North Stander: A relationship lost. But despite the gloom, we are still in the promotion hunt

Covid-19 means Ipswich Town fans haven't been inside Portman Road since the 1-0 loss to Coventry City back on March 7.

Portman Road. Will it be a happier place to be in 2021? - Credit: PA

So, we might well have played our last game of what has been a thoroughly miserable 2020. The Covid outbreak at the club might well put paid to our Christmas programme.

First and foremost, and most importantly, all Town fans will wish Paul Lambert and the five other members of staff affected a very speedy return to full health. In the grand scheme of things, footballing matters become rather trivial.

Paul Lambert appeals to the referee during Ipswich Town's loss to Portsmouth

Nothing more important than a full return to health for Paul Lambert and those affected by the Covid outbreak at Portman Road - Credit: Steve Waller

As I have been reminded many, many times over the decades by those who are dismissive of football it is, in the final analysis, 22 men or women trying to get a ball into two big nets at either end of the pitch.

So, especially in a year like this, it is easy to argue that football really doesn’t matter very much. Of course, you cannot compare it to the importance of people’s health.

But I would say that it does have a part to play. It can lift our spirits. It gives us a sense of belonging.

Ipswich Town's Emyr Huws celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game during the Sky Bet Le

Football can lift your spirits, such joy. Emyr Huws celebrates his winner against Burton - Credit: PA

It’s also a welcome distraction from the woes of the world at the moment.

It’s been great to see - and hear - fans returning to matches, albeit in very limited numbers. It will be a huge moment when grounds are packed again, a significant step back to normality after this awful time for this country, and indeed the entire world.

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For millions of people, supporting their football team is an integral and important part of their life.

Fans back inside Portman Road.
Picture: Steve Waller
www.stephenwaller.com

At least fans are back at Portman Road, even with masks - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Meeting up with friends at matches, maybe going to the pub before the game, devoting their whole Saturdays to travelling to far-flung away grounds.

Let’s hope that 2021 can see life for all of us - including football fans - returning to normal. For those of us who follow Ipswich Town, it is an especially interesting time.

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Let’s face it, the last few years have been dreadful. In fact, the worst that the vast majority of us can remember. The football has been poor, results have been dreadful, and many fans feel more disenchanted than I have ever known.

The downbeat feeling is so widespread. Even the most optimistic, normally upbeat Town supporters are gloomy.

Town players in despair after conceding the first as Bristol levelled 1-1 at Portman Road. Pictur

There have been too many scenes like this in recent years - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

What we’ve endured on the pitch has played its part. Of course it has. But so has the wider picture. A distance has developed between Ipswich Town and its fans.

I mentioned in my last column how owner Marcus Evans’ continued low profile and lack of direct interaction with the supporters is a major issue. His occasional statements are interesting, and welcome, but they’re not the answer.

No disrespect to various operational chiefs he has installed - Simon Clegg, Ian Milne and now Lee O’Neill - but they are not the guys who make the big, final decisions. Evans says he takes responsibility for all the major decisions. So, the supporters, and the media, are left feeling they are always one step removed from the real power at the football club. Not at all helpful.

David Sheepshanks lifts the trophy at Wembley. Picture: ARCHANT

David Sheepshanks: Knew what made Town fans tick

When David Sheepshanks was chairman, he was very accessible. As editor of this newspaper, I could call him and we would discuss things.

David would attend supporter events, he would bump into fans when he was out and about in Suffolk, and was always happy to chat about his beloved Ipswich Town.

Crucially, he wore his heart on his sleeve. We all remember his sheer, unbridled joy in 2000 when we won promotion at Wembley - or his very clear despair as we were relegated and slid into administration shortly afterwards.

All of that cemented the relationship between club and fans, both in good times and bad. Sadly, in the Evans era, that relationship has been lost.

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans hopes not all supporters will ask for a cash refund on their part us

Marcus Evans: A relationship with Town fans lost? - Credit: Archant

Better performances on the pitch would help. Will that happen? it might. Because, despite all the doom and gloom, we are still well placed in the promotion race.

Yes, we’re not playing well. But, if we can hang around the top six until the injured players return, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t mount a strong challenge.

What about the manager? Let’s not waste our breath. Evans has made it clear Lambert is going nowhere.

LAMBERT: We want to give squad a helping hand

Longer term, surely our only hope of real progress is developing our own youngsters. It’s part of our proud tradition. It looks like we have a good current crop. Let’s not waste them, as we did the 2005 Youth Cup-winning team.

Interesting times all round. Stay safe.

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