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10 December 2020

Marcus Evans on EFL rescue package being a catalyst for a much-needed change - and there's an apology to Town fans...

From the owner
The EFL rescue package announced last week is welcome news, especially as the Premier League clubs had no legal obligation to hand out a penny to the lower leagues.

The grants are a vital short-term lifeline for clubs who have little support from TV revenues. However, without a much more ambitious and long-term settlement across the leagues, football will remain deeply divided with supporters of many clubs having little or no prospect of seeing Premier League or even Championship football at their grounds.

The real travesty of the lack of a distribution mechanism for funds across the leagues is that, without it, there is a lost opportunity to create a more compelling competition by giving all clubs a fighting chance to progress with a sustainable financial model.

A new approach could remove the ‘roll of the dice’ investments I have seen many times over the last 13 years at clubs that has often ended in disaster.

The greater the number of upwardly mobile clubs we have, the more the interest in football will be maintained in local communities. We are already seeing all clubs, except for the very biggest, finding it more and more difficult to attract younger fans which can’t be good for the health of the game.

There are many recent examples of the need for sustainability, the latest being Wigan, FA Cup winners only seven years ago and now possibly en route to League 2 or worse if a buyer can’t be found.

A redistribution of income across the leagues coupled with workable financial fair play will allow clubs to plan and avoid the casino environment that has, in my opinion, grown out of control over the last 10 years. Every club is affected and to the contrary of the perception of Ipswich as a club working to a tight budget, we have been spending on average 90% of revenues in wages and amortised transfer fees over the last five seasons and run at a loss for all but one of the last 13 years, whilst there are many others spending far beyond their natural means.

Project Big Picture was clumsy in its introduction and certainly had ‘big club’ control connotations that weren’t healthy but at its heart there was something in the proposal that could work.

Recent history has shown that at least 10-12 of the current clubs in the Premier League will be in a lower league at some time in the next five to 10 years and all of them, once in that situation, will probably have wished for a different financial model to enable them to regroup without the fear that if they don’t bounce back immediately they may never get back into the top league. That applies equally between Championship and League 1 and League 1 and 2.

I have spoken in great depth with Rick Parry [chairman] and David Baldwin [CEO] of the EFL and know they are looking at many ways to achieve these goals. They are also listening to clubs, many of whose owners share my views. For the good of the game, some of the solidarity - albeit sometimes achieved painfully - that has been borne out of recent troubled times may just be the silver lining of this most difficult of periods in the game’s history.

In my view too much emphasis over the last few years, for a club to succeed, has been based on huge cash injections from new owners. I appreciate fans, including many at our club, would welcome benefactor after benefactor prepared to spend big to take their club to the highest levels.

These individuals aren’t ‘two a penny’, and even when they do come along - just as many have failed as have succeeded.

I have always said that I would step aside for an owner who would be prepared to spend more money on Ipswich so long as they are fully committed financially over a period of time to take the Club up the league tables.

I fully understand fans’ frustrations that my strategy has hit a big bump in the road over the last couple of years and why this leads to calls for new deep- pocketed ownership to improve the Club’s on-field performance but in my heart, I don’t see one-off big investors as the long-term best solution for football.

A new financial deal that sees more of a level playing field would enable clubs to be owned by those intrinsically linked to their local communities, allowing football and the community to stand as one.

The English game, unlike in any other country, has the wealth to do this through new methods of financial distribution, coupled with workable wage controls for sustainability. These financial distributions could then link to ticket affordability to help increase younger fans’ attendance.

Some commitment from clubs to help each other is what is needed to find a long-term workable solution to address many of the game’s problems. Clubs are in it together and have to work in harmony for the benefit of the game as a whole.

That got me thinking about harmony at our club. Every fan, player, coach, manager, owner all want the same thing - success. When that doesn’t happen, it inevitably leads to tensions.

I for one have probably not helped the recent frustrations by my ‘be careful what you wish for comment’ with regards to calls by some for a change in management. It was not meant to offend nor defer blame for past mistakes and if anyone took offence, I apologise.

To be clear I have not been swayed in the past when making important decisions for Ipswich Town, some have been good, some poor but I am 100% responsible for all of them.

The message I was trying to deliver last week is that my assessment of our current progress, based upon the facts and finer details of the uniquely difficult circumstances we are operating in this season, coupled with our results so far,  gives me confidence that we have the right players and management to take the Club forward. Some will not agree but that’s football - it’s all about opinions.

Supporters will point to the frustrations of not having much to celebrate over many years, not just recently. I’m fully aware that it’s approaching 19 years since we were last in the Premier League and that I have been in charge for 13 of those years. I can only say the goalposts have moved so many times in terms of finances over much of that time that we, like many clubs, find ourselves in a much tougher place to succeed than say 10 years ago.

In the Championship this year alone there are seven clubs with over £40 million each of parachute money. This makes a huge difference and a gap which we will only bridge through the continuing patient redevelopment of every aspect of the Club and hopefully a fairer, more sensible system for revenue sharing across the game for its own good at all levels.

This leads me back to where I started and finding a new financial deal across football. Let’s hope progress is made in the next 12 months and that the ideas mooted in recent weeks don’t get forgotten and swept under the carpet via a series of committee discussions and wishy-washy half measure proposals. 

I assure you I will, along with other like minded owners, be doing all I can to encourage progress for the good of the whole game.

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