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Identity Crisis
Written by andygri on Thursday, 15th Feb 2018 15:06

As someone born in the mid 1970s, I am part of the generation that has seen Ipswich Town Football Club move in and out of the footballing limelight over the last 40 years.

Growing up, my club always had an identity. We were a small, family club, playing beautiful football, competing against Europe’s elite, and producing great players. I lived in Hertfordshire, and was proud to wear my Town shirt in a playground full of Liverpool and Watford fans.

Even as the team fell from grace, I retained that pride. I still felt part of something that was unique, special and real. During our renaissance under George Burley, the sense of achievement and togetherness was immense. I’ve never felt as emotional at a football match as I did during the play-off semi-final against Bolton in 2000. The final at Wembley was almost too much to take in.

But why don’t I feel like this about the current team? Is it because I’m old and cynical now? Do I care more about other things in my life?

I recently read about Östersund. They are a tiny club from subarctic Scandinavia who have gone from the third tier of Swedish football to the Europa League in just a few years, claiming scalps such as Hertha Berlin and Galatasaray along the way. As I write, they are poised to take on Arsenal in the knockout stages of the cup.

They are managed by an Englishman, Graham Potter, who has instilled a unique ethos at the club based on developing players as human beings and focusing on bringing the team and fans together as a family. I loved what I read, and instantly felt that as an Ipswich fan, this is what has been missing from the club in recent years.

There are similarities. Like Ipswich, Östersund is fairly remote, two hours from the nearest major city. Town fans will recognise that this has its drawbacks. The club’s fan base pulls from a small radius and when times are tough, the fans that come from further afield are often the first to stay away. Attracting players is not easy, as access to major airports and the lure of big city living make other moves more enticing.

However, with this isolation can come resilience, togetherness and pride. When we look back at Town’s past achievements, we have always been framed as a provincial club, low on resources, achieving against the odds. Östersund are the ultimate example of that model.

Am I naïve to think we could go back to basics and build a new culture at the club? Would a new manager be given the time and resources to do this, in a sport that has become increasing more about short-term success and vulgar sums of money?

We have already lost a whole generation of young supporters as a result of flat-lining in the Championship over the last 15 years. Whoever eventually comes in after Mick McCarthy would no doubt be under pressure to produce results immediately.

In my eyes, McCarthy has done a good job at Ipswich. He has had to scrap around in the transfer market for free transfers and loans, which was always going to yield hit-and-miss results. We should thank him for steering us away from the disaster that would have been relegation to League One (you don’t always come straight back up – Coventry, Portsmouth, Charlton, Blackburn, Crewe).

My criticism of McCarthy is that he has allowed a divide to grow between the fans and the club. For someone who is fearlessly proud of his roots and achievements, I don’t feel he fully understands the Ipswich Town supporters and what the club stands for.

A large percentage of fans are not just crossing the road to watch Ipswich, people come from far and wide. Pre-match and post-match, he never praises the fans, calls for extra support from the crowd, or apologises for performances. He doesn’t talk about the fans or the culture of the club in the way that Jurgen Klopp does so passionately.

The current hostility towards McCarthy is not just about performances on the pitch. We have for the most part, addressed the style and entertainment issues of 2016/17 thanks to the new strike force and the inclusion of hungry young talent in midfield.

For me, the reasons are more deep-rooted. We have lost the connection to our manager and in turn, the players and the club in general. McCarthy closes ranks when his back is against the wall, and shutting out the fans means the relationship has rotted away.

Whether Marcus Evans makes more money available or not, it’s time for a change at the club. We need a change in culture, a new approach, a new talisman, or just something that will give Ipswich Town an identity and start bringing the supporters back to Portman Road. A win against Norwich on Sunday would put a plaster on the wound, but not cure the disease.

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terryf added 16:14 - Feb 15
A very good blog.
I go back even further to 1961 and for 40 years have seen some memorable matches and achievements. Three exceptional Managers and a very good family spirit saw us envied and admired by many neutral supporters.
Sadly after our financial problems following relegation we have never recovered and although Evans saved us from administration and McCarthy, in his first season, from relegation, we have drifted along with an invisible owner who has no identity with the supporters and a Manager who has totally alienated himself from the fans with his style of football and caustic comments.
The sad sight now is a half filled Stadium with no atmosphere and little expectation. A far cry from the season when we won promotion through the playoffs and we drew 1 - 1 with Man Utd and Alex Ferguson was saying that the sound coming from the Ipswich Supporters was deafening. I guess a comparison nowadays would be Portsmouth who have crowds of no more than 20,000 but who generate a wonderful atmosphere.
It's pretty obvious that the real problem starts with the Owner and a Manager who lives in his own publicity.

stormypetrel added 20:18 - Feb 15
An excellent, balanced myself, jaded with the current status quo..the faded memories of the good times and what it can be like supporting ITFC...I really liked Harry From Baths blog about Burton and their fans observations...they valued what they were and what they had...I would welcome a return to some of the core values of the club whilst recognising the financial and commercial restraints we face

Penguinblue added 07:07 - Feb 16
A good read.
When Evans first came I thought his invisibility was a good thing against the back drop of self obsessed owners. Not now. He has let the club stagnate.
Milne is an irrelevance. I don 't see what he brings to the club other than meaningless platitudes, many of which turn out to be wrong.
I think McCarthy is the biggest problem. Negative, foul mouthed, disrespectful to supporters, favourites before ability. For all the good players that have come to Ipswich (who often fade under his 'coaching) I reckon that a) they were scouted by people like Klug, b) many others would not come because of McCarthy.
The club have no senior players who can stand up to McCarthy and incredibly he has been allowed free reign to diminish our football club.
Yes his first season was a success, but we were only 13 games in. Do you really think no one else could have done that? The only way was up.
On our play off season we made it on the back of an inexplicable scoring season by Murphy and because Derby County imploded. Our last game at Blackburn when we may still have needed points was a shambles tactically.
I kept watch on McCarthy at our home match against Lincoln last year and he was clueless. I thought he would be gone in the morning, but no. Don't mention the replay or any other cup game when clubs like ours have shone and shown some pride.
There are a number of tines, forget the appalling football, when McCarthy's foul mouthed remarks against the fans should have seen him sacked for gross misconduct, ironically not least on Sir Bobby Robson day last year after we beat Newcastle.
McCarthy has go for any renaissance to begin.

Penguinblue added 07:49 - Feb 16
Sorry, obvious missing word in last line.

McCarthy has TO go for any renaissance to begin.

Billericay12 added 07:57 - Feb 16
I agree with parts of this but not that we have addressed the style and entertainment issues. We signed some more attacking players and threw caution to the wind for a few games and we all thought things were on the up but it didn’t last long. We were soon back to default MM tactics. You only have to look at the stats. They are not always everything but they tell a story. We can’t retain the ball and despite sometimes having 3 or 4 strikers on the pitch we can barely manage one shot on target. The entertainment value is very poor and that is why people are staying away. MM’s attitude doesn’t help but if the football was good the fans would come and pay. I started supporting Ipswich in 1974 at the age of 7. I have seen the good times and dream of them returning one day but they won’t under MM. His approach is behind the times and we need a manager with modern ideas who will give the youngsters more of a chance, encourage them to play out from the back, be brave in possession, coach better movement off the ball and build attacking play. Hard work ethic alone is just not enough in this era of football.

andygri added 10:48 - Feb 16
Billericay12 - I agree that the entertainment has not been where we want it to be, what I was saying is that efforts have been made to improve on last season where we really hit rock bottom with regards to value for money. We’ve seen glimpses of McCarthy trying to come out his shell, but you’re right, our inability to dominate possession is a massive concern.

Northstandveteran added 11:16 - Feb 16
Being from the same age group as yourself, I was able to relate to your blog.
Attending Portman road regularly with my older friends as a young teenager from Essex, I always felt it gave me the upper hand on the kids wearing various shirts associated with the bigger clubs up and down the country that had never visited the cities of the club's they claimed to support.
When asked what team I supported, a smile would rise on my face as I would proudly state " Ipswich town "
Now when I'm asked, I mumble it under my breath whilst looking at my feet, hoping for a change in conversation....

cofrema added 21:21 - Feb 16
On the day that Ipswich Town were relegated from the Premier League I was at the Spurs game with my son in law,I spoke to a couple of different Spurs supporters about Ipswich and they both said we don't want Ipswich to go down because they play good football, I am afraid it is of little consolation to you ITFC fans but it shows the high esteem in which you were held as a club, I never forgot it and I thought it was a generous assessment of ITFC.

MBG added 02:03 - Feb 17
Excellent blog. The club lost its soul when it was sold to Marcus Evans. Until that time we were admired throughout the game for the way we did things - both on and off the field. We became just another club willing to trash its history and identity just to get some quick bucks. Football is about passion and connection between the fans and the club. We have had precious little of that since ME. Ok, 10 years ago we were nothing better than a mid table Championship club but we had weathered the storm of relegation from the Premierl League. The fans were proud of the club. Our average gates were 22,000. These days we play crap football, the fans are ridiculed and mocked and our gates have slipped to 16,000. For those who say ME saved our club I ask this question: saved us from what?

mills added 01:37 - Feb 19
I'm somewhat younger (33, so mid-90s is my era) but we can even hark back to recent-ish times when Town were a mid-table Championship outfit but felt like we had an identity - under Magilton.

It was interesting cos we were just as skint now but Magilton still instilled an attractive playing ethos, young players (Haynes, Garvan etc) and getting bargains (Walters, Bruce etc) and had an identity we could really buy into. The club felt way more together.

ITFC1985 added 12:20 - Feb 21
A good read, i agree that the club seems to have lost its ID along the way, maybe its down to the way ME runs the club, it has always felt more like a business under him, i personally dont feel that he truly loves the club not like Sheepshanks did or the Cobbolds before that. Its a sad state of affairs as realistically without the money he has put into the club i imagine we may have gone out of business so its difficult to say he didnt save the club, however as a businessman i feel previous managers and higher spending has made him causatious, the club is losing money and why should he put millions of pounds in to something he isnt likely to get a return on?

In respect of the McCarthy situation, i also agree with what andygri has said about McCarthy doing a good job, with the funds he has had and players hes brought in he turned the club around, the 2013/14 season where we finished in the top 10 for the first time in forever felt like the beginnings of something good again, the next season (well first half of the season) we were very good and although we just about scraped into the playoffs it was still a season where you felt proud to get behind the team again, i feel that Evans should have invested in the summer between the playoffs and the following season he didnt and therefore never really built on the start of success. The football is awful to watch however its the same football being played as when we got into the playoffs except nobody cared as much because we were winning games.

I feel that Mick has probably taken the team as far as he possibly can and given the money he has spent and positions we have finished i feel he has done a decent job however sometimes things just dont work anymore and Mick seems to be too stubborn to see it.

Thanks for bringing some pride back to the team Mick (albeit for only a couple of seasons) but a fresh start is needed

Lightningboy added 12:26 - Feb 22
Spot on penguinblue & mills 👍🏻
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