No 'news' is good news

EVERYONE already knew it was happening, so technically it couldn't be called a 'news' conference, but for Ipswich Town it was still a red-letter day yesterday, writes Steve Mellen.

EVERYONE already knew it was happening, so technically it couldn't be called a 'news' conference, but for Ipswich Town it was still a red-letter day yesterday, writes Steve Mellen.

And it was still important enough to draw journalists from Sky, the Times and the Daily Mail, as well as all the local crew. Around 25 reporters, cameramen and photographers crammed into the media suite at 11am, roughly double the amount that came to hear the news that George Burley had been sacked back in October.

Flanked by busts of Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey, and with Ray Crawford's England shirt hanging on the wall, Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks ("I'm very, very proud") looked pleased as punch to be able to finally break the news that Portman Road will, for the first time, host a full England international. And why shouldn't he?

And if it's historic for the club, it's doubly so for the FA. Leicester City's promotion last season meant that although they were pencilled in to host a friendly before their success, they failed to be the first Division One club to welcome the national team. That honour now passes to Ipswich.

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The FA's Paul Barber commented that there was 'nothing better than a willing host'. Well they certainly have that at Portman Road. The press conference nearly started on time, heady days indeed.

The bulk of the revenue will find its way into the coffers of the FA, but it seems you can't put a price on the prestige of this occasion, and Town have clearly bent over backwards to woo the national association.

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But come the day, most evidence of the host club will be stripped away. The adverts we're all used to seeing wayward clearances bounce off on top of the Cobbold Stand executive boxes will be gone, replaced by the slogans of the FA's partners. Hospitality marquees will spring up on the practice pitch and the flags of the two nations will fly.

Any Ipswich fan who beats the scrum for tickets (the Slovakia game at Middlesbrough sold out in 52 minutes) will sit next to a Geordie, a Scouser or even a Bristolian. Will they all understand each other? Will they grasp the Suffolk accent? Let's hope so.

Because backing England is all about unity, and Sheepshanks was keen to stress this wasn't just a happy day for Ipswich, but the whole region, describing it as "recognition for the sporting fans of East Anglia".

You doubt, however, this charitable sentiment will be shared by a large section of the Ipswich support. In the era of local point-scoring yesterday's Suffolk v Norfolk cross-border Internet crowing ran along the lines of 'We're hosting England, your ground only has three sides'. Or something like that. Their ancient artefacts are better than ours I expect.

Then again Mr Barber, who would know little about local football politics, said the fact that the England Under-19s played in front of a crowd of 20,000 in Ipswich last year indicated East Anglia was a 'hotbed' of football passion. Aw shucks, I bet you say that to all the regions.

Yet the visit to the East of England in August will be a change from the recent 'road trips' England have gone on. Pride Park, the Riverside, St Mary's, all different but still cut from the same new 'wraparound' stadium mould.

On August 20 tradition will take over. New stands maybe, but this is still an old-style stadium.

It's an old-style club too, with links to the national team as long as Mick Mills' moustache (pre-1985). Two successful managers, a host of young players and in people like Terry Butcher, head bloodied in that qualifier in Sweden, icons the whole nation could be proud of.

Now England is paying Ipswich back, and anyone who was there yesterday was sure of one thing – the club can't wait.

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