Marcus Evans big interview: Ipswich Town owner’s first face-to-face interview with independent media
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans has given his first face-to-face, on-the-record interview with an independent media organisation – 11 years after buying the club. Here’s what he had to say to the EADT and Ipswich Star’s chief football writer STUART WATSON.
Q: Why speak out more now? You’ve done more with the club website over the last year. Why are you doing this interview with us now?
A: I used to put something in the programme at least once a season, maybe twice. Then we did the video in the summer. I tried for those club interviews to be slightly no holds barred anyway. I said ‘look, if we’re going to do these, let’s cover all the things a journalist or somebody else may want to ask’.
I felt that quite a lot of the questions that fans were asking were being answered anyway.
Why now specifically sitting down? When I made the change with Mick (McCarthy) I think that made me feel that I wanted to be able to communicate a little bit more directly myself.
When I bought the club I’d always said that ownership of a football club, for me anyway, is nothing to do with me. It’s not about me telling people what I think about the football club.
I’ve always felt it was the manager’s responsibility to manage a football club, pretty much, from A to Z.
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I try to pick managers that had that ability to do that, whether that be Roy Keane, Paul Jewell, Mick McCarthy... They all had one common thread; grown-up football managers, all of whom wanted to touch every aspect of the club.
Now, wanting to do it and then finding a way to manage that are two different things.
Mick had been here for six years, and I’d very much I’d left that communication to him, but having seen how the relationship with manager and fans had actually deteriorated I thought ‘hmm’ maybe going forwards there is a role for the owner to bridge the gap that the manager can’t always bridge and keep a consistent communication that transcends whichever manager is in place.
Me talking more links in with the end of his (McCarthy’s) significant period here.
Yes, I’ve waited a few more months to speak to you now, but I felt I’d delivered an important message in the summer anyway.
Q: Paint me a picture of how involved and emotionally invested you are in this football club. Your lack of communication and visibility has perhaps led to people deciding you ‘don’t care’ or have ‘lost interest’. This is your platform to address that. How many games do you get to, how do you follow the games when you’re not actually there and how much of your time does Ipswich Town Football Club take on a weekly basis? Give people an overview of that if you can please.
A: I get to as many games as I can – home and away – and when I can’t get to a game I’ll watch it on our iFollow service. There have not been many games I have missed, one way or another, over the last 10 or 11 years.
One thing I’m pretty good at is managing my time so that I get an awful lot achieved in a short period of time. I have to do that because I believe in running businesses with a very flat management structure.
I don’t believe in great big hierarchies. I think flat management structures enable more nimble decision making with everybody knowing what everybody else is doing. They tend to be more cost effective as well.
But if I have a very flat management structure that means there is an awful lot of things I have to end up touching.
I’m pretty hands-on and on top of detail without having to spend 35 hours a week managing the football club.
So, bearing in mind that being detail orientated and trying to understand and help with everything being done doesn’t necessary equate to hours, I can now explain to you how much I get involved with all the different areas...
And this going to be changing a little bit now with me taking more of a hands-on approach because, as you know, the MD (Ian Milne) is leaving.
I’ll have a little think, maybe in six months time, about what structure I want going forwards having had a chance for a few months to get even more hands-on than perhaps I was before.
So do you want to know how hands-on I have been, as of three years ago, or do you want to know what’s been happening over the last six to 12 months?
Q: A bit of both really. Give me an idea of the evolution of that…
A: The actual non-footballing side, if we talk about our strategies for selling tickets, selling shirts, catering, I would say that was fairly broad overview management and understanding of how those departments ran.
They would run by me on a quarterly basis how they were performing, they would present their plans for the following year and I would manage the business through that annual review process.
Now my approach is that I will be involved more rigorously in determining that annual strategy and taking a monthly review of how each area is performing. And if something isn’t performing, in my opinion, I will try and insist on some change immediately rather than waiting a much longer period.
So I’ll be more involved in determining the strategy, then guiding that strategy, then more frequent review of performance.
That’s the non-footballing side...
I suppose you could bring into that the role of the groundsman. I wouldn’t have really been involved much with that sort of thing in the past. Now I have a chat with Ben (Connell), he will point out which area of the pitch needs some extra lights, for example, and show me his concerns. I’ll speak to Paul (Lambert), get his view and we’ll come up with a strategy.
I’ve been much more hands-on with those types of things which support the playing side of things.
I wouldn’t have done that when I had MDs running things day-to-day, whether it was (Simon) Clegg six years ago or Ian Milne more recently.
On the football side... Well let’s break that down into the four areas. We’ve got the scouting side, we’ve got first team management, the academy and all the support services to all of it – all the sports science stuff, the physio etc.
When we look at past and present the sports science one is the easiest one to talk about. If you look at some of the managers we’ve had in the past their attitude to sports science has probably been ‘I’ve taken 500 games, I can see whether a player should be training or not training, I don’t need anything more than my eyes to determine a player’s level of fitness and what we should put them through’.
There’s a little bit more to it than that, but they either fall into that camp or I’ve found they fall into the camp of really embracing the technology that supports all their decision making.
You can’t argue with some of the ones who use the more historic methodology because some of them have been incredibly successful, but what I have found is that when you’re talking to younger managers who maybe have just finished their careers they have seen how sports science benefitted them. Maybe they finished at 34/35 when a few years before they would probably have finished at 32 or 33.
When I’ve talked to those guys they really embrace the need to have that support mechanism around them to help reach their decisions.
That area of sports science is something I felt, as a club, we weren’t providing the best service we could to help the manager in their decision making. I became a lot more hands-on last summer in trying to create a support mechanism there that will transcend whatever manager that we have.
That resulted, in the end, of the appointment of Lee (O’Neill) to oversee the football support side and the communication between the manager and me.
That middle person is thinking about the long-term for the club in addition to the manager just thinking about things from his own perspective. That’s important.
On the scouting side, again that would be something I would pretty much have left to previous managers to set-up in the way they wanted it to be done.
That’s an area, last summer, I felt we could have had a bit more formula to. We needed to create better structures in terms of our internal record keeping of who we had scouted, how we could identify new players and also looking a little bit more outside of the traditional leagues we had been looking in.
The Championship is becoming so expensive that some of the leagues in Europe which may have been on a similar level to us financially three or four years ago, even more recently than that, are now below us financially, which means we can look at places for players that we didn’t look at before.
If you are going to start scouting further afield then you need to be a little bit more organised in order to make decisions not just based upon the occasional agent recommendation, which is how we might have got some players in the past.
So I’ve been quite a bit more hands-on, not in determining which players we bring in, that’s not my decision, but trying to create a scouting structure which is far more supportive of the manager whichever manager we might have.
It’s also about trying to make sure that scouting structure doesn’t change with the manager which happens quite often. You’ll see that Dave Bowman and the scouts that were here with Mick are still here now.
The academy I’ve been quite hands-on with for a few years. That came about when the new rules came in for Category One, Category Two. It was pretty complex and opaque communication from the football authorities at the time about how you could achieve certain academy status and I really wanted to understand what all of that meant.
I think that was really beneficial because Lee (O’Neill) and Bryan (Klug) were able to really explain to me what they needed to achieve the status that we wanted as they were learning. We sort of learnt together what all these new rules and regulations meant.
I think that’s left us with a really strong academy which is starting to do better and better each year. I think there are some really exciting players coming through right now.
The final piece of it is, I suppose, the relationship with the manager. I’ve always had pretty regular communication with the managers. You sort of have to temper that a little bit with the type of personality that you are dealing with. Roy Keane is different from Paul Jewell, is different form Mick McCarthy, is different from Paul Hurst, is different from Paul Lambert.
I think you work out how best to try and support them in what they want to achieve and work with them on that basis. I’ve always been in constant communication with the managers and chatting through with them what they need. I don’t think that part of things has changed that much because I’ve always been heavily involved in that.
That links back to negotiations for new players. I’ve always been heavily involved in negotiations for new players and understanding, I hope, what the market levels are so that we as a club are not going to get ripped off and pay more than we need to pay to get the right players in.
That’s a long answer, but it is quite a detailed role and there are a hell of a lot of things I’m dealing with. I hope that helps.
Q: It does, thank you. You have worldwide businesses, so how feasible is it going to be for you to be this hands-on?
A: I’ll give you an example. I have a business in Australia which does incredibly well and I haven’t been to Australia for 10 years. I’m on the video with the guys that run it on a regular basis.
The way that communications are now you don’t have to physically be in front of people, across a desk, every minute of the day in order to affect the way the business is being run.
Q: You talked about market values earlier. We know the financial landscape of the Championship has changed enormously since you bought this football club in 2007...
A: I think it was £4million parachute money over two years when I bought the club, it’s now more than £100m, £120m, I think...
Q: So the big question is this... Supporters are saying ‘thank you Marcus for your continued levels of annual investment’...
A: Are they? I haven’t heard that - that’s nice!
Q: Well, I think many do recognise how much money you lose per year running this club, but at the moment that’s not making Ipswich Town competitive. In fact, you could argue there’s been a gradual erosion of quality and that’s led us to the point we’re at now.
So if your levels of investment aren’t enough to make Ipswich Town competitive anymore, why do you continue to do it?
A: I question the idea that those levels of investment can’t be enough. I don’t think it is an absolute slam dunk that they are not enough.
I do think that with a sensible investment in the academy, bringing through quality players from the academy that could be Premiership footballers with us, or can be sold to bring value in that we can reinvest elsewhere, I think that can make a huge difference to our finances and make us be more competitive from a financial perspective.
That’s not going to be available every season, so what I try to assume is that there will be a certain amount of money we can bring in from players that we have to sell on.
The reality is that when a player wants to go... If a player is approached by a Premier League club it doesn’t matter what age they are, if they are offered the money that they are offered...
When I sit across the table from them, or they phone me up, they say ‘Marcus you’ve got to let me go, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity’. There is only so many times I can say no to them before it starts to create an unrest in what is a really happy football team environment. So you do have to let them go from time to time.
The academy will either produce players that can play and make a difference or be sold, if that’s where we have to go. That can bring money into the football club that can be reinvested. I think that can make us competitive.
You’ve got to make some decent decisions about the players that you bring in that you feel can make a difference. Martyn Waghorn was not that expensive for example.
There are other Martyn Waghorns out there, you’ve just got to find them. You’ve got to find the Joe Garner deals that you can do, you’ve got to find the Tyrone Mings deals, the Aaron Cresswell deals, you’ve got to find a Cole Skuse, who has been a great player for this club and who didn’t come on a transfer fee. They are out there.
I think you can make it work on a conservative budget in the Championship.
In the Premier League the teams at the top will be able to get players that are massively different to the players at the bottom. In the Championship the teams at the top can’t get players that are that much better because those players want to go to the Premier League.
So I don’t believe that the difference in the squad that you can put together in the Championship at one level is that much different to that which you can put together at another level. There might be a difference between the very top and very bottom when you had clubs like Newcastle and Burton in the division at the same time.
But within those middle 18 clubs I don’t think the opportunity is there, even if they want to spend the money, for clubs to get the best players – because those players are all going to end up in the Premier League.
I still think that if you make the right decisions on the players that you bring in there is enough money available at this club to bring in players that can make a competitive squad.
I look at Sheffield United this year for example. The Sheffield United squad is pretty much a squad of experienced Championship players. There aren’t superstars in that squad who are going to jump up to the Premier League, like a (Ryan) Sessegnon from Fulham or someone like that.
It’s a good, consistent squad that you can see they have built up. Okay, they added David (McGoldrick) last year. But Billy Sharp has been up and down and they’ve got him playing in the way that perhaps Daryl Murphy ended up playing for us.
I still think you can do it in the Championship by pulling together the right levels of experience and a little bit of youth. I don’t think throwing money at it necessarily guarantees you the same success that perhaps it would in the Premier League.
Q: So you believe your levels of investment can make Ipswich Town competitive in the Championship, yet we’re sat here with a drop into League One looking increasingly likely. How much longer will you be prepared to provide these levels of investment? You won’t want to see £6m disappear year after year forever will you?
A: What I’ve tried to say is that I’ve tried to provide a level of investment which means I can be here for as long as is necessary...
Q: Have you got a date in mind? When we last spoke in 2015 you said that, with the amount of money associated with the Premier League now, there was an opportunity for you to make your money back even if promotion didn’t happen for ‘10, 15, 20 years’. So have you got a date, however far down the line that is, where you think ‘I can only do this for so long’?
A: I think if it became clear that my plan had zero chance of working then it would be pointless remaining just because I want Ipswich to become a Premier League club.
That sounds like a difficult challenge with the situation we are in now, but there are plenty of others who have been in this situation, even gone down, which hopefully we won’t do, but there have been others who have gone down and a few years later they get themselves back into a much better position.
Q: I want to focus on the here and now, but it would be remiss of me not to look back on your 11 years of ownership and ask what you would have done differently. Hindsight is obviously a wonderful thing, but what are your biggest regrets? People talk a lot about being top after Boxing Day 2014…
A: The biggest regret then was when Mick (McCarthy) and I sat down and said ‘let’s forget about this Southampton cup tie’, the decision was then made to go for it. As we know we then had the two games, McGoldrick got injured in the second game and it tore apart the rest of the season.
That was a regret that we weren’t a little bit more conservative with our match planning for January that year.
I was looking to spend money to bolster our position, and I did so to a certain extent, but it is worth bearing in mind that I had already that season provided several players with new and increased value contracts to ensure continuity within the squad. That plan had taken us to the top of the league.
We were looking for the right players who were available within the financial parameters I had in place. I am sure Mick would have identified some more targets if millions had been available but we did the best we could in what is a very overpriced transfer window.
If you think about it, we were top, we were doing incredibly well, Daryl (Murphy) was scoring all those goals. We had a settled squad and we wanted to ensure nothing was done which would upset what we had unless it would obviously improve us.
It wasn’t for lack of looking and lack of trying, and we didn’t want to throw out the dynamic of the dressing room and what we’d created.
I know fans find it difficult to understand why we didn’t do something at that time, but it wasn’t ‘we don’t want to do it, forget it’. It was thought through.
Q: Any other moments you look back on?
Q: What about last summer?
A: Look, all the decisions you make are, in your mind, made for the right reasons at that moment in time.
You could probably look back on everything you do and, with the power of hindsight, think you could have done it slightly differently.
Everything has the potential to have been done differently and better.
Q: The appointment of Paul Hurst was generally very well received at the time.
A: I think it was the right decision at the time for the club. It felt right. It felt that the club needed something different. At the time it did seem, absolutely, to be the right decision.
I still don’t think it was the wrong decision from the point of view of the type of manager we were looking for and what we wanted to do as a club.
We wanted to do something that perhaps gave us an opportunity to play football in a different way, a real focus on creating entertainment here at Portman Road.
At the top of my list at the time was ‘let’s try and make this a place that people love to come’. I wanted exciting matches.
I don’t regret making the decision. I obviously feel afterwards that the decisions that were made in the way the squad was taken apart and rebuilt... I think Paul Hurst himself would say ‘if we could go back again and do it a different way we would’.
Q: You mentioned the deteriorating relationship between Mick (McCarthy) and the fans and Paul (Hurst) taking the squad apart. Is there an argument that someone has been needed to manage the manager at times?
A: You have to back the manager because otherwise, if you’re putting the manager in position with a hand tied behind his back, you’re never really going to know whether he was going to make it or not.
When appointing a manager you accept there will be periods when he does well and there will be periods where it doesn’t go well. That’s just the way it is.
There are plenty of clubs with directors of football much bigger than us where managers are brought in and it doesn’t work out at all. It just happens.
I think you have to allow the manager to manage as best they can within the pre-agreed discussions and the budgets and everything else.
If you start trying to tell them which left-back they should have and which player they should manage you’re trying to tell someone how to do their job and that’s pointless.
In the end, if it doesn’t work out, then you’ve got to move on and get someone else to try and make it work.
Going back to your point about a director of football, I think that the manager needs somebody who can take away the burden of day-to-day tasks. It’s someone who works for them, if you see what I mean, rather than them being above the manager.
That’s now Lee O’Neill’s role.
But to have somebody above the manager, second-guessing what the manager is doing on the owner’s behalf... I’ve talked to a lot of managers who have been in those situations and it’s not a happy ship.
I don’t think that’s the right way forward. Let the manager manage what he’s doing and give him a football operations person who can make sure everything runs efficiently.
If we’d had a director of football last summer who was saying ‘don’t buy this player’ or ‘you can’t buy this player’ then we’d be telling them how to do the job they were appointed for.
A director of football might try and persuade them, but most managers are quite single minded. You might find if you tell them who they can and can’t buy they will go off in a different direction just for the hell of it.
I don’t think it would have helped having that particular role.
Q: Tell us a bit more about Lee O’Neill’s new role as ‘general manager football operations’.
A: Whilst I don’t see the need for that specific European type ‘director of football’ role I do see the need for someone to have oversight of the protection of the club’s long-term strategy and principles agreed last summer.
Having a clear identity in the way Ipswich Town teams play makes our needs so much clearer through all aspects of the football side of the club from youth and academy development through to scouting and fitness.
By having a style that transcends managers and coaches, we create an understanding throughout the club that is replicated at every level up to and including first-team.
We want to be in a position where if a player steps up into the first-team from the Under-23s he knows the way the team will play because he is used to that style already. The same with the step from the Under-18s to the Under-23s. It makes it clearer for us to ensure that we are always developing the next group of players for the first-team rather than chopping and changing personnel with every change of coaching staff.
Yes, we want our managers to be with us and to succeed for as long as possible, but when change inevitably occurs we don’t want to have to tear the club apart to evolve. We have done this once and we can see the results.
If there is a universal playing style, it will mean our scouting system will know exactly what will be required of the players we are looking to bring in to the club. It will create a clearer understanding of what is required from our academy coaching staff as well.
This is all part of the reason for Lee (O’Neill’s) position (as ‘general manager football operations’) and having in place someone to see that the long-term plans for the club on the football side are implemented at academy and Under-23 level and ensuring that the ‘Ipswich Town playing style’ will remain in place whoever the manager is.
So when I have to appoint another manager they will need to work to the football ethos that we have in place. If they don’t want to work that way, they won’t be managing here.
The implementation of this plan was always going to be difficult as we change from a previous style and unfortunately we haven’t exactly hit the ground running since last summer.
However, it doesn’t mean that through hard work and dedication to this process that it won’t give us that much needed edge in the long-term whilst at the same time providing a level of entertaining football that our fans want and deserve.
Q: You’ve allowed managers to manage as they see fit. Does that mean it’s always been their prerogative to spend the agreed budget whichever way they choose? Mick McCarthy went down the frees and loans route, where the cost of wages are often overlooked, whereas Paul Hurst spent more on transfer fees from the lower leagues.
A: It’s quite simple to work out isn’t it?. If you’ve got a player on, let’s say 15 thousand pounds a week, and you’ve got them on a three year contract you are spending... 2.34 million pounds.
Now if you pay them seven-and-a-half thousand a week then you’ve got that, times 52, times three… that’s £1.2m.
So you can either pay for a transfer fee and seven-and-a-half (thousand pounds) a week (on wages), or you can spend 15 thousand pounds a week (on wages) on a free transfer.
It’s all coming out of the same bank account! The manager has to make a decision as to whether he wants to buy a player for a million and pay them a lot less than he would if they came on a free transfer. It all adds up.
I think people often look at ‘well you’ve taken in this amount from a transfer fee but you’ve only spent out three or four million’.
It all comes from the same pot.
Q: A common criticism is that you have taken in X fee for Mings, Y fee for Murphy and then don’t reinvest in transfer fees. Do people overlook wage costs then? The wage bill has risen year-after-year. Everything that comes in gets reinvested, doesn’t it?
A: You only have to look at the transparency that we have every year as to how the debt has increased. You can see that every single year that debt has increased to me which has meant I have invested.
I don’t think there has been a single year that hasn’t happened, even in the years we have had the big transfer money.
And by the way, when you sell those players you don’t get the money in one go. They’ll try and negotiate it to be spread over three or four years if they can.
Interestingly I was speaking to an owner the other day who has sold quite a high profile player to one of the teams at the top and he said the first offer for him was to pay nothing for the first year! I don’t know what they agreed in the end, but he was telling me ‘I can’t believe what I’ve just been offered, they don’t want to pay me any transfer fee for the first year!’
It’s never quite what the headline numbers show.
Q: Another common criticism that never seems to go away, and I know you have addressed this in video interview, is about the tax saved by offsetting losses against profits made in your other businesses... How much do you actually save through that?
A: (Laughs) It doesn’t make any difference at all because if you are able to offset some losses you’ve still got to put the money in in order to cover that loss, if you see what I mean?
There is absolutely no tax benefit, I can say 100%, associated with my ownership of Ipswich Town.
Q: The academy is at the very heart of your sustainable plan to beat the financial odds, yet EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) isn’t providing the protection you would hope. We’ve seen Ben Knight go to Manchester City, Harry Clarke to Arsenal, Charlie Brown to Chelsea in recent years.
So how can the plan be based around the academy if the best young players are going to be whisked away before they even reach the first team? How much is that a concern to you?
A: If we were located in Brentford, and they’ve closed their academy, or somewhere else where there are competitors right on your doorstep, you would think about it very differently.
I do think we’ve got a slightly unique location opportunity here, as our friends up the road have got, but that not many other clubs do.
We have to sell ourselves on providing great care for the kids in terms of their development, both physiologically and psychology. We have to show that we provide a pathway to first team football quickly, which some of the bigger clubs, in reality, never do.
We have to bear in mind that not everybody wants their kids at 15/16 to move 300 miles away. There aren’t any really close options to being at the Ipswich academy, so our geography helps us there.
We have to work on all the things that are our positives.
On the negative side, if one of the big Premier League clubs come calling... I don’t know what Ben Knight is getting paid, but if Man City want to pay him, at 16/17 years of age, more than our top paid player then they will do so. They’ve probably got kids who are paid more than anybody in the Championship.
We get young players offered to us on loan by the big clubs and you would be terrified by some of the wages they are on at 18/19 years old.
So yes, the lure of a Man City, a club like that, the money they pay and the fact you think you’ve already made it, which is not the case, does make it hard for us.
But I do think we have got some unique selling points that put us in a position to still make the academy work.
If we found that our top five scholars every year were being stolen from under our nose I’d have to have a different conversation and think about it differently.
At the moment it has been a trickle. Well, more than a trickle because some of our best ones have gone, but it’s not a flood.
Let’s see what happens over the next few years. Hopefully the football authorities will do something to rectify the situation. At the moment it looks like that is going to be hard because you have to get the whole of Europe on board.
That’s the other threat – that they can go for absolutely nothing to European clubs.
Q: Let’s talk about the ramifications of relegation. Of course we all hope it doesn’t come to that, but the position in the table is what it is. I assume it is prudent to have some plans in place for League One? Financially you’ve got to start thinking about that.
A: Most important of all is to make sure we have a stable management team. I think that the journey I was hoping we’d start last summer, which is a little delayed, I feel that Paul (Lambert) is producing a style of football that I think a lot of fans recognise as being something we wanted to move towards.
Paul is making massive inroads into our relationship with the fan base and massive inroads into the way the ethos of the playing style runs through every age group and coaching.
So the most important thing for me was that, whatever happens, we keep that management team in place. That’s why the joint statement went out last week to hopefully alleviate any concerns that fans might have.
I’ve always built in place appropriate contractual terms with players so that if we were in a league below financially it wouldn’t be a total disaster.
We’ve got prudent contracts in place, so from that point of view people don’t have to worry that the cub is going to find itself in a massive financial problem. We will lose substantially through TV revenue though (drop of around £7m). The challenge will be, of course, the different type of players we could attract into that league as supposed to the players who will stay with us because they are contracted to do so.
Recruitment in League One is clearly something different, but our scouting structure has targets for whether we’re in this league or the league below. We’re looking at all the different scenarios.
That said, we are really focussed as a club on staying in the Championship and finding a way out of this current position. Everybody thinks that we are a dead duck, but we’ll see what happens.
We’ve only played with what is pretty much a new team for two games now.
Q: Where does Ipswich Town’s budget rank in terms of the Championship at present?
A: I reckon that if you take out the seven or eight clubs with parachute payments, then you three or four who are just chucking money at it and I would say we rank, of the remaining 12, we are probably fourth or fifth there. We’re certainly not at the bottom.
I would say we will always rank in that little bit there, whereas some of the clubs that throw money at it tend to find, two or three years later, to be down below us in terms of budget.
Out of the 24 clubs I’d probably put us at 14th, 15th.
I completely and utterly understand the fans’ frustrations. If I was on the other side of the table it would be so easy to say ‘spend three million on that player’ or ‘spend six million on that player’ and ‘if we had just spent £10million in that window...’
But sit down and think about you writing out a cheque for £10million quid on something that has got the level of certainty this particular business has.
People might say ‘well you shouldn’t own a football club then’. Well I do at the moment and nobody has come along and offered something that is better for Ipswich.
We are where we are.
Q: You’ve said the club isn’t for sale and you’re not actively looking for a buyer. Would you look to attract investors?
A: It’s quite difficult with a football club. It’s not like a normal business because a football club tends to incur losses every year.
If you have partners each person has got to be prepared to put a certain amount of money in every year and therefore there are complexities if, after a period of time, one of those partners decides they don’t want to put the money in and the other one does want to put the money in. What agreements have you got if one puts in more than the other? How does that affect the ownership structure? It’s not that easy to have shared investment in a continual loss-making business.
If you own a club like Arsenal where you’ve got regular profits coming in then it’s just like running a normal business where you have different shareholders.
But even at those levels football clubs are quite proprietorial.
Managers have told me about clubs who couldn’t get a decision made because there was a committee or a board. They say ‘we couldn’t get anything done’.
They say ‘the great thing about working with yourself Marcus is that it’s – yes or no? - we have a conversation, we’re finished 10 minutes later and we move on’.
So I think it would be hard (to bring in investors).
No – definitely not for sale, I definitely want to still be here and get us to where I planned right from the beginning.
But as I said on the club website the other day, if somebody had a sustainable plan of high-risk, long-term investment I couldn’t not listen to that.
But the point is there are so many owners who come in, chuck 20 million at it one year, 20 million at it the next year and they’re gone within three years or they cut the tap off completely.
There’s only probably one or two clubs - I won’t mention who they are, but you can probably work it out – where the owners have consistently thrown money at it for the last seven or eight years.
The one I’m thinking about is still sitting just around the play-offs and still hasn’t been promoted.
If you had somebody who came along and was going to put in a sustainable long-term commitment, rather than ‘look I’m going to chuck a load of money at it for the two or three years and see what’s going to happen’, you’d have to consider that. It would be unreasonable of me not to do so.
Q: Has there been any interest along the way?
A: There’s always interest, all the time. You get people calling up and most of those people are not credible.
The one or two that are credible, that I decided not to proceed with, bought other clubs and have now since gone out of those clubs having done exactly what I said.
I won’t mention which two particular owners they are, but they no longer own the football clubs they said they were going to do amazing things with.
They chucked some money at it for two years, it all went wrong, and one got relegated to League One. So it’s probably a good thing we didn’t get involved with those people.
Not that they are bad people, by the way, but as I suggested before – that strategy doesn’t work.
Q: And, to make this clear, the debt is all owed to you. It’s effectively a loss?
A: Yes. It’s all to me.
Q: It would have been very easy for you to sell to the first person that came along and just think ‘I’ll get out of here before I lose any more money’...
A: I could have done. If I just wanted to walk away from it I could have done that.
Q: And that’s because you’ve got the club’s best interests at heart?
A: You can’t help becoming very emotionally tied to a club that you’ve put so much effort into. You’ve put so much emotional energy into trying to make the thing work.
The managers find it incredibly hard emotionally when it doesn’t work out. But they can leave. Not the owner. The owner is still here and has to pick up the pieces.
You’re the guy who has been knocked out by Muhammad Ali and you’ve got to find a way of picking yourself up for the next fight.
When you put that kind of emotional energy into it, yeah, of course you’re incredibly attached to it. You’re attached to everything Ipswich and trying to make the thing work.
You want to be proud of the club and you want to be proud of the way they play on the pitch.
Q: You’ve spoken about owners tiring and turning the tap off. Why aren’t you tiring Marcus? What keeps driving you to do this?
A: (Laughs) I’m a very determined person. I’m very frustrated about the fact we find themselves where we are and I would like to do everything I can within my plan to try and make it succeed.
Q: Is there any final message to the supporters?
A: The biggest frustration for me is this continual feeling that the club is under-invested in and that it means we have no chance, that we’re just going to keep going downhill. That’s peoples’ view.
As I said, if I put £20million in every year for the next 10 years then I’m sure there’d be a greater level of certainty of us getting there (to the Premier League), but there wouldn’t be a 100% level of certainty.
I wouldn’t do that though. I can’t do that.