Nino Severino: The day that tennis met football at Portman Road

Nino Severino and his sister Anna at Portman Road on Saturday with youngsters from the Elena Baltach

Nino Severino and his sister Anna at Portman Road on Saturday with youngsters from the Elena Baltacha Foundation (L-R) Bo Woor, Daniel Senah, Lukyan Arnold and Isabella Ivel-Gordon. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

In his latest column, Nino Severino explains how tennis met football at Portman Road ahead of Ipswich Town’s clash with Aston Villa at the weekend.

Nino Severino and the Elena Baltacha Foundation brought tennis to Portman Road on Saturday. Picture:

Nino Severino and the Elena Baltacha Foundation brought tennis to Portman Road on Saturday. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

The last few weeks has very much been filled with tennis and football, and this weekend was really the pinnacle of this activity with tennis very much meeting football.

All at the Elena Baltacha Foundation are very proud of the special relationship we have built with Ipswich Town Football Club, and the match against Aston Villa was an opportunity to keep building on the link between the foundation and the club.

The fact that I have now settled into my role at the club, as part of Bryan Klug’s academy team, makes it all the more special.

During one of my meetings with Dan Palfrey, ITFC marketing and PR officer, we had a very long discussion about how we could work together, and our attendance at the fanzone area, committed to entertaining all the young fans that visit on a match day, seemed a perfect way of bringing the two worlds together. What a fantastic event it was.

Everyone at the foundation works very hard to promote tennis in Ipswich and the surrounding area, so when an opportunity was presented to show case the sport in front of thousands of Ipswich Town fans, it was an opportunity we could not miss.

So, the plans began in earnest, and because this was such a big event we asked for the help of Sheelagh Watts, long time head of Suffolk LTA (Lawn Tennis Association).

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Sheelagh works tirelessly for the good of tennis in our region – I have never met anyone who works with such passion for our sport. She kindly provided us with the impressive “tennis rig”, which houses two mini courts and tennis fun activities.

Our foundation head of schools tennis, Aaron Garwood and his team, worked tirelessly to ensure that the rig was ready for the arrival of thousands of junior football fans. It was a great opportunity for them all to experience a flavour of tennis with qualified coaches and assistants.

Lots of youngsters got to try their hand at tennis ahead of Ipswich Town's clash with Aston Villa. P

Lots of youngsters got to try their hand at tennis ahead of Ipswich Town's clash with Aston Villa. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

By coincidence, I had received an invitation from the managing director of Ipswich Town, Ian Milne, to join him and his guests in the board room for a pre-match lunch followed by seats in the Directors’ Box to watch the game.

This meant that on my way to lunch I had the opportunity to spend time with the foundation team.

As soon as I arrived at the ground, Aaron and his team were inviting large groups of children into the rig to experience some fun tennis drills.

To see their happy faces, enjoying our wonderful game of tennis in the protective shade of the stadium on this gloriously sunny day, really did make an incredible start to my Directors’ Box experience.

When Dan offered the opportunity for some of the players to visit the pitch, it was an opportunity we could not miss. My sister Anna Sheppard, who has tirelessly supported the foundation over the years accompanied me on the day, so it only seemed fitting that she came with me and our players for a pre-match wander around the stadium. It really was a golden experience for us all.

After the stadium visit, both Anna and I made our way to the boardroom, where the pre-match meal was being held.

As we walked in, Philip Hope-Cobbold was there to offer a warm welcome and a pre-lunch drink. Anyone who is a long term Town fan will know that the board room relationship between the Cobbold family and Ipswich Town Football Club is legendary, and Philip is the nephew of John Cobbold, once chairman of the club.

John actually appointed Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson as managers, two of the greatest names in British footballing history – now that’s something to have on your CV!

Tennis fun in the fanzone at Portman Road in full swing. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA

Tennis fun in the fanzone at Portman Road in full swing. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

I must say, I met some warm and wonderful individuals, including Mr Milne, and they all made me so welcome during my time with them all.

After lunch it was time to make our way to the Directors Box to watch the match, and although the result did not go our way, it really was the icing on the cake to the day when tennis met football at Portman Road.

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