Opinion: Ipswich ‘Til I Die

This week our columnist, Matt Francis, puts an Ipswich Town spin on the recently released second series documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die.

Ipswich ‘Til I Die

I’m not entirely sure what a behind-the-scenes Ipswich documentary would look like. Subtitles would likely accompany every word spoken by Paul Lambert, there’d probably be a revealing insight into how the injury list stays so long and you can bet your last pound there’d be no interviews with Marcus Evans. As exciting as it is to watch the curtain peeled back in front of you, some of the revelations may leave you with a sour taste in the mouth. 

Sunderland ‘Til I Die is an example of excellent documentarian work. It’s insights, behind-the-scenes revelations and individual focuses on players makes it a remarkable watch. However, some of those insights can be rather worrying. For instance, in the second season, how Charlie Methven treats his staff more like children than adults. Also, how Stewart Donald handled Sunderland’s negotiations for Will Grigg, falling into a dangerous and costly trap. I’m certain that many Sunderland fans tune in, eager to see what goes on behind closed doors but I’m sure there’s a fair portion that would rather not know. I’m not certain I could bare witness to Marcus Evans’ negotiations tactics…

“What do you mean he’s not a free-agent?”

Parallels

Sunderland and Ipswich share a common path. Both are fallen giants with a proud fan base and a rich history, both of their rivals are flying high and basking in current glory and both have struggled, in recent years, to find a settled formula that will bring a return of the glory days. Both sides languish in League One and despite Sunderland’s recent run of form, it looks like they’ll both be there next season as well. 

We share the same issues in player mentality; neither side have winners. Sunderland’s team is comprised of youngsters, half-decent cheap buys and a core group of older players that have suffered back-to-back relegations. Ipswich are a team comprised of youngsters, half-decent cheap buys and elder statesmen with tiring legs. The similarities don’t stop there, with both clubs’ recruitment strategies and financial management coming under scrutiny in recent years. Both clubs share a ‘too big for League One’ mentality, that has ultimately proven to be detrimental. In a relative sense, of course Ipswich and Sunderland are too big for League One, especially when you consider some of the clubs that occupy the Premier League *cough* Norwich *cough* Brighton *cough* Bournemouth. 

There is a certain level of responsibility that comes with representing a club like Sunderland or Ipswich. There is a loud, proud fanbase behind both clubs that can either treat you like a God, or make you feel like a fool. To both these fanbases, their football club is special; it’s like a second home, or a religion. One of the most striking parts of the Sunderland ‘Til I Die series was just how emotionally attached each and every fan was, and I think we can all relate to that. The feeling of togetherness and love towards a football club is a universal language, regardless of the colours etched on our hearts. 

The parallels also lay in the feeling of apathy felt by both sets of fans. When Charlton beat Sunderland in the final minute of the play-off final, sending them back to the Championship, one Sunderland fan simply asks: “why is it never us celebrating?” That statement pretty much surmises the last decade as a Town fan. We’ve sat back and watched our rivals soar above us, whilst we languish and sink like an unwanted stone. Apathy has played a large part in the recent histories of both clubs, but the unity and passion that lies within its fans is the glue that keeps the whole operation together. 

Resurrection

A main theme that carries throughout the Netflix series is religion. That feeling of unity, found within both religion and football, represents a universal togetherness; all believing and supporting the same cause. The series also focuses on resurrection, a fitting theme for this time of year. 

I look at it like this. If someone you love, be it a friend or a family member, passes away, you look to the stars and tell yourself that’s where they are now. We allow ourselves to believe a beautiful narrative that our loved one has been re-born and is now a star, destined to watch over us, there whenever we need them. In a less terminal way, the slow, painful decline of a football club can have a similar effect. We watched Roy Keane make the first incision, Paul Jewell give it a swift kick, McCarthy give it a little medicine before stabbing it in the back, Hurst injecting it with a little poison, Lambert smothering it with a pillow before Marcus Evans took it round the back of the shed and put it out of its misery. In fact, the slow decline of Ipswich Town, over the past ten years, has been like watching someone you love die a miserable death; because it has!

As fans, we now feel apathetic. This enforced break in football has allowed us to sit back and take stock and I think we all now realise just how bad it’s gotten. Of course, regardless of the score or performance, we will all be delighted when our team returns to action, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re all still hurting from years of neglect. The club needs resurrection. Like the loved one in the sky, we allow ourselves to believe that the good times will return, but we run the risk of forgetting what good times are in the first place. The last of the good times came five years ago, and even that was a play-off semi-final defeat to some club with no honours. 

Like faith, regardless of situation or circumstance, we continue to believe. Regardless of how many times Lambert puts out a strange team, or however many transfer windows pass us by, we will continue to believe and love our club. A sense of belonging is found within a community of people, unified in a common goal. The common goal for all supporters at Portman Road is to see us back where we belong. When we look back on these last two years, we will be reminded of a time of apathy, uncertainty and pain, but hopefully we can look back on these times from a better place, and by that I mean a place of success, unity and happiness. 

Unity

Life is cyclical. Good times arrive, bad times follow, with a few slices of mediocrity thrown in for good use. The wheel spins, the world keeps turning and we all eventually come back to where we started. That can be viewed as a frustrating truth or seen as something that can provide hope. It harkens to the times that we find ourselves in now, isolated from friends, family and loved ones. The cyclical nature of life dictates that the good times will come back. The same can be said for our football club, and life in general. We all slump and feel low, but we should always be reminded that the bad times aren’t a permanent fixture. So however negative you may feel now, about life, about isolation, or even about Ipswich Town Football Club, take comfort in the fact that the wheel keeps spinning and there’s always better times to come. 

Keep believing that good times will return and who knows… They may just do so.

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