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Here We Go
Written by tractorboykent on Thursday, 8th Apr 2021 14:09

For a club recently described as Britain’s unhappiest, it may seem odd that Town fans are suddenly awash with optimism now that the deal is done.

Stars and stripes have started to appear in posts and tweets. At times there’s even a sense of inevitability that the rise back to the top starts here.

It’s maybe notable that the more restrained responses have come from the new faces themselves – Mike O’Leary emphasising several times that there is an awful lot of work to do.

He’s certainly right. The arrival of a new owner with cash doesn’t automatically mean success; a lot of the same optimism that we are hearing today was expressed 13 years ago when Marcus Evans arrived.

There is no shortage of reasons to be cautious about the principle and practice of foreign ownership. Finding successful examples is much tougher than finding horror stories - the soap opera of Sisu Capital at Coventry, Carsen Yeung at Birmingham, the Venky family at Blackburn, Portmsouth’s parade of incompetence from Gaydamak through Al Fahim to Antonov, Cellino at Leeds, Al Hasawi at Forest, Alkhadi at Macclesfield, Becchertti at Leyton Orient and Duchatelet at Charlton.

None will be welcomed back by the club’s fans and their legacy is a mess that others have had to sort. That’s without mentioning Wigan and Bury.

Americans have certainly taken their place in this too – Lerner at Villa, Short at Sunderland and even Liverpool succumbed to Hicks and Gillet Junior who managed to take out loans for which the club was paying £100,000 interest PER DAY (the High Court dubbed them ‘untrustworthy owners’).

Town’s new owners do however look different. For a start there is no opaqueness about their identity or their resources. The status of Game Changer 20 and ORG is open and public. With the source of money being a pension fund we also know that this is a commercial investment requiring a sizeable return that realistically can only come from being in the Premier League. Their investment portfolio is balanced by risk so the fact that ITFC is certainly at the speculative end doesn’t mean that they are not committed – they know what they’re getting.

Beyond the money are people who have football experience. Mike O’Leary has been very open that a new CEO will be the day-to-day public face but that he will be very involved too and his experience at West Brom amongst others will be very valuable.

The US contingent have made a success of their football investments over there and Brett Johnson in particular has tasted English football in the five years that he lived here so – even from the vantage of Los Angeles – he clearly has more than an investors’ eye view of the future.

Both Johnson and O’Leary however have made clear their expectation isn’t promotion this season – they have seen as well as we have what’s been happening on the field with this squad. Johnson’s description of their attitude as "a healthy impatience" for success is realistic – we all get that, I’m sure.

This deal was no on-the-fly decision either and that’s healthy. O’Leary describes it as ‘the most intricate and complex Mergers and Acquisition deal” that he has ever done in a long career in and out of football. He talked about them taking a year looking at investment options before deciding on Town and then a further 14 months (including a four-month pause for Covid interruptions) concluding the deal. It is fair to say that all parties thought long and hard.

The nature of the deal is also out in the open. £21 million of debt is repaid and the vast majority of the balance waived by Marcus Evans means that the new owners have a pretty good clean slate.

Given the bile and vilification that has been thrown at Marcus Evans, he is owed some significant recognition in my opinion. He has consistently said that he would sell if a buyer was found that would commit long term and fund at a level higher than he could.

This reflects a commitment to avoiding the risk of dodgy owners (like those above) deemed ‘fit and proper to run a club’ before they proved otherwise.

As O’Leary has said, Evans "didn’t need to sell and it would have been easy for a man of his wealth to walk away". We can all bemoan the decline of the last 13 years but we ought to also reflect the genuine effort made by Evans and his role in saving us at the beginning – at least as much as in passing on the baton at the end.

It was great to hear (as had been rumoured) that the choice of Paul Cook as manager was shared by the new and the old owners. That’s one area in which we don’t need change – let’s let him get stuck in, starting with the overdue clear out of this failed squad.

There will be those who are unhappy that a club once run by the Cobbolds - in their famously inimitable style - is now in the hands of US investors. They might have preferred an alternative such as community ownership. There are some admirable examples of this - Exeter, Newport and Wycombe amongst them – but their modest approach likely rules out any realistic ambitions of getting back to the Premier League? If we want that then we need deep pockets.

We also need to be realistic. We aren’t going to go straight from struggling against Rochdale to taking on Liverpool. There are steps. Likely many of them. One of the first will be the appointment of a CEO and O’Leary says we must "make sure that we get the right candidate" – how many times has that phrase been used (for managers, player and off-field staff) in the last 13 years. It’s easier said than done.

Whatever happens next, we need unity. The fall and rise of both Sheffield United and Brighton have included spells in the League One wilderness and their renaissance has been driven by togetherness.

When Brighton were playing at a tiny amateur athletics stadium with temporary stands after their crooked owners sold their ground from under them, the fans stayed loyal and together. Sadly at Town we seem to have had more division than unity. Hopefully that will now end.

We have all known times when the people we voted in turned out to be no better than the ones we voted out. Right now that looks very unlikely so we can raise a cautious glass and hopefully focus on what happens on the pitch.

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Jugsy added 15:27 - Apr 8
Great read, tractorboykent. I'm glad someone has written a piece that includes acknowledgement of Marcus Evans, without doubt saved our club and without doubt got a lot wrong over the years, but it wasn't through lack of effort. Decisions are easily vilified in hindsight but hopefully we can now focus on a new dawn for our club. This club needed saving, let's hope the new ownership, fronted by 'football men' can lead us forward.

Kropotkin123 added 15:36 - Apr 8
Yeah, I might have to change my name to Emma Goldman if things go from strength to strength

Chaz26 added 16:14 - Apr 8
Thank you tractorboykent I enjoyed reading your very balanced blog. Like you, I believe, all should now pull together as it is dispiriting to read so many negative comments on a daily basis. I was worried that the new owners would close the Academy but from what I have read this could not be further from the truth. Likewise there seems a reassurring sense of a step by step process to reach the ultimate aim of stability in the Premiership. Thank you again for sharing your balanced view.

Countryboyblue added 17:02 - Apr 8
A good and honest read. Thank you.

dusth added 21:27 - Apr 8
T'boy Kent. You speak with a good journalist's experience and wisdom. Couldn't agree more. As a screenwriter and long term fan (pre Burley) I looked at Michael and Brett and saw good sense, enthusiasm and sincerity. They may succeed, they may not. I respect Marcus Evans for looking for the right people. All his bad decisions were made with Magilton, Keane, Jewell during the Premiership "gold rush" and McCarthy wasn't up to stabilising us for long. Hurst was the final nail. We have now settled at this level. There are some good young players having a rough time in there and i hope they won’t listen to the hot heads who want “the lot cleared out”. I am as chuffed as everyone about this.

NormEmerges added 08:41 - Apr 9
Excellent and well balanced article, thanks for sharing this with us. Cautious optimism is certainly the right mood for now!

In amongst all this excitement, isn't there a football match happening soon?

oldelsworthyfan added 09:21 - Apr 9
Thanks for this excellent, level headed article.
Now for the hard nosed American approach from the new owners!

alhare added 17:06 - Apr 9
Well done for a considered piece. We live in a divisive society and football and ITFC must be a force for good if we are to build the ground swell of collective energy that will drive the clubs on pitch success. Slagging ME, and indeed underwhelming okaying staff off, doesn’t achieve that. He saved us, took a huge financial hit and has handed us on to new owners who seem to have a plan fir success. Thank you ME, and now let’s all pull together to drive this football club forwards.

Runner added 14:13 - Apr 10
Nice, well balanced Blog, thank you tractorboykent.
For someone like me who watched their first game of the 68 season and us winning the 2nd division, working at the ground on match days for many years, season ticket holder some years and been to 6 out of 7 finals (home & away legs) like many of you ITFC is in my blood.
Feels nice to be a Ipswich fan again with what could be some good years ahead..

Runner added 14:17 - Apr 10
Sorry, 5 out of 6 finals (4 home & away and FA Cup) Don't go to play off final.

Facefacts added 23:03 - Apr 10
Fair enough summary, but there are many unanswered questions here. The takeover does not really make sense to me. A level of investment greater than Marcus Evans actually means annual losses of between £5M and £10M to trouser, depending on when matchday income can recover to normal, even before investing in the quality of footballer which can take us up not just one division but two, and then stay there. That does not square with the US state pension fund's requirements from buying and then owning an asset which provides an income. Are they really going to continue losing money on the back of trying to get us up to the Premier League. I cannot see it happening. It's a million to one gamble. All will suffer. The new owners do not have a clue how to get this club " back to its rightful place " with the elite. If the new owners have been watching recent matches, I can tell them they need to put £100M on the table for new players every summer for the next three years. They may as well close the academy for all the quality of players coming through. Armando Dobra I could just about see us keeping. We cannot afford to adopt the Brentford method as that would not get us up to the Premier League let alone to stay there for 5 years. I cannot understand why people are so excited about this takeover. What top top players are going to want to join Ipswich Town to become part of this project? I can't see it ending in anything other than disaster.

ElephantintheRoom added 11:03 - Apr 11
Be interesting to revisit your optimisim this time next year when the first tranche of what is effectively a high interest loan from a US pension fund is quite possibly due. The only thing that made taking over Town 'complicated' was the labyrinthine ownership trail - and horse trading over what little assets were on offer. When Evans took over he was a blatantly obvious predator hoping to get a windfall - and immediately saddled the club with debt, removed anybody with any financial control, put in an overseer with zero interest in football on an olympic fleecing brief and effectively ran the club from wherever he was, when he had time to be bothered. Lest we forget the club had recently won the FA Youth Cup and was in the promotion picture to the Prem. It is difficult to see how much different things are this time around - apart from the debt now being very real and the club not having won the FA Youth Cup recently, whilst being unlikely promotion contenders one division further down. All common sense would suggest the new owners are even more dubious than the previous one - and playing with other peoples' money in a league far away from their own.

RegencyBlue added 15:53 - Apr 11
Thank Evans for what, this?

Evans deserves all the criticism he got. Personally if I never hear Evans name again it will be too soon!

tractorboybig added 08:33 - Apr 12
elephant in the room, good response but I would add that the reaction probably shows how easily led some sections of modern society are?

tractorboykent added 09:17 - Apr 12
The blog was intended to be a balanced view. As well as expressing the hope of a good outcome it also included a number of examples of foreign ownership that went awry. Facefacts, Elephantintheroom and RegecyBlue all make fair points (I remember reading the Turnstileblues piece at the time and it's very damning for sure) and time will tell. Certainly no one is in any doubt that the commercial terms of a pension fund investment will require a substantial return otherwise the investors will walk so the clock is ticking on a mammoth task especially given the total shambles from where it is starting. Tractorboybig seems certain that anyone seeing the potential for a good deal here is being naive; rather more of us I imagine will question how it's possible to be so certain of anything at this stage. That's what the piece is saying.

ElephantintheRoom added 08:49 - Apr 17
i enjoyed your blog tractorboykent - and it IS possible to be optimistic simply by seeing the back of Evans. But there's no denying this bunch of opportunists are extremely dubious and playing with other people's cash at a club up to it's neck in poo in a country and league they know nothing about. The turnaround at Hull shows it IS possible to get upwardly mobile from grim beginnings in such a poor division... and Barnsley of all people have shown it is more than possible to thrive in the championship on thin reseources. The problem is that Town are really in a far worse position in every respect than when Evans took over the investment opportunity - and one division lower down. And he (at least allegedly) had money and business acumen, though we saw precious little of either - just a mysterious and ever-expanding debt and an unfortunate change in the way the club was run. As I said in my earlier post - it will be interesting to see where the club are in a year's time under high interest debt ownership.

Realist added 17:09 - May 10
The fact of ITFC ownership is clear. It is owned by Gamechanger 20 Ltd. What is also clear is who owns Gamechanger 20 Ltd.
Brett Johnson, Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay who are frequently mentioned as the "new owners" of ITFC in fact own very little of Gamechanger 20 Ltd. They own around 1.69% each. In fact, Marcus Evans continues to own more of ITFC through his ownership of 5% of Gamechanger and the land on the Bent Lane side of the training complex than the 3 Lions together.
The vast majority of Gamechanger is owned by ORG Az Secondary Opportunity Fund L.P. They own more than 75% of Gamechanger 20 Ltd.
ORG Az is a "real estate" fund with assets of $209.6 million which is is managed by ORG Portfolio Management.
I am wondering why a "real estate" fund owns ITFC rather than a "Sports Management" fund. Unless it is after ITFC "real estate".
As ElephantinintheRoom says it will be interesting to see where the club is in a years time.

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