Ipswich Town: Where did it all go wrong?

EDITOR Terry Hunt, an Ipswich Town fan for 45 seasons, analyses the current crisis, looks at where it’s gone wrong and asks how we can put it right.

So, how on earth did we end up here?

The manager is talking about quitting, the team is staring at the very real threat of third-tier football for the first time in more than 50 years, and the side is packed with short-term loanees.

Is all of the above really the fault of Paul Jewell and his predecessors, Jim Magilton and Roy Keane? Or should others, notably club owner Marcus Evans, shoulder their fair share of the blame?

It’s difficult to remember the euphoria we felt five years ago, when Evans’ takeover of the club was announced. Here was our saviour, we believed. He would solve our financial worries at a stroke, and enable manager Jim Magilton to strengthen a team which was already challenging strongly for promotion to the Premier League. The Land of Milk and Honey is ours, we thought. How wrong can you be?

Instead, the last five years have seen steady, dispiriting decline. From being promotion candidates, we have slipped so far that we are now staring into the abyss of Third Division football. To put that into perspective, the last time Ipswich played in the third tier was in May 1957. So, only those Town fans who are 65 or older can really recall it.

Don’t listen to those who try to convince you that relegation would be a blessing in disguise. Absolute nonsense. For every Norwich, there’s a Sheffield United, who are still struggling to escape the clutches of League One. And look where Coventry are in the table. So, let’s not go down the ridiculous “relegation will be good for us’’ route.

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Let’s assess the managers. Both Magilton and Keane were essentially rookies. Jim made a good start but then lost his way, and it was the right decision to replace him, despite people looking back with rose-tinted spectacles at his spell in charge.

Marcus Evans made a big mistake in appointing Roy Keane. I know it’s all easily said with the benefit of hindsight, and we fans were thrilled at the time. It quickly fell apart as Keane’s shortcomings as a manager became apparent. Some strange transfer dealings (Jordan Rhodes’ departure is a particularly painful example) coupled with some even stranger on-pitch tactics and selections soon saw Town supporters fall out of love with Keano.

I knew the tipping point was coming when he started making pointed remarks about transfers which had failed to be finalised. “We agreed…but the deal wasn’t done,’’ or sentiments to that effect. In other words, I did my bit but other people didn’t close the deal. Who did he mean? Marcus Evans? Chief Executive Simon Clegg? Keane didn’t stay long enough for us to find out. But we will come back to failed transfer deals later on.

Paul Jewell’s experience – good and bad – at Championship level was a key factor in his appointment in January 2011. But he messed up almost immediately with a “Dad’s Army’’ recruitment policy with the ambition of a quick-fire promotion driven by the experience of the likes of Jimmy Bullard and Lee Bowyer. But it failed miserably, and Jewell was honest enough to admit it.

But the summer transfer window was another disappointment. Yet again, the club was linked to players, it seemed the deal was as good as done, and then…nothing. Yes, Luke Chambers and youngster Elliot Hewitt came in, and Paul Taylor slightly later. But the exciting names we were hoping for never materialised.

Now we’ve gone back to the loan market, in a short-term effort to pull away from the relegation zone. That might work – although Saturday’s performance at Hull was shocking. If it doesn’t work, what’s Plan B?

But the big question is this: Why can the club not attract quality players? The kind of players who will push up up the table? Is it because we’re struggling? Well, we weren’t struggling in the close season, were we? Is it because of geography? Surely not every player is put off because Suffolk isn’t London, or Manchester?

Or is it simply down to money? Marcus Evans is an enormously successful and very wealthy businessman. People who do so well in the business world don’t get there by frittering their money away. No-one is suggesting he should do that. We know that Evans is involved in transfer and contract negotiations and, as the boss, has the final say.

His stated ambition is to get Ipswich Town to the Premiership. To do that costs a great deal of money. To stay there costs even more. While talk of the top league might seem crazy right now, the question of Evans’ spending policy is a here and now issue.

I agree that he has seen millions wasted on poor signings by his various managers. I can understand his reluctance to shell out loads more. But I think he has to re-adjust his sights and accept an element of the crazy world that is footballing finances. To be blunt, I think he needs to loosen the purse strings so that we’re on a level playing field, money-wise, with more of our Championship rivals.

Sadly, I also have to join the throng who believe we should change the manager. I have been desperate for Jewell to succeed, because we so badly need stability and, bluntly, because he seems like a decent, honest guy. But the malaise has lasted so long now and, after expressing such self-doubt on Saturday, his position has now become untenable. The danger is he’s now a lame duck. Evans and Clegg will recognise that danger. In my opinion, they should appoint a young manager and put a wise old head alongside him.

I’ve supported Ipswich Town for 45 years, and this is a definite low point. It will be a long road back. This season, simply avoiding the drop will now be a success.

Like many thousands of diehard Blues supporters, I so badly want better times. I believe the man who holds the key is Marcus Evans.