Book review: The A-Z of Football Hates

06/10/2014

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I was tempted to begin this review of The A-Z of Football Hates by Richard Foster (Amberley, 2014) by stating that books of alphabetical lists would come near to the top of my own inventory of “hates,” but I was quickly won over by the author’s introduction, particularly his description of the Chester fan, Steve, who hates watching home matches, an interesting – if slightly problematic – kind of cross for a football supporter to bear.

The abominations that have been chosen by Richard Foster, from an original long list of 87, are probably shared by the majority of fans: agents, corporate hospitality, diving, naming rights, (Mexican) waves, and xenophobia would all be on my personal list should I ever compile one. I would have included “banter,” though, which in my opinion is one of the worst aspects of the modern game of all. Of course, the whole point of a book like this is that there will be as much to disagree with as there is to confirm one’s own prejudices. That’s all part of the fun – and the book is fun. It’s written with a light touch that shrugs off some of its strengths, such as the quality of the writing and research. I learned quite a few things from reading it – from snippets about the early history of agents to the rather pleasing fact that the first footballer in the English game to wear tights was a Leicester City player in 1979.

It’s a book that seems intended, above all, to provoke debate and discussion and I’m pleased to say that I found much to disagree with in it, as I’m sure everyone else who reads it will. Although I can quite believe that players’ PR advisers might encourage them to flourish their children in front of the cameras for all kinds of dubious reasons, I don’t feel as cynical about children and football as the author does. I love to see footballers celebrating with their families when they’ve won trophies and I particularly like to see my own team parade their little ones around Portman Road at the end of the season. Foster finds it schmaltzy but I think that some footballers might actually like their own kids enough to want to share the pleasure of their best moments in football with them. On the other hand, I agree with him that FIFA’s insistence on players each holding hands with a mascot when walking on to the pitch for an international is execrable.

I’m not sure, either, about his description of his ideal club owner: “rich, anonymous and kind-hearted. Just imagine a wealthy philanthropist who was publicity shy… ” I have a particular figure in mind, of course, and I’m in no doubt that a club owner should not be able to hide from the people whose club he or she is supposed to be looking after. I suppose a book that is essentially against things doesn’t have to put the world to rights, but it would have been good if the piece about Ownership had made at least a passing reference to what fans are doing for themselves at clubs like Exeter, FCUM, AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth.

He devotes an entire “hate” to John Westwood of Pompey and his bell, a decision with which I can wholeheartedly concur. If there’s ever a follow-up edition, I can also recommend that the person who used to play a musical air horn at Portman Road repetitively in the 1970s should receive similar recognition. That horn still blights Ipswich Town DVDs to this day.

There are some contradictions. The author admits “I cried again twenty years on from those first tears” when England were knocked out of the world cup in 1990, despite claiming “Crying” and open displays of masculine emotion to be one of his pet hates. Perhaps – like the Player Queen in Hamlet – Richard Foster protests too much. In fact, I suspect him of really enjoying many of the things he claims to hate. He is clearly enjoying himself far too much in the section on Haircuts – and indeed, which football fan has not taken pleasure in the maniacally coiffeured player? Although I was sad not to find either of my personal favourites, Sue Smith and Taribo West, in the book there are plenty of other examples.

I was afraid that this book might be a football version of Grumpy Old Men but it would be better described by the popular Twitter hashtag: “Against Modern Football.” Most of the things that Richard Foster hates have come into the game in the post-Sky TV era. Television coverage, enormous advertising revenue and vast wealth have altered the game, and in turn have created huge distinctions between clubs with the Premier League having the lion’s share of the spoils in this country. These are the things that are at the root of almost all of the “hates,” whether they are TV directors homing in on the faces of crying fans or goal celebrations designed especially for the cameras.

A pleasing aspect of the book is the contributions of both supporters and former footballers. I particularly enjoyed Pat Nevin, who with typical originality and intelligence decided that what he hates the most is hatred. I think most people would agree. For all the controversy about things like the music played over stadia PA systems or “French football shorts,” this is the worst thing about football and changing things for the better is – unlike most of the other execrations listed in the book – in the hands of the fans themselves. The section on Qatar 2022 is excellent and it conveys some important issues about FIFA’s hypocrisy in the face of human rights abuses. Human rights and global corporatism may not fit all that well into a book that is essentially about mocking the wearing of yellow boots or “plastic fans” but without the serious issues, it would merely be enjoyably trivial. It’s more than that and all the better for it.

The author concludes by saying that it hopes it will enable its readers to release some “pent-up emotions.” I’m not sure about that. For me, watching a football match itself is the most cathartic thing of all. However, if The A-Z of Football Hates was intended to be entertaining and thought-provoking, it has certainly succeeded very well.

Susan Gardiner

 

 

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Sir Alf Ramsey’s last resting place

02/07/2014

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Today I visited cremation plot OC 194 in the old Ipswich cemetery. This is where the ashes of Sir Alf Ramsey are buried. I had heard from someone that he had never seen any flowers there and so I decided to take him a few from my garden. Sadly, the white flowers have all gone over and so I had to take pink and blue blooms. As it’s the World Cup finals at the moment, I wanted to thank the man who built the England team that won the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966, the most successful national manager of all time, who was also the man who transformed my team, Ipswich Town, from a provincial club to a renowned side that won the English football league championship in 1961/2. In fact, when I eventually found his plot, there were some flowers there, but it was good to be able to leave something on behalf of Turnstile Blues. To find his last resting place to be as modest and humble as the man was in life was very moving. Thank you, Sir Alf Ramsey, 1920-1999.

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Way Out West

24/01/2014

Moving from a club like Ipswich to a “big” Premier League side is one thing, but how do you prepare a young player for a move that could take him across continents? Town fan Nick Ames visits West Africa, and finds that Premier League stars’ involvement in youth development is raising as many questions as answers.

diambars

You don’t get too many casual football supporters in Saly. Its resorts – eerily quiet as the rainy season closes in – are best known for beaches and ‘bumsters’, and the few curious local folk corralled into the stand behind me are matched in number by furrowed brows from the Iberian peninsula and Scandinavia, all of whom have their eyes on a footballing bargain rather than a good time.

I sit on the end of the Diambars bench, two places along from coach Boubacar Gadiaga, as their players slalom around the 3G surface and pass, pass, pass their way through a lumpen Port Autonome de Dakar – proceeding safely to the top of Senegal’s Ligue 2 for the first time. “Vivacity, rhythm, mobility and speed – we constantly preach them,” smiles Gadiaga after precisely those virtues have put Port to the sword twice. The visitors’ average age, he estimates, is about 28 – gnarled semi-pros who’ve been round an attritional dogfight of a domestic game longer than anyone can care to remember. Diambars’ lads – shorter, sharper, struttier – are typically nine years their junior.

Two years pass, and a steady rise has become a force of nature. Gadiaga is now assistant manager of the national team alongside Alain Giresse; the goalkeeper who kept Port at bay, Ousmane Mane, has faced Team GB at Wembley. Most astonishingly of all, Diambars, having narrowly been pipped to the Ligue 1 title – and a place in the African Champions League – in their maiden top-flight season, now sit two points clear with a single game remaining of their second tilt at the big time. An academy whose senior, professional side was created in order to provide a rough-and-tumble finishing school for its most promising late-teens could very well be on the cusp of outgrowing its own domestic league.

Diambars is best known in England for Patrick Vieira’s considerable involvement. Invited on board by inceptors Jimmy Adjovi-Boco and Saer Seck in 2003, the ex-Arsenal midfielder lends kudos, gravitas and no small amount of hands-on assistance to an academy setup that operates sides from Under-13 to ‘professional’ (generally Under-20, in their case) level. Trials are held around Senegal to select each year’s new brood – 20 of around 2,000 hopefuls typically joining – with the lucky few packing their bags before moving into accommodation blocks flanking Diambars’ smart, cream coloured headquarters.

Facilities are as impressive as the grass-verged, tree-lined approach to the main building would suggest. The academy’s stated aim is to promote education through football, and students want for little. Classes rarely number more than ten; multimedia aids are plentiful; students typically study for six hours, finishing at 2pm, before concentrating on their football later in the afternoon. Once a month, they return home to their families.

“School is obligatory here, and bad discipline or poor motivation will not give you a future at Diambars even if you’re our best, most top-class player,” Seck tells me over what turns out to be a lavish dinner with his extended family.

“That’s the situation and we won’t move from it. Each boy’s personal development, his own project, comes before any focus on professional football. If a boy will not make it as a footballer, we’ll give him all the tools we can to help him in business, or whatever career he wishes, after he leaves.”

Diambars tend to keep to Seck’s word. They have sent boys to higher education courses in Europe and elsewhere in Africa. They have sent promising footballers to top-flight clubs in Spain, France, Norway, Poland and several other European countries. Some have succeeded – Kara Mbodj, now at Belgian side Genk via Tromso – and others, some of whom I meet during my visit, return empty-handed to be looked after once again, hopeful of catching watching scouts’ eyes a second time. Some re-establish themselves in Diambars’ professional side – Mignane Diouf, unsuccessful in Norway and Canada, is now 24 and by some way their oldest player, but has picked up full international caps for his work in this year’s title charge. Mane, 22, hasn’t needed to leave at all in order to appear at the Olympics. While Seck is quick to stress that there’s no ambition to be a top African professional side, there’s little doubting that Diambars boast a cadre whose technical quality leaves domestic rivals in the shade.

It leaves them in a slightly ambiguous position. The apex of the academy’s footballing achievements is reached when a product thrives in Europe, but when Seck says that “If Arsenal, for example wanted to sign our star player and we were playing the African Champions League Final the next day, we’d let him go”, his countenancing the very possibility of the latter tells a tale. It leaves them ripe to be shot at on a national level. The lack of a fanbase, of emotional connection to a local area, has drawn plenty of criticism from rivals who are, themselves, clinging onto some kind of meaning amid the often hard-to-watch (literally, as Senegal’s top flight averages little over 1.4 goals a game) decline of the domestic game. The
academy’s name, meaning ‘Warriors’, is little more than an abstract concept – so are they anaesthetising good, honest local competition? Few expected them to be topping Ligue 1 so soon after their ascension – Seck recently told local media that they were five years ahead of schedule – and their current rate of knots breeds the thought that they may, before long, outgrow the competition that was intended as a mere finishing school.

It begs the question, one that will be left open in this short article, of what academies in developing countries are actually ‘for’ in footballing terms. Johnny McKinstry – at 28, the most impressive young coach I have ever met – is currently in charge of the Sierra Leone national side on a short-term contract, assisted by the similarly dynamic Tom Legg. Both men work for the Craig Bellamy Foundation (CBF), whose facilities an hour outside Freetown rival Diambars’ in heart if not yet in scale. In their short time concurrently heading up the national setup, they have sought to implement the high-tech performance analysis with which their young charges benefit on the Monday morning after every match. Sierra Leone’s fully-capped professionals – ex-Norwich forward Kei Kamara among them – can now benefit from a level of attention to detail and rigour matched by few, if any, top-level sides on the continent. The stencil adopted at CBF – one that assists its 16 year-olds in beating youngsters three years their senior week in, week out – is already being replicated at a far higher level, seemingly years ahead of schedule.

Neocolonialism? Carts being set off before horses? CBF and the largely French-funded Diambars have been accused of both, usually by conservative factions with existing regimes to protect. But, with domestic football structures in the region in danger of falling apart (Sierra Leone’s national league started three months late this season) and the scourge of age cheating ruining many an outfit’s credibility, academies can hardly be faulted for coming at the issue at hand – developing outstanding players for the country’s eventual benefit – from a different angle. The rises to primacy of Diambars and CBF in their respective countries are simply a reflection of the failing structures that they have effectively hurdled. The young west African footballer is better set than ever for a fast track to the top – but it will be in their academies’ appetites to help reshape what lies in the middle that the long-term future of this region’s game is defined.

Nick Ames is a journalist and Ipswich fan with an interest in African football development, who’s worked and travelled extensively in Africa. In August 2013, shortly after this article was completed, Diambars won the Senegalese Championship.


Adam Tanner: the one who got away

24/01/2014

Adam Tanner has a place in Town history: at just 21 he became the first player to score a winning goal for Ipswich at Anfield. Five years later, off-field problems led to his release from the club, and by the age of 27 his professional career was over. Emma Corlett wanted to find out how the Ipswich youth system had prepared him for life inside and outside of football, and what help he’d had in dealing with his problems.

Adam Tanner Panini

Adam warmly welcomes me into his smart, modern house on a development on the outskirts of Chelmsford, and I am surprised by how nervous he appears to be. He admits to being a little apprehensive about having agreed to the interview, but is hoping to be open and honest. We start off by talking about how he first got into football…

Adam Tanner (AT): I grew up in Witham and I was into football from a very early age. I was playing for a local team and a Tottenham scout approached my Mum and Dad, so I spent a year training with their schoolboys up at White Hart Lane two nights a week.

I left there to go to Arsenal. I was at Arsenal for two years, right up until I left school. They offered me an apprenticeship, but it would have meant me leaving home and going to live up in Islington, and I wasn’t too keen. The Youth Development officer at the time at Ipswich was Tony Dable. They came up with an offer that meant I could still live at home in Witham, and get the train in every day. At 16 it would have been a massive step to move away. I obviously don’t know how things would have worked out, but I think I made the right decision.

Turnstile Blues (TB): So things went OK for you at Ipswich: you were captain of the Youth Team. Who from your contemporaries made it through to the first team?

AT: Well, there were 2 years. From my year Lee Durant played a couple of games, Neil Gregory was a year above me, then coming through was Tony Vaughan, James Scowcroft the year behind me. From my actual year there was Leo Cottrell from Cambridge and Bam Bam. We certainly weren’t prolific. So nothing like the peak when we had Richard Wright, Kieron Dyer, Scowy, Tony Vaughan, that was quite a peak period.

TB: So then you made the step up to the first team yourself, making your debut in January 1995?

AT: Yes, that started all under John Lyall, he was brilliant. He was a real idol and father figure. I’d been travelling with the squad under John Lyall, helping to carry stuff. He wanted me involved. George Burley took over, and he threw me in at the deep end. He just said to me the day before “you’re starting tomorrow”. That was against Leicester, and I scored. The week after we played Wrexham away in the cup and I gave a penalty away in the last minute, and we went out, then the following week it was the Liverpool game when I scored. That was my first three games!

TB: You mentioned about John Lyall being a fatherly figure. How much do football clubs take an interest in supporting and educating young players through the tricky things, like having more money than your peers, managing relationships, unwanted attention, alcohol, drugs, that kind of thing?

AT: Everything, all that stuff, comes at you very fast. John Lyall was someone you could always go to. He treated everyone similar, from the first team to the youth team. His door was always open. There weren’t any great workshops as such, to give you advice, but if you had a problem you could go to him.

. After talking about the drinking culture during his time at Town, Adam went on to describe the consequences of testing positive for cocaine. Talking about this is clearly still very difficult for Adam, and for the first time in the interview he is visibly emotional, as he talks about the impact on his parents.

TB: How did they react?

AT: They were devastated. Really absolutely devastated. But again, they showed me unconditional love. My biggest fear was that I was going to get the sack. This was different to when I was 17 because I’d been playing and in the team, so there was more press coverage. I had to make a statement outside the front of my parents’ house. The press had been banging on the windows and everything. My mum and dad live in a little cul de sac, and you had all these TV vans with satellite dishes all coming round, and I had to stand outside. It wasn’t good, but it was my own fault.

TB: I guess it’s the impact that it has on other people close to you, and dealing with the guilt?

AT: Yes, but again I got support. It was a Friday, and Sheepshanks rang me. He said “where are you?”, so I told him I was round my mum and dad’s. He advised me not to open the door because he’d heard that the press were on their way round. We compiled a statement between us, that I then read outside Mum and Dad’s front door at about half past five. He was first class, he said “it’s happened, we just need to get on and deal with it”.

TB: What was the local press coverage like?

AT: I remember the Evening Star had the billboards, blacked out with “Tanner Cocaine Shame”, but I decided not to read it all. The club gave me a suspension for two weeks so I was away from Ipswich for two weeks. That paid part of my ban too. The club needed to be seen to be doing something, they couldn’t say we’re backing him but not taking any action against him. It was tough. I hadn’t bought this place and was still living with my Mum and Dad. The thing you love has been taken away from you, and you’re hanging on by your fingertips to not lose it.

TB: What help or support did you get from the PFA?

AT: I think Neil Thompson was our rep. I spoke to the PFA at the time, but because it was an isolated incident rather than a problem and something I was doing all the time they didn’t do much. Gordon Taylor was there at my hearing with Brendan Batson. We went in to the room, and there was three older men. Reg Burr the old Millwall Chairman fell asleep during my hearing. I looked up and he was just asleep. I thought oh god, you’ve got my career at your fingertips here and you’re asleep. Someone gave him a nudge and woke him up. It was a horrendous day to be honest.

TB: Did you have any inkling what the likely outcome would be?

AT: None at all. I was one of the first to get to a hearing. I’ve heard so many rumours about other players, about it getting hushed up but that was definitely a route that Sheepshanks wasn’t going to go down and he made that quite clear. He said “I’ll back you, but we cannot brush this under the carpet”, and you have to respect that. I got a three month ban, and had already done a month so I think it was quite lenient really.

TB: Do you keep in touch with people at the club?

AT: I’ve still got contacts at the club, I speak to Milts, and I speak to Edwina who is the receptionist. …  I gave the club some really bad press, but whenever I go back they welcome me with open arms, and I can’t fault them.

There’s always an ex-players dinner, but I never went. But I went two years ago. Burley and Sheepshanks were there, they shook my hand, I had a good laugh with them. There was no bitterness at all from them. I won’t have a bad word said against Ipswich as a club, or Sheepshanks or George Burley. The club is first-class.

You can read the full, exclusive interview with Adam Tanner in our printed or downloadable fanzine.


Here comes the summer…

14/06/2013

deckchairSome of you may be missing football already (fixture list is out next week, by the way – Ed.) but Gavin Barber appears to be bearing up…

At last week’s Socrates meet-up of football bloggers and podcasters (quite the hot ticket for London’s hipster community), opinion was divided on the merits or otherwise of the football-free summer. Some, like the cheerily obsessed author of the splendid Put A Jumper On blog were already missing the rhythm of the season, and had been scouring the European fixture lists for possible weekend jaunts (things are starting to hot up in the Swedish Allsvenskan, if you’re interested).

Others, like myself, were rather enjoying the break. A chance to spend the week not worrying about forthcoming fixtures, or fretting over injury lists that might leave Mick McCarthy short of defenders. A chance to reconnect with those aspects of life that get neglected between August and May: picking up the books you’ve been meaning to read, tidying the garden, talking to other members of your family. That sort of thing. A break from the unrelenting stress of the Championship season.

It should be pointed out that this conversation was taking place beneath a plasma screen that was showing Italy v Israel from the European Under-21 Championships. In keeping with my determination to take a break from the game, I wasn’t paying any attention to it, and in any case it got boringly one-sided after an Israeli player picked up a deserved red card in the first half.

The European under-21 Championships is just one of the things that gives the lie to the notion of a football-free summer, or any kind of close season at all, really. It followed straight on from some full international friendlies, and once it’s over we’ll have the Confederations Cup, and before you know it we’ll be finding “Champions” League qualifiers jostling with repeats of Minder for space in the ITV4 schedule.

And that’s just the football itself. The summer is ever-more dominated with frenzied speculation, on the internet, in the papers, on the TV and around the proverbial workplace water-cooler (or indeed the actual workplace water-cooler, unless you work from home, in which case you may need to stand near the fridge and make polite conversation with your cat in order to re-create the magic of the fabled water-cooler interface) about transfers, contracts, flare-ups and flounce-outs.

Maybe I should stay off Twitter, or maybe I’m just turning into the world-weary curmudgeon that I’ve aspired to be since watching Cesar Luis Menotti’s magnificently scowling aspect at the 1982 World Cup, but all the anxiety over summer signings is getting a bit wearing. We’d all love to wake up to the news that Ipswich had signed Romelo Lukaku, Gio dos Santos and the cast of Hollyoaks, but if another day passes without so much as a new right-back then, well, maybe we’ll all be OK and perhaps, just perhaps, could leave our worries to one side until the season starts?

In any case, the fixtures come out next week and there will be exciting negotiations to look forward to (“I know it’s your brother’s wedding but Yeovil is a new ground for me”, etc).

Also, the Ashes starts soon and that’s quite enough to worry about.

(Have we signed a right-back yet?)


“Ipswich for the Cup, but first a word about the ladies…”

10/05/2013

by Susan Gardiner
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I am never one to refuse the chance of making a gratuitous reference to my beloved Ipswich Town, but this is about the history of women’s football in England generally, so the Ipswich bit – having occurred in the 1950s – will have to wait until the end.

Like most people, I don’t know much about women’s football, although I watch some international matches and Arsenal Ladies beating whoever-it-is in the FA Cup Final every year. In 2007, however, I saw a fascinating BBC documentary about  the history of women’s football. Focusing on the famous Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team, it showed rare, flickering black-and-white images of women’s football in the early part of the 20th century. I had known nothing about this: proper football matches played between proper teams. Some of the matches had been watched by massive crowds. On Boxing Day 1920, Dick Kerr’s Ladies beat St. Helen’s Ladies 4-0. The attendance was 53,000.

That date, 1920, is significant. Only a year later the FA decided to ban women from playing football on Football League grounds. “The game,” they pronounced was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” The decline in the women’s game was dramatic and it never fully recovered, although it has been revived in the 21st century, thanks to interest in the United States and other parts of the world.

In Britain, people still talk of women’s football as something that is novel and a little bit odd. However, references to women playing football appear to go back a long way. Sir Philip Sidney mentions women playing footie in one of his poems, A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds (c.1580), and, yes, girls, it looks as if they tucked their skirts into their knickers back in Tudor times too:

“A tyme there is for all, my mother often sayes,

When she, with skirts tuckt very hy, with girles at football playes.”

In 1894, the Hampshire Telegraph & Sussex Chronicle heralded the developments in the women’s  game: “Female football teams will shortly contest in public. Women played football in this country centuries ago. Mr. Pepys complains of the nuisance in the Strand, when milkmaids kicked the ball about on May-day, as was their immemorial privilege [my italics].” Sadly the newspaper ruins everything by adding the inevitable comment: “It was not an edifying practice even then.”

The 1880s and 1890s saw some interest in women’s football, but newspaper reports were generally negative describing matches between teams made up of the “softer sex” and indulging in the usual rhetoric about scratching and unnatural aggression. Even attendance at football matches played by men was under scrutiny, for example, this writer in the Derby Mercury, 15th March 1893, believed: “”Women undoubtedly lose their influence over and attraction for men when they dispossess themselves of their womanly attributes; and girls who constantly attend football matches, and think nothing of seeing their own and other people’s brothers and cousins maimed, most assuredly do so.”

Women’s football, despite being popular as a spectator sport, came in for criticism in the press right from the start. The organised women’s game began in 1895 with a North vs. South match. The North, predictably, won 7-1. The usually liberal Ipswich Journal writing about the match stated that “it seems as if we have reached the climax of fin de siècle enormities when we read of the formation of a British Ladies’ Football Club…” and it was patronisingly described in the Times (25th March 1895):

“A match, under Association rules, between teams of ladies was played at Nightingale-lane, Hornsey,  on Saturday… Great curiosity was aroused and the ground was thronged by 7,000 people. The football was of a very harmless nature, and its novelty soon grew irksome to many of the spectators.”

The same newspaper continued in the same vein in May 1920 for its report on the England vs France women’s international, introducing (for the times, at least) a sexual frisson with a rather fanciful preamble about a boy (a young Sepp Blatter, perhaps) spying on some schoolgirls playing football in a cathedral close (!):

“The fortunate youth who penetrated these mysteries was all unconscious of attending the birth of the new woman  – he was much too intent on the spectacle. Was he not enjoying one of the few privileges of which Woman does not apparently propose to deprive his sex  – that of watching her insist on doing what a Man does better?”

The Times does go on to briefly describe the actual international match at Stamford Bridge, which France won 2-0. The writer is even good enough to admit that the players “exhibited enough skill to disappoint those who had come to laugh,” but is more enthused by the French women’s short light blue jumpers.

So why did the FA ban women in 1921? My guess is that it was part of a wider move to put women back in the home after the First World War. In the same year, Bath City Ladies had played in a match in Manchester to raise money for ex-servicemen, but ex-servicemen needed jobs and women were required to return to more traditional roles. It was time for society to re-invent what was considered to be appropriate behaviour for a woman. In 2008, the FA apologised for the ban and the statement that football was “unsuitable” for women.

So, to go back to the title of this piece. It’s taken from an article written by Dingle Foot, former MP for Ipswich, and published in the Times in 1978. He was writing about his memories of Sir Alf Ramsay’s great team, of course, but was also looking forward to the FA Cup Final that Ipswich Town were about to play – and win – against Arsenal. In the article, he recalled a revival of the women’s game in Suffolk when he was the local MP:

“… the rise of Ipswich did not end there. The girls began to play. They attracted immense attention. At their first match they refused to obey the referee as they played another ladies team from rural Suffolk.” They appealed to their Member of Parliament. All he could come up with was a Kiplingesque poem:

It’s goodbye to Jacky Milburn and salute the rising sun

McGarry’s come to put the Town back in Division One

But compared with Ipswich Ladies even Portman Road must fail

For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

The girls have sacked their manager for all the world to see

‘Twas he who sinned against the light: he backed the referee

No ode will now be written to Mr. Nightingale

For the female of the species is much rougher than the male.

So here by Orwell’s flowing tide Britannia’s flag unfurls

To show in Wolsey’s ancient town that girls will still be girls

Down with the ref, up with the chicks, oh great Minerva, hail

The Ipswich ladies footballers submit to no mere male.

Two days after this poem appeared in the local paper, Dingle Foot received a letter from the captain of the Ipswich ladies’ team assuring him of their full support in the election. He held his seat. “No doubt,” he wrote, “this was due to the Ipswich ladies. In the end the girls always win.”


My club, right or wrong?

31/03/2013

by Susan Gardiner

The news that the overrated Martin O’Neill has been sacked by Sunderland has meant that the Keyser Söze of modern football, Paolo DiCanio – a relatively recent addition to the managerial Usual Suspects – has been touted as his replacement.

Di Canio is a self-confessed fascist and admirer of Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader, describing him as a “principled person [who was] … much misunderstood.”

Fascism is a misused word and it’s not appropriate to discuss its meaning here, but it’s an ideology that is diametrically opposed to everything I believe in. Since Di Canio became a football manager at Swindon Town in 2011, I have often wondered how I would feel if he was appointed as manager of my football club. I have been forced to conclude that I wouldn’t be able to continue to support Ipswich Town although I’d return when he – inevitably – parted company with us. Of course, I don’t think it will happen. I hope it never does.

Thinking about this has brought a further question to the forefront of my mind. Is there anything else that could be a “last straw” when it comes to supporting Ipswich Town? Is there something – anything – that would make it simply impossible for me to carry on as a fan or would I persuade myself otherwise?

To be honest, it’s an issue that has been placed on the back burner since Mick McCarthy came to manage our team. What’s not to like about MM, after all? Ever since Jim Magilton brought Ben Thatcher into the side, however, I’ve been concerned about how far I would allow myself to equivocate. With Thatcher, I convinced myself that his reputation for thuggish behaviour – he was notorious for the vicious elbowing of an opposition player when he was at Manchester City – was something that we could not afford to be fussy about. He had, after all, apologised in writing to Mendes for his actions and Town sorely needed some toughness on the pitch at that time. Anyway, I told myself, I was probably just prejudiced by his name.

Paul Jewell brought other players in that I was not happy with, Lee Bowyer being one. I’d disliked him for all kinds of reasons to do with his behaviour, on and off the pitch. Yet again, I convinced myself that it was all right. After all, I believe that human beings can reform and redeem themselves. The actions that people take when they’re young are often foolish and not the result of deep-seated character flaws. I sought out newspaper articles that seemed to show that he was indeed a reformed character.

Once again, I found myself altering my values in order to accommodate a player or manager just because they were part of my club.

So I began to wonder exactly who I might object to. Who – if anyone – was such an affront to my personal morality that I wouldn’t be able to convince myself that it was all right? Marlon King springs immediately to mind. A talented player who was sentenced to eighteen months in prison in 2009 for sexual assault and grievous bodily harm against women, the court case revealed he had a history of similar behaviour. I often wonder whether the chants by opposition fans against him that are heard up and down the country now that he has returned to football are because those supporters actually detest what he did – or whether those same fans would – quite literally – change their tune if their own club signed him? Get behind the lads and all that.

There are several other examples of footballers and managers who have convictions for domestic violence or other criminal offences which make them seem pretty reprehensible to me. Generally, I’m not very interested in people’s private lives and I don’t like to be judgemental, but when it comes to racism or violence I feel that a line should be drawn. After all, what we’re actually saying here, by tolerating such behaviour, is that football’s more important. More important than racism, more important than violence against women, more important than ethics.

We continue to excuse players simply because they’re good at football.

Ched Evans, now serving a prison sentence for rape, is a good footballer. What would I do should Ipswich Town sign him upon his release? One look at the #justiceforChed hashtag on Twitter was enough for me but it’s a clear example of how our passion for football can overrule our logic. It’s not just moral relativism, it’s a form of self-deception. I’ve been guilty of it, but hopefully only to a lesser extent. I hope I could still do the right thing, despite my addiction to Town. Sometimes I wonder.

Away from individuals, I also wonder about other things that would perhaps be a turning point for me. In modern football, where teams can be owned by people who aren’t either knowledgeable or particularly interested in the game, stadia can be sold or moved, or renamed. Perhaps it won’t be very long until teams in the English leagues are named after their sponsors as they are in other parts of the world. I think that many fans would accept it as being part of the reality of the 21st-century game. Once again, I ask myself how much would I be willing to put up with before I decided to go and watch Stowmarket or Needham Market instead.

Of course, it’s necessary to adapt to the modern world. The game’s come a long way since the 19th century and the era of the Corinthian spirit – a leading light amongst those players, incidentally, was W. M. Cobbold, from Long Melford in Suffolk, apparently known as “The Prince of Dribblers.” The age of the amateur footballer and the public school ethos is thankfully long gone. It’s a mistake, anyway, to imagine that those amateurs were the only people who had a monopoly on fair play and decency.

Money has changed the game so much that many supporters seem to feel that winning, at all costs, is everything. I’m not sure that winning with a team or a manager that I had no respect for would feel very much like winning at all.