Bonne on Chantry life, Town tears and meeting his heroes
- Credit: Pagepix
Macauley Bonne 'cried his eyes out' when Ipswich Town released him at 14, but his love for the Blues never faded. STUART WATSON spoke to the QPR loanee about his return to Portman Road.
Ipswich Town has induced plenty of tears over the years for Macauley Bonne.
The first came through childish anger.
At the age of seven, the Sprites Primary School pupil was an obsessed Blues fan who had a season ticket ‘directly next to the home dugout’ along with his mum and two brothers.
All he wanted to do was catch the ball and throw it back to his homegrown heroes – Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose.
“Curtains, bedsheets, posters - I had the lot,” he says.
“One year I had a cousin come round for a family party and he ripped my Town squad photo and I actually cried. I was in such a bad mood about that for days. My mum and dad ended up replacing it.”
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The next lot of tears were of gut-wrenching disappointment.
At the age of 14, having spent six years progressing through his beloved club’s academy, the Chantry High School pupil was released.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” he says. “It was Sammy Moore and Gerard Nash who told me.
“I remember going home and just crying my absolute eyes out. The next day at school was horrible. For weeks and weeks I didn’t tell anyone I’d been released because I was so embarrassed.
“That day, I thought my football career was over. Luckily, I got a phone call from Tony Humes a few weeks after saying ‘come down to Colchester’.”
Teddy Bishop was the only player from that age group who went on to make it as a professional. He’s now set to depart the Blues in the same window that Bonne has returned on loan from QPR.
“They said I wasn’t fit enough,” says Bonne, when asked what he was told when let go.
“And now one of the main reasons for clubs signing me, beyond the goalscoring, is for my work rate.
“So I kind of used that as fuel and spun it right around. If you ask any manager I’ve played under they’ll say my work rate is a strength.
“I don’t think it was a fair reason. How can you tell a kid he isn’t fit enough when he’s going through a growth spurt and still turning from a young child into a man?
“I guess that’s just football. If I wasn’t their cup of tea, I wasn’t their cup of tea. To be fair, it probably ended up being one the best thing that happened to me.
“I might not have had the career I’ve had if I’d stayed.”
Before we get into that full circle journey, there is one small matter to quickly address. Bonne’s CV, well the one that’s on Wikipedia anyway, shows he had a brief spell at Norwich City.
“I don’t even know why that’s on there!” he laughs. “I’ve had a few messages from people saying: ‘You were at Norwich?! I thought you were an Ipswich fan?’
“I was really young. I remember Malcolm Moore coming to me one session. I must have been about 10 or 11, maybe 12, and he said ‘you’re going to go and play for Norwich this weekend in a tournament’.
“I was like ‘what?!’ I remember me and my old man going and meeting the coach on the motorway, going to Fulham’s training ground and playing in a tournament for Norwich.
“Norwich were a Premier League club at the time and I think they wanted to take me on, but the travelling for my parents was too much.”
Bonne ended up down the road at Colchester United. He made his senior debut at 17, but faded from the picture when the U’s dropped into League Two.
“I got shipped out on loan to Lincoln, I got shipped out on loan to Woking (both in the National League) - it was a real low point in my career,” he admits.
“I was really enjoying it at Lincoln, then I got concussed and ended up getting sent back. Suddenly I was not getting a sniff in League Two for Col U, despite the fact I’d scored goals in League One the season before.”
Scoring against Leyton Orient towards the back end of 2016/17 was a real sliding doors moment. The O’s subsequently signed Bonne and, two years later, he had earned a £200k move to Championship club Charlton. Fast forward 12 more months and he was making a £2m switch to QPR.
“I tell you, the person that made me fall back in love with football was Justin Edinburgh,” said Bonne, referring to his Orient manager who, very sadly, died of a heart attack just a few weeks after leading the East London club back into the Football League.
“I owe him so much. He was the guy. He knew what I could do and he always just said to me ‘go out there and work your arse off and win me the game’. That’s where I’ve felt most comfortable under a manager in my career.
“I ended up playing 104 games for him on the trot, scored nearly 50 goals, we won the league... Him and Leyton Orient are the reason I fell back in love with football.
“I dropped down to the Conference when a lot of players wouldn’t have been happy doing that. I still had a few years left on my (Colchester) deal, but I didn’t want to sit there and rot away. I wanted to go and do something and make sure I could show the Football League world what I can do.”
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When Bonne signed for Ipswich, his brother, Chandler, tweeted: “(He) grew up on Chantry estate kicking ball on the green, chips from topshops (sic) and knock and run on Hawthorn (Drive). He’s home.”
“That’s exactly how it was - I won’t lie to you!” laughs Bonne.
“I had a great group of friends growing up and they’re still my friends now.
“Okay, they weren’t the most well-behaved, but they always made sure I stayed out of trouble because of my football.
“It’s weird. A lot of my friends aren’t big football fans. They were more into motocross and fishing. That was good for me. I had a chance to be a kid, whereas I know a lot of my friends in football didn’t relax away from it.
“My friends have not changed towards me, no matter what level I’ve played at. They just always root for me and want me to do well.
“A lot of them haven’t been able to make my games over the years because of work. Now I am home, they can come to the games. And for them to say they are coming to support me, not being football fans, means a lot. They don’t really care about football, but they care about me.”
From Colchester, to Orient, to Charlton and then QPR. Throughout it all, Bonne has always stayed living in Ipswich - and he’s always stayed a Town fan.
“Whenever there’s been cup draws, people say ‘you must want a Prem team?’ but I’ve always been honest,” he says.
“I tell them ‘I support Ipswich, I’m a Town fan’. It’s the town I grew up in, it’s the team I played for as a kid and it’s all the history I know.
“You hear people say ‘I’m a Man United fan’ or ‘I’m a Man City fan’, but you’re not a proper fan unless you know the history of the club.
“I can name you all the teams from over the years. Pablo Counago, Jaime Peters, Jason de Vos, Gareth McAuley... This is so surreal for me because I could talk about Ipswich Town for days and days. People probably don’t want to hear it.
“I still have all the old DVDs. I’ve got one at home called ‘The Road to Europe’ and it has footage on it from when the Sir Alf Ramsey statue got unveiled. If you look, I am actually there on my dad’s shoulders as a young kid.
“I was at the Inter Milan game, I watched the Liverpool game in the Premier League when Michael Owen scored a hat-trick... I can name game after game!”
He continues: “Being a Town fan has never left me. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Town have been the first thing I think of as soon as I get back in the dressing room. I’m straight on my phone to see how they’ve got on.
“My dad lives right near Gippeswyk Park in Chantry still. From his front door you can see Portman Road and when a goal goes in you can hear the crowd roar.
“My mum lives at the other end of Chantry and it’s one road down to the stadium. She still works in Victoria’s Bakery.
“I don’t live in Chantry anymore, I’m nearer the training ground now, but I’m probably in Chantry 95% of the time seeing my friends and family. I just try and be a normal kid outside of football.”
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Bonne has already met a few of his early football heroes.
At Colchester, he became good friends with Ambrose and found it a strange experience driving Owen Garvan to training and playing alongside Jermaine Wright’s son, Drey.
At Charlton, Andy Marshall was the goalkeeper coach. Now, at Ipswich, he has Gary Roberts as a coach.
“I’ve got photos with all of those guys when I was a kid,” he says. “It was the first thing I told Gary when I saw him.”
He continues: “I just can't wait to score that first goal at Portman Road and hear my name being sung and the ground to be rocking.”
Already there have been a few suggestions for Bonne chants on social media.
“That’s going to give me that extra boost to score even more goals, I’m telling you,” enthuses the striker.
“Even now when I’m wearing the badge in training it gives me a boost. Every day I’m thinking ‘I’ve actually got the Ipswich Town badge on my chest now as a first team player’.
“When I signed I said playing for Ipswich would give me a 10 to 15% boost… It’s probably going to give me, I don’t know, another 100% on top of what I already had when I put on that match kit for the first time.”
And so, finally, Ipswich Town will induce some happy tears for the Bonne family.
“I’ve got an uncle who is a big Town fan and he cried when I made my debut for Col U, so he’s going to be an absolute mess when I pull on the Town shirt!” says the front man.
“So will my mum, so will my dad, so will my brothers... It’s going to be a good day.”
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Bonne is, we mustn’t forget, only on loan.
And he’s still got two more years left on his QPR contract.
Reflecting on last season, in which he was restricted to nine starts and 26 sub appearances due to the form of Charlie Austin and Lyndon Dykes at Loftus Road, he said: “It often felt like a waste of time just coming on for a few minutes at the end. I really feel like I could have made more of an impact but was not given much of an opportunity.
“Now Paul Cook is hopefully going to give me chance to go and play my game again. I feel like he can get the best out of me.”
Asked what his targets for the season were, given he is in competition with strikers Joe Pigott and James Norwood, Bonne pauses before replying: “How can I put this nicely? I want to make sure that I’m a name the gaffer can’t leave off his team sheet. I want to make it impossible for him to leave me out.
“I back myself to score goals in any league I play in. I’ve done that.
“The big goal though is obviously promotion. I know I’m only here on loan, but I’m an Ipswich Town player. Honestly, I so want to see Ipswich Town back in the Championship. Then who knows what will happen from there?”