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The Identity Crisis of Modern Football
Written by wkj on Friday, 6th Jan 2017 16:10

Like so many others my age, my Grandad bought me up on Ipswich Town. A great club with family ties, involvement and commitment to the larger Suffolk community, and a privilege to support. In those days it seems a lot of clubs had similar connections to their fans.

Over the years the corporate monster has engulfed football, or rather the world in general. Banks, politicians, businesses, football chairmen, are linked more and more with the buzz word the is corruption and the general public who have to bear the burden on their shoulders seem to cling on to a utopian idea of returning to our values of the past.

Over the years football has evolved, or as many including myself might say devolved, into a kind of difficult ex-partner who we can’t seem to get out of our minds. They are just not the same person they used to be. We know we would be better off apart, but we can’t seem to stay away, we accept all the things we hated about our time together and we look upon our union with rose tinted glasses in the hope we can reach greatness together once more. If only things were how what they used to be.

At this point, If you are still reading this blog, you are probably curious as to what my ramblings have to do with the subject line, and I agree entirely. What is my identity in this blog? Well the issue is more broad, What is my identity with Ipswich Town, and what is Town’s identity in modern football?

The Soulless Identity

The corporate game of football is rife with clubs being taken over by foreign investors with sketchy reputations, or in our case, domestic investors with a degree of controversy attached. TV deals, reckless negotiators and greedy agents have all allowed this to happen, and it is fair to say it isn't going to change any time soon.

A high degree of success has come the way of such clubs; Man City who used to be at our level have become a top-four team, RB Leipzig are going through a similar transition, with other clubs similarly joining this culture.

However, there are clubs who follow the rules, become models of FFP champions, such as ourselves, who seem to have our tyres stuck in the mud as a result. Let‘s face it, nobody's ever going to give us £86 million for playing by the rules.

What if the brass of Ipswich Town decided to 'take a punt' and abandon the rules, in a similar way to other clubs? I have now become curious of whether or not I really would love a huge oil tycoon with limitless supplies of cash to take our club to the levels we all want it to be.

Would I accept a new owner who wants to change our colours to red, our mascot to a dragon and change the name of Portman Road to 'Some Ridiculous Advertisement Arena' if that meant we could become a massive success with global appeal and a trophy cabinet the size of what our heart used to be. I mean this would certainly allow us to be a club proud of our present just as much as we are our past… or would it?

The Identity of Integrity

Or do I take the stance of wanting to wait it out and see if football returns to what it used to be in the glory days, while in the meantime the most competitive Ipswich action being the dissent amongst fans.

The seemingly never ending war of words between inners and outers, people unsure of who is to blame for no signings being made. Unhappy the manager never changes his team, but furious when he does and it fails. The once family-focused club is now a hotbed of fans fighting about who or what is to blame, when we can almost unanimously agree the situation of the club isn't healthy.

In light of this we can maintain our integrity and hold onto the beloved philosophy of Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey. We can join the ranks of trendsetters in the game of football, and hope we can eventually be in a strong position when the English football crash happens.

This crash could be a real likelihood with China joining the game with clear intent to become the new dominant force in football. All the Hollywood players leave the English game, while once giant clubs with massive investors are abandoned for the sexier more lucrative Chinese league, leaving them in tatters - a real possibility in my opinion.

The Identity of Submission

Then I become curious of whether or not we are a team in decline, and should we accept this, in a bid to rebuild. Do we hit rock bottom, but slowly but surely find our feet and rebuild as is the case now with teams such as Sheffield United and Portsmouth? Would this work for us, or would be continue to decline much is the case with teams like Stockport and Tranmere? There is appeal here to submit to the lower leagues and rebuild, I must admit, however the reality is this could well destroy our finances, worse than they already are.

These are three of the most prominent mindsets I find myself flitting between more and more. As I try to figure out what kind of identity we are at Ipswich Town, and what identity we should have. Are Ipswich Town's problems entirely a product of our own doing, or are we trying to swim upstream out of principle to reach pristine lake, where we know things will be good in the end?

Or do the join the teams who are finding massive short-term success going with the current, yet at the same time having no idea if their final destination is one of toil and strife. The analogy being, are these quick fix teams heading for disaster as the European structure is about to face massive competition from Asia?

Being a football fan is never easy and life supporting Grandad’s beloved Blues is no exception. I don’t like a lot of the bickering, or vitriol on news items, as it tarnishes our identity, but I can’t blame people for doing it either as these are highly frustrating times. Is it time to accept a new identity for Town, or do we stay faithful to our roots? We have most certainly become embroiled in The Identity Crisis of Modern Football

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SanDiego added 18:08 - Jan 6
Great blog wkj.

The football world has definitely changed a lot and many fans across the country are finding it difficult to stay in touch with the club they fell in love with. Social media is having a huge effect on supporters too. People can voice their opinions from a safe distance but it can have a big influence on others reading it.

I don't think it will be ever be the same as it was but that doesn't mean we should stop hoping for the best. If a club can get things right then improvement will come.

The current Chinese push for dominance is killing football. Transfer fees are sky-rocketing and it is reminding me of the buy and flip phenomenon that is pushing house prices through the roof here in the US. It almost feels like the amount being spent in the Championship is getting close to what the yearly outlay of the Premier League was just a few years ago. I did read that the Chinese government were planning on enforcing some kind of caps so hopefully things will settle down soon.

wkj added 18:21 - Jan 6
Thanks for the reply San Diego. I am of perhaps a more obscure mindset that the Chinese surge for dominance could domestically help us. If the Asian market becomes dominant, there will possibly be less commercial interest in foreign football. Mega stars migrating to the Asian leagues, and being stars rather than bit part players (Such as Oscar)

With the UK leaving the EU and possible overhauls in Work Permits and the sort, I think if China will pull the rug out from British, and then European football, the teams who have invested heavily in their superstar squads will be on the back foot to get good domestic talent in, focussing heavily on grass roots. If this were to happen teams like ourselves could well be on the front foot as we have stability and structure, when the mega teams begin to scramble.

The football league structure doesn't help at all, and Phil messaged me upon publishing this blog highlighting Milne is quite vocal about the league needing reform.

I have gone of on a mighty ramble; thank you again sir

Toronto_Tractor added 07:45 - Jan 7
Great blog. I too believe that its a matter of when rather than if China take over one day. It would be fascinating to see what would happen if the current premier league model collapsed, chaos ensued but then.. when the dust settles.. maybe we can creep back towards the good old days. Ive really been falling out of love with the game the last few years. Its not just the town, the premier league, the money, the nonsense in the media. Part of me is praying for the apocalypse, so we can all start again.

DurhamTownFan added 07:57 - Jan 7
I enjoyed reading this a lot. My dad he been saying the same for years and doesn't even go to watch town anymore because it is so different from his heyday in the 70s and 80s. Even I notice the difference in corporate speak since I started going in 1994.

I'd like to ask what you think our identity actually is now? We all think that we're the Ipswich who are the small town plucky club who play football the right way and punch above our weight, just as we did c. 75-81 and 96-2001. But that's manifestly not the case under the current owners and manager. I'd compare us to Forest, who have a decent reputation in the game but nobody takes them seriously any more as contenders.

I think the biggest problem with football now is the ownership model. All power is in the hands of one (usually) man, who is accountable to almost nobody. That can't be good, and we've seen at town how frustrating it can be to have your beloved club treated like dirt by an absentee owner. Same/similar at Blackpool, Newcastle, Cardiff, hull, Forest, recently also Swansea, and prob alt many more to come!

Slambo added 11:08 - Jan 7
This is an absolutely superb post and I agree with every single point. All the moaning caackers on here would do well to read it. At the risk of sounding like some kind of pinko rabble-rouser, it's time football fans unite and start aggressively demanding proper reform. I was idling on YouTube and came across that recent Coventry/Sheffield United game which culminated in a pitch invasion. Did it result in a show of mass solidarity between two storied clubs now battling obscurity? No. The Sheff U fans started booing, both fans started bating each other. Tragic...

I'll be keeping eye on your blogs in the future mate, keep up the good work!

moike added 12:45 - Jan 7
I can identify with the points made. I still support ITFC but my attendance has dwindled over the past years. Thinking about it I believe it is because I have fallen out of love with football. It starts at the very top with the leadership(?) of FIFA culminating with the very sterile displays of our national team and the poppy armband fiasco. The word "soulless" in the blog sums up my own feelings to a tee.

SanDiego added 16:11 - Jan 7
I just copy/pasted this from another source. I don't even know what to say about it. Just wow if there's any truth in it

'The Chinese Super League are prepared to pay a top England footballer £800,000 a week, with Tottenham's Dele Alli, 20, and Harry Kane, 23, Ross Barkley, 23, of Everton and Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge, 27, the leading targets.'

Carberry added 21:30 - Jan 7
WKJ a super, thoughtful piece. We all surely want that identity back but I believe it has gone forever. Everything is about money, cunning and cheating. It is so sad because we won't get our club back. When people with no integrity run the game it is lost.

MarkVenus added 03:33 - Jan 8

wkj added 12:49 - Jan 8
@Toronto_Tractor I truly believe a league reform will be coming, it really needs to happen, as parachute payments are unfairly skewing the odds in my opinion.

@DurhamTownFan I think towns identity is passive. ME is trying to build a solid long term strategy, but we are just too unresponsive to how other teams are operating and we're becoming if not have become a team in decline

@Slambo - I appreciate that a lot. I fear that Ipswich pitch invasions in protest are something that could happen here soon.

@moike - I agree, the Poppy fiasco was a total travesty. Yes some cultures object to what it symbolises (to them) but ignore the fact we aren't wearing poppies to make a political point, we just want to honour our fallen.

@SanDiego It is scary, however if they do poach a load of talent and steal the crown from the Premier league, I feel we might benefit in the long run and see a rise of domestic development, which we need. While it's easy to claim that football is dominated by foreigners, there needs to be more from the Premier League to encourage domestic player usage. (Just sadly the PL are rotters who don't play nice with the FA)

@Cranberry I couldn't agree more, the modern game has pretty much become more about the boardroom than the bootroom, and that is such a bitter pill to swallow

@MarkVenus Up the Towen!


pedlimblue added 12:18 - Jan 9
I agree with this - and am glad I am not the only expressing this to others. After a while you feel like a lone, crazed voice shouting at traffic.

I can see that for some premier league fans, it is worth overcoming the inconvenient truth that your club is the plaything of a Billionaire who could easily carry on with the fans there. Clubs like Chelsea make far more from selling individual one off 'experience' tickets to one off fans or people from abroad than they ever do from fans, and it is really concerning.

This is why we should look more to German type model of football - capped ticket prices, community involvement etc. But as everyone above says, it takes a lot of co-ordination and active movement from fans to take back the people's game.

I also agree that the bubble is surely going to pop - but it is hard to say when and where. The chinese league I think will go first - it reminds me of ITV Digital bit on a gargantuan scale.

As a neutral i tell people that my prem league team is Spurs - they (Pochettino) is doing more for English football than any other club ATM imho. The likes of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal etc are doing v little for our national tea.

BanksterDebtSlave added 14:14 - Jan 9
Guests what (there's a clue in the name)..............I concur !! There are numerous bubbles due to burst and maybe when they do we can all go about regaining our individual and collective souls !

armchaircritic59 added 22:55 - Jan 10
A very good blog indeed, and some equally very good replies! I join those of you who believe that the migration of top players from the Premier League to China (if/when it happens) could actually benefit a club such as ourselves. I think it would greatly level the playing field. I think pedlimblue is also right when he says that spurs are doing more for the state of English football than the likes of the teams mentioned. I'd go as far as to say that they're probably doing more than all three of the named teams put together, in bringing through young english talent. Therein lies a dilema. I dare say the supporters of said teams couldn't give a flying one (to use a MMism) as long as they are seeing some success. Yet these fans are probably among the many bemoaning the lack of success of our national side! It's difficult to know what the ultimate solution is. Maybe something along the lines of all clubs having to field at least 5 english outfield players per match. I can expect what the Premier League heirarchy would have to say about that! Being what they are, a cartel run for their own benefit, and not the good of the game, as things stand.

Lightningboy added 10:58 - Jan 11
Excellent blog - you certainly sum up my feelings.

Football for me is dying a very quick death - it's all about money,tv,players earning disgusting amounts of money,faceless foreigner owners (and players) - nobody need earn more than £10k a week for kicking a bloody ball about.

Far too much of it on telly these days - time was maybe 15/20 years ago when there used to be 4 or 5 games on a week and you'd make a point of watching them - somedays now there are 30+ games on a day in the listings - talk about overkill - certainly too much quantity over quality..some weeks I just don't bother watching any of it anymore,and this is someone who never used to miss a game.

As for our identity,I was lucky enough to be at the peak of my 100% love of the game and our club during the Burley era (just caught the tail end of the Robson era and suffered through the next 10 years of nothingness which trust me pails in comparison to the current state we're in)...We need to get back to being that little-ish club,always punching above our weight,bringing through youth starlet after youth starlet and playing damn attractive football week in week out - win,lose or draw.

Part of me could not give a toss about the Prem - I just want to see us get back to where we were 15 - 20 years ago with someone in charge of the team we love and can get behind - this current pityful situation cannot go on for much longer..we need a manager who wants to actually be here and take us forwards (or backwards if you like) to what we were once very proudly all about - not just someone who's topping up his pension pot.

We did have that person before our owner decided to go all showbiz.

Lightningboy added 11:07 - Jan 11
Just a side thought on the players now starting to choose the Chinese league on ridiculous wages - aren't they basically pricing themselves out of ever returning to europe?..if they don't like it out there then who's going to match those sort of wages/transfer fees to bring them back?

Who in europe would happily match Oscar's £600k a week?

armchaircritic59 added 17:41 - Jan 11
Virtually 100% in agreement with Lightningboy's posts. I'm even starting to wonder if the time is coming when the rest of english football should cut it's ties with the Premier League and let them look after themselves (which they pretty much do anyway!) Then watch them come crawling back when most of the big name players have gone fortune hunting in China!

Vancouver_Blue added 21:16 - Jan 16
Very well written, and you share my sentiments

Thank you
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