the EADT on Friday, announced in banner headlines on the cover of last Saturday’s programme, and subsequently reproduced in full on TWTD, began with less of a rallying cry than a reality check:

“Ipswich is one of the clubs in the Championship that based upon historic figures, have been spending in excess of the soon to be introduced FFP rules.”

Well, there you have it people. Why bother trying to get the fans’ little faces puffed up with pride when you’re only going to slap them with the cold fish of fear? None of us want platitudes, but given the rarity with which Evans addresses the masses, it might have been nice to start on a slightly more unifying note. Instead, an opening so stark that it can only have been deliberately constructed as such, brought to mind Gareth Southgate’s famous appraisal of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 2002 World Cup quarter-final team talk: “We needed Churchill but we got Iain Duncan Smith”.

In paragraphs which may yet form the basis of a chapter in a future management textbook on Managing Stakeholder Expectations, Marcus goes to significant effort to contextualise the club’s financial position, yet strangely fails to mention the ever-growing debt that is presented in each year’s accounts. A prudent approach is all very well: most supporters wouldn’t want the club to indulge in the sort of profligate spending that has seen the dramatic downfall of others (though it does beg the intriguing question of what would have happened if Marcus had been successful in his reported attempts to install Harry Redknapp in the manager’s office). But any true appraisal of the sustainability of the club’s situation would surely have to acknowledge the increasing amount of red on the balance sheet.

In seeking to mitigate the gloom, Marcus asserts that “We have an Academy stronger than many. … Our Academy advantage over others will remain”. It’s nice to see the Academy recognised as a plus point. Unfortunately, the act of saying that ours is better than most other clubs’ doesn’t make it true, even if it’s “the big M” (© Nigel Pickover) who’s saying it. There’s nothing to indicate that our Academy is any better resourced than those of our Championship rivals – and it’s interesting to note how many young coaches and players are opting for what’s on offer down the A12 at Colchester. The once-famed “conveyor belt” of talent into the Town first team has stuttered and halted, to the point where Mick McCarthy recently observed that there were no young players “knocking down the door” of the first team.

Having given us all a further stern talking-to on the subject of money, Marcus moves on, 20 paragraphs into a 23-paragraph article, to acknowledge the existence of supporters in a tone that sounds more like bemusement than appreciation. Having made reference – with a notable lack of any tribute – to the recent departure of Simon Clegg, Marcus reassures us, with regard to “receiving and taking account of [fans’] views”, he’ll be “assessing any void that has appeared through Simon’s departure”. Now this, if analysed too closely, could constitute some kind of philosophical paradox. Can the absence of a vacuum leave a void? Clegg’s approach to supporter engagement has been discussed extensively on these pages, in the first issue of Turnstile Blues, and elsewhere. Cursory at best, patronising at worst, Clegg was never in danger of receiving one of those worthy “supporter liaison” gongs that get handed out by Mark “Clem” Clemmit at the Football League Awards. (Perhaps avoiding that was always his aim). So if Marcus is as motivated by cost-cutting as he says he is, then any “void” in communication with fans left by Clegg’s absence could easily be filled by, say, a gargoyle, or one of those cross-looking proboscis monkeys.

Of more merit would be a commitment to refresh the club’s approach to supporter engagement, rather than viewing it – as Evans’ article appears to suggest that he does – as a box to be ticked. It’s been well over a week since Grant Bage wrote on these pages an eloquent, passionate, measured piece, describing the real “void” that exists at Ipswich Town – the owner’s lack of visibility – and politely invited a response from Evans. At the time of writing, despite the piece having been sent to both ITFC and MEG, we’ve yet to receive one. Once again, when it comes to meaningful engagement with fans, Evans’s silence speaks volumes.

The fun didn’t end on Saturday though, and on Tuesday night it was the turn of Town’s new Managing Director double-act Ian Milne and Jonathan Symonds – already being described by absolutely no-one as “the Ant and Dec of football administration” – to crank the bon mots machine up to 11 and make their own appearance in the programme. After first describing their Tolkeinesque five-year quest to discover the aim and purpose of a professional football club (SPOILER ALERT: it’s about winning football matches and having fun – who knew?), M&S continue in the owner’s relentlessly pragmatic tone, proudly trumpeting their work “developing and launching various projects and ideas to promote a new culture centred on efficiency”. Woot! Yeah baby. Efficiency! Let’s hear the North Stand sing. “Give me an E, give me an F…”

That noise you can hear – it’s not the business-like hum of an efficiency-centred culture. It’s Bobby Robson, turning in his grave.

SBR parade


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.


Decision Time

28/10/2012

Some choice words by Gavin Barber.

According to Albert Camus – just about the only notable goalkeeper not to have been linked with a move to ITFC over the last six months – “Life is a sum of all your choices”. Decision-making was one of the many woeful aspects of Town’s play during Saturday’s miserable defeat by Sheffield Wednesday, though in truth there haven’t been many good decisions made at Portman Road, on or off the pitch, for about the last five years.

Which is one of the reasons why so many fans are, to say the least, sceptical about Marcus Evans’ and Simon Clegg’s capacity to get right what may prove to be their most important decision yet – the appointment of a new manager.

After Saturday’s game, I heard (courtesy of a fellow train passenger who hasn’t yet had the invention of headphones or volume controls brought to his attention, and evidently felt that everyone else in the carriage really, really needed to hear Radio Suffolk’s post-match phone-in) several Town fans, and Mick Mills, talking about Mick McCarthy as the sort of manager who was needed, to give our current selection of under-achievers “a kick up the backside”. It’s a tempting view – performances have, to general astonishment, got more and more spineless over recent months, to the point where we are now pretty much putting out a team of invertebrates every week (in a figurative sense, of course – real invertebrates are much better at keeping their shape). McCarthy isn’t a man who tends to inspire a great deal of affection, but if his methods could produce a team that actually displayed some kind of resilience or determination, it would certainly represent an improvement.

But having reflected on it further, it strikes me that we need to appoint a manager who we’re confident will be the right choice, not for the next five matches or even the next five months, but for the next five years.

As several supporters have pointed out, short-term thinking has played a large part in getting ITFC into the mess we’re currently in. Thinking back to the previous managerial appointment, there was an urgent need to bring in someone who could harmonise what appeared to be a divided and disaffected dressing room – a blokey sort of a bloke who’d provide some form of relief after the players had failed to respond to the somewhat more singular motivational strategies of Roy Keane. And it worked, up to a point – we didn’t get relegated that season and some players seemed to respond quite well. For a bit.

But that was as far as it went. It was an appointment for that moment, but not for the times that followed – Jewell didn’t have the tactical nous, or the willingness to update his thinking, to compete with more astute contemporaries such as Brian McDermott or Nigel Adkins: and you can only tread water in this league for so long.

So whilst it’s certainly appealing to think that Jewell’s successor might be the sort of person who would bring managerial boot into rapid connection with pampered player’s arse, Evans and Clegg need to be thinking beyond the immediate need. There’s a risk that a manager whose main attribute is being “no-nonsense” (surely the adjective most commonly applied to McCarthy – incidentally, what does it even mean? Does it imply that other managers preside over dressing rooms rife with quirky surrealism and non-sequiturs?)  could deliver enough strategically-placed rockets to get Town scrambling away from the bottom of the league, but if that’s all he can deliver, then we’ll end up stagnating again within a matter of months, and the whole sorry spiral of decline will start again.

We may, therefore, have to be prepared for things to get worse (I know, I know) before they get better. Which is not to say that I subscribe to the “maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for us to get relegated” school of thought. Ask Coventry fans for their views on that. It would be a disaster – Championship survival has to be an imperative for the next occupant of the manager’s office. But we need someone whose remit, and capability, extends beyond those immediate imperatives.

Albus Dumbledore – a more accessible literary figure than Camus, though by all accounts not quite so handy between the sticks – said that “It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities”. If Marcus Evans won’t show us his face, it’s time for him to use this moment of choice to show us what he really is.


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