Full transcript of Johnson and O'Leary's first press conference as Ipswich Town owners

Brett Johnson and Michael O'Leary are part of the ownership group who have bought Ipswich Town

Brett Johnson and Michael O'Leary are part of the ownership group who have bought Ipswich Town - Credit: Zoom/ITFC

New chairman Mike O'Leary and investor Brett Johnson hosted their first press conference last night after taking ownership of Ipswich Town. Stuart Watson and Andy Warren bring you every word said by the new men in charge of the Blues.

Welcome to Suffolk. Fourteen year ago Ipswich Town fans were celebrating when Marcus Evans came to Town and those fans will be celebrating again now. 

Football’s not a game of certainties, so what do you say to them and promise them. 

Mike O’Leary: For any football club, we’re not really the owners, it’s the fans who really own the club. So to succeed in our tenure we need to make sure the club is in better condition than when we start. 

If we can achieve that, we will be happy. The measure of an owner is whether you leave a club in better shape – that's my opinion. 

How long has this been in the making and why Ipswich Town? 

Brett Johnson: It goes back several years from my perspective. In a prior life I had the pleasure of living in England for five years and I came back to the States with the interest and aspiration of investing in professional football. 

Most Read

I started in Phoenix and have expanded into several markets beyond that. But from my perspective, for anyone who has invested in the sport of football, England is the ultimate. It’s where you should need and want to be. 

When you start to look at opportunities in England, with all humility and a bit of bias now, there’s no better place than Ipswich. 

Fans will want to know how much you’re going to spend on players, but I’m sure you will both agree the ground, the training ground and the infrastructure needs the attention of good owners doesn’t it? 

BJ: I’ve never had the honour or the pleasure but I can’t wait to visit Portman Road. That being said we intend to invest both on and off the pitch, in keeping with what we’ve done in Phoenix but also in some other markets. We’re excited to roll the sleeves up and invest on and off the pitch to make everyone have pride in the club. 

Mike, you’re going to be at the coalface, or perhaps on the farm. What’s the timeline? 

MOL: There’s a lot of competing priorities, absolutely, so one of our tasks will be to get those in the right order.  

The team is top of that list because nothing else really matters if we’re not winning football matches. The team will come first and that has challenges of differentiation between the first-team and the academy and the facilities we have to keep people fit. All of those things. 

There are lots of items trying to grab our attention as first on the list. 

I am at the coalface but I’m non-executive. I’m the non-executive once we’ve hired a CEO who will be hands on, full-time. That doesn’t mean you won’t see me because I’ll be at the stadium for a couple of days a week and I’ll be at every single game I can make, so I’ll be part of it and the sounding board for the CEO. 

Brett at Phoenix and I at other clubs in the UK have experience that is relevant. 

With a fair wind, is the immediate hope for the play-offs and then Championship football next season? 

MOL: We’d be delighted if we went up this season but we haven’t been on the greatest of runs and have work to do there. 

Momentum at this time of years is critical and if we make it, fantastic. 

Paul Cook gets animated as he shouts out instructions to his players during a scrappy draw at Wigan

Mike O'Leary says he has enjoyed a positive first meeting with Paul Cook - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Paul Cook, where does he fit into you plans? 

MOL: We talked to Marcus about it, he wanted to make a change, we compared notes and Mr Cook was No.1 on both of our lists. 

I was able to share that with Paul earlier today and I think he was delighted because, often, a change of owner results in another change of manager. That will not be the situation here because we rate Paul very highly. 

Brett, what do you know about the history of Ipswich Town Football Club? 

BJ: I know enough to have complete reverence and respect for the opportunity we have here. It goes without saying the history of the club from Sir Alf Ramsey to Sir Bobby Robson is wonderful. Then there’s an iconic stadium at Portman Road. 

I have a relationship and I give a lot of credit to Frank Yallop. I hired him at Phoenix and that was a big hire. The Frank’s credit he went from MLS down to the USL and that was a huge vote of confidence to the USL. That meant the world to me. 

It started to give me an appreciation of his relationship to Ipswich and I think, in a small part, when we started thinking about an investment in England that we linked up with Michael (O’Leary) it’s made me delighted it’s ended up being Ipswich.  

I want to give a lot of credit to Michael O’Leary because he has done a brilliant job in helping to put us in this position. 

I also want to thank Marcus Evans because none of this is for the feint of heart. We treat with reverence and humility just how much you have to put into a business like this to be successful. I recognise and thank Marcus Evans for everything he’s done for the club and thank him for being given the opportunity to take it forward. 

A 14-month process this has been, maybe longer, so how determined were you to get the deal over the line at this football club? 

BJ: I could not have been more determined, more focussed on it. Credit to Michael O’Leary, Marcus Evans and my partners at Gamechanger Berke Bakay. 

It’s a dream state to be in, being at the starting line. It’s not for the feint of heart but I couldn’t be more excited now we’re at this point. 

MOL: It’s probably worth noting Covid interfered with the process. We began a discussion with Marcus before the first lockdown but once that happened we were in very uncertain times. We had no idea how long it would be before revenues returned to normality. 

We put a break on it for, I’m guessing, about three months or more. At the end of that break we lifted the phone again and had confidence things were likely to be ok eventually, so got things going again. 

That meant the 14 months is a little extraordinary and stretched but it was certainly a lengthy negotiation. 

Marcus Evans has sold Ipswich Town to a group of American investors

Marcus Evans has sold Ipswich Town to a group of American investors - Credit: Archant/PA

Marcus Evans always stressed the club wasn’t up for sale but insisted he would listen to people capable of taking the club forward, so what do you think he’s in you? 

MOL: I think it’s a mixture. We’re well-funded, so we have the capability to invest appropriately and wisely and we have a lot of experience, drive and ambition. 

There was a very good rapport with Marcus, right from the very beginning. We were open about what’s important to each of us and I’m delighted he’s kept a 5% stake. That represents a confidence in us as a group of people and I’m going to enjoy meeting him on matchdays when he’s there. 

What would you see as being the main opportunities at Ipswich Town? 

BJ: I think to put the club back in its rightful place in the world of football. In the short-term the Championship is our goal but, beyond that, I don’t know why anyone would invest in English football if they didn’t have aspirations to reach the Premier League. 

The fanbase is exceptional and I’ve been positively overwhelmed since the news broke and now it’s official, all the outreach, hope and optimism from the supporters is exciting. 

It begins and ends with wins, that’s important, but positive things come when you do that. But we will be invested both on and off the pitch and a big part of that comes with on-field performance. 

Do you have a timescale for success at Ipswich Town? 

BJ: We’d like it to start immediately.  

We’d hope to get something done between now and the end of the current season because we are eternal optimists on this side. We look forward to working hard between now and the beginning of next season and would like to see immediate results. 

We have a healthy impatience but we don’t come at this lightly. We’ve won trophies the last three years in Phoenix so we recognise it’s not an easy thing to do to win a championship anywhere. 

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of that but have also been involved in a couple of bad season which hurt and make me appreciate every single win and every single cup. I don’t want to be shy about the fact we intend to put a winning club on the pitch and we want to see us move into the Championship. 

You have said you hope to have a new chief executive in place soon. Can you let us in on that process? 

MOL: Recruitment is always a bit of a varying subject in terms of completion dates and timing. I’d love to tell you it will be two days from now but I’m not that good at predictions. It could be a week, it could be a couple of months.  

What we will do is make sure we get the right candidates and, when we’ve found them, we’ll do our utmost to get them in position as soon as we can. 

How tough a job is this given the team is toiling in League One? 

MOL: No league is easy. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in because there are opponents in there who are tough to beat. 

The league we’re in right now, we have 23 opponents and we have to strive to be better than they are at everything we do. That includes player trading, performance, fitness and tactics. We need to be the best at all of those. 

If you do that then you have half a chance of doing something or getting promoted. 

There’s a lot to work at, we know what all the issues are and we know we have very talented people already in the club who I’ve spent time with already. We’ll strive to recruit a really top quality CEO to help push us forward. 

I’m sure you’re hoping to get to a game soon, Brett, but in the meantime will you be spreading the Ipswich Town name in the United States? How important is it that you do that? 

BJ: I live in Los Angeles and don’t need a scarf that often but this (the Town scarf he is wearing for the press conference) will be on me frequently. Other than sleeping and a couple of other occasions I’ve had this on (a cap) pretty much non-stop since it arrived yesterday. The timing was good on that. 

I was worried I’d jinxed it by ordering some swag, if you will, from the Ipswich website. 

We’ll be flying the Ipswich Town banner. I think I won the ‘best American accent’ or the ‘look good in blue’ award among the Three Lions which has meant I'm very fortunate to be able to speak on behalf of the extended group. 

I have some exceptional partners who are looking forward to joining me on the stage.  

On that note, part of our success has been the ability to build a culture where players want to play for us and want to succeed with us, meaning talent wants to come to our organisation. We hope and expect it will be the same at Ipswich. 

Berke Bakay managed to convince Didier Drogba to come to Phoenix Rising and I put that down as one of the greatest feats in football history, getting Didier Drogba to come and finish his career in Phoenix and join our ownership group. 

While I don’t think we’ll be getting Didier out of retirement to join Ipswich I do think it speaks volumes to just how passionate and committed we are to bring success to Ipswich. 

New Ipswich Town chairman Mike O'Leary

Ipswich Town chairman Mike O'Leary has been described as 'a wise old owl' by chief executive Mark Ashton. - Credit: ITFC

How important is being ‘visible’ to fans? That’s one thing they didn’t have here with Marcus Evans. 

MOL: We’ll do our best. In previous roles I’ve gone out of my way to try and do that because engaging a fanbase is critical. There the ones who really own the club. 

It’s a right of the fans to have access to us so things like fans’ forums and radio phone-ins, all those mechanisms that allow the fans to have access to the players or the manager and directors are part of building the family. 

I’ve always found that if you get a football club where everyone’s pulling the same way, you’ve got a much better chance of succeeding than if you’ve got in-fighting. You can always tell clubs who have got in-fighting going on because it translates onto what happens on the pitch. 

If things are good the fans raise the atmosphere that extra notch, players run a bit harder and it just works. I’m a huge advocate of communication to build the family atmosphere. 

How important is it to connect with younger fans? 

BJ: I’m excited with any opportunity to engage fans. Any age bracket, men, women, boys, girls, in England and beyond. 

I shouldn’t be surprised really but support for Ipswich is global. I’ve had outreach from all corners of the globe. That’s a special part of this club but I’m sure a lot of those fans came about decades ago. 

So I think, for us, it’s a great opportunity to start to engage with a gap in generations where there wasn’t the success historically. 

We’d love to see that. The club has a responsibility to be a positive beacon in the community and beyond so I’m excited for us to play whatever role we can to engage that support. 

What about bringing some American talent over to East Anglia? 

BJ: I would love it. That would be a dream. I’m pleased with the success of American players over in England and Europe and that’s great for when the World Cup comes back to our shores in 2026. 

We’d love players to come over but also I’d love to start to see some of the talent in the Ipswich academy start to come over to USL. It’s a great league for players to get true minutes and, as we know, only 18 players are going to dress (be in squads) for games so that’s a lot of talent left on the sideline. 

That’ll be an exciting area for us to pursue. 

Brett Johnson held a press conference last night after Gamechanger 20 Ltd's takeover of Ipswich Town

Brett Johnson is one of Ipswich Town's new owners. Photo: Archant - Credit: PA

Do you think the academy can play a big role in Ipswich’s success as well? 

BJ: For certain. It’s going to be an incredible area of focus for us. I think one of the benefits to the broader catchment area is it gives us so much talent. One of the many things we were very interested in is the potential of the academy. That’ll be a big focus of ours. 

I can’t wait to see how we can collaborate on both sides of the pond, with players going both ways. 

Did you look at some other clubs along the way? 

MOL: Sure we did. We probably spent about a year looking more broadly before we focused on Ipswich. 

We looked at a number, but we liked Ipswich the best. 

What have you acquired in terms of property? 

MOL: Let’s start with the stadium. The club has a long-term lease on the area on which the stadium is built, but it owns the buildings that are there, so that’s an unusual mixture.  

It’s leasehold on the land, but it’s freehold on the buildings. 

With the training ground, the club owns pretty much all of it outright. There is a little chunk of about three acres which Marcus has retained and not sold to us, but the vast majority of it has passed over to us. 

Marcus has said in his statement that the majority of the debt has been written off. Can you give us some more details on that please? 

MOL: We have repaid, approximately, £21m of debt. Marcus has waived the balance of all other debts that were there. Sorry, Marcus hasn’t waived it all... There’s a tiny bit left. There’s £400k of debt that remains and that’s debt between Ipswich Town PLC and Ipswich Town Ltd. That’s the only debt that’s left. Apart from that the club is debt free. 

Have you got an initial investment figure in mind? 

MOL: Other than saying it’s substantial I’m not sure we’d want to say much more than that really. We don’t want to hamper our negotiation ability when trying to buy players! 

Marcus has lost a significant amount of money owning this club over the last 13 years. Brett, you and your partners have had big success in the United States with Phoenix Rising, but owning Ipswich Town is a different ball game in terms of what’s going to be required financially. Are you ready for that? 

BJ: Literally and figuratively it’s a whole new ball game, but we’ve been at this for several years in terms of wanting to make something happen and as Mike has said we’ve been focused on Ipswich for a big part of that time. 

At the risk of repeating myself, we approach this with complete humility.  

We have enough experience to know that, I don’t care where you are in the world, if you’re invested in football and you’re trying to win then it’s not for the faint of heart.  

It requires a lot of time and it requires a lot of money. All that being said, money isn’t the answer to everything.  

I’m very fortunate to be a part owner of a club in Denmark (Helsingor FC). It has one of the lowest payrolls in that league and I think we’re sitting in fourth place. 

Money is important, but culture is also important. A pride in winning is important. 

It’s not always going to work out well, but if it’s not then you’ve got to take accountability for it and make the changes that hopefully get you those results. 

This is not an ego play for me. I’m invested in this to succeed. I bring partners in to succeed. And succeed from my perspective means winning. 

It’s a long, long way of saying that if you invest in this sport then the ultimate market is in England. So this is a dream for me to now have a club in England. 

As I say, I take it with complete reverence and humility and hope to make everyone proud. 

I’ll certainly do everything I can, and by extension I know my partners will, to make this a success. 

Tell us about your time in London and when you first fell in love with the beautiful game. 

BJ: I played growing up. I did recognise when I reached High School that my future in sport lay elsewhere though! 

I had the pleasure of running a company based in the UK. I ran the international division for a company called Targus. 

So I spent five incredible years there and I had a front row seat of the beautiful game. I saw, not just in England, but everywhere I travelled around the world, the religion for this sport globally and how it’s a universal language. 

I went back to America looking to find a way to try and get involved in the sport. 

Now I’m back in England, having gone full circle, to where it all began. 

I have a good family friend who is arguably Arsenal’s number one supporter. A long, long time ago I went to Highbury and saw that first hand. I’ve been to the Emirates. 

My allegiance probably shifted over time to Chelsea, because of my relationship with Didier Drogba, and now I’m all in on Ipswich. I’m going to leave any prior loyalty to those clubs well behind. 

Brett Johnson, centre right, with Phoenix Rising and MLS officials in 2018

Brett Johnson, centre right, with Phoenix Rising and MLS officials in 2018. - Credit: Phoenix Rising FC

We’ve seen with your Pawtucket project in Rhode Island that the investment goes far beyond the football team. Are there plans to invest in the town of Ipswich and have an impact on the wider community? 

BJ: The quick answer is ‘I hope so’. With Rhode Island, Phoenix Island and Tuscon, I’ve kind of looked at the socio-economic impact that professional soccer can have in communities and find ways to invest in what I call multi-asset developments that can create jobs and economic change. 

I would love to have that sort of impact with Ipswich too. 

That being said, the focus has been to acquire the club and start to change its trajectory and get it back up towards the Championship. Then we can look at really getting it up to the Premier League. 

A disproportionate amount of the focus is going to be on winning games and investing in both on and off field areas, the academy etc. 

Other developments would only be if it was right for the broader community. Candidly, it’s not part of our business plan, if you will. 

Money has been mentioned, time has been mentioned, but contacts will be huge too. You’ve already mentioned Didier Drogba. It’s been a real eclectic group of people you’ve had invest in Phoenix Rising, including some prominent music artists. Are contacts a big thing you’ll be bringing to the table? 

BJ: I hope so. I feel very proud of all the relationships we’ve been able to build up and the extended ownership group that Phoenix has.  

I do think that increasingly the world of soccer, in the most positive sense, is getting smaller. You want to find ways that a club like Ipswich can leverage relationships in the States and relationships on the continent. I think we’ll try to do that. 

Mike, you said you spoke to Paul Cook today. What can you tell us about the conversation you had with Paul? 

MOL: Lots of things. For a start we found out we lived about half a mile apart when we were younger, even if the accents sound slightly different. 

Paul was brought up in a suburb of Liverpool which wasn’t too far from Ormskirk where I went to grammar school. So we had a few minutes’ reminiscence about Lancashire and Merseyside. 

We also talked about the opportunity this year and in the longer-term, of course. 

We had a very positive conversation about the lot of hard we’re going to be doing.  

So yeah, we got along really well. 

I could see the look in his eye when I walked in the room. He was thinking ‘crikey, new owners, does that mean I need a new job?’ 

But as soon as he discovered he was number one on our list when we were thinking about finding a new manager when we did buy this club he relaxed and he was very positive. 

So we got on fine. 

Did he hand you a list of transfer targets by the end of the meeting?! 

MOL: Not quite, but I’m expecting that any time now! 

Is running an audit of the various areas of the club one of the first things you’ve got to do? 

MOL: I think broadly you’re right. We’ve got to make sure that the assumptions we’ve made are correct and that means getting input from the entire team that is there. 

Clearly when you do due diligence you don’t have access to everyone because otherwise your confidentiality would be out of the window and you can’t afford to do that. 

So most of the due diligence we’ve done has been paper based or talking to one or two people who were aware we were potential investors without them actually knowing we were potential acquirers. 

The position on acquisition was kept very much under wraps, but now of course we’ve got completely unfettered access to all of the people who work there which allows us to have a real broad review of the areas that need to be addressed quickly, the areas we need to put on the back burner and what to prioritise basically. That’s underway. We literally started that today. 

People have talked about the stadium having looked a bit run down in recent years. Is that something you’ll look to improve? Will you want the club to stay at Portman Road? 

MOL: If you start to talk about moving a stadium you get lynched, so I’m not about to suggest that, no! 

The point about investment in stadia is really tied in with league position. If you go to a Premier League club they’ve got access to investment that is way, way more than anybody else and, surprise, surprise, the stadia that you visit in the Premier League is pristine. The lower you go down the leagues the more rustic they become. 

We’re somewhere in the middle right now and have not have the benefit of Preier League investment for some, some while. So we’ve got some catching up to. 

Yeah, there are a few places where it is a little tired. And there are some places where we’d love to have a 500-seater restaurant rather than a 225-seater restaurant etc. But that takes time. We’re not going to do that overnight. 

I remember at my previous club it took a decade for them to really catch up. We did it a bit at a time. We didn’t do stupid things. I think there was one stand we rebuilt in its entirety, but apart from that we did it a piece at a time and it’s now a very pretty stadium that’s fun to go to. 

The money is coming from a pension fund. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

MO: It’s a classic investment fund where you have a spread of investments. Some are very blue chip and all about dividend, others are a higher reward type of speculative investment and you get everything in between. 

They try and balance where they invest so that if certain sectors do badly they are offset by others that do better. 

It just so happens that this market really fits with one of the sectors that was part of their profile for investment. They’ve been looking at investing in UK for a little while. 

So it’s a happy marriage. 

We won’t see much of them. They won’t be involved in the day-to-day running of the club at all. They won’t even have a seat on the board. They are happy to invest in the fund that ORG has out together. So ORG is the custodian in many respects. 

Even with ORG, Ed Schwartz, who is the lead there, will sit on the board of GC20 but he’s not going to be spending a lot of time here. He’ll probably visit two or three times a year. 

Most of the running of the club will be the CEO. 

Bristol City Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton

Mark Ashton will leave Bristol City to become Ipswich Town's new CEO at the end of the season. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

There’s been a lot of talk about Mark Ashton at Bristol City becoming that CEO. You’ve worked with before. 

MO: I’ve said as much as I really want to about the CEO recruitment. We’ve got a process underway and we’ve got people we’re looking at. There is timing for when we can recruit which really hinges on circumstances for the people we are examining. 

I know Mark very well, have done for a long time and he’s a good guy. But I’m not going to speculate on people further at this point. It’s too early. 

There’s maybe been a perception, putting investment levels aside, that Ipswich haven’t operated smartly enough as a club in terms of thinking outside the box to make marginal gains and get better. Will you be looking at innovations that have been popular in the US, such as the use of analytics and certain sports science methods? 

BJ: Sport is evolving rapidly. Any club that is not leveraging data and evolving to recognise how to make that a competitive advantage is behind the times. 

So I think that will be part of the DNA that we instil in the club. 

When we fill that CEO role, which is critical, I am confident that whoever it is will be forward looking in terms of adopting best practices and new technology etc. 

It’s evolving so quickly and you’ve got to try to find every single competitive advantage you can. The ways that were done in the past can’t be relied on in the future for success. You have to evolve. 

There’s a vogue now for club networks. Barnsley, in the Championship, for example are part of quite a successful one at the moment. You’ve obviously got clubs in the States and Helsingor in Denmark already. Have you considered making Ipswich part of a formal network between clubs like that? 

BJ: Right now it’s informal. Up until 24 hours ago we didn’t really know if this would come to fruition. 

But I think, longer-term, I would love to see something more formal. I’m blessed to be involved with Phoenix, with Tuscon, with Rhode Island, with Helsingor and now with Ipswich. 

Informally I would love to leverage the talent that is in our broader ecosystem and figure out where best to place it. 

Formally if there is a way to make that kind of activity and the affiliation more direct then fantastic, but I’ve got to be very careful with it because I’m on every single side of the ledger if you will. 

All that being said, I take pride in every single club that I am associated with. I want them all to be seen as places that treat players well, take great care of them and have interest in furthering their careers.  

That’s certainly my intention with Ipswich, all the way down, especially the academy. I really want it to be a place where players want to come and play and where their extended families feel very comfortable. 

Regardless of where they go in their futures, I want them to feel that their time with us, our organisation and culture, has been well spent and invested. 

You built Phoenix Rising from nothing. What are the philosophies that have underpinned that success? 

BJ: I like to give appropriate credit to Berke Bakay, to Mark Detmer and the incredible partners that we have. We have a very active board. They all dedicate an incredible amount of their time to making that club a success. 

We feel very fortunate with our relationship with USL, the league. Over the last six, seven years it’s extraordinary how well that league has done with the growing calibre of the teams and the players etc. 

From my perspective, my first two seasons of Arizona United were difficult seasons. The team didn’t do well on the pitch and there were a lot of reasons behind that. 

Everything started to change when I met Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay. I convinced them, along with some others, to come and invest in this franchise. 

We rebranded to Phoenix Rising, we built a stadium in a great location and Berke convinced Didier Drogba to come and join us and finish up his career and join our ownership group. 

All those things, I think rightly so, we can be very proud of. 

But I don’t want to say just because we’ve been successful in starting up Phoenix that all of a sudden that we are the panacea for everything Ipswich. 

I feel confident that we will be tireless in terms of investing both the time and the money and the culture and character to make Ipswich the special place club that it truly is. 

I hope we can do that starting today and we start to see the results immediately. 

I also recognise that sometimes you just need a little bit of luck. Last year Helsingor got promoted up to the second division in Denmark. In the last minutes of the game in the last game of the season the ball went up and hit the crossbar and fortunately did not go in. If it had gone in then we’re still down in a lower division. 

None of this is easy and none of this is for the faint hearted. Sometimes you need the ball, literally, to bounce the right way. 

Mike, you’ve been involved in football before but have been out for a little while. What made you want to jump back in? 

MOL: I enjoy this industry, it’s a tough industry and it’s testing. Football clubs aren’t very big businesses but they are a lot more complex than people give them credit for. They’re scrutinised mercilessly.  

That scrutiny really does mean you have to be on top of your game the whole time. I’m really enjoying being part of that and find it fun.  

If you can learn from that experience to be more successful then I think it’s even better. I’ve seen things people have done wrong and I’ve seen things that people have done really well, so some of that experience will help us on that path. 

I’m looking forward to the company of my colleagues and I think we’re going to have the chance to do something special.  

Brett, are you still targeting the MLS (for Phoenix Rising). Can you do both? 

BJ: We are so content with our role and relationship with USL. I don’t think you’ll find a bigger cheerleader from me relative to that league.  

I am good at speaking out of both sides of my mouth. I have the utmost respect for MLS but, that being said, I also have the utmost respect for USL. 

I’m bullish on football in North America for a lot of reasons and I feel very proud to be associated with the sport in this country and now in England.  

MLS is a very different model and if you look at my role in Phoenix and then what I’ve got involved in in Tucson and Rhode Island, then USL is such a brilliant model for bringing the beautiful game to communities. 

North America doesn’t have the history with the sport like in England so it’s inspiring to think about the history of Ipswich in the community. It’s mind-boggling to think what it means. 

This is our fifth year at Phoenix but that’s such a tiny part of Ipswich’s history. 

Mike, can you explain to us how you ultimately got this deal completed? 

MOL: I think it’s fair to say it’s probably the most complex M&A (mergers and acquisitions) deal I’ve ever been involved in in my life. I’ve done a lot of them because, in my proper career before football, I used to help run tech stocks. One or two of those were very inquisitive businesses and we probably bought between 50 and 100 companies over 20 years. 

None of those were anywhere near as complex as the one we’ve just been through. I’m not surprised it took a year because deals like this are complex and there’s a tonne of emotion involved. 

I remember vividly going through the process we’ve gone through with Marcus and there was one day where I looked at him and I could see his face with realisation on it. This was him walking away from owning this club and that’s a big, big issue for someone who has had the dream of owning their boyhood club and fulfilled it. 

We got through it and completed the deal, credit to him. It would have been so easy for a man of his wealth to turn around and say ‘you know what, I don’t want to do this, I want to keep it.’  

That was a really challenging part of it. 

I was very fortunate to be introduced to Brett and his colleagues by a mutual acquaintance and we talked about the kind of investment they were considering in British football. That led to a bit of a study on what was out there, what we might be able to buy and where there was good value to be had. 

That turned us to the conclusion that Ipswich was a great opportunity.  

We approached Marcus and asked him if he’d care to talk about investment or evening an acquisition and I remember going to his home in London to meet. He was receptive and it was in line with everything he said – he doesn’t have to sell and doesn’t want to sell but, if he could find a great home for the club with people to take it forward, he would consider it. 

Consider it he did and the rest is history. 

What’s your connection to Ipswich Town? 

MOL: I’ve told a story a couple of times about when I was a young man, growing up in West Bromwich. 

I used to go and watch Baggies games regularly and when I was about 25, West Brom got to the semi-final of the cup and were drawn to play their game at Highbury in 1978. 

I remember going to that game and being particularly miserable because we were expected to win and we were walloped 3-1 by Ipswich. On the way home, chatting to friends, we said we’d support Ipswich in the final. 

Ipswich played Arsenal and won 1-0 and we were all cheering for them. So I’ve always had a soft spot for them so maybe that’s contributed to the fact this was such an appealing opportunity for us. 

Ipswich have had so many great teams, even if we’ve struggled for the last few years. But when I was growing up in the 60s, 70s and early 80s they were fabulous teams. Half the blummin’ England squad were Ipswich, half the Scotland squad and the Irish centre-half. 

You’ve had so much strength here, coupled with the management. The heritage, the history and the fanbase built on the back of that success made this a pretty compelling club for us to look at.  

The one things fans will want to know is what you will bring to this club? Are you prepared to splash the cash? 

MOL: We’ve got funding which we think is pretty good and we’ll take a wise approach in an appropriate manner. 

We know what we think we need to do to get from where we are to the Championship and we know what we need to do if we’re going to go a step beyond that and try to get to the Premier League, so we know what we’re in for. 

We’ve got backers who are content with those plans. Am I going to tell you the exact number of pounds? No I’m not.  

But clearly Marcus is satisfied we’ve fulfilled the condition to fund at an appropriate level and we have every opportunity to take the club forward. 

Clearly, on the back of that funding, you need to assemble appropriate skills and apply them properly while working hard. 

If you do all of those things then you’ve got half a chance. 


Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter