Trust in Lambert, get the mix right and play the Ipswich way - A plan to help Town bounce back
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
How can Ipswich Town bounce back? Northstander Terry Hunt shares his five-point plan....
The Fightback Starts Now. That's the slogan adopted by Ipswich Town since relegation to League One was confirmed. Fine words - but how can the club turn them into reality?
Firstly, let's hope this really is the low point, that harsh lessons have truly been learned by the hierarchy at the club, and that the glaring mistakes will come to an end.
There are some encouraging signs. Despite dreadful results, Paul Lambert has worked wonders in rebuilding the relationship with the fans, so badly damaged in the last years of Mick McCarthy's tenure.
The atmosphere at games - home and away - in recent months has been remarkable considering the position of the team, crashing to the third tier for the first time in 62 seasons. That passion and loyalty is precious. Lambert realises that.
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There are also some good signs from owner Marcus Evans. His message to fans after relegation was well-judged, and he got the season ticket price reduction about right - and the fans responded. Contrast that with his outrageous decision to increase prices two years ago, after a dull-as-ditchwater McCarthy campaign.
So, there is some evidence of the very beginnings of a rebuilding process. But there is so much to do, such a long way to go, to restore our club to its rightful place - which I believe is at the upper end of the Championship, with occasional forays into the Premier League.
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As a fan of 52 seasons, here's what I would love to see happen at our football club.
1) Play the Ipswich way
For decades, Ipswich Town has enjoyed a deserved reputation for playing attractive football. Despite the McCarthy years, that reputation has not been totally and utterly destroyed.
I want to see us playing easy on the eye football, based on the age-old principles of pass and move. Take a look at the move which created Andre Dozzell's sublime goal against Leeds last weekend. More of that please!
We all know that Bryan Klug and his colleagues at our revered academy produce youngsters who try to play "the Ipswich way," but, for whatever reason, very few of them make it through to a regular spot in the first team.
Whatever happened to the bright young things from our FA Youth Cup winning team of 2005, who in the final beat a Southampton side including Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and David McGoldrick?
There has been talk of an "all through" style of play, involving everyone from kids to first team. I look forward to that developing.
We don't want to be soft touches, of course - especially in the no-nonsense environment of League One - and that's where a few older heads will be vital.
Which brings me on to...
2) Get the mix right
We have a really promising bunch of youngsters coming through. Downes, Dozzell, Lankester, Woolfenden, to name but a few.
We also have some battle-hardened veterans in skipper Chambers, Skuse and Judge.
The task which lies ahead for Paul Lambert is getting the mix right, something which his short-lived predecessor Paul Hurst so palpably failed to achieve.
I'm sure there will be some departures - we have far too big a squad - as well as a number of new faces between now and August.
Chambers and Skuse are certainly past their best now, but should still have a role to play at a lower level. Judge ought to be a real star.
The key will be getting the most from those youngsters, and the veterans, and also some surviving Hurst signings, such as Gwion Edwards, Jon Nolan, Kayden Jackson and Toto Nsiala, who I believe will be really important for us.
Lambert knows his honeymoon period will end in August. He has until then to get the the formula right, and start winning games.
If he achieves that, his love affair with the fans will continue. If the results aren't right, things will go sour very quickly.
3) Show you value us!
Being a Town fan hasn't been a particularly wonderful experience since 2002, when we last played in the Premier League.
We've had a few good seasons, notably under Joe Royle, and one surprise play-off campaign with Mick McCarthy.
But, for the most part, it has been mediocre and, since the Evans takeover, there has been inexorable decline, culminating in the worst season in living memory.
Evans has been reluctant to engage directly with fans, leaving that to his managers and nominated "front man." More on that later.
Of course, when the manager is Mick McCarthy, who showed a huge lack of respect for the supporters, the whole thing starts to unravel in a big way.
There are signs that the club has realised its mistakes. Season ticket prices are fairer, there have been thank you events for loyal supporters, and Paul Lambert makes sure he shows his appreciation.
But a lot more could be done. Of course what happens on the pitch is hugely important, but so is the whole match day experience.
I'll give you one tiny example of where it could be so much better. I have sat in Sir Bobby Robson Upper since the stand was built in 2002.
I happen to enjoy a half-time drink with some mates. But buying those drinks has always been something of a trial. You have a choice: Either leave your seat two or three minutes before half-time to beat the queues, and risk missing a goal. Or see the end of the half, join a massive queue and find yourself just starting your beer at the beginning of the second half.
I've raised this issue with the Portman Road hierarchy several times. Either employ more bar staff, or pre-pour some beers to cut the queues - as they do at pretty much every other ground I've visited. Hardly rocket science.
Also, every time there's a big crowd, the beer runs out, or the pies run out, or both. It just doesn't make you feel wanted. And surely it's losing the club much-needed revenue?
I know I'm whingeing, and I know it's a relatively little thing, but it's all about showing how much you value the customer, isn't it?
4) The Sheepshanks factor
Ever since David Sheepshanks stepped down as chairman, there has been a void. The club has missed a high-profile person at the top who is first and foremost a fan, but is also there to take the bouquets and brickbats.
Marcus Evans, for his own reasons, has mostly stayed away from publicity, with the exception of the occasional interview and pre-prepared statements. He has never engaged directly with the supporters, which I will always regard as a mistake.
Instead, he has appointed "front men," who he expects to do that job for him. We had Simon Clegg, then Ian Milne, and now there is Lee O'Neill.
All decent guys, I'm sure, but there will always be a problem. Supporters know they are not talking to the ultimate decision-maker. At the end of the day, the buck stops with Evans, and fans can't speak to him.
In my view, that's been a problem since the day Evans bought the club, and it remains a major sticking point to this day.
Going back to David Sheepshanks, everyone knew that he'd been a fan since childhood, that he was a Suffolk man through and through, and he was willing to deal directly with the fans - in good times and bad.
We really miss that connection, and only Marcus Evans can restore it. How about it, Marcus?
5) Trust in Lambert
Finally, to the manager. Statistically, Paul Lambert's record is pretty grisly. Just four wins.
Already, there are those who have been vociferously pointing out his lack of success on the pitch. Most supporters, however, accept he inherited an almighty mess.
But Lambert will know that our patience and goodwill won't last forever. He will be under a good deal of pressure at the start of next season. The expectation is a promotion campaign, or a play-off place at the very least.
I believe he is the right man for the job. What he says about the club getting so much wrong makes a whole lot of sense. He knows there is a big job of work to be done.
He will need support from Marcus Evans, both financially and in bringing about the other changes he deems necessary to get our club back on track. I believe he will receive that backing from Evans.
The owner's track record with managers is that he isn't too trigger-happy. He gave Keane, Jewell and McCarthy plenty of time. Arguably too much time in some cases.
But it changed with Hurst. He went quickly, and it was right that he did.
But we don't want Ipswich Town to be known as one of those laughing stock sacking clubs. Lambert deserves plenty of time to get it right. I believe he will do it - just as he did with our noisy neighbours up the A140.
There you have it - five steps for the fightback to succeed. I look forward to the open-top bus tour next May - and I'm sure ours won't break down!