Ipswich Town managing director Ian Milne discusses pitch plans, how Marcus Evans does spend and why he’s now a fully-fledged Blues fan
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town are in with their best shot at promotion to the Premier League in a decade.
Stuart Watson caught up with managing director Ian Milne to discuss plans for next season, the club’s wage bill and how he has very much become a fan.
Q: We bumped into each other following that last-gasp win at Watford last weekend and you were still grinning ear-to-ear long after the final whistle. Like everyone else, you just wanted to keep re-living Richard Chaplow’s goal. You grew up a Chelsea supporter, but, through our regular chats, I sense you’re very much a Town man through-and-through now.
A: I’ve been loving it. Myself and my family have got really swept up in it all. You can’t stop that happening. It just takes hold of you.
So many of my colleagues at the club are fans, people with lifetime associations, and you can sense their passion day-in, day-out. That very quickly rubbed off on me and it does make you want to go that extra mile for the club and the fans.
Of course we’re going to get things wrong from time-to-time, but at the end of the day we are all desperate for the same thing.
I spoke to Marcus (Evans) yesterday and he was just ecstatic and clearly on cloud nine after Saturday’s win. He and his family are thoroughly enjoying it too.
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You’d have to be a very tough person not to become a supporter.
I certainly feel part of the community now. I was really keen to give the supporters a voice when Abellio Greater Anglia trains decided to shut down their weekend service for eight weeks recently. That club-community link is important to me.
Success for is great for the whole town. Hopefully everybody realises that as the club prospers so does everybody else in the area.
Q: No other business is like football. Is it hard to make long-term plans when everything is so intrinsically linked to the results of games that come thick and fast?
A: I’ve learnt from Mick. When I first met him I said ‘I can only take one match at a time’ and he said ‘Ian, that’s the only way you can deal with it’.
If we lose, yes we’re all going to kick the cat on Sunday, but by Monday it’s a case of on to the next one.
In order to do this job, you just have to park the last game and move on to the next one. It is an emotional business, you do get wrapped up in it, but if you’re a professional you have just got to put all that aside.
Mick will ensure that any mistakes on the pitch get out right. We have to make sure that if there are any off-field things that are wrong we try and get that right for the next game too.
I’m lucky I get to meet the other CEOs, other football managers like Martin O’Neill, and none of us know how this is going to end up. It really is just match-to-match. That’s all we can concentrate on.
I’m sure as a professional observer of the game that’s all you can do. You just can’t speculate beyond the next game.
Q: What about planning for next season then? How difficult is that with the uncertainty of what division the club will be playing in?
A: At the beginning of January all the clubs towards the top of the Championship were told of all the criteria they’d have to meet if they were to go up to the Premier League. We’ve gone through that, costed it and know what we’ve got to do.
There’s not going to have to be massive changes. There are a lot of television requirements, lighting requirements, we need a much bigger press area. Whilst challenges they are not huge challenges.
And being in the Premier League would provide a great opportunity to put on more matchday hospitality and improve our fan services.
Q: What about the pitch. I understand you’d have to install undersoil heating?
A: That’s right. We were planning a deep renovation for the pitch anyway, but yes, if we go in the Premier League – or should I say ‘when’ we go in the Premier League – we would have to have the desso pitch (natural grass combined with artificial fibres) with the heating.
Similarly we would need to upgrade the training ground pitches as well because I’m sure Mick and the lads would want a pitch that replicates the Portman Road pitch.
Q: And that doesn’t come cheap, right?
A: That would be the best part of a million quid by the time you’ve looked around. The desso pitch is starting to get a bit cheaper, but it is the undersoil heating that costs a lot of money.
We probably would do both (Portman Road pitch and training ground). Whether we go to the extent of putting the undersoil heating in at the training ground I don’t know. East Anglia does tend to have more temperate weather than the rest of the UK.
Certainly we would need a very similar pitch to Portman Road in at the training ground. That would be booked in as soon as we knew we were getting promoted and would be done in time for the new season.
Q: So there would be enough time to turn all that around in time for next season?
A: There is enough time. I understand it takes 10 to 12 weeks so we would have time to do that.
Q: Every time we (the media) speak to Mick, he tells us that he has a great working relationship with Marcus Evans and that he has absolutely no problem with the amount of money he has to spend. And yet, I sense that many supporters wonder that really is the case. What can you say about that?
A: That really is the case. I’m not crossing any fingers when I say that. It’s a situation that has worked successfully.
I can understand fans who say ‘well other clubs don’t do this’ (stick largely to free transfers and loans), well I don’t think other clubs necessarily have a manger who has had so much success in the game.
Mick’s got a great right-hand man in Terry (Connor) and a trusted scouting network. They have proved time-and-time again that they can get the players in. We can get the players in and we are prepared to pay for the players.
Okay, we aren’t going out and spending large transfer fees, but we are paying quite a hefty salary bill. Loan players want their market whack and the bonuses on top for being successful. Good luck to them, that’s the market rate and so be it.
There are players out there that we can bring in and train up for the better. We are bringing the players in and some of them are reinventing themselves.
It works for the moment. I can understand that there are some managers out there that don’t have the same kudos in the market place and so they feel the need to go out and spend. So be it, but they will get caught by the (Financial Fair Play) embargo.
I’ve never heard it internally, directly or indirectly, from Mick or the playing squad that ‘I wish we had the money’. That has not, honestly, ever been a problem. It just doesn’t rear its head.
When Mick and Marcus talk they discuss ‘what can we do and should we be doing it?’ If Mick genuinely feels we need to spend some money to bring in a key player, and they aren’t in the loan market, then, knowing Mick as I do, he would be very forthright with Marcus.
If there was concern from him about a lack of spending then you and I would hear about it. There really isn’t any concern in that relationship.
I could just sit here and say ‘we’re top six, what’s the problem?’ That is not really a fair answer for the people though. I don’t think there are necessarily critics, just people who want a fair comment on where we are.
Q: Where would you estimate Ipswich Town’s player wage bill is then in comparison to the rest of the Championship teams?
A: The last time we looked at it, our wage bill was a very similar area to where we are in the table.
Funny enough, Marcus, Mark Andrews (financial controller) and I had this discussion not so long ago. We worked it out as best we could and realised that our salary bill is where it should be.
That is the point. We aren’t paying the 10 million pound transfer fees, but we are paying the wages. When you bring loan players in their club expects to receive a decent fee and a high percentage of that player’s wages.
There are other clubs who have spent a lot of money and time will tell how it affects them in the long run.
I’m not saying spending big doesn’t work, of course sometimes it works, but we’re just sticking with the approach that has worked for us.
Q: So, finally, do you go along with the theory that this team has punched above its weight this season?
A: When you and I first started talking at the beginning of the season we had this discussion. I think we all saw, including yourself, that there was a sense that this was all now gelling and coming together.
Then the season started, we improved and I’ll never forget an article you did in the paper that said ‘we’ve got to start believing here’.
A lot of us involved in the club, a lot of journalists, yourself included, were realising that, hold on, this is a much, much better team than we first thought.
I could understand the fans’ apathy from before, they had been starved of success for a long time, but it was a case of ‘you need to start believing what you’re seeing and reading’.
We’ve got much better as a team, a number of individuals have made huge progress, so are we punching above our weight? I don’t feel we are.
I just think we’ve been playing to the level that we should be playing rather than what they were perhaps doing 18 months, two years ago.