End of a 130-year tradition

DAVID Sheepshanks' departure as chairman of Ipswich Town marks the end of more than 130 years of landed Suffolk gentry running the football club.

DAVID Sheepshanks' departure as chairman of Ipswich Town marks the end of more than 130 years of landed Suffolk gentry running the football club.

From day one, way back in 1878, Suffolk aristocrats were at the helm of the football club - the local MP, Thomas Cobbold, was the first President.

It was a Cobbold, Capt. John Murray (known as Ivan) who was chairman when the club first entered the Football League in 1936. When he was killed by a German bomb hitting his London club, his sons, John Cavendish and Patrick, stepped into the limelight.

The older brother, known to all and sundry as “Mr John,'' had the perfect credentials for a gentleman of the 20th century. The grandson of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, educated at Eton, and serving in the guards, he enjoyed an impeccable upbringing.

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It was under his chairmanship that the club started to prosper. His appointment of Alf Ramsey as manager proved a masterstroke, as did his decision to give a young Bobby Robson the job more than a decade later. Both managers brought unprecedented, and unexpected, success to the football club, and both were rewarded with the England job.

It was under John Cobbold's chairmanship that Ipswich Town acquired a reputation as the best hosts in English football. The most often used John Cobbold quote is that: “The only crisis at Ipswich Town is when we run out of white wine in the boardroom.''

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But, of course, there was a shrewd man behind the bonhomie. Not only did he make smart appointments, he also showed loyalty to his managers, most notably in 1971 when the Portman Road crowd were demanding Robson's head during a home defeat to Manchester United. Cobbold's reaction was to call Robson in, apologise for the fans' behaviour, and give him a pay rise.

“Mr John'' was succeeded as chairman by his younger brother, “Mr Patrick,'' who, although more reserved, still knew how to look after his guests in true aristocratic style. It was under his chairmanship that Town won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup.

Perhaps the story which best sums up the Cobbolds involved their mother, Lady Blanche.

The tale goes that, at the FA Cup Final, she was asked whether she would like to meet Margaret Thatcher. Her priceless response was along the lines of: “Margaret Thatcher? No thanks. I'd rather have a gin and tonic.''

When the Cobbolds relinquished power, they chose John Kerr, another Suffolk landowner, to step into their shoes. He, in turn, handed over the reins to David Sheepshanks in 1995.

The Sheepshanks years were a roller coaster, from Wembley glory in 2000, to the gloom of administration just a few years later. The chairman's stock rose and fell with the fortunes of the team. But one thing was never in doubt: his absolute commitment and loyalty to the club.

The romantics among Town fans will be sad to see the spirit of the Cobbolds being consigned to history.

But the more realistic will realise that money - and lots of it - is the only way to achieve success in “the beautiful game'' in the 21st century.

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