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Politics and Ipswich Town
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Friday, 29th Nov 2019 16:48

You might just have noticed that the TWTD Forum is awash with political comment. Annoying for some perhaps, who only want to discuss Norwood’s fitness – but surely no bad thing, given the stark choices facing us at a critical time in the country’s history?

It’s a little ironic perhaps, that whilst our political parties and the politicians they attract are at their lowest ebb in any living Town fan's memory – Town’s fortunes are at last on the up after a decade of stagnation and decline.

But all this general election hysteria got me wondering - is there any link between politics, our government and the fortunes of Ipswich Town? Ipswich is after all one of the few seats in the country where a vote actually seems to count for something. Maybe there is more than a tenuous link between political upheaval at home and the fortunes of Ipswich Town.

In the beginning there were Tories bravely leading us to war. And a bit like Brexit, there seemed to be little thought given to the consequences. What could go wrong in declaring a war we were ill-equipped to fight just 25 years after the war to end all wars?

There was at least some decisive leadership at Ipswich. Chairman Ivan Cobbold closing Ipswich Town down for the duration, even though we were poised to embark on a new chapter in the club’s history as a fully-fledged league club. One he so tragically did not live to see.

A government of national unity saw us through the war, largely fought by other people in other places. But at least my dad came back to with three of his limbs intact – and along with quite a few other disenchanted people, welcomed in a radical new Labour government with costly proposals for the NHS and the welfare state.

“The gestapo will be walking the streets of Britain if you vote socialist!” thundered Churchill. If memory serves, he was somewhat wide of the mark there - but when did reality ever intrude on a mad Tory rant? Labour got in with an eye-watering 146-seat majority

So it came to pass that Ipswich finally began their Football League career in earnest under a visionary Labour government in an era of genuine austerity – the post-war years with Britain readjusting to its new role as a small country on the periphery of global events and losing its empire. But the allure of war was patently still strong – so we joined in the battle against communism in a distant land with neither the resources, nor perhaps the willpower to see it though.

Ipswich Town were busy mimicking the national mood by scraping by. The 40s became the 50s with no hint of promotion. Nineteen-fifty saw another election which showed the vagaries of our strange electoral system in all their glory. Labour polled 700,000 more votes than they got in 1945. And saw their majority plunge to just five seats. It couldn’t work and another election, which nobody wanted, was called in 1951. Sound familiar?

Labour’s threats to nationalise key Tory donors and a rather unpleasant new war somewhere few people had heard of (nor cared about) swung the national mood – in seats, if not exactly in votes.

Labour still won 180,000 more votes than the Tories – yet gained 26 fewer seats. Then, as now the will of the British people counted for nowt and in came the Tories who had been so decisively dismissed just six years previously.

However, the new Tory government clearly had a galvanising effect on Town who swept their way to promotion in 1953/54. Little did I know it, because I had only just been born, but I was now supporting an upwardly mobile Second Division team. Town promptly got altitude sickness and were relegated – but we’d had a taste of the good life and the Korean War was over to boot.

Then the Tories, as keen then as they are now to invoke the spirit of empire, went a little mad once again. They surprised the USA and the civilised world by sending more than a gunboat to the Suez Canal.

However, once again staggeringly inept political leadership seemed to galvanise Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich and 1956/57 saw us return to our rightful place at a higher table. “You’ve never had it so good!” opined Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He may have been talking about a long overdue emergence from post-war austerity and trying to make us forget the Suez debacle, but all Town fans were quick to agree.

Harold Macmillan was a true statesman and soon made his mark in history with another magnificent piece of oratory in an era when content counted for more than glib soundbites. “A wind of change is blowing through this continent…” he opined to the white supremacists of South Africa.

Macmillan may have been talking about more momentous events than Ipswich Town, but his words clearly inspired Alf Ramsey. By the end of 1960/61 we were daring to dip our toes in the uncharted waters of the top division.

By the end of ’62 we’d won that too in a staggering achievement that still defies logic and belief. A wind of change indeed. And of course we’d never had it so good, nor in all probability will we ever again. (But if Leicester City can do it….?)

Alas it couldn’t last and by 1964 Town were relegated and so were the Tories – losing out to the white heat of technological revolution promised by Harold Wilson. Twelve million votes swept Labour to power with 317 seats. The nation and Ipswich Town began a period of consolidation.

Nineteen sixty-six saw Labour’s majority shrink to just two – so we had another election, which swept them back to power with 364 seats – over 100 more than Ted Heath’s Tories. Labour’s grip on power galvanised a fooballing nation – bringing home the World Cup – and sewing the seeds of Town’s promotion charge under Bill McGarry.

Town’s struggles in the top division and the tedious football played in the early Robson years have been well-documented. Less well known is the link between Town’s struggles and a surprise election result. For in 1970, wildly against all predictions, Ted Heath swept to power.

National bigotry and small-mindedness played its part with the planned introduction of decimal coinage taking the blame for a huge turnaround that defied the polls. Shades of things to come perhaps.

Heath clearly inspired Robson who slowly but surely worked out a way to score goals as well as keep them out. Heath came and went as Wilson returned in 1974. This was something of a high watermark for Labour. They were not to win another election until 1997. But by now there was no stopping Robson nor Ipswich Town.

There were many highs and few lows in the Robson years – but alas there was a glass ceiling that could seemingly never be breached. Until 1978. There were seismic changes afoot in politics too - where a certain lady called Margaret Thatcher was creating a stir. Town chairman Patrick Cobbold perhaps captured the national mood. When invited to meet Prime Minister James Callaghan at Wembley, he replied that he’d rather have a gin and tonic.

Clearly buoyed by Town’s cup win, Thatcher swept to power in 1979 and put Britain firmly back on the international stage for many reasons. Some of them good. Robson seized the moment leading the club on some memorable charges across Europe, regularly breaching a seemingly impregnable iron curtain to play the likes of Lokomotiv Leipzig and tongue-twisting Widzew Lodz in suitably chilly conditions.

Eventually, of course, we actually won the UEFA Cup we’d seemingly been letting slip through our fingers on almost an annual basis.

Thatcher went on and on - “Ten more years!” - they thundered long after Robson had gone. Unfortunately. Tory fortunes might have been boosted by the bitter 1984 miners’ strike which devastated so many (non-Tory) communities.

This was all a long way from Ipswich, but Town were by now in rapidly increasing decline. Relegation came in 1986. Things were also getting tough for the Tories. Bashing some Argentinian conscripts in the Falkland Islands had brought them back in favour. But by 1987, as if tipped into it by Town’s relegation, they took us to the polls again after stabbing Thatcher in the back. Successfully.

John Major was, it is fair to say, a less than inspiring figure. His Spitting Image puppet was memorably all grey. But he stuck to his task and by winning again in 1993 he inspired John Lyall to take Town back to the promised land. But three years later, as Tory fortunes faded, so did Town’s and the by now familiar threat of relegation beckoned once again.

Nineteen-ninety-seven saw ‘New Labour’ sweep to power and Ipswich too reinvented themselves as a classy footballing side under George Burley. Within three years we were back at Wembley and back in the Premier League – where all-too-briefly we flourished.

Then like an X-Factor winner, Town proved to be a one hit wonder and were slung out on their ear. For Town it’s been downhill ever since. And for Labour. Illegal wars in government were matched by unsavoury insolvency and a hasty sale at Portman Road.
It’s been a slippery slope ever since.

Both government and Portman Road have seen a shocking decline in standards over the last decade. Posh boy Tories have perhaps broken the country forever and made the nation a laughing stock - whilst an offshore ticket tout has taken Ipswich Town from a once admired club to something even many lapsed Town fans find unpalatable.

Now there are stirrings of new beginnings at Portman Road and at Westminster. Whilst there is some hope that Town’s turn will ultimately be for the better, parliament it seems is hell-bent of plumbing new depths. Politicians, like most football club owners, appear to be in it for what they can get.

Coincidence perhaps, but there are the close links between seismic changes in government and national fortunes and Ipswich Town.

This slightly blinkered review can’t promise you your vote will change the fortunes of Ipswich Town. But if history has told us anything, it is that your vote will all end in tears whatever the result.




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hyperbrit added 14:25 - Nov 30
a small town in Suffolk with next to no industrial base that cannot even compete financially with Norwich can hardly be expected to compete on the big stage.
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Meadowlark added 11:24 - Dec 1
Good historical read but I thought the G&T story involved Lady Blanche Cobbold and Margaret Thatcher?
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MBG added 23:22 - Dec 1
Another good read. If you look at anything closely enough you can always find patterns or parallels but as everyone knows there is no relationship between what happens in British politics and the fortunes of ITFC. I, too, thought it was Lady Blanche Cobbold who said she preferred a gin and tonic over meeting Margaret Thatcher.
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Ryorry added 00:10 - Dec 2
Whether you agree or not, that's a well-written & interesting piece - hats off to the author, must have taken quite a chunk of time too! cheers Elephant ITR
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DifferentGravy added 10:32 - Dec 2
Appreciate the time/knowledge taken to write and I do keep an eye out for these blogs. But it seems to undermine itself in the final few paragraphs.

'Rapidly Increasing decline'.........yikes
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Suffolk_n_Proud added 10:42 - Dec 2
In Bobby Robson's book he said it was Lady Blanche Cobbold referring to the then Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan
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jabberjackson added 12:00 - Dec 4
A good read, and for the younger readers, encouragement that things do tend to work in cycles.
Just because Norwich are undoubtedly enjoying significantly mroe success than us right now, it will not ever be thus.
I think we can flourish over the next few years, epecially if we can hold on to PL, and he can hold on to his sanity...
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oldtimer added 19:56 - Dec 6
Posh boy Tories etc shows your hand Elephant
As I remember it it was Leftie Labour that bankrupted the country and laughed about it.
Really good post up until the last ignorant statement
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itsonlyme added 22:26 - Dec 7
Correct old timer.
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dav86 added 10:52 - Dec 8
Well said old timer
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