Evans on Town's 'powerful' mantra, not shying away from favourites tag and working under Cook again
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Lee Evans has just come out of a briefing from Mark Ashton when we sit down to conduct this interview, overlooking the Portman Road pitch.
“It’s powerful stuff, isn’t it,” Evans said of Ashton’s presentation to the Ipswich squad. “How can you listen to that and not feel something?”
The midfielder is talking about the club’s new motto which, as we’ve already heard from Ashton himself, asks all of its employees to ‘run towards adversity’ as the Blues are rebuilt at the start of a new era.
It relates to how Ipswich Town is funded now it’s under American control, with the pension contributions from Phoenix’s police officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers and rescue workers paying the wages of the players charged with taking the club out of League One.
Those members of the emergency services put themselves in harm’s way every day and the new Ipswich squad have been told, in no uncertain terms, they must represent those people with complete and utter commitment.
It’s a mantra which will be written above the home dressing room door – the last thing Ipswich players will read before walking onto the pitch – and is something each player will be required to sign up to in writing ahead of the campaign.
“The motto is to ‘run towards adversity’ and that’s a very powerful thing,” Evans said.
“We listened to Mark and took in everything he said. That’s the motto for the team, not to shy away and stand up and be counted.
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“That comes down from the owners, to Mark (Ashton), the manager (Paul Cook) and us players. That’s really important.
“It’s going above the dressing room door and that’s really important. The message is powerful, we need to respect that and rise to it so we can use it positively at the football club.
“Everyone here is onboard with it. How can we not be?”
As well as setting a clear internal expectation for high standards and accountability, the Blues’ new funding has received plenty of attention throughout League One, with managers and executives up and down the league publicly discussing spending power at the top of the division with a series of thinly-veiled digs.
Ipswich will argue the immense amount of salary shed during May’s contract cull, as well as selling the likes of Andre Dozzell (£1million), means the club’s spending is in-line with savings and money brought in. The club must comply with financial rules limiting it to spending 60% of its income on players, after all.
But it’s clear what the expectation is this season for a team which has earned the moniker, in some quarters, ‘Chequebook FC’.
“As a whole club our objective is to get out of this league and I don’t think we should shy away from that,” Evans said.
“We have a manager and players who have been promoted before so we have that experience in the squad and it’s something we need to rise to.
“Teams are going to be expecting us to do that so it’s going to be up to us to handle the pressure and perform.
“We’re in League One, we need to respect where we are and we have to know our job now is to get out of League One. We can’t look any further ahead because that’s the job at hand. From the top down, everyone wants to get it done this season, even if we know it’s going to be a long, hard year in a tough league.
“I’m sure, if we give everything and play the football we know we’re capable, it’s definitely achievable.”
Evans, a summer recruit from Wigan, looks to be in line for the captain’s armband at Portman Road, following a move which has reunited him with a manager he has enjoyed considerable success with at the DW Stadium.
He knows better than anyone what to expect from the Town boss who, following a largely miserable 16 games in charge at the end of last season, finally has a squad of players he wants to work with following a brutal bout of squad surgery.
“He’ll never change, I don’t think,” Evans said of Cook. “He loves football too much and you’ll always know what you’re getting from him.
“The manager was obviously a big factor in me coming here and I’ve played for him before, so I knew what he was all about.
“Most managers I’ve played for are the same. If you’re not doing the job they ask of you then there’s only one thing he can do – leave you out and find someone who can do it for you.
“He’s a manager who likes his certain way of playing, he likes his formation and he’ll tell players what he wants, so if you won’t or can’t do it then he’ll find someone else.
“He’s a big character and I can only speak for myself when I say he’s someone players really want to play for. Like myself, Conor Chaplin has left a club in the Championship to come back and play for him again because he knows how to get the best out of people. That’s a fantastic trait to have.
“He simplifies your role in the team really well and makes sure he doesn’t overcomplicate things. When you’re put into a position you know what he expects and wants from you.”
Evans is one of 10 new signings in Suffolk, with plenty more still to follow.
That level of recruitment, coupled with exits for around 20 senior players, means almost an entirely new squad will take to the field when Morecambe visit this weekend.
“It’s an exciting group and watching them you can see what we’ve been working on in training,” Evans said.
“I think we’re going to be an exciting team to watch and I’ve seen that so far.
“We’re in tough times for everyone so with a new football team coming together like we have been you’d like to think we would be going out for a meal and things like that – socialising more.
“That’s been harder because of Covid but we’re getting more and more time on the training field where the characters are starting to come out. (Joe) Pigott’s been brilliant the last few days and he’s coming out of his shell now he’s scored a goal (at Colchester).
“It’s an exciting time to be an Ipswich Town player. We’re a massive club in League One but we’ll be going to places that are nothing like Portman Road. We’ll have some tough games at some difficult places but that’s all part of getting out of this league.
“I’m lucky to have done it a couple of times (with Wolves and Wigan) and there’s not better feeling than getting out of it.”
Here’s hoping Evans will be celebrating a third League One promotion come May.