Ipswich have been in the headlines rather a lot for a third tier side over the last month – and it wasn’t the consecutive 0-0 draws with Northampton and Oxford that has caught national attention.
Between supporter protests outside the training ground, a referee squaring up to Alan Judge and talk of a potential takeover, it’s been all go in east Anglia this February.
So, just what is going on at Portman Road? Here’s the lowdown…
In September, 90min’s very own Jude Summerfield described watching Tottenham under Jose Mourinho as ‘sad‘. If Mourinho’s Tottenham are sad, Ipswich are currently heartbreakingly disconsolate. Thank you, thesaurus.com.
Having finished three points off the Champions League places in 2002, the Tractor Boys are now in their second season in League One after being left to slowly wilt into mediocrity.
It was announced that manager Paul Lambert had signed a five-year deal in January 2020 – where the Ipswich hierarchy thought the man who had overseen two relegations in his previous two jobs was attracting outside interest from is anyone’s guess – and the Tractor Boys have since endured a mass downturn in form that saw them completely miss out on the 2019/20 playoffs.
The Tractor Boys’ quick start to the 2020/21 campaign was short lived and they find themselves outside the playoffs again, while Lambert has become increasingly frosty with local media and started making cryptic digs towards owner Marcus Evans’ running of the club. Supporters group Blue Action staged a protest at the club’s training ground (flares and all) in February – which the club later said they apologised for. We do hooliganism very politely in east Anglia.
In short, the club’s a bit of a mess.
Ipswich’s gradual stagnation can be traced back to Marcus Evans’ takeover in 2007. The club had a squad on the cusp of a promotion push – perhaps a centre back and a goalscorer short. Evans was initially prepared to spend big in the transfer window, but when this investment was not met with success with managers Roy Keane and Paul Jewell, the money tap was turned off.
Evans became more cautious financially under Mick McCarthy – a man with a talent for working wonders on a budget – meaning Ipswich got away with their stinginess. But while other Championship sides started getting richer and spending bigger, the Tractor Boys stood still.
McCarthy was a victim of his own success. When his one dimensional football did not deliver the previous highs of a playoff place, supporters gradually grew restless. McCarthy was replaced by the inexperienced Paul Hurst, who tried to change too much too quickly in an absolute state of a first transfer window. By the time Hurst was sacked in October 2018, ironically the only person who could have saved Ipswich from the drop was McCarthy and his no nonsense football.
A group of US investors are reportedly on the verge of a takeover of the Suffolk side, led by businessman Brett Johnson. However, Johnson is just one of a number of investors. TWTD report that the majority of the funds will come from a pension fund for the fire and police services of an as yet unnamed US state.
The Athletic report the takeover to be worth £17.5m, while local media state the deal could be worth up to £30m. The takeover could happen as soon as next month, with Evans to keep a 5% stake in addition to some of the Playford Road training ground.
The poster boy for the Ipswich takeover is US businessman Brett Johnson. The American is the founder and chairman of both Fortuitous Partners – a sports investment fund – and Benevolent Capital Partners – a private equity firm.
Johnson has previous with football ownership, having bought a minority stake in Arizona United in 2015. The club have since rebranded as Phoenix Rising and moved to their own 10,000-seater stadium. Johnson also has a stake in Danish side Helsingor.
Supporters have cottoned on to Johnson following Ipswich on Twitter and liking one of the club’s recent tweets. Which is as good as signing on the dotted line, right?
Reports state that following the takeover, the consortium would look to replace Lambert with former Wigan manager Paul Cook. 90min revealed in December that the Town boss was being lined up as a potential replacement for Neil Lennon at Celtic.
Having spent much of his first season in charge repairing the fractured relationship between the club and fans, all of Lambert’s PR work has been undone in the last 12 months. While results and performances have largely been poor, he’s also banned popular journalist Phil Hamm from press conferences, omitted five first team youngsters from the squad photo at the start of the season and frequently insisted the his side have played well when they’ve been nothing short of tedious.
The club’s issues do run deeper than Lambert – he’s not the problem, but he’s also not the answer.
There was the exact same excitement at Ipswich in 2007 when news of the Evans takeover broke. A splash of investment and new arrivals and the Premier League would beckon. It’s not quite turned out like that.
For his faults, Evans has shown a patience and loyalty towards managers that is increasingly rare in today’s game – although many would argue this patience and loyalty has been extended too far in Lambert’s case. There are many clubs in the EFL who have endured much worse ownership than Ipswich have with Evans.
However, with Evans at the helm the club has done nothing but slowly and sadly stagnate and slump. Who is to say how the proposed new owners will shape up – but Ipswich are only going in one direction under Evans.
A potential takeover should be treated with cautious optimism. It could well be a total disaster, but any attempt at change beats fading into the abyss.