Tuesday, 5 August 2014

My China Town anniversary

It was a Friday evening, the day my life was changed forever.

On 5th August 1994, I vividly remember my Dad leading me by the hand down a dusty path surrounded by lots of men, all laughing and joking. It was only a small crowd that day (compared to the 20 thousand plus I would become used to at Portman Road), but the atmosphere felt exciting and I was instantly hooked.

That dusty pathway lead to the Abbey stadium, home to Cambridge United who were that night playing host to local top tier side Ipswich Town. Though I'd lived in Cambridge for two years and I was to grow up in the city, Ipswich was my home town and I had inherited the team from my Dad (despite his father being a Narwich City man). I'd seen my Dad head off to watch the Blues when I was younger, but today I was joining him for the first time.

My Mum has joked that she sometimes wishes she'd put her foot down and refused to let her daughter become part of that world. Some Saturdays I wish she hadto be honest, as the years that have passed since that first match have been filled with mixed emotions, but then I remember they have also given me some wonderful friends and great memories.

The result that night could not really have set me up much better for a lifetime of supporting Town: with Cambridge going one nil up inside the first five minutes, Simon Milton scored the equaliser on 6 minutes. I was so excited by the noisy start to the game.

The score remained the same until 45 minutes but soon after half time there was another goal - all around us fans in the family stand jumped up cheering and for a few moments I joined them, only to feel my Dad gently pulling me back down and explaining quietly it was Cambridge that had scored. The teams had swapped ends at half time and, being only 10, I hadn't understood that!

The game finished 3:1 and, as I say, was a good premonition of the ups and downs to come. The simple stands at the Abbey were a far cry from the glamour of the ties I would experience less than ten years later at Wembley and the San Siro, but to this day it is those smaller venues that I enjoy the most and I'm sure that has something to do with that first game that I loved so much.

When I look back, it's interesting to think that Ipswich Town has been the one of the most consistent things in my life. Friends, partners, cars and even homes have come and gone and I've grown up and moved on, learning from each. But, aside from my family, Town are the only thing that was there 20 years ago that I love just as much now and I still have to rely on today.

If I have a rubbish day, that football team are still there for me to immerse myself in and let those worries wash away for 90 minutes (even on the days when the football itself is just as rubbish). And often the good days I've had over the past two decades have been basically caused by that team: fantastic away days, a trip down with my Dad who I don't get to see so often nowadays and even part of a new tradition with my boyfriend of placing a bet on whose team will finish higher in the league at the start of each season - "we play for the pride", we told the bookies yesterday!

What's been the biggest learning curve for me is that, despite the loyalty for my beloved Ipswich never changing, the way in which I support them has. There was a day, in my over ten years as a season ticket holder, where I wouldn't have missed a home game and the thought of watching on television turned my stomach. Now, though there is still nothing better than the feeling of watching them live, I've learnt you have to enjoy supporting then in whatever way you can.

This season, I aim to actually go to around 7 or 8 games, one a month with the exception of August where I am on holiday and at the MotoGP. In years gone by I'd have scolded myself, but this year I know it is right for me and my personal life.

20 years on and I love the Town as much as I did at that first game.

I'm grateful to everyone who's been a part of the memories, both on and off the pitch, and to the people who have put up with my 20 year long obsession over my one true love - Ipswich Town.

I'm now off for a meal to celebrate my china anniversary with a lovely meal and a drink or two...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Can the Championship be 'easily navigated by throwing millions of quid at a club'

The Ipswich Town website currently display a SkyBet competition, fans can enter for the chance to win their club £250 thousand pounds to spend on transfers.

Whilst it isn't a vast amount of money,  you would need to win it 44 times to purchase stirker Ross McCormack for your team, it could go quite some way to boosting Mick McCarthy's apparent budget spend this summer.

Much has been said over recent years of Marcus Evan's lack of spending on the squad, particularly since McCarthy has taken over. With an approach of focusing on freebies and lower wages, it seems the club is being run in a very stringent way, too stringent some say. This last statement is something that amazes me, particularly considering the position we found ourselves in following relegation from the Premier League.

The title of this blog is a quote from a recent post on website TWTD, 'A Lack of Spending Will Curtail Progress', which I felt compelled to respond to. I know there are some around who would prefer to see us spend more money on transfers but, whilst I respect their opinion, I find the notion that not doing so will lead to an end to our progress far too simplistic. 'Money doesn't buy you happiness, as they say And, to take the argument further - do we even want it to be true that the only way to succeed in football is to have cash?

The catalyst for the article is the recent £11 million sale of big Ross McCormack from Leeds to Fulham. Whilst I think McCormack could be a great player at a club without the backstage dramas of his former team, I could never see this as a good deal nor one that leads the way for many more big buck purchases in our league.

No, £11 million for a player to move to a fellow Championship club is ridiculous. £11 million for a Championship club to pay for any player is ridiculous and surely only possible due to the parachute payment.

I'd be missing the point if I thought that was the full argument; the discussion itself is a comparison between that sale and Mick McCarthy's own recent declaration that he expects to be relying on freebies and loans again this year. It's a daunting prospect of course, but does it really spell the end to the progress we've seen in the past season?

The intended approach to strengthening our squad is no different to that of last summer. Mick McCarthy has built the current squad from out of contract or cheap players and those bargains took us to ninth place in the league last season and very close to the play off places. To my mind, there's no reason to assume the same cannot be true for this year.
Out of contract players or those demanding a low fee do not necessarily equate to dodgy or poor quality players. David McGoldrick and Luke Chambers (though admittedly the latter was purchased by Paul Jewell) were both straight from the bargain bucket and look what they have achieved at Portman Road so far, both regulars in the first team and McGoldrick, arguably, the most key player in our squad.

'McGoldrought', as he was less than affectionately known at his previous club Nottingham Forest, had been sent on loan and written off by fans as past his best. Meanwhile our fist pumping right back had also lost friends at the club as he became an on pitch scapegoat for the issues taking place off it. My point being, neither one cost £11 million - yet neither one will find it hard to make his way into our first team this year - we didn't need to spend money on them.

By the writer's own admission, 'Mick didn't have money to spend last season and has improved the club dramatically'. What is there to suggest spending money, a change in habit for us, would put a stop to the progress we have already made?

Outside of Suffolk, plenty of clubs have shown that large wallets do not equal instant success. Portsmouth are the best example of this, but QPR also show what a gamble it is to do that. It paid off for them, but it so very nearly didn't. As a neutral, I love to watch the play offs because they are so full of drama. But the reason for that is that they are so unreliable, they are one hell of a gamble for a club who risk going out of business should they fail. That unpredictability of the play offs is not a risk I would want to take with Town.

The article on TWTD points to recent clubs that have been promoted and claims that almost all of them have spent money to achieve this, but this statement is far too simplistic for me. Last year alone explains this a little further...

Following our match against Leicester City last season, where the soon to be promoted Foxes displayed the quality of football that would make them champions, I commented that the gap in quality most likely showed the gap in the value of each team. Very quickly I received a response from one of their fans pointing out that, actually, that spending had been in the years previous and the team playing that day had been with them some time.

I thought it was a valid point, cast your mind back to 2011, when Sven Goran Eriksson was at the healm and the club, spending hefty amounts of cash, seemingly believing this was the key to success. We riducled the fact that they didn't achieve automatic promotion and laughed at their failed attempt.

The truth is, that side did become the best in the league and probably would not have been had they not had the high budget to start with. But, they became what they did after two or three years of playing together and growing as a team and they deserve credit for that, not simply being written off as only being there as a result of the cash.

Fast forward to 2014 and the situation might have been different for the side, as the Financial Fair Play rules come in to play - and that's the situation we're in. Throw money at a team and you cannot guarantee they'll become Championship beaters in the first season, as shown by Leicester's long term development and QPR's gamble in the Play Offs. Fail in your mission and you risk huge fines and transfer embargoes, two things that absolutely would 'curtail Mick's progress'.

Aside from that, I always feel some fans are missing the point when it comes to FFP. The point for me is not about sticking to the rules for fear of the punishment, but because you know that running the club in this way is absolutely the right and sustainable way.

At over £80 million in debt, the option to speculate to accumulate simply isn't ours. Evans and McCarthy are right to take this approach, it may mean the goal takes a little longer to achieve but it certainly doesn't mean we won't get there at all.