Exit Interview: Farewell to Ipswich Town's most iconic player of the last decade
- Credit: Archant
Luke Chambers has left Ipswich Town after making 396 appearances over nine seasons at Portman Road. Andy Warren looks back at his time in blue.
It’s the end of an era.
Nine years, 396 games, more than 35,000 minutes and a spot in Ipswich Town’s top 10 appearance-makers have all secured captain Luke Chambers’ place as the Blues’ most iconic player of the last decade.
But everything, especially in football, must come to an end.
It’s just a shame that end eventually came following such a disappointing campaign and in front of empty stands. Chambers had his critics, of course he did, but even they would surely not deny he and long-time sidekick Cole Skuse both deserved to be applauded off the Portman Road pitch following their final fling.
They have both given the majority of their careers to their adopted club and will surely miss it as much as many of those around it will miss them.
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Chambers’ Town story began under Paul Jewell in 2012 and was truly forged through a successful period under Mick McCarthy, before a steady decline in the years after Ipswich’s 2015 play-off appearance.
And it’s that decline which casts a shadow over an Ipswich career which has seen the 35-year-old represent the club with pride and honour while leading from the front.
He has been a regular under each of his five Ipswich managers, has an exemplary fitness record, has played through the pain on a number of occasions and has been one of his side’s most consistent performers in each of his nine campaigns with the club.
Had the team been successful during that period, his level of commitment and service would have cemented his 'legend' status at a club with a rich history. The fact they weren't means his legacy is somewhat more complicated.
There will be an entire generation of Ipswich fans, as well as plenty of players, who have never known another Town captain and it will be strange to see someone else pull the armband and No.4 jersey on at the start of next season.
At its strongest, the relationship between Chambers and the Ipswich fans helped forge a unity and togetherness not seen at Portman Road for many years prior. His celebratory fist-pumps certainly helped in that regard, shaping memories that will last forever.
He was the team's front man and a person others looked to for direction. But by being so vocal and at the fore perhaps made him an easy target for criticism and a lightning rod for debate.
Maybe the captaincy and the responsibility that came with it weighed too heavily on him at times. Maybe he could have done a better job of delegating, as close friend Skuse has previously suggested. Or maybe he was simply required to step up and fill a leadership void left within a dressing room which two successive managers have seen as being both ‘quiet’ and ‘fragile’.
That meant he was often the man charged with facing the media after bad days, with the skipper required to publicly offer answers to difficult questions, while sometimes making excuses for issues not always of his own doing.
He always spoke his mind and from the heart.
There have been accusations he became ‘too powerful’ within the dressing room and suggestions that played a part in Paul Hurst’s demise. Only those intimately involved at that time would really be able to tell you whether that was true or not.
His impact and legacy, his successes and his shortcomings, will be discussed and picked over for many years to come. That only happens when players have truly made a mark.
Should he have been allowed to leave a few years earlier? How big a role did he play in Town’s decline? Did his standards slip or was he dragged down by inferior team-mates? Did his voice become stale in the dressing room?
All fair questions. All topics for debate.
But what is not up for debate is that he made a real impression on those around him. You will not find an Ipswich player, former or current, who will say a bad word about their captain or fail to list him as being one of the best they’ve played under during their careers.
Indeed, for many years he has opened up his family home to five or more young players, who not only had the opportunity to learn the game under his wing at the training ground, but also had the chance to live with a dedicated professional and see exactly what was required from them day in, day out.
The same feeling comes from off-field staff at the club and, looking at social media once it became clear he had played his final game, any supporters who have previously enjoyed even the briefest interactions with Chambers off the pitch. He leaves a mark on people.
He has, in many ways, become more than a footballer to Ipswich Town, both in a positive and negative sense, so it’s perhaps difficult at times to remember the contributions he made on the pitch for his team.
He’s a committed defender who has played with broken bones and with blood pouring from cuts to various parts of his body but spent many years playing out-of-position at right-back – a role he adapted to manfully despite not necessarily being a natural.
And it was from that position he was able to score some big goals, arriving at the back post to turn home on a number of occasions. Most notable were the dramatic late winners against Doncaster (2014), QPR (Boxing Day 2015) and Sheffield Wednesday (2016), while he so nearly ended a long barren run in the East Anglian Derby, only for his late header to be cancelled out by Timm Klose, deep into stoppage time.
Had Town held out, it would undoubtedly have been his biggest moment as an Ipswich player.
He’s made errors on the field, of course he has, with his slip during the first home game of Town’s first League One season against Sunderland one which led many to question his place in the side. But like he had on numerous occasions before he responded well during that campaign and once again was a mainstay of the team.
His longevity has moved him into a statistical sphere he shares with the likes of club legends Mick Mills, John Wark and George Burley. He will be the first to acknowledge he doesn’t match his company in terms of achievements or even ability but, in the way he has conducted himself, led during tough times and dedicated himself to Ipswich Town, he certainly does.
What the future holds
So, is the time right for him to move on?
Chambers has made it abundantly clear he has no intention of hanging up his boots. There’s certainly life in the old dog yet.
He’s shown this season he’s capable of continuing his career at League One level and there are sure to be many sides in the market for an experienced centre-half with good pedigree, even better fitness levels and an impressive record when it comes to avoiding injuries.
But as Ipswich Town start their new era under American ownership, it’s perhaps fitting the club moves on from a man who defined the previous one.
Hopefully the club are able to mark Chambers’ and Skuse’ service inside Portman Road once fans are allowed back in stadiums, giving them the send-off they deserve.
It’s more than possible the Blues may come face-to-face with their former skipper next season, which in itself would be a surreal, but location will surely be a factor in any move from this point, given the 35-year-old and his family are more than settled in Suffolk and have children in schools.
That could mean a drop into League Two with Colchester may be an option, where he could potentially link up again with Skuse, Freddie Sears, Tommy Smith and Dean Gerken. Coaching and management is surely in Chambers’ future, too, meaning any decision this summer could be taken with that in mind. And could that see him come back to Town at some point in the future? Don’t rule it out.
Whatever happens this summer, it’s unlikely Ipswich Town fans have seen the last of Chambers at Portman Road, one way or another.
There’s only one Luke Chambers.