Home grown talent is hard to keep

THERE has always been a bond between supporters and football's local heroes. But playing for your home-town club is an honour few professionals enjoy.

THERE has always been a bond between supporters and football's local heroes.

But playing for your home-town club is an honour few professionals enjoy.

JOSH WARWICK reports on the Suffolk stars who have represented Ipswich Town.

REWIND the clock to April 19, 1993. The atmosphere inside a bursting Portman Road was crackling as the stadium hosted the first East Anglian derby in three years.

With Ipswich leading 2-1, Jason Dozzell burst forward and unleashed an unstoppable 25-yard drive which flew past goalkeeper Bryan Gunn's despairing dive.

As the muddied ball struck the back of the net, the crowd erupted.

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And leading the goal celebrations was the 25-year-old and his brother Tony Swallow, who had raced on to the pitch to plant a blue and white hat on the goalscorer's head.

As the cameras zoomed in, the smile on Dozzell's face was wider than the Orwell bridge.

“I knew what it meant to the fans,” remembers the former midfielder, now 40. “Because before I was playing for Ipswich, I was one of them.

“And when I became a player I could feel the bond between the fans and me.

“I was always aware of what it meant - especially local derbies, because I was brought up not to like Norwich.

“I knew the other players cared, but none really understand the importance to the supporters.”

Dozzell considers himself extremely lucky to have played for the team he loved, the club he followed religiously from the windswept Portman Road terraces.

After making his debut as a 16-year-old Chantry schoolboy - and scoring a record-breaking goal - Dozzell effortlessly and instantly became the darling of the Town faithful, the combination of talent and geography winning the hearts of supporters.

Dozzell racked up 340 appearances for Ipswich either side of a £1.9miliion switch to Tottenham Hotspur, scoring 53 times for the Blues.

“I was always a huge Town supporter,” he said. “I went to nearly every game. I was lucky enough to see the great 1981 side and I was at Wembley in 1978.

“It helped that the supporters loved to see the youth players coming through and getting into the first team at Ipswich.

“It was incredible to be a fan watching the likes of John Wark and Kevin Beattie and then being in the changing rooms with them, although it was pretty scary stuff. One minute I was watching Ipswich and the next I was playing.

“When I broke into the team, the whole thing went over my head a bit.

“I was so young and naïve and you forget your mates are in the crowd and that you are playing for the team you have always supported.

“It's not till you get older that you think about how crazy it all is.

“It really was a dream come true. Playing for Ipswich was all I ever wanted to do.”

Today, the link between home-grown stars and supporters is just as important.

With football more culturally diverse than ever before, feeling that one or two of the players wearing your club's colours are playing for more than just a wage is crucial.

Dozzell said: “You can see the connection between the fans and the players who are from the area at every club.

“Just look at Liverpool and the relationship the fans have with Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.”

For 1978 FA Cup hero Roger Osborne, his pride in wearing the blue and white of Ipswich was driven as much by ambition as it was by local pride.

The 58-year-old's name will forever be entwined with that of Ipswich Town, his goal on May 6, 1978 winning the Blues the FA Cup.

“Playing for your local club is every footballer's aim,” he said.

“I came into the game very late - I was 21, so to play professionally at all was a bonus.

“There were a lot of local lads back then - Brian Talbot, Laurie Sivell and Trevor Whymark, and the relationship with the fans was the complete opposite to now. We always felt the players that had come in from outside the area were revered more than we were.

“It seemed like there was an attraction in buying players from clubs for lots of money. Trevor Whymark was a superb player, but when Paul Mariner arrived, he was almost forgotten.”

Osborne spent a decade at Portman Road, enjoying some of the proudest moments in the club's history.

But he admitted that the transient nature of life as a professional footballer in the 21st century had redefined the supporter/player relationship.

“A lot of the players back then had testimonials because they were at the club for so long,” he said. “But these days, it's difficult for the fans to associate with teams, because the players move on all the time.

“Just look at the Ipswich team from three or four years ago - it's changed so much.”