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Monday, May 23, 2011

QPR Report Interview: The Ipswich Perspective

February 21, 2011 - IPSWICH

Darren Campbell, Editor of Vital Ipswich Town, www.ipswich.vitalfootball.co.uk has very kindly agreed to respond to some questions and offer his assessment of Ipswich Town. It is greatly appreciated.

Q&A With VITAL IPSWICH TOWN's www.ipswich.vitalfootball.co.uk DARREN CAMPBELL

Starting simply: How long have you supported Ipswich? And how long have you been involved with the Vital Ipswich Website? How did you get to be the editor?

I'm actually from the Midlands, but I've been an Ipswich Town fan since the summer of 2002. Essentially I was something of a latecomer to football but I found myself drawn into the game by the fantastic underdog story at Town in 2000/01, when they defied all the odds to qualify for the UEFA Cup in their first season after promotion to the Premier League. After they got relegated the following season, I decided to keep following them.

I took over as editor of Vital Ipswich at the start of this season (late July 2010, to be precise). I had written articles for the previous editor a number of times over the past few years, but after he left the position last season, I decided to apply to the network for the role. So here I am!

How do you get on with the other Ipswich fan sites: Are there any serious inter-IpswichPreston Messageboard conflicts (as there certainly are between certain QPR boards!)?

Truthfully we don't have a great deal to do with other Town fansites, but there aren't really any serious conflicts either. TWTD is one of the most popular unofficial sites for Blues fans along with the likes of soon-to-be-scrapped BBC 606, but many of our members at Vital Ipswich have complained about becoming disenchanted with the overwhelmingly negative attitudes that a lot of people seem to spread around on other sites. That's often what being a fan is all about though - disagreeing about things!

Do Ipswich have one (or two) special rivals? Is it an equal two-way rivalry? (I'm assuming it's Norwich. And that Colchester don't factor in)

Well Norwich City has always been the big one - the 'Old Farm' Derby, as some like to call it. Many people on the outside don't take it seriously, but a study once rated it as the second-fiercest derby in English football. If you watched the horror of our 4-1 defeat at Carrow Road earlier in the season, you might understand just how much it means to both sides!

Colchester United and Southend United are sometimes referred to as our other 'East Anglian' rivals, but they are nothing compared to the bi-annual battle against the Budgies. Colchester's a funny one actually; geographically they are the closest professional team to Ipswich, and most U's fans are vehement about their rivalry with Town. Blues fans on the other hand generally couldn't care less about Colchester - I think it's because Town have historically spent so many seasons in a higher tier of the league than Colchester, compared to how much time we have spent battling in the same division with Norwich. As for Southend, well... if they keep slipping down the leagues, it'll be a long time before we play them again!!

What do you think of your current manager? What did you think of his predecessors? From Roy Keane all the way back to Bobby Robson? You've had so few compared to QPR!
Especially what did you think of Jim Magilton - who lasted just a short time at QPR (which really proves nothing). But he was accused of fighting with one of our players?

Given my time as a Town fan, I can't really speak for any managers before George Burley, and even then I only saw the tail end of what had been a very successful time for him at Portman Road. I remember the Joe Royle days very well though - he came in with us edging towards a second successive relegation and looking not too far from going out of business, but he more than steadied the ship. He used a shoestring budget and an entertaining brand of attacking football to take us to the playoffs in 2003/04 and the brink of automatic promotion in 2004/05, only to suffer playoff semi-final defeats to West Ham both years. With that, Royle's great team was ripped apart by Premier League vultures - Darren Bent, Shefki Kuqi, Tommy Miller, Kelvin Davis all moving on - and when he was dogged by a terrible injury crisis to see us finish 15th in 2005/06, he left the club.

Frankly, no-one since has matched up to Royle's standards. Jim Magilton cut his managerial teeth with us and did well to rebuild the team over the next two years until we finished a point off the playoffs in 2007/08. Despite being boosted by Marcus Evans' takeover of the club however, he simply couldn't build upon it in a frustrating 2008/09 season and we finished 9th. The fans became heavily divided over whether he was really good enough to take us any further and he was eventually given his marching orders in rather unceremonial fashion over the phone by new chief executive Simon Clegg. Jim might not have been the best manager in the world, but after 7 years as a player and then 3 years doing not half bad in the hotseat at Portman Road, he really didn't deserve that. It looked as though he would have the last laugh when your boys seemed to be doing well under him for a while, but then came that infamous Akos Buszaky incident. Admittedly Jim was always quiet a fiery character, but I don't know about all that.

I think after three years with a fresh-faced manager that lacked much profile in the game, the new guys at the top thought they needed a big name to go with our money. Whatever Town thought of Magilton though, they really picked a turkey in Roy Keane. He sure brought us attention, but he also brought us closer to League One than ever before. I'd never seen us in a relegation battle until Keane showed up, and we scraped out of one last season only to waste a good start and plunge right back into another one this year. So much promise, so little delivered.

So that brings us to Jewell. The early signs are good - we're winning games again, and more importantly, we're scoring goals again, like we used to under Royle. If he can keep that up, we're certainly heading in the right direction.

What do you think of the current Ipswich Owners? WHY are they involved with Ipswich? (Ipswich have a strong reputation for board and managerial stability and dignity).
What do you expect? Could they realistically have done more to boost your chances?

It's hard to know what to make of Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Ipswich Town forever owes Evans for bailing us out of financial difficulty (over £35m of debt, in fact), but money hasn't really improved Town, and we seemed to be so much hungrier in those penny-squeezing days under Royle. That being said, money talks in the modern game, and I'm not sure where we'd be without it now.

We recently ran a poll on Vital Ipswich over whether the fans supported the owners, and they actually came out with a 75% approval rating. That's somewhat surprising considering the lack of return in football terms since they took over. It's also surprising given some considerable ill-feeling towards them when they couldn't agree terms to sign Charlie Austin from Swindon Town, even though Ipswich have desperately needed a proper goalscorer since Bent and Kuqi left. Indeed, Keane often complained that they weren't getting deals done despite his best efforts to bring in quality signings. I don't know all the ins and outs of it but clearly there is quite a strict system in place as far as finances go at Portman Road. That's probably for the best and they presumably know what they're doing, but one still hopes that they'll give Jewell the backing that he deserves when it comes to the crunch. At the minute, I have my doubts.

How do you think Ipswich treats its fans? Appreciates them? Listens to them? Screws them?

Ipswich has always been a family and community club, and I wouldn't say the fans are treated badly by any means. Certainly as a non-season ticket holder, I very much appreciate how the club rewards those that do travel to more games with higher ticket priority for the most in-demand fixtures.

I think money has changed things at Portman Road in recent times though, and not for the better. The biggest complaint is ticket prices. One only has to look at how average home attendances have recently slipped to around 19,000 at best to know that Keane's era had a negative effect in many ways. His arrival sparked a rise in ticket prices - upwards of £30 in many cases - but rather than fans being rewarded accordingly with top-class entertainment, the results and the standard of football have gotten so much worse than they were before. When you've got away fans saying "cor, your ticket prices are a ripoff!", frankly it's embarrassing when you simply cannot argue with them. Even more so given that I only had to pay £10 for a nice padded seat at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium to watch our Carling Cup semi-final last month...!

You are presumably a little disappointed with how Ipswich are doing this season. But in you heart of hearts, what were you expecting pre-season?

I'm disappointed, but not overly surprised. Last season was such a disaster that I found it very unlikely that we would be jumping into a promotion push this year. At the start of the season I predicted that we would finish this campaign in 10th place - I thought I might have judged us a little harshly after we started so well, but lo and behold, they couldn't keep it up, and now my prediction is looking like a challenge. Admittedly Jewell has inspired an impressive turnaround, but the playoffs look ridiculously ambitious for us this season. I think really it's a case of drawing a line under the failure that was the Roy Keane era and provided we stay up this year - which I'm much more confident about us doing now than I was at the start of 2011 - we'll hopefully have something more to get excited about next season. One can dream, anyway...

Who are you Dangermen/Most valued/most overrated/most underrated players?

Well you probably already know about Connor Wickham - he's the one grabbing all the headlines at the moment, particularly after his hat-trick against Doncaster Rovers last week. So far he's scored 11 goals in less than two seasons at Portman Road and he's still only 17 years old, and as he continues to make his way up the ranks with the England youth teams, there's plenty that have tipped him to be 'the next Wayne Rooney'. I think that's pretty fanciful myself at the moment - he's very talented for his age but he has a long way to go before he is the finished product. Though at 6ft 3in tall, perhaps 'the next Peter Crouch' is more fitting...!

In my opinion, I think our best quality player at the moment has to be David Norris. I never used to be that impressed with him, but in the past two seasons, he's proven to be one of the most reliable performers in our team. This year in particular, he's put in a lot of dominant displays, taken over as club captain and netted a surprising 9 goals from midfield in all competitions - our joint-leading scorer as it stands. He's out of contract in the summer though, so we're facing a bit of a fight to keep him. Gareth McAuley has also become a fans' favourite in recent times; he's probably our best defender at the moment, though he's out of contract this summer too.

Prediction for season promotion/relegation places - And how would that compare with pre-season prediction?

Your boys have been up there all year and I'd be astonished if you didn't go up at the end of the season. Nottingham Forest are on a great run and I think Cardiff City are well overdue promotion now, though I still think Leicester City are the real dark horses - they're having a season very reminiscent of Crystal Palace in 2003/04, and we all know what happened then...!

I do predictions of the entire Championship table before every season and the top six isn't too far removed from what I thought, particularly where you, Forest and Cardiff are concerned. I did originally tip Middlesbrough to win the title though. (Oops...!)

At the bottom, I find it hard to see a way out for Preston North End and Sc**thorpe United. The other slot is tougher to predict - Sheffield United are a shadow of what they once were and Bristol City have been pretty awful, but after scraping survival last year, I think this might be Crystal Palace's turn to drop. That's not exactly what I saw coming though - Sc**thorpe wouldn't be a shock, but I had Millwall down there at the start of the campaign and they've been a real surprise package, as have all the promoted League One teams. If you want to know who else I originally tipped to go down, I actually said Derby County - it seemed a long shot when they were soaring in the autumn, but now it doesn't seem so far fetched!

What is your view and the general Ipswich view of QPR (If we even feature in your consciousness)? Over the years: a few shared players and coaches (Frank Clarke, Delaney, Priskin,Alan Brazil, David Kerslake, Chris Kiwomya Paul Goddard, Jim Magilton). I remember back to 1967/68 when QPR were promoted as runners up to Ipswich (beating Blackpool on goal difference!) And Ipswich were our first (one of four) wins in the 68/69 season. In the early/mid 1970s, Ipswich and QPR were two of the smaller teams playing great football in the First Division...And basically I always felt it was such a shame when under Robson you just failed to win the Title. Great manager

I can't really speak for other Ipswich fans, or much about our shared history with QPR, but right now I think you're just achieving what you should have done a while ago. All that money didn't seem to be bringing much of an end product (a bit like us, I suppose) but you've found a journeyman manager in Neil Warnock who has the experience and has done it all before, so now it looks like it is finally coming together. If you do go up, you've got the funding to make a success of it in the Premier League, and not a bad squad either. In particular, you seem to have a real tornado of a talent in Adel Taarabt - it always struck me how we signed Giovani Dos Santos on loan from Tottenham at around the same time as you brought Taarabt in, but you showed the ambition to keep your man; we didn't.

What are your past Encounter Memories - Best Memory/Worst Memory of Past QPR-Ipswich Encounters? Who is your favourite QPR Player over the years? (And your least favourite)? Ditto any view of Neil Warnock?

I've already given some assessment of Warnock as a manager, but I should probably refrain from telling you what I think of him as a personality - I used to like him but I got tired of his constant referee-bashing after a while, and suffice to say there's that rather popular crude anagram of his name that I do find rather amusing...!

Player-wise, my late inception into the world of football fanaticism means that he is a little before my time, but Les Ferdinand is a legend of the game, pure and simple. I'll never forget Trevor Sinclair's bicycle kick either!

I can recall a few memorable encounters between QPR and Ipswich in recent years. One that sticks out was when our new signing Darren Currie was the hero as we won a 4-2 cracker at Loftus Road back in 2005. Your 3-0 win at Portman Road this season will stick in the memory too, though for all the wrong reasons...!

I've only ever been to Loftus Road once myself in February 2009, but I won't forget it in a hurry - we went behind early but came back with two absolutely cracking goals from Pablo Counago and Jon Walters and walked away with a 3-1 win. I had special cause to enjoy it too - it was my 21st Birthday!

Are you looking forward to playing QPR?

Yes, albeit with a realistic sense of dread...(!) I'll be travelling to Loftus Road on Tuesday and I am looking forward to it - your boys have shown some real quality this season and it'll be good to see them in action, though I'm also hoping we can give you a good game given how we have improved under Jewell. Having watched us draw against Hull at Portman Road on Saturday though, I'm not particularly optimistic about our chances right now!


Heh! Oh dear... I shouldn't say it, but even in our current form, I don't think we'll be much of a match for you. Pessimist or realist, I'll say QPR 3-0 Ipswich.

Where, realistically, do you think Ipswich will be in five years time?

Right now, given a tumultuous couple of years at the club, it's very hard to make that kind of prediction. I'd like to think that we can eventually get our act together - hopefully under Jewell - and win promotion to the Premier League at some point in the next five years. That seems a realistic enough target, but in truth, I reckon we might have been promoted and relegated again by then - and as such, we'll probably be exactly where we are right now!!

Do you have any advice for QPR fans, in the event that we do go up? (Spend more/spend less; keep the manager; change the manager, etc)

I think patience is the key. The danger I see with QPR is expectations could get the better of you - if you do get promoted, the focus needs to remain on staying in the Premier League, and that goes beyond just your first season. Too many clubs can stay up the first time and then suffer from 'Difficult Second Season Syndrome'; Wolves seem to be doing it, Reading did it before them, and of course, we did it in 2002 when we overextended ourselves. With the money at your disposal, it could be all too easy to get carried away with one good season in the Premier League and then set overly ambitious targets, or spend money on stadium improvements...!

Above all else, just don't go chopping and changing the manager willy nilly again. I think the past few years has shown the harm that can do and if recent examples are anything to go by, that kind of impatience is a sure fire route to relegation from the Premier League. Consolidate with what you've got and you could go a long way.

Very many thanks to Vital Ipswich's www.ipswich.vitalfootball.co.uk
Darren Campbell for offering this great assessment. And very best of luck to Ipswich Town (after of course, the QPR-Ipswich game!)
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