The Clegg Letters

23/08/2013

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

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

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

Good afternoon,

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

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

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

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

Yours,
Simon

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

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

Ricardo,

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

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

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

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

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

Yours
Simon

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

Wife,

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

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

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

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

Regards
Simon

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

Milkman,

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

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

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

Yours
Simon Clegg

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

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

Programme notes, 18th August 2012

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

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

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

Yours,
Simon

 clegg word cloud


So farewell then, Rocky Michael Chopra

25/07/2013

chops

By Susan Gardiner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In Name Only?

10/02/2013

meg

Grant Bage wonders whether Marcus Evans will ever be more than just a name to Town fans.

An enigma underpins Ipswich Town Football Club: its mysterious owner, Marcus Evans. Questions about Evans’ identity have always intrigued fans, but given the recent departure of Chief Executive Simon Clegg these have become immediately and practically significant. Clegg cited “the owner’s intention to play a more hands-on role” as a factor in his decision to move. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21336792  As Turnstile Blues we are therefore asking once more: what does the Club’s owner stand for?

The players’ shirts shout his name. During five years he has backed four managers, sacked three of them and seen off two Chief Executives. Quite literally the Club owes all of what it has become, with the 2011 accounts citing that debt at £66 million, to one Marcus Paul Bruce Evans. Yet the people of Ipswich and the Club’s 20,000 or so regular followers know nothing of the person behind the name. The face of Marcus Evans has never beamed out from a match day programme. His voice is not heard on radio. Marcus does not appear on television and makes no personal statements to the press. A fan paying thirty pounds for a Saturday seat could, in theory, sit next to the man who has poured sixty or seventy MILLION pounds into the Club…and not even know. ‘Marcus the man’ remains an utter mystery, despite personally owning a Club which spawned two of English Football’s most famous and recognisable characters: Sir Alf and Sir Bobby, the Ramsey and Robson.

This article examines that phenomenon. What does it mean for Marcus Evans ‘the brand’ to dominate a football club when none of its fans know the man, what he thinks, or where he comes from?

The Marcus Evans Group (hereafter MEG) was founded in 1983; read more at www.marcusevans.com. It makes big money employing 3000 professionals in 34 offices worldwide providing corporate hospitality, conferences, summits, business training and entertainment. It currently loses big money, though not quite as much, employing approximately 120 full time staff at Ipswich Town Football Club. When the MEG bought Ipswich Town five years ago, assuming liability for substantial debts, one of my best mates teased that Ipswich had been “taken over by a ticket tout”. Lancastrian jealousy I thought to myself, brought on by too many years of supporting Burnley. Two years later that charge was made publicly, in exaggerated terms, by the Daily Mail. In June 2010 and in cowardly words, it claimed that Marcus Evans “had been described as the world’s biggest ticket tout”:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-1288161/CHARLES-SALE-Ipswich-owner-Marcus-Evans-FIFA-ticket-probe.html

‘Described by whom?’ we should ask; but more significantly for the purposes of this article ‘refuted by whom?’ I am uncertain this is a fair description of the MEG’s business and yet popular confusion persists. Fans continue to question the MEG’s motives for ownership. Some criticized the recently departed Simon Clegg’s performance as Chief Executive, claiming he was hired by the MEG more for ‘Olympic links’ than football skills. People are suspicious about why the MEG group’s assets are globally distributed and feel uneasy that they do not know where ‘their local club’s’ ownership, geographically rests. A 2010 Christian Aid report into the finances of English football put Ipswich 14th in a ‘secrecy league’. The authors reported of the Club’s controlling company that “despite our best efforts, we could not prove by documentation where that company is located…Evans … is reported to have been a tax exile for years.” (Blowing The Whistle, Christian Aid 2010, p.38)

When blended with the transfer blundering of various managers, a persistent reliance on loan players and widely voiced discontent about Ipswich’s once famous Academy, such uncertainties form a toxic mix. Unfortunately Marcus Evans’ anonymity not only offers an easy target for such speculation: when combined with his ex-Chief Executive’s (Simon Clegg) clumsy public relations, it positively encourages it. Conspiracy theories flourish when nobody with authority, not just ‘in’ authority, can refute them with convincing evidence, sincere feelings and a face which they trust.

Some things ARE clearer. As an individual company, Ipswich Town continues to pile up massive debts to the MEG. These debts dwarf the club’s few assets. They could in theory and in part, if not in total and in practice, be ‘called in at any moment’. Indisputably, Ipswich Town’s future is in the hands of a global corporation. That corporation is owned and led not just by a person whom fans do not know: but by somebody they have been actively discouraged from knowing.

As if that was not enough Marcus Evans’ anonymity as a brand, and as a person, is even in tension with notion that Clegg talked of so often: namely that ‘football is a product’. Yes, the majority of fans start to support a club by buying a ticket and paying to watch: a financial transaction. Yet over time these exchanges evolve into something more valuable than money. Hardcore fans adopt a common cause. We personally identity with a club’s history, celebrate its achievements; and during the down times it is through disappointments that we bond. That process is nurtured in family, friendship or work groups and cemented on the terraces. On a personal basis becoming a ‘fan’ is about warmth and companionship with people we know. It is the antithesis of anonymity.

Despite intense competition for leisure-time spend, football also persists as premium entertainment perhaps because ‘what you see is, more or less, what you get’. Real time, on-pitch action is mostly visible however cheap your seat. Televised football is even more transparent, prompting relentless and idiotic intolerance of error. Yet one of the commonest criticisms fans have always voiced, long before wall-to-wall Sky coverage, is of players who ‘go missing’ during a game. Managers love individuals who will ‘stand up and be counted’. They appoint captains who ‘take a clear lead’. Football relies on visibility. So what does it signify about Ipswich Town when the club’s entire brand, and its individual owner, are consistently anonymous: present ‘in name only’?

Most fans calm such disquiet with a single, undeniable truth. Marcus Evans has ‘put his money where his mouth is’; or at least where his mouth would be, if he ever spoke in public. Ipswich fans may be unhappy with the Club’s playing performances and league positions, averaged over the last five seasons; but it is pretty much a killer defence of the MEG’s investment, to contemplate where the Club might have been without that cash. Ipswich Town survived a ‘company voluntary arrangement’ following relegation from the Premier League in 2002, but had scant transfer funds until Marcus Evans ‘bought the debt’ in late 2007. Although rumours of potential investors had persisted before the MEG takeover, no cash-rich alternative had stepped publicly forward.

Since that date much money has been spent and sadly, much squandered. Some of that cash has been mine and yours, hard and honestly earned; yet it is pointless to ignore that most of it has been Marcus’s.  We may or may not differ with Marcus Evans about where the Club should go from here and until he reveals more, we cannot really know. Equally it seems to this writer churlish and unfair to suggest that the MEG has not genuinely attempted success.

One reason why people are confused is because, for an organisation that prides itself on marketing, the MEG’s communications to Ipswich Town’s fans have appeared relentlessly ill-judged. The first (of only two) football-focused media interviews Marcus Evans has ever given can be found here:  http://www.edp24.co.uk/sport/how_i_met_town_s_mystery_magnate_marcus_1_163661

It details a conversation with Nigel Pickover, now editor of the Norwich-based Eastern Daily Press and a long time key journalist for the Norfolk-based Archant group of newspapers. It was published on 21 May 2008. Echoing to strains of Norfolk’s greatest living journalist, Alan Partridge, Pickover painted a peculiar, front page picture of Marcus Evans. The interview happened at MEG’s head office in London. In that location, we were informed:

“Marcus time waits for no one…His world of business wizardy and international daring-do, and my Evening Star world of power-packed daily newspaper journalism had come together – and the new man appeared to like how The Star had handled itself with a potent mixture of newsbreaks on one hand and fun, a la ‘mystery magnate Marcus’ on the other…For the next fifty minutes or so I sat back and heard the incredible ‘pennies-to-riches’ story that has made Marcus one of the great business successes of the last decade.”

Such excerpts are good, clean newspaper fun; but five years later serious questions arise.The first is Nigel’s claim, towards the end of his 2008 report that:

“Marcus Evans, it is clear to me, has been bitten by the Ipswich Town bug. Fans will hear more of that in the future, I’m sure.”

Sadly, we have not. The public knows little more of Marcus Evans the man, or the practical detail of his vision for Ipswich Town, than we did five years ago. Apart from a single  Ipswich Evening Star interview with Dave Gooderham on 30 January 2012, Evans’ silence has been unbroken. One of the main reasons that Turnstile Blues was written by our collective, and sold out its first edition in November 2012, was the widely held feeling that Marcus Evans has kept Ipswich fans in the dark.

The second is continuing confusion over Marcus Evans’ background, and whether he bought Ipswich Town just because it was for sale or through some sympathies with Suffolk. Pickover (2008) perhaps inaccurately reported some scraps of biographical detail:

“In everything he does genial, secretive, tycoon Marcus Evans means business. He has devoted a lifetime of toil to entrepreneurial success – and seconds count to a man who left school before the pressures of A-levels.”

Meanwhile, a former class mate I have spoken to recalls attending a well-known Suffolk state school with Marcus Evans during the early 1980s:

“I remember Marcus Evans turning up in the first year of Sixth Form …An incredibly anonymous, retiring bloke even then, who joined in the common room but never came to the parties. He was quiet, pleasant, no indication of a ruthless streak in him – quite the opposite. He was a really nice guy.”

The biographical details may not matter that much, however satisfying it would be to connect the millionaire owner that Marcus Evans has become with the ‘really nice guy’ who apparently went to school in Suffolk. What does matter is how the supporters of Ipswich Town see and perceive the Club’s mysterious owner. That is because in law Marcus owns the Club lock, stock and barrel; whilst its supporters own the Club, in their hearts.

Increased and statutory fans’ involvement in the governance of football is one long-term answer to this problem, though a shorter-term measure could also assist. Nigel Pickover boasted in 2008 that:

“On the front page of the Star, I had written an open letter to (Marcus Evans) … and he had replied by return. But the London meeting came because of a simple question. Please could I meet Marcus Evans? Simple as that. Funny, no one else had asked…”

In 2013 this open letter is asking again. It has been sent to the Club and to the MEG, simultaneous with being published online. Marcus, will you please be interviewed by a Turnstile Blue? Most fans are ready to believe that you have genuine affection for Ipswich Town. I have seen and heard much to suggest you have strong links with Suffolk. If you wish to maintain privacy, for your sake and your family’s, we will respect that: but talking through at least some of the issues in this article could only enhance your image, and clarify your leadership. This is particularly crucial given Simon Clegg’s recent departure. There has probably never been a better moment, metaphorically if not physically, to show your face and tell people more about why you own our club, the MEG’s immediate plans and your long term strategy.

So will Marcus Evans, step forward?  We will not expose your identity, twist your words or doubt your honesty. If an interview is difficult, just write back. You can fill as many of these pages as you like describing your vision for success: because from our perspective it makes football sense, business sense and community sense for fans and the owner to explore this together.

We look forward to hearing from you… wherever you are.


Ipswich Town in decline: but why?

06/11/2012

Stuart Hellingsworth asks the ITFC Chief Executive a few pertinent questions.

 Back in the days when it was difficult to get a ticket to see Ipswich Town Football Club, (the days when town were flying high, the fans loud and the players proud) some fans would accuse others of being glory hunters: “Where were you when we were losing to Stockport?”  Times when fans were there to experience the lows were used almost as a badge of true loyalty against any Johnny-Come-Lately, as a mark of how far we’d come as we beat Liverpool, Tottenham and won plaudits on Match of the Day.

The abomination of the 3-0 defeat to a second from bottom Sheffield Wednesday was that new low.  It was the match that showed just how far we had plummeted.  We may yet suffer relegation and be a fixture in League One or lower, but that match will always be referred to as “that match”.  The match where it was spelt out that Ipswich Town fans had had enough.  The fact that our manager, Paul Jewell, had departed days earlier was not enough to prevent the vitriol that was dished out to the players and Simon Clegg.

Often, the sacking of an unpopular manager brings fresh hopes, renewed vigour and an air of positivity.  Players will put in a much improved performance to show the departed manager that he was wrong about them as they audition for prospective managers.  Not this time.  The players put in a performance that they could be proud of: if it was pre-season.  Tackling appeared to be banned for fear of injury or perhaps in a ploy to make Sheffield Wednesday look like Brazil circa 1982 (I did check, but neither Sócrates or Éder played for Wednesday).

That lack of commitment was matched by low confidence from some and little cohesion amongst the team, something that is inevitable within an unsettled side – a side that is changed more often than something that is changed a lot.  And don’t start me on the ludicrous tactic of using a lone striker who is just 5ft 8.  The crowd turned on the players.  “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” rang out from many (and not just the North Stand) as fans’ frustrations spilled over.  Aaron Cresswell was booed after a number of free kicks that were well below par for last season’s Player of the Year, a notable lack of confidence to blame.

So not your usual post-managerial sacking performance and positive atmosphere.

But where did it go wrong?

Many will point to Paul Jewell and certainly he has to shoulder much of the blame.  Some still refer to Roy Keane as the man who started the rot. Jim Magilton is also a candidate in the blame game from some quarters.  None of these were victims to chants during the match, mainly because they had all paid the price for poor performance.  Instead, only one staff member was highlighted: Simon Clegg.  “Clegg out” and “We Want Clegg Out” were sang at Town’s CEO who has been in place since April 2009.

Was this a fair chant?

Simon Clegg was appointed Chief Executive in April 2009.  Amongst his first duties was to fire Jim Magilton.  It seems the rationale for this was that town had failed to make the play-offs.  Yes, he sacked a manager for failing to make the play-offs. Indeed Jim tweeted on Saturday 3 November 2012: “I was sacked for not getting in playoffs…”  And many agreed with this sacking.  Agreed because we were building a club to challenge, a squad to get promoted; we wanted promotion.

That promotion has not happened but an escape route appears to be via the trap door to League One.  So how did we end up here?  From 9th in the table, when Jim was sacked in April 2009 to our current position of rock bottom in November 2012.  (I should add that our debt has also doubled in this time.)

Players and managers have come and gone – too many players and too many loans.  We can all find a list of quotes about how we plan to build for long term; how we won’t repeat the problems of letting contracts run down.  But these never happen.  Players are purchased for the short term, contracts are run down and loan players arrive.  With such short termism, no wonder players appear less motivated.  Someone who has signed for town or even developed via our legendary academy and has performed well is then dropped in favour of a loan player needing match fitness.

You could blame the manager for this.  He is (usually) the one who identifies the players he wants.  Some arrive: Bowyer, Bullard, Scotland, Creswell etc, but some don’t. Austin and Derry being two notable players for whom we agreed a transfer fee, arrived and were impressed with our facilities only for the deal to fall apart due to negotiations breaking down.  Then there is the group who arrived for a lot of money but departed for nothing: McAuley, Norris and Leadbitter being the standout names here.  Their contracts were allowed to run down and for them to be allowed to leave for free.  These were players that other teams wanted.  When asked if McAuley and Norris should have been offered a contract the previous summer to their release, Simon Clegg replied “I don’t think that at all. Hindsight’s a great thing. We are where we’re at.” (Taken from TWTD, Wednesday, 11th May 2011 13:49 )  So we bought expensively and ‘sold’ cheaply; no wonder the debt has doubled.

Peterborough developed a cunning strategy for players who do not wish to sign an extension: they sell them.  They sell them before their contract runs out.  Other clubs have a strategy whereby they look to agree a deal long in advance.  To 99% of clubs and fans, this would appear to be sound business sense.  At Ipswich, Lee Martin’s contract talks stalled because… because… Well you tell me.

Such contract talks are often the domain of the chief executive.  I believe that it may have been referred to in despatches that Marcus Evans and Clegg take a lead on these.  Even were it to be the responsibility solely of the manager, can it be that both Jewell and Keane allowed it to happen in more than one season?  Or is it an Ipswich Town Football Club problem?  Either way, I urge Clegg and Evans to ensure that they do not allow this to repeat itself yet again.

Attendance is another failing of Ipswich Town.  The table below shows how our attendances have dwindled from 25,651 in season 04/05 to 19,641 last season.  A loss of 6,000 spectators on average per game over six years.  That’s quite a loss both in terms of support and income.

Season Average ITFC  attendance Rank in division (attendance)
04/05 25,651 5th
05/06 24,252 3rd
06/07 22,444 7th
07/08 21,932 7th
08/09 20,873 8th
09/10 20,840 8th
10/11 19,641 9th
11/12 18,266 12th
12/13 (as of 4.11.12) 16,953 11th

Stats courtesy of http://www.football-league.co.uk/page/Home/0,,10794,00.html

Given, there has been a recession and with people having far less to spend than six years ago, attendances will drop.  But then this should be mirrored across the Championship.  However, as the rankings show, we did have the 3rd highest average attendance in 05/06 yet last season were down to 9th.  (The early part of this season being even worse.)  Why have we fallen down the attendance table?  These are areas that the club should investigate.  The fall in attendance is quite shocking and does not bode well for the club.  6,000 people x tickets + other goods (tea, beer, programme, cuddly toy for kid) = a big drop in income.

Can town not do anything to address this?  Upon his arrival at the club in April 2009, Mr Clegg announced: “That catchment area is quite solid and we can draw 28,000 people, as we did for the home derby.  One thing I want to do is to make sure the stadium is full week-in, week-out” (as published in TWTD http://www.twtd.co.uk/ipswich-town-news/14498/clegg-premier-league-the-number-one-goal )

So what happened there?

We know that many clubs offer discounts.  A cheap beer offer was available for the Sheffield Wednesday game.  Sometimes we reduce the costs of matchday tickets, but what do other clubs do?

  • Middlesborough are offering tickets for their next home game at just £12.
  • Crystal Palace did not appear to have any special deal available, but I did note that their cheapest adult ticket is £20 for certain games (not special offers that are only available if season ticket holders buy them).  Previously, through Groupon, it was possible to buy two tickets for £20 for a certain match.
  • Derby have also offered a similar deal via Groupon.
  • Leicester, it would appear, have some tickets available for £15.
  • Birmingham, against our good selves, did the “Kids for a quid” offer.
  • Sheffield Wednesday last season offered two tickets for £20 for a game.
  • Barnsley are offering members of the armed forces tickets for their game against Huddersfield for £10.
  • Wolves allowed season ticket holders to bring a friend for free for one of their games.
  • Charlton are offering tickets for £10 for one of their matches.
  • Bristol City also offered tickets for £10 for a certain game last season.  They also did an offer for season ticket holders of bringing a friend for free.
  • Sunderland’s game with WBA has an offer through Orange of £12.50 a ticket.
  • West Ham did Kids for a Quid.
  • West Brom via Groupon did an offer of two tickets for £25.

These are good offers that beat ours.  Why can we not be more considerate about this?  The club needs to be more proactive in attracting fans.  Yes, these are difficult times, but that’s where quality club management and business sense comes in.

And why are fans attending less?  Well, we can all offer up a few reasons, but does the club know why?  Whenever I have changed mobile phone provider or moved bank, I get asked for feedback as to why.  This does not happen with Ipswich Town when season ticket holders do not renew.  Why not?  The customer feedback is vital in developing a business.

And there we return to the facts that we have gone from 9th in the table to bottom whilst our debt doubles.

I have no doubt that the job that Simon Clegg does is extremely difficult.  I could not do that role.  Indeed, I do applaud him for the way that he has handled Michael Chopra’s problems.  He has done the right thing in my book and been most supportive.

However, if you are going to sack managers for not making the play-offs, then you need to be something special yourself and producing in other areas.  Namely:

  1. Not allowing expensive players to leave for nothing time and time again.
  2. Not allowing our attendances to drop considerably.

Some of these may indeed be difficult to manage, but they are roles that the chief executive is paid handsomely for.  For such an amount, the contracts of players needs to be far better managed.  Our debts should not be as high and programmes need to be developed to entice fans back.

So when considering the original question of was it fair for town fans to chant “Clegg out,” perhaps the above should be taken into account.

Simon, if you’re reading this, show us that it was wrong to chant Clegg out.  Get those attendances back up, sort the players’ contracts out and perhaps this will help with the debt that has been built up under your watch.


Decision Time

28/10/2012

Some choice words by Gavin Barber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

25/10/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All questions were addressed to Simon Clegg unless indicated otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

A supporter asked: “What about Luke Hyam?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Where did George Boyd go to then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SC: It’s up to the owner.

Q: Why are there so many coaches?

SC: At times like this we need more coaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[This produces the first angry reaction from supporters.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SM: We’ve had a succession of triallists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Gardiner


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