The full matchday programme column from owner Marcus Evans
In today's matchday programme, Town owner Marcus Evans outlines a footballing philosophy that will remain in place at Portman Road while he’s at the Club; explains the reasons for giving Paul Lambert a new long-term deal; talks the merits of a rotation policy; emphasises the importance of the Academy and of youth on and off the pitch in Town colours - and has a message for the Blue Army…
Here is the full article written by the owner...
From the owner
As we enter the second half of the season with all to play for to make an immediate return to the Championship and with the crammed festive season now behind us, I have taken the opportunity to update you on what’s going on behind the scenes at your club.
Running a football club is about dealing with the present and preparing for the future, whatever it holds, and I am totally focused on building for all aspects of the Club’s future and this above all else has been my focus in 2019.
On the pitch we are continuing to see exciting, emerging talent. On the fringes of the first-team we have had a taste of players such as Idris, Armando and Brett, whose footballing pathways we are working on to ensure they obtain the experience needed to develop and hopefully in time feature regularly in our first-team.
They will join established Academy successes who have flowered this season with Flynn, Andre, Myles and Luke Woolfenden all playing regularly in the first-team. If it were not for injury I am sure Teddy and Jack Lankester’s names would be added to the list.
These successes are the result of many years of Bryan, Lee and their team’s hard work and my investment at the Club’s Academy and I am pleased to report that the crop of players who will emerge over the next two or three seasons are potentially even more exciting.
I have said many times that our Academy is vital to the Club’s development and our long term goals are aligned to the success of the Academy management team. With this in mind, I have continued to invest in the facilities at Playford Road and have further plans for the development of the site in 2021 and 2022 to ensure we are first choice for youngsters in what is a highly competitive recruitment market.
As far as the first-team is concerned, having seen nearly all of the competition, I believe we have prepared a squad with the right mix of young and more experienced players to get us out of this league. However, as recent results have shown, we have no predetermined right to progress. Every team we play is fighting for every ball as if their lives depend on it and we need to continue to match and exceed that desire to win and achieve this whilst playing to our strengths.
In terms of building a competitive first-team, I feel we got it right this summer when looking at the four pronged approach to the continual development of the squad; those being Academy, transfers, out of contract players and loans. I have already mentioned the Academy but this has to be combined with transfer investment represented by players bought in the last 18 months such as Kane, Jon Nolan, Gwion, Kayden, Janoi and
Toto as well as the recruitment of players who have allowed their contracts to come to an end or been near to ending at their previous clubs such as Tomas, Will, Alan Judge, James Norwood and James Wilson.
Finally an astute use, but not overuse, of the loan market enabled us to bring in players such as Luke Garbutt and Will Norris, both of whom also have one eye on a potential future at Ipswich.
This squad built around the foundations of Chambo, Cole and Freddie - and with Emyr now back after long term injury - has evolved only over the last 12 months and in reality has only been working together on matchdays for the last 20 odd games.
Many of the teams we come up against have a game plan developed over many seasons with players familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I know we all want success today but we should not lose sight of the benefit of time in creating a cohesive unit.
We have built a great core group and while there will always be tweaks, the investments made to get to this point in terms of all four prongs of our recruitment strategy I believe are the ingredients which will result in a really exciting footballing team over the next five years.
I mention the term ‘footballing team’ as I indicated 18 months ago that to get to where we all eventually want to be, we need to be a footballing team.
In my first years as an owner, I believed a more physical, direct approach was the way to move forward. Football has changed though. Clubs in the Championship and definitely in the Premier League are playing a much more technical game now.
I feel there is also a duty to the supporters that we play in an entertaining manner. I want to enjoy watching the team play. I’m sure the fans do.
I have spoken to Paul and Lee, our general manager football operations, in great length about this over the last year. They know it’s the way I want us to play and we all agree this is the right way forward for the Club.
It’s a philosophy that we have right through from the first-team down to the Academy levels.
The stakes are highest at first-team level of course and there will always be a plan B, plan C on how to win a football match but the foundations of how Ipswich Town will play - while I’m owner - will be around the technical approach - and that desire to play a brand of football that entertains supporters.
I think we have played that way for much of the time Paul has been here. Perhaps we have dropped off a bit over the last month or so and this league is more physical in style than the Championship but having been party to the different approaches I can see that a more technical playing style is more complex than developing a direct approach. It needs more time for everyone in the squad to feed off each other.
Time becomes an even more important requirement when there is a deep squad with many challenging for first-team places and therefore less games when the same group play together.
Much has been said of our rotation policy and I want to address this point. A key part of our strategy is to develop 22 players all challenging for every position on the pitch – no comfort zones.
Yes this means the squad takes longer to evolve into a cohesive unit where everyone just slots into place but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right long term plan.
It may mean we don’t know each other quite as well as the opposition knows each other but when it all clicks, a more technical approach with a deep squad will take us to higher places as opposed to a direct style which will only take us so far.
If we give it time and support the process through the inevitable ups and downs and understand why we are working towards perfecting a style which is difficult to attain - and the fans are behind the approach, which is vital – I firmly believe we will have a club which gets to where we want to be in the long term.
Moving on from playing styles some will ask why I entered into a long term contract with the management team when we are experiencing a difficult run and I hope the above explains my reasoning as I believe Paul and his team have all of the attributes needed to take us forward.
We have a fantastic manager and group of coaches who are passionate about the Club, its fans and the prospects ahead. They, like anyone, need the security of knowing they will be given the time to effect a plan which is both complex and always evolving.
If I had wanted for the next phase of the Club to follow a plan for a more direct footballing approach, there would have been many other options but for the reasons I have stated above I am following a strategy which is aimed at the long term.
It has a higher degree of difficulty and we started afresh not long ago but if we are to be anything other than an also ran in the new football world, we have to take the time to evolve in the way I have described.
It’s quicker and easier to build a basic engine than a complex one but in the long term the complex one, if perfected, will achieve higher degrees of success.
In terms of the overall make-up of the squad I am determined to keep hold of our best players and whilst you should not anticipate too much activity in the transfer market, I will provide funds to tweak when needed but overall I have asked the manager to work with what we have built so far.
Outside of the football side we have seen great progress in the Club’s community work. I launched our Community Trust in the summer and we are now working in over 20+ schools with Trust staff working with those schools and delivering training support.
We have over 1000 weekly participants at our Development Centres and have plans afoot for an exciting county wide young person’s charitable initiative.
We have also worked tirelessly to bring in young fans to matchday and the wide number of young fan initiatives, led by Dan Palfrey and Lauren Fellingham, have resulted in an increase in younger fan numbers from 1000 per match two seasons ago to just under 2000 average per match this year.
Our First Time Fans project has been a great success with 620 youngsters attending their first game at Portman Road over the last year and we have recently launched our Class of Blues scheme that has seen local schools invited to the Club for a tour of the stadium and have an ITFC themed maths and literacy lesson. More than 400 children have taken part in the scheme over the last three months.
We will have 2000 Junior Blues members by the end of the season - this is up on last year - and also by the end of the season we aim to have formed a partnership with 90 per cent of the schools within a 10 mile radius of the stadium - that is more than 80 schools.
Engaging with the youngsters and seeing them become supporters of Ipswich Town is one of our priorities as a football club.
Our pre-match forums in the FanZone for 400+ season ticket holders, giving supporters the opportunity to take part in a Q and A with the manager have also been a great success. I am looking to be fully transparent with our fans as to our plans and this is just one of the initiatives to support these plans.
I hope some of you have seen the steps we have made in improving our matchday catering service at Portman Road and we are also in the process of giving the stadium a bit of a makeover.
The roof in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand will be cleaned in the next month or so. The Cobbold Stand has been improved in look with further plans to enhance that in the summer. We are also in the process of providing more Ipswich Town branding around the concourses with the Legends of Ipswich Town mural in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand just the start.
These are small steps on a long journey but I will aim to tick items off the list every season including those cosmetic improvements to the stadium.
Also our Show Your Colours programme is supported now from a standing start in the summer by nearly 100 local businesses sporting Ipswich Town banners, flags and other items. This will be rolled out around the county this year.
Finally can I wish you all a slightly belated Happy New Year and thank you all for the tremendous support you have shown home and away this season.
I hope some of the above helps you to understand our plans and makes it a little easier to share in some of the pain as well as join in celebrating our highs as we follow what is a tough journey back to where we all want this great club to be.