‘One team, one dream’ – David Sheepshanks on being back in love with Ipswich Town and how he got the away goals rule ditched for the play-offs
Former Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks admits he is in love with the club now more than ever.
The Blues are in the blood of one of English football’s most influential figures and he oversaw a rollercoaster 13-year period at the club, from 1995 to 2008, that included three play-off semi-final defeats, eventual glory at Wembley followed by a dream year in the Premier League and the subsequent drop and far-reaching financial fall out.
The former FIFA, UEFA, FA and Football League board member, now in charge at St George’s Park, oversaw the sale of the club to Marcus Evans in December 2007. He then had to bite his tongue as his beloved Blues continued to take one step forward and two steps back.
All that has changed over the last two-and-a-half years though, Evans learning from his early mistakes and manager Mick McCarthy slowly but surely rebuilding the club’s reputation on and off the pitch.
“I was very disappointed and disillusioned at times during the Roy Keane and Paul Jewell eras, I can’t pretend otherwise, but let’s not look back, let’s look forward,” said Sheepshanks, who will sit among the away fans for Saturday’s Championship play-off semi-final second leg against fierce rivals Norwich City at Carrow Road, the tie finally poised after last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Portman Road.
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“This is a time for everyone associated with Ipswich Town to feel proud.
“Mick is a maestro and has built this team in the traditions of Ipswich Town Football Club. Alf Ramsey built a team without stars, leading us from the old Division Three South to a top-flight title. Bobby Robson started out with a team that had no real stars. John Lyall got us promoted to the inaugural Premiership season without any stars.
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“I would say that George Burley did the same in 2000, as did Joe Royle when that team was so unlucky to miss out in 2005.
“Players in all those eras went on to become stars, of course, but they did so as part of a close-knit Ipswich Town team.
“On all of those aforementioned occasions it was a team ethic, togetherness and belief that saw us home. You have to have that culture. It’s an art and a science and it requires great wisdom. Mick has certainly got that in bucket loads.
“It’s vitally important to get the right people and the right characters, the sort of people you can hang your hat on and who are willing to work hard, not just for themselves but for each other.
“It genuinely is one team, one dream and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Football’s away goals rule will not affect Ipswich Town’s Championship play-off semi-final second leg at Norwich City on Saturday.
With the tie finely poised following last weekend’s evenly-contested 1-1 draw at Portman Road many supporters have questioned whether away goals will count double in the result on an aggregate draw.
The answer is no, they haven’t done since 1999, and that’s because then Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks rallied to get the rules changed.
The Blues first lost out on away goals in the Championship play-off semi-finals in 1996/97, George Burley’s side drawing 1-1 at Sheffield United and then 2-2 at Portman Road.
Two years later it was more controversial. Burley’s boys lost 1-0 at Bolton, with the return leg in Suffolk a rollercoaster of emotions.
Town took the lead through Matt Holland, were pegged back (Bob Taylor), quickly took the lead again (Kieron Dyer), only for Per Frandsen to level things up again in the 84th minute.
The roof was raised at Portman Road when Dyer scored a rare header, 24 seconds from the end, to take the tie into extra-time.
Taylor scored again for Bolton, Holland replied with 116 minutes on the clock and when the dust had settled on a 4-4 aggregate draw it was the Trotters who went through on away goals.
“It’s something I have heard people reference this week, and I gather it was mentioned in the Sky commentary last weekend, so I’d like to explain it,” said Sheepshanks.
“After our extra-time away goals defeat against Bolton in 1999 I raised the matter with the Football League because it struck me as being unfair that the team that finish fifth or sixth in the table – i.e. the team that plays the second leg away from home – gets a potential extra 30 minutes to score an away goal that counts double.
“Yes, I led it, but it was something I couldn’t have done alone. The vast majority of Football League clubs at the time agreed and a vote was passed.
“Obviously this could go for or against us on Saturday, and I’d hate to see us fall foul of it, but there was reasoning behind that decision at the time and I stand by the change. It just didn’t feel right that one team had any sort of advantage.”
Reflecting on last Saturday’s 1-1 first leg home draw with Norwich, Sheepshanks said: “It was a tremendous atmosphere in the ground – as good as I’ve ever heard it.
“I really enjoyed the match. It was a ding-dong affair, the first half was played at an extraordinary tempo and no quarter was given or taken. Being objective about it, a draw was probably the right result and, from my point of view, it’s ‘game on’.
“We now move to Carrow Road for part two and I feel it will be another incredibly close match. There was a lot of tension last weekend and there will be even more of that on Saturday given what’s at stake.
“Norwich must be favourites given they are at home and the Premier League squad that they have still got, but we have got a remarkable team – and I emphasise the word ‘team’.
“Mick has put together a team of men, both young and old. Every single member of his squad has stood up and taken personable responsibility for their performances.
“I think they’ve been wonderful all season, but I thought they were particularly bold on Saturday. I didn’t see any signs of nerves, everybody just got on with the task in hand.
“I’m really excited for the weekend and I don’t think we have got anything to fear.”