Whipper the bear is selling Ipswich

MEET Whipper the teddy bear.The bear is being used to sell Ipswich to the footballing world as England prepares to take on Croatia in a friendly at Portman Road next month.

MEET Whipper the teddy bear.

The bear is being used to sell Ipswich to the footballing world as England prepares to take on Croatia in a friendly at Portman Road next month.

Whipper's even going to Downing Street as a present for little Leo Blair to tell him how Ipswich is gearing up for one of its greatest ever sporting occasions.

The blue coated teddy is the mascot being used by the borough council to cash in on the footballing skills of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney as Ipswich becomes the focus of football fans across the country and Europe.

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Portman Road is the latest stop on the England football team's nationwide roadshow following the closure of Wembley stadium. Other venues the team have played at recently include Sunderland's Stadium of Light, Middlesbrough's Riverside, and St Mary's Stadium, Southampton.

England's friendly with Croatia on August 20 is part of the build-up to their final three Group 7 fixtures in the qualification stage for next year's European Championships in Portugal.

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The borough council want Ipswich to receive as much publicity as possible from the Portman Road fixture, and that's where Whipper comes in.

The front of his blue t-shirt says "Football's Coming Home" while the back extols welcomes everyone to IP1.

Accompanying Whipper to Downing Street is an invitation to Leo's dad, asking the Prime Minister to visit Ipswich for the official launch of the publicity campaign on August 1, on the Roof Garden of the Willis building.

Council leader Peter Gardiner has written to Mr Blair: "We have great pleasure in inviting you to take part in the Football's Coming Home campaign which we are using to showcase Ipswich to an international audience. As you have said before you are a big supporter of our IP-City hi-tech initiative and are aware of the importance of Ipswich and Suffolk as the engine of the East of England economy.

"Ipswich is unique in that we have given two managers to the England cause – not even Newcastle can boast that!" says Mr Gardiner, in a reference to the Prime Minsiter's favourite team, Newcastle Utd.

Other invitations, and bears, have gone to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Sports Minister Richard Caborn, Ipswich's Labour MP Chris Mole, and Conservative Sir Michael Lord, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Suffolk Central and Ipswich North.

Whipper has also gone to more than 50 of England's leading sports journalists, in the hope that a more positive image of the town will be portrayed than the verdict of the Sunday Times that Ipswich "is a boring, ordinary, unremarkable, Suffolk town a challenging 75-mile commute to London."

Mr Mole, who is hosting the campaign launch, said: "Having England play here will be a great honour."

The East Anglian Daily Times is fully behind Football's Coming Home.

Editor Terry Hunt said: "This is a great opportunity for Ipswich to put itself in the spotlight and show thousands of travelling football fans just what an upbeat place it is."

Sue Davis of Ufford Park Hotel says the football match will help "educate visitors of the diversity of the town and surrounding amenities. It will certainly put Ipswich on the map."

Peter Smith of Willis Group added: "We are pleased to see Ipswich is being promoted in the global international football scene, which can only help the profile of the town."

Nationwide Building Society, the England team's main sponsors, is taking is Hot Shots virtual penalty shoot-out to the Cornhill on the day of the match and a theme song has been written by local band Alliance.

n Tickets for the match have sold out, but it is being televised live on Sky Sports.

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