North Stander: It's sad but true - we are Britain's most miserable football club
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town fan and former EADT/Star editor Terry Hunt reflects on 13 years of Marcus Evans at Portman Road...
This week marks the 13th anniversary of Marcus Evans buying Ipswich Town.
Do you remember the mood back in December 2007? We thought it marked the beginning of a new golden era. Some fans even waved £20 notes at Norwich supporters!
The reality has been all too different. The last 13 years have been the most frustrating in living memory, as we have watched our club in almost constant decline.
I thought BBC Radio Suffolk’s commentator Brenner Woolley summed it up perfectly at the end of our latest toothless defeat against Portsmouth, when he said: “The boos are back at Britain’s most miserable football club.”
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When Evans bought the club, we were battling for a play-off place in the Championship. We had realistic hopes of a return to the Premier League. Today, we are, in all honesty, a pretty ordinary third tier team. How many of us really believe we’ll be promoted this season? Not many, I would suggest.
So we’re languishing in the third division. Make no mistake - this is the worst Ipswich Town team in the last six decades. I hate to say it, but Joey Barton was right when he said “this is probably as bad a group of players Ipswich have had in a long time.”
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Of course, in the last few days, Marcus Evans has apologised for his ill-judged “Be careful what you wish for” comment, which many supporters interpreted as blaming us for the club’s demise by forcing the departure of Mick McCarthy.
Apology accepted. But how about everything else that’s gone wrong during the last 13 years?
He says he takes 100% responsibility for big decisions at the club - good and bad. Well, there have certainly been plenty of bad ones. Let’s start with the choice of managers.
Evans has appointed five managers in his time at Portman Road. Four of them - Keane, Jewell, Hurst, and Lambert - have flopped appallingly. Only Mick McCarthy can be seen as a successful appointment, at least initially, and eventually his relationship with the fans turned toxic. So, that’s a 20% success rate.
Then there’s the question of money. I don’t agree that Evans should have thrown huge sums at the club. Don’t forget, he underwrites the debt to the tune of several million each year. That’s the reality of football outside the Premier League.
My criticism is that he has failed to invest at times when it could have made all the difference. Most notably, and frustratingly, was January 2015. You will recall that Daryl Murphy’s goals had fired Town into a really strong position in the Championship race.
It was at that moment - in the January 2015 transfer window - that Evans should have splashed some cash.
I remain convinced that, with sensible reinforcements, we would have been promoted. But - with the exception of Freddie Sears - we failed to strengthen, limped to the line and lost to Norwich in the play-offs. The rest is history. Year-on-year decline.
Then there is the wider picture. Evans says he takes responsibility for all decisions. But who advises him? Who challenges him? Did anyone point out that the “Be careful what you wish for” part of his statement would go down like the proverbial lead balloon with fed-up supporters? If not, why not?
What about the club’s relationship with the media and supporters? I have never, ever known things to be so distant, so difficult. The banning of journalist Phil Ham from TWTD should never have happened. Someone at the club - Evans himself, or Lee O’Neill? - should have stepped in.
During my 25 years of editorship, we inevitably had our ups and downs with the club. Banning our writers was sometimes mentioned. But there was always someone at the club who realised it would be a massive own goal.
Finally, let’s go back to Brenner Woolley’s description of Ipswich as “Britain’s most miserable football club.” Sadly, I agree with him.
In my 52 years as a fan, there has never been such a distance between supporters and club. Of course, the woeful performances on the pitch have played a big part.
But it’s more than that. Marcus Evans’ continued low profile and lack of interaction with the fans is a problem. Producing occasional statements isn’t good enough.
He needs to get among the supporters - speak to them, answer their questions. So loyal fans feel connected to the top man. Unfortunately, I really can’t see that happening.