Wednesday, 25 January 2012

No excuses for the Blues self-destruction at Elland Road

If Paul Jewell were to be sacked today, I really don't think I'd feel any sorrow.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not starting any protests to demand he be removed from my club. (As I've long been saying - changing managers on a regular basis is not going to get us anywhere.) But I am rapidly losing patience with him.

It's performances like that at Elland Road on Saturday that cause the uncertainties for me: a first half good enough to show a decent side developing. But a second half so poor you feel relegation is all we deserve.

I really enjoyed watching the first half: I tweeted in the break that, though it wasn't quite what I'd call 'a good game', I thought we were well on top of Leeds and controlling the game.

We genuinely looked like a good attacking side, with Lee Martin being instrumental to most - if not all - of our chances on goal.

Though on the face of it Drury's goal was certainly helped along by a little bit of luck, going on the run of play at the time it was more than deserved. And had JET's thunder shot found the back of the net instead of rattling the bar, I feel we might have gone on to win all 3 points.

But, despite the good impressions the Blues made in the first 45 minutes, there was a distinct lack of optimism in the bar at half time (the only part of the away section, by the way, that looked like it belonged in this decade and not the 80's). Though the Blue Army were more than happy with what they'd seen in the first half, there was a definite sense of dread for what would happen in the second.

Of course, as is Town's way at the moment, they more than lived up to those expectations. Once again, it seemed like a different team turned out from the tunnel.

Lee Martin suddenly became invisible (and I don't just mean because we had a TV gantry blocking our view of anything on the right hand side of the pitch). Having been so influential in the early part of the game, it seemed impossible that he had no part in the latter stages of the game.

But, my friend Matt pointed out to me that Martin was now adopting a 'zonal marking' style of play and that restricted the affect he had on the game massively. Presumably Jewell's decision was to use Martin to try and stop us conceding any goals: a big mistake and I felt this was the biggest influence on the turnaround in the result.

Besides the sending off.

With regards to that, I think it's harsh to blame McCarthy entirely. To me it was an instinctive reaction and a silly mistake - which he realised straight away. He came off his line far too soon, but he tried to recocver and suddenly it became a choice between handling the ball outside the area and being sent off, or allowing Leeds to score.

Perhaps rather than publicly slating the youngster we could say: 'everybody makes mistakes mate, thank you for taking the red card'. For let's not forget, had he not handled the ball it would have certainly been a goal, but the resulting free kick was sent over the bar.

From the moment Alex was sent off though, the sense of impending doom became stronger and stronger. Ipswich Town had hit the self destruct button, again, and all we could do was watch.

Of course the second most significant part of the game was Sonko's... what can I call it without being mean? Sonko's mistake.

With a bit of perspective, I can now say I genuinely feel for the defender. He was clearly devastated that he'd made that mistake. But, that doesn't get us our three points back.

After the game, another friend, Sam, said 'in all my years of supporting Ipswich, I've not seen anything as dire as that'. I thought that summed the game up perfectly!

It's the school-boy errors that are wearing me down now, the back four are making the most simple of mistakes and I'm fed up of it. I've lost count of how many times I said on Saturday 'it was a rule I learnt in my first training session when I played'.

NEVER pass across goal; if in doubt boot, it out; talk to each other and mark your man. Why has none of this been followed in The Blues side in recent games? For me this is where Paul Jewell is truly failing the most. If he cannot even get the players performing basic football, how can we expect him to build a side worthy of Premiership football?

Jewell in, Jewell out. He can shake it all about for all I care at the moment.

For all my hoping that he was the man to sort us out and get us back to the Premier League- I'm just not sure what I think any more.

Following the catalogue of errors that were once again on display this weekenbd, he's on strike one for me. 2 more and I'm joining the Jewell Out camp permanently.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Name one thing we have in common with Leeds United...

Three years ago I moved to Yorkshire from East Anglia for work purposes: a move I share with one very special former Ipswich Town player. Can you figure out who?!

Leeds and Ipswich share a lot in their histories: Huge success in the past has brought respect to both teams but the difficult financial times that followed have seen them slip down the league tables in recent decades.

And, in those more recent years, one player is proud to say he has lead them to victory in the Play Off Finals. This player has also captained both sides, whilst for us he became Club Captain during his final season in Suffolk...

Have you figured out who it is yet?!

Richard Naylor is a name that cunjures up one special image in the minds of Town fans.

I think for me this was the moment I knew we were going up...

When Bam Bam came on as a substitute for David Johnson in the Play Off Final in May 2000, he played a massive part in a game that no Town fan will ever forget!

So, as I return to the city where both he and I found our first Yorkshire jobs: I thought I'd take you down memory lane a little with an interview from the man himself.

My chat with Richard was originally published in the Doncaster Rovers matchday programme (RTID) during my work experience with them and I am grateful for the permission to use it on my blog.

Richard, tell us a bit about yourself, you were born in Yorkshire weren’t you?

I was born in Leeds, then I moved to Ipswich Town straight from school when I was 16. I did my apprenticeship in Suffolk and played there for 13 years. Then, I got the opportunity to move back to my home town club, Leeds, a few years ago. I spent two and half years there and really enjoyed it. But when that came to an end I wanted to stay playing in Yorkshire and Doncaster was definitely the best option for me. I was pleased to join Rovers in the summer.

You joined Ipswich at a very young age, was it always your plan to play football?

I signed for Ipswich when I was 14, they’ve got a good scouting network across the country and I used to travel down. It was a really good set up down there and gave me a good football education.

Do you prefer to play as a centre back, as you are now, or as a forward, as you did for a long time at Ipswich ?

I have played as centre back for more than ten years now, but when I was younger I played up front a little and had some success in that position. I broke into the side at Ipswich as a centre forward and played quite a few games for them up front, but I’ve played centre half for a long time and don’t think I’m capable of playing anywhere else now!

Rovers travelled to Ipswich earlier in the season and won, did you enjoy going back there?

I went back with Leeds previously but it’s always nice to go back there, the fans gave me a great reception and it’s nice to see some friendly faces. Obviously the playing staff change when you leave, but the people behind the scenes stay the same most of the time and there’s a lot of really nice people down there.

In 2009 you moved to Leeds United when they were in League One, did that fulfil an ambition for you?

I feel lucky I was able to do that, a lot of people don’t get the chance to play for their home town club and moving back home has been nice for me. I’d lived away for a long time so it was nice for my Mum and Dad that I moved back home and now live locally. You can’t plan these things in football though, you have to go where people want you and I know I’m fortunate to have been able to play for Leeds: for me it was an honour and a privilege.

You were club captain at Ipswich and captain at Leeds too, is that a you enjoy and would you like to do that at Rovers?

I don’t mind really, I conduct my business in the same way whether I’m captain or not. I think when you’re captain you get some added responsibility which can be good and can be bad. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing in the past but at the moment I’m more than happy just helping out in whatever way I can.

Looking back on your career so far, what would you say has been the highlight?

Gaining promotion with Ipswich to the Premier League was fantastic: I scored at Wembley when we got promoted in the Play Offs and played in the Premier League for them in the next two seasons, which was a fantastic time. Then representing my home town club, being captain for Leeds and helping them to a promotion, the two promotions were definitely the highlight. I played in the UEFA Cup with Ipswich as well, I played against Inter Milan at the San Siro and I look back on those memories fondly.

Your nickname in Ipswich was ‘Bam Bam’ (after Barney Rubble’s son in ‘The Flinstones’), has that followed you up here?

Fortunately not! You tend to pick up nicknames as you go through football but as you get older they get more sensible. I’ve grown out of that one now!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Dear Mr Evans, thank you for your letter...

In the most recent match-day programme Marcus Evans sent out a rare direct message to the fans.

As inconsistent results continue into the New Year, our club balances just four points above the Championship's relegation zone. So it's difficult, as a fan, not to feel concern for the direction our club is going.

Evan's words apparently try to calm these fears and, for what it's worth, I do think he makes an effort to answer the questions we all ask of him when we're discussing The Blues amongst ourselves.

(A full transcription of the article can be read here)

In the days since said interview was published it has stirred debate among fans. Interestingly, there have been a number of different interpretations of what he had to say. What set out to perhaps reduce worries, appears to have raised more questions.

Overall, I was happy with it: it made me feel that Marcus Evans is thinking along the same lines as me. He talks about the good run we had earlier in the season and his belief that this was a sign of things to come.

We had that good run of games when we were unbeaten in six matches and I can remember us going into the home match against Crystal Palace where a 1-0 win would have seen us move into the top two in the Championship. We lost that game 1-0 instead and that awful run of seven successive defeats followed. It looked like number eight at Barnsley until the incredible turnaround at Oakwell gave us a glimpse of our early season form and what the team is capable of.

A section of the Blue Army believe the fact he has chosen to remain unknown, besides his name and business history, suggests he wants to keep his distance from the club. I have never believed this and his answers to these questions have enabled me to relate to him because I have been feeling the same way. I particularly like the question where he's asked: how does your job at Town differ from your day-to-day job.

I don’t go around punching the air in my normal day-to-day job! Or hold my head in my hands! It’s a game of emotions, of highs and lows, and we’ve had plenty of them this season. It grips you though. For 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, it’s all that I’m focussed on.

A man who doesn't care about this club doesn't go around with his head in his hands, or indeed punching the air in delight, in my humble opinion.

I also appreciate his honesty about the position we are in at the moment. Again, he relates to the fans feelings by expressing his disappointment and his expectations that we could do better.

As we stand at the moment, we’re obviously in a disappointing position. There have been some highs but too many lows, as there seems to have been since I have been involved with the Club.

However, there is something to the argument that this is 'typical PR talk, what else would he say?' We would be angry if he told us, 'everything's going to be alright, there's nothing to worry about'. Here I think is the problem many people have with the interview: it doesn't reveal anything or explain WHY we are in such a poor position. But then I don't think anyone can explain that: it seems as much a shock to the club management as it is the media and to us as fans.

The talk of 'long-term' vs 'short-term' planning has been a common subject of debate among online Town forums recently too, following Jewell's admission that he had been going for a short-term fix but now wanted to concentrate on a long term solution.

Evans appears to agree with this:

It’s clear to me that creating a quick fix within any football club is extremely hard to achieve however deep the owner’s pockets might be! The Championship this year is littered with clubs that would be regarded as underperformers, where high profile managers and significant investment levels have not resulted in performances on the pitch or in league positions that would have been expected... It is clear to me that producing a team that will consistently push for promotion and eventually join the Premier League, is about a long-term development programme.

I'll never forget the discussion my Dad and I had with two fellow Britannia Stand residents at the last game of the 2010/11 season. One gentleman said to us, 'I don't care if it takes us three or four years to get promoted: I'd rather do that than go up straight away and come back down again'.

I'd like to think that's the opinion of the majority of Town fans, and it's frustrating that the powers that be seem so far behind us in that thinking. Having said that, it is reassuring to hear Evans confirm his plan to take the club forward now.

On the face of it, that quote could be interpreted as simply telling us what we want to hear; But Evans has allowed himself to go on record now, he will not be stupid enough to go back on his promise and risk ruining his reputation, I'd have thought.

Perhaps the most significant quote from Evans was his opinions of the current manager in charge of his football team. The ongoing Jewell In/ Jewell Out debate gathers speed with every week and every poor result and in response to thise we had heard from Paul Jewell that Evans told former Town transfer target Sean St Ledger only last week that Jewell was going nowhere. But is was good to hear it straight from the horse's mouth was good and at least provides some stability to the club at a fragile time.

I have spoken to Paul about my plans here, to build a team that can reach and then compete at the highest level. To achieve that we need stability and so long as our manager and coaching team demonstrate the knowledge and clear ability to take us forward, I see little point in restarting the project every season by switching managers.

Of course some fans would argue this shows Evans is as clueless as Paul Jewell and both should be removed from Portman Road as soon as possible along with their friend Simon Clegg.

Personally, I would rather hear that the staff behind the scenes at Ipswich are pulling together and battling through these tough times, whether it is right or wrong that it be with the current trio in charge. That I can support and get behind; a disgruntled owner and a manager who's terrified of losing his job I cannot.

With all that said though, I do think Evans' interview lacks a serious amount of depth. Presumably the questions have been pre-approved by himself and the answers offer little insight into the man behind the name, the face that we cannot see and the hands in which we're all supposed to put our dreams for the future of our beloved club. I think he owes us a little more than what appears to be a very well planned interview with questions probably edited in minute detail by a good PR team.

What I would much prefer to see is a question and answer session between Evans and the fans of his club. Dave Gooderham from the Green Un and East Anglian Daily Times has gone some way towards this by collecting questions from Town fans to Evans and sending those into the club. I'd love to see a response to this as it seems to sum up the general feeling of our fan base and poses some sensible questions.

In the mean time though, I'm more than happy with the message Marcus Evans has sent to us. Whether it was intended as a PR stunt or not, the fact that he's taken the time to release an interview is applaudable (though also the least he can do) and I for one cannot argue with anything he has to say.

So, for now, thank you for your time Mr Evans, we look forward to speaking to you again soon.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why it's a good thing that Paul Jewell is trending on Twitter

On my way to work this morning I saw a sticker in the back window of a car that said: 'My daughter plays rugby' in bold, pink letters.

At first I thought, 'well that's a bit of an odd thing to have advertised in your car'.

But when I thought about it more I realised that, actually, it's not. This couple are doing what they can to dis-spell the myth that women do not belong in sport, or at least in certain sports like football or rugby.

The same could be said for Paul Jewell's calamitious comments last night. At first glance you think it doesn't really mean anything: he was angry at the officials for missing a blatant penalty decision.

I could even go further in his defence and say the reporters question shows the initial signs of 'sexism' by raising her gender into the debate, and Jewell just takes his lead.

But you have to look further into this debate to understand why Paul Jewell has today been trending on Twitter, not just in the UK but worldwide.

In recent months women's sport has taken a few knocks: It was reported only last week that participation in women's football was down by a third. A third! Imagine the football league with a third of it's teams removed.

Girl's and women's involvement in sport has been attributed to a number of things, the media being one of them. But to me what is the biggest cause is the underlying belief that women are inferior when it comes to football.

Meanwhile the nominations for the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards were announced with the notable absence of any female stars at all.

Now I'm not going to take anything away from the nominees themselves, they all earned the right to be there. But the fact that female sports stars were overlooked entirely was significant as it suggested an underlying feeling that women are not as important as men in sport.

Having been going to watch Town play for 18 years, I am happy to say that for the huge majority of the time I have not experienced a negative reaction to the fact that I am a women involved in football. Sometimes people are impressed, but more often than not they are indifferent - which is the way I like it.

But there are still signs that people either disapprove or don't consider me on an even keel with my male counterparts.

Take my journey home from Hull last weekend as a good example: as I passed through Doncaster train station I was joined by a large group of Notts County fans, all male. They were a good bunch, in high spirits from their FA Cup victory and when they sang 'get your tits out for the lads' at me I took it in jest and just rolled my eyes.

But what I did find disturbing from my conversation with them was their absolute surprise that I was not attending the match with my boyfriend. Genuinely, they were astounded that, as a woman, I wasn't by his side and that he had allowed me to go out to watch football on my own. Honest. I'm not even exaggerating.

And as for when I told them he was a Blades fan they were speechless. Presumably, as a woman, I ought to follow his lead and support the same team he does. How can I go against his wishes? Thankfully, Kev isn't like that so I can continue with my independence of life as a travelling town fan.

Referring all this back to Jewell, I don't think those County fans meant any more offence than he did. It was said without a second thought, but that's what I find upsetting. In this day and age, the thought that women in football are inferior to the men is totally abismal and should not be allowed to just go un-noticed.

Paul Jewell should have been more professional. Having already caused a stir at a press conference this week with his apporach to questions, he really should have been watching what he said. I can understand he was angry, we all were because that result was totally unjustified. BUT, the fact that it even crossed his, the journalist's or even the fan's minds is what has made this such an important argument.

I'm not going to say Jewell out. But I'm no longer so forcefully saying Jewell in.

In Jewell I am rapidly losing my faith.

But in the Town players I will always trust.