North Stander: Meeting Marcus Evans, and why he should speak directly to fans
- Credit: Archant
Over the years, Marcus Evans has come in for a fair bit of stick from frustrated Ipswich Town fans. Chants aimed in his direction have rung out at the ground on a number of occasions as the club’s sad decline has continued under his ownership, writes North Stander Tery Hunt.
Remember, he bought a club which was challenging for a place in the Championship play-offs. Now, 13 seasons later, fans are watching a pretty average League One team, arguably the club’s worst in living memory. Frustration and bitter disappointment are understandable.
Many supporters blame Evans for a lack of investment, particularly at crucial times - notably in January 2015, and again at the beginning of this year. Two huge missed opportunities, many believe.
Even though he has raised his profile somewhat just recently, he remains a distant, remote figure to most supporters, which only adds to frustrations.
As editor of the EADT for so many years, I was in a privileged position. I had six or seven lengthy conversations with Evans, some face-to-face, some on the phone, and one via video. I’ll talk about that later.
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I always found him very calm, and very measured. He is clearly incredibly bright. I could see how he has built a hugely successful business empire worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
When he first bought the club back in 2007, he was greeted as a saviour. Remember Town fans waving £20 notes at Norwich supporters? Evans and his money were going to bring back the glory days to Portman Road.
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Immediately, though, there was something unusual. Most football club owners enjoy the spotlight. It was obvious that Evans was different. He was invisible. There were no photos of him on the internet. Very frustrating for a newspaper editor.
How could we have an owner who fans could pass in the street without recognising him? So, initially, all of our stories about Marcus Evans carried no photo. It was an odd situation.
That changed when Evans was featured on Sky Sports, playing in the annual Bobby Robson golf tournament in Portugal. Having been seen on TV, I felt it was ok for us to use an image of him, and our lawyers agreed. But it could only be the picture of him playing golf – none of the others we had compiled.
So, for quite a long time, the only photo you would see of Evans in the EADT was a rather grainy image of him swinging a golf club! Nowadays, he seems much more relaxed about his photo being published.
I’ve twice met Evans face to face at his plush London offices. We had very relaxed conversations about the club, his plans, and the way he saw the future. Both times I recall leaving encouraged that our club was in safe hands. They were very pleasant meetings.
The video conference was slightly odd. It happened on the day Paul Jewell was appointed as manager. After the press conference, Nigel Pickover, Evening Star editor, and I were ushered into the boardroom to talk to Evans via video link-up.
He explained to us how he had identified Jewell as a strong candidate for the job left available by Roy Keane’s departure. It all seemed logical and sensible. Of course, Jewell turned out to be an undoubted failure as Town boss - one of several under Evans’ ownership.
Even though he has now done some interviews, Evans remains a rather distant figure. He has never been the highly visible front man, in the David Sheepshanks mould.
Generally, he has given that job to Simon Clegg, Ian Milne, and now Lee O’Neill. No disrespect to any of them, but supporters want to see and hear from the top man.
Evans has not made himself directly accessible to fans, which is a shame. His messages are either through statements, or carefully planned interviews. Sadly, I don’t see him attending a fans’ forum anytime soon. He ought to - I believe he would come across very well.
Evans goes to lots of games, but sits in his executive box, usually accompanied by Lee O’Neill. I don’t understand why he doesn’t sit in the directors’ box, hosting dignitaries from the local community and the visiting club. Surely that’s what most chairmen do?
He must be immensely frustrated by the failure of Ipswich Town Football Club under his ownership - as are all the fans.
He’s not accustomed to failure in his businesses, but I expect that he’s learned football is anything but a “normal” business!