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The M Word
Written by Chickenstochurchmans on Monday, 11th Apr 2022 15:40

As new players and staff have arrived at Portman Road over the last year Town have frequently been described as a ‘massive’ club much to the amusement of older fans like myself.

Understandable in that when many of the new management team were young, Town did enjoy great success and this is what they’ve been selling to the new signings. Don’t tell them but we have never been a massive club! But an extraordinary club yes, as Town have never been just another football club.

I first started going to Portman Road in the mid-sixties. Even though we had won the League championship a few years earlier, the only time that you would hear Ipswich Town mentioned in the media was for the immaculate pitch which was acknowledged by all as the best in the League, in fact good enough to host a hockey international.

We were very much a small, market town club considered somewhat quaint. We knew that we could not regularly compete with the big clubs but in that unique Suffolk way believed that once in every generation we could show the big city clubs that we were something special.

Portman Road has always been central to the success of Ipswich Town. Only a handful of league clubs have played at the same ground since 1884 when Ipswich first took residence.

The important thing is that Portman Road Recreation Ground has always been owned by Ipswich Council which has safeguarded Town’s future at a time when greedy owners elsewhere have looked to sell their grounds. In fact, we have the council to thank for having the foresight to offer Town a new lease in the late sixties providing there was “substantial improvements to the spectator facilities” which prompted the building of the East Stand and the momentum which led to further success.

And we were one of the last grounds in England to allow advertising in the ground; I’m sure that others will remember the shock of seeing it for the first time.

During the period that ended in administration I was never too concerned about the future as we would have always had the council’s backing with Portman Road. And even if we had started again as a phoenix club in Tier seven or eight imagine what a journey we could have shared over the last 15 years instead of the reality of what we have experienced. And importantly it would have remained Our Club.

Ipswich has always been a unique and innovative club, different from others.

• At a time when most football clubs were under the FA, Ipswich, founded by amateurs, in 1907 became members of the breakaway Amateur Football Association which was made up predominantly of London, Home Counties and University clubs. Ipswich became one of the biggest amateur clubs outside of the London area and were well known for their level of hospitality to visiting teams and officials, a reputation that later the Cobbold family elevated to a fine art! Because of this Portman Road was favoured by holding Amateur England Internationals, AFA Cup Finals and matches involving the Corinthians.

• During this amateur period, Flight-Lieutenant Sidney Webster played for Town between 1925-30 whilst he was stationed at RAF Martlesham, captaining the team for one year. Flight-Lieutenant Webster was one of the most famous people in England at the time having won the Schneider Trophy [an annual race for sea planes and flying boats] for Britain in 1927. In modern day terms it would be as though Lewis Hamilton pulled on the Town shirt on his weeks off!

• Finally, at a time when Ipswich was the biggest town in England not to have a professional football club, in 1936, Capt ‘Ivan’ Cobbold, encouraged by a visit to Highbury with his friend Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, chairman of Arsenal, started the move toward Ipswich Town turning professional. In their first year as a full-time club they won the Southern League. The following year, with an eye to pushing for Football League status, they tempted Scott Duncan, then Manchester United’s manager, to Portman Road. With Duncan’s help Town were voted into the Football League in 1938.

• It was reported at this time that Ipswich had one of the biggest Supporters’ Clubs in England with over 10,000 members. The Supporters’ Association were to be a major influence after the war and into the late fifties when they paid for concrete terracing, the West Stand and the installation of floodlights. It was very much Our Club.

• In the 60s and 70s notable moments came thick and fast. Winning the League, playing in Europe and achieving a then European record 10-0 victory, Blue Arrow special trains, winning the FA Cup, producing countless internationals as well as two England managers. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Texaco Cup victory v Norwich. And with Ipswich Speedway starting in 1969 and quickly becoming successful this led to a period when vast numbers of Ipswich sports fans travelled far and wide to support their successful teams. You were just as likely to bump into your milkman on the terraces at Anfield, Belle Vue or the motorway services than in your street delivering milk.

• Then in 2001, the age of the Premier League when money ruled, Ipswich still had the audacity to finish fifth, only losing a Champions League spot to Liverpool on the last day in what now must be seen as Town’s last glorious moment. Over 20 years, a generation, ago.

You must never compare Ipswich Town with other clubs. They are, and always have been, an extraordinary club. They are not a club who do ‘normal’. A town the size of Ipswich should be mixing it regularly with the likes of Gillingham, Rochdale, Rotherham, Doncaster, Blackpool, York; towns of similar size. Which ironically now of course they are!

And having money to spend on new players has never been a major consideration at Ipswich, so any talk of big-spending misses the point. In fact, the only time that we thought we had money to spend resulted in us going into administration!

Any successes have been as a result of brilliant tactics (Sir Alf Ramsey) or brilliant youth players (Sir Bobby Robson) combined with magnificent man-management but also interwoven by strategic and successful buying of specific targets; Doug Moran, Ray Crawford, John O’Rourke and Peter Morris, Jommy Robertson and Frank Clarke, Allan Hunter, Paul Mariner, Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, Marcus Stewart etc. So younger readers must not get fixated about having money to spend, we cannot and have never been able to compete financially with bigger clubs.

Reading a match programme recently from 1976 it states that out of an Ipswich squad of 40 players only four had been purchased, the rest having coming through the youth team. And we were at the top of the league at the time!

I travelled a lot throughout Europe in the 70s and 80s and even if you didn’t speak the language when you went into a bar and mentioned Ipswich Town everyone knew about us. Drinks were bought. Memories were shared. No longer!

The most obvious way to interpret these few notes are as a eulogy for an old friend who has given me so many happy memories. But Ipswich Town have always been able to surprise, have never taken the accepted path. In the 144 years of Town’s existence the club has been run by the players, the supporters, the board (of local businessmen and bigwigs) and finally for the last 14 years by the owner(s).

But when ‘owners’ are long gone, Ipswich Town and Portman Road will still be there. As will the people of Suffolk who own the real soul of Ipswich Town.

However, this is no time to disappoint our current masters so when you hear someone next describing Town as a massive club, just smile and nod knowingly.




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Nthsuffolkblue added 16:24 - Apr 11
Excellent Blog, well done.
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Ryorry added 17:16 - Apr 11
Superb, a really enjoyable read, thanks! 👍
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SanityBlue added 08:07 - Apr 12
You're right. We're not a massive club and never have been. But despite the mismanagement during the Marcus Evans era we have maintained our support. Although Ipswich is not a big town it has a fairly wide catchment area. It also enjoys a fair bit of support outside of the catchment area due largely to the great teams of the 1970's and early 1980's when ITFC seemed to be everyone's second club. So far this season we're averaging 21,600 at home games. Only Sunderland enjoys greater support in League One while Sheffield Wednesday is on a par with us. In the Championship only Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and Derby County are getting bigger home gates and in the Premiership Watford, Burnley and Brentford are drawing fewer fans. Undoubtedly we have very strong support for a slightly better than average League One club. The history and following of our club suggests that we should be gravitating between the Premiership and Championship. For many years we punched above our weight and currently we are definitely punching below.
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ElephantintheRoom added 10:36 - Apr 12
Ah - someone with a similar perspective as my good self. Thoroughly enjoyed that - thanks for taking the time to write. I’m not sure supporters of a younger persuasion have any idea of what it is like to support a team that actually represents Ipswich I think you could expand your great days to include Bill Mcgarry - he of the O’Rourke and Morris signings and John Lyall. Both had the common sense to build on what they already had and won their division in double quick time. The uncomfortable reality is Town have won nothing since Lyall left if you admit the play off final is a trophy for coming 3rd, even if you came 4th,5th or 6th.

And I’d almost forgotten the excitement generated when Ivan Mauger and Bellevue or Christer Loqvist and the Poole Pirates were at Foxhall

Alas we are now in different times. The reasons some football parasites have persuaded some American chancers to invest borrowed money in Ipswich is nothing to do with Ipswich, nor indeed the support (though every $ helps when things aren’t going to plan) it’s more to do with global and US television rights and internet sales. In other words ‘new customers’ so you need to hype up the project to appeal. I suspect the same is true of many if not most current Ipswich Town supporters. Nobody under the age of thirty has any idea of what it meant to support a successful football club. Nobody much under retirement age takes pride in the transition from 2nd division champs to coming within spitting distance of winning the league largely on home grown players (though somewhat distressingly, Derby, Forest and Villa seized chances when they appeared).

I wrote a similar piece about the absurdity of Town thinking themselves a big club and I’m sure that until this delusion is shattered they’ll remain also rans in the 3rd division. Sunderland suffer from this delusion too - they’ve been a rubbish club my entire life give or taken a surprise cup win - and they too are struggling much as Leeds did before them.

The thing is time and geography have caught up with Ipswich. When they eventually emerge into the daylight of the championship (where lest we forget supporters were generally frustrated and angry that other clubs were far more successful) the same problems remain. Town seem to modelling their latest incarnation on ‘moneyball’ which alas can’t be successful for everyone. Indeed it seems to speed decline at a small Town club if Barnsley are anything to go by. Maybe Ashton should change tack and take a closer look at Luton and Huddersfield.
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BossMan added 12:07 - Apr 12
Interesting and enjoyable read so thanks for taking the time and effort to write. Having been spoilt by growing up watching Beattie & co I really hope it's not too long before our younger fans get to see a new batch of heroes playing for Town but as the amazing numbers of away fans we already show we have a club that is growing, is sustainable and increasingly the fan base is becoming more ambitious with many accepting that we should be targeting more than a play off spot from tier 3. No doubt the recent up turn in fortunes will continue next season and there is much to look forward to as well as there is so much good stuff to look back as you quite rightly point out.
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ChrisFelix added 14:33 - Apr 12
Enjoyable read. As a supporter for almost 60 years I consider us as a big little club. I don't think a town the size of Ipswich will ever compete with the likes of Manchester United or Spurs. But we did in the past when our side could beat anything in the country.
I feel lucky that our climb to the top division unlike Northampton Town & Carlisle United lasted for more than a season
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KiwiBlue2 added 02:04 - Apr 14
Excellent history along with some very good points made.
I began supporting Ipswich in 1975 from NZ after watching the team of that year on Match of the Day. I did some research and quickly realised that their success was not based on money but on development of their young players supplemented with occasional but very astute purchases to fill key positions that could not be adequately filled from within the club.
It has saddened me to an extent to see the decline over the past 20 years or so and the Premier League almost becoming a wealth test between the top clubs in it. I have visited Portman Road several times over the years and been impressed the ground and the demeanour of the Town supporters and the friendly people that I have encountered when staying in Ipswich.
While this season looks like it will quietly fizzle out I have high hopes for next season and hope that with investment we can be back in the top flight sometime in the next 3 years....... coyb
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PortmanTerrorist added 12:33 - Apr 14
Nice piece, cant beat a bit of nostalgia, but I think the context has been lost. The owners talk much about legacy and history which for a Club such as ours is accurate and rare.....just take a look up the road.....one milky trophy and a bunch of rosettes is all you will find in their trophy cabinet, as my son pointed out (quite vocally) when Mascot there.

As for the M word, that is totally correct for the situation and League we are in. Does anyone really think that it would be being used if we were lower-mid Premier League?! Of course not, as it is a relative term. Still, a it is good excuse for a nice Blog.
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Chickenstochurchmans added 14:12 - Apr 15
Thanks all for your kind words and to TWTD for allowing me to indulge in a short history lesson! I have become concerned that too many people these days are unaware of just what an amazing and unique club it is we support. And you're right Elephant, McGarry did a fantastic job in turning 1967-68 from a maybe season to a championship season with those two signings - I still remember every detail of those last fifteen games as I'm sure that you do.
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ElephantintheRoom added 17:18 - Apr 17
ChickenstoChurchmans. Indeed and that precision trademark John O’Rourke header in the first game back against Wolves. It’s kind of weird to think that when that team rose to the top division it was still less than a decade since Town had won the league (and England were world champions) . Now it’s 30 years since Town won the second division. That in itself show how far the club has sunk
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ButchersBrokenNose added 18:00 - Apr 18
Great piece. Thank you for writing it.

About ten years ago (when we were a mid-table Second Division team) I lamented to a friend and fellow supporter your same point, and I worried that Town would never get to the heights of the Bobby Robson teams. But then, Leicester went from the Third Division to Champions, and if they can do it, we can too. It wasn't too long ago that I watched us play Wolves at Portman Road. With a bit of foreign investment and some good coaching, they are now an established Premiership side. There's no reason we can't do the same.

The only part where I would respectfully disagree with you is regarding our American owners. Yes, they are in the business of making money, and they probably see us as a "sleeping giant," ripe for exploitation, similar to Man. City when they were in this division. But that's just business, and it doesn't have to be bad for us. Unfortunately, you can't compete in any division today without some form of investment from someone looking to make a profit, so we're lucky that our history encouraged Gamechanger to come and take a chance on us.
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Harlestonblue added 09:52 - Apr 19
Try walking from the ASDA at Whitehouse to Foxhall Stadium and let me know if you think Ipswich is a small town! Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Hadleigh and Stowmarket are small towns. I guess we are medium sized and having a large catchment area: Ipswich, Suffolk, North and mid Essex, South Norfolk and East Cambridgeshire makes us a pretty big club, hence our impressive support home and away.
I did enjoy your article though.
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