It takes a brave man to write an article about Ipswich Town for a Norwich City website. Well, brave, or stupid.
Luckily, I am both of those things.
So on the back of yet another victory at Portman Road and a record-breaking ninth derby unbeaten, why would anyone want to write about those losers from south-the-Waveney?
I was spurred on by someone on Twitter who re-posted this article from the summer, where Ian Milne, Managing Director of Ipswich Town, discussed why he felt the restructuring at City was the wrong approach.
“They’ve gone for a sporting director and a head coach, but I must admit I think there can only be one captain of the ship – the manager.”
He continued, “They are trying that route and it’s clearly worked at some clubs, but, it has to be said, not at the majority.”
It is still too early in our particular quest to categorically claim that it’s worked, but all the signs so far point towards us having a promising future in this current guise.
What that article highlights to me is that Mr Milne is behind the times – out of touch. He, along with the owner, sets the tone for how the club operates and therefore is partly responsible for the malaise and disillusion that surrounds the Suffolk club.
That he still believes in a footballing world where one man does everything doesn’t surprise me – it’s a trait of the British game that has been hard to shake off.
And it can still work – but it’s old fashioned. Thankfully, we’ve decided to take a more modern, forward-thinking approach.
It’s hard to feel sorry for the Tractor Boys as a Canary fan. Memories of them waving their ‘tenners’ may be a decade old (and with hindsight, utterly hilarious) but there will never be any affection for ‘them down the road’.
Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate them. I just don’t like them.
But the truth is we need them and they need us.
Both clubs are considered backwaters by the national media and fans alike. We all know the truth – that fans of both clubs are as passionate as those in the North East for example – but for some reason we don’t garner the same respect.
Despite their fans’ and ex-players’ protestations, they are not ‘famous’. Neither are they relevant to the vast majority of English football – and neither are we. The only time either feature on the national radar nowadays is when we are in the Premier League. Sad, but true.
And their relevance to us is not just because we are local rivals: they are the club we need to avoid becoming.
We are months away from a possible scenario where, without promotion, we face serious financial constraints as the parachute payments end.
Should that happen, we cannot do what Ipswich have done and get all bleary-eyed about a lack of resources.
Town owner Marcus Evans has spent years banging the drum for Financial Fair Play. Does he have a point? Queens Park Rangers are currently on the verge of a crippling £58m fine for breaching FFP regulations.
But isn’t spending ‘big money’ exactly what got Ipswich into this mess in the first place? They threw dosh that they didn’t really have at it and it backfired through poor managerial appointments and bad signings.
Their debt has risen by roughly £50m since Evans took the reigns towards the end of 2007. Just because they screwed up doesn’t mean they now hold the moral high ground on finances when they choose to cut back.
Fact is, you can stay within the regulations and be successful. Burnley are a perfect example, and hopefully we will be the next
“But… but… parachute payments…”
Blues fans and manager alike whine about clubs with parachute payments on a near weekly basis, but Huddersfield Town didn’t have them. Sheffield United don’t have them. Sunderland do, yet they sit in the relegation zone. Norwich City didn’t have them when promoted in 2011.
It’s too simplistic and an excuse that holds little power. Parachute payments, as we are finding out, are there to stop clubs going bankrupt overnight – not to spend on transfer fees. The sudden drops in income are gargantuan.
City had a black hole of around £45m to resolve in less than two years, assuming promotion was not attainable – how is that an advantage? It ramps the pressure up to a preposterous level.
Promotion is not about spending big money – it takes good planning, good management, good signings – but it also requires the most underestimated factor: togetherness. From everyone involved; players to supporters. Ipswich simply don’t have that.
We’ve had our troubles, but the pleasing thing about us at the moment is that we’ve been addressing them in an open and forthright manner – and I think the majority of fans have bought into everything that is happening. It means when a tough call has to be made, we are more forgiving.
There will always be calls for Delia to sell up (I’ve done it myself…), but there’s something more satisfying about trying to achieve things against the odds – and at the moment, that’s what it feels like we are doing with our band of merry Germans.
There’s a clear plan – a visible trajectory that we are building towards. It might not come to fruition this season, but it doesn’t make it any less exciting.
I don’t get the feeling Ipswich have a plan at all. Behind the scenes, they are happy bumbling along from season to season. There is no ambition to change tact when the current approach isn’t working. Their view from on high seems to be ‘if it happens, it happens’.
No wonder their fans are fed up.
Ipswich are losing fans at a rate of over 1,000 a season. In my opinion, their crowds have stood up relatively well considering the dross they’ve witnessed over a 16-year spell – their gates should arguably be far lower.
And there’s little point comparing our attendances – we are an anomaly. Most clubs outside the top division don’t fill their grounds these days – even if they are doing well, let alone badly.
Now normally at this point (usually earlier than this), an Ipswich fan will pipe up about ‘three stars’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if we’d won a couple of the trophies they have, we’d be very proud of them too – but no club can continue to live in a sepia-tinged era that has absolutely no bearing on current events.
Three stars that mean nothing to anybody but themselves. It’s now the only weapon they have. They are using sticks and stones in a world of machine guns and drone strikes.
As a club they need to wake up and fast. Could the Town fans protest? What would they be protesting about? Being run on an even keel? They really are stuck and I have sympathy for their predicament.
They are no sleeping giant – they are a run-of-the-mill second division club who daydream of days of yore while weeping against a cold, rusty, cobweb-ridden turnstile.
Their ground is unloved. Their team likewise.
Their mysterious owner is not-so-mysterious to authorities who seem to regularly investigate his ticketing activities at major events.
Does he care about the football club? Is he using them for tax purposes?
Who knows – and that’s the point. Fans have no idea what the end game is. No matter how distant their prospects of a return to top-level football currently look, one presumes that is the aim.
However, promotion wouldn’t fix many, if any, of their problems. They are heaping too much impetus on the affluence the Premier League apparently brings.
Because ultimately, it’s a myth that it brings wealth – at least, not to a smaller club. It’s a case of treading water. Ipswich are around £80m in debt – there is no way he’d be able to recoup that kind of money from a single stint in the top division.
It took us three years to pay off a £20m debt – and although only a few years ago, the finances involved have gone into another world since then.
All of which means he’d have to spend big in order to try and keep them up, thus taking them even further into debt. You might have higher cash flow, but you still end up losing money – and as we know, there’s no guarantee of survival.
It’s a vicious cycle and one that inevitably ends in relegation at some point… and then what?
The Premier League is glamorous if you believe the media – but try telling that to a fan when their side is getting humped 7-0 at oil-rich Man City, or playing out an insipid stalemate at home to an unambitious West Brom.
It isn’t the paradise that it’s made out to be, but football is a game where you constantly look to improve. Eventually, the Premier League is your destination.
And Norwich City give the impression they want to become a better club, not just on the pitch, but off it.
Perhaps one day, Mr Milne will re-think his comments about the structural changes at Colney because I think it’s clear that we are the ones getting it right, not them.
It seems inevitable to me that their long, long stint in the Championship will end in the next 2-3 years, but I suspect it will be via the trapdoor rather than through the golden gates.
It’s been 22 years since the East Anglian Derby was played under the Premier League spotlight – it’d be a great spectacle to see that happen again.
But equally, I’d quite like to see them stew in League One squalor for a few years!
So don’t hate on Town fans, pity them. That’ll hurt them so much more.