The Colossus of Jordan Rhodes: Part 1 - Ipswich Town's loss
The Seventy Two doesn’t focus on League One as much as it would like. So, with a guilty conscience firmly in mind, let’s over-egg the pudding and mix a few metaphors by taking an indulgent three-part look at one of the Football League’s hottest properties – the Huddersfield Town striker Jordan Rhodes. Part One of our trilogy concerns his exit from Ipswich Town, who are supported, amongst other lucky souls, by our regular correspondent Gavin Barber…
Most relationships – whether with colleagues, friends or partners – have a recurring niggle: a past misdemeanour that one of you just can’t let the other one forget about.
That time you forgot to press “send” on a vital email before going on leave for two weeks. That time you both thought the other one was getting Glastonbury tickets and you ended up grumpily watching it on BBC3. That time you decided to fix a leak yourself – “no need to call a plumber for a simple job like this!” – and flooded the bathroom. The little things that you try to put behind you, but which always seem to surface whenever there’s any kind of disagreement. “And another thing! Remember that time when…”.
Is there a word for this? There should be. Let’s call it a YAHMIDY (as in “You Always Have To Mention It Don’t You?”). Since the summer of 2009, Ipswich Town fans have had one yahmidy and one alone, namely “why why WHY did we sell Jordan Rhodes?”.
Between 2005 and 2009, the young Rhodes was as hot a property as you’ll find outside the Homes For Sale section of the Atacama Desert Advertiser. Playing for Ipswich Town’s various youth sides, he scored goals in quantities more readily associated with comic strips or Michael Hardcastle novels. Rhodes charged around the junior pitches of southern England like Brian Glover’s crazed PE teacher in Kes, barging slighter opponents effortlessly out of the way and scoring at will (though not, as far as anyone can recall, commentating on himself while doing it). Except, of course, he wasn’t an over-age, over- sized bully living out a fantasy – he was just a prodigiously talented goalscoring teenager.
Like Connor Wickham (of whom more later), Rhodes more or less landed in Ipswich’s lap due to the proximity of his dad. Whereas it was Town’s good fortune that Wickham’s military father was posted nearby, bringing the tyro Connor onto the Portman Road scouting radar, Rhodes came via an even more direct route – his father Andy Rhodes, the former Oldham Athletic goalkeeper, was brought to the club as a coach in 2004 by then Town boss Joe Royle. A modest payment to Barnsley, where Jordan had signed as a schoolboy, ensured that Rhodes junior, by then attending school in the town, also joined the Ipswich ranks in 2005.
Rhodes graduated through Ipswich’s under 16, under 18 and reserve teams in a single season with almost embarrassing ease and rapidity, hitting the net over 40 times in the process. The 2006-07 season saw his progress held up by a succession of injuries, but by 2007 he was ready to become the first player born in the 1990s to make his full Ipswich début. In March 2008 he scored his only first-team goal for Ipswich, nipping in to capitalise on hesitancy in the Cardiff defence to secure a 1-1 draw in a drab game which had only otherwise been enlivened by a sparkling wing display from the away side’s fresh-faced winger, Aaron Ramsey.
By this stage Royle had long since left the club but new boss Jim Magilton, despite making sweeping changes to the backroom staff, had retained the services of goalkeeping coach Andy Rhodes. Popular local wisdom had it that Rhodes senior was only being kept on until his boy had been secured on a professional contract. That may or may not have been true, but it’s certainly the case that by the time Andy was eventually shaken by the hand, thanked for all his work and asked to close the door on his way out, it was 2008 and Jordan was signed up as a member of the first team squad.
In the 2008-09 season, Jordan was sent out on characteristically prolific loan assignments to Rochdale and Brentford, becoming the Bees’ youngest-ever hat-trick scorer in the process. By the summer of 2009, with Roy Keane now occupying the manager’s office at Portman Road, Town supporters were looking forward to Rhodes playing a key role in the club’s anticipated push for promotion – until, from nowhere, he was sold to Huddersfield.
HUDDERSFIELD!!! The collective gasp from Ipswich supporters could probably have been heard on the moon. No-one had expected Rhodes to be sold at all, but if he was to be, then surely the only direction was upwards into the Premier League, following the path trodden by the aforementioned Ramsey: not – and with all due etc to the Terriers – to a club playing in a division below Ipswich. By all accounts, Rhodes himself had no wish to move on, so this was one occasion when the phrase “shock transfer” was a totally accurate description.
Ipswich and Huddersfield have a curious trading history. The Galpharm Stadium is currently home to 5 ex-Tractor Boys (in addition to Rhodes, there’s reserve keeper Nick Colgan, salad-dodging frontman Alan Lee, the pacy but frustrating Gary Roberts and penalty expert Tommy Miller). Back in 2000, an equally momentous transfer took place between the two clubs when George Burley, just prior to the closure of the January transfer window, snaffled a striker called Marcus Stewart from the West Yorkshire side. This was a big deal: Huddersfield were pushing for promotion to the Premiership at the time, but shorn of Stewart’s goals, missed out on a play-off place and were relegated the following year. Stewart ended the season by scoring at Wembley to help Ipswich reach the top flight, where he went on to score over 20 goals in his first season at the highest level. Sliding doors, indeed.
But whilst – for the next five months, at least – Ipswich are still the higher placed of the two Towns, it’s arguable that the 2009 capture of Rhodes represents apt revenge for Huddersfield having lost Stewart to Suffolk all those years earlier. Rhodes’ scoring feats for the Terriers grow ever-more impressive whilst Ipswich’s attack seems to get more toothless with each expensive new acquisition.
At the time of Rhodes’s departure from Portman Road, one of the club’s justifications for the sale was the emergence of another goal-crazy teenager in the ranks, Connor Wickham. Wickham now plies his trade in the Premier League and if this January’s transfer speculation is to be believed, Rhodes could soon be joining him there. Should that happen, Ipswich’s receipt of money from a sell-on clause will be scant consolation to those fans still crying “yahmidy” over his departure: particularly given the notable absence of goals brought about by Paul Jewell’s spending of the £8m received for Wickham. With no sign of any comparable prodigies emerging from the academy, and with Jewell seemingly reluctant to give young players a chance in the first team anyway, Ipswich supporters could be looking at the past through Rhodes-tinted glasses for a good while yet.