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North Stander: The picture which shows the huge difference between Town now and that golden era of 20 years ago

David Sheepshanks with his face painted blue and white for the front cover of the EADT Suffolk magazine in August 2000. Picture: ARCHANT

David Sheepshanks with his face painted blue and white for the front cover of the EADT Suffolk magazine in August 2000. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

There is one really striking and memorable photograph which, for me, sums up the huge difference between Ipswich Town two decades ago and the football club at the moment, writes North Stander Terry Hunt.

David Sheepshanks celebrates promotion at Wembley in 2000. Picture: ARCHANTDavid Sheepshanks celebrates promotion at Wembley in 2000. Picture: ARCHANT

The picture appeared on the cover of EADT Suffolk Magazine in August 2000, just as Ipswich were preparing for their return to the Premier League. It showed chairman David Sheepshanks, immaculately dressed as always, but with his face painted blue and white.

It was an iconic image, published at a time when the football club was on the crest of a wave and, in my view, played a big part in establishing the quality reputation of the monthly magazine, which had only been launched earlier that year.

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The fact that Sheepshanks was happy to have the photo taken spoke volumes - both about the man himself, and the football club’s relationship with the community. Can you imagine Marcus Evans agreeing to have his face painted blue and white for a photo?

David Sheepshanks was chairman for the first 11 years of my time as EADT editor. For the majority of that time, it was a mini-golden period under George Burley, as the team gained momentum year after year in their bid for promotion.

I wrote last week how current club owner Marcus Evans is a distant figure to the fans. The complete opposite was true of Sheepshanks. He was a high-profile, charismatic personality who wore his heart on his sleeve.

David Sheepshanks always showed his emotions at games - you could tell how much he cared. Picture: ARCHANTDavid Sheepshanks always showed his emotions at games - you could tell how much he cared. Picture: ARCHANT

Most of all, we knew he was a long-standing, passionate Town fan. We knew he shared the same emotional rollercoaster as we enjoyed, or endured.

I will always remember the unbridled joy on his face as Matt Holland lifted the Play-off trophy at Wembley in 2000, and him chanting “We are Premier League” as players and fans celebrated on the Cornhill in Ipswich.

Photographers got wise to the fact that Sheepshanks showed every emotion as games progressed. We got some wonderful photos!

For a while, he seemed to have a Midas touch. When he became chairman in 1995, he announced a five-year plan for promotion to the Premier League. Lo and behold, in 2000, the plan came to fruition.

Then there was that extraordinary first season back in the top flight, when the team - strong favourites for relegation - finished fifth and qualified for Europe.

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After that, it started to go wrong, culminating in relegation, Burley being sacked, and ultimately the pain of the club going into administration, causing many local businesses a great deal of financial damage.

On both occasions - Burley’s sacking, and administration - Sheepshanks called me personally to explain what was happening. He was clearly very upset. I could hear the emotion in his voice. Those were the times when being so emotionally involved with the football club obviously hit him hard.

Sheepshanks and I got on well. The paper and the club had a really good relationship, which explains the painted face photo. If I wanted to talk about something off the record, I would call him at his Suffolk home. I remember several conversations on Sunday mornings.

He was always courteous, polite, and helpful - even though I know it must have been irritating to be disturbed.

Of course, we had our “moments.” If a newspaper editor and a football club chairman are trying to do their jobs, there are bound to be times when they clash. But we discussed any issues in grown-up fashion, and respected our positions.

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(L-R) Ipswich Town goalscorers Richard Naylor, Tony Mowbray, Martijn Reuser and Marcus Stewart with the winner's trophy, after they defeated Barnsley 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley back in 2000. Picture: PA SPORT(L-R) Ipswich Town goalscorers Richard Naylor, Tony Mowbray, Martijn Reuser and Marcus Stewart with the winner's trophy, after they defeated Barnsley 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley back in 2000. Picture: PA SPORT

The thing I really valued was that I was able to speak one-to-one with the top man at the club. I wasn’t the only one who had access to him. He would attend events with fans, and would always be happy to talk football.

That was precious in building a close bond between supporters and football club - and, sadly, it’s been lost. Marcus Evans doesn’t operate that way. He has appointed a series of people to be the front man - first Simon Clegg, then Ian Milne, and now Lee O’Neill. But everyone knows they don’t have the final say.

I miss the Sheepshanks years. I miss having such an obviously passionate Town fan as our chairman. I miss feeling so close to the club.

Yes, I’m well aware of the counter argument. Without Marcus Evans’ mega-money, our football club might not exist at all.

But that doesn’t stop me looking back with huge fondness to a real golden era - the last for many years, I fear.


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