Marcus Evans' passion for Suffolk

New Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans wants to take his club to the Premiership and keep it there for a generation and more. Evening Star editor NIGEL PICKOVER spent time with the secretive magnate and, in the second of two articles, describes how Evans decided Ipswich Town was his next big challenge.

Nigel Pickover

New Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans wants to take his club to the Premiership and keep it there for a generation and more. Evening Star editor NIGEL PICKOVER spent time with the secretive magnate and, in the second of two articles, describes how Evans decided Ipswich Town was his next big challenge.

WHEN Marcus Evans began his search for a football club, it didn't take long before his instincts led him to the gates of Portman Road.

The energy-charged boss of the Marcus Evans Group decided his company's next adventure was to find a club with all the credentials to become a force in the Premiership - and the search began.

With other Championship clubs looking for investment, Southampton being one, there was a choice of football grounds on which to pitch the Evans tent. However, Ipswich Town - and the hallowed ground that is Portman Road - seemed just right.

Ipswich Town's new owner, and club sponsor after yesterday's Evening Star revelations, had worked hard to check out the prospects of the then debt-laden outfit.

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At every turn, from preliminary checks to detailed financial investigation and on to “due diligence” best practice, Town came up trumps.

Yes, the multi-millionaire could take control of ITFC for a bargain price and, without doubt, the group would being able to take over and dissipate the club's huge debt - but there was another crucial factor.

Ipswich had “community” written large into its make-up.

When Evans weighed up all the pros and cons, from his Suffolk investigations and from work done elsewhere, the Blues ticked all the boxes. In the “courtship” between the London-based tycoon and the club, chief executive Derek Bowden and chairman David Sheepshanks played crucial roles.

The wonderful county of Suffolk, and its county town of Ipswich, played important parts too.

Let the scene switch from Ipswich to the picture-postcard village of Walsham le Willows, in Suffolk's green sward north of Stowmarket. This delightful village, home of the Six Bells pub - where frothing pints of tasty Greene King IPA are quaffed by happy locals - is also home to the agricultural and building merchants Clarke's.

But there's another part of the Walsham history that isn't so readily known - it once provided a country cottage home to Evans.

As his business empire started to expand, Evans - who knew the Bury St Edmunds area from childhood years - took on his first country home and a love affair with Suffolk began.

When those business boxes were ticked and approved, the Suffolk connection was an extra help - icing on the cake of the Evans' dream.

Ipswich Town's man of mystery, who wants to do as much as he can to preserve his privacy and keep his identity hidden from public glare, is delighted the Marcus Evans Group name will be on the ITFC shirt for the 2008/9 season.

To some fans that will seem perplexing - an owner who is putting his name forward on one hand but keeping his face hidden away on the other.

However, there's already been a change in outlook for the Sunday Times rich list tycoon.

What started as a brilliant business opportunity - it still is, of course - has become a crusade, too. For the new owner has started to love Ipswich Town with a passion.

In that ever-strengthening support, this football-loving, international high-roller knows he may have a problem sooner or later.

For as he makes more appearances at Portman Road, and gets comfortable in whichever part of the ground and whichever seat he chooses, he will become vulnerable to media attention. He is sanguine about the threat but realises that someone, at some time, will snap an image of him.

For a man who started in the high-profile world of corporate hospitality, after a brief spell as a magazine publisher, publicity is part of the business cycle. He'd just like to cycle away from it if at all possible!

Part of that is to protect the young family he adores, part of it is that, as he sees it, there is nothing to be gained from being high-profile. Company name on a shirt, yes - Evans' face on the telly, no!

Ipswich Town ended the 2007/8 season so close to a place in the play-offs and many pundits believe our club would have done well in the knock-out stages of the Championship season.

There's been no time for tears as the summer approaches, though. In conjunction with chief executive Bowden and manager Magilton, tough decisions are being made.

Who's out, who's in, what the sponsorship package is and how to position the club for a brilliant start to the new season are just some of the tasks.

While familiar names from the Portman Road stable are heavily involved, there's no doubt who's lurking in the background - the “shadow man” himself, the omniscient owner.

Everyone at Portman Road knows what's expected. There'll be no room for passengers - but those who cling on to the Evans' train will be in for one helluva ride.

OPINION: Latest investment shows true commitment

IF Ipswich Town fans needed reassurance of Marcus Evans' commitment to the Portman Road cause, news of his money-spinning five-year sponsorship was it.

Such is the volatile world of the beautiful game in the 21st century that players, managers and owners come and go with relentless frequency. Pessimistic Blues followers, who feared their club had been opportunely selected as a crude money-making instrument, highlighted doomed takeovers at the likes of Leeds United and Southampton.

While Mr Evans is clearly blessed with astute business acumen and the trappings of wealth which accompany his commercial success, his spiralling love of his latest acquisition is becoming increasingly obvious.

He has been bitten by the Blues bug - and has put his money firmly where his mouth is by making another long-term investment in Town.

Fans will now be waiting with bated breath to see which stars join the Portman Road revolution. Make no mistake, Town's supremo is a man who demands success and will not be kept waiting for the milk and honey of the Premier League.

But his multi-million pound sponsorship deal is a clear indication he will not bail out on the Blues at the first opportunity.