|[Blog] Will There Be Another Mr John? |
Written by TimS on Tuesday, 1st Dec 2009 11:55
Blogger TimS on Mel Henderson's new book Mr John
Mel Henderson (2009) Mr John: John Cobbold: The Most Eccentric Man in Football Ever: Know the Score Books
When any team fails to comprehensively demolish a away-win-shy Sheffield Wednesday on a blustery and wet Saturday teatime in November, it is not that hard to avoid the club history books and looking back into the great moments of years gone by. However, in the case of Town, it is frustrating that the ‘good times’ either happened before I was born or when I was caring more about Pigeon Street than Portman Road, and I can never change that state of affairs.
I had always known about the Robson Years. When you have Ipswich Town heritage in your family, it is a rite of passage to watch the 1978 FA Cup Final, but at this present time, I often wonder whether I missed the boat in terms of success. At the same age as me, my father and my uncle were enjoying another European campaign. They will breezily talk about parking in the Hawthorn Drive moonlight, and trooping down to Portman Road to catch Town against Real Madrid, as if it was just a diversion from Wednesday night TV of This is Your Life and Coronation Street.
However, you can not rewrite history, and no one can take away the fact that Town dominated European football throughout the seventies and early eighties to the shock of the football nation and the media. Furthermore, Town seemed to conduct their business in a dramatic contrast to the corporate garbage sweepers of today’s Chelsea and Manchester United. Reading about ‘Mr John’ Cobbold, gives me a certain pride about this club even if I was only three when he sadly passed away in September 1983.
There have been a growing number of books that have been written, or are in the process of being written, on this era and these books will have a readership from fans who want to remember the great days of season past. There is also an increasing number of young fans that want to seek some glory from the past, and want a little bit more than the result from the next game. Many of these supporters will have no recollection or any direct link with that particular period of the club, and they will read about a chairman and director of the club with an electric personality and sparkling charisma. It is difficult to think of anyone if the modern game who could be acquainted to the man who was commonly known as Mr John.
Much of the book consists of transcripts of John Cobbold from the early eighties, so the story is especially raw unlike many of the accounts being developed in 2009. The football world was a very different animal in 1983, and some of us forget about that when we are sit in our spacious blue bucket chairs with a clear view of the pitch without the hint of trouble. Cobbold stressed in 1983 about the importance that “all clubs have an opportunity to get into the top division.” The same argument has been filling the newspapers pages as well as the pub air throughout the last 26 years.
Cobbold also argued: “It would be a tragedy if English soccer was dominated by half a dozen clubs, the big ones who attract the biggest gates.” Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, four clubs have dominated the Premiership for most of the last 20 years.
Cobbold also wondered about the “massive problems ahead for the smaller clubs”, and some of the financial problems have been extremely close to home over the last decade or so.
But the younger fans will be reading a book that is not another account of an elder football generation telling us that ‘I told you so’ as football takes an ever more precarious footpath through hype, hysteria and fantasy economics. I was reading about a gentleman that knew how to entertain in style, and knew how to chair and direct in a way that kept arguably Town’s greatest ever manager at Portman Road for much longer than what was probably realistically possible.
It is difficult to wonder whether there is someone in the modern game that is similar in personality and stature. I sense that the Cobbold family were more prominent at Portman Road, and in a way that gained the respect of fans and club personnel. Mr John seemed to let his managers manage, and did not seem especially obsessed with an extensive rent-a-quote media profile in comparison with some chairman of today. However, he also recognised the importance of communicating with fans.
Mr John also knew how to entertain and throw a prank. The idea that one journalist was banned by editor from attending games at Portman Road, because he became too drunk to complete his match reports on time is a nice story.
The comments of Mr John on his deathbed during his final hours of his life were humorous, blunt, but perfectly timed like a world-class raconteur. There are many more tales that give us an idea of life at Portman Road throughout a momentous period for the club that stretches over nearly 30 years. The compliments to Mr John are particularly heartfelt too from a whole range of key people from Town’s history.
There is always a feeling in this book that another Cobbold era will never return to Portman Road or English football, but that family dynasty dominated the club for such a long period of time that their influence needs to be remembered and celebrated. As time passes, there will be new challenges facing Town on the pitch and in the boardroom. That is the nature of football. However, the story of Mr John is a tale that will be of interest to fans whether they are young or old.
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