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Stick With It
Written by Moggasknockdown on Thursday, 19th Sep 2019 17:04

Last season, following our most recent derby day disappointment, a late Monday afternoon discussion in the office had prompted a colleague to wonder what he might say to Marcus Evans if he were stuck in a lift with him.

My suggestion was that whilst grappling the lapels of his expensive suit jacket, my nose pressed against his - I would growl through gritted teeth... “WHAT IN CHRIST'S NAME HAVE YOU DONE TO MY FOOTBALL CLUB YOU UTTER CRETIN??”

Perhaps, I wagered, a more respectful exchange might follow (depending on our time locked in limbo) whereupon I would convince him of the privileged position he holds, how much the club means to people, and he would then conclude that he might start treating the club with the care and attention it might demand. Then we would be mates.

Away from my fanciful imagination, Evans clearly is an owner who frequently frustrates and divides many, sitting atop the pyramid at Ipswich Town holding all the cards, the purse strings and the club’s future between his indifferent fingers.

He is not, however, the ruthless and sociopathic asset-stripper that lurks in so many boardrooms of so many clubs in the lower reaches of the EFL pyramid with delusions of grandeur.

The recent fate that has befallen both Bury and Bolton will lead many of us to do some navel gazing about the predicament of our own football club and the relative merits or flaws (depending on your perspective at the time) of our current owner.

False equivalence here is unhelpful - we are talking about two clubs brought to their knees by irresponsible and frankly disturbing levels of financial games of chance. Our club has not suffered at the hands of laissez-faire and brazen racketeering that preceded Bury's demise.

Ipswich’s recent economic servitude was seemingly a result (in the main) of poor recruitment in the summer of 2002 which ultimately contributed to our relegation. Add to that the significant debt caused by over-ambitious construction of two new stands, a reduced TV and corporate income from the Premier League, and the timely collapse of ITV Digital and we were left with a cavernous hole that would nearly sink the good ship Ipswich.

For a club who had operated shrewdly in the years leading to our promotion in 2000, developing players and selling on for tidy profits- it was such a dreadful waste.

A club that under David Sheepshanks and George Burley was carefully curated back to its former glories, was suddenly reduced to paying its creditors mere pence in the pound - an exercise that saw irreparable damage to many small businesses and staff in the region.

Marcus Evans, has, in effect, bridged the widening gap between income and expenditure to keep the club financially stable despite the debt owed to him grimly rising each year.

At the last set of accounts issued, it was reported that Marcus Evans plugged a further £6.2m to the club, with losses sat at £160,000 per week (pre-player sales).

Clubs in the Championship, according to football finance expert Kieran Maguire, will make only 20p in turnstile income for every £1 paid out in wages, which contributes significantly to some of the eye-watering losses being made as clubs seek to chase the golden pot at the end of the rainbow in the Premier League.

Personally, I am more of a pragmatist, I do not care for Marcus Evans or his methods of running of my club. I do not care for the fact that he has presided over a managing down of expectations for a club whose recent history places them in the top 25 clubs (in average league position in the country in the last 50 years), not fighting it out in League One.

Of course, history counts for very little when the reality is that transfer fees expended have consistently been in the bottom three of the league. It has been a death by a thousand cuts - a slow bleeding out on the pitch and off it.

The club has drifted away from me and many others, and until last season I have cared very little about it. I have felt apathetic and pessimistic, and increasingly the games felt like a chore.

This is not new. Coventry, Notts County, Darlington, Charlton – all taken to the brink by mismanagement. Clubs down in League Two like Oldham Athletic are becoming ensnared with complex and bizarre financial credit arrangements with third parties - hotels, leisure facilities and even car parking spaces, raising cash in increasingly short-term, shady and irresponsible ways. Bury are not a cautionary tale, they are the start of something much more worrying.

Realistically, the EFL is an organisation that can do little to stem the tide of these sorts of cases occurring more regularly. Clubs from the Championship down exist on extremely uncertain financial footings.

The EFL do not control the financial auditing of their member clubs with anywhere near enough scrutiny, and the ‘fit and proper person test’ is seemingly about as effective as a cat flap in an elephant house.

The system needs regulating from Westminster, rather than laying the blame with the EFL, or the FA who are subservient to the Premier League and its excessive corporate and financial might.

Owners are visitors, and history will judge and then forget them. Marcus Evans, like the Cobbolds, Sheepshanks et al, is a custodian of a club that means so much to so many. Leaving your club to drift into insignificance is as much a crime as much as defacing a local monument or bulldozing a local library.

The club is not just a simple weekend past time, it links families and generations in a unique and powerful way. Like Bury - every club has a history - days in the sun to be treasured and immortalised. So, to watch famous old clubs teeter on the brink of existence - I struggle to imagine what I would feel like were this to be Ipswich - I hope and pray I never do.

I am heartened by the recalibration of the club by Paul Lambert and the swell of enthusiasm for a club starting out in new surroundings. Huge away followings and a rocking Portman Road - all this despite the largely unconvincing performances.

The dizzying cocktail of hope, winning games of football and being top of the league. It feels like a new relationship - we are blind to some of the glaring faults on the pitch as we just love feeling this way again!

Perhaps we are disproportionately hopeful, but the club is healing and getting used to its new surrounding, and the results are providing a glorious tonic. Who knows where it might lead, or how long this feeling will last, but it is clear that the club has started to listen.

There have been significant improvements in community links including the reignition of the Community Trust, the Community Champion initiative on matchday and some fantastic links with local schools and charities.

The act of utter brazen carelessness in binning the trust back in 2013 is gradually being reconciled. The club must persevere long term with these relationships, for it is these that will revitalise the symbiotic relationship of club and town.

Couple this with a wonderful terrace ‘culture’ seeping back into the club by virtue of the fantastic Blue Action group, and a passionate manager in Lambert driving hyperbole and positivity into the veins of Town fans at every opportunity, the club is getting a jump start.

It might be a longer road than we had hoped for but let’s stick with it - we might just be getting our club back - and that, when all is said and done, matters more than anything else.

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IPSWICHMOUSE added 09:56 - Sep 20
Good blog Moggas.....Quite agree on all fronts, especially where we started to go wrong as a club....Ipswich Town is clawing its way back...slowly but effectively & long may it last....The lights have come on finally & with our continued FANTASTIC support will stay on for a long time.....COYB...ITID...

ElephantintheRoom added 11:22 - Sep 20
I'm not sure it's fair to compare Evans' stewardship with that of the Cobbolds or even the much ridiculed Sheepy. They were indeed true custodians of the club. Evans is the owner, a very different kettle of fish, who set out his stall by marginalising the existing shareholders, many of whom had recently put in money to help keep the club going - and saddling the club with debt that didn't really exist as he had paid it off at a massive discount. It's only last year that the club faced a winding up order, which doesnt really hint at financial stability. The truth is nobody really knows how the club is being run. The Cobbolds were widely admired for their Old-Etonian charm and the way the club was run. Sheepshanks was widely admired for... well for being Sheepshanks. He gave the aura of 'being a fan' but those closer to the action could see the flagrant self-promotion and grasping ambition within the incompetent cloisters of the FA, whilst the club was steered full steam ahead on to the financial rocks. Evans has never pretended to be anything other than what he is. And whatever way you try and dress it up a despised ticket touting empire is not something that is, shall we say widely admired. Nor is an offshore tax avoider at a time of austerity that has seen real hardship destroy the lives of so many. To see Town transformed from a once-admired, overachieving small town football club to a somehat laughable 'offshore investment' is quite a steep decline and change of identity.' Having said tha tI'd take the roots of Town's financial ruin and status in the game back well before 2002 to the construction of the Pioneer Stand which was incredibly ill-advised at a time when Robson was leaving. And perhaps to the sad demise of John Cobbold who was the true DNA of the Town brand, as Sheepy might say. I'm sure nouveau supporters don't really care what the club once was and a few wins at a lower level with some improved PR has turned the corner, as always seemed likely. BUT until Town are back where they were when Lambo arrived, we'll not know if anything has improved other than the thin veneer of a feel-good factor and a promotion position that has to be maintained to the end of the season, not just the end of september.. Then it's back to being the poor relations of the second division again.

hyperbrit added 17:16 - Sep 20
,,,in my experience "promised lands" always cause more trouble than they're worth!!

Moggasknockdown added 21:21 - Sep 20
I’m not sure it’s a fair assessment that younger fans don’t care about what the club once was. Personally, my relationship with the club is entirely built on family ties since the late 50s. I am immensely proud of what the club once was. I grew up marvelling at the Boys of 81’- that my club could have achieved such greatness (and ultimately not quite delivered that elusive league title again) and played such bold, attractive football. I am lucky to have grown up with Lyall, Burley and then Royle- I hope that kids today are able to enjoy and feel connected to the club now as I have. Lord knows the last 10 years have been tedious and full of frustration- all we can hope for is that the club might start on an upward trajectory!

ElephantintheRoom added 10:00 - Sep 21
Sorry my comment was not meant to be a criticism of you or your excellent blog - more a personal observation that people who have adopted Town as 'their' club since the sell out to Evans - and in reality since the Sheepshanks era have no real conncection with what the club used to be - which is why supporters of a certain age don't much like the way the club has been run at other people's expense for nigh on 20 years - first as a self-promotion vehicle and latterly as an opportunity to cash in on the olympics and an eye-watering profit opportunity IF Town can get promoted to the Prem.. In many ways Town's current position is down to serendipity rather than any magical formula for success. Town have had an unexpected significant cash injection with the crumbs left over from the MIngs, Webster and Clarke sell-ons. But that's what sell-on clauses are for and for now at least - onwards and upwards. I've also cynically wondered just what lies within the mysterious 'Marcus Evans Business Empire' given his appaling record at Town and the empty serviced office in Cambridge that was his 'Cambridge hub' at the time of the sell out. I'd be surprised if all his offshoots aren't run in the same way at continent's length rather than arms length. Maybe he has lucked upon a Lambo at all of them

Bluearmy_81 added 10:06 - Oct 13
That more town fans don't utterly hate Evans with a passion staggers me considering what he has done to OUR once proud club. If when/we go up will be the acid test about how much he really cares and honours the duty of care he took up when he bought the club 11 years ago. We will need some investment to bridge the large gulf between Championship and league one quality. Whether it comes or not will be the difference between us being competitive (which we clearly weren't during our last season in the championship due to his lack of investment,) and yo yo-ing for the foreseeable...
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