|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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