‘I was probably at my worst in life’ - Chopra opens up on his troubled times at Town, and apologises to fans
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Controversial striker Michael Chopra has opened up for the first time about his troubled time at Ipswich Town, admitting he thought he was ‘better than everyone else’ and officially apologising to Blues fans for his actions while at the club.
Time has given Michael Chopra the chance to reflect on his time at Portman Road - and he wants to set the record straight.
Now 36 and retired, the ex-Town striker was searingly honest during his chat with our very own Ross Halls in the season finale of his ‘Ross Meets’ podcast series.
He spent two seasons at Ipswich, scoring 19 goals in 82 games between 2011 and 2013, but made more headlines off the pitch than on it.
Having signed from Cardiff City for £1m, Chopra struggled with gambling problems - even being lent £250,000 by the club to pay off debts – and had frequent social media spats with fans, most notably when he quit Twitter after posting a picture of a bag stuffed with cash in response to tweets about his debts.
Looking back on his time at Portman Road, he said: “A lot of fans probably don’t know this, but I really enjoyed my time at Ipswich, I really enjoyed my time playing at Portman Road.
“I got a lot of stick for what happened off the pitch, but Ipswich Town is a proper family club - whatever players they had come down there, they made them feel wanted and not just the players, their family, and I’d never been to a club like that before.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the people of Ipswich, even though I had my say on Twitter against them and all that, but at the end of the day I was naive, I was young and I was arguing back with fans - I shouldn’t have done, I should have been more mature about it.
“Deep down in my heart I still look out for the results, and I still speak to Luke Chambers there. Out of all the clubs I played for, Ipswich are probably the club that helped me the most.
“To be where I am now, in life, is probably down to them as well because they didn’t have to do what they did.”
He continued: “I loved my time there. The fans probably don’t understand what went on - I was probably at my worst in life when I was playing for Ipswich, but it wouldn’t affect me going on the pitch.
“I think that first season I scored 14 goals and we struggled a bit, and for a player that was struggling heavily off the pitch to then score 14 goals - and I think I was their first striker to hit that many in a few years – it was good, I enjoyed it.
“I was honoured and priviliged to play for a football club like Ipswich because they’ve got great history and not only that, the guy I look up to, Bobby Robson, was the manager of the football club.
“People probably think I don’t like Ipswich, but far from that. I enjoyed my time there, I like the fans - I still speak to some on Twitter – but look, at the end of the day they pay their money, they’ve got a right to criticise me.
“I was stupid and naive to answer back to them when I shouldn’t have done, and I look back and wish it didn’t happen.
“This is the first time that I can officially apologise for my actions towards the fans.”
Chopra, who now lives in Indonesia and works with football academies to help grow grassroots football, praised Town for their help with his gambling problems - admitting he was in a bad place mentally.
He said: “The players were brilliant. I know that the club - Simon (Clegg) and Paul Jewell pulled the players together and tried to rally them behind me and help me because I was going through a bad time.
“It was a time where I didn’t feel good about myself and I could have ended up doing some serious damage to myself. Without the help of some people at the football club, I wouldn’t be where I am today - plus a lot of the fans, they got behind me and at the end of the day I tried to do my best for the football club.
“I was getting caught speeding, I thought I was better than everybody else. I was stupid and naive and I just apologise that it happened, to the Ipswich Town fans, because they didn’t deserve it - and especially the football club, for the amount of support they gave me.”
Chopra’s gambling issues famously led to debt collectors turning up at Town’s training ground to threaten him, an incident which he also opened up about.
“It was scary,” he recalled. “Obviously, I got myself into some bad situations. I remember a guy coming to the ground and pretending to ask for an autograph. I think he’d been asking other players ‘where’s Michael Chopra?’ and I’ve walked off the training pitch and he’s pretended to ask for an autograph and he kind of threatened me, so I went straight to the club and spoke to the manager and the owner.
“My dad was really close to Simon Clegg, so Simon phoned my dad, told him the situation and everything was sorted.
“The story about me pointing to Aaron Cresswell and saying ‘That’s Michael Chopra’ is nonsense. He’s asked me for an autograph and told me about the money, said I better get it, otherwise this is going to happen, that’s going to happen.
“So yeah, it was scary, but at the end of the day it was my own fault and you learn from your mistakes.”
Despite all his off-field issues, Chopra did find the net regularly in his first season at Portman Road - including a brace on his debut, an eye-catching 3-0 win at Bristol City which suggested that Town could push for promotion that season.
Indeed, he conceded that the team, packed with talent, should have achieved more on the pitch.
“Paul Jewell was a proper football man,” he said. “I knew what I needed to do to win him over, and I knew what I needed to do at Ipswich - I honestly believe that we had a great chance of getting promoted that year, the team we had was really good.
“After the Bristol City game, I said to Grant Leadbitter ‘Granty, we’ve got a great team, if we continue to produce what we’ve just done there, we could go a long way’, but we just fizzled out towards the end of the season.
“We had good players on the team, football men who wanted to play football.”
And Chopra said that somehow, he always managed to focus when he was out on the pitch.
“People don’t understand how I could do that,” he explained. “With all my off the field problems, how could I mentally focus on the job that needed to be done?
“I just loved football, I loved playing football, it was natural to me - and whatever was going on off the pitch, I would not let that affect me going over the white line because I would have been letting my teammates and the football club down and I did not want to be seen as a failure for doing that.
“There’s no point in someone having faith in me, paying a million pounds for me, for me to throw it back in their face like that.
“To score 14 goals, with everything that was going on in the background, was a great achievement for me. I just wish I was given more opportunity to do that in the second season.
“I remember going to California with Andy Liddell, the fitness coach. I remember Paul Jewell saying to Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg ‘look, if we get a fit Chops in the team then we can get promoted’ because they believed that I could score goals.
“California was a great experience. I don’t think a lot of fans realise that I got fined towards the end of the season, and my fine money actually paid for the trip - it wasn’t the club paying for it like people think.
“There’s another story with the £250k loan Ipswich gave me, a lot of fans think I never paid that back, but they were taking money out of my wages every month to repay it.
“When I did leave the club, they made sure the 250 grand had been repaid to them. I just wanted to get my point across that whatever I got from the club always went back to the club.”
Of course, Chopra’s second season would be his last. Mick McCarthy arrived in November 2012 to replace Jewell, with the club in serious relegation trouble.
And, despite Chopra being delighted by news of McCarthy’s arrival, things quickly went sour and he departed for Blackpool at the end of the season.
He recalled: “He told me towards the end of the season that he was going to put me on the transfer list, he was going to take my squad number off me, so I basically stuck two fingers up at him and was like f*** you then, I’m going to stay here.
“He basically said if you’re not going anywhere, I’m going to make sure you do every public appearance - even it means travelling two or three hours, you’ll be doing it.
“Look, Mick’s a tough guy, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of him, and if I didn’t turn up for those appearances he would fine me.
“I said ‘What is it you want?’ and he said ‘I want you out of the club, you’re the biggest earner at the club and I need you off the wage bill’ so I told him to go and speak to Marcus Evans.”
Chopra would last just one season in Blackpool before heading off to India to play for the Kerala Blasters, with an unlikely stint at Alloa Athletic sandwiched in between. He offically hung up his boots in 2016.
He concluded: “I have some great memories from Ipswich. I remember the game at Portman Road when we beat West Ham 5-1, they were brilliant times.
“I’m just as much hurt and saddened by what’s happened to the football club now because they don’t deserve to be where they are, they deserve to be back where they belong, and hopefully they can climb back up the leagues.”
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