Meet Ipswich Town’s managing directors – they’re not what you might expect
- Credit: Archant
They’ve been labelled Marcus Evans’ ‘yes men’, the IT and marketing experts who cared only about business – not football. Chief football writer STUART WATSON went and found out what Ipswich Town managing directors Ian Milne and Jonathan Symonds are really like in their first in-depth interview.
The sense of cynicism that has developed among Ipswich Town supporters in recent times is fully understandable.
Spoiled by several halcyon eras, the next high was never far away between the 60s and the mid-00s.
And when there were lows, the Blues faithful could always take solace in the knowledge that the men at the top - from the succession of colourful Cobbold family characters, to David Sheepshanks - were hurting just as much as they were.
Now, with the club stuck in a decade-long rut of second tier football, fans need to feel empathy, passion and pride emanating from the board room walls more than ever.
Instead, they’ve had owner Marcus Evans continue to insist on complete anonymity, while chief executive Simon Clegg’s comments about painting turnstiles and checking the smallprint on tickets left him ridiculed by fanzines.
So when the club announced back in February that Jonathan Symonds and Ian Milne – two men who have 30 years combined experience working for Marcus Evans Ltd – were to replace the departing Clegg as joint managing directors, they were already on the back foot.
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These were the so-called ‘yes men’ who cared only about business not football. The reality is that they are anything but.
Now they have got three months under their belt, having fully got their head around the challenges ahead, the duo are more than happy to leave a stack of paperwork in their office to chat over a lunchtime pint.
“I remember on our first day, my son called me to say we’d been dubbed ‘the gruesome twosome’ on the internet,” laughs Milne. “I relayed this to Marcus and there was a quiet pause and he said ‘that’s about right isn’t it!’
“I think all that’s great. Let’s face it, this is an entertainment business and we’ve got to remember that it’s not all serious.
“There was a fanzine that was aimed at one particular gentleman who is no longer with us (Simon Clegg) and that was so funny.”
“It’s important that we can laugh at ourselves,” chips in Symonds. “We’re both big football fans and we know the emotions that it brings out in people.
“When we were appointed there were several comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t there more football people in charge’?
“Well the footballing person is Mick (McCarthy). He looks after the football. That’s not to say we aren’t football fans though, far from it.”
Both Symonds, who grew up in south London, and Milne, who hails from Gidea Park, Essex, were avid Chelsea supporters growing up.
There is no grey area when they talk about where their loyalties are now though.
“I remember my dad taking me to Stamford Bridge at the age of seven,” says Symonds. “His father was a Fulham and Chelsea fan because he just wanted to watch football every week. He took my dad to Stamford Bridge and then he took me.
“As soon as I could afford a season ticket I had one sitting next to him and, right up until the point Marcus bought Ipswich, that’s all I did every weekend.
“We know what it’s like for a result to ruin your whole week. It becomes part of your life.”
Milne adds: “My step father, who got a few games for England amateurs and almost went professional, was the one who took me to matches.
“We’ve both been there and stood on the terraces as fans. Now we’re in this exalted position of sitting in the directors’ box, but at the end of the day we’re still football fans. To us this is a dream come true – we’re very lucky.”
Symonds continued: “My two boys (aged eight and nine) are fully fledged Ipswich Town fanatics now, Ian’s grown-up son is the same and so is Marcus’ daughter. We’re all kicking every ball.
“We sit in a very prominent position at Portman Road and several of the other directors said to us ‘when we score you’ll have to stay sat down’. Well you can’t! How can I sit down?! It means so much!
“You obviously temper your language and respect the fact that you’re there to represent the company and all the rest of it, but I want to celebrate because that’s who I am. How can you stop that?”
Symonds adds: “Marcus is just like that too. He’s had to be told to sit down when jumping up and fist-pumping last minute goals. And why not?
“When you roll the dice – and it is a gamble when you put that much money in – you’ve got to celebrate when your number comes in. Why else would you do it?”
– See today’s EADT and Ipswich Star for the duo’s thoughts on improving the matchday experience at Portman Road and their working relationship with owner Marcus Evans.