This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Ipswich Town’s only League title, and a title won on their debut season in the top flight. Since then, Town have been ever present in the top two divisions, with just seven of these ending in the bottom half of the second tier. In some respects this has been one long over-achievement, considering the size of the club and the catchment area, but the club have always had a reputation for long term planning – and have prospered most when this long term planning has been allowed to see fruition. Jackie Milburn may have presided over the slump from the top of Division One to the bottom of Division Two, but he sowed the seeds of the youth system that Sir Bobby Robson helped take to wins in the FA Cup and UEFA Cup finals.
The feeling is that, in the quest for a return to the Premier League they last graced a decade ago, that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. Paul Jewell’s reign as manager, which ended today, has been one full of short-termism and attempts at quick fixes, rather than long term solutions. Initial concerns on this came at the end of the 2010-2011 season, where youth team players including Tom Eastman (now at Colchester) and Troy Brown (at Rotherham) were offered six month contracts on reduced terms. Future Academy graduates have been offered similar terms, with striker Caolan Lavery amongst those opting to wait for a better offer from other clubs Lavery is now at Sheffield Wednesday.
Other short-term solutions with no obvious signs of long term planning showed in the number of loan arrivals and abrupt departures. This approach was something that Jewell had acknowledged, and claimed would not be repeated. With a reputation for brining in loanees in the most important positions – the first choice keepers last season were Fulham’s David Stockdale and Reading’s Alex McCarthy – Jewell stated this season that he would not resort to many loanees this season. The ‘Exit’ door has been just as busy, with Brian Murphy, Luciano Civelli, Colin Healy, Ivar Ingimarsson, Tamas Priskin, Shane O’Connor all leaving the club early prior to the end of last summer, and since kickoff this season, Jimmy Bullard, Jaime Peters and most recently Damien Delaney have also left by ‘mutual consent’. The irony was not lost on a section of the Town support, that this was also the stated manner for Jewell’s departure.
Delaney’s departure was the most farcical of all. With almost a season left on his contract, he was allowed to leave, in order to sign for divisional rivals Crystal Palace on the same day, during the transfer window, leaving the club with just two centre halves at the time – Luke Chambers and Tommy Smith. The latter having spent the summer flying round the world representing New Zealand in the OFC Nations Cup, and the Olympics. Jewell announced this situation would last for just one game, with the next arrival to be anything but a last-minute panic signing. With that announcement made, it was almost inevitable that it would be two trialists and three weeks, before a last minute loan signing would arrive in the shape of Danny Higginbotham.
At the time of writing Ipswich have eight loanees (of which only seven can even be named on the teamsheet, as six are considered ‘Domestic’ loanees, and only five can be named on the day) at the club, bringing the total that have been at the club in Jewell’s two and a half months to fifteen – with Daryl Murphy currently in his second spell under Jewell (and a third in total, having also spent four months at Portman Road under Roy Keane). Only four current players have made more appearances than Murphy, with Carlos Edwards the only player at the club to have racked up more than 100 appearances. Nigel Reo-Coker also signed last week on a three month contract, giving him a shop window until the Premier League transfer window reopens in January. Even Richie Wellens’ loan is understood to be one where he plays games for Ipswich in order to gain fitness for his parent club, Leicester City.
Such problems have had a clear knock-on, when it comes to attendances. The average attendance at Portman Road has dipped below the 16,000 mark for the first time in fifteen years, and with ticket prices starting at £29 for ‘Grade A’ games (including recent visitors Charlton, a newly promoted side that Ipswich have no rivalry with, with both sides in the bottom three at the time), the ground has looked less enticing than usual. This isn’t a one-season phenomenon. The four full seasons under Evans’ watch have seen the club finish 9th, 15th, 13th and 15th in the Championship, with two of those finishes matching the lowest finish that the club has made since 1959, but the three last three finishes have been the worst consecutive three year period since the club last left Third Division (South) in 1957. While this may sound like moaning mainly about the team, some would rightly argue that they would happily swap their position with Ipswich.
That is until we look at things behind the scenes. At this evening’s Supporter’s Club AGM, guest speaker, and Chief Executive Simon Clegg stated that the club “need to adopt sound business principles or you run the risk of a ‘Portsmouth’”. According to the last accounts filed with Companies House, Ipswich are £66.6million in debt, and all but £2million of it to Marcus Evans, which is an increase of £31million since Evans acquired the club. Some of this has come from the continual losses that Ipswich have posted since they were acquired, to become part of Marcus Evans Investments Limited, while the rest of it comes in the form of deferred interest to Evans, through the terms of his acquisition of preferential shares, and the interest on the bond that Evans bought from Aviva, which paid for the extension of what are now the Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey stands when Ipswich last graced the Premier League just over a decade ago. The interest on the money owed to Evans was solely responsible for Ipswich posting a financial loss last year of £3.2million – without it, the club would have made a £173,000 profit.
Are these losses a form of altruism – an attempt to pay bring back the glory days to a club he once supported, or something else? In some respects, some may see parallels with Starbucks, using a UK based company to absorb money from elsewhere in the world, in order to reduce profits elsewhere in the world, and while both of these are a possibility, the truth is not known, because of the secretive nature of Marcus Evans, and his companies – Christian Aids investigation into football finance in 2010 (‘ Blowing The Whistle’) could not find where Marcus Evans Investments Limited, which owns 87.5% of the club, was located. Since Evans acquired the club in 2008, the club have yet to issue a photograph of the owner. The only public sighting of the owner, was his appearance as a player in a charity golf tournament over the summer, which was shown on Sky Sports.
Press statements have been few and far between and, while things are going well owners can leave things in the hands of Chief Executive, at a time when the club is at it’s lowest ebb in over fifty years the stakeholders of the club should demand accountability from those that run and own the club. The questions being asked now by sections of the fan base are some of the most searching of all. This includes the people behind a one-off fanzine ‘Turnstile Blues’, who have looked to highlight the plight of the club. Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with attention being turned from Jewell’s mismanagement of the team, to Clegg and Evans’ mismanagement of the club. Whether the change of manager will be enough to satisfy those unhappy at the way that the club is being managed in a broader sense, however, remains unanswerable at present.
Turnstile Blues is a one-off not for profit print & online fanzine produced by a group of Ipswich Town fans, including the author of this piece, Rob Freeman, looking to highlight the current goings on at Portman Road. To download (and donate to Depression Alliance) go to www.turnstile-blues.co.uk – to buy one of the last remaining copies, follow Turnstile Blues on Twitter here.
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