Can a chequebook buy ITFC glory?

IT'S been a good week to be an Ipswich Town fan. Rivals Norwich City are floundering, and now the Blues are back in the black. But does investment always equal success on the pitch, and can fans' dreams of success ever match up to reality?

IT'S been a good week to be an Ipswich Town fan. Rivals Norwich City are floundering, and now the Blues are back in the black. As Town prepare for a takeover, JOSH WARWICK asks whether investment always equal success on the pitch, and can fans' dreams of success ever match up to reality?

FANTASY football has descended on Portman Road.

The years spent bound by tightening financial handcuffs suddenly seem a lifetime away, the harsh memories of administration, fire sales and redundancies replaced by transfer wish-lists and dreams of the Premiership.

Marcus Evans' imminent investment in Ipswich Town has brought a wave of optimism not felt since the Blues' return to the top flight in 2000.


You may also want to watch:


And it seems owning a club is in vogue. Ipswich is the latest name on a lengthy list of professional outfits bought by wealthy backers, which includes the illustrious names of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

On a slightly smaller scale, the likes of Wigan Athletic, Portsmouth, Derby County and Hull City have all benefited from the arrival of sugar daddies.

Most Read

Wigan, a traditionally rugby-loving town, is enjoying the milk and honey of life at the top, having been propelled up the league structure by JJB supremo Dave Whelan. The club, competing in the lower echelons of the professional game and playing in a rickety stadium less than a decade ago, are now on of the 20 elite teams in the Premiership.

Wigan have also moved from Springfield Park into the more comfortable surroundings of the JJB Stadium. And Mr Whelan's cheque book is the reason. High-profile players and a spiralling wage bill has allowed Wigan to compete with the best.

Meanwhile, one-time crisis club Derby County are another example of a top-flight team who have benefited from the generosity of a benefactor.

John Sleightholme, a barrister and deputy coroner previously unknown to most supporters, gained two-thirds ownership of Derby in October 2003. Part of the club's debt was refinanced to the mysterious ABC Corporation of Panama.

However, in April 2006, Sleightholme resigned, and a popular consortium of local businessmen led by former vice-chairman Peter Gadsby bought the club, reducing its debt and returning Pride Park stadium to the club's ownership in the process. Two months later, former Preston boss Billy Davies took over and within a year, the club had been promoted.

Derby have since been bought out again, this time by former Hull City chairman Adam Pearson, who has promised more cash as The Rams bid to avoid immediate relegation.

At County's East Midlands rivals Leicester, the impact of super-rich Milan Mandaric is yet to be felt. Mandaric's spending famously turned Portsmouth into a Premiership force, before he sold the south coast club to Russian Alexandre Gaydamak.

While results on the pitch are yet to dramatically improve, there is a feeling at the Walkers Stadium that promotion has become a very real prospect.

But is a significant cash injection the answer to Ipswich's problems?

While most clubs bankrolled by rich investors have enjoyed more highs than lows, success is not a given. It's a sentiment to which most Exeter City supporters would testify.

Earlier this year, the club's ex-chairman, John Russell, 51, from West Yorkshire, and his deputy Michael Lewis, 65, from Swansea, both pleaded guilty to fraud.

Before being appointed chairman in 2002, Russell falsely claimed he had assets which could be used as personal guarantees for the club's debts. A former Scarborough chairman, Russell had claimed to own a hotel, property and businesses.

During Russell and Lewis' time in charge, pop star Michael Jackson was made an honorary director, and visited the club's St James Park with Uri Geller, who was appointed vice chairman.

They left the club £4.5m in debt, but the pair blamed the previous regime for Exeter's position.

The supporters' trust later took over the club and agreed to pay back 7p in the pound to creditors.

Russell was jailed for 21 months at Bristol Crown Court, while Lewis was sentenced to 200 hours of community work for playing a lesser part in the episode.

And at Rushden and Diamonds, supporters have had to endure the pain of successive relegations after briefly flirting with dreams of the Premiership.

The Northamptonshire club was the plaything of Dr Martens boss Max Griggs, who paid for a plush stadium and a team to match, before jumping ship and handing the reigns to the supporters' trust.

Today, The Diamonds are struggling in the more austere surroundings of the Conference, with only memories of their meteoric rise.

Pleased with the arrival of Marcus Evans? How do you think the investment will affect Ipswich Town? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter