I can’t believe it’s not a Big Buttery Audit Vat


ITFC Academy


by Gavin Barber

Lots of people ask for money. Most of us – me included – conduct a kind of instantaneous, subconscious cost/benefit analysis of each request before giving a response. Context is important. Earlier today I was asked for a charitable donation and gave the full amount, without hesitation. The charity was a random teenager who was 10p short of his bus fare. I paid in full because a) I could afford it, and b) it would mean that he could end his long-running argument with the driver, meaning that I could finally get off the sweltering pavement, onto the bus, and on with the rest of my life. Philanthropy and self-interest, perfectly married in a moment.

Rightly or wrongly, if you’re prepared to ask people for money then you need to be ready to make them feel that they’re Doing Something Good or Getting Something Back, or, preferably, both. Which is why the decision to ask supporters for cash to fund ITFC’s bid for Category One Academy status was such a bold one. And, on the basis of today’s announcement that the bid has failed, a potentially ill-advised one too.

We are told that the bid for Category One status has failed to reach the required 75% standard by just 0.3%. Who knows what complex algorithms lie behind this outcome? “IF facilities.PITCH >64% AND coaching.YOUTHDEV >72% THEN value academy.LEVEL must = 01”. That sort of thing. Maybe. Myriad factors, we are told, are considered. Investment. Coaching. Facilities. It all gets churned into a big buttery Audit Vat, and for ITFC it apparently comes out at 74.7% proof.

One could speculate on the maturity of a process which allows for such fine margins of error in an area of such inexact science; one could speculate further on how the application of the audit process might vary between clubs of different levels and status – particularly given that this whole thing was begat by the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), itself yet another downwards kick from the jackboot of the super-rich clubs into the faces of the rest.

And yet. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, and ITFC’s response to these challenges was, firstly, to opt rather defiantly for Category Two – like a spurned suitor petulantly de-friending the object of their affections on Facebook – only to decide that, actually, we did want to play with the big boys after all. But we needed someone else to pay for it.

That initial decision was important. ITFC weighed up the options available under EPPP and decided that Category Two was the least-worst of them. Or perhaps that Category One was not worth the risk. Not only was there a 5,000-strong petition raised in protest, but statistics provided by the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Trust proved that investment in Academies was more than likely to repay itself several times over in revenue from player sales, and transfer fee costs saved. Category Two, however, remained the preferred option at that time. It was a decision that now appears to have been costly, both in footballing and financial terms. Perhaps one that Marcus Evans now regrets.

And yet. When Town did decide to pursue Category One status – and let’s go right out on a limb here and suggest that the potentially beneficial effects of Category One on the overall balance sheet may have helped to prompt Marcus’s change of heart – it was the supporters who were asked to foot the bill. Not just a few quid for some fluorescent cones and training tops, but a sizeable chunk of the overall funding required for Category One.

Ipswich Town FC is part of the Marcus Evans Group, a multinational conglomeration of Stuff which employs squillions of people to make gazillions of dollars. It is not, perhaps, the most obvious cause when it comes to charitable giving, yet several supporters decided that it was worthy of donations. In issuing that appeal, ITFC sent out two distinct messages: firstly, that a Category One academy was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have, and supporters should therefore be expected to contribute to it. And secondly, if it was an enterprise inextricably attached to a cause, rather than a business decision about allocation of resources – as would presumably be the case in every other division of MEG – then supporters could arguably be seen to carry an implicit level of blame in any subsequent failure to achieve the desired outcome.

Like I said earlier, you can ask people for money any old time you want, but there’s an implied contract in any request for funding, particularly for a private organisation with an already-significant cashflow. And here we come back, rather cynically perhaps, to our two tests for charitable giving: am I Doing Something Good and will I Get Something Back?

The answer to those questions would both have been ‘yes’ if ITFC had found an extra 0.3% from somewhere. But we didn’t. We failed on the margins. And yet – as frustrating as it is to apparently miss out by such a tiny amount – it is always the case that, like a first serve in tennis, if you aim for the margins, you risk hitting the wrong side of them.

It’s easy, of course, to point the focus of attention towards those who carried out the audit. EPPP is a disastrously ill-thought-out initiative, so there’s no reason not to assume that the processes which underpin its implementation might also benefit from some improvement. But however flawed the process might be, the story to take from today’s announcement is surely not the fact that ITFC missed out on Category One by 0.3%, but that we put ourselves in a position whereby that might ever have become an issue. Why aim for the margins? Why look at the criteria and the processes, and decide that scraping around for 75% is the best approach to take – rather than determining to invest whatever is necessary to reach Category One, from the start? Why opt for Category Two, then spend time and effort recruiting a team capable of delivering Cat One, two years later?

These are business decisions and it’s not for me to say which is the right one and which is the wrong one. But as a supporter, it is for me to say something about asking fans to subsidise the shortfall left by some of those business decisions. And that is this: if you are going to ask fans for money to provide a Category One Academy, over and above the investment that fans already make via season tickets etc., and in the full understanding that Category One brings financial benefits to the club and its owner as well as sporting benefits to the team and its supporters, then you had better make damn sure you get it right. We are told that financial investment is only one of the criteria used to determine Academy status. In that case, if fans have contributed to the financial side of things, then it is down to the club to make sure that everything else is in order, to the extent where a margin of 0.3% in an audit score shouldn’t ever have become an issue.

Having put supporters in an arguably invidious position by asking for contributions in the first place, only to let them down by failing to deliver the aim that they were being asked to contribute to achieving, the Club and its owner once again have questions to answer. What will happen to those contributions? Why, with supporters’ contributions behind them, does it appear to be the case that ITFC aimed for being ‘just good enough’ to achieve Category One – and turned out to be not quite up to it – rather than reducing the risk by aiming higher than that? What happens next? Will there be a new approach or will supporters be asked for yet more money? As ever, we eagerly anticipate answers.


Disappointed (once more)…


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.

Marcus, Marcus give us a wave, Marcus, give us a wave


Grant Bage is still, it seems, waiting for his man.

unrequited  People who regularly visit this website or follow  Turnstile Blues on Twitter [@Turnstile_Blue in case you don’t – Ed.] may know that, six weeks ago and on behalf of our collective, I wrote an open letter to Marcus Evans [ In Name Only ] For new readers, Marcus is Ipswich Town’s ‘mystery millionaire owner’. My mates mocked but deep down and secretly, I hoped for a reply: did the owners of the Club care as much about the fans, as the fans care about the Club?

Much has happened since then of course: the chief executive’s post filled by a pair of Chelsea-supporting Tractor Boys, court appearances pencilled in for two of Town’s top players, season tickets held at current prices for anybody who donates all their organs via a ten year debenture to the Club; and by the way, some great results and gritty performances from a squad brimming with loan players. All of which undeservedly still finds Ipswich Town only four points away from ‘local’ derbies next season with Stevenage, Leyton Orient and Colchester United (if they stay up).

Are such events one-off coincidences, or symptoms of a deeper and more dangerous decline? I honestly still feel uncertain but sketched below is an update since that open letter was sent, followed by musings not only about ‘Marcus’, but about modern football.

Being a reasonably polite sort of guy, I e-mailed a link to the original open letter via the public contact for the Marcus Evans Group, as supplied on its website. Their reply is reproduced exactly below, in its full and robotic glory:

On 10 Feb 2013, at 19:46, gleave parsons <gleavep@marcusevansuk.com> wrote

   Dear Mr Bage

   Thank you for contact marcus evans


  Our representative will get in touch with you shortly

Marcus’s representative did not ‘get in touch shortly’ so five days later and on Valentine’s Day I sent a reminder.  OK, my e-mail wasn’t exactly romantic, but it was heartfelt:

Date: 14 February 2013 21:30:39 GMT

To: gleave parsons <gleavep@marcusevansuk.com>

Subject: Re: marcus evans group enquiry

Hello there, whoever you are.

It is disappointing to have waited five days and not heard anything back yet, so I thought I should get in touch again. The reason I e-mailed in the first place was because Marcus Evans will be interested in an invitation from myself and a group of friends, to talk about Ipswich Town Football Club. Actually we have written that invitation at some length, around 2,000 words, and posted it on a public website. You can read it here http://www.turnstile-blues.co.uk/

If you want to leave a comment there is a section at the end and there are two comments already. But to be honest the invitation is more a personal one to Marcus Evans – to the man who owns the group which owns the football club that we all love. Marcus has put a lot of money and effort into his ownership over the last five years: it would be great to hear more from him directly, about his plans and dreams for the next five years.

We have sent the same invitation to the press office at Portman Road and unfortunately they have not replied yet either. It would be pleasant, and polite, if somebody could get back to us. We will be publishing the invitation in a magazine quite soon, bought by lots of Ipswich fans and therefore customers of The Marcus Evans Group.  We were also hoping that in this magazine, Marcus might reply in person. People would be very interested in what he has to say.

We look forward to hearing from you.

I will leave you to guess, over forty days later, whether there has been a reply. Yet oddly and promisingly, the programme notes for Ipswich’s next home game offered the unusual prospect of some thoughts ‘from the owner’.

Although these notes have been hilariously analysed on this website [Not From the Owner] to me at the least they read like they have been genuinely written by ‘Marcus’. In a style I imagine to be authentic amongst international multi-millionaires, paragraph after paragraph on the first page mused mostly about: money, business and financial fair play. Given that ITFC owes the Marcus Evans Group nearly £70 million, it may of course be a good thing that Marcus likes talking mostly about money. But deep amongst the financial foliage at last on page two there peeped out a reference to us: the Club’s customers, its lifeblood, loyal fans, the diehards … or are we just cash cows, and mugs? Marcus wrote:

   ‘I am … fully committed to … ensuring that we keep an open line of communication with our fans.’

I could not help but think, perhaps churlishly ‘well then it would be nice if you answered the letter we sent’. That is not just because 2,000 words take a long time to write. It is also that in good faith, the next issue of our fanzine (By Mutual Consent on sale at Portman Road before the match on 30th March – see here for details ) reserved two blank pages.  These were to set out the reply that we honestly expected from Marcus, or the Marcus Evans Group, or the new managing directors, or the press office or just from anybody at Ipswich Town football club who might have been listening, to the polite and sensible questions we thought we had asked.

I say ‘polite’ because many of us stand in the North Stand, and have done so for years. We could have just chanted, Marcus, in the brusque fashion of us football fans:

‘Who are ya, who are ya, who are ya..?’

We didn’t and instead we thought, we argued, we researched, we wrote, we published and now because we care passionately about the lifelong security and prosperity of Ipswich Town I (at least) am begging. Answer our queries and listen to our fears. Please understand why there is a larger movement coming together to question the way in which Modern Football works. People are joining the Football Supporters Federation [ http://www.fsf.org.uk/ ] Supporters Direct  [ http://www.supporters-direct.org/  ] and the Ipswich Town Independent Supporters Trust [  http://ipswichtownfirst.wordpress.com/ ]. They are campaigning for owners to charge lower and fairer prices for tickets [ http://wp.me/p2KvgD-4j ], for clubs to consider letting supporters stand, for fans to have a voice on the Board and shares in their club. Perhaps Marcus, you could actively and personally continue strong Ipswich traditions of encouraging fair play, good citizenship and a social conscience from the players you employ? With rewarding players fairly but sustainably, both to win games with style but also to lose them, with grace? You are the owner Marcus and for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, fans are married to the future of a Club that happens to be in your current care and under your leadership.  So please, prioritise the Academy. Encourage stewards to come down hard on violent, racist, homophobic or any other nasty and threatening behaviour. Equally tell them to stop nicking our beach balls, they are only a bit of fun.  Above all smile sweetly at Saint Delia, whilst making us better than Norwich.

OR if that sounds too radical Marcus, make just a small change right now. Ask somebody senior from the Club to recognise honest concerns and genuine questions, and to answer them. It really won’t hurt. Just take a deep breath of that bracing Orwell air, look left at the North Stand, stare deep into our eyes and imagine us singing:

‘Marcus, Marcus give us a wave, Marcus, give us a wave;

Marcus, Marcus, give us a wave: Marcus, give us a wave…’

In Name Only?



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision Time


Some choice words by Gavin Barber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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