Watching football is not a crime

27/06/2014

39_fans1992Police searching fans outside PR in 1992. Photograph by David Jameson.

By Susan Gardiner, who would like to make it clear that she hasn’t asked the rest of the Turnstile Blues group what they think.

I’ve had two experiences of serious violence which involved football supporters. Neither was anything to do with Ipswich Town and both were a very long time ago, in the bad old days when football supporters were given a certain notoriety by the actions of a minority who were up for a fight. One was when I was a very small child and my mother and I were trapped in an underpass near Molineux with Wolves fans coming one way and Stoke City supporters coming straight towards them from the other direction. I was terrified and had to press myself against the rather insalubrious subway walls as they met and started to punch the living daylights out of one another, oblivious to my existence.The second time was as a teenager in North London, waiting for a bus at Finsbury Park, a bus that was unfortunately full of Spurs fans who, spotting some Arsenal supporters, smashed every single window in the double-decker, indiscriminately showering us all with broken glass. That was pretty scary too.

I wasn’t at the infamous Millwall game, or at Elland Road when Leeds fans behaved disgracefully and attacked Town fans. My only experience of trouble in Ipswich was when there was a fight in Princes Street after we thrashed an already-promoted Portsmouth. When I reached the station, I had the privilege of having 2p coins thrown at me by Pompey fans who were presumably trying to make some kind of point about us having been in administration. Oh the irony.

I write these things to demonstrate that I’m not completely without direct experience of violence, nor unconcerned by it. I have also, unfortunately, seen violence in other contexts: a fully-fledged riot in the academic library that I worked in (it’s a long story) and I was present when an 19-year-old student (a rugby fan, as it happens) was stabbed to death at a disco. As far as I know, the authorities have never imposed draconian measures on indie discos.

This may seem like a slightly OTT response to the announcement that the police – yet again – want to move our Derby game against Norwich City from Saturday, 23 August to the following day. I’m not going to be very badly inconvenienced by this personally. I live close to Ipswich and even though I’ll have to catch a rail replacement bus service into town, and not be able to have a civilized lunch at a civilized hour with my friends, my day won’t be entirely ruined. However, the alteration is going to make it difficult for people who have to travel some distance.

The justification for making the change and for the early start of 12 noon is to avoid any potential trouble between opposing groups of supporters. Having travelled to very nearly every home match at PR for thirteen years on the Norwich-Ipswich train, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced any trouble – or even much hostility. There’s been a bit of muttering, occasionally the word “scum” has been uttered (on both sides), but nobody died.

Let’s look at some facts: the most recent Home Office figures – full details can be found here – for banning orders, by club, show that in 2012/3 Norwich supporters received 10 as compared to Arsenal (59), Chelsea (110) and Cardiff City (121). In the Championship, only 6 of our fans received banning orders. Only three clubs had fewer: Reading (5), Watford (4) and Yeovil (1). Similarly, arrest figures (for 2012/3) show Norwich among the best behaved, with only 12 arrests and Town were Champions – well, I’m taking it as a win! Only four Town fans were arrested in that season (all at away matches), well below Blackpool’s 11. Of the four, only one was for “violent disorder,” another for “public disorder” and the other two were for “alcohol offences.”

I’m really proud of these statistics, and yet, instead of being rewarded for having such top fans, it seems that the local police, with the agreement of ITFC, are going to continue to regard us all as potential criminals. There is no reason, in my view, that this game cannot be held at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon with normal levels of policing.

It’s not just having the game moved. When I used to come down from Norwich, we were often corralled, along with Norwich fans, and led down to Portman Road by the police. I ended up taking the earliest possible train to try to avoid this. I’ve never been able to understand why, having never been as much as cautioned by the police in my life, I should be treated as a criminal, merely for wanting to watch my team.

The arguments about an earlier kick off time being a way of reducing alcohol consumption don’t stack up either. The last time I travelled to a match on the train from Lowestoft, yellow and blue shirts all together in the same carriage, several supporters were drinking from concealed litre bottles of vodka. It was a train that reached Ipswich at about 10.30am.

Restrictions on alcohol consumption only appear to apply to football supporters. If you’ve been to a Test match, you’ll be aware that many spectators do not confine themselves to consuming fizzy lemonade. I once saw someone being carried IN to Trent Bridge at 11 o’clock in the morning (there’d been rain). My experience of obnoxious behaviour by cricket fans has been far worse but I’ve never come across any organized policing strategy at a cricket match.

There were a total of 34 arrests during Royal Ascot this year, according to one report, although the BBC reported 29, as an improvement on the previous year when there were 50. Once again, I don’t imagine that Her Majesty and her chums will be subjected to any restrictions on how they can travel to and from the race course.

So why are football supporters treated differently from those attending other events? It’s an authoritarian society that treats innocent people as if they need to be controlled. Perhaps the police lack the staff levels or ITFC don’t want to pay for the policing (they didn’t last time we played Cardiff City, with their highest number of banning orders, which doesn’t strike me as very logical, to be honest), but it’s still not a justification for assuming the worst about what are, on the whole, a very well-behaved and good-natured group of people. I’m all for the police dealing with people who have committed an offence or have form – but this is not yet the society depicted in the film Minority Report where people are arrested and punished for “PreCrime.”

A final concern. There is a possibility that the police might one day impose what is known as a “Bubble” on travelling supporters. This means that fans are only allowed to travel to an away game on designated transport, normally club coaches, from specified pick up points and bussed straight to the ground. This happened a couple of years ago to that notorious firm Hull City AFC, when they played Huddersfield Town. It’s yet to happen to Chelsea fans, I believe. An attempt to impose one when Sunderland played Newcastle last year failed when both clubs refused to back the idea.

It’s clear that many Town fans don’t feel that this is such an important issue. It’s just moving a game to the next day, after all. Except that I don’t believe it is. It’s an authoritarian approach to managing largely law-abiding crowds. It’s ill thought out and quite frankly, lazy. Lazy in its assumptions about football supporters, lazy in its approach to dealing with football supporters and not tackling the problem of genuine offenders, lazy in the lack of consultation of supporters.

Watching football is not a crime.

n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at: http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/fans-and-players-unite-against-bubble-match#sthash.b8FhOETP.dpuf
n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at: http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/fans-and-players-unite-against-bubble-match#sthash.b8FhOETP.dpuf
n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at: http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/fans-and-players-unite-against-bubble-match#sthash.b8FhOETP.dpuf


With A Little Help From My Friends

01/05/2014

This tribute, written by Susan Gardiner, to the late Dale Roberts, ITFC player and coach, first appeared in issue 4 of Turnstile Blues which was published in February 2014.

DaleThe writer George Eliot once asked ‘“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” In an age which elevates the individual beyond all reason and devalues co-operation, which celebrates “celebrities” without quite explaining what there is to celebrate about them (erm – Joey Essex, anyone?), it’s easy to forget the contributions of those who work quietly in the background, often selflessly allowing others to take the credit for their achievements.

 

Football – stating the obvious – is a team game. It’s only been in relatively recent years that individuals have been picked out and transformed into superstars. Of course, supporters have always had favourites – Town fans adored George Sherrington, Ernest Kent and Ernie Bugg long before the club had moved to Portman Road or become professional – but it was only between the First and Second World Wars that players like Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Dixie Dean became national stars, winning media attention and adulation from fans all over the country. Later, the England cricketer, Denis Compton – who also played football for Arsenal between 1936 and 1950 – took it on to the next level, winning lucrative advertising contracts and presumably earning quite a lot of money in the bargain.brylcreem

Over the last few years, Ipswich Town fans have had their fair share of the notoriety that tends to come with the “star” player of the 21st century – the Jimmy Bullards and Michael Chopras whose undoubted natural ability brought us such great expectations – only for it to be dashed, leaving us with an empty feeling of unfulfilled possibilities and disappointment. What a waste, as Ian Dury sang. If only we could learn to appreciate the contributions of those who quietly work away at making Ipswich Town the club it is, without the newspaper headlines or the “incidents” at nightclubs. There have been many players, coaching staff, groundstaff, cleaners and secretaries, who have given ITFC so much over the years and have never – not that I know of, anyway – posted a photograph of a large amount of cash on Twitter.

Now it’s not only the footballers who get the attention. Since the inception of the Premier League skewed football further in the direction of money and big business, other participants in the sport have been picked out as stars, especially the managers. Alf Ramsey, Bob Paisley, Matt Busby and Bobby Robson won deserved acclaim and attention for their achievements in the game, but in the last 20 years the ever-present cameras have panned to the face of any PL club’s manager after every trivial incident, whether it’s a superlative goal or a bit of handbags involving some of his sillier players. Every unedifying spat between the likes of Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson has been elevated to back page headlines as if they were speaking with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the wisdom of Eric Cantona when mostly it’s about the level of a school playground bragfest. More recently, the supposed importance of the corporate side of top-level football has drawn media attention to the owners and chief executives of football clubs, particularly if they’ve done something to really piss their own fans off. Now the cameras stray, all too frequently, to the rather unprepossessing figures of Vincent Tan at Cardiff City and Assem Allam at Hull City AFC. I suppose you could describe it as “the money shot.”

There’s nothing wrong with football having stars; the glamour of a Beckham or the sheer breathtaking ability of a Ronaldo or Messi are part of football’s appeal but one of the problems with this media-led cult of the individual is that a lot of people who contribute to the success of a club are ignored. I’m not talking about the many “unsung heroes” that exist at every club, although they too should be acknowledged of course, but most football managers don’t work alone. They have a whole array of coaches, physios, and other staff – and some of them contribute a great deal. Occasionally, a manager will have a coach that he works so closely with that they are identified as a partnership and one of the most famous examples of this is, of course, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor – although I’ve no idea whether the reality was quite as it was portrayed in the slightly fanciful, but very enjoyable film, The Damned United. At other clubs, it may well be that managers owed more to their assistants than fans and journalists ever realised: Bobbies Robson and Ferguson are a case in point, although often an assistant is never quite able to achieve the same success on his own.

In the recent history of Ipswich Town, one partnership stands out – although I’m hopeful there may be another dynamic duo at the club, you never know – the ultimately very successful pairing of George Burley with Dale Roberts, and whereas I wouldn’t ever wish not to give Burley “all credit” for what he achieved, I’ve always felt that Dale must have been an integral part of that sublimely successful period for Town at the beginning of the 21st century.

Dale Roberts was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1956. He began his football career at Portman Road when he joined as a schoolboy in November 1972. He became an apprentice in January 1973 and turned professional in September 1974. He was a member of the squad that won the FA Youth Cup twice in 1973 and 1975 – a remarkable achievement. It’s clear that the young central defender had great promise. Among his teammates in that first Youth Cup winning team was fellow 16-year-old, George Burley, and the two boys, both far from home, formed an enduring friendship. In the squad that won the youth trophy in 1975 were David Geddis, Russell Osman and one John Wark. Roberts’ problem as a player for Ipswich would be that it was a time when there was an “embarrassment of riches.” Bobby Robson’s youth team policy combined with his brilliant network of scouts meant that competition was fierce and Roberts was competing with players of outstanding quality.

Former ITFC Chairman, David Sheepshanks, recalled: “I can remember watching him as a player in the mid-70s where he was an understudy to Allan Hunter and Kevin Beattie. He was a top quality centre half but was also unfortunate to be at the club at a time when we had Russell Osman and Terry Butcher coming through…. Dale was a hard, totally determined and dedicated tough-tackling, no-nonsense player.”

He ended up only making 24 full appearances for Town before moving to Hull City AFC for a reported figure of £50,000 in February 1980, although it seems he spent a very brief time playing in the North American Soccer League in 1979. Roberts made nearly 200 appearances for Hull in Divisions 3 and 4. Manager Brian Horton described him as “popular… enthusiastic… a player’s player.” Matthew Rudd, a Hull City supporter and journalist, says he was a “popular player. Talkative, quick and hard as nails. Played in both City’s best and worst sides of the 1980s. … Partnered Peter Skipper through the best times until injury got him in 1984/5, and he went to Ferriby. By then he was playing at right back as Brian Horton preferred Skipper and Stan McEwan in defence. All three of the managers he played for seemed to rate him, especially Colin Appleton, who put him in the side at the start of 1982/3 after an opening day defeat and never looked back.”

Roberts’ career at Hull ended prematurely when he suffered from a serious injury to his pelvis. It looked as if his days in football were over and he was training as a driving instructor – while playing for non-league side Bridlington Town – when he was given the chance to rejoin Colin Appleton at Hull City as youth team coach. He was there from 1989 until 1993 when he teamed up with his old friend George Burley at Ayr United, later joining up with him again in what would prove to be a controversially short spell at Colchester United. Burley was doing well at Colchester when – after only 20 games – he was lured back to his old club, Ipswich. It was a move which resulted in acrimony, legal wranglings and the payment of compensation. Colchester’s chairman at the time, Peter Heard, said that he offered Roberts the chance of the manager’s job at Layer Road: “We asked Dale to stay on and take over but he was very gentlemanly about it and said no. He had great loyalty to George, who had brought him in and wanted to stay with him. … I felt he was very much the unsung person behind the amazing run.”

David Sheepshanks: “He was the perfect foil to George [Burley], someone who never sought the limelight but played an invaluable role…. He was the ultimate professional at whatever job he was given.”

It’s never going to be possible to know the extent of Dale Roberts’ contribution to the success that Town enjoyed in the Burley era or how much he was responsible for the promotion to the Premier League in 2000. He was certainly liked by players and coaching colleagues alike. Matt Holland described him as “a terrific guy…. I can’t speak highly enough of Dale,” and another first team player from that time told me: “I had a lot of contact with Dale, probably as much as any coach. He was the main organiser for training, travel, etc. They [DR & GB] worked very closely together, they were very good friends and complemented each other.They obviously knew each other from their playing days, as in most manager-coach relationships. I can’t ever remember them falling out. Dale was very loyal to George.I think it [DR's illness] had a big impact on George and players that had worked with Dale for a while.In my opinion a manager is only as good as his number two, right-hand man. A good coach won’t always agree with the manager, but he’ll always back him up and be very loyal. A coaching role can often be a link between the players and manager. Dale did this very well.”

The partnership between George Burley and Dale Roberts became part of Town legend in May 2000 when they were filmed celebrating on the touchline at Wembley stadium after Martijn Reuser scored for Town in the play-off final, taking us up to the Premier League. (You know the one: “Reuser – Premiership!“) Dale and George danced and hugged while the rest of us went bananas.

Despite being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Dale Roberts went on to take Town’s reserves to win the southern section of the Premier Reserve League Championship in 2001-2. It was a prestigious title to win. His captain, Justin Miller, then only 21, said: “Dale is the reason I made it. … Even when he was going through the toughest of times, he was there for us.”

Dale Roberts died on 5 February 2003, aged only 46. Sir Bobby Robson, who felt close to him as someone from his native north-east, said he was distraught. The funeral, at St. Augustine’s church on Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, was attended by many players, past and present, as well as youth team players dressed in their Town tracksuits. George Burley read the eulogy. There is no doubt that this was a deep personal loss for him. As well as losing someone with whom he’d worked closely for many years, he had lost one of his closest friends.

So back to George Eliot. At the end of Middlemarch, she wrote “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.” It is the quiet work of those who are not celebrated that in the end counts the most. Ipswich Town should always remember Dale Roberts.

 

 


Everything you always wanted to know about… ITFC Italian Branch

04/12/2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CE with Italian shirtCE in Italian shirt 2

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

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

Forza Town!

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


Celebrate good times, come on…

07/11/2013

A piece of unashamed fan love by Susan Gardiner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was it really only 37 goals in 75 appearances?

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


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

coveralfThere’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.

 

You can read a review of this book by Gavin Barber on The Two Unfortunates website.


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