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Heart of Darkness
Written by Stowmarket on Sunday, 11th Aug 2019 16:30

Joseph Conrad’s short novel Heart of Darkness is one of my favourite books. It is based on the real events which the writer experienced first-hand while travelling up the Congo river. It asks serious questions about empire-building and racism.

What has any of this got to do with ITFC? Well, the title Heart of Darkness has often been misinterpreted. It does not refer to a place where everything is bleak. It actually refers to a positive heartbeat – the Congo natives – at the centre of European greed and slavery.

As Town fans experience a journey into an unknown ‘wilderness’, EFL League One, maybe they too can discover an exhilarating heartbeat, months after some feared that the club was terminally ill.

Whatever their opinions about the club’s owner, most Town fans are agreed that last season’s relegation had been an accident waiting to happen for a decade or more. One play-off campaign aside, the club had been building towards the drop – if that is not an oxymoron – for some time.

The spectacle on offer at Portman Road has been poor, generally speaking, since Jim Magilton left. Tread water for too long and you stagnate, before eventually drowning.

The only remarkable thing about last season was the way in which Paul Lambert brought the fans together despite the fact that results did not improve under his watch.

He acknowledged the club’s rich history and fed off it by inviting iconic players from the club’s past into the inner sanctum of the training ground.

His relationship with the supporters has – so far – been the polar opposite of Mick McCarthy's (eventually) toxic one and Paul Hurst’s non-existent rapport.

The previously fractured fanbase was brought together and this was reflected by three collective responses: the end-of-season one to the players once relegation was confirmed, the number of season tickets sold for the third tier and the turn-out for the opening home fixture against Sunderland on August 10th.

Some people will be thinking, ‘Hold on. Sunderland is not your average League One fixture. Wait until Accrington, Fleetwood or Rochdale come to Suffolk. Fair enough. However, this was not one of those ‘discounted tickets’ occasions which boost the attendance.

Even taking away the 1,800 visiting support, over 22,000 Town fans paid to watch a third division match – which is what a rebranded League One effectively is.

To put this into context, the Portman Road gate yesterday has only been matched in recent years by East Anglian derbies and the ‘Bobby Robson’ fixture with Newcastle.

In the first year when I had a season ticket, 1984/85, when Bobby Ferguson could still call upon Cooper, Burley, Butcher, Osman and Gates, most of our top division attendances were well below the Sunderland figure.

Town fans are, as I have already said, venturing into the unknown, with trips to unfamiliar locations and stadia. Clubs such as Rochdale, Accrington and Fleetwood will bring precious few visiting supporters to Portman Road. There is very little glamour in the lower reaches of the EFL.

It is, therefore, vital that ITFC can find a way of holding on to most of the 10,000 non-season ticket holders who supported the team for this first home match. If I was running the club, I would be emailing each and every one of them, thanking them for their support and welcoming them back for the Wimbledon game.

If League One represents a descent into darkness in terms of the club’s proud history, then the 24,000 fans who watched the Sunderland match offered a visual and aural heartbeat which was wonderful to behold. Ultimately, the success of 2019/20 will be decided on the field, but off it a renaissance has begun.

Rodney Marshall
August 11th 2019

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Stowmarket added 19:18 - Aug 11
I did mean to add that the size of Portman Road either becomes a positive or a negative at this level. Crowds under 15,000 will leave more empty seats than people. Regular attendances of 20,000 plus can create a powerful backdrop. That's the advantage which Accrington, Rochdale and Fleetwood have - even 3,000 can create a decent atmosphere in their stadia.

ElephantintheRoom added 09:23 - Aug 13
There is slightly more to it than that I think. If you have been going for a while then you have a group of chums and family you sit with - and the allure of bargain renewal rates plus staying with the people you know had inflated the number of supporters in the ground despite the dire football on offer and disconnect with what the club had become . If you got out of the habit of going - then coming back is not far removed from a military operation - far removed from those far-off days of paying at the turnstile and pushing in to be with your mates. My view is that third division football is actually highly attractive - I've never seen Ipswich play in this division before and I have been a supporter since the mid-60s. There is also the fact that a few Ipswich players are now in the team and Evans has resisted (so far) Lambo's call for bodies. That is a massive positive too. IF Town are competitive in this league then it is only natural that crowds are bigger and more enthusiastic than they were after same old, same old dross in the second division. There is even some hope of upward momentum and team building for now. Though that may be a fantasy too far. If anything the Sunderland crowd was mildly disappointing - but it WAS in the holiday season when many supporters are sunning themselves elsewhere. As you say, what will attendances be like for 'proper third division games - answer pretty good as long as Lambo doesn't lose his way. To follow your Conrad analogy to its logical conclusion though you have to pay attention to the exploitation of the slave trade at the heart of the darkness - and Town are still under the thumb of oppression in that respect.

monty_radio added 12:02 - Aug 14
Not sure Conrad's "horror" related to the modern tropes of anti-imperialism etc, other than incidentally. Rather, it was about the morally debilitating effect on the soul of a man cut off from his accustomed civilising constraints. However you repackage it, Conrad called it "Heart of Darkness", not "Heartbeat of Hope".

almostblue added 16:06 - Aug 20
Great to read this thought-provoking blog and the responses too. Thanks
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