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‘In recent times, I’ve felt more like a customer than a fan at ITFC’....

Portman Road

Portman Road

PA Archive/PA Images

We all have a sense of home. Whether it’s where we are now, or where we were ten years ago; we all have an irrational affliction to a single place.

Fans in the stands celebrate Flynn Downes third goal in Ipswich Town's 3-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town.    Picture: Steve Waller    www.stephenwaller.comFans in the stands celebrate Flynn Downes third goal in Ipswich Town's 3-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

My home, or at least my second home, is Portman Road.

I still remember walking into the ground for the first time, the smell of fried onions and sweat smacking me like a cold flannel. My introduction to life as a Town fan was a 0-0 draw against Barnsley... Surely it could only get better?

Two years ago, after 10 years as a season ticket holder, I left home to begin my studies.

Of course, you have those moments of homesickness; missing your mum, dad or, most importantly, dog. I also missed being at Portman Road. Despite having the luxury of being absent for the bulk of the disastrous 2018/19 relegation campaign, I still missed the sense of community and belonging that I felt when watching my club.

I try and see as many games as I can because it’s a place where, for 90 minutes, you are a part of something unlike anything else. Sure, it may not always feel like it, but for every 5-1 thrashing against Norwich, there’s a 1-0 semi-final victory over Arsenal, or for every 4-1 loss to Peterborough, there’s a last-gasp winner from the Spanish ‘saint’ Pablo Counago.

Football becomes religion, your team’s colours metaphorically etched to your skin; it’s a lifelong romance, where every high and every low is accentuated to unjustifiable levels.

Recently, I attended a game between Bath City, my new local side, and Weymouth.

It was my first taste of non-league football, witnessing the tough tackles and atrocious refereeing that can often partner the standard. As I stood, watching yet another 0-0 draw in the cold, there was a moment that reminded me of the universal nature of football.

On the 32nd minute, many members of the crowd lifted a small piece of glossy paper with the words ‘choose a better future for Bath City’ printed on it. Originally, I had no idea what this demonstration was in aid of, but it soon became clear. The demonstration was in support of a redevelopment program that would enhance both the football club and the surrounding community of Twerton.

The demonstration was one final push to guarantee that these people, hard-working fans of Bath City, would get to keep their home.

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This demonstration of unity and togetherness reminded me of my footballing home. Given the hard times our club has fallen on, this moment at Twerton Park put everything into perspective. No matter what depths we fall to, no matter how much the players are being paid, no matter how many games the owner attends, a club will always have it’s beating heart.

Our home feels slightly broken at the moment.

Performances are hitting new lows, tensions in the stands are rising to new heights and the lack of clarity and care from the club’s hierarchy appears to me anyhow, worse than ever. There is unity, but that unity does not come in the form of pleading the council for us to keep our home, instead, it comes in the form of pleading for our owner to make our home what it used to be.

There will have been many fans that watched Town’s last two ambling defeats, that once saw the club at it’s very peak.

Instead of losing to Coventry and Fleetwood, they would have seen us brushing aside Barcelona and Manchester United. Far too often, in recent times, I have felt more like a customer than a fan at ITFC.

People are telling us how to react, cheer and motivate our team, but it doesn’t work like that. The justification for the animosity within the stands is clear; we’re hurting.

The past 18 months have been the worst on record, but the feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction have been rumbling on for nearly four years now. Ultimately, we all want to walk into our home and be proud of what we see but right now that simply isn’t happening, and we need answers to better understand how such lacklustre fortunes are going to change.

Whether Portman Road is on my doorstep, a few hours down the road, or whole oceans away, it will always be home.

I just hope, soon, our home will once again be a place of great passion and togetherness, rather than one of apathy and anger. All involved at the club, whether that be the players, the manager or the owner, need to understand how much of a privilege it is to be a part of Ipswich Town Football Club; It is our religion, and we all want to start believing again.

Matthew Francis

- We welcome your posts....e: mike.bacon@archant.co.uk

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