Ipswich Town: Redefining Football and Revitalising the Community

Thomas Martin

Ipswich Town look set to redefine English football. Currently, they sit 3rd in the Championship table, 1 point off 1st, having lost the fewest games this season, with 8 games to go off the back of a 6 – 0 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday. That demolition took place against a team Ipswich were promoted alongside from League One the year prior. Impact’s Thomas Martin analyses how Ipswich are reshaping English football and the town of Ipswich itself.

8 games can see a lot of change

Back-to-back promotions will likely be critical for the Premier League to argue that parachute payments afforded to relegated teams (Leicester, Leeds, Southampton) are not an unfair financial advantage. 8 games can see a lot of change, but the impact of the success on the town of Ipswich itself is setting up to be nigh revitalising.

In December 2007, Marcus Evans became majority shareholder of Ipswich Town, with an 87.5% controlling stake, for consideration estimated between 20 pence and £1 (due to the club entering administration), with Evans taking on the £32m in debts from Norwich Union and Barclays Bank and injecting £12 of his own cash into the club. From then until Evans sold the club 11 years later, the club paid 5.4% interest on this debt annually, meaning by 2019 Evans was owed £96.3m.

The expected bounce back did not occur

During Evans’ tenure, the club finished 6th in the 2014/15 season, qualifying for the play-offs, but not gaining promotion, and finished 24th in the 2018/19 season, being relegated to the 3rd division for the first time in 62 years.  The expected bounce-back did not occur in the following season, and an 11th placed-finish came about, with prominent local newspapers – the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star – calling for manager Paul Lambert to be sacked.

Then followed a forgettable 9th place finish, with new manager Paul Cook albeit bringing in several players who would later have a monumental impact (such as Captain Sam Morsy).

Midway through that season, on April 7th 2021, it was announced US investment fund ORG, who manage funds for the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, had bought the club from Marcus Evans for £40m, through a new business called Gamechanger 20 Ltd. ORG acquired a 90% controlling stake and are represented on the Ipswich Town Board of Directors by Ed Schwartz, with previous owner Evans retaining a 5% share, and the remaining 5% going to the ‘Three Lions Fund’, managed by Americans Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay, and Mark Detmer (who have all been physically present and are fan-favourites). 

The Three Lions pledged to oversee the business alongside new CEO Mark Ashton. Marcus Evans also wrote off all the debts owed to him – something seemingly forgotten by the fans. This has led to, at the time of writing, the club’s only external debts being £394,000 in loan notes from the administration era. 

Much criticism is levied at Evans for his tenure; however, I would argue it is unfair. Having been a season ticket holder from the play-off year to relegation I have numerous memories created with family members, and attending home games was something that likely assisted in my mental health during high-school years. Evans, born in Suffolk, is a successful businessman, and was not seeking to emulate the bluster of, for example, former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.

It was the wrong allocation of funds that led to stagnation

Likely, as strange as this sounds towards a man as wealthy as Evans, it was the wrong allocation of funds that led to stagnation. Roy Keane’s weighty transfer budget yielded little success, but Mick McCarthy achieved the play-offs with a ‘£10,000’ team (spent on now-Premier League defender Tyrone Mings) – which is remarkable!

It is clear, however, the new ownership led a 180 degree turn in fortunes, as illustrated by this fan-made video.

After Kieran McKenna was appointed by the new owners, in his first full season as manager, the club finished the 2022/23 season on an 18-game unbeaten run, finishing 2nd, having scored 101 goals and accruing 98 points. Even as of writing, Opta Analyst confirms Ipswich have scored more goals than any team in the top 4 divisions since McKenna’s first game on the 29th of December 2021, with 210 goals (even beating Manchester City’s 206).

The scope of this article cannot speculate as to Ipswich’s promotion chances, however, a statement released by the club recently cements the success in new investments, which will revitalise the town. Having grown up in Suffolk, Ipswich itself is not a cherished urban area, with neighbouring Norwich and Cambridge likely more-favoured destinations for a day-out, but, centred at the heart of the town, this investment looks set to change this perception.

Just days ago, it was announced that US-based private equity firm Bright Path Sports Partners acquired a 40% stake in the club for £105m. Contrast the 40% stake against the 95% stake acquired by ORG in 2021, and the difference of £105m for less than half, against £40m for nearly all, is remarkable.

Why is this investment so important for the town? It is important to state Bright Path’s investment does not relate directly to the upcoming points, however, it is vital as a flow of income into the town.

An example of the upcoming redevelopment includes the recently unveiled new ‘Aquatics centre and masterplan for Portman Road area’. Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, and Ipswich Town Football Club are collaborating to develop eco-friendly facilities that which will symbolise ‘the dawn of a new era for Ipswich’. Additionally, this will include redevelopment of the Cobbold Stand (the smallest one), due to average attendances of 29,000 being at the ceiling of capacity.

This project would develop a ‘new aquatics centre, a café, spa, gym, fitness studio, soft play area… new hotel, public spaces’ and would also improve ‘pedestrian links between the stadium and town centre’. 

For all of this, a public consultation is running until the 26th of March, with Local Planning Authority approval necessary when the proposal is submitted.

Football is fantastic at bringing together a community

Promotion to the Premier League would see the entire image of the town change, but, even if successes are reversed, the positive impact on the community has already begun. Football is fantastic at bringing together a community, but, as I hope I have illustrated here, it can also aid in bringing in attention and investments to a town that has seen social inequality dramatically increase since 2010, falling under the ‘most deprived 20%’ in the country category.

Promotion will see Ipswich redefine football, but more importantly, promotion or not, Ipswich is redefining itself.

Thomas Martin

Featured image courtesy of Connor Coyne via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 1 courtesy of @ipswichtown via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.  
In article image 2 courtesy of @ipswichtown via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.  
In article video 1 courtesy of @tnsipswich via Twitter. No changes were made to this video. 
In article video 2 courtesy of @ipswichtown via YouTube. No changes were made to this video. 
In article video 3 courtesy of @ingletonwoodllp155 via YouTube. No changes were made to this video. 
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