Walk a mile in my shoes

10/10/2014

By Stuart Hellingsworth. This article was first published in issue 4 of Turnstile Blues.

buffon

I dare say that you’ve heard of Jesus Navas, the Spanish winger at Manchester City. You’ll have certainly heard of Gianluigi Buffon; one of the best keepers to grace the game. What do these two players have in common? Yes, they’re both better footballers than me! But it’s actually more than that; both have battled mental illness.

Navas has suffered from anxiety to the extent that reportedly he had to reject big moves earlier in his career. Buffon has suffered from bouts of depression and required the support of a psychologist.

Depression is sweeping through football. A survey of professional footballers by Four Four Two magazine showed that 78% of them agreed that depression is a problem for footballers. Stan Collymore, and Darren Eadie have talked openly about their battles with depression. Clarke Carlisle, Lee Hendrie and former Hull hard man, Dean Windass, attempted suicide. Paul Gascoigne’s mental health issues are all too well documented. Sadly, it took the lives of Gary Speed and Robert Enke.

Enke was a top goalkeeper winning eight caps for Germany and part of the Euro 2008 squad. His clubs included Barcelona and Benfica, but found much of his success at Hannover 96. Here he became the club captain and was voted the best goal keeper award in 2008/09 season. Two days after a 2-2 draw with Hamburg, Enke kissed his baby daughter and drove off to the train station where he took his own life.

Former ITFC captain, Jason De Vos is one who has encountered players with mental health issues. When asked about the support that such players received, he commented “Football is as vicious a working environment as can be imagined. It really is ‘survival of the fittest’.” But why is this? I have no doubt that De Vos would have been supportive to those concerned, but in this day and age, surely all should be? We don’t judge those with cancer; we support them. So why not mental illness?

Is it because it’s something that ‘other people’ get? Or that we know very few people have such issues? The latter might be true as many of us don’t realise that a friend, a relative, a work colleague, or a famous cricketer is suffering.

The statistics show that mental health problems are far more common than most realise. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem.

It’s a common belief that people with mental illness aren’t able to work, but, in fact, we probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem. Another myth is that people with mental health illnesses are violent and unpredictable. The reality is that people with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence.

9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination. Nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems.

In other words, statistically, of the 22 or more footballers that you’ll see at Portman Road today, five are likely to have or develop some sort of mental illness this year. I hope that all clubs have set up a system to nurture players to assist with the prevention and when they are troubled. Football clubs have a duty of care to their players. A coroner criticised one premiership team for lack of support to a former youth player who later ended his life. This is particularly poignant as three young male suicides occur on average every day in the UK, according to the British charity, The Campaign Against Living Miserably. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men. Following Gary Speed’s suicide, the PFA decided to send advice to 50,000 players. They have also a rather good webiste, however an awful lot more remains to be done.

speed

Mental illness can affect people of all ages and walks of life as it can be triggered by physical, social, environmental or/and genetic factors. Depression affects anyone of any age (Rethink 2013).

Statistically there will be a few thousand people in the stands today with a form of mental illness. Probably a number sitting on your row. It’s something that needs acceptance in life rather than a dismissing attitude. Whether we know it or not, a friend, work colleague, lover or family member will have some sort of mental illness. Or maybe you have such problems. Something so many people find really hard to talk about.

With that in mind, the following links may be of help, whether for you personally or someone you know. Remind yourself that you or they have something in common with (among others) Gianluigi Buffon, Winston Churchill and Kylie.

Rethink.org | mind.org.uk | time-to-change.org.uk | samaritans.org


Pride and Prejudice: How Ipswich fans fought fascism, and how new prejudices arise

27/08/2013

A third article in the run up to the third issue of Turnstile Blues. This one was published in Issue 2: By Mutual Consent and was written by Stuart Hellingsworth. Perhaps out of all the articles we have printed in this fanzines, this one deserves a wider audience, including people who aren’t supporters of ITFC.

In the 1970s and 1980s, racism in football was rife with players regularly receiving abuse. Ipswich Town fans were amongst the better. Standing up against this gained us plaudits. Other clubs stood alongside us.

Alasdair Ross stood on the North Stand in the mid 1970’s, when the lead singer was Goose Gladstone, a West Indian who later ran a chicken jerky van in the Old Cattle Market. Opposing fans used to send loads of abuse towards him with the main comment being ‘monkey’. He answered by singing the peanuts advert ‘Peanuts- Golden Wonder, stay jungle fresh’ which the North Stand would then join in with – turning the joke on the opponents.

One Town fan was amongst the travelling blue army when an infamous fascist organisation tried to portray themselves as Ipswich fans at Highbury in the 80s. The police decided to deal with all of the Ipswich fans. Fortunately, a number of Arsenal fans stood up and informed the police that they weren’t Ipswich fans but National Front. The Arsenal and ITFC fans then stood together as one against the right wing group on the terraces at Highbury. Another occasion where the National Front infiltrated the opposition fans saw their chants of “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”, met with “Ipswich Town lives in racial harmony”.

Gavin Barber recalls reading in TWTD, an away fan’s experience at Portman Road via another club’s fanzine. It described how their fans visited Portman Road in that era. Upon noticing the multi-racial make-up of the home section, they began a chant at the Ipswich home fans with racist abuse of the “you’re just a town full of n****rs” variety. To the away fans’ surprise, the home fans responded with a defiant chorus of “Ipswich fans are black and white”, and loud condemnation of the racism. The author concluded that his team’s fans had been “taught a lesson” about what was and wasn’t acceptable in a football ground.

So not just did town lead with their on-field recruitment of foreign players, but off the pitch, our fans stood up against fascism. The message was clear, racism was not welcome.

Fast forward to 2012.

On a replacement bus service on the way back from London to Norwich, some town fans join the bus that is taking some of us between rail stations in Essex. Many of the people on the bus have enjoyed a day out shopping or caught a show. There are no colours or obvious signs of football fans aside from the several young town fans who board the bus.

As I wonder whether or not to fight the sleep that is engulfing me, I become more aware of the town fans at the back of the bus. The driver announces that this is the bus replacement for part of the London Liverpool Street to Norwich journey. The name of the City, Norwich, has excited the Town fans. Boos greet this announcement. At first, I consider this panto stuff and smile without acknowledging them. However, a few minutes later these so called town fans sing one of the sickest “football” chants; the one about Justin Fashanu.

The rest of the bus goes quiet. The group of middle aged women who were talking about the show that they’ve been to, look at each other in shock. The families look concerned. The idiots wearing the Ipswich shirts (let’s no longer call them fans) are proud. I am ashamed.

As I wonder whether or not to fight the sleep that is engulfing me, I become more aware of the town fans at the back of the bus. The driver announces that this is the bus replacement for part of the London Liverpool Street to Norwich journey. The name of the City, Norwich, has excited the town fans. Boos greet this announcement. At first, I consider this panto stuff and smile without acknowledging them. However, a few minutes later these so called town fans sing one of the sickest “football” chants; the one about Justin Fashanu.

The rest of the bus goes quiet. The group of middle aged women who were talking about the show that they’ve been to, look at each other in shock. The families look concerned. The idiots wearing the Ipswich shirts (let’s no longer call them fans) are proud. I am ashamed.

Regardless of the fact that this was cowardly, given who else was on the bus, this is a shameful vile ‘song’. Full of prejudice, celebrating the suicide of a poor man who was suffering due to persecution, the chant is despised by 99.9% of Ipswich Town fans. I can remember at a derby match against Norwich a few years ago, a small handful of fans tried to start that chant. Most of us in the North Stand turned on them immediately. The message was clear; rivalry is one thing, but that is too far, way too far.

Justin Fashanu was the first footballer to be openly gay and the first black footballer to move for £1million when Norwich City sold him to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Prejudice followed him throughout and depression followed. This lead to his suicide in 1998.
The Fashanu chant shows the ignorance of those that sing it. It shows a complete lack of understanding of prejudices. That is quite sad considering at least one of the group was of an ethnic minority and so it is not unlikely to expect that their family will have been the victim of racism.

And yet these people decide to mock a man who committed suicide.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 18.34.11Whilst racism was a problem for Justin, homophobia was bigger. I cannot justify the actions of those in the 1970s and 1980s when attitudes were different. In this day and age though, it is worse that it still happens. Have we not learnt? The website, Unite Against Fascism http://uaf.org.uk/2012/11/unite-against-homophobia-and-fascism/ puts it so much better than I could:

“BNP leader Nick Griffin faced widespread condemnation for his recent homophobic comments about the gay couple who won their discrimination case after being refused a room in a Bed & Breakfast. His encouragement to a ‘British Justice Team’ to ‘give them a bit of drama’ was not only contemptible. Griffin’s comments also highlight an intrinsic feature of fascist ideology. It divides humanity into those that are classified as ‘normal’ and others who are ‘abnormal’: those who have full citizenship and those, who when fascists do gain power, have increasingly less, to the point where they are denied the right to even exist. In short, fascism leads to the annihilation of whole groups of people. Amongst its millions of victims it is estimated that the Nazis also killed up to 15000 gay men. All LGBT people in Nazi Germany faced persecution Holocaust Memorial Day Trust “Victims of Nazi Persecution (Gay and Lesbian).”

So to those who sang that awful chant, please realise that by laughing at the sad suicide of someone facing prejudice, you are undoing the proud work of Town fans in the 1970s and 1980s. Ipswich Town fans remain amongst the best in the world and those who sing the Fashanu chant cannot call themselves football fans or Town fans. By singing it, you too are being prejudiced. Please don’t let yourself be aligned with Nick Griffin and think twice before singing it. Lets never hear that chant song again. Your prejudice is not welcome at Portman Road. Ipswich Town supporters are multi-cultural, straight, gay and some like Fashanu, come with mental health conditions. We should all proud to be blue.


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.


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