Family entertainment

21/08/2014

 

Half Time

 After a short cessation of hostilities, the derby match is back at Portman Road this Saturday and we’re all excited about it – except for one thing…  by Susan Gardiner

Embarrassing relatives. We’ve all got them.

Whether it’s an uncle who makes off-colour jokes and is a little too free with his hands or the aunt who only drinks on Christmas Day and, after two sherries, insists everyone watches a war film instead of the great comedy show on the other channel, then promptly falls asleep and starts snoring at seismic levels… OK, this analogy might be getting a bit too personal.

I feel like that about some of my fellow Town fans sometimes. We all have the same interests at heart, but – naturally enough – have different views about how to go about achieving our aims. We argue, we fight, we agree to differ, it doesn’t last long, we argue again… . It was ever thus. In many ways, it’s that kind of thing that makes football supporters comparable to a real family, rather than the trite, happy-clappy, “football family” of the clichés that are trotted out by the media, Barclays ads and football club PR departments.

Perhaps the rivalry between the two major East Anglian clubs is a bit like a confrontation between the Montagues and the Capulets in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, except that fortunately, for the most part, the sword fighting has been replaced by verbal abuse and bragging in musical form.

This is clearly an improvement, and anyway the police will no doubt deal with anyone on either side who allows the rivalry to spill over into anything worse. However, there are aspects of some of the chanting that Ipswich fans aim at their rivals that aren’t acceptable. If they ever were acceptable – and I doubt it – they aren’t any longer. Stuart Hellingsworth wrote about that, with particular reference to the appalling Justin Fashanu song. I don’t know any Ipswich Town supporter who isn’t embarrassed and ashamed about that being sung and I hope that I never hear it at Portman Road again. It does, of course, contravene the law and our own club rules and anyone caught singing it will, quite rightly, be thrown out of the ground and banned.

There’s another song that crosses the line of acceptability though, and one of the Turnstile Blues group unfortunately heard about twenty fans singing it in the North Stand in the match against Fulham recently. It’s the one about Delia. I’m not going to quote the words as they’re well known. The objection here isn’t to “bad language” though. The issue is that people are singing a song that is intended to be offensive about the Norwich City “joint majority shareholder” (that’s what she’s officially called and that is silly. Perhaps someone could come up with a song?) They’re singing it for one reason alone, because she’s a woman. Whatever our views on Delia, her gender isn’t really relevant and shouldn’t be an issue. The only conclusion that anyone can reluctantly come to is that the song is sung because there’s a – hopefully small – element in the Ipswich Town fan base that is sexist and/or misogynistic and this is a manifestation of it.

Football has grown up a lot over the last few decades, but it’s quite clear from the revelations about TV presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Richard Scudamore, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, no less and – as recently as yesterday – allegations about former Cardiff City manager (and Norwich player), Malky Mackay, that there’s still a long way to go. Recent advertising campaigns by The Football Paper, and Conference sponsors, Vanarama, are depressing in their out-dated attitude to women. It all seems to be based on an outmoded view that “lad culture” is the norm and that this kind of thing appeals to most football supporters. That’s as insulting to men as it is to women when you think about it.

Look around most football grounds now and you’ll see lots of women, you’ll see families, you’ll see men with daughters (and sons) who don’t want to hear things like the Delia song.

It’s disappointing that sexism and misogynistic behaviour don’t seem to be taken as seriously as racism and homophobia, but it’s just as bad. Denigrating someone because of what they are rather than who they are, or because of a stereotype, is exactly the kind of thing that leads to worse: hatred, abuse, violence. Denigrating someone just because they’re female, apart from being quite weird and ridiculous, is pernicious.

We’re all hoping to see our status as the Pride of Anglia restored on Saturday. Whatever the result, let’s hope that the most embarrassing members of the ITFC family stay at home or keep their malignant songs to themselves.

You can report any offensive chanting or language using the Kick It Out app or the club’s STAMP IT OUT text number 07834 439429.

 

 


I can’t believe it’s not a Big Buttery Audit Vat

25/07/2014

ITFC Academy

 

by Gavin Barber

Lots of people ask for money. Most of us – me included – conduct a kind of instantaneous, subconscious cost/benefit analysis of each request before giving a response. Context is important. Earlier today I was asked for a charitable donation and gave the full amount, without hesitation. The charity was a random teenager who was 10p short of his bus fare. I paid in full because a) I could afford it, and b) it would mean that he could end his long-running argument with the driver, meaning that I could finally get off the sweltering pavement, onto the bus, and on with the rest of my life. Philanthropy and self-interest, perfectly married in a moment.

Rightly or wrongly, if you’re prepared to ask people for money then you need to be ready to make them feel that they’re Doing Something Good or Getting Something Back, or, preferably, both. Which is why the decision to ask supporters for cash to fund ITFC’s bid for Category One Academy status was such a bold one. And, on the basis of today’s announcement that the bid has failed, a potentially ill-advised one too.

We are told that the bid for Category One status has failed to reach the required 75% standard by just 0.3%. Who knows what complex algorithms lie behind this outcome? “IF facilities.PITCH >64% AND coaching.YOUTHDEV >72% THEN value academy.LEVEL must = 01”. That sort of thing. Maybe. Myriad factors, we are told, are considered. Investment. Coaching. Facilities. It all gets churned into a big buttery Audit Vat, and for ITFC it apparently comes out at 74.7% proof.

One could speculate on the maturity of a process which allows for such fine margins of error in an area of such inexact science; one could speculate further on how the application of the audit process might vary between clubs of different levels and status – particularly given that this whole thing was begat by the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), itself yet another downwards kick from the jackboot of the super-rich clubs into the faces of the rest.

And yet. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, and ITFC’s response to these challenges was, firstly, to opt rather defiantly for Category Two – like a spurned suitor petulantly de-friending the object of their affections on Facebook – only to decide that, actually, we did want to play with the big boys after all. But we needed someone else to pay for it.

That initial decision was important. ITFC weighed up the options available under EPPP and decided that Category Two was the least-worst of them. Or perhaps that Category One was not worth the risk. Not only was there a 5,000-strong petition raised in protest, but statistics provided by the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Trust proved that investment in Academies was more than likely to repay itself several times over in revenue from player sales, and transfer fee costs saved. Category Two, however, remained the preferred option at that time. It was a decision that now appears to have been costly, both in footballing and financial terms. Perhaps one that Marcus Evans now regrets.

And yet. When Town did decide to pursue Category One status – and let’s go right out on a limb here and suggest that the potentially beneficial effects of Category One on the overall balance sheet may have helped to prompt Marcus’s change of heart – it was the supporters who were asked to foot the bill. Not just a few quid for some fluorescent cones and training tops, but a sizeable chunk of the overall funding required for Category One.

Ipswich Town FC is part of the Marcus Evans Group, a multinational conglomeration of Stuff which employs squillions of people to make gazillions of dollars. It is not, perhaps, the most obvious cause when it comes to charitable giving, yet several supporters decided that it was worthy of donations. In issuing that appeal, ITFC sent out two distinct messages: firstly, that a Category One academy was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have, and supporters should therefore be expected to contribute to it. And secondly, if it was an enterprise inextricably attached to a cause, rather than a business decision about allocation of resources – as would presumably be the case in every other division of MEG – then supporters could arguably be seen to carry an implicit level of blame in any subsequent failure to achieve the desired outcome.

Like I said earlier, you can ask people for money any old time you want, but there’s an implied contract in any request for funding, particularly for a private organisation with an already-significant cashflow. And here we come back, rather cynically perhaps, to our two tests for charitable giving: am I Doing Something Good and will I Get Something Back?

The answer to those questions would both have been ‘yes’ if ITFC had found an extra 0.3% from somewhere. But we didn’t. We failed on the margins. And yet – as frustrating as it is to apparently miss out by such a tiny amount – it is always the case that, like a first serve in tennis, if you aim for the margins, you risk hitting the wrong side of them.

It’s easy, of course, to point the focus of attention towards those who carried out the audit. EPPP is a disastrously ill-thought-out initiative, so there’s no reason not to assume that the processes which underpin its implementation might also benefit from some improvement. But however flawed the process might be, the story to take from today’s announcement is surely not the fact that ITFC missed out on Category One by 0.3%, but that we put ourselves in a position whereby that might ever have become an issue. Why aim for the margins? Why look at the criteria and the processes, and decide that scraping around for 75% is the best approach to take – rather than determining to invest whatever is necessary to reach Category One, from the start? Why opt for Category Two, then spend time and effort recruiting a team capable of delivering Cat One, two years later?

These are business decisions and it’s not for me to say which is the right one and which is the wrong one. But as a supporter, it is for me to say something about asking fans to subsidise the shortfall left by some of those business decisions. And that is this: if you are going to ask fans for money to provide a Category One Academy, over and above the investment that fans already make via season tickets etc., and in the full understanding that Category One brings financial benefits to the club and its owner as well as sporting benefits to the team and its supporters, then you had better make damn sure you get it right. We are told that financial investment is only one of the criteria used to determine Academy status. In that case, if fans have contributed to the financial side of things, then it is down to the club to make sure that everything else is in order, to the extent where a margin of 0.3% in an audit score shouldn’t ever have become an issue.

Having put supporters in an arguably invidious position by asking for contributions in the first place, only to let them down by failing to deliver the aim that they were being asked to contribute to achieving, the Club and its owner once again have questions to answer. What will happen to those contributions? Why, with supporters’ contributions behind them, does it appear to be the case that ITFC aimed for being ‘just good enough’ to achieve Category One – and turned out to be not quite up to it – rather than reducing the risk by aiming higher than that? What happens next? Will there be a new approach or will supporters be asked for yet more money? As ever, we eagerly anticipate answers.


Masculine Pursuits in Ipswich: Our Victorian Correspondent Writes

01/06/2014

Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish at homeHere at Turnstile Blues we like to think that we present a different perspective on ITFC from that which you’ll find in the mainstream media. To keep up this tradition, we asked Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish, society columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times from 1871 – 1903, to review this year’s Player Of The Year dinner and awards evening.

“It was a most welcome surprise to be invited to review the 2013-14 Ipswich Town Player Of The Year Awards evening via the medium of time travel. I had feared that my elaborate evening-wear and celebrated fulsome beard – quite the talk of the dinner-dance scene in late 19th century Woodbridge – might rather mark me out as a man out of place and time, but I was relieved to discover that a goodly proportion of the assembled gentlemen and players were also sporting fine sets of whiskers!

“The event was hosted by Mr Milton Simons, a jovial sort of a cove with a charmingly estuarine dialect. I am given to understand that Mr Simons had previously been an Ipswich Town player of some note himself, and much merriment was made of his shiny bald head. Mr Simons appeared to be suggesting that the primary culprit in this regard was some fellow called Banter, but I could see no record of such person amongst the list of guests.

“As the evening progressed, it was clear to note that many of the assembled company had attained a state of light-heartened relaxation. Several of the menfolk discarded their neckties and some even stepped out of their frock-coats. I was intrigued to observe the elaborate markings on the forearms of several of the Ipswich Town players. One can only assume it is a requirement of the modern factory that workers are required to ink themselves in company insignia, and can only be hoped that this does not interfere with the athletic regime of the amateur sportsman.

“It was a matter of some curiosity for the pan-temporal visitor to observe some of the customs of this strange modern era. There appeared to be a great deal of excitement around something called a ‘Chambers Fist-Pump’. Alas, your correspondent was unable to discern the precisions of this ritual, but we can perhaps safely assume that a gentleman’s chambers are no longer the stronghold of privacy that they once were. Such ‘Fist-Pumping’ may have become a necessity in this regard.

“One further noted the presence of a rangy young man by the name of Myrone Tings. Mr Tings was acting quite the philanthropist – tossing morsels of food from the windows to feed hungry-looking badgers, and organising a collection in aid of the local sailors’ refuge. It was a matter of some relief to this observer that Mr Tings was not a recipient of any award on the night. Whilst he may be a young man of most worthy character, such individuals are naturally prone to the giving of painfully long acceptance speeches.

“During the awarding of the prizes, there appeared to be quite the commotion around the antics of a well-fed looking fellow, who I was given to understand was a Club official of some sort. Said official had taken it upon himself to enliven the prize-givings with a colourful commentary of his own! Some lively chit-chat was observed as the gentleman loudly annotated the awards with what appeared, to this observer at least, to be some rather fruity observations about the recipients – including some noticeably odd comments about quantities of money allegedly being earned by each, which quite shocked the ears at such a gathering. A rather gruff-sounding Yorkshireman appeared to take a particularly dim view of the gentleman’s frivolity.

“I should say that it was most enlightening to spend some time in 2014 and to note the peculiarities of folk some decades distant from my own era. I will admit to my readers that by comparison to the assembled company, I did feel rather ‘senior’! But then I saw John Wark”.


Feta accompli

29/04/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A light that never goes out

29/04/2014

 

FA Youth Cup Final 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Everything you always wanted to know about… ITFC Italian Branch

04/12/2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CE with Italian shirtCE in Italian shirt 2

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

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

Forza Town!

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


Celebrate good times, come on…

07/11/2013

A piece of unashamed fan love by Susan Gardiner

 Marcus Stewart. It’s his 41st birthday today. I may as well warn you now that I’m one of his greatest fans – and I’m sure he has many. In a squad that contained some of my other all-time favourite players, Matt Holland: all high cheekbones and decent values, Scowie, underrated (although very highly rated by my knowledgeable-but-non-ITFC-supporting Dad), and Magic Jim, Stewie was the most exciting player I’ve ever seen play for Ipswich Town.

Even before he arrived, I watched clips of him scoring goals for his previous club, Huddersfield and noticed that goal celebration – a proper celebration, not the calculated act of the footballing poseur that has been adopted by subsequent generations of all-too-TV-aware players – and took to him immediately. Better still, Huddersfield fans were posting insults on fans forums, telling us how pleased they were to be rid of the fat, alcoholic waster. That’s always a good sign (especially when it isn’t true). Very few supporters make the effort to slag off the indifferent players. It’s disappointment that most often arouses the keyboard warrior.

Oh yes. The goal celebration – the almost-modest little gesture with clenched fists as he darted around the goal mouth after scoring what was very often a special goal. And the gloves. The ITFC gloves with the short-sleeved shirt. Will we ever see his like again or are we exiled from that particular Wonderland forever by The Way Football Is Now?

For those who are too young to remember him – poor things – it’s on record. The promotion season, the play-off semi-finals against Bolton, the play-off final at Wembley, the first year in the Premier League when he became the highest English goal scorer in that league with 19 goals and would have been the highest if it hadn’t been for one Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (23 goals), the egregious piece of rolling around on the ground by Ian Harte for dirty Leeds which had him sent off, with an ensuing three-match ban, and who knows? – Stewie may have scored more goals that season and Town might have ended up even higher than fifth.

Has anyone ever evaluated the impact of that particular piece of gamesmanship on ITFC’s future, by the way? I think it might be interesting.

Then it all went wrong. We were relegated, we were in administration, and he was off to play for Sunderland. My only solace was his failure to score that penalty against us at Portman Road. Not because I wished him ill but because I genuinely believe he didn’t have it in his heart to score against his old club. I might be wrong but I’m never going to see it any other way.

Was it really only 37 goals in 75 appearances?

I know that ITFC, with its glorious history (£16.95 from all good bookshops or The Greyhound, Henley Road) has had greater players. I wouldn’t even try to argue his relative merits against the Crawfords, Mariners and Kiwomyas of this world, but his goal against Bolton in the play-off semi–final (first up on the clip below) is my favourite ever Town goal. I only saw it on a distant TV after elbowing my into a sardine-packed Ipswich pub on a baking hot afternoon in May 2000 but I’ve watched it innumerable times since. Take a bow, William Marcus Paul Stewart.


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