|Dear Martin Samuel...|
Written by Superfrans on Tuesday, 8th Jan 2019 11:38
...I felt I had to respond to your piece in the Daily Mail today about Mick McCarthy.
I am an Ipswich Town fan of 40 years standing, a season ticket holder for 20 years and (as it happens) someone who was a fan of Mick when he was at Portman Road. He is a very likeable chap, as the general media support for him indicates.
I'm not going to justify some of the treatment of him by some of our fanbase last season. But a few points do need to made in response to your piece.
Mick was no angel in regard to his deteriorating relationship with our fans. It was very much tit for tat and had been for some time. When you are playing the kind of football we were for most of Mick's time with us, winning games is essential.
It is very difficult for any fans to watch what we were watching week-in, week-out, when you are losing more than you are winning - as we were for much of the last couple of seasons under Mick. This is why many of our fans became alienated by him, some of them tipping over into aggressive negativity.
These latter aggressors were by far and away a minority of our fans (as Mick would attest), but the majority of our fans felt by spring 2018 that it was best for all concerned that he left. Ask him - he wasn't forced out, he decided that after five years he had taken us as far as he could.
One reason for this is the progressively deteriorating relationship between Mick and a section of our fanbase. And, it must be said, Mick didn't help any of us by stoking this animosity between himself and the most critical fans.
For at least 18 months, Mick responded to any kind of criticism or questioning with a withering dismissiveness, eventually growing into outright animosity. This climaxed at our away draw with Norwich City when, rather than celebrate us taking the lead, he turned against his own fans and served them with a volley of abuse.
Did some of them deserve it? Of course. Did it hurt anyone? No. Was it sensible? Certainly not. As a long-standing supporter of Mick, I was one of the many who was at the match celebrating and received this abuse along with everyone else. My own personal reaction was to hold head in hands that Mick was actually (believe it or not) further worsening the situation - this had been going on for at least two years.
Mick should have been the bigger man. It is never easy to turn the other cheek, I know. But he is a highly experienced, world weary professional, who has had to deal with far worse in his professional life, I'm sure. He should have refused to engage at such a level.
It's hard to imagine another professional, in another walk of life, who would act in the same way. Would Geordie Greig address the Mail's readers in such a way? What would the Mail have reported if, say, Arsene Wenger had turned, mid-match vs Spurs, and celebrated a goal by screaming abuse at his own fans? It was daft (at best), but certainly hugely counter-productive.
As for the 'be careful what you wish for' advice - we knew we were letting ourselves in for a period of uncertainty post-Mick. After more than five years with a manager running the football club, change was always going to bumpy. Mick could set teams up to not lose any day of the week, he could always dig us out trouble. (Although, as I've said before, it is not great to watch.)
Our owner, supported by the fans, gave the opportunity to manage the club to an up-and-coming young English manager, Paul Hurst. The club gave him freedom to do his job, allowed him to take big decisions (like selling specific players to reinvest the funds) and to try to play attacking football. All things which, I am proud of and which our club should receive credit for.
Sadly, of course, it didn't work out. Hurst was sacked after four months - not an easy decision to take for a club and owner which has always (ALWAYS) stood by its managers (including Mick, who was one of the longest-serving managers in the Football League). As you will know, we have had just 15 managers in 60 years - fewer than Leeds have had this millennium.
Paul Lambert has come in and his comments have been interesting, to say the least. He has described the strategy we had run for years of drafting in 4/5 loans every season, signing 7/8/9 new players every summer, as "madness". The club needs rebuilding, he says. It's the biggest rebuilding job he has ever faced, he says.
This, following five years with Mick running our football strategy. Mick is not *entirely* responsible for all of our problems. But he does bear some responsibility for them - along with Marcus Evans and Paul Hurst. Maybe others.
The squad left behind by Mick was not great. Once our five loanees had gone back and we had released various players (all decisions supported/taken by Mick) we were left with two decent keepers, nine fit, experienced outfield players and a rich seam of youth talent, but barely enough players for a competitive 11 vs 11 training match. You make the point that the clubs Mick leaves usually hit a slide (you cite Millwall and Wolves). Perhaps there is a reason for this.
Whatever, there is clear evidence (along with Lambert's insight) that the club's football strategy has been wanting for some time - as the most senior, highest-paid football professional at the club, Mick must assume some responsibility for that.
The one group of people who are NOT responsible for where we are, are the fans. Fans who have kept coming, season after season, for 17 solid years in the Championship, through managers who have been good (Mick, Joe Royle), bad (Roy Keane) and downright ugly (Paul Jewell, Hurst).
Despite this stasis, our home attendances continue to hover around the 17,000 average mark this season, more than 1,000 of our fans travelled more than 500 miles to watch us play Accrington Stanley at the weekend, despite the fact that there were no trains north of Manchester (many had to take buses or cabs for the last leg of the journey), the team is at its lowest ebb for more than 60 years and we haven't won an FA Cup game for 10 years (the last half of which were managed by Mick, of course). Hope continues to spring eternal, clearly.
I reiterate - Mick was a great manager for us, certainly for the first three seasons. He dragged us up by our bootstraps and saved us from relegation in 2012/13, took us to the play-offs two years later and kept us mid-table. For that I (and the majority of Town fans) will always be be grateful. I also liked him personally.
But after five-and-a-half years, it was time for him to move on - for him to try something new and the same for Ipswich Town.
In the meantime, Ipswich Town are left as the canaries (a metaphor which sticks in the throat, I'm sure you'll realise) in the coalmine - an established club, trying to operate a relatively sustainable football model, without the benefit of parachute money or a sugar daddy, and keep its head above water in the Championship.
For me, that's the biggest story here. Not the perceived slight on a football manager - but the level of debt mounting up outside of the Premier League because of the imbalances brought by television's riches and which are threatening to fundamentally damage our national game.
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Town supporters of a certain age look back rather fondly at Bill McGarry’s promotion team of 1967/68. We may be grey. But our memories are vivid. That team of half a century ago signalled something of a rebirth and laid firm foundations for the many good times that lay ahead.