North Stander: Town's decade of cup woe demonstrates the divide between club and fans
- Credit: PAGEPIX LTD
Northstander Terry Hunt looks at Ipswich Town’s ten years of woe in cup competitions - and why the continued failure matters so much for supporters.
It’s now ten years to the day since Ipswich Town fans have been able to enjoy the excitement of a cup run.
Yes, we’ve endured a whole decade of embarrassment and humiliation in cup competitions since January 2011, when Town memorably took on Arsenal in the two-leg semi-final of the League Cup.
Blues supporters will look back to those games with huge fondness and pride: Tamas Priskin’s first-leg winner at Portman Road, followed two weeks later by 7,000 Town fans travelling to the new and impressive Emirates Stadium for the second game.
Ok, we lost eventually, but it was a great night out for Tractor Boys and Girls. Such a fantastic feeling of camaraderie.
Suddenly, we were back in the national headlines. Deliciously, Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas accused us of playing “rugby” in the first leg. Oh, how we laughed. Sore loser, Cesc? It was, in summary, a whole load of fun. Only cup runs can do that.
Since then, there’s been nothing but misery in the two main English cup competitions, the FA Cup and the League Cup.
Shockingly, we haven’t once managed to get past the third round of the FA Cup, and our best performance in the League Cup is reaching the third round in 2015, when we lost 3-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
During the last decade, we have seen a succession of managers field weakened teams in cup matches, while coming out with trite quotes about wanting to win every game.
The result has been a series of defeats at the hands of less than glamorous clubs. We’ve lost to Northampton, Carlisle, Stevenage twice, Accrington and, worst of all, Lincoln when they were a non-league team. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the nation’s football followers were watching that humiliation on BBC TV.
Yes, it’s been truly awful. Of course, we understand that the league is the clear priority. But we haven’t exactly been pulling up too many trees in the league either!
For me, it sums up the gap which has developed between football clubs and their fans. Those who run football don’t understand why supporters love cup runs so much.
The answer lies in the excitement, the potential of a glamour tie, the prospect of a big afternoon or evening out in the company of thousands of like-minded supporters.
Cup games have become something to dread for Ipswich supporters, not only because we fear humiliation, but also because these matches have tended to act as a real brake on our whole season.
Often it seems cup games come along during a decent league run. We then struggle in the cup match, lose, and it affects our league form.
I was told a few years ago that bonuses for winning early rounds in the cups were peanuts in footballing terms at Ipswich Town. I have no reason to believe that’s changed. What kind of message does that send to players about the club’s priorities?
Meanwhile, almost every season, at least one team from the lower leagues enjoys the excitement of a cup run - a distraction from the humdrum fare of the league.
There is another reason why cup games are so important for supporters. It’s because they can create precious, treasured memories for life.
I will give you a very personal, quite emotional example. I went to the Emirates ten years ago with my two lads, Tom and Ben, and my football-mad sister-in-law Hannah and one of her sons, George.
It was a great evening, full of excitement. We loved our trip to the Emirates, a shiny and new footballing cathedral.
Yes, we lost the game, but that really didn’t matter. We had watched our team do themselves proud against mighty Arsenal. We had shared the companionship of thousands of Blues supporters.
Hannah didn’t go to many more Town games. Little more than a year later, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She died on January 12, 2015 - four years to the day after the unforgettable Tamas Priskin goal.
The Arsenal trip gave us all a treasured memory of a loved one, having fun, proudly following her team at the home of one of the world’s biggest clubs. Precious. That’s why cup games like that one matter.
So, please, Paul Lambert and co. When it comes to next season’s cup games, please put out your strongest team. Please make an effort. You never know - we might win a couple of games and be able to welcome Man Utd, Liverpool - or even Arsenal - to fortress Portman Road!
Let's have some fun, some glamour, some excitement - and let’s have the chance to create more cherished memories.