|No More Heroes Any More|
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Friday, 8th Feb 2019 13:19
It’s fair to say that the Marcus Evans era has seen a bit of a change in the way the club is run. For instance, the now scarcely-credible, revolving door recruitment policy.
Year on year, that revolving door seems to twirl with ever-increasing speed. Time was when you could count the number of new signings brought into the club over a five-year period on one hand. Now you are almost running out of fingers trying to recall the short-termers Paul Lambert has shoehorned in during this January window alone.
And these come on top of Paul Hurst’s signings, which in turn come on top of Mick McCarthy’s proper blokes and bodies. It’s more centrifugal force than churn.
The result of this constant upheaval, not surprisingly, is that the club has lost sight of its identity and its raison d’etre. Its very DNA, as Sheepy might say. In effect, there’s nothing much for supporters to hang on to at the moment. Who are the Ipswich players? Tattooed Chambo? Bearded Skusey? Tarnished Bart? Wantaway Knudsen?
More to the point where have all the homegrown players gone? Ever since Sheepy’s young guns they have seemingly flattered to deceive. Rarely nowadays do they even get on the pitch. If only a manager could be tempted to ignore the short-term illusion of loans, both in and out, Town’s revolving door might twirl a little more slowly. Players with some feeling for the club might actually emerge. And stay.
Things are even worse in the boardroom, where directors are now an almost extinct species. With the demise of Ian Milne, board meetings could now be held on a tandem.
The club itself is utterly synonymous with Marcus Evans. For better or worse. Worse still, the shirt carries the logo of an unknown offshore betting outfit that you might think some chancer is running from the bedroom of his mum’s house. Even the ground itself is now more than a little tacky.
It was not always thus. Town used to be a club renowned for bonhomie in the boardroom. This laissez-faire attitude, that win, lose or draw, football was just a game, was much admired (if seen as somewhat eccentric). This effortless charm and goodwill permeated from the top, through every level of the club, bathing the manager and players in a rosy warm glow of belonging and respect.
The players sensed they were valued, part of a family so to speak – and largely responded accordingly. Even the pitch was superb. This aura also reached the terraces where supporters basked in the reflected glory, behaved properly in troubled times and knew that everything was just as it should be.
And it was good. It might be fanciful, but that glow reached other clubs’ terraces too. Ipswich Town were fondly regarded elsewhere with a mixture of admiration and respect. Different times perhaps, but once upon a time there was an Ipswich Way which wasn’t quite so tacky.
Now, sadly we have lost our way to such an extent that the club has ‘achieved’ something approaching joke status. Somewhere between Blackburn and Coventry City perhaps in the hierarchy of absurdity. The fall from top of the pops to high up on a shortlist of basket cases is far more spectacular than any demise on the pitch, so far.
The sad truth is, nowadays, it’s difficult to find someone or something to identify with at Portman Road. The owner is an offshore tax avoider during a decade of national austerity. Not exactly the local, light-hearted, inclusive approach of the Cobbolds, shall we say.
The managers have been little short of embarrassing, rarely attempting even a nod to the past that so many supporters cling to. And the players? Well, mostly they simply don’t hang around long enough to identify with.
Worse still, where once there was a production line of youth players to be proud of, they have been largely replaced by a never-ending procession of embarrassing loans. How can anybody identify with other clubs’ moonlighting discards knowing they will soon be playing for someone else, maybe even this year?
This decade-long catalogue of woe might explain the great Lambo love-in. He may not be much of a manager on the evidence so far, going by the results (and bulk temps). But boy he talks well – and acts the part.
Since Joe Royle left there has been something of a vacuum in manager’s office – and Lambert has seized this tempting managerial open goal. Heck, most people are even prepared to turn a blind eye on his bewildering January temps and salivate about what he might do next season. Time will tell, but for now Paul Lambert is surfing a wave of self-made popularity (with a lot of help from the incompetents who have gone before).
But I digress. When I first really got into football, Panini stickers, let alone computers and the Internet (or even stereo), were yet to arrive. We got our not-yet teenage kicks from Shoot, Goal, and Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. Match of the Day showed one game in black and white. Later there would be two.
Players were much more of an unknown quantity – emblems and icons of the club they played for. Crikey, many even had accents similar to the supporters because they actually came from the same place.
Celtic, by way of an extreme example, won the European Cup with almost an entire team born within a few miles of their stadium. When Town finally made it back into the top division in the late 60s, your footballing heroes really did seem to matter.
Every team from top to bottom had players you looked forward to seeing. In their first game back, Town played Wolves, who had been promoted just one season earlier. Yet I can still recall half their team. Derek Dougan and David Wagstaffe up front. Peter Knowles, the Hoddle of his all-too brief day, and barrel-chested Mike Bailey in midfield. And the most expensive full-back in the league, called Parkin I think, left on his backside looking miserable, as John O’Rourke headed in the winner.
Now, with an overdose of football on TV every day of the week, 24-hour overdose on your smartphone, where is the mystery, the anticipation? Players used to be so exciting. Every match something to savour and look forward to.
I can’t remember how many times I saw George Best for example. The most exhilarating British player ever, by some distance. But I don’t think I ever saw him play well. And that hardly mattered because I knew he was a superstar. And he was here, at Portman Road.
Johan Cruyff? Gunther Netzer? Global football icons we felt privileged to be in the company of at ‘little’ Portman Road. Nowadays every league you can think of is shown live and endlessly and pointlessly dissected. Players like Messi and Ronaldo are expected to score a hat-trick every time they step on the pitch. And overanalysed and pilloried if they don’t. Media saturation, ludicrous hype and trashy soundbite social media have diluted and shrunken football’s world.
When I first started supporting Town there were many players who had seemingly been there for ever. Billy Baxter for example. New arrivals like Joe Broadfoot had a certain swagger I could admire. And the heroes just kept on coming. The return of Ray Crawford, John O’Rourke, Colin Viljoen, employed as John Cobbold’s gardener to get around some technicalities. And above all Danny Hegan. They were all Town players. My players
This was years before Bobby Robson arrived (on his own with no backroom staff or hangers on). Robson seemed to know what he had inherited and how to build on it. Maybe John Cobbold gave him that confidence. Not for him a new team every year. Nor a loan as far as I can remember, except to divest himself of Steve Stacey and Mick Hill. No, he built from within, adding to the team only where no ready replacements were just around the corner.
Nowhere was this more apparent than his shuffling of the striker pack. The defection of John O’Rourke left Town temporarily with Mick Hill and Ron Wigg. What would today’s intolerant crowd make of those two I wonder? Robson traded Hill for another reserve, Rod Belfitt. And doubled up again with a punt on David Johnson. None of these players stayed long. But they were Ipswich players. You could identify with them.
From David Johnson on we began to take superstardom and even European football for granted. Incredibly, and we took this for granted too, the youth team stepped up a gear as well. Where once there was Chopper Jefferson and Geoff Hammond, now there was Talbot, Whymark, Beattie and Lambert – and then John Wark, Burley, Butcher, Osman, Brazil and Eric Gates for good measure.
As the good times waned, Town’s magic in the transfer market and youth development began to fade. New heroes emerged – but they no longer stayed. And faded even faster. I’ll argue with anyone that Dalian Atkinson was amongst the best players we’ve had in the last 50 years. (Evidence m’lud, this grainy video of a stupendous hat-trick against MIddlesbrough).
I was no longer in the market for idols, but the likes of Dozzell, Kiwomya, Brennan, Cranson, Lowe et al were pretty impressive if you were new to supporting Town.
Fast forward another generation and the same can be said for George Burley’s teams. Taricco? Dyer? Wright, Johnson? Marcus Stewart anybody? Hermann? But some barely stayed beyond a year.
Once again the wheels came off and once again there was a dip in hero status. But who could ask for much more than a Shefti Kuqi swallow dive? A more reliable penalty-taker than Tommy Miller? And the two Darrens? Alas if you blinked all were gone. Supporters crave players they can cling on to. It’s not much fun seeing them prosper elsewhere.
Town won the FA Youth Cup relatively recently. It may even have been one of the reasons Marcus Evans bought the club. All that potential to sell. Alas not one player made a lasting impact for all sorts of reasons, not all football-related.
Then new money begat daft signings. The revolving door, once barely moving each year was now beginning to twirl. And the spiral of decline continued. The daft loans that started in the Burley era began to cripple the club.
IF Town are to halt their decline, someone, somewhere has to step up to the plate. A figurehead is needed who can redefine the club and call a halt on the self-destructive madness we’ve become used to. It was a serious error of Evans to try and run his investment from offshore through non-football staff and more than one eye on the Olympics. He seems, after a mere 11 years, to realise that playing golf with Harry Redknapp might not be the best way forward.
We’ve even heard from him twice in one month (with more I’m sure to come). Now there is even a football structure of sorts if Lee O’Neill can do anything with his poisoned chalice. But the breakthrough may actually be already up and running in a seemingly rejuvenated Paul Lambert.
So far I have only one quibble. Town fans seem to have been sucked in rather too easily by his PR assault and charm offensive. If only he did what he said. He knows short-termism is insane. He’s said as much – but promptly went mad in the short-term market. He knows youth is the way forward, but seems reticent to try it when there is so very little to lose.
Most people, perhaps out of a sense of despair and desperation are prepared to give him time. But given what he has assembled in January I won’t be holding my breath for miracles next season just yet.
Strangely I find myself warming to Mick McCarthy now he has gone. He actually gave us the nearest thing we have to heroes in Bart, Chambers and Skuse. Not much I admit but they have actually been here more than two years.
He gave us the mirage of what Teddy Bishop might have been. He might even have given us Andre Dozzell but for that injury. And a sort of bluff pragmatism that was embarrassing at times, but somehow slightly more wholesome than the invisible hand of an unknown offshore owner.
Where now? I can’t relate to half a dozen non-Town players shoehorned in because the manager cannot (or believes he cannot) get what he wants from what he already had. That for me isn’t management – it’s copping out.
If only Lambert had persevered with what he had we would at least have something to build on. I’d like to have heard a little more from Lee O’Neill and the gents at the academy who found themselves thrust into the spotlight on McCarthy’s departure. They can’t be happy that all their work has been more or less ignored three times in one year through a mixture of indifference, incompetence and blinkered short-termism. It’s not as though Town are prospering whilst seemingly ignoring academy players.
The Hurst signings must be utterly disillusioned by Lambert’s antics, as perhaps the McCarthy signings were when Hurst’s somewhat arrogant approach began to drag the club down.
All we know for now is that Lambert’s gamble has not improved results. In reality Lambert has put Town in the cleft stick of lose-lose situation. Stay up – and Lambert will presumably reboot with yet another bunch of short term signings. Oblivious to the fact that those who miraculously escape usually go down without a whimper the following year.
Go down and financial meltdown beckons. But he might actually be forced to manage with what he has got and see his own players sink, swim – or blossom. He’s certainly got plenty of them lurking on the fringes of the current hotchpotch.
IF Town are to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of seemingly terminal decline, Lambert is ideally placed as an unlikely figurehead. All he really has to do is stay in touch with reality and do what he has already identified and said. Can he do it? Not on the evidence so far – but a charm offensive has already started to ooze from every orifice at Portman Road.
Someone, somewhere is finally getting their act together. All it takes is someone to inspire us. We can but hope.
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