Everything you always wanted to know about… ITFC Italian Branch

04/12/2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CE with Italian shirtCE in Italian shirt 2

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

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

Forza Town!

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


Celebrate good times, come on…

07/11/2013

A piece of unashamed fan love by Susan Gardiner

stewie 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.


Turnstile Blues 3 is coming out on Saturday

09/09/2013

TB3We 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).


Disappointed (once more)…

15/08/2013

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a famous bit in Dickens’ Little Dorrit when the novel’s hero, Arthur Clennam, receives a letter from Flora Finching, the girl he was engaged to twenty years earlier, when she was seventeen and he was not much older. Despite the passage of time, he can’t help imagining her to be exactly the same as she was then and Dickens has a lot of fun describing his disappointment that she has turned into a much larger, more garrulous, silly, sentimental woman. But, being Dickens, the reader is left feeling a great deal of sympathy for both characters: Arthur, for his foolishness at expecting his love not to have changed at all in twenty years and Flora, because the changes in her have so obviously been caused, not merely by the passing of time, but by the disappointment of lost love.

I’m beginning to feel a little bit like that about Town. The new season has started me thinking about past glories, the fixture list is like a letter inviting me back to those good times, to forget the awfulness of recent years under Keane and Jewell. I know rationally that Matt Holland is no longer our captain but there’s a little bit of me that thinks he might run around the pitch applauding the fans. One more time.

It took Mick McCarthy about ten minutes – and this video – to remove any misgivings that I might have had when he was appointed. MM, our seventh manager since we were last relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2001/2 season, appears to have done an excellent job of assembling a competitive squad, spending very little money in the process. We may have lost at Reading but we weren’t outplayed in what must be one of our most testing fixtures this season and, although I’d have loved a run in the Carling Cup, the defeat by Stevenage has been easily forgotten after last Saturday when I enjoyed a match more than I’ve done for…. oh, ages.

But as it was for Dickens’ characters, my long-standing passion is beginning to be strained, the object of my affections has changed, is a bit blowsy, overblown, and full of contradictions. Expensive but also a little cheap. Nice but occasionally a bit nasty. I can still see the thing I adored but there are too many irritants. I may have to make my excuses and…. [ditches strained analogy].

We have written about aspects of ITFC that are a little disappointing here for example – and the independent supporters’ trust, Ipswich Town 1st, has issued a statement about the new ticketing policy here, so I won’t go over old ground. There are many views on the new ITFC and it’s hard to form a definite opinion when you’re not sure of the motives behind the decisions. The new Managing Directors, Symonds and Milne, along with Simon Milton, seem to have improved public relations exponentially. But still, there are things that annoy, nagging doubts… redundancies, bad experiences of customer service, rip-off prices, the tension between a football club as a business and as a club, with supporters who are part of the “family” or “community” according to the PR, but are also there to be exploited by the business, a multi-millionaire owner who is asking hard-pressed working people to stump up for the Academy and the fans, bless ‘em, don’t let him down.

Recently, the club has advertised for three part-time, unpaid “interns.” I’m disappointed once more (and possibly also, disillusioned encore) because I expect more from the club of Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson. Yes, I know other clubs – bigger clubs, more successful clubs, richer clubs – do it too, but I only care about my club, ITFC. I understand the economics too. Unfortunately, for several decades now, we’ve been encouraged to look at the dismal science of economics as if it is a proper science and has inexorable, immutable laws, like the laws of physics (which as we know, ye cannae change). But economics can’t, in my view, be taken out of the context of morality and society which even the Prime Minister has admitted exists after all. And what is the morality of employing people but not paying them?

Apart from morality, there’s actually a rather compelling reason why people should be paid for their work which every devotee of capitalism should be arguing for. It’s obvious really – if people have no wages, or low wages, they can’t spend on the goods and services businesses are offering. It’s counter-productive and short-termism at its worst. Think, Mr. Evans, how many more shirts and ITFC-branded meerkats we’d all buy if we were all living in a high-wage economy instead of scraping around in the back of the sock drawer for the cash to buy that season ticket every year.

The arguments in favour are, of course, that a young person, seeking experience in a difficult labour market will be pleased to have the opportunity to work for nothing in order to gain a foothold into a career in football … and it’s football! Football, which as everyone knows is more important than life or death or affording to eat, itself.

After all, what’s the difference between being an unpaid intern on the American model and volunteering? Well, there’s a considerable difference. I volunteer for two organisations, but I’d never do any work that would or could be done by a paid employee. I’m a qualified librarian but I would never work unpaid in one of Suffolk’s libraries. It’s an insult to the paid workers and makes it more likely that redundancies will be made. Working for free (or for very low wages or zero hours contracts) undermines other working people’s jobs, their conditions of employment and their wages. It may be that many people no longer care about their fellow citizens and only see what will benefit themselves, but in the end, we’ll all suffer. Decent wages, working conditions, paid holidays and sick leave are taken for granted now – or at least they were until recent years – but they were won by the hard-fought campaigns and the real suffering of people in the past. Even the fact that football matches traditionally start at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon goes back to the nineteenth-century Factory Acts which were the result of long campaigning by reformers to allow people a few hours off a week. Because before that, most ordinary workers laboured from dawn until night, seven days a week – and that isn’t living, it’s existing.

Of course, in a world obsessed by “choice” or the illusion of choice, it’s up to the individual to choose whether or not to work without pay – except that it isn’t. Only those with some other means of financial support – the Bank of Mum and Dad, perhaps – can do it. In that sense, it’s discriminatory. Lots of people, I’m sure would love to work for ITFC. Few are going to be able to afford to do so for nothing.

Oh, and according to this website, unpaid internships are illegal.

You can find more information here.

There are lots of difficult things going on in football at the moment, all the result of big business and faceless corporate owners who have little love for or knowledge of the game. Cardiff City, Hull City AFC [please consider signing their petition against the enforced change of their name to Hull City Tigers] and Coventry City all have their own problems. It’s making fans feel alienated from their own clubs, sometimes even causing such tensions that supporters are arguing and fighting one another. It’s not that bad at Portman Road. I sincerely hope that it never is, but there are signs that business and the interests of the owner and shareholders are paramount, more so than football. You may accept that this is right, or it’s part of the modern game and we have to be cynical about it if we want to “succeed.” But success can be measured in many ways.

Once we were highly regarded as a football club which, like our managers, Ramsey and Robson, showed the best side of football, decent, competitive, inclusive. When ITFC were last promoted to the Premier League on 29 May 2000, BBC radio commentator, Pat Murphy, welcomed us back to the top tier with genuine warmth, speaking of a club of “good football, good beer and good people.” I like that description and I’d like to be good again.


Ipswich Town: A History

11/08/2013

I am completely abusing my position as the editor of this website to promote my new book Ipswich Town: A History (Amberley Press, 2013 – Price £16.99), which is – er – about the history of Ipswich Town. You can buy it from all good bookshops or, if you wish, from Amazon. The Foreword to the book was written by former ITFC player, James Scowcroft.

642383 Ipswich Town CVR.indd

Ipswich Town has a long history and, since its foundation in 1878, has had a great deal of footballing success, including as Football League champions in 1962 and winners of both the FA Cup (1978) and the UEFA Cup (1981). Two of its managers, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, went on to achieve greatness in the game. As a result there have been many club histories. This book is intended to be different from the traditional history of Ipswich Town Football Club. It is both a history of Ipswich Town and a social history – recording and exploring the relationship between the football club, the town of Ipswich and the wider county of Suffolk. Covering the period from 1878 to the present day, it uses the voices of people involved with the club, including supporters, players and former players, owners, administrators and local writers, to describe the club’s history within its social context, how changes have affected the club and how developments in football itself have made an indelible impact upon both the football club and the local community.


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:

money

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.


How to win friends and influence people… or not

04/03/2013

I’ve thought of writing about ticket prices at Portman Road for a while. I’m particularly concerned about the cost for visiting fans, but I’d almost decided against it until today when I saw yet another complaint about our ticket prices, this time from a Bolton Wanderers’ fan on Twitter:

swfc tweet

When I first started supporting Town, I was surprised and a little bit pleased at the reaction of friends who supported other clubs. We had a reputation for being a decent club with a history of playing good, entertaining football and hospitality – I don’t mean the Mr. John type of boardroom largesse, but the generally warm and welcoming atmosphere at PR. I can remember Pat Murphy on 5Live waxing lyrical about ITFC’s return to the Premiership in 2000: “a town with good football, good people and good beer,” he’d said, having possibly enjoyed a couple of pints of Broadside first. We were a kind of anti-Millwall: “Everybody likes us and we’re feeling quite nonchalant about it.”

The Trotters’ fan’s tweet was by no means the first that I’ve seen complaining about ticket prices. It’s becoming quite common. And, let’s face it, we’ve hardly been offering much in return for their money. However much I enjoyed myself at the game on Saturday – and I really did enjoy it – it’s a long time since we’ve been the most attractive team to watch. I used to sit next to the away supporters’ area in the Cobbold and it’s not exactly the most luxurious environment either.

At a time when it’s tough financially for most football supporters, it seems wrong somehow to be acquiring a reputation for ripping people off. The growing area of empty blue seats in the away section means that people are staying away and the atmosphere at Portman Road will, in my humble opinion, be the worse for it.

SG


‘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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers