Chairman faces fans

IPSWICH Town chairman David Sheepshanks has offered his head to the club's fans . . . after the administration period is over.And he told them they could buy a share in the club – hopefully by the second half of the summer.

IPSWICH Town chairman David Sheepshanks has offered his head to the club's fans . . . after the administration period is over.

And he told them they could buy a share in the club – hopefully by the second half of the summer.

But the under-pressure boss shed little new light on the club's plight when he answered questions from between 500 and 600 fans at the town's Corn Exchange last night.

His entrance was greeted by polite applause – interspersed with a few boos – and by the end about a quarter of the audience rose to their feet.

He wasn't prepared to discuss the facts and figures of administration – saying they could only be revealed when the final report was published.

However Mr Sheepshanks did acknowledge that the period of administration had already gone on longer than he had originally hoped when Deloitte and Touche were called into the club on February 10.

Most Read

The meeting was far from hostile to him – at the end Mr Sheepshanks and his chief executive Derek Bowden were given polite applause from the crowd.

About 100 fans even gave them a standing ovation!

But the enthusiasm wasn't shared by everyone. "I couldn't believe he got a standing ovation at the end," said season ticket holder Alan Burgess from Stoke Park in Ipswich.

"The meeting went very well for David Sheepshanks. He only said what he wanted to say – we really didn't learn anything new."

The Town chairman kicked off the meeting with a 20-minute presentation outlining how the club found itself in its current financial problems.

In the summer of 2001, the club had received £6.6 million from the sales of Jamie Scowcroft and Richard Wright.

During 2001-2 Ipswich then spent £14.8 million on further new players, giving a loss in transfers of £8.2 million.

But the new players pushed the wage bill up by £6.2 million, with the result that the overall wage bill went up from £18 million in the first Premiership season to £22 million.

He said the club had last season been 15th in the Premiership salary league table – it had not thrown money about recklessly.

"We backed the manager's judgement. In football you have to back the manager until you feel you cannot any longer," he said.

Mr Sheepshanks maintained that the club had made great progress over the last eight years.

"Once we have got through this we can emerge strongly again," he maintained.

"If you look at where we are now compared with where the club was when it was relegated in 1995 you have to say that in every area except the finances, it gets a tick," he said.

The fans had an especially important role he said, and predicted a gate of more than 28,000 for tomorrow's visit of Nottingham Forest.

And he was confident the set up was in place to take it forward over the next few years.

"We have one of the best managers in the country and if we don't go up this season I am confident we will be pressing for promotion next year," he said.

Mr Sheepshanks was also prepared to put his head on the block.

"After all this (administration), if you want my head then you can have it," he said.

He answered fans questions for nearly an hour, before leaving the stage to allow fans to discuss setting up a supporters' trust to help the club.

Much of the anger was focussed on the decision to sell Darren Ambrose to Newcastle for only about £1 million.

"Couldn't that money have been raised in some other way?" asked Roger Malin.

"Newcastle United is not in business to support Ipswich – they wanted to get the best deal they could and we were not in a strong position," Mr Sheepshanks said.

"You can't negotiate a good price when you only have one potential buyer and the administrator is sitting there with a metaphorical gun to your head!"

Mr Bowden revealed that at one stage there was the possibility that Portman Road could have changed its name.

"We were in advanced negotiations with TXU to go further in our relationship and get them to sponsor the ground, possibly calling it the TXU Stadium.

"But then they got into all their problems," he added.

Graeme Keeble from Witnesham gave Mr Sheepshanks his most uncomfortable moments of the evening.

He asked if the directors had considered guaranteeing the £1 million that would have been needed to prevent Darren Ambrose being sold to Newcastle.

And he was scathing about comments that had the club sold Hermann Hreidarsson and Matt Holland earlier this season, its troubles would have been eased.

"If they had gone, do you think we would be looking at a play-off place now?" he asked.

He also said that with club debts standing at a reported £65 million – a figure Mr Sheepshanks would not confirm or deny – even with the £15 million it lost with relegation from the Premiership, it would still be £50 million in the red.

"When the debts are calculated for administration, everything – including the cost of the stands which is being paid through a mortgage and the players' wages for the whole of their contracts is included," said Mr Sheepshanks.

"Therefore the figure quoted does not relate to the actual running costs."

He said the directors were not wealthy enough to finance the club from their own pockets.

"Believe me, if I had the wealth of Jack Walker (late Blackburn owner) or Jack Hayward (Wolves owner), then I would be paying for this," he said.

His answer did not satisfy Mr Keeble, who runs John Keeble cars in Bramford.

"He is a very, very good public speaker but really says very little. He would make a good politician," he said.

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