Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Band of Hope and Glory

Euro 2012 finally kicked of for England fans last night with their team's first game of the campaign against France.


The one all draw seems to have satisfied most fans, though there will always be those who believe that isn't a good enough result: usually the same people who decided months ago that England weren't even going to get past the group stages.


What has concerned me today though is a reaction to something that took place off the pitch (or rather something that didn't take place) in Donetsk.


You may have noticed the absence of the England Band inside the ground yesterday. It has emerged that Ukrainian authorities confiscated their instruments as they were walking into the ground on a promise that they would have these returned after the match. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/euro2012/article-2158139/EURO-2012-England-band-furious-having-instruments-confiscated.html


Love them or hate them, the band have become a part of the travelling England fans in recent years - so much so that they are now sponsored by Pukka Pies.


But it seems there are some that haven't taken quite so keenly to their performances and are even going as far to request that the band be banned from international games permanently. This blog on Daisy Cutter explains the adverse affect they believe the group are having on the atmosphere at games. http://www.thedaisycutter.co.uk/2012/06/lets-keep-the-england-band-banned/


Whilst I'm not sure how 'tongue in cheek this article is meant to be, a quick look at the comments on the aforementioned Daily Mail article shows they are not alone in this train of thought. It goes without saying that I respect their opinion, I cannot agree with it for a second.

When did it become offensive to have a bit of fun at a football game?


I have experienced the same sort of criticism towards Ipswich fans, most recently following the 'party atmosphere' at the final game of the season at Doncaster Rovers. Although for the most part those who travelled to South Yorkshire enjoyed their day, I have read tweets calling for the world to be rid of 'foam hands, fancy dress and congas'.


I don't understand it. At no point has it been insisted that every single person in Suffolk join in these festivities, moreover those who have wanted to join in have been happily welcomed and, in my opinion, we enjoyed the day together as a community. It's like the recent street parties that took place to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee - if you wanted to join then you were more than welcome and the day was celebrated with friends, neighbours and families, but if you preferred to stay at home and watch the coverage on your telly you were not judged for this either. Few moaned about what the other was doing because, at the end of the day, it had no affect on them.


Each to their own I say and I cannot understand the need to criticise others for wanting to have fun. I said to one fellow blue 'I think you complain about others having fun because you have felt miserable watching Town play for the last ten years and you want to make sure everyone else is miserable too'. To this he replied, 'you are probably right'.


More importantly though is Jack Howe's claim on his Daisy Cutter blog that, rather than improving the atmosphere at games (as is its intention as you can see on their site here http://www.englandband.com/index.shtml ) apparently the England Band actually prevents others from singing at games. Another point I totally disagree with.


I witnessed the England band myself at a recent England Women's match at the Keepmoat Stadium. I thought they were good fun and certainly did improve the noise for the thousand or so people who had attended that night.


'But that's a small crowd', I hear you say, 'it is a different situation entirely'.


Well, that may be true but what I witnessed that evening were groups of the crowd being encouraged by the noise created by the band to join in and sing, but after this they continued their chants, where they were already singing out the band remained quiet to allow them to finish. One lovely moment a song was started up by the band, the crowd joined in and after the band stopped playing the crowd continued. They sang the song across the pitch to each other, like it was a tennis ball they were throwing from one side to the other. Surely the effect the band had here can only be a good thing?


Lord knows this year's season has been plagued with complaints that the Football League is losing its 'atmosphere'. Grounds across the country, from the lower leagues right up to the Premiership, seem to be going quiet on us as a result of falling attendances among other factors.


I know Ipswich fans have been calling for some changes to be made at Portman Road, the Ipswich cheerleaders have been reinstated this season (love them or hate them, at least the effort's being made), their have been calls for half-time entertainment such as the 'mini-tractors' that were featured this year and, by far the most interesting suggestion for me, is the idea to move away fans next to our louder 'North Stand'.


All good suggestions and all good evidence that we, as a collective of football fans. Want to see more being done to improve the noise levels at our football grounds. The England Band is just one other way to do this and it is so nice that it has stemmed from a group of fans playing at their own club.


I don't see the harm in it and as such I really wish certain sections of football fans would lighten up a bit and let others get on with enjoying watching the game.


After all, football's meant to be a hobby – what is the point in going if you're not going to enjoy it!?


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Last year's 'disaster' signings will shape this summer's transfers

It's difficult to find any negatives in Town's signing of Elliott Hewitt.

He's young, a defender in a position we need back up for and a good prospect for the future. Isn't that great?!

His arrival at Town is easy to compare to our Player of the Year for 2011/2012 Aaron Cresswell: he's young, from a lower league and highly rated: former boss and ex-Macclesfield manager Gary Simpson sent a message to Town fans in the EADT: 'if he continues to play as he has done he'll make it to the Premiership, without a doubt'.


But how did we get to the point of signing someone that everyone likes?

Sadly, signings as successful as Cressie were few and far between last year. Much has been said about Jewell's strategy to sign big name players and give us a quick fix promotion solution and he has admitted he has made mistakes.

But I don't feel that last year's signings were a total failure.

First there was Michael Chopra, a great acquisition in my opinion. He had an excellent reputation in the Championship (his first term at the Welsh side in 2006 saw him score 22 goals), so the £1 million price tag Town paid for him seemed a snip.

What we have since learned is that Chopra is struggling with personal problems and the club are doing what they can to help (by paying off his debts and arranging a training trip to California this summer to improve his fitness). But I believe we still have in him a 20-goal-a-season striker. He scored 15 this year, when he's clearly had a lot to deal with, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility for him.

It's my belief the fact that we signed him is the main reason many pundits predicted we would do well last year. We just need to find him someone to play alongside: I think, given time, he and Jason Scotland will do well together, but we do need other options and someone young and hungry (perhaps in the mould of Connor Wickham) would work well.

'Ellington had been successful for Jewell in the past.'

Another 'big name' signing was Nathan Ellington. He has been quiet in recent years, essentially since he left Wigan where he played for Paul Jewell, and some fans were dubious about this. I feel it's easy to say now that he's a poor player and to question why Jewell signed him, but at the time I don't think it would have been fair to say that. He had been successful for Jewell in the past and if you have someone who you've worked well with previously it is understandable that you want to have them with you when you move on to somewhere new.

The same could be said for Ingimarsson and Ibrahima Sonko. At the time you could believe them to be reasonable signings; highly recommended with mostly good reputations from their former clubs. With hindsight, both may well have just been too old (or in Sonko's case too disaster prone...), but Jewell didn't have the power of hindsight that we do now. He had a plan and he was sticking to it. It's just disappointing - or inevitable - that it didn't work out.

All these players, along with Jimmy Bullard and Lee Bowyer who also joined our squad last summer, come across well on paper. As individuals they bring a lot of experience to the side, something we really did benefit from for a time. The problem was, there were too many of them: Jewell has admitted this, in fact I'm pretty much paraphrasing his recent interviews here!

The 'Dad's Army' didn't work and he won't do it again, you can't say fairer than that. If he'd opted for maybe just one or two of those players last season things might have been very different. I expect he'll show he's learnt from that this year.

'JET has the power to change games and he will be key for us next year.'

Amongst the 'let downs' last year it's easy to overlook the fact that Jewell also brought in some real talent. As well as the aforementioned Aaron Cresswell, Arsenal youngster Jay Emmanuel Thomas joined the side.

A friend of mine, who's a regular at The Emirates, warned me JET was lazy, but I tried not to take too much notice (he's a Gooner and they never know how good they've got it do they?!).

But, it has to be said, early on in the season it seemed he might be right. We weren't getting any of this promised talent out of JET and it was a worry, he was soon dropped from the starting line up. But Jewell insisted there was something special about him and we should stick with him.

JET for me is the most promising sign for our future: he has the power to change games and he will be key for us next year. The fact that he has improved so well since the beginning of the year is proof for me that, as fans, we just don't know what goes on behind the scenes at Ipswich Town.

We don't get to see the training sessions that Jewell does, we don't see get to see the players day-in, day-out. He was right to be patient with JET so I trust him for the next season too.

'I don't want to see us repeat the mistake of loaning defenders because I want to see stability in the back four from now on.'

So I move on to the other aspect of our new squad this past year: our loan signings.

Keith Andrews and Danny Collins were vital to the success we experienced in October, but when they returned to their own clubs our season turned and, for a few months, we struggled to keep outside the relegation zone.

They weren't our only loan signings, we also saw two short term solutions spend some time in our goal. In my opinion David Stockdale was one of our best players last year, but when he was called back to Fulham we were thrown into the awful situation of relying on a keeper that was widely considered as not even good enough to be our second choice.

The other trouble with loan players is that you often don't see the loyalty from them that you might with a player who has signed a full contract. With Ipswich fans crying out for players who are proud to wear the blue and white shirt, taking on loans doesn't seem to suit our club any longer.

In addition, I don't want to see us repeat the mistake of loaning defenders because I want to see stability in the back four from now on. We saw in the second half of the season that consistency in defence lead to better performances and that can only be gained by long term signings.

That's not to say the idea of loans should be avoided entirely: Perhaps we could use this option to acquire an attacking midfielder. Loans bring some fresh ideas to our game and options for tactical changes over the course of the season. Loaning a forward, someone young with a point to prove who is playing for a contract, could well benefit us.

And so we move to the present day, the summer where Jewell needs to prove he won't make any of the above 'mistakes' again.

The coming months are, in my opinion, his most important at Portman Road.

In general the reports of who we have been linked with are good. It's a hard time to be an Ipswich fan: clubs like us (who are conceived as having 'money to spend') are linked with every player under the sun: some links are good, some are bad and most never actually amount to anything concrete. You have to be patient and wait for official confirmation from the club before thinking about it too much, otherwise you'd go mad!

Joel Ward is an excellent example of this. He would have been a very good signing but, for what it's worth, I think Jewell did the right thing there.

'It wasn't a case of signing him 'at all costs' for me. More, sign him if that's what's right for our club.'

I've seen it suggested that he 'should have done his homework' and sold Ward the idea that he'd be playing for us as a right back as this is what Joel has since said he wants for his career. But I don't think that would have been right.

He will have seen our side and seen that Edwards is a regular in that position, has done reasonably well there and is our team captain too. Common sense suggests that he wouldn't have been guaranteed that position for every game, to lie about that would have been unfair.

Jewell did the right thing portraying to him the truth that what we needed was his versatility. It wasn't a case of signing him 'at all costs' for me. More, sign him if that's what's right for our club.

Fair play to Jewell for not forcing a deal that wouldn't work for the club and fair play to Joel for sticking to his decision to go with the club that can give him what he wants for his future.

Elliott Hewitt, on the other hand, is exactly what we wanted. Bringing him to the club feels like it has brought in a new era at Portman Road and one would hope it is a sign of things to come.

Current right-back Carlos Edwards has had a reasonably good second half of the year, much like the rest of the team, so Elliott will do well as cover for him. I would want him to be given a chance to prove himself this year if and when he is needed (perhaps during cup games, if Carlos is injured or even simply in need of a rest), if this goes well he would then provide the option of being able to push Edwards forward to a winger role, something many fans believe would suit him best.

I've been reminiscing this week about former players who we've unearthed from lower leagues: Mattie Holland, Marcus Stewart, David Johnson and Paul Mariner.

I would use Grant Holt as an excellent current example of other clubs finding success in similar ways, but it hurts too much to think about that man for too long!

These, along with youngsters produced by our own academy, are the kinds of players we have built our history on; I believe that is why Elliott has been welcomed with open arms this week. More of this please Paul...

Having said all of that, the signings we make over the coming weeks are vital: we have to source two centre backs from somewhere, perhaps a central midfielder to replace Grant Leadbitter and maybe a striker too.

I want to stress the importance to not expect us to get any player we set eyes on: this is not supermarket sweep. But, if I could chose anyone, who would it be?

Scott Loach (goalkeeper, Watford): Reportedly he is an Ipswich fan and I like the thought of someone committed to the club between the sticks. Like Wrighty.

Richard Keogh (defender, Coventry): has come through our youth system and comes highly recommended by staff there. Keogh's a popular man at Coventry too, after being made 'Player of the season' for the past two years.

Ryan Nelsen (centre back, currently without club): the 34 year old who signed for 6 months with Tottenham in January could be worth a punt, as pointed out by Ipswich Town blogger Lewis Mitchell http://www.lewis-mitchell.com/05/blues-enquire-about-spurs-defender-nelsen/ The New Zealand international has played regularly with Tommy Smith and so continuing that partnership could help solve Town's defensive woes.

His age will be a concern to some but, as Jewell has said towards the end of this season, age brings much needed experience if you get the balance right in the team as a whole.

Greg Halford (defender, Portsmouth): we seem to be being linked with him quite regularly, presumably because one expects Pompey to lose a lot of their players this summer. I saw him play a lot whilst he was at Sheffield United and I was impressed.

However, he is a right back mostly and we currently have Edwards and newboy Hewitt for that position so I'm not sure Halford is needed. In addition, it's been reported that Greg's not a big fan of Ipswich, though that may just be because of his Colchester links.

James Coppinger (midfielder, Doncaster Rovers): yet another player that has been linked to Town repeatedly over the last 12 months, but this time we've actually heard the player speak highly of our club.

A joint bid was made last summer for Copps and his team-mate Billy Sharp, but it was reportedly not enough for Rovers to allow their two best players to leave. With them dropping to League One now though all that has changed and, having worked with and watched Copps a lot last season, I really hope this is one piece of paper-talk that comes true.

Finally, Town have reportedly been in discussions this week with Celtic over another of our loan players this season: Daryl Murphy. I'm not a huge fan of the Irishman who absolutely exasperated me at times, but he is consistent and I cannot deny his work-rate for Town. He would bring a sense of stability to the squad if he were to join permanently so I'll be 'satisfied', shall we say, if he does but - to be honest - he wouldn't be my first choice.

That's not to say though that I expect Jewell to sign any of these players nor that I will criticise him if he doesn't. I'm happy to leave it up to the man in the know.

At the end of the day, it's easy for me to make a list of anyone I might like to see playing for us, but I don't know how possible that is. Jewell does and I trust him to make the right decisions.

I watch the remaining summer weeks with interest and look forward to seeing who puts pen to paper next!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device