By Susan Gardiner, who would like to make it clear that she hasn’t asked the rest of the Turnstile Blues group what they think.
I’ve had two experiences of serious violence which involved football supporters. Neither was anything to do with Ipswich Town and both were a very long time ago, in the bad old days when football supporters were given a certain notoriety by the actions of a minority who were up for a fight. One was when I was a very small child and my mother and I were trapped in an underpass near Molineux with Wolves fans coming one way and Stoke City supporters coming straight towards them from the other direction. I was terrified and had to press myself against the rather insalubrious subway walls as they met and started to punch the living daylights out of one another, oblivious to my existence.The second time was as a teenager in North London, waiting for a bus at Finsbury Park, a bus that was unfortunately full of Spurs fans who, spotting some Arsenal supporters, smashed every single window in the double-decker, indiscriminately showering us all with broken glass. That was pretty scary too.
I wasn’t at the infamous Millwall game, or at Elland Road when Leeds fans behaved disgracefully and attacked Town fans. My only experience of trouble in Ipswich was when there was a fight in Princes Street after we thrashed an already-promoted Portsmouth. When I reached the station, I had the privilege of having 2p coins thrown at me by Pompey fans who were presumably trying to make some kind of point about us having been in administration. Oh the irony.
I write these things to demonstrate that I’m not completely without direct experience of violence, nor unconcerned by it. I have also, unfortunately, seen violence in other contexts: a fully-fledged riot in the academic library that I worked in (it’s a long story) and I was present when an 19-year-old student (a rugby fan, as it happens) was stabbed to death at a disco. As far as I know, the authorities have never imposed draconian measures on indie discos.
This may seem like a slightly OTT response to the announcement that the police – yet again – want to move our Derby game against Norwich City from Saturday, 23 August to the following day. I’m not going to be very badly inconvenienced by this personally. I live close to Ipswich and even though I’ll have to catch a rail replacement bus service into town, and not be able to have a civilized lunch at a civilized hour with my friends, my day won’t be entirely ruined. However, the alteration is going to make it difficult for people who have to travel some distance.
The justification for making the change and for the early start of 12 noon is to avoid any potential trouble between opposing groups of supporters. Having travelled to very nearly every home match at PR for thirteen years on the Norwich-Ipswich train, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced any trouble – or even much hostility. There’s been a bit of muttering, occasionally the word “scum” has been uttered (on both sides), but nobody died.
Let’s look at some facts: the most recent Home Office figures – full details can be found here – for banning orders, by club, show that in 2012/3 Norwich supporters received 10 as compared to Arsenal (59), Chelsea (110) and Cardiff City (121). In the Championship, only 6 of our fans received banning orders. Only three clubs had fewer: Reading (5), Watford (4) and Yeovil (1). Similarly, arrest figures (for 2012/3) show Norwich among the best behaved, with only 12 arrests and Town were Champions – well, I’m taking it as a win! Only four Town fans were arrested in that season (all at away matches), well below Blackpool’s 11. Of the four, only one was for “violent disorder,” another for “public disorder” and the other two were for “alcohol offences.”
I’m really proud of these statistics, and yet, instead of being rewarded for having such top fans, it seems that the local police, with the agreement of ITFC, are going to continue to regard us all as potential criminals. There is no reason, in my view, that this game cannot be held at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon with normal levels of policing.
It’s not just having the game moved. When I used to come down from Norwich, we were often corralled, along with Norwich fans, and led down to Portman Road by the police. I ended up taking the earliest possible train to try to avoid this. I’ve never been able to understand why, having never been as much as cautioned by the police in my life, I should be treated as a criminal, merely for wanting to watch my team.
The arguments about an earlier kick off time being a way of reducing alcohol consumption don’t stack up either. The last time I travelled to a match on the train from Lowestoft, yellow and blue shirts all together in the same carriage, several supporters were drinking from concealed litre bottles of vodka. It was a train that reached Ipswich at about 10.30am.
Restrictions on alcohol consumption only appear to apply to football supporters. If you’ve been to a Test match, you’ll be aware that many spectators do not confine themselves to consuming fizzy lemonade. I once saw someone being carried IN to Trent Bridge at 11 o’clock in the morning (there’d been rain). My experience of obnoxious behaviour by cricket fans has been far worse but I’ve never come across any organized policing strategy at a cricket match.
There were a total of 34 arrests during Royal Ascot this year, according to one report, although the BBC reported 29, as an improvement on the previous year when there were 50. Once again, I don’t imagine that Her Majesty and her chums will be subjected to any restrictions on how they can travel to and from the race course.
So why are football supporters treated differently from those attending other events? It’s an authoritarian society that treats innocent people as if they need to be controlled. Perhaps the police lack the staff levels or ITFC don’t want to pay for the policing (they didn’t last time we played Cardiff City, with their highest number of banning orders, which doesn’t strike me as very logical, to be honest), but it’s still not a justification for assuming the worst about what are, on the whole, a very well-behaved and good-natured group of people. I’m all for the police dealing with people who have committed an offence or have form – but this is not yet the society depicted in the film Minority Report where people are arrested and punished for “PreCrime.”
A final concern. There is a possibility that the police might one day impose what is known as a “Bubble” on travelling supporters. This means that fans are only allowed to travel to an away game on designated transport, normally club coaches, from specified pick up points and bussed straight to the ground. This happened a couple of years ago to that notorious firm Hull City AFC, when they played Huddersfield Town. It’s yet to happen to Chelsea fans, I believe. An attempt to impose one when Sunderland played Newcastle last year failed when both clubs refused to back the idea.
It’s clear that many Town fans don’t feel that this is such an important issue. It’s just moving a game to the next day, after all. Except that I don’t believe it is. It’s an authoritarian approach to managing largely law-abiding crowds. It’s ill thought out and quite frankly, lazy. Lazy in its assumptions about football supporters, lazy in its approach to dealing with football supporters and not tackling the problem of genuine offenders, lazy in the lack of consultation of supporters.
Watching football is not a crime.
Here 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”.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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).