This tribute, written by Susan Gardiner, to the late Dale Roberts, ITFC player and coach, first appeared in issue 4 of Turnstile Blues which was published in February 2014.
The writer George Eliot once asked ‘“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” In an age which elevates the individual beyond all reason and devalues co-operation, which celebrates “celebrities” without quite explaining what there is to celebrate about them (erm – Joey Essex, anyone?), it’s easy to forget the contributions of those who work quietly in the background, often selflessly allowing others to take the credit for their achievements.
Football – stating the obvious – is a team game. It’s only been in relatively recent years that individuals have been picked out and transformed into superstars. Of course, supporters have always had favourites – Town fans adored George Sherrington, Ernest Kent and Ernie Bugg long before the club had moved to Portman Road or become professional – but it was only between the First and Second World Wars that players like Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Dixie Dean became national stars, winning media attention and adulation from fans all over the country. Later, the England cricketer, Denis Compton – who also played football for Arsenal between 1936 and 1950 – took it on to the next level, winning lucrative advertising contracts and presumably earning quite a lot of money in the bargain.
Over the last few years, Ipswich Town fans have had their fair share of the notoriety that tends to come with the “star” player of the 21st century – the Jimmy Bullards and Michael Chopras whose undoubted natural ability brought us such great expectations – only for it to be dashed, leaving us with an empty feeling of unfulfilled possibilities and disappointment. What a waste, as Ian Dury sang. If only we could learn to appreciate the contributions of those who quietly work away at making Ipswich Town the club it is, without the newspaper headlines or the “incidents” at nightclubs. There have been many players, coaching staff, groundstaff, cleaners and secretaries, who have given ITFC so much over the years and have never – not that I know of, anyway – posted a photograph of a large amount of cash on Twitter.
Now it’s not only the footballers who get the attention. Since the inception of the Premier League skewed football further in the direction of money and big business, other participants in the sport have been picked out as stars, especially the managers. Alf Ramsey, Bob Paisley, Matt Busby and Bobby Robson won deserved acclaim and attention for their achievements in the game, but in the last 20 years the ever-present cameras have panned to the face of any PL club’s manager after every trivial incident, whether it’s a superlative goal or a bit of handbags involving some of his sillier players. Every unedifying spat between the likes of Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson has been elevated to back page headlines as if they were speaking with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the wisdom of Eric Cantona when mostly it’s about the level of a school playground bragfest. More recently, the supposed importance of the corporate side of top-level football has drawn media attention to the owners and chief executives of football clubs, particularly if they’ve done something to really piss their own fans off. Now the cameras stray, all too frequently, to the rather unprepossessing figures of Vincent Tan at Cardiff City and Assem Allam at Hull City AFC. I suppose you could describe it as “the money shot.”
There’s nothing wrong with football having stars; the glamour of a Beckham or the sheer breathtaking ability of a Ronaldo or Messi are part of football’s appeal but one of the problems with this media-led cult of the individual is that a lot of people who contribute to the success of a club are ignored. I’m not talking about the many “unsung heroes” that exist at every club, although they too should be acknowledged of course, but most football managers don’t work alone. They have a whole array of coaches, physios, and other staff – and some of them contribute a great deal. Occasionally, a manager will have a coach that he works so closely with that they are identified as a partnership and one of the most famous examples of this is, of course, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor – although I’ve no idea whether the reality was quite as it was portrayed in the slightly fanciful, but very enjoyable film, The Damned United. At other clubs, it may well be that managers owed more to their assistants than fans and journalists ever realised: Bobbies Robson and Ferguson are a case in point, although often an assistant is never quite able to achieve the same success on his own.
In the recent history of Ipswich Town, one partnership stands out – although I’m hopeful there may be another dynamic duo at the club, you never know – the ultimately very successful pairing of George Burley with Dale Roberts, and whereas I wouldn’t ever wish not to give Burley “all credit” for what he achieved, I’ve always felt that Dale must have been an integral part of that sublimely successful period for Town at the beginning of the 21st century.
Dale Roberts was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1956. He began his football career at Portman Road when he joined as a schoolboy in November 1972. He became an apprentice in January 1973 and turned professional in September 1974. He was a member of the squad that won the FA Youth Cup twice in 1973 and 1975 – a remarkable achievement. It’s clear that the young central defender had great promise. Among his teammates in that first Youth Cup winning team was fellow 16-year-old, George Burley, and the two boys, both far from home, formed an enduring friendship. In the squad that won the youth trophy in 1975 were David Geddis, Russell Osman and one John Wark. Roberts’ problem as a player for Ipswich would be that it was a time when there was an “embarrassment of riches.” Bobby Robson’s youth team policy combined with his brilliant network of scouts meant that competition was fierce and Roberts was competing with players of outstanding quality.
Former ITFC Chairman, David Sheepshanks, recalled: “I can remember watching him as a player in the mid-70s where he was an understudy to Allan Hunter and Kevin Beattie. He was a top quality centre half but was also unfortunate to be at the club at a time when we had Russell Osman and Terry Butcher coming through…. Dale was a hard, totally determined and dedicated tough-tackling, no-nonsense player.”
He ended up only making 24 full appearances for Town before moving to Hull City AFC for a reported figure of £50,000 in February 1980, although it seems he spent a very brief time playing in the North American Soccer League in 1979. Roberts made nearly 200 appearances for Hull in Divisions 3 and 4. Manager Brian Horton described him as “popular… enthusiastic… a player’s player.” Matthew Rudd, a Hull City supporter and journalist, says he was a “popular player. Talkative, quick and hard as nails. Played in both City’s best and worst sides of the 1980s. … Partnered Peter Skipper through the best times until injury got him in 1984/5, and he went to Ferriby. By then he was playing at right back as Brian Horton preferred Skipper and Stan McEwan in defence. All three of the managers he played for seemed to rate him, especially Colin Appleton, who put him in the side at the start of 1982/3 after an opening day defeat and never looked back.”
Roberts’ career at Hull ended prematurely when he suffered from a serious injury to his pelvis. It looked as if his days in football were over and he was training as a driving instructor – while playing for non-league side Bridlington Town – when he was given the chance to rejoin Colin Appleton at Hull City as youth team coach. He was there from 1989 until 1993 when he teamed up with his old friend George Burley at Ayr United, later joining up with him again in what would prove to be a controversially short spell at Colchester United. Burley was doing well at Colchester when – after only 20 games – he was lured back to his old club, Ipswich. It was a move which resulted in acrimony, legal wranglings and the payment of compensation. Colchester’s chairman at the time, Peter Heard, said that he offered Roberts the chance of the manager’s job at Layer Road: “We asked Dale to stay on and take over but he was very gentlemanly about it and said no. He had great loyalty to George, who had brought him in and wanted to stay with him. … I felt he was very much the unsung person behind the amazing run.”
David Sheepshanks: “He was the perfect foil to George [Burley], someone who never sought the limelight but played an invaluable role…. He was the ultimate professional at whatever job he was given.”
It’s never going to be possible to know the extent of Dale Roberts’ contribution to the success that Town enjoyed in the Burley era or how much he was responsible for the promotion to the Premier League in 2000. He was certainly liked by players and coaching colleagues alike. Matt Holland described him as “a terrific guy…. I can’t speak highly enough of Dale,” and another first team player from that time told me: “I had a lot of contact with Dale, probably as much as any coach. He was the main organiser for training, travel, etc. They [DR & GB] worked very closely together, they were very good friends and complemented each other.They obviously knew each other from their playing days, as in most manager-coach relationships. I can’t ever remember them falling out. Dale was very loyal to George.I think it [DR's illness] had a big impact on George and players that had worked with Dale for a while.In my opinion a manager is only as good as his number two, right-hand man. A good coach won’t always agree with the manager, but he’ll always back him up and be very loyal. A coaching role can often be a link between the players and manager. Dale did this very well.”
The partnership between George Burley and Dale Roberts became part of Town legend in May 2000 when they were filmed celebrating on the touchline at Wembley stadium after Martijn Reuser scored for Town in the play-off final, taking us up to the Premier League. (You know the one: “Reuser – Premiership!“) Dale and George danced and hugged while the rest of us went bananas.
Despite being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Dale Roberts went on to take Town’s reserves to win the southern section of the Premier Reserve League Championship in 2001-2. It was a prestigious title to win. His captain, Justin Miller, then only 21, said: “Dale is the reason I made it. … Even when he was going through the toughest of times, he was there for us.”
Dale Roberts died on 5 February 2003, aged only 46. Sir Bobby Robson, who felt close to him as someone from his native north-east, said he was distraught. The funeral, at St. Augustine’s church on Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, was attended by many players, past and present, as well as youth team players dressed in their Town tracksuits. George Burley read the eulogy. There is no doubt that this was a deep personal loss for him. As well as losing someone with whom he’d worked closely for many years, he had lost one of his closest friends.
So back to George Eliot. At the end of Middlemarch, she wrote “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.” It is the quiet work of those who are not celebrated that in the end counts the most. Ipswich Town should always remember Dale Roberts.
As issue 5 of Turnstile Blues is coming out very soon – and is on sale at Portman Road on Saturday, 3rd May 2014 – I’m posting some of my favourite pieces from the previous four issues in an effort to show you what we’re about. First, a particular favourite from our first issue, by Gavin Barber.
A few years ago, Heinz announced that they might have to stop making salad cream because everyone was buying mayonnaise instead. “Imagine that!” exclaimed a woman I worked with at the time, “no salad cream in the shops!”. “But hardly anyone’s buying it”, I replied, “do you actually buy it yourself?”. “Well, no”, she admitted, “but it’s nice to know it’s there”.
There was, of course, a subsequent mad rush on the purchase of salad cream and the product was saved. The whole thing was probably just a clever marketing ruse by Heinz, tapping into a basic truth: there are some things that comfort us simply by their continued existence in the background of our lives, whether it’s the presence of a condiment on the supermarket shelves, the smell of the coffee stall we pass on the way to work or the continued international career of Dennis Rommedahl. They don’t make much real difference to us, but we’d miss them if they weren’t there.
Does Ipswich Town fall into this category? I started thinking this when I was challenging myself to work out exactly why the bloody hell I had been so determined to pass the Portman Road habit on to my son. Was I handing down a precious gift, a timeless expression of parental love with value beyond measure? Or was it more like one of those irritating hereditary quirks such as premature baldness or eczema?
My Dad was a much better and more responsible parent than I am. He followed Ipswich himself and would respond cheerfully to all my questions about them, but never made any particular effort to foster my interest, perhaps sensibly deciding that if I wanted to open myself up to the same lifetime of frustration as he’d had, then it was my own lookout. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was pleading with him to take me along: the idea of actually going to Portman Road held the sort of allure for me that Disneyland had for other kids. Even then, I think Dad was a bit surprised, and not really convinced that I’d like it as much as I thought I would, but of course, when I eventually did make it through the turnstiles I was irretrievably hooked.
I wasn’t allowed to go every week but I’d mark on the fixture list the games that Dad had said I could go along to (this being the early 80s, these were mostly determined on the basis of having the lowest hooligan risk) and these, like Prufrock’s coffee spoons, would become the punctuation marks of my young life, each one as eagerly and as long anticipated as the last, regardless of how Town were playing at the time. Often we’d go with my extended family – my Grandpa, who always seemed to think it was cold and who judged each new signing according to whether or not they were as good as Tommy Parker (they never were), and my Uncle, who loved the Dutch players and whose own moustache I imagined to be his personal tribute to Frans Thijssen. I could disappear at this point into a quicksand of clichéd reverie, but I’m sure you get the picture: the boy in a man’s world; the always-lingering cigarette smoke; above all, the excitement of Christmas fixtures and the massed ranks of pocketed hands afterwards as the crowd shuffled, heads bowed against the biting winter wind, towards their trains and buses and cars and the New Year.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and I’m faced with the chubby cheeks and enquiring mind of my own progeny. By now I am located far from Portman Road, living in Oxford. Do I take my Dad’s wise, calm, dignified approach, allowing my son to plough his own footballing furrow and hope it leads him to the same field? Of
course not. The poor child has ITFC-branded tat shoved in his face from day one. Babygros, teddies, woolly hats, the lot. His baby bouncer pointed towards the screen for televised Ipswich games, in the hope that some formative connection will be made. Ostentatious attempts at bonding, even while the child is still in nappies: “Daddy’s off to football now! At Ipswich! I expect you’ll be wanting to come with me soon? Won’t you? Won’t you? Won’t you?” It was the sort of evangelistic approach that the Jesuits might regard as being a bit extreme.
In any case, it worked: he did start wanting to come along and now, at the age of 8, he’s a season ticket holder with me in the West Stand. We make the long journey by train, we have fun on the way, meet up with friends for lunch, watch the game, and then relax again on the train home. By that stage, the effects of a long day’s travelling and socialising can be taking their toll, but he usually wakes me up when we get to Liverpool Street.
But – that question again – why? Why was I so determined to bring another sacrificial lamb to the altar of underachievement? Is Ipswich the background music to my life, a comfort blanket that I wanted my offspring to grasp so that he can carry it for me when I’m too old and bewildered to remember the full name of Eric
Lazenby-Gates? Is it something that provides reassurances just because it’s there? If so, all well and good, but couldn’t I have kept it to myself?
I think the answer is that it’s more. It’s about maintaining a family tradition, but not just for it’s own sake – it’s because there is something about Ipswich Town as a club, as an entity, that can – in amongst all the frustration – bring moments of great joy and community. One of the things that always impressed me as a child about matchdays was that, no matter how mundane the fixture, the game was always, unquestionably, the most exciting and important thing happening in Ipswich that day. And in that way it brought people together and was a force for good.
There are many other football clubs whose fans would say exactly the same, and they’d be right too. Change, like death, taxes and the UK’s annual poor showing at Eurovision, is inevitable. Over time, players, managers, kits and even the physical structure of the ground itself are altered until they’re almost unrecognisable from those you grew up with. But something remains at the heart of the club that transcends all this. It’s the fans, basically – the togetherness, the humour, even the traditional Portman Road moaning – that make our club a special one: and that’s why we want to hand it on to our kids. We’re not only giving them a gift, we’re preparing the way for them to take their own turns at its stewardship, just by being there.
I’m not at all sure that Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg [This was first published a couple of years ago. - Ed.] get this. Their approach seems distant, a sort of “you let us get on with running the football club and we’ll paint the turnstiles occasionally so that you know we haven’t forgotten about you”, missing the point that we – like our parents and grandparents before us, and hopefully our children after us – are the football club. Clegg and Evans are people who happen to have functional roles for the moment, but one day they’ll be gone and we, the fans, will still be here.
But I think I can still justify my zealous approach to my son’s upbringing. That stuff that made me want to share it with him in the first place – the spirit of community – is still there. These days it’s not just in the pre-match pubs and in the ground itself, but it’s on Twitter and the message boards too, and is all the more fun for that.
This isn’t, then, about tradition for its own sake. It’s not like the outraged howls of protest at proposed changes to the Radio 4 schedule, made by people who never listen to Radio 4. It’s not just sitting in your favourite seat on the bus to work. It’s worth preserving because Ipswich Town stands for something. It’s up to us to do that preservation and right now it feels like we’re doing it in spite of the owner and the Chief Exec, rather than with them.
My uncle remained a season ticket holder in the West Stand until he died last November. On the day after his funeral, Town threw away their game against Reading in spectacularly slack and incompetent style, turning a 2-1 injury-time lead into a 2-3 defeat. Leaving the ground, my mind still laden with the grief of the previous day’s events, I was furious, feeling an irrational but unavoidable sense of affront at what I’d just seen from Town, in addition to the obvious annoyance that we all shared. Muttering to myself in fury, I heard my son’s voice cutting
through the discontented hubbub. “Never mind, Dad”, he said. “It was good to see Josh Carson score for us, wasn’t it?”
Without meaning to, he’d pulled me round in an instant, from a rapidly darkening mental state to a realisation that actually, yes, if we can only see the world through a child’s eyes then there is always something to take comfort in, whether it’s seeing your favourite player scoring or simply that there’s another game next week. When it comes to ITFC I’ve got big concerns about the present, but I’m learning to put my faith in the future.
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.
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).
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!
There are more photos of the ITFC Italian Branch, generously supplied by Simone in our Gallery.
Subtitled “Children Of The Revolution”, the third issue of Turnstile Blues has as its theme the Ipswich Town Academy: past, present and future. The fanzine focuses on youth development; how this has changed at Ipswich over the years, how well the Academy system prepares young players for a life inside and outside of football, and what the future could hold in the light of the club’s intention to become a Category One Academy.
The centrepiece of the issue is a moving and at times startling interview with former Town player Adam Tanner. Tanner, who in 1995 scored Town’s first-ever winning goal at Anfield on only his third senior appearance, talks candidly about his life at Ipswich and how a career that promised so much was over at the age of just 27. He talks about the support he received from the club during troubled times in his personal life, and the experiences of playing under John Lyall and George Burley.
Elsewhere in the issue there is a look back on how Bobby Robson looked after young players during his time at Portman Road, and an analysis of what Category One status really means for the club in practical terms. There’s a report from a Town fan who visited West Africa and experienced the new generation of Academies in Senegal and Sierra Leon, and a review of last season for Town’s young sides.
Turnstile Blues is priced £1 and will be available from sellers around Portman Road from about 2.00 onwards. Copies will also be available in the Greyhound pub on Henley Road at lunchtime, where Turnstile Blues contributor Susan Gardiner will also be selling and signing copies of her new book, Ipswich Town: A History (Amberley Press, £16.99).
For those who can’t make it to the game, the fanzine will also be available to buy via download or mail order from http://www.turnstile-blues.co.uk, from Monday.
For more information contact Gavin Barber, 07720 543 929 or email email@example.com. Gavin will be talking about the fanzine on BBC Radio Suffolk’s “Life’s A Pitch” programme on Saturday lunchtime. The show is on from 12.00 – 2.00.
We 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).
Photograph © David Kindred www.kindred-spirit.co.uk . All rights reserved
Portman Road has joined Old Trafford and Anfield in being officially recognised as an asset to its local community.
ITFC 1st, the independent Ipswich Town Supporters’ Trust, has announced that – following representations it has made to Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) – Portman Road has become an Asset of Community Value (ACV), recognising its importance to the town and its people. The ground is owned by Ipswich Borough Council and leased to the football club.
Colin Kreidewolf, the Secretary of Ipswich Town 1st, said “Supporters’ Trusts at Liverpool, Manchester United and Oxford United have recently been successful in having their club’s stadia recognised as ACVs, reflecting the value of those grounds to their respective local communities. Our view is that Portman Road is just as important to the people of Ipswich, and to Ipswich Town supporters generally, as Anfield is to the people of Liverpool. We’re delighted that the Borough Council agree – this is a fitting way to mark the 125th anniversary of Ipswich Town’s move to Portman Road on 1st October 1888”.
What does becoming an ACV mean for Ipswich Town?
ACV status means that the ground cannot be sold without the local community being told about it, and that they will be given the opportunity to bid for it themselves. Today’s announcement means that any future IBC administration would be required to consult the local community before selling Portman Road, and allow six months for the community to raise the money to buy it themselves.
Mr Kreidewolf added: “We appreciate that the current IBC administration have no desire to sell Portman Road, and are pleased to see it remaining in public ownership. Having ACV status means that any future administration at the council wouldn’t be able to change that situation without involving supporters and local people. It helps to safeguard the future of Portman Road as a part of the Ipswich community. We hope that the current owner of Ipswich Town will also recognise this as a positive move for the football club”.
Councillor David Ellesmere, Leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said: “The current council administration has no intention of selling Portman Road. We are very happy to support listing Portman Road as an Asset of Community Value to give supporters the reassurance they need that ITFC will remain in the heart of Ipswich.”
Tom Hall, Head of England & Wales at Supporters Direct, the governing body for supporters’ trusts, said: “Ipswich Town First should be congratulated in their work to make sure that Portman Road takes its place alongside Old Trafford and Anfield, and the first two, Oxford United and Nuneaton Town, in having stadia successfully listed.
“We are seeing this trend escalate, and many more applications are being lodged from across the pyramid. This and all other successful listings are demonstrating that our view that clubs and their stadiums should be seen as community assets and not simply as part of an investment portfolio is being widely accepted.”
Turnstile Blues welcome this development and congratulate Ipswich Town 1st and Ipswich Borough Council in recognising the importance of Ipswich Town’s historic home to the football club’s supporters and the people of Ipswich.
A third article in the run up to the third issue of Turnstile Blues. This one was published in Issue 2: By Mutual Consent and was written by Stuart Hellingsworth. Perhaps out of all the articles we have printed in this fanzines, this one deserves a wider audience, including people who aren’t supporters of ITFC.
In the 1970s and 1980s, racism in football was rife with players regularly receiving abuse. Ipswich Town fans were amongst the better. Standing up against this gained us plaudits. Other clubs stood alongside us.
Alasdair Ross stood on the North Stand in the mid 1970′s, when the lead singer was Goose Gladstone, a West Indian who later ran a chicken jerky van in the Old Cattle Market. Opposing fans used to send loads of abuse towards him with the main comment being ‘monkey’. He answered by singing the peanuts advert ‘Peanuts- Golden Wonder, stay jungle fresh’ which the North Stand would then join in with – turning the joke on the opponents.
One Town fan was amongst the travelling blue army when an infamous fascist organisation tried to portray themselves as Ipswich fans at Highbury in the 80s. The police decided to deal with all of the Ipswich fans. Fortunately, a number of Arsenal fans stood up and informed the police that they weren’t Ipswich fans but National Front. The Arsenal and ITFC fans then stood together as one against the right wing group on the terraces at Highbury. Another occasion where the National Front infiltrated the opposition fans saw their chants of “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”, met with “Ipswich Town lives in racial harmony”.
Gavin Barber recalls reading in TWTD, an away fan’s experience at Portman Road via another club’s fanzine. It described how their fans visited Portman Road in that era. Upon noticing the multi-racial make-up of the home section, they began a chant at the Ipswich home fans with racist abuse of the “you’re just a town full of n****rs” variety. To the away fans’ surprise, the home fans responded with a defiant chorus of “Ipswich fans are black and white”, and loud condemnation of the racism. The author concluded that his team’s fans had been “taught a lesson” about what was and wasn’t acceptable in a football ground.
So not just did town lead with their on-field recruitment of foreign players, but off the pitch, our fans stood up against fascism. The message was clear, racism was not welcome.
Fast forward to 2012.
On a replacement bus service on the way back from London to Norwich, some town fans join the bus that is taking some of us between rail stations in Essex. Many of the people on the bus have enjoyed a day out shopping or caught a show. There are no colours or obvious signs of football fans aside from the several young town fans who board the bus.
As I wonder whether or not to fight the sleep that is engulfing me, I become more aware of the town fans at the back of the bus. The driver announces that this is the bus replacement for part of the London Liverpool Street to Norwich journey. The name of the City, Norwich, has excited the Town fans. Boos greet this announcement. At first, I consider this panto stuff and smile without acknowledging them. However, a few minutes later these so called town fans sing one of the sickest “football” chants; the one about Justin Fashanu.
The rest of the bus goes quiet. The group of middle aged women who were talking about the show that they’ve been to, look at each other in shock. The families look concerned. The idiots wearing the Ipswich shirts (let’s no longer call them fans) are proud. I am ashamed.
As I wonder whether or not to fight the sleep that is engulfing me, I become more aware of the town fans at the back of the bus. The driver announces that this is the bus replacement for part of the London Liverpool Street to Norwich journey. The name of the City, Norwich, has excited the town fans. Boos greet this announcement. At first, I consider this panto stuff and smile without acknowledging them. However, a few minutes later these so called town fans sing one of the sickest “football” chants; the one about Justin Fashanu.
The rest of the bus goes quiet. The group of middle aged women who were talking about the show that they’ve been to, look at each other in shock. The families look concerned. The idiots wearing the Ipswich shirts (let’s no longer call them fans) are proud. I am ashamed.
Regardless of the fact that this was cowardly, given who else was on the bus, this is a shameful vile ‘song’. Full of prejudice, celebrating the suicide of a poor man who was suffering due to persecution, the chant is despised by 99.9% of Ipswich Town fans. I can remember at a derby match against Norwich a few years ago, a small handful of fans tried to start that chant. Most of us in the North Stand turned on them immediately. The message was clear; rivalry is one thing, but that is too far, way too far.
Justin Fashanu was the first footballer to be openly gay and the first black footballer to move for £1million when Norwich City sold him to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Prejudice followed him throughout and depression followed. This lead to his suicide in 1998.
The Fashanu chant shows the ignorance of those that sing it. It shows a complete lack of understanding of prejudices. That is quite sad considering at least one of the group was of an ethnic minority and so it is not unlikely to expect that their family will have been the victim of racism.
And yet these people decide to mock a man who committed suicide.
Whilst racism was a problem for Justin, homophobia was bigger. I cannot justify the actions of those in the 1970s and 1980s when attitudes were different. In this day and age though, it is worse that it still happens. Have we not learnt? The website, Unite Against Fascism http://uaf.org.uk/2012/11/unite-against-homophobia-and-fascism/ puts it so much better than I could:
“BNP leader Nick Griffin faced widespread condemnation for his recent homophobic comments about the gay couple who won their discrimination case after being refused a room in a Bed & Breakfast. His encouragement to a ‘British Justice Team’ to ‘give them a bit of drama’ was not only contemptible. Griffin’s comments also highlight an intrinsic feature of fascist ideology. It divides humanity into those that are classified as ‘normal’ and others who are ‘abnormal’: those who have full citizenship and those, who when fascists do gain power, have increasingly less, to the point where they are denied the right to even exist. In short, fascism leads to the annihilation of whole groups of people. Amongst its millions of victims it is estimated that the Nazis also killed up to 15000 gay men. All LGBT people in Nazi Germany faced persecution Holocaust Memorial Day Trust “Victims of Nazi Persecution (Gay and Lesbian).”
So to those who sang that awful chant, please realise that by laughing at the sad suicide of someone facing prejudice, you are undoing the proud work of Town fans in the 1970s and 1980s. Ipswich Town fans remain amongst the best in the world and those who sing the Fashanu chant cannot call themselves football fans or Town fans. By singing it, you too are being prejudiced. Please don’t let yourself be aligned with Nick Griffin and think twice before singing it. Lets never hear that chant song again. Your prejudice is not welcome at Portman Road. Ipswich Town supporters are multi-cultural, straight, gay and some like Fashanu, come with mental health conditions. We should all proud to be blue.
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 to 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
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.
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
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.
To: Mrs Clegg
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 20 August 2012, 11:56
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.
From: Simon Clegg
Date: 29 August 2012, 20:04
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.
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.
There’s going to be a third issue of our fanzine soon – coming out in mid-September – so to celebrate, we’re posting a few selected items from the previous two issues. Events have taken over some of the things we wrote about a year ago. Our discussion of the club’s decision not to try for Category 1 status for the Academy under EPPP and frustrations with ITFC’s communications seems to have been addressed and Simon Clegg has departed (although he may make a brief comeback via this site). This article by Mullet, who isn’t a member of our collective but kindly wrote for issue 1 of Turnstile Blues, is still a good read though.
If you’re reading this you probably have one distinctive thing in common with me and everyone else involved in this publication, as fans of Ipswich Town F.C. we all know the belle époque expected under the charge of Marcus Evans hasn’t quite materialised. What has happened since our salvation from CVAs and asset strippers is a sea change in the game with massive trickledown effects for everyone including you, me and the various supporters’ groups affiliated and unaffiliated to ITFC.
If we look at the top of the English game there are many common themes – exponential increases in ‘wealth’, massive expansion in the media and a sense that ‘real fans’ are rarer than hens’ teeth the higher up the pyramid you go. The relationship between football success and authenticity amongst the fan base are two strong, yet fluid perceptions which dominate and colour many discussions about supporting our club. Oddly there seems to be a direct contradiction between the desires for footballing success whilst shunning the ‘modern’ aspects of being a big club.
The influx of Sky money; American models of fandom, the all-seater stadiums, decline of the working man in favour of more family based ‘fun’ at games are all common bugbears and phenomena I’ve seen and heard, as reasons for fans falling out of love with the game, throughout my years as a Town fan. They are also things which have crept in. The game didn’t change overnight and as fans we’ve seen some changes happen quicker than others. Moreover, ultimately both the club and the fans have had to evolve and endure.
Just as when the offside law changes clubs must adapt and grow that little bit stronger, they must also do this when the implicit ‘rules’ which govern attendances and cash flow change too. With fresh investment in this season’s rivals, Town have announced lucrative sponsorship from one of the few admirable sources possible in the Co-operative. It might be time we not only take their cash but some of their better ideas of business too.
This summer has seen both Manchester United and Barcelona launch vast multimedia assaults to recruit and retain fans. Both are clubs that count fans in their millions. Way beyond the capacity of their huge arenas whilst cornering the wealth and numbers across global markets is possibly way beyond the realms of Town now or for the foreseeable. However I think lessons can be learned and applied to us at Ipswich without introducing an ITTV channel, especially as the concept is over a decade old.
The club has a strong and very dedicated fan base which has been shown in these leaner, recession hit years to be as resilient as any. For a town as small and geographically isolated as Ipswich is, to have competition from half a dozen or so clubs and still maintain reasonable levels of support is admirable. But there are fans out there like me, who have migrated across the country, there is a staunch generation across Scandinavia, Northern Europe and the Netherlands who still count amongst the faithful and have had sons and daughters to pass the mantle on and these fans should be integrated as fully as possible.
In this digital age the rise of social media in the short timeframe since MEG took over at Portman road is a trick I feel the club really misses all too often. As a community we have so much to be proud of. Our charitable trust, the junior blues, our players who appear so often at community events all contribute to a sense of pride and belonging which as separate threads could be drawn together into stronger ties for all fans.
There has been in the past season heavy, and justified criticism of the official supporters’ club. This conflict became a starting point for many of my own pieces on the matter of supporters’ groups at ITFC. Their ill-judged address to fans soured the views of many who felt ‘attacked’ and this spilled over in turn to much unjustified criticism. However, it highlighted clearly how the effort and hard work of a few can be seen, scrutinised and discarded by the many all too often.
There are still a handful of supporters’ clubs both sanctioned and non-affiliated to the club. As someone who grew up with the Halesworth branch now chaired by my Dad; and run by a small band of people I’ve known all my life, it is a vehicle of support I hold dearly but fear for. Where other branches have come and gone, the Halesworth lot are steadfast but steadily declining. The halcyon days of two coaches to every home game during the Premiership and previous nearly-Premiership seasons are long gone. The fans that had once filled those seats are too, on the buses and at Portman Road.
Like Town’s support as a whole, the Branch’s numbers are made up of the older Town fans that still turn out day in day out as it were to follow the club. While they are not likely to be interested in a Facebook group or in need of cut price tickets due to existing discounts, there is a whole range of fans being glossed over or forgotten about in my opinion. Games where numbers are down such as night games could be the perfect opportunity to welcome local amateur sides who sacrifice watching Town at the expense of keeping up the game they love could be invited in with group discounts. Likewise so could other community groups with an interest enjoy a night out under the floodlights and enjoy the hospitality of the club.
As with the foreign fans mentioned earlier there are fans with different levels of involvement, interest and ultimately cash which can be channelled towards the club – the use of supporters groups to provide an intermediate between the club and these people is something I truly believe in. This process can only be started through as many points of exposure as possible.
These days the role and remit of fans over consumers, is getting harder to separate. Semantics can be thrown around all you like, but at the end of the day we all pay lots of money for 90 mins of football per week, per month, per year. That comes in addition to paying for everything from polyester shirts to insulate the beer guts of some of us, right through to maintaining them with our award winning pies (despite a lack of celebrity chef types at the club).
How can we incentivise those too young, too old, and too immobile to join in if they can’t get to games in the first place? How do we sucker them with their generational equivalent of worshipping a Chris Kiwomya, John Wark, Treacle or Guus Uhlenbeek as ITFC did to me all those years ago if they can’t get to games? The club does a sterling job of laying on Galloways coaches to away games but they leave to and from Portman Road in the bottom corner of a vast and rural part of the country. What if these coaches ran through and picked up fans in the larger towns of the region en route? I’ve driven down from Halesworth to Ipswich and back either side of an away day and adding two hours to the day and not being able to indulge in a drink does take the edge off it for me. I doubt I’m the only one.
If the emerging generation fans now are savvy on the internet, why not signpost more fan stuff there? I used to love events where we played footy, pool, darts, cricket etc against other branches for fun and had a few beers to fill the void between seasons. Why not organise events between fans that are more likely to check their Facebook feed, retweet it and then plan tactics via BBM rather than wait for someone else to arrange it all and give them a lift on the day?
Membership to the official supporters’ club is automatic when you buy a season ticket. This is both wrong and counterproductive. Until the infamous half time address most people didn’t really know they were a member. It excludes those who live away and by excluding them presents a barrier between them and the club. These little sticking points can soon become the pebble which starts an avalanche of reasons to walk away from Town for good. Driving through Halesworth this weekend on a visit back home I spotted a kid crossing in front of me wearing a Chelsea shirt. In all honesty I was tempted to flick on my wipers and ignore the red light.
I implore the club to rethink how it engages with fans. How it can take what it does and turn it from excellent to the model which all other clubs follow. Innovative practice doesn’t have to be expensive it just has to satisfy fans’ desire to be heard and valued. If the Official Supporters club went out and met with fans, invited them and shared ideas it could be the sounding board, the liaison and the voice for so much and so many more, with a sense of justified authority and influence through real representation.
By supporting those already out there working hard just so they and others can enjoy ITFC the club could do and be so much more. With small, but smart investments in the right areas, by raising awareness and cultivating links the club has the tools to produce some amazing results through their fans. We all know the lottery of looking for success on the field in football. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to the same mindset when it comes to coming together.