Ipswich down - the demise of Suffolk's punch?
On 23rd April 2009, Roy Keane rode into Suffolk on his massive white horse to save Ipswich Town from the (sarcasm: on) ignominy (sarcasm: off) of finishing just 9th in the Championship. Damon Threadgold from the rather splendid The Real FA Cup examines events at Portman Road from the perspective of a disgruntled Ipswich fan.
Two wins out of two at the tail end of the campaign and some Irish blarney that the squad needed just two or three to pass muster for a genuine tilt at automatic promotion was all Ipswich Town fans needed for a buoyant summer.
Six months, 14 winless league games, a dozen new players and propping up the Championship table later, the white horse needed some new shoes and no one could locate the blacksmith.
The Blue Army supported in a relentless and indefatigable fashion not seen since Vorhees jumped to his feet for the 13th time. Many other fans might have been sending the horse to the glue factory by now but they’re generally patient sorts down Ipswich way.
A week later and a county sighed with relief as the manager returned with a Smithy, some new boots and shod all over Derby to set Ipswich off an a run that dragged them up through the bottom three and, eventually, fairly well clear of relegation. In fact, at times, so good were their runs that they showed top six form.
Okay, well, that first season was a bit hairy but it started to come good and I’m now done with the lame (doh!) horse puns.
“Hmmm”, said a few people, “we’re not so sure” – either about pun completion or Ipswich coming good. With performances perfunctory rather than solid, some viewed the results with a suspicion that belied the earlier support.
The 2010/11 season started in familiar fashion, good results without entirely convincing performances — and, as a rubbish stay-away fan, I base this opinion on trusty but honest TWTD match reports, highlights and live games — but then the horse went lame again…
Since beating Leeds 2-1 at home in early October Ipswich have won two and lost nine from the last eleven games, have now lost six on the spin and have plummeted from top six to the verge of the relegation zone.
So what is going on here? Is it a management failure, is it a player failure, is it a fan failure, is the hierarchy just clueless or is there something rotten out Suffolk way?
Because of this absence, I am a regular seeker of knowledge about all things Ipswich and a few off-field things strike me that I am in a position to comment about.
Roy Keane is not popular, increasingly. His constant witterings on Sky, his repetitive Irish bonhomie and occasional flirtations with madness have become wearing in the absence of results.
He also appears to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, intolerant of imperfection. As an Ipswich player it appears possible to make one mistake and keep your place.
Make two and you’re gone, REALLY gone. Even if Keane signed you and had played you for months, gone. You only seem to be safe if he used to play with you or managed you before.
Rumours abound of rifts with players, the latest being Damien Delaney but more famously with Jon Walters, now at Stoke. Keano has also started having a dig at the club for not being run properly. He hasn’t said what this means but he’s clearly not talking about himself.
Well, what to say about the owner? Marcus Evans has been accused of being many things, such as an arms dealer and hospitality scam merchant. The former is simple misreporting of one aspect of his business (Trade Fairs) and the latter he was unfounded. I’m not sure the average Ipswich fan is that bothered anyway, after all he did save the club from imminent death.
Or did he? He purchased the club’s £34mill+ debt for £8mill and yet didn’t write it off or write it down to just £8mill, as that was all it cost him. It hangs there, Damoclean, still.
Indeed, factor in what Evans has pumped in and you can probably whack it up to £50million. The quick-fix budget boost he gave at the start has dried up, he still won’t show his face at Portman Road and he’s employed a Chief Exec who appears to know nothing about football, little about PR and even less about how to stop an ailing business shipping cash.
The Marcus Evans Group is a multinational corporate behemoth with a very different ethos and set of ideas to those normal at ITFC.
Over the years, Ipswich became known as a club that regularly punched above its weight and the managers were employed because they had an ethos conducive to time given. They also had a youth system to be proud of. Results were expected, eventually, on an aesthetic level as much as a trophy level.
But trophies they got. And this period of building good times with the right spirit ensured Ipswich became a neutral favourite when playing the big-guns of England or, more frequently, on their forays into Europe back when the UEFA Cup actually meant something.
ITFC was a well-defined historical entity, which fans, their forefathers, ex-players, the town itself and surrounding area were all part of and continued to call their own. And that was known country-wide.
That image of ITFC seems to have disintegrated and Ipswich Town is damaged and in mortal danger. You could say it needed dragging into the 21st century but, arguably, Sheepshanks ultimately flawed reign started that.
However, for the first time in my lifetime, that damage became apparent during the recent ‘Old Farm Derby’. People actually wanted Norwich to win, lots of them, it was tangible across media and lives both real and online. They wanted Keane humbled, they wanted Evans annoyed, they thought Ipswich were too big for our boots and wanted to see them fail.
The 4-1 defeat was somehow less painful than the realisation that the quirky old soak up the road and her no-nonsense but effective Scottish manager were clearly more endearing to the neutral than the lit firework in the opposite dugout and his elusive paymaster who was, well, where he usually is, hidden behind the kind of black splodge familiar on Crimewatch when identities cannot be revealed.
As well as this, the way the club promotes itself is confused (the £1001 Season Ticket!?), the matchday programme is poor and expensive and they’ve even disappointed the kiddies with a debacle at the Junior Blues club. Unpopular firings, at Keane’s behest, of long-standing staff have not helped and indecision in the transfer market seems to hinder signings and raise Roy Keane’s blood pressure.
So, what’s gone wrong here? I think the inherent problem with ITFC at the moment lies with the sum of its disjointed parts. No single entity is entirely to blame.
Evans is mysterious and maybe restricting, Keane is stubborn and trigger happy while the club is quite soft and pretty but a bit lifeless and rudderless.
Similarly, unbeaten runs show Roy Keane is clearly not an awful manager, Marcus Evans saved Ipswich so is not a bad owner and, although now diminishing rapidly, the core support of the club remained surprisingly high over 8 years after relegation from the Premier League.
But mixing the three parts is like combining hot oil with water and then stirring in a dollop of dynamite. Essentially, none of the three entities listed sit comfortably with each other and appear to be unable to do so going forward. It is now a fiasco and if it is not sorted soon, the Suffolk Punch will no longer adorn the shirt of a football league club.
I can’t see the attitude of any one of these parties softening to accommodate more than one of the others so someone’s got to go. The fans can’t, they’re fans, they may be staying away now but without them full time there is no club.
Without Evans, in the short term, Ipswich are a busted flush, dead and I doubt he can sell up very quickly. So two must continue and that leaves one man, a dispensible man.
The important thing for Ipswich Town is not so much when to sack Keane, he’s got just 6 months left on his contract and the damage seems to be done but who replaces him?
If it’s another inflexible hothead with a gob the size of Cork, Ipswich Town may well be the next English football club to be liaising closely with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.
The Marcus Evans Group need to find someone who can find sufficient ground with both them and the club’s fans and history to allow them to all get on together.
I’m not convinced that’s possible but fingers crossed.
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