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Were We Ever a Crisis Club and Did We Really Need a Saviour In The Form Of Marcus Evans?
Written by SanityBlue on Wednesday, 16th Dec 2009 06:26

My last blog about the brave new world under Marcus Evans provoked quite a response which was the purpose of the exercise. I don’t have a crystal ball and I cannot say with certainty what would have happened if different decisions had been taken or what will happen from now on.

My intention was to challenge the lazy assumption that because we have a millionaire owner we’re assured of financial stability and promotion to the Premier League. I wanted to bring some balance and rationality to the debate. There were many points of criticism, some more valid than others, which I’ll deal with now.

It's all very well to be critical now that Ipswich is struggling. Why didn't you express your concerns at the time the takeover was announced?

I made my opposition known in fans forums. I also sent detailed information to the Supporters Trust urging it to campaign against the takeover. However, there was so much euphoria at the time that my views were ignored.

What have you got against Marcus Evans and so what if a businessman has total control of the club? Wasn't it the same under the Cobbolds who were Tory businessmen?

Marcus Evans might be a really good bloke for all I know. He might even have developed a real affection for Ipswich Town. However, he had no prior connection with our club and only became involved because he thought he could profit from it. I don’t care if the Cobbolds were Tories, Liberals, Labourites or moles for the old Soviet Union. I only care about the way my club is being run.

The Cobbolds had a long association with Ipswich Town and it was clear they cared deeply about the club. During their time, our club was admired throughout England for the way it was run. The Cobbolds didn’t see themselves as owners; they saw themselves as custodians. Furthermore, during their time, most of the members of the board were prominent local people who didn’t owe the Cobbolds a thing. The club was run by a truly independent board. We now have a one man band.

Football is big business and rich businessmen are the best people to run clubs. Do you think they should be run by the local butcher, baker of candlestick maker? Could you even be a communist?

I never advocated running Ipswich Town as a small-time outfit nor did I suggest that it should be run as some kind of socialist collective. Ipswich Town should be run by a skilled chief executive supported by competent people in the areas of finance, administration, commercial development, marketing, stadium management etc who report to a board or management committee which is elected by the fans.

There are numerous professional sporting clubs all over the world run in this way, including most of the football clubs in Spain and Germany. Essentially, that is how Ipswich Town was run for a brief period before the sell-out to Marcus Evans.

Marcus Evans owns Ipswich Town, it is his money that is at risk so why shouldn't he do whatever he likes?

Marcus Evans does not own 100% of the club. He paid £3.9 million to acquire 87.5% of the shares in the entity that actually owns the club – Ipswich Town Football Club Company Ltd. It is the only equity he has put into the club. Everything else represents debt.

The shares he acquired were on the cheap. When the club was floated in 2004 the existing directors and about 3,500 fans paid a total of £2.5 million for their shares but their stake in the club was subsequently diluted from 100% to 12.5%.

Under company law, Marcus Evans cannot run the club as though it was just another one of his group companies. He has to be mindful of the interests of minority shareholders. The financial affairs of the club cannot be conducted recklessly. He and his companies must deal with the club on proper commercial terms. The name of Marcus Evans seems to be emblazoned on everything, whether it moves or not. He has to pay arm’s length fees for the advertising.

The minority shareholders have only one representative on the board therefore they are powerless to influence the direction of the club. Let’s hope however they are closely scrutinising what is going on.

Didn't Marcus Evans save the club from a crisis on and off the field?

In the four seasons up to 2006/07 being the period between the club coming out of administration and before the takeover, we finished fifth, third, 15th and 14th. In the year ended 30 June 2006 the club made a loss of £2.7 million and in the following year it made a profit of £200,000. We would have liked the club to have done better, but it was hardly a crisis.

If being 14th or 15th in the league and having a profit and loss result at or near break even constitutes a crisis, what do you call the current situation where we are just above the relegation zone having recorded an operating loss in the year ended 30 June 2009 of £12.2 million and a loss of £5.8 million the year before?

We should also remember that Ipswich Town was a much more transparent club before the takeover and it cost much less to watch football at Portman Road than it does now.

Given the crushing debt level how could the club have survived if a major investor hadn't been found?

In 2007 the club owed approximately £4 million to Barclays Bank and about £28 million to Norwich Union. It was struggling to meet the interest payments not because it wasn’t generating sufficient cash flows, but because it made a strategic decision to allocate more funds towards strengthening the team in the hope of winning promotion.

For three years starting from 2003 Norwich Union agreed to capitalise part of the interest. The strategy almost paid off with Town finishing fifth in 2004 and third in 2005. For the period 1 January 2006 to 31 August 2007 Norwich Union agreed to accept a shareholding stake of 9.98% in the club in return for the interest that would have been payable. The board did well to negotiate such a deal but again the strategy did not succeed.

There is a great deal of speculation as to how much Marcus Evans paid to settle the loans. Barclays had a long-term loan agreement with Ipswich Town secured by an assignment over future medium income streams and had never shown any inclination to compromise on the debt. It is unlikely Barclays would have taken a haircut.

It had been clear for some time Norwich Union was prepared to walk away for an amount significantly less than it was owed. There are reports Marcus Evans paid as little as £6 million. I doubt it was as low as that because Norwich Union held a fixed and floating charge over the assets of the club and a securitisation agreement for the repayment of the loan from future season ticket and matchday sales and had been able over the years to collect most of the interest payable to it. A settlement at just £6 million would not have reflected the strength of its bargaining position.

It would be more realistic to assume Marcus Evans paid something like £14 million, ie he received a 50% discount to settle the debt. To its credit, the board negotiated an agreement that he could not sell the debt except as part of the sale of the club and the amount received could not exceed the amount he paid for it.

The question I have is this: if Marcus Evans was able to negotiate such a deal with Norwich Union why couldn’t the board under David Sheepshanks have done the same? It would have had to find another lender of course but let’s not forget this was during the days of easy credit. It’s hard to believe that in the world of finance there was not one lender prepared to take a risk on Ipswich Town, particularly when it would be a secured loan for an amount much less than the debt that was being replaced. With a much reduced interest burden, the club would have had the capacity to meets its loan obligations and strengthen the team.

Why are you being so alarmist about Marcus Evans possibly demanding that the club pay interest on the debt owed to him? Surely he has nothing to gain by running the club into the ground?

I gave what is the worst case scenario but only to balance it against the other extreme scenario assumed by most fans that Marcus Evans will indefinitely underwrite the club’s losses for no return.

Good businessmen don’t fund losses on an open-ended basis and from what I can see Marcus Evans is a good businessman, if the deal he managed to negotiate for himself in the takeover of Ipswich Town is any indication. Good businessmen impose a strict deadline on getting a return from their investment and if it doesn’t pay off they salvage what they can and move on.

None of us has any idea how it will play out. How could we? There is absolute secrecy as to what the strategy is.

There is big money in the Premiership and Ipswich Town will get there eventually. Won't Marcus Evans be able to recoup his investment from the huge revenue flows?

When discussing how much promotion to the Premiership is worth, figures like £30 million and £40 million are bandied about. I don’t know what the true figure is. I haven’t researched it. What I do know is that every club will get this money, not just Ipswich Town. The bigger clubs of course will get even more because their matches are televised more often.

Clubs that provide their owners with a financial return will be at a competitive disadvantage because it is money that could have been invested in the playing squad (unless you’re Manchester United and can afford to pay the Glazers a big fat dividend and still have enough left over to outspend the opposition).

Fans need to understand just how large the club’s debt is and what implications it will have for the future. As it currently stands, the debt to Marcus Evans is approximately £48 million. But because of trading losses caused by a high wage structure and compounding interest, the debt is ballooning.

The club will not be promoted to the Premiership this season unless there is a miracle. Even if the highly optimistic assumption is made that promotion will be achieved the following season, based on the current rate of losses, the debt by then will be in excess of £60 million. Yes, the revenue will be there for Marcus Evans to recoup at least some of his investment. But what implications will it have for Ipswich Town’s ability to stay competitive in the Premiership?

Why be so concerned about the debt level? Won't the slate be wiped clean if Ipswich get into the Premier League and Marcus Evans sells to another investor?

Marcus Evans can sell his shares to whoever he likes provided the buyer satisfies the pathetically weak fit and proper persons test imposed by the football authorities. We could end up with an owner like Ken Bates who has done the rounds of various league clubs, a corrupt former politician, a porno king, a shady businessman from a developing country, a local businessman with eccentricities a la Mike Ashley at Newcastle United. Let’s hope that when it’s time to pass the parcel, we end up with an owner that will not make us a laughing stock.

If, for argument’s sake, the debt is £60 million, the amount recoverable by Marcus Evans will be around £46 million because of the agreement that he can only sell the debt for what he paid for it. He has also put into the club £3.9 million by way of equity. Therefore, he will need to find a buyer who is prepared to pay him around £50 million just to break even. And remember, this figure is based on the optimistic scenario the club is promoted in 2011.

Will there be buyers out there for Ipswich Town at such a price? I have my doubts. But even if you assume there will be someone who will be prepared to play the pass the parcel game for that sort of money, it will not really change anything because the new investor will also require some kind of return for the outlay.

I fear that even as a Premiership club we will find ourselves plagued by under-investment in the playing squad because of the highly leveraged structure of the club’s finances. I hope I’m proved wrong, but even if we do make it to the Premiership I cannot see Ipswich Town as a financially stable club that will be able to stay there for long.

What was the alternative to the takeover?

I believe Ipswich Town would have been better off renegotiating the debt with Norwich Union itself and retaining its character as a grassroots club. The current corporate ethos with its spending orgies and slugging of fans with well above-average Championship prices is no solution for the long term wellbeing of our club.

Everyone in the world of football once knew what Ipswich Town stood for. Is there anyone today who believes the brand name has not suffered since the takeover?

The old model of boardroom stability, respect for the fanbase, the sensible appointment of managers who were then given time to build a team, a strong youth development policy and prudent activity in the transfer market, served our club well.

There were lean years under such a model as we all know, but we had a strong club culture and never looked seriously in danger of being anything less than an established Championship club. But a few lean years constituted a crisis to most fans whose vision does not extend beyond the short term.





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FriskinPriskin1 added 11:32 - Dec 16
Just a hunch, but are you an accountant?
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xrayspecs added 12:04 - Dec 16
Nice article - while ultimately a lot remains speculation, the scenarios you portray and possible albeit uncertain.
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BlueBob added 12:08 - Dec 16
The simple fact is that Marcus Evans does for all intents and purposes own the club. He doesn't appear to be going anywhere, and does seem to have a plan for the club on and off field and while this sort of blog does allow you to say "told you so" should anything you say happen it serves no other purpose. I'm sure we'd all like the club owned by a large group of well off fanatical fans, rather than a genuinely faceless owner but we have little or no say so in the matter. Why not just get behind the team and see where things go under the current set up?
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Marshalls_Mullet added 12:08 - Dec 16
The Cobbolds is a bygone era and they cannot be faulted, but those times are gone, get over it!!

Also, was it under the Cobbolds that the 'family silver' was sold to pay for the Pioneer Stand in c.1986??

Sir Bobby was a legend and will always be loved, but we have to realise that comparisns can no longer be drawn between the Cobbold/Robson era and football today. It remains in the glorious past.

We are unbeaten in 10 games and looking more solid defensively than we have for 8 years, so can we try to be optimistic rather than re-opening old wounds?!¬?!?!?!
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MarcFowler added 12:13 - Dec 16
Good post.

However, yes, we were nothing less than an established Championship club. I don't think that's enough. Stagnating in the Championship isn't what I want from us - I want us to be back in the top flight. And to do that, we clearly needed to take a bit of a risk.
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Bergholtblue added 12:24 - Dec 16
A lot of good points here. The trouble is that the whole football industry is caught up in this financial mess. Just look at West Ham, Portsmouth both in severe financial trouble. Watford are almost bust and Palace can't pay their players.

Notts County had a rich benefactor now they are in trouble before a season is up.

Liverpool and Man Utd are massively in debt, but manage to keep restructuring it to keep going.

It needs sorting at the highest level, i.e. FIFA, but whilst there is talk, there is no action. It will take a big club like say West Ham to go out of business completely to bring the whole house down and maybe some sense will then prevail.
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xrayspecs added 12:43 - Dec 16
Bergholt
The constant restructuring of debt is not a problem that afflicts only football clubs - the US and UK governments are printing money like never before just to keep our weak economies economy afloat. Short termism rules.
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BOjK added 12:48 - Dec 16
Your points about the club being able to compete in the Championship without significant additional income (in this case from Evans) is far from convincing. Most of our competitors have either got parachute money, or an investor like we have. Without one we would be in serious trouble.

If your rationale is right that we didn't need Evans, then he could just turn the tap of money off (after he'd funded the salaries of our high-earners for the duration of the contact) and we'd be able to compete effectively. We just wouldn't, which is precisely why Evans *is* funding the club.


At the end you summarise the clubs ethos as:

"boardroom stability, respect for the fanbase, the sensible appointment of managers who were then given time to build a team, a strong youth development policy and prudent activity in the transfer market, served our club well."

In virtually all respects we have this. The boardroom is stable. I feel respected (and my son who pays £10 for his season ticket feels very respected), we have a side which has featured Trotter, Wickham and Smith extensively this season, as well as Garvan more recently. I know we sold Rhodes, but I'm going to need much more evidence than that for me to believe we are moving away from investing in our youth team (scrapping the academy would convince me).

I don't know what you mean by "prudent" activity in the transfer market. Do you mean we don't spend much money in the transfer market (why would this be a good thing in itself) or that we are now spending it badly (which, if true, would be a criticism of the manager, not the owner).
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BOjK added 12:51 - Dec 16
... and I forgot to add that the board has backed Magilton in the face of spirited resistance from some sections of the fanbase (bed-sheets anyone?) and the local media and is now similarly (and correctly) standing beside Keane.

I see no evidence that the ethos of the club has changed at all, other than the playing and transfer budgets have been increased.
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JayITFC added 13:00 - Dec 16
Remember the owner picked the manager BOjk.
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BOjK added 13:06 - Dec 16
Yes, but its clearly the manager's responsibility to spend the money wisely. If the two players who cost money - Priskin and Martin - who have so far disappointed don't come good, then its the manager who is to blame. This is nothing to do with the club ownership or the ITFC "brand" or any of the points that were made in the blog.

That is part of "is Keane the right man to be managing our club" debate which plenty of people have commented on elsewhere.
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Tractorog added 13:12 - Dec 16
I'm not sure what your point is?
That Marcus Evans got a potentially good deal? Yes.
That he might not be Santa Claus he may be a bad man?... Possibly.
That we should have done something different... maybe, but a bit late now.
That Marcus Evans is running the club full of debt and we will not be able to survive in the Premiership....? Well it is possible, but at this point in time speculative.
Has Marcus Evans run the club badly since he took over... not in my opinion. The man he has appointed as manager may or may not be the man to get us out of this division (which way might be a more appropriate question), but he is not obviously the wrong choice.
Yes ticket prices have gone up... but gates have not fallen yet ... so being dispassionate are we in the position that say Preston or Crystal Palace or countless other clubs are in. No.
Is the club run well.... yes.
Are we living in a world where what ifs and maybes are important? No.
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HighSeasBlue added 13:59 - Dec 16
Good points made, enjoyed the article. I think Town have lost some of the old family connections but times move on. This is how Football works these days and we have to accept it. As soon as Town ever get to the Premier League then Evans will sell us. We have to hope it is to the right person!!
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davray9 added 14:07 - Dec 16
A very informative article, you have taken a great deal of time and effort on this. The financial waters of our club, and many others seem very murky. I would suspect that Norwich Union's position was one of risk management. The affluent Marcus Evans offering a settlement to our effective repossession, the owner/s losing their "home" after desperately appealing for another chance to negotiate payment. The choice seems to have been Norwich Unions, and as a financial company i see their point. Our tangible assets and aspirations of promotion periodicaly waned, finaly reaching breaking point. Better to take half the money (if what you say is an accurate figure of £14 million)From a financially sound source, than keep trusting a bad debtor who's promises are no guarantee. Sadly that is business.
We do have a short term saviour...and the possibility that success is close at hand..or unfortunately, success, like the cure for agoraphobia , is just around the corner....
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Guthrum added 14:33 - Dec 16
"However, he had no prior connection with our club and only became involved because he thought he could profit from it."

Are you sure about this? I remember it being stated, at the time of the takeover, that Evans was already a supporter of the club. How do you know he had no connection prior to the purchase?

Also, I don't believe that anyone sensible puts money into a UK football club (outside, maybe, the top 4) as an investment, with a view to making a profit. Like racehorses (of which Evans also owns several) football teams are a rich person's playthings. It's the same as gambling: you win some, you lose some, but if you're careful you just about break even. I can't think of anybody, on the ownership side, who's MADE a fortune from football. There are lots who've LOST money.

I'd rather have a level-headed, publicity-shy businessman like Evans running our club than your porn kings, failed politicians etc.

And to be honest, if NU/Aviva still had our debt last year, they'd have been far more likely to pull the plug on us than Evans, who's already banked his fortune and isn't beholden to shareholders or government regulators.
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PutYaBootsOnKeano added 14:40 - Dec 16
Harsh on ME. Don't agree with your gut feelings about the business man ethos. He hardly seems like Mr Watford. He hardly threw toys out of a pram when RK had us bottom. I think we're very fortunate. We'll see; but I think this is a good thing and remains a good thing.

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Marshalls_Mullet added 14:54 - Dec 16
Also, when we 'broke even' I believe we were on a 'repayment holiday' in terms of the loans, this would not last for ever.

WAKE UP!!
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DrJeckyll added 15:42 - Dec 16
Cant say i understand everything you say, also not sure what you hope to achieve with this blog?
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matt_the_blue added 15:53 - Dec 16
Not sure if I can see why this has made the front page, unless to stimulate debate amongst the fans?
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scunnyblue added 16:16 - Dec 16
For me it's not just about Marcus evens the person . What we really need to consider is what the Marcus evens group can offer ipswich town football club in term of not only cash but other investment oppitunities and experience which maybe would not be brought to the table had the Marcus Evans Group not bought out ipswich town football club . I don't think for a minute .. no disrespect to anyone on this site is probably seeing the big picture . The Marcus Evens group clearly has a plan for this club and judging by the investment so far it is not one of assest stripping and out for a quick buck . I do wonder however if we were currently 5th in the table and not 5th bottom weather these same kind of blogs would be posted. I am just pleased to see that marcus evens group have put there money & knowledge where there heart is .
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nodge_blue added 16:42 - Dec 16
I'm getting a bit blogged out. In the words of Roy Keane. Boring. Move on.

We debated all this 3 years ago. I was at the EGM etc. Different opinions were expressed. Majority felt, and still do, that the sale of the club was the right thing.

Marcus Evans has met all his obligations and more. What is for certain is that he will never make a return unless we are promoted.

Whats the point of going over old ground, which is based on what ifs and maybes and could bes.

I voted for it then and I'd do it again.

Now lets focus on getting promoted. Focused of course until the next blogger wishes to blog about Roy Keane being useless etc. And you then do another blog once again questioning the sale of the club.
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julesbda added 17:36 - Dec 16
i haven't read such a one -sided article in years ....good fun read....60 years ago and you could have been working for the german machine !!!!
but today is nearly 2010 and the world is a different place ....all clubs are in debt mate ..and to dream of us being owned by the supporters is purely a " dream " and not practical ....just remember the great team of the late 70's cost less to assemble than the wages for one year of one of strikers today ....that's how much things have changed ..and as for the debt today ,..it isn't tough to service that ...WHILE Interest rates are low ....
However i love the fact you think he is simply going to sell the club and profit .....and WHO DO YOU THINK HE'S GOING TO SELL IT TOO ??????????..do you think people are honestly lining up to buy a football team ? who's the last person to make money from a football team ? and to be fair ....if he does sell it at a profit one day ....good for him ...as it means he took an almost bankrupt team and turned it into something pretty decent for him to make a profit !!
That's the problem with England these days ...it's a dirty word to make money on anything ..why are people so jealous !!
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warwickblue added 17:49 - Dec 16
Fantastic article! Only somebody who has this level of interest in financial analysis could write a paragraph containing the word 'securitisation'.
WTF ?
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alfromcol added 19:40 - Dec 16
Read what the Marcus Evans Group,who really own ITFC, say about the purchase on its website at http://www.marcusevans.com/html/itfc.asp
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blueblood66 added 19:47 - Dec 16
he owns the club, we have Keane..now get over it and start getting behind them, they didnt come here to oversee relegation or even stagnation.
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