Opinion: What is a club…

Our columnist, Matt Francis, takes a look back on the last seven days for Ipswich Town.

A New Low

“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride.” 

Finding words to accurately define the current situation at Portman Road is proving increasingly difficult. Last week, following the loss to Oxford, I truly believed we had fallen as far as we possibly could. I now find myself, seven days from my last column, trying to fathom the extent of the apathy felt. Back-to-back defeats have all but ended Town’s fleeting promotion hopes and now, with the mood lower than ever before, it seems we have all lost our sense of belonging. 

Originally, I had planned this column very differently. I was going to break down each game, assess the flaws in the squad and preview the Coventry match. However, following Town’s abject loss to Fleetwood, that now seems futile.

Ipswich Town Football Club means a lot to many people. Hard working men and women pay for the right to watch and support the club, a decision that I’m sure has become more difficult to make given the 10-year decline and inflation of ticket prices. Paul Lambert, following Tuesday’s defeat, said the players and staff were “hurting.” Personally, I struggle to believe that Paul Lambert has the slightest idea how hurt the supporters are. This club has a rich, proud history, one that has been allowed to die under Marcus Evans’ tyrannical ownership. A ten-year decline, combined with the most sapping 18 months I can remember as a Town fan, has led to more pain than Paul Lambert, his players and his staff, can even begin to understand. 

Apathy, embarrassment and sadness should not be words associated with something you love. However, they are the most apt to define the current mood at Portman Road. What Paul Lambert, Marcus Evans, the coaching staff and the players fail to understand is just how much this club means to people. Whether you’re someone like my dad, who watched the club lift both the UEFA and FA Cup, or someone like me, who’s highlight as a Town fan was a goal scored by Tamas Priskin; that connection cannot be justified, or even explained. You savour the moments of joy and wish away the sorrow. However, in recent times, there’s only been sorrow. As depressing as it is, Town have failed to capture the hearts of their fans for over ten years and this season hurts more than ever. Why? Because we believed things were changing. Lambert brought the fans together; the players captured our hearts and Portman Road felt like home again. Now, with the season effectively a write-off in March, we can’t help but feel dejected and betrayed. 

No Normal 

There is a single, immovable staple at this football club, the fans. When we went down with a whimper, we stood and applauded them, when we came so close but fell just shy, we serenaded them, when they let us down, but we hoped for more, we lifted them. Paul Lambert once described the support from the terraces as “nae normal” and that couldn’t be truer. These players, the manager and *that* owner do not deserve the fans that keep this club alive. Marcus Evans and the rest of his merry men have taken advantage of the unwavering support from the Portman Road faithful. But patience has worn thin. Passive happy clapping is a thing of the past, and many Town fans are uniting in their differences to target the disease at the core of the club… The owner. 

I could quite happily sit and use every negative adjective to describe the incompetence of Marcus Evans, but instead I feel it’s important to point out that without the fans, who inexplicably travel hundreds of miles to watch Will Keane fail to win a header, there would be no Ipswich Town. Inevitably, attendances will fall, and the passion will fade. Paul Lambert has tried and failed to galvanise the spirit of positivity at Portman Road. We gave him, and his players, every ounce of our passion, but we received nothing in return. 

Until someone with passion, fire and a willingness to give this great club an identity again comes in, we won’t see 20,000 gates for a long, long time. What this club needs is a leader, someone that bleeds blue and understand what it means to be a part of Ipswich Town. Unfortunately, Marcus Evans, Paul Lambert and most of the players, simply don’t understand that privilege. 

A New Hope

Amidst this ‘banter era’, it’s important to find a light at the end of the tunnel. That light, however dim it may be, is shone by the young players that turn out for the football club. 

Flynn Downes, Luke Woolfenden, Andre Dozzell, Armando Dobra, Tyreece Simpson and Brett McGavin all represent a much needed tide of change. Their hunger and desire is clear to see, and they all treat the shirt as if it’s a privilege to wear, which is more than can be said for the rest of the squad. The negative comes from Lambert; a man with little, to no, idea of how to support youth development. McGavin, Simpson and Dobra have all been thrown into the side in the most important games, like lambs to the slaughter. This mistreatment and mismanagement of the club’s youngsters could prove damaging in the long run. Young players need to feel important, they need to feel as if they’re earning the right, they certainly don’t need to be thrown in willy-nilly when Lambert has run out of ideas. 

I am hopeful for the club’s future, at least we have saleable assets that will help secure the financial status of the club. We also have an opportunity to re-invest; an opportunity for Marcus Evans to prove he’s learnt from his mistakes, an opportunity for him to finally treats fans like fans, and not just paying customers. 

There are certain guarantees that partner such a hideous campaign. Lambert’s inability to guide this side into the play-offs will see him lose his job and that will likely lead to a firm push of the reset button. It’s time to scrub away the mould that rots this club to its very core. We need to strip away the dead wood, find a new manager who will give us a tactical identity, bring in new faces, strip Chambers of the captaincy and, in an ideal world, kick the owner to the curb. I feel as though the club has been ‘rebuilding’ for years but now, with everyone reaching new lows, it’s more important than ever to act quickly to amend the fragilities at the club. Otherwise, the fans will walk away, and the club will lose its soul again. 

The Future

No one truly knows what the future holds. However, if the club remains under the same regime, it will only continue to decline. The fans have lost patience and voices are starting to be heard. The season ticket renewals for next campaign will be nothing short of embarrassing, if the same donkeys remain at the top of the club. The wretched, abhorrent negative mindset won’t change overnight, it will take a change of personnel from top to bottom. For the club to flourish, Lambert, Evans and the core group of players need to remove themselves. The club have gone nowhere with them, and it’s time for serious change.

Honestly, I’m not sure where this club goes next. Myself, and many other Town fans, are feeling pain unlike any other. The irrational, unconditional love for this cruel mistress continues to break our hearts. Bill Shankly once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” That’s why we care, that’s why we hurt and that’s why we yearn for more from our club. We all love Ipswich Town and we all want more from it. This sleeping giant needs to wake up and rise back to where it belongs. In time, with the right changes made, I truly believe it can.

Surely, it can only get better from here…

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