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The Long Haul
Written by DazC on Friday, 3rd Aug 2018 22:17

I say this with the greatest of respect to the new regime at Ipswich Town, but brace yourselves - this voyage could get a little bumpy.

That's no criticism of the appointment of Paul Hurst. It's no criticism of the new faces he has brought in. And it's no criticism of anyone involved in ushering in Town's much hashtagged 'New Era', one which has already generated a refreshing energy that has been sorely missed around Portman Road for quite some time. After all, 'tis the season to be (naively) optimistic.

I say it merely to reinforce what we must all keep in mind throughout this season and, more importantly, beyond: This is the ride we signed up for.

I wouldn't dream of uttering that six-word slogan that Town fans were liberally beaten to death with over the course of the last year or more. Frankly nobody on the outside looking in is entitled to dictate what we can 'wish' for, especially when none of them have been watching second tier football as long as we have. Wishing is the vital essence of a fan's existence, no matter how improbable.

With the utmost respect and appreciation for how Mick McCarthy stabilised a sinking ship and momentarily buoyed it to new heights against the odds, this summer's overhaul was always the right thing to do. McCarthy's approach had become the epitome of Town's ethos: Safety first. Stick to what you know. Consequently The Championship has become all a generation of Town fans do know - for better and for worse.

It wasn't just the manager. Our club had become prohibitively risk averse. There is a point at which the stability of the status quo becomes a prison sentence, and eventually, you have to make a break for the barbed wire.

In many ways, this summer is just about the scariest thing we've done for a long, long time. More so than the ill-fated Keane-Clegg revolution - at least then we were fooled into thinking we could just throw cash at the problem.

We've all seen it happen elsewhere in this division. A team appoints a manager you've not really heard of, signs a bunch of players you've not really heard of, and sells those you remember scrolling up on the videprinter last season. They're in the bottom six by November and everyone's dooming them to the drop - on occasion correctly.

And at this point - much as it is probably the greatest faux pas one can commit on the ever-optimistic eve of a new campaign - we need to genuinely admit something here: That team might well be us this season.

But you know what? That's okay. Because for the first time in many years, this season is not the point.

Since that improbably enjoyable play-off finish three years ago, the plan appears to have been to stick with the status quo and hope an unlikely bounce somehow happens again. A cynical interpretation no doubt, but one the end product has done little to quash. Success - or the lack of it - was defined purely by what position we occupied the following May.

Many onlookers would tell us this is the only measure that matters. Football is a results business, after all. But results rely upon timescales. And regardless of what anyone else might think, for the first time in years, we are likely operating on a different timescale to the rest of The Championship.

The Paul Hurst project is not a 12-month enterprise. We have embarked on something far more profound and complex this summer, probably more so than the vast majority of our divisional rivals. Whatever position we are in at Christmas, we will not be 'halfway through'. Other teams may be pushing for promotion or striving to stay up, but while we may yet find ourselves in either fight this season, it will be one battle in a longer war for us.

One only need listen to Hurst's assessments of his inherited resources to appreciate the long-term nature of this plan. There are clearly elements not to his liking, and he has not even had a full pre-season with his new squad, never mind any part of a season in anger.

He needed a sample of each at Shrewsbury before delivering the campaign that earned him the attentions of Marcus Evans and other admirers beyond - and it's worth remembering just how miraculous that was in itself.

Even with less than a week to go before the unfamiliar new transfer deadline, it's also clear that the squad is more of an unfinished product than it has been at this stage in many recent summers. Key pieces may be yet to come in and past key pieces (no names required) may yet fall out, albeit quite possibly a necessity to assemble a new, more cohesive whole.

Little surprise there has been plenty of chatter - fearful from the inside, disparaging from the outside - of the lack of Championship experience in Hurst's team, or indeed in the manager's CV. To a point it's not without justification.

But without wishing to be overly simplistic, no professional in football magically appears with such experience. Every single one to pull on a shirt or stand in a dugout was at some point untested at whatever level they may later make their name. Let's not even entertain the idea of 'better the devil you know' - particularly given that was arguably the precise mantra that brought on the current era of mediocrity.

Of course, this is probably just preaching to the choir. It's pleasing to see Ipswich fans have been leading the calls for patience with the new project as much as anybody involved in its implementation. But the rollercoaster of a season has a funny way of skewing the perspective of even the most level-headed supporter, especially if there are more downs than ups.

The crux of it, therefore, is this: 2018/19 may not be the kind of season we all want it to be.

The incomplete squad may take time to gel or fundamentally prove inadequate for the task. We could well start slowly against teams with promotion momentum, and we could be hovering at the wrong end of the table for quite some time.

We could see the other mooted candidates for the Town hotseat - Frank Lampard, Jack Ross, Tony Mowbray et al - enjoying comparatively immediate success. Worse still, we could well be battered with a reprise of that tiresome old warning from our detractors, made worse by the sneering tone of 'I told you so'.

There is every hope that it will never come to that. Indeed, if our pre-season performances have been anything to go by, there are the seeds of a refreshingly positive new Ipswich that could yet grow more quickly than expected on the Portman Road pitch. And fingers crossed that'll bring back bums on its surrounding seats too.

But whatever does happen this season, we as a fanbase have a responsibility to remember that all important timescale. We cannot, and must not, react with the same short-termist attitudes that others may well use to judge the success - or 'failure' - of Project Paul Hurst in the season to come.

Because it's not about this season. If we wanted another hit-and-hope affair of knowing where we stand within 12 months - most likely the same spot we were standing in to start with - we might as well have done nothing to rock the boat this summer. Again, this is the voyage we signed up for, choppy waters and all.

Better to be out in the open sea though, right?

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Stourbridgeblue added 23:02 - Aug 3
I'm more optimistic than I can remember since Joe Royle. But if you can't be optimistic pre-season when can you be?

DazC added 00:02 - Aug 4
Very true, Stourbridgeblue. I wouldn't begrudge anyone the pre-season buzz. I'm also refreshingly hopeful myself, much as this blog might imply otherwise!

This is more a cautionary note that, should early results dampen the present optimism, it's important to remember just how long term a project we are likely embarking upon - one that we will likely still not be able to assess fully even at the end of the current campaign.

hucks216 added 04:04 - Aug 4
A well written piece and while I agree that this is a long term project for hoped for success, for it to work Town need to stay in the Championship and build on each year. Relegation to League 1 would see most of the team sold because of their wages and the loss of revenue, and Town being Town the chances are if we went down we wouldn't come back up again because we're not exactly known for doing things the easy way. We've been in the Championship for nearly 2 decades, there's no reason to think it would be any different trying to leave League 1.

terryf added 11:28 - Aug 4
A good blog.
Lets face it over the past couple of years we have all felt our squad wasn't good enough.
It will take time for PH to assemble his full squad and get everyone up to speed, but I have a sneaky suspicion that we will do a lot better this season than many have forecasted..
A high pressing game and getting bodies in the box, sadly missing for so many seasons, will get us off our backsides.

bbg added 12:09 - Aug 4
Agree with much or all of the above. While we may all be disappointed at the apparent need to sell a valuable player each year to balance the books, I think we should at this stage trust those running the club. The club now appears stable with lots of promising homegrown players, but no one should be demanding instantaneous success.

suffolkpunchdrunk added 13:00 - Aug 4
One of the most sensible pieces I have read on here for a long time.
Expectations tempered but I am sure we are going to do a lot better than some bookies and journos would try and have us all believe.

DazC added 14:50 - Aug 4
Thanks for the comments, folks. I agree there's a good chance we can surprise a lot of people this season - we already did when many were forecasting our doom last summer - though I think we need to avoid judging Hurst (as many others likely will, particularly relative to Mick) based on where we are in May 2019, especially if it is not a positive comparison with last year. As Hurst himself said this week when asked about what 'success' would be in 12 months, it's about the atmosphere and outlook rather than position.

@hucks216 - I do hope relegation doesn't have to figure into the long term recovery, not least as it inevitably sets things back an absolute minimum of one season if not far longer. Based on our performance last season I don't genuinely believe it will come to that, but at this point I'm wary of a possible battle while we transition from one era to the next.

Bluesky added 20:44 - Aug 4
A measured assessment and very sensible. I am confident that relegation will not be part of the metamorphosis because Hurst has a clear plan, a tried method and a bagful of wonderful talent that on today's performance against Blackburn showed their raw talent. I have confidence that Hurst and Doig will mould these lads into an effective team that will grow up fast and in a couple of seasons become a real force. Delightful to read intelligent non "knee-jerk" comment on these pages. Well said DazC

blueheartXT added 09:19 - Aug 5
The best blog I’ve read in a long time I agree with it all
Let’s hope we end in the top side of the table and over achieve

geminimustang added 19:41 - Aug 5
Something the vast majority of contributors to this forum won't speak about is the huge elephant in the room which is MM & Waghorn.Make no mistake,the only reason PH has money to spend is because of MM stealing Waghorn and ITFC being able to sell him for a huge profit.Without this money,PH would've been working to the same budget of two washers and a button.Unfortunately,once this money has been invested,PH will be back to the budget that MM suffered with for years.I'm glad MM has gone,nobody deserved the comments he received and i'm not condoning his retaliatory snipes back though i suspect we'd have reacted the same under the same circumstances.I sincerely wish PH well but he has a single golden ticket,the money from Waghorn,and after that,if it goes wrong...well it doesn't bear thinking about.

PortmanTerrorist added 10:12 - Aug 6
Utter rubbish geminimustang. We bought waghorn, showed his worth in the Championship and his price shot up. Even after 1 performance yesterday, Edwards value will have shot up - £700k looks a bonkers cheap price already. Teddy, Andre, Emyr, Tom, to name a few, with a half decent (personal) season, will have serious price tags too. That is the way of things. Expect Nolan's value to rocket once he shows his worth in the Championship too. This (PH's) is a credible strategy, and not so big a gamble as being suggested.

What the Waghorn money will do is buy PH time and hopefully allow him to hold on to those players who he does value and fit his ethos....but we will still sell.

frenchconnection added 19:50 - Aug 6
The best blog I have read for a long time prompting my first response on Tate.

frenchconnection added 19:51 - Aug 6
The best blog I have read for a long time prompting my first response on TWTD.

Reecex28 added 13:12 - Aug 7
Really excellent blog and totally agree that this season is about building for the future. Looking forward again to a 240 mile round trip to Portman Road for excitement and entertainment. MM hoof ball took all the enjoyment away.
You should send it to
Alan Brazil (legend) who spouted rubbish about us selling all our young and established players this morning !!

DazC added 22:55 - Aug 7
Big thanks for all the positive feedback, folks. Glad it was a good read!

Inclined to agree with PortmanTerrorist on the Waghorn front. While I appreciate this regime is profiting from cashing in on one of Mick's most shrewd acquisitions, it's entirely possible that at least one of Hurst's League One punts can follow in Waggy's footsteps and become a multi-million pound asset in the next 12 months or so should the need to fund further development arise. Having said that, at this stage I would much rather concentrate on what the new players can offer us on the field rather than in the accounts.

@Reecex28 - Sounds like you and I have a very similar trip! Clocked up about 240 miles going down and up the A14 on Saturday myself. Hope it's worth the effort as the season goes on!

Swn98 added 20:39 - Aug 9
Did every one sign up for it?

Swn98 added 20:39 - Aug 9
Did every one sign up for it?

mathiemagic added 14:32 - Aug 13
Rebuilding of any team no matter the sport requires fan and management backing alike. There will probably be more downs that ups but i sincerely hope and think we will survive this season and then onwards and upwards from there on in. #IHWT

bobble added 11:33 - Aug 14
bumps are more fun than slow slides....

fozz64 added 15:56 - Sep 3
Cracking read mate!
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