Stuart Watson's Sunday Verdict: Pride, unity, hope... This is what Ipswich Town fans wished for
PUBLISHED: 12:59 17 February 2019 | UPDATED: 20:24 17 February 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Will Keane's stoppage-time header secured Ipswich Town a 1-1 home draw against Stoke City yesterday, just days after an enjoyable 1-1 draw with Derby County at Portman Road. STUART WATSON reflects.
What a difference a year makes.
March 13, 2018. A cacophony of boos at a half-empty Portman Road. Ipswich Town had just lost 3-0 at home to Hull City. Mick McCarthy gets his players together for an on-pitch huddle. It’s a show of defiance following a horrible, toxic night at Portman Road which included vociferous chants and ironic cheers. This is us against them now.
All this for a team that sat comfortably in mid-table.
February 16, 2019. Paul Lambert sweeps his players towards the North Stand with enthusiastic wheels of the arm to soak up and reciprocate the love. Those in the stands and on the pitch as one. Let’s keep fighting the world together.
All this after a second successive 1-1 home draw. And for a team that is cut adrift at the foot of the table and almost certainly set to drop into the third-tier for the first time in 62 years.
Again, not normal.
Can we put the condescending ‘be careful what you wish for’ comments to bed now please? This is what Ipswich Town fans wished for.
The national narrative about fickle fans ignoring budgetary constraints and hounding out an experienced manager because they felt the club had some divine right to be higher in the table was always so very, very wrong.
What happened in the first half of last year was that some of the most patient and realistic supporters in the land reached a tipping point. Long-standing apathy had finally turned to anger. They love their club. And they hated the fact they couldn’t get excited about it anymore.
Why are we football fans? To feel part of a pack. To wake up on a Saturday morning with a sense of anticipation about the game ahead. Town fans had been robbed of both. Now they’ve got that back. It’s as simple as that.
So perhaps the strange case of Ipswich Town might get commentators to accept things were not quite as black and white as they thought when looking from the outside in.
This season has been painful. But the current situation is still preferable to the grim predictability, pragmatism and numbness of before.
If a disastrously managed new era and relegation is what was needed to reach this stage then so be it.
For all the talk about the goalscorers Ipswich lost last summer, it’s worth remembering that aforementioned defeat to Hull was a fifth successive blank on Suffolk soil. By contrast, there’s been just one blank in 10 at Portman Road under Lambert.
Town play like a home side now. They care more about themselves than the opposition. They play to entertain rather than contain.
Yes, this game is about points not performances. The greatest joy comes from winning. But there’s also a way to draw and lose.
I’ve talked about football fandom being about unity and enjoyment. It’s also about pride and hope. Pride in your team’s identity. Hope that something is building and progressing.
There are many questions to answer. Town have a hell of a lot to work on. Lambert still has much to prove. But it’s going to be fun to see them working on it.
After the game on Saturday, myself and colleague Andy Warren attended the brilliantly organised Blue Monday live podcast. More than 100 people attended at The Curve bar. We met fans who had travelled from as far as Australia and America.
The Ipswich Town family is a special one. It was horrible to see that family so fractured before.
Now the general consensus is ‘we’ve got our club back’. What does that mean? It’s intangible. It’s a feeling. And that, ultimately, is what football is about.