Marcus Evans on a welcome to Paul Cook, his biggest challenge as owner and those 'takeover talks'...
Dear fellow fan,
I would like to start by welcoming Paul Cook to the Club as our new manager.
When it became apparent that I needed to look for someone new to lead our challenge for promotion over the rest of the season, Paul was always at the forefront of my mind.
I sought opinion from inside the Club and spoke to a number of experienced football people outside as well and when we discussed the potential list of options and what was needed at the Club - experience; a track record of getting clubs promoted; knowledge of League One and the Championship; a reputation for playing a brand of football that is in alignment with our ethos; it was agreed that Paul fits them all.
The process saw a first for me, having to recruit a prospective manager over Zoom however the medium did nothing to dampen Paul’s obvious passion for the role. I have had to move quickly since the weekend but Paul has already met the squad and staff and has impressed a lot of people with what he has said and his clear desire and determination to take this Club back to the Championship.
I’m delighted - but not surprised - that his appointment has been so well received by supporters and the media. In many ways, it has been the same with all the managers I have appointed but as we know in football, results always dictate opinions on whether an appointment was right or not.
It will be the same with Paul no doubt. That’s football but I firmly believe that Paul has all the credentials to take Ipswich Town forward and he will receive all the support I can give him to help him achieve that.
As Paul has said, promotion to the Championship is the goal for us this season and I know he believes with the squad we have, a top two position is within reach.
Gary Roberts - who many of you will remember from his time here as a player - has joined the coaching squad and he will work alongside Matt Gill as one of two first-team coaches, with Jimmy Walker as our goalkeeping coach. Welcome back Gary!
Contrary to what you may think, Paul Lambert and I parted on good terms. Yes we had a difference of opinion on a number of things at the end and that made it right for all concerned that we went our separate ways but I wish him and Stuart Taylor every success and I told him that in our last series of Zoom conversations as owner and manager.
I’m not going into detail about what those disagreements were - other than to say that we have a squad as good as any in the division and a training ground that is equal, if not better, than some in the Championship. There were some points raised by Paul that I will take on board and look at when the time is right but while it pains me to say it - and hopefully not for long - we are a League One club playing football in the middle of a pandemic and we have to operate accordingly. The time is not right to fiddle while Rome burns.
We have no non-matchday revenues and no matchday income, which amounts to around £175,000 in lost revenue every game but we still have extensive costs to cover in terms of running a football club and that doesn’t just include those associated with the first-team and you will already be aware that we were operating at the maximum allowed by the salary cap that was introduced at the start of the season. I could not have spent another penny on the squad without breaching EFL rules.
The Academy costs £2m a year to run, every year and from the start of the pandemic I ring-fenced that spending to ensure no reductions in the investment. We have recently spent significant figures on improving the training ground; upgrading the ticket system; improving the CCTV coverage at Portman Road to provide fans with a safer environment and providing an improved payment system for supporters on matchday - which I hope you will see the benefit of when you return.
Plans are also in place for cosmetic surgery at the stadium as well, including the possibility of having a giant screen in the FanZone, more branding around the ground including recognition of the Club’s history running along the ‘windows’ of the Cobbold Stand and an upgrade to the PA system.
Please be assured your club has a cohesive and continuing infrastructure improvement plan in place to improve both the fan experience and support to the first-team. Yes, Covid has put some of those changes on hold just as it has presented each and every one of us with massive challenges in our personal and business lives. For all of us it’s been the most challenging year and it’s the same for me as owner of this football club. I’m sure every owner will say the same.
I am, however, hugely proud that we are coming through it without having to lose any staff. The Government’s Job Retention Scheme has helped in that respect but it has always been our ambition to keep job losses to an absolute minimum. I also must point out the tireless efforts of the unsung heroes at the Club who through the pandemic have strived to ensure that every aspect of the Club’s infrastructure has remained entirely fit for purpose whilst where possible continuing with the improvement plan.
A ‘£10m black hole’ figure has been mentioned if no supporters were allowed into the stadium this season and while every EFL club in our division has received a payment from the Premier League, that gets nowhere near covering the losses we will face and I do believe that if football comes out the other side of the pandemic with all clubs intact, then that will be remarkable.
It won’t just be this season that clubs have to survive, they will need to operate next year as well with some resilience built into their business models against future shocks, though hopefully the vaccine can be the magic bullet to normality returning to our matchday.
Clearly, with no supporters allowed into the stadium this season - I will need to look at compensation for season ticket holders who have spent a lot of money and missed out on live football. I am in the process of doing that now and full details will follow as soon as we are in a position to make that public.
We are waiting to see if we qualify for any additional ‘rescue’ payment from the Premier League. We may do but there are stipulations on how that payment is made and also it may well have an impact on our ability to add to the squad in the summer transfer window so there are decisions to be made on whether we even apply for that financial help.
That brings me neatly to more talk of financial help in the form of a takeover!
I’m sure you are aware of the media stories that have been swirling around over the last week or two suggesting that I am about to sell the Club.
Let me put on record that in my 13 years plus as owner of Ipswich Town, I have never looked to sell the Club. That is still the case.
In that time I have received approaches to see if I would sell - some credible - some not so. I received another new enquiry only two weeks ago (not the one reported in the media) and in each case, I have looked first and foremost at whether that investment would be in the long term best interests of the Club and also not to forget the interests of the army of small shareholders, whose equity I have never diluted, by looking to turn my debts into Club equity.
They still remain as just over 10% shareholders in the Club through their shares in ITFC PLC and I would always want to ensure they are fairly treated.
There are many examples of clubs that have gone for risky short term fixes or sold out to investors who found it all too easy to walk away when the going gets tough.
I am fully supportive of foreign ownership of English football clubs and many have been great additions to the UK club landscape; however football is not a normal business, with much beyond financial pressures on owners, and one needs to take that into account when judging the long term commitment of possible investors with no personal roots in the community.
The clubs that got it wrong paid a heavy price, sometimes very quickly. I have invested too much time, energy and funding to put this Club at risk.
I am not going to deny there has always been interest in Ipswich Town, ours is a great club with great history and a potentially great future, but please don’t take everything you read in the media as ‘the state of play’.
I have had detailed offers for the Club past and present but there has been nothing brand new in the last 12 months, though a number of those with historic interest come back from time to time and there is nothing that is currently acceptable to me or the Club and I reiterate that any decision that needs to be made by me will be based on what is right in the long term.
I have said for the last few years that, as new football investors with potentially greater investment pain thresholds than me appear on the scene, if I feel someone is in a better position than me to carry the Club forward with sustained investment, I will step aside. If I have concerns having had unique access to look behind the mask of interested parties, I won’t sell, end of.
One thing I can confirm, if I feel there is something to say officially on the matter, you the supporters will be the first to hear from me. But for now, the only focus I have is supporting our new manager and the players in what promises to be an exciting conclusion to the season.
Thanks as always for your support for the Club and let’s get right behind Paul and the team - albeit sadly from afar!