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.

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The Clegg Letters

23/08/2013

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

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

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

Good afternoon,

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

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

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

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

Yours,
Simon

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

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

Ricardo,

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

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

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

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

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

Yours
Simon

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

Wife,

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

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

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

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

Regards
Simon

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

Milkman,

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

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

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

Yours
Simon Clegg

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

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

Programme notes, 18th August 2012

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

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

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

Yours,
Simon

 clegg word cloud


This club is different because it’s ours

21/08/2013

There’s going to be a third issue of our fanzine soon – coming out in mid-September – so to celebrate, we’re posting a few selected items from the previous two issues. Events have taken over some of the things we wrote about a year ago. Our discussion of the club’s decision not to try for Category 1 status for the Academy under EPPP and frustrations with ITFC’s communications seems to have been addressed and Simon Clegg has departed (although he may make a brief comeback via this site). This article by Mullet, who isn’t a member of our collective but kindly wrote for issue 1 of Turnstile Blues, is still a good read though.

If you’re reading this you probably have one distinctive thing in common with me and everyone else involved in this publication, as fans of Ipswich Town F.C. we all know the belle époque expected under the charge of Marcus Evans hasn’t quite materialised. What has happened since our salvation from CVAs and asset strippers is a sea change in the game with massive trickledown effects for everyone including you, me and the various supporters’ groups affiliated and unaffiliated to ITFC.

If we look at the top of the English game there are many common themes – exponential increases in ‘wealth’, massive expansion in the media and a sense that ‘real fans’ are rarer than hens’ teeth the higher up the pyramid you go. The relationship between football success and authenticity amongst the fan base are two strong, yet fluid perceptions which dominate and colour many discussions about supporting our club. Oddly there seems to be a direct contradiction between the desires for footballing success whilst shunning the ‘modern’ aspects of being a big club.

The influx of Sky money; American models of fandom, the all-seater stadiums, decline of the working man in favour of more family based ‘fun’ at games are all common bugbears and phenomena I’ve seen and heard, as reasons for fans falling out of love with the game, throughout my years as a Town fan. They are also things which have crept in. The game didn’t change overnight and as fans we’ve seen some changes happen quicker than others. Moreover, ultimately both the club and the fans have had to evolve and endure.

Just as when the offside law changes clubs must adapt and grow that little bit stronger, they must also do this when the implicit ‘rules’ which govern attendances and cash flow change too. With fresh investment in this season’s rivals, Town have announced lucrative sponsorship from one of the few admirable sources possible in the Co-operative. It might be time we not only take their cash but some of their better ideas of business too.

This summer has seen both Manchester United and Barcelona launch vast multimedia assaults to recruit and retain fans. Both are clubs that count fans in their millions. Way beyond the capacity of their huge arenas whilst cornering the wealth and numbers across global markets is possibly way beyond the realms of Town now or for the foreseeable. However I think lessons can be learned and applied to us at Ipswich without introducing an ITTV channel, especially as the concept is over a decade old.

The club has a strong and very dedicated fan base which has been shown in these leaner, recession hit years to be as resilient as any. For a town as small and geographically isolated as Ipswich is, to have competition from half a dozen or so clubs and still maintain reasonable levels of support is admirable. But there are fans out there like me, who have migrated across the country, there is a staunch generation across Scandinavia, Northern Europe and the Netherlands who still count amongst the faithful and have had sons and daughters to pass the mantle on and these fans should be integrated as fully as possible.

In this digital age the rise of social media in the short timeframe since MEG took over at Portman road is a trick I feel the club really misses all too often. As a community we have so much to be proud of. Our charitable trust, the junior blues, our players who appear so often at community events all contribute to a sense of pride and belonging which as separate threads could be drawn together into stronger ties for all fans.

There has been in the past season heavy, and justified criticism of the official supporters’ club. This conflict became a starting point for many of my own pieces on the matter of supporters’ groups at ITFC.  Their ill-judged address to fans soured the views of many who felt ‘attacked’ and this spilled over in turn to much unjustified criticism. However, it highlighted clearly how the effort and hard work of a few can be seen, scrutinised and discarded by the many all too often.

There are still a handful of supporters’ clubs both sanctioned and non-affiliated to the club. As someone who grew up with the Halesworth branch now chaired by my Dad; and run by a small band of people I’ve known all my life, it is a vehicle of support I hold dearly but fear for. Where other branches have come and gone, the Halesworth lot are steadfast but steadily declining. The halcyon days of two coaches to every home game during the Premiership and previous nearly-Premiership seasons are long gone. The fans that had once filled those seats are too, on the buses and at Portman Road.

Like Town’s support as a whole, the Branch’s numbers are made up of the older Town fans that still turn out day in day out as it were to follow the club. While they are not likely to be interested in a Facebook group or in need of cut price tickets due to existing discounts, there is a whole range of fans being glossed over or forgotten about in my opinion. Games where numbers are down such as night games could be the perfect opportunity to welcome local amateur sides who sacrifice watching Town at the expense of keeping up the game they love could be invited in with group discounts. Likewise so could other community groups with an interest enjoy a night out under the floodlights and enjoy the hospitality of the club.

As with the foreign fans mentioned earlier there are fans with different levels of involvement, interest and ultimately cash which can be channelled towards the club – the use of supporters groups to provide an intermediate between the club and these people is something I truly believe in. This process can only be started through as many points of exposure as possible.

These days the role and remit of fans over consumers, is getting harder to separate. Semantics can be thrown around all you like, but at the end of the day we all pay lots of money for 90 mins of football per week, per month, per year. That comes in addition to paying for everything from polyester shirts to insulate the beer guts of some of us, right through to maintaining them with our award winning pies (despite a lack of celebrity chef types at the club).

How can we incentivise those too young, too old, and too immobile to join in if they can’t get to games in the first place? How do we sucker them with their generational equivalent of worshipping a Chris Kiwomya, John Wark, Treacle or Guus Uhlenbeek as ITFC did to me all those years ago if they can’t get to games? The club does a sterling job of laying on Galloways coaches to away games but they leave to and from Portman Road in the bottom corner of a vast and rural part of the country. What if these coaches ran through and picked up fans in the larger towns of the region en route? I’ve driven down from Halesworth to Ipswich and back either side of an away day and adding two hours to the day and not being able to indulge in a drink does take the edge off it for me. I doubt I’m the only one.

If the emerging generation fans now are savvy on the internet, why not signpost more fan stuff there? I used to love events where we played footy, pool, darts, cricket etc against other branches for fun and had a few beers to fill the void between seasons. Why not organise events between fans that are more likely to check their Facebook feed, retweet it and then plan tactics via BBM rather than wait for someone else to arrange it all and give them a lift on the day?

Membership to the official supporters’ club is automatic when you buy a season ticket. This is both wrong and counterproductive. Until the infamous half time address most people didn’t really know they were a member. It excludes those who live away and by excluding them presents a barrier between them and the club. These little sticking points can soon become the pebble which starts an avalanche of reasons to walk away from Town for good. Driving through Halesworth this weekend on a visit back home I spotted a kid crossing in front of me wearing a Chelsea shirt. In all honesty I was tempted to flick on my wipers and ignore the red light.

I implore the club to rethink how it engages with fans. How it can take what it does and turn it from excellent to the model which all other clubs follow. Innovative practice doesn’t have to be expensive it just has to satisfy fans’ desire to be heard and valued. If the Official Supporters club went out and met with fans, invited them and shared ideas it could be the sounding board, the liaison and the voice for so much and so many more, with a sense of justified authority and influence through real representation.

By supporting those already out there working hard just so they and others can enjoy ITFC the club could do and be so much more. With small, but smart investments in the right areas, by raising awareness and cultivating links the club has the tools to produce some amazing results through their fans. We all know the lottery of looking for success on the field in football. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to the same mindset when it comes to coming together.


Hull City AFC

15/08/2013

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 17.54.40

 

Hull City AFC fans are campaigning against what appears to be a unilateral decision by the club’s owner, Assem Allam – certainly one made without consultation – to change the club’s name from Hull City AFC to Hull City Tigers. It seems fairly obvious that the word “City” will be jettisoned fairly soon too. Allam has expressed his opinion that it’s “common.”

When county cricket clubs decided to adopt similar names for the limited overs form of the game, the Test Match Special team had a lot of fun speculating on potential monikers for the different counties: the Lancashire Hotpots, Yorkshire Puddings and the Essex Girls spring to mind as being among the better suggestions. Of course, the real names used by the counties were more predictable and prosaic: Lancashire Lightning, Yorkshire Vikings and Essex Eagles, I think. They’ve never caught on in a big way. It’s obvious that the corporate side of football will see that it’s the way to go. Something else to sell, another way to market their product… I’ve already seen Arsenal (Cannons) and Manchester United (Devils) names suggested, only half-jokingly.

I’ve written about the history and traditions of football clubs, including their names before here, but this is just to ask everyone again to support and show solidarity with the supporters of Hull City AFC and sign their statement and petition. They can speak for themselves perfectly eloquently, so I won’t try, but as an example of what they (and potentially all football supporters) are up against, here are a couple of examples as to how quickly the media – The Guardian & ITV in this case – adopts such changes, despite fans’ opposition, only a couple of days after the announcement was made:

Guardian 11082013

ITV 11082013


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.

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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.


Fair Play at the ITFC Academy?

01/08/2013

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The Turnstile Blues’ view of recent developments at the ITFC Academy and how supporters helped change the club’s mind by Gavin Barber

Funny how things change. It wasn’t much more than a year ago – March 2012 to be precise – when Town announced that, despite pressure from supporters, the Club’s Academy would be aiming for Category Two status in the brave new world of the Elite Player Performance Programme. A 5,000-signature petition from the Supporters’ Trust was dismissed as the idealism of people who didn’t understand the intricacies of the system: to pursue Category One status, we were told at the time, would risk returning the club to administration.

Turns out that we, the fans, were right after all. This week Town have launched the Academy Association, a new initiative designed to raise the standards of the Academy to reach Category One. In the publicity surrounding the launch, Simon Milton even made specific mention of the Trust’s petition as he urged supporters to back the fundraising drive associated with the initiative.

For Ipswich Town to be pursuing Category One status for its Academy is in all ways A Good Thing. All of the things that supporters said at the time of the original deliberation – that it’s the best investment to make in the long-term future of the club, and that it’s at the heart of what ITFC is about – are now part of the club’s own pronouncements.

It’s also A Good Thing because, just maybe, it signifies that the club is starting to respect the views and wisdom of its supporters, and that’s testament to the determination of those supporters in continuing to ask questions, and to knock at what previously seemed to be a firmly-locked door.

So it’s an opportune moment to recognise this new-found spirit of what appears to be a more honest dialogue with supporters, and ask some more questions.

Firstly, whilst we all applaud increased investment in the Academy, it’s not immediately obvious why supporters are being asked to stump up one-third of the cost of upgrading, and the ongoing running costs. It seems that Marcus Evans has – very wisely though not before time – decided that money spent on the Academy is a better focus for his investment than chucking £18,000-per-week wage packets at underachieving “professionals”. Financial Fair Play places no limit on the amount of money that can be invested in Academies, so at a time when ticket prices are being increased and cutbacks made which affect the quality of customer service that the club provides to supporters, and at a time when many supporters are struggling to meet the cost of the investments that they already make in the club through season tickets, it’s not clear why fans are being asked to provide an additional subsidy.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the business case which the Supporters Trust put forward for pursuing a Category One Academy in the first place, noted that over 10 years the club had made over £35m in transfer fees from the sales of Academy graduates. Should ITFC’s Category One Academy produce the next Gareth Bale, who gets sold for £90m, it’ll be ITFC’s primary creditor – that’d be Marcus Evans then – who’ll benefit financially: another reason why the “you wanted it, now you need to pay for it” approach sits uncomfortably with some. An alternative idea, for which my fellow Turnstile Blues contributor Alistair Rattray takes the credit, would be to run Academy investment as a co-operative, whereby supporters who contribute get a return on their investment when Academy products are sold on for big fees. Supporters could then choose whether to invest that back into the Academy or not.

Secondly, there’s a wider context which I find it impossible to ignore. As has been written about extensively on these pages and elsewhere, Ipswich Town is a club carrying massive debt, whose ownership structure, and in particular its relationship with other parts of the Marcus Evans Group, is distinctly unclear. I have enough internal struggles, frankly, in deciding whether or not to part with £400+ for a season ticket – but at least I know that I get something out of that, i.e. admission to home games. As mentioned above, it was only last year that ITFC were telling us that Category One status could risk putting the Club back into administration. That, plainly, was complete nonsense. I struggle with the idea of donating money to an organisation which so recently tried to scaremonger and deceive supporters about exactly the same entity as it’s now asking for financial help with. An acknowledgement of this, as the start of a genuinely open dialogue with supporters and genuine transparency about the running of the club, would be a more meaningful step towards regaining the trust of this potential investor – and really would be a sign that things have changed.