|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.
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