Former Ipswich star Titus Bramble on his emotional trip to Ghana and coaching Town’s future stars
- Credit: Archant
Ex-Ipswich Town homegrown star Titus Bramble is back at the club as a youth team coach. STUART WATSON spoke to him about an emotional trip to Ghana and how he wants the Blues’ current teenagers not to repeat his mistakes.
This article comes from edition one of our Ipswich Town magazine Kings of Anglia, which has more than 100 pages of exclusive Blues content. You can buy it online here and from newsagents across Suffolk.
Titus Bramble wanders away from a crisp, technicolour, sensory overload of a football scene unfolding at Ipswich Town’s training ground.
The group of 12-year-olds he coaches are warming down on one of the many pristine Playford Road playing surfaces.
They are fully kitted out in first-team shirts, shorts and socks, wearing an array of brightly coloured boots and sipping on sports drinks in the shadow of floodlight towers. There’s a smell of freshly-mown grass and the sound of serious instructions echoing across the vast arena.
It’s a world away from the setting the former Blues centre-back witnessed during his recent three weeks spent in Ghana last month, coaching as part of a sports project called ‘Future Stars’.
“Some of the things I saw... I was an emotional wreck really,” says the 35-year-old, settling down to chat about his African experience.
“I knew it would be hard to see, but to witness it first hand was still a shock.
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“Surely there shouldn’t be parts of the world without fresh water, still? A lot of the kids have no shoes and no socks, but they never moaned, they just get on with it.
“I went to a school and in the playground they were just singing and dancing because they have to make their own entertainment. It was amazing because they were the happiest kids I’ve ever seen.”
Bramble gestures towards the young Ipswich academy players making their way past the cones and towards the changing room.
“Just look around here, these kids have got everything,” says the man who came through the very same system himself back in the early 90s before playing during the booming Premier League years for Ipswich, Newcastle, Wigan and Sunderland.
“You can’t knock them for it, because that’s all they know, but you see kids now who have an iPhone six, but because their friend has an iPhone seven they aren’t happy. I guess that’s the western world we live in.”
Open coaching sessions in Ghana
‘Future Stars’ was set up by Gary Miller, the managing director of oil and gas shipping company OMA Group which operates in the western coastal African nations of Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Benin and Senegal. Miller felt he wanted to give something back to the continent in which his business is thriving through the form of a school regeneration project. And, as a lifelong Ipswich Town fan, he contacted his beloved Blues to see if they would help.
OMA Group sponsors the Ipswich Town academy and, in exchange, the club sends representatives to Ghana each year to help with football coaching. Ex-Town midfielder Simon Milton, now the club’s academy sponsorship manager, has travelled out to Ghana on several occasions and this year he persuaded Bramble to join him.
Five schools in the city of Tema, which is about half an hour away from the capital of Accra, are having a full renovation thanks to the funding from another large shipping company called Yinson, while OMA Group is overseeing the sports coaching.
Bramble provided open football sessions from six to eight in the morning each day for children aged between 10 to 14. The ones who were identified as having the most talent then got invited to train again under Bramble’s tutelage at a development centre on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
“I played with a few Ghanaian players in my career – Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, John Mensah, all for Sunderland, and Richard Kingson at Wigan – they are naturally quick, naturally strong and they’ve got raw ability. I saw that in the kids I coached,” said Bramble.
“A few of them have got a chance to develop into players. I saw maybe six, seven or eight players that definitely had something better than the rest.
“I’d like to go back over there because we need to make sure those players are still developing and improving.
“Ideally we’d like to see some of these players end up at the club here. If we can find a gem in Ghana it would be great to get them at Ipswich Town before anyone else.”
‘Every Saturday was a dream come true’
Bramble spent 13 consecutive seasons playing in the Premier League before retiring in 2013, so did the people of Ghana recognise him?
“The kids not so much, because I was before their time, but the adults knew who I was,” he says with a smile. “Going around in Ghana I was known, which was quite nice.
“It’s nothing compared to the attention their national players get though. The national team were training there at the time so I went to meet up with them and talked to a few of the boys.
“They are Gods over there. Footballers used to be Gods here, but I think that’s changing now. Maybe it’s because we aren’t doing that well, but people seem to be losing interest.
“Every kid over there wants to be a footballer. You see them kicking bottles around barefoot, anything they can kick really.”
Has the trip changed Bramble in any way, made him more thankful for what he’s got?
“I’m not sure,” he says after a moment of consideration. “I think I’ve always been grateful. I’ve always known the job I do is a dream come true. I never once took for granted that every time I put on a football shirt and ran on the pitch that I was living the dream.
“I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s how it was. Ipswich especially because that was my hometown club. Every Saturday was like a dream come true.
“I never took that for granted because I know there are millions of kids who’d love to do that.
“I guess it does put some things into perspective though.”
Offering teenage guidance at ITFC
Titus Bramble hopes he can use his experience to guide future generations of Ipswich Town teenagers.
The 35-year-old made his Blues debut aged just 17 in 1998 and went on to make a £6m switch to Bobby Robson’s Newcastle United four years later.
After 13 consecutive seasons of playing in the top-flight, he hung up his boots in 2013 and now is back with his hometown club coaching the Under-12s.
“Long-term I’d like to do maybe the 16 or 18s,” he explains. “I can’t see myself doing seniors, but that could change.
“Between the ages of 16 and 18 players are still learning. If you can give them an extra 10% then you feel you are making a difference. With adults everything is game based and you’re purely judged on results. It’s pressure and I don’t want that pressure.
“I just want to help develop players into professionals and set them on their way with their careers. BK (Bryan Klug) and Paul Goddard were my two biggest influences when I came through here, Pete Trevivian and Steve Greaves too. They were the four who had a big say in my early years. To have a similar impact on some young players would give me huge satisfaction.”
Bramble is currently waiting to be assessed on his UEFA B badge qualification and plans on reaching UEFA A standard next year.
“I love being here. The whole environment is still like it was when I was in the academy,” he says. “It’s a good club, such a welcoming club, everyone feels part of it.
“It helps working with a good bunch of kids. Most of them have good attitudes and want to be here and learn and get better. Obviously, with kids being kids, some come with a little bit of an attitude. In any walk of life you get that and that’s no different with football.
“As a kid of 15/16 you do, now and again, go off the rails. George Burley would sometimes pull me in on a Monday morning and talk to me about my weekend. I had to be told off a few times.
“I have conversations with BK about what I was like. He tells the young boys here that I was the model student, but I don’t know about that!
“Things have changed a lot since I came through. We trained once a week on a Wednesday night in the dome at Portman Road. I don’t think the games programme came in until I was 13/14. Now there are games every week against your Chelseas, Tottenhams and Arsenals.
“I was more scared of my coaches. It wasn’t that they were unapproachable, it’s just that I do think the kids have more say these days. That’s just the way football has gone.”
Bramble continued: “I’ve got many games under my belt, and I’ve also had off-field antics. I’ll be able to guide people about what not to do, as well as what to do.
“At 16 to 18 you’ve just come out of school and are about to be thrust into the limelight and all of a sudden you’re a superstar with lots of money.
“Some kids have got agents, but how much advice can agents give them? Certain things you can only learn from people who have been in that position as a player.
“When I first went to Newcastle, obviously I went for quite a bit of money at the time, and I thought I’d made it because I’d got my big move.
“I’d finish training at 12, leave at 12.30 and from my car I’d see people like Alan Shearer, Gary Speed and Shay Given still training. They were top, top, top pros and they were still working on their game and there’s me, just turned 21, going home straight away.
“You sometimes take for granted the information that the older pros can give you at a young age. It wasn’t until later in my career where I thought ‘maybe I should have listened to them more’ because they had so much knowledge of the game.
“As a kid you do kind of think you know it all and I see that with a lot of kids now.”
Bramble added: “Ipswich is home, the club’s my life. I came here as an eight-year-old and I’m just delighted that they have welcomed me back in this role.” HHH