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Time Tells: Taking Stock Ten Years After the Marcus Evans Takeover
Written by SanityBlue on Thursday, 21st Dec 2017 14:31

It is virtually 10 years to the day since Marcus Evans gained control of Ipswich Town Football Club. The new era started on December 22nd 2007 in a home match against Burnley which ended 0-0 before a crowd of 20,077.

My worst fears following the takeover have not been realised. Marcus Evans is not the fraudster or narcissist so many other clubs have had to endure. ITFC has not been run chaotically and there have been no major scandals. And yet we’ve lost a great deal. Our culture has been destroyed and we are not the widely respected club we were a decade ago.

Before outlining what in my view has gone wrong, it would be worthwhile retelling briefly the events that led to the takeover. In its first season back in the Premier League in 2000/01, ITFC surprised fans and pundits alike by finishing fifth.

The following season, high on managerial success, George Burley went for something even better when he should have been aiming for consolidation. Big-money acquisitions were made by the club’s standards – most notably Finidi George, Matteo Sereni and Ulrich Le Pen, which led to disharmony within the squad. A team which had overperformed one season, underperformed the next and was relegated.

It proved to be the worst possible time to go down. Inflexible player contracts and high borrowings for major stadium improvements coincided with a collapse in the transfer market and the demise of ITV Digital.

ITFC went into administration in February 2003. Crucially, the two main sources of financial drag were not addressed: the Norwich Union stadium debt which stood at £24.5m at the time and the hefty wages being paid to players who could not be offloaded. The Administration relieved ITFC of a meagre £5m in debts with 5p in the pound paid to suppliers and 50p in the pound to HM Government.

The financial accounts show that in the five years following relegation (1 July 2002 – 30 June 2007) the club recorded aggregate statutory losses of £13.9m or £13.6m if non-cash items are excluded.

The losses would have been greater if the club had not received a net £12.6m in transfer fees. The bulk came at the end of the 2001/02 relegation season when Titus Bramble was sold to Newcastle United(£6.0m), James Scowcroft to Leicester City (£3.0m) and Marcus Stewart to Sunderland (£650,000). The collapse in the transfer market really set in the following season so by the time Matt Holland was sold to Charlton Athletic at the end of 2002/03, only £750,000 was realised.

For the year ended 30 June 2007 (the last full year before Marcus Evans gained control) the accounts show the club made a statutory profit of £0.2m. However, this was boosted by an agreement with Norwich Union for an interest moratorium which saved approximately £1.8m.

The board sought to improve the financial position of the club by making a public offer to supporters to take up shares. The recapitalisation which was completed in February 2004 was not a success as only £1.7m (£1.1m net of issue costs) was raised from the 2,777 fans who subscribed.

From that point, ITFC was up for sale as the board led by David Sheepshanks formed the view the club could not simultaneously meet its financial obligations and build a squad strong enough to challenge for promotion to the Premier League. There was much speculation about interested parties but the search dragged on until Marcus Evans emerged.

More than 99% of shareholders voted in favour of Marcus Evans Investments Limited acquiring 87.5% of the shares in Ipswich Town Football Club Company Limited and therefore ultimate control.

I was one of the less than 1% to vote against the takeover. As I tried to argue in various blogs, although our financial situation was serious, we were not confronted with financial armageddon. We had managed to get what we could from player sales and the worst of it was over.

The accounts clearly show that even if you excluded the profits from player sales but also excluded the interest on the Norwich Union debt, ITFC was close to break-even. And this raises the obvious question: if Marcus Evans could negotiate a major haircut on the debt, why couldn’t the board have done the same? Why destroy a unique club culture by delivering a widely respected club with a 129-year history to one man and his whims at the first sign of trouble?

All kinds of apocalyptic statements were made about how the club would inexorably hurtle down the divisions without a private owner. But this was at odds with what was happening on the pitch. In 2004/05 a team operating on a shoestring budget with Joe Royle as manager fell one place and two points short of automatic promotion. Why was it far-fetched then to think a team operating on a modest budget could not merely survive in the Championship?

But let’s say for argument’s sake that Marcus Evans had not come along or any other investor for that matter. Let’s also assume ITFC had dropped into League One and gone into administration a second time in order to restructure the Norwich Union debt and possibly other liabilities. Does it necessarily follow the club would have been consigned to permanent minnow status?

League status for all but the biggest clubs is a fluid thing. To illustrate the point, while we’ve been moribund in the Championship, the following clubs have gone from League One, and in a few cases League Two, to the Premier League: AFC Bournemouth, Blackpool, Brighton and Hove Albion, Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Leicester City, Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Southampton, Stoke City, Swansea City, Wigan Athletic.

None of these clubs has won as much silverware as our club and most of them do not have our traditions or support. They’ve had their ups and downs with seven of them currently in the Premier League while five are in the Championship and the other two in League One.

So why has ITFC been stagnant while lesser clubs have streaked ahead of us? I believe it is because a culture that allowed ITFC to punch above its weight was all too quickly ditched for the commercial crassness and short-termism that afflicts the modern game.

The managerial methods Marcus Evans employed in his corporate group have been ill-suited to the hurly-burly, emotion-charged world of football. Simon Clegg might have been a decent enough administrator in the staid world of the British Olympic Association but he was a poor choice to lead a professional football club with its day-to-day demands and large, expectant fan base. We now have Ian Milne, another tired MD, whose only qualification for the role was his loyal company man status in the Marcus Evans Group.

The managerial appointments of Paul Jewell, Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy were for the most part welcomed by fans because they had a record of taking their clubs to the Premier League. But there was something formulaic in those appointments.

ITFC’s most successful managers – Alf Ramsey, Bobby Robson and, before he overreached, George Burley, were all bold choices. It’s also not a coincidence most of the clubs cited earlier who have leapfrogged us, achieved success with managers who were virtually unknown before their appointment.

We have also lost daring when it comes to the recruitment of players. We used to invest wisely in scouting and patiently developing young talent. Such was our reputation for discovering young players and giving them first team opportunities that it was common for up and comers to choose ITFC over bigger clubs.

The fans of other clubs also had a wide respect for ITFC. In the 70s, 80s and even 90s we picked up a strong base of support from people who lived well away from the Ipswich catchment area. We had a reputation for being everybody’s second-favourite team. Such admiration and respect came because we did extraordinary things with limited resources and with integrity and a sense of style.

A torpor has now taken hold at the club – a remote owner; insipid MDs and ‘been there, done that’ managers. At all levels there is a dearth of passion, boldness and vision. A proud football club has become a Marcus Evans brand. Exploitative prices are everywhere. Ticket prices were reduced for the 2017/18 season but they are still at the very high end for the Championship. Concession prices for those over 60 were stripped.

It is no surprise fans are voting with their feet. But it goes deeper than the mediocre football and rip-off prices. It is the lack of engagement with the fans and even the disrespect. Roy Keane routinely made contemptuous comments about the supporters’ lack of knowledge. Mick McCarthy regularly insults fans and even jokes about how he enjoys riling them.

Would they have dared to be so disrespectful if their masters had been the Cobbold or the Sheepshanks-run boards? Of course not! It’s plain for everyone to see the fans no longer matter.

The old ITFC was quaint enough to actually reply to fans’ letters if they had a complaint. The patrician Cobbolds and the assortment of local business people during the Sheepshanks era might not have been perfect, but they would not have tolerated such insults. They knew that a small-town club could not afford to alienate a single fan.

In the 2006/07 season, despite finishing a disappointing 14th place, ITFC had a healthy average gate of 22,445. The average gate in 2016/17 was 16,980 and this season it is tracking lower still at 16,337. This is a 27% decline! Any business or non-profit organisation for that matter that had such a severe decline in customers, members, subscribers etc. would be alarmed. I am unaware of any other club in English football which has lost 27% of its fans in a decade even though it is still playing in the same division.

The financial affairs of the club are also of interest to fans. After all, the rationale for the takeover was that sufficient resources would be invested to enable the team to be a serious challenger for promotion to the Premier League.

Marcus Evans paid £3.9m to acquire his shareholding and invested a further £8.1m in preference shares. This was said to give us a £12m ‘war chest’ to build a promotion winning team. It is history now these funds were for the most part poorly spent.

A plethora of players arrived at Portman Road in the early years. The most expensive was Grant Leadbitter who joined from Sunderland in 2009 for £2.6m. The other relatively expensive acquisitions were in the £1m to £2m price bracket such as Gareth McAuley, Lee Martin, Tamas Priskin, Carlos Edwards, Jason Scotland, Michael Chopra and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.

The facts are that in aggregate terms during the Marcus Evans era the club has been a net seller. It is difficult to state with precision the amounts received and paid because the takeover occurred midway through the 2007/08 season and this is further complicated by the fact many transfer payments are made over a number of years.

My analysis suggests our purchases have been in the order of £18m while our sales have been approximately £31m. The reason we are net sellers can largely be explained by three major transfers: Connor Wickham, Aaron Cresswell and Tyrone Mings who were reported to have been sold for £8.1m, £7.0m and £8.0m respectively.

The issue of wages is an even more important factor. In the 2007 Chairman’s Report, David Sheepshanks noted the wage bill for the football department was £6.6m. He further noted that in terms of spending, it was likely to put the club in the top half of the Championship. Following the takeover, more funds were made available and this together with an escalation in player wages across the game generally, saw a ballooning to £13.4m by 2009/10.

The club no longer provides a wages breakdown but my rough estimate is that of the total wages expense of £17.8m for 2016/17, £15m relates to the football department. In other words, there has been little investment in the squad in recent years and in terms of spending ITFC is no longer in the top half. It is unclear whether the primary driver is the inability or unwillingness of Marcus Evans to invest further or a deliberate plan to get ahead of the curve when it comes to the Financial Fair Play rules.

At the recent AGM for the PLC, it was reported the various Marcus Evans entities are owed £88.3m. However, his actual injections into the club in the form of debt would be in the order of £64m given that he was said to have paid only £8m to take over loans of £32m owed to Norwich Union(£27m) and Barclay’s Bank(£5m). In summary, the £64m is made up as follows:

- £8m to settle the outstanding loans
- £8m in preference shares
- £48m to fund club operating losses over the years

The size of the club’s losses is surprising. As already noted, we are attracting 6,000 fewer fans to home games than we were in 2006/07. By my calculations, even if you assume lower ticket prices to bring it in line with other Championship clubs, we are foregoing annual gate revenue of £1.9m. What is also worrying is that over the same period the club’s commercial revenues have declined from £6.6m to £4.4m.

It warrants further investigation as to whether Marcus Evans is paying an appropriate amount to the club for the commercial rights. Nevertheless, if you take 2006/07 as the base year, ITFC is generating approximately £4.1m less revenue annually being £1.9m in notional lower gate takings and £2.2m lower commercial income.

We keep hearing hyperbolic statements that Marcus Evans was our saviour. Close analysis suggests the picture is much more complicated. It is true he has invested a significant amount of money in the club. But it could be argued that much of what he has put in has simply been to replace what has been allowed to slip under his watch.

It’s worth posing one final question: if 10 years ago fans had known what they know now, would they have voted in favour of the takeover? We’ll never know for certain. What is certain is that it would be a close run thing; it would not be a near-unanimous 99% plus vote.

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Penguinblue added 18:57 - Dec 21
An excellent article and thoroughly good read.

Particularly in agreement with the decline of Ipswich's former reputation tainted by the recent ownership and management, not least, in my view, the incredible acceptance of a foul mouthed manager (fact, refer to press conferences) who regularly finds it necessary to insult supporters for his own ego.

MBG added 22:57 - Dec 21
Reading this blog made me angry not because I disagree with the comments but because it made me realise just how much my beloved Town has been trashed. A proud club now with no identity known as the Marcus Evans Club, ripoff prices, managers who treat the fans like dirt, crap football. Why else are the crowds dwindling? Judging from my recent visits to Portman Road even the 16,300 average this season looks inflated. All those ignorant fans who keep saying "Thankyou Marcus for saving our club" should have a good read of this blog. How could it be any worse? Give me the old Town any old day. We might have been in financial strife but we would have survived just like plenty of other clubs in worse positions than us. That's football.

WarkonWater added 12:24 - Dec 22
A well researched and well written blog. I agree that uninspiring leadership and contempt for the fans are the main reasons for the decline of the club. But I don't agree with the bit that says "All kinds of apocalyptic statements were made about how the club would inexorably hurtle down the divisions without a private owner". As I recall, there was some fear the club would drop into League One and possibly go into Administration again but this was seen as a worst case scenario. In fact, earlier in the piece the blogger says: "the Board led by David Sheepshanks formed the view the club could not simultaneously meet its financial obligations and build a squad strong enough to challenge for promotion to the Premier League". And that was exactly it. The club had recently been in the Premiership and the great days of the 1970's and early 80's were still fresh in the mind. The idea that Ipswich could be stuck in the Champrionship was unthinkable and so Sheepshanks and the rest of the board ran into the arms of Evans.
No one has a crystal ball but I think without Evans our league position would be no worse than it is now. Just before the takeover the club's financial situation had stabilised. A bit more belt-tightening was needed but we were drawing crowds of 22K to 23K and there was much more spirit in the team. On the other hand I don't think we would have had any real prospect of getting back into the Premier League unless something remarkable happened like finding a really good young manager and a few undiscovered gems in the lower leagues. The sad reality for more than a decade is that big investment from the outside is needed to get into the Premeriship.
If I had to vot in it today I would vote no. There's just been too much damage to our good name in the game and a total disregard for the fans. It was assumed at the time of the takeover that Premiership football was on its way and if Evans had delivered then a lot would be forgiven . Success these days is defined as being within touching distance of the play-off places. It's amazing how our standards have changed.

frantblue added 12:42 - Dec 22
This blog clearly show our club has been miss managed had it been a publicly traded company it would surely have come under scrutiny of regulatory bodies as well as banks. The fact their is no real person to answer to other than Mr Evans own will means it will be continually run poorly because he will write the cheque to cover it.

You do raise a very interesting point regards the sponsorship deals and marketing rights of the club. this surely is not the correct amount and It must be that other clubs of similar ilk must be receiving more funds in this way. So the answer has to be that Mr Evans actually isn't paying for the losses he is actually paying what he should be for the image rights and marketing rights of our club so the money "invested to cover losses" should not be debt but actually revenue, something I am sure the people at HMRC would be incredibly interested in.


NorthStand added 09:11 - Dec 23
I’m fed up with fellow fans saying Marcus Evans saved our club. How on earth could they know what would have happened without hin? As the blog says, FOURTEEN clubs have gone from league 1 to the Premiership while we’ve gone nowhere. We used to think of most of those clubs as being lesser clubs than us Football success depends on engaged fans, passion and strong leadership. We have precious little of that. But think back ten years. We were a more vibrant club.

We already knew about the sliding gates. We didn’t know that ten years ago supposedly struggling Town was bringing in to £6.6 million a year in commercial income and under Mr Great Businessman Marcus Evans we are now getting only £4.4 million. We need more transparency because I suspect ME is paying peanuts for all the advertising he’s getting. Why aren’t questions asked about this at the AGM? And why was Mr Foul Mouth McCarthy not there to answer questions about his team? And when Mr Dynamo Ian Milne was asked why concession ticket conditions were changed he basically said: don’t ask me I’m only the Managing Director! Pathetic. What a shambles this once great club has become


MVBlue added 22:07 - Dec 24
Its been a failure. One playoffs bid.

Facefacts added 16:40 - Dec 25
One error that doesn't impact the thrust of your blog. But it was a huge problem losing James Scowcroft at the end of the 2000/01 season when I believe he was absolutely superb. Why didn't we meet his demands then, history may have been different. James Scowcroft.. Ipswich through and through. Didn't really replace him did we..

Hiltzkooler added 19:35 - Dec 25
With the chaos of Christmas Day resounding all around the sanctuary of TWTD and a great blog to read....bliss!....however as much as I appreciate a well thought out, and well presented blog, I cannot agree, even after reading a couple of times. SanityBlue, I really do a appreciate a well presented case however, the ITFC brand/club has declined in such value from the halcyon days and post Premier League exploits.
As a club year on year we have been become less attractive, staid, mid table and without success. Success - the breeding ground of repeat business. Less excitement equals less revenues on all fronts. The monicker of everyone’s favourite second club long gone, a distant memory even for us forty (nearly fifty) something’s. As an aside I went to Oulton Broad Primary School, had my photo taken with the FA cup, Brian Talbot and my dad at a sport shop in Oulton Broad - my dad was a teacher at Elm Tree Middle recollection then was that everyone was a town fan at my school, at my dads school, and that included enthusiastic teachers taking us to games. But that was late seventies ....the halcyon days...when football was football, when social media didn’t exist and pox on it Football Manager didn’t exist!
And that is my point, Evans bought the club when football, society was changing, moving a Club we have simply been over taken....not vanquished to the lower leagues, but just remaining, being.
And there in is the base of the problem....we are not first choice as a football club for youth in Oulton Broad, Lowestoft and dare I say Ipswich. Dwindling support, financial impediment, no success and distant memories of days gone by....Marcus Evans, for all the faults, poor decisions cannot be blamed for everything. I take on board key points made above, but simply say, a declining brand, with financial insecurity cannot live on the past and the life belt that was Marcus Evans did have a plan, albeit flawed. Like you I hope the brand can be reignited with the injection of new vigour, a bit of risk taking in the next managerial appointment...but ME is not devil incarnate.

WarkonWater added 09:40 - Dec 26
Hiltzkooler, I think you make some good points but I don't think this was meant as a nostalgia piece and you've missed the main point. The takeover occurred because the idea the club could be stuck in the Championship for any prolonged period was unacceptable. But as someone else also pointed out, while we've been stuck there a total of fourteen clubs have gone from League One or lower all the way to the Premiership. Many of those clubs are quite a bit smaller than us. I agree with you that ME is not the devil incarnate but you can't escape the fact that we have not realised our potential - dwindling crowds, much lower commercial revenue than 10 years ago, disrespected fans, uninspiring leadership..... If it can't be sheeted home to ME, then who is responsible?

hyperbrit added 16:51 - Dec 28
....Marcus Evans is a scoundrel interested only in his tax write off...end of!!

hyperbrit added 14:49 - Dec 29
....and Mick is playing the game for his payoff. Just look at the ex Town players in the Premiership and ask yourself is this the way to build a team??

RegencyBlue added 09:30 - Dec 30
An excellent blog which sums up the Evans years perfectly.

Looking at it from a business point of view alone we are in long term decline with an ever diminishing customer base and no obvious strategy to turn things around, a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.


hancockingoal added 21:03 - Jan 1
A brilliant blog, well thought out and obviously very well researched, I agree with every word! I think Bill McGarry should also be acknowledged with the other 3 'inexperienced' young managers (sorry for a slight criticism) I gave up my season ticket this season as I fell victim to the concession goalpost move and that together with the dross on the pitch for the past couple of seasons, I felt enough was enough. I have attended 5 games this season, all freebies I have to admit and the first three amongst the 'prawn sandwich' brigade! I sat in my old seat in the Cobbold stand Boxing Day and I have to say that from entering the ground at 2.50 to leaving at 4.55, there was not one single thing that would entice me back! How awful was the football? same old, same old! The stadium was tired, the catering third rate and expensive, I felt so sorry for the lone guy having to serve people, his employer having no thought or consideration either for him or their customers! to conclude a sorry state of affairs and so sad that such a once great club now finds itself third rate!!!

hyperbrit added 23:34 - Jan 3
...I'm wondering when it's going to catch up with him. He almost got busted in Brazil for scalping but he has good lawyers. Mick is playing the game for his retirement money that's big a sell out as ME Being relegated is needed imo...remember City??

hyperbrit added 02:13 - Jan 7
...and at the moment Evans is gutting the club and selling everyone of value before leaving.... typical corporate raiding!!

hyperbrit added 19:07 - Jan 7
...a white collar criminal whose company buys huge tranches of tickets to high profile events and sells them on at scalping prices for "events"...think wine,women and song here!!

norfolkbluey added 20:52 - Feb 1
I have been onto ME for several years. I have always thought he bought the club as a way of off loading losses and tax avoidance. Perfect. It's a win win for him. Get to the premiership, he wins, stay in the Championship he wins. You have to take your hat off to the man. That's the way he accumulated his fortune. He also comes across as a passionate supporter a hero for saving us. B******s. He is laughing all the way to the bank. If another sugar daddy comes along and he sells, he wins again! The man is a genius. Lets look forward to years and years in the Championship.
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