'The culture is right' - Johnson leaves Town in good hands after whirlwind trip
- Credit: Ray Lawrence
As Brett Johnson took his seat for his 11-hour flight to Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, he did so reflecting on one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
Things couldn’t have gone much better during a whirlwind trip to Suffolk to see his new purchase for the first time, with Johnson one of 20,000 Ipswich supporters packed into Portman Road to witness Bersant Celina’s most-dramatic of winners against Fleetwood.
Johnson was the first of Town’s American owners to make the trip to Ipswich following their takeover in April, with plans afoot for the rest of the new investors to make a group trip before the end of the year. Berke Bakay, Mark Detmer and Mark Steed will no doubt have felt a pang of envy, as they celebrated Celina’s goal over breakfast on the West Coast of the United States.
But while Johnson will no doubt have been playing the Hollywood moment over and over in his mind, like so many did on Sunday, he will also have been traveling home feeling like his business is in good hands.
“I’ve just loved my time, I’ve loved my time meeting everyone and everyone seems very positive and it’s the right culture,” the Town owner said. “Everyone’s calling each other by their first names, you can just kind of sense something, you can sense there’s a lot of respect around the entire club.
“My being here isn’t relative to how we’re doing or not doing. I wanted to get over here, I would have loved to have got over here for the home opener (against Morecambe) but once we were unable to do it, then it became clear - ‘let’s try to find another date’.
“Hopefully I can keep finding another date and another date and then my wife will probably buy a place over here.
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“I’m happy that I was able to navigate getting over here, really, really excited for when we are all able to come here together.
“Barring anything unforeseen, it will certainly be this side of the year. I think we should try and figure out what that date is and kind of put a flag in the ground and key off of it.”
Johnson’s trip included first meetings with manager Paul Cook and an introduction to the Ipswich squad at Playford Road, as well as long conversations with CEO Mark Ashton.
The two first met several years ago, at a United Soccer League conference, when Town’s CEO was flown in as a guest speaker at a time when Johnson was making his way as a co-owner at Phoenix Rising. Now after many, many months of work prior to the club’s takeover and six more since, they were finally able to meet face-to-face as partners in Ipswich Town.
It’s Ashton and chairman Mike O’Leary who lead Ipswich on a day-to-day basis now, with Johnson impressed with how the two operate as he and the rest of the club’s ownership watch on from across the pond.
"They’re busy guys and they get on with it, which is the brilliance I think of the partnership,” Johnson said.
“I certainly love to check in with them and we’re a fairly tight group. We communicate through a bunch of different media on a regular basis.
“By and large, pre the deal closing, Mike and I seemed to be on speed dial with each other, that’s tailed off a little bit understandably but I think now we’re starting to a hit a real rhythm.
“Because the transfer window’s closed Mark Ashton has a minute to breathe, but it’s good communication all around.”
He continued: “With all my partners, I think we all want to be an incredible resource, a level of support.
“But the reality is, in particular with Mark Ashton, he’s a professional, this is what he does and he’s got to have the latitude to get on with it. He can’t continue to have to check Stateside for everything he wants to do.
“I know from my perspective, whatever my hopes, expectations, my respect for Mark, he’s just blown me away in terms of what he’s contributed in a short period of time.”
Johnson’s back home in the Palisades area of Los Angeles now, with plenty of other business interests even beyond a personal football world which includes Town, Phoenix Rising, FC Tucson, a stake in Danish club Helsingor and the upcoming launch of a new USL club in Rhode Island.
Ipswich is right at the top of his thinking, though.
“I have to rank it as top, for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I feel, as I always say, I’m so blessed with everything I get to do and how far it’s all come. I’ve always wanted to be involved with English football. I think if you’re in the sport, this is where you have to be.
“My respect, not just for Ipswich but for English football, has hit a whole other level watching it week in, week out, especially if you look at League One. Just the depth, the quality, the calibre. There are no easy games. It just blows me away.
“And then seeing first hand how Paul (Cook) and his team approach training etc, it’s mind-blowing for me. I want to be respectful to the States, but it’s literally and figuratively like I’m watching a whole other league.
“I’m hooked for sure. It’s great. I totally am. I want to try to spend more time over here.”