Stuart Watson's Verdict: Takeover is intoxicating... This time it does feel different

Brett Johnson and Michael O'Leary are part of the ownership group who have bought Ipswich Town

Brett Johnson and Michael O'Leary are part of the ownership group who have bought Ipswich Town - Credit: Zoom/ITFC

Ipswich Town were yesterday taken over by a US-led group called Gamechanger 20 Ltd. Chief football writer STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.

'To infinity... and beyond’. 

I couldn’t help thinking of Buzz Lightyear when watching Brett Johnson announce himself as one of Ipswich Town’s new owners yesterday. 

Maybe it’s the strong jawline. Or the American accent. Or the proclamations of ambition without limits. 

Unlike in Toy Story, there is no inherent distrust of the new guy(s) in town though.  

This takeover is intoxicating. Utterly intoxicating. Of course it is.  

Berke Bakay, one of Ipswich Town's new owners, alongside Didier Drogba. Photo: @BerkeBakay, Twitter

Berke Bakay, one of Ipswich Town's new owners, alongside Didier Drogba. Photo: @BerkeBakay, Twitter - Credit: @BerkeBakay, Twitter

After 13 years of a painfully drawn out decline under Marcus Evans there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. 

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Death by a thousand cuts and eternal purgatory seemed to be the punishment bestowed upon long-suffering supporters for some unknown crime in a previous life. 

Now, in an instant, anything seems possible again. 

Here. We. Go.  

We’ve done our time. Boy, have we done our time.  

We deserve this. We deserve to smile again. 

Mark Detmer, one of four Americans involved in Ipswich Town's takeover. Photo:  Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media

Mark Detmer, one of Ipswich Town's new American co-owners. Photo: Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media - Credit: Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media

That’s why so much suspicion has been left at the door. Change was needed. And surely nothing could be worse? 

It’s important for everyone to keep their feet on the floor though. 

There was a similar feeling of jubilation in the air when Evans took over from David Sheepshanks back in 2007. Remember the £20 notes being waved at Norwich supporters?  

It was meant to be lift off then. 

Evans arrived with big money and big ideas too. 

But, to use a boxing phrase, everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.  

New Ipswich Town chairman Mike O'Leary

Ipswich Town chairman Mike O'Leary has been described as 'a wise old owl' by chief executive Mark Ashton. - Credit: ITFC

Now, having waived around £80m of debt, he walks away with his nose preverbally bloodied and his pride badly bruised. 

It will hurt him to see new men, younger men, holding up the scarf with the same sense of wide-eyed optimism that he once had.  

Now their young families are excited about Ipswich Town just as his were.  

So will this time be different? 

That, rather fittingly, is the million dollar question. 

It does, you have to say, instantly *feel* different. 

For a start, we have seen and heard more from two of the new owners inside their first 24 hours than we did of Evans inside his first decade. 

So the visibility and engagement box is already ticked. 

That was certainly a major failing of the previous era. People buy into people and Evans made that impossible. 

Also, these owners arrive with five years' experience running Phoenix Rising Football Club. Mike O’Leary, previously on the board at West Brom and Oxford United, knows football. The new CEO is going to know football too. 

Lee O'Neill has said there is no offer on the table to buy Marcus Evans' out of Ipswich Town

Marcus Evans is no longer the owner of Ipswich Town - Credit: Steve Waller

None of that could have been said about Evans and his chosen key men of Simon Clegg and Ian Milne, all of whom had to learn about the industry on the job. 

Of course, taking a start-up club to the second-tier of US football is entirely different to turning around a 142-year institution. 

This is a whole new ball game. It’s a giant step up.  

And the elephant in the room, of course, if where the money’s coming from. 

How quickly is this vast pension fund going to want to see a return on its investment before getting jittery? How long before so-called silent partner Edward Schwartz pulls up the financial drawbridge if things don’t take off?  

The success of Ipswich Town now has a direct effect on the retirement of police and fire personnel more than 5,000 miles away in Arizona. How mad is that? 

The men involved in Ipswich Town Football Club's takeover

The four Americans involved in Ipswich Town Football Club's takeover; Berke Bakay (top left), Mark Detmer (top middle), Brett Johnson (far right) and Edward Schwartz (bottom middle). - Credit: NA

Maybe it’s a good thing. There is not only pressure to succeed, but to succeed quickly.  

There are two things that give me heart. 

First, that Johnson, the front man for the American investors thus far, is saying all the right things.  

He knows this is ‘not for the faint hearted’, assures everyone he has ‘complete reverence’ for the club’s history and that he and the group have taken on this challenge with ‘absolute humility’. Now, he says, they can’t wait to ‘roll up our sleeves and get to work’. 

Secondly, that Evans was always consistent in his message that he would only sell to the right people at the right time. If he didn’t truly believe in their plans then he wouldn’t be keeping a retaining stake. 

For all of the above, this already feels more like a potential Leicester story than a Wigan, Bolton or Bury disaster. 

The proof will, however, be in the pudding.  

Let’s return to the Toy Story analogy. 

A bit like Woody, years of repeated disappointment and false dawns have left this highly invested Ipswich reporter a touch paranoid and cynical. 

A bit like Woody, it really won’t take much for my heart and mind to be won over pretty quickly. 

I’ll finish with a simple message. To Mike, Brett, Berke, Mark and Ed - good luck.

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