I'm all right; I've been insulated against any thought of attending our first match of the season because I've been invited to a wedding in Devon next Saturday. That's the good news; the bad news is that the bridegroom who's marrying my friends' daughter is a Hull City fan so I've already had some er, "banter" about our first home game!
So I've something to divert me from thinking of us resuming our career in the second tier of English football, which we start with an away game at one of the teams we have actually played a few times in the memory of many of the members of BRFCS, not just old fogies like me. Our last League meeting was in our first season back in the Premier League [2001/02] under Graeme Souness. That was the last season the "Tractor Boys" played in that League and they've been in Football League Division 1 [re-branded as "The Championship" in 2004] ever since.
Ipswich Town were founded in 1878 but didn't turn professional until 1936 and weren't elected to the Football League Divison 3 [south] until two years later. Our first League meeting didn't take place until they joined us in Division 2 in the 1954/55 season. Despite having appointed Alf Ramsey as manager, they were relegated at the end of that season and it wasn't until 1957/58 that we met again in Division 2.
That, of course, was the season in which Johnny Carey's management led us to Division 1, where Ipswich joined us in 1961/62. Under Ramsey's leadership, they won Division 1 that first season and became League Champions for the only time in their history, with Ray Crawford, their centre-forward [as we used to call them!], being joint leading scorer in the Division with 33 goals! It was a 22-team League in those days, and, under the "2 points for a win" system, they finished 3 points ahead of the runners-up [a team now nicknamed "The Dingles"] – on today's system, they'd have been 6 points ahead. Alf Ramey was appointed England Manager in 1963 and the Town were relegated at the end of the 1963/64 season.
We joined them in Division 2 in 1966 but, with Bill McGarry as manager, they returned to Division 1 in 1968. McGarry left in January 1969 to manage Wolves and was replaced by Bobby Robson, who had 13 years' success as the Ipswich Town boss. The club spent much of that time in the top quarter of the League table and finished as League runners-up on two consecutive seasons [1980/81 and 1981/82]. They also recorded their only F.A. Cup win, beating Arsenal in 1977/78. They also won the UEFA Cup [in which they competed during eight seasons between 1973/74 and 1982/83] in 1980/81, beating the Dutch team, AZ Alkmaar in the Final.
Given such success, it wasn't surprising that the FA again came a-calling and in 1982, Bobby Robson was appointed the England manager. Town remained in Division 1 until 1985/86, when they joined us in Division 2. That was the start of the greatest number of consecutive seasons in which we've played each other because, like us, Town won promotion in 1991/92 and became founder-members of the Premiership, as it was originally known. They did so as Champions, rather than the more nail-biting route we followed! They only remained in the Premiership for three seasons and then spent five seasons in Football League Division 1.
As in the mid-1950s, we were ships that passed in the night, so to speak, because they won promotion to the Premiership at the end of the 1999/2000 season, which was the first of our two seasons in Football League Division 1; and our return to the Premiership in 2001/02 marked their last season at that level.
They've made one or two interesting signings over the close season: Scott Loach [apparently, a self-confessed Town fan who used to be one of Frank Fielding's rivals for the position of England Under-21 goalie] from Watford; and Luke Chambers, a central defender from Nottingham Forest.
They join a squad including players such as Michael Chopra [isn't he another of those players who, over the years, has been impressive at Championship level (e.g. Darren Huckerby, Robert Earnshaw) but never quite managed to cut it in the Premier League?] and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas who signed for Town last year because he never quite hacked it at Arsenal and had therefore been let go by Monsieur Wenger. Because of their proximity to London, they can easily recruit youngsters from London Premier League teams such as Massimo Luongo, an Aussie mid-fielder from Spurs. Who knows, if he's impressive, we could sign him to fill the role that some of us were waiting 4 years for his compatriot, Vicente Grella, to fill?
There don't seem to have been that many players who've played both for us and for Ipswich Town. Off the top of my head there were only three names I could recollect for this section, two Irishmen [one from Northern Ireland and one from the Republic]: Allan Hunter and Keith Andrews; and one Englishman: Glenn Keeley.
"Older fans will remember" Allan Hunter whom we signed from Oldham Athletic in 1969 and who was sold by Ken Furphy to Ipswich Town, with Bobby Bell [Remember him?!? He was only with us for about a fortnight, if memory serves.] moving the other way , as we came to terms with our first spell in Division 3. Hunter was in the Ipswich Town F.A. Cup-winning team of 1978. Glenn Keeley began his career with Ipswich Town, who sold him to Newcastle United from whom we bought him in 1976 and had 11 seasons of good service, apart from his very short loan spell at Everton
Doubtless nobody needs me to, er, "point out" that early last season Keith Andrews spent six months on loan at Portman Road before joining West Bromwich Albion for the second half of last season.
Then, having too much spare time on my hands, I began doing a bit of research, which threw up some reasonably well-remembered names: Shefki Kuqi the player who was arguably Mark Hughes' best piece of business [bought from Ipswich for £600,000; sold to Crystal Palace for £2.5 million]; Gary Croft, the full-back who never quite made it in the late 1990s Premier League team. We sold him to Ipswich where he achieved an unusual claim to fame as the first professional football to play a game having been tagged by the Courts. Finally, there was the goalkeeper who played for 11 League clubs from the mid-70s – the mid-90s but was never really a regular for either us or Town: Mark Grew. We signed him on loan from Port Vale [who'd bought him from Ipswich Town in 1986] in 1990/91 and he played 13 games for us in the old Division 2.
For this section, I went on one of the Ipswich Town Message Boards and asked the following questions. I got 8 replies to all seven questions, and one reply which only answered the last one!
1. Are you pleased with the way your pre-season has gone and how do you see the season panning out for you?
The consensus was that they've strengthened the team and although the results have been patchy, they were particularly optimistic with the 3-1 victory over West Ham.
2. What about your owners; are they ambitious for the club to return to the Premier League? Or do you feel that they're satisfied with where you are at present?
Here comments were made about the intention of Marcus Evans to get them back to the Premier League. He apparently understands that it' the only place to be and that, if he's going to get any return on the money he's put into the club, that's where they need to be. Some fairly blunt comments were made about the club's last manager; a man called Keane. Is it something to do with the name, do you think?!
3. Do you feel that your close-season signings will have made a significant difference to your, [as fans, as opposed to the owners'] hopes?
I've noted the three main signings [two permanent; one on loan] in the "Current Squad" section above. There seems to be unanimity that they will improve the squad.
4. And how do you rate Paul Jewell as a manager?
There also seems to be unanimity that he's a "proper" manager but one or two correspondents felt that, if he didn't bring about a significant improvement in the League position this season, he might not have much longer at the club.
5. And what do you feel the Championship about as a whole; who are your favourites for promotion/relegation?
The majority feeling in reply to this question was that the Championship is really competitive. As one person wrote, "You could pick three teams from 14 or 15 to go up." Parachute money was seen to be important with ourselves, Bolton & Wolves seen to have an advantage. As for relegation, Barnsley and Peterborough United were the candidates mentioned most often.
6. How do you feel that first League match will go?
Surprise, surprise; none of the people who replied to this question expect us to win! Half of them thought they'd win by the odd goal while the other half expected a draw. And that was before Shebby's indiscretion!
7. You may well have read in the media how popular our owners and manager are with many of the fans [NOT]; what do you think about the way our saga has developed?
There were some very mixed responses to this one, from one person who felt sorry both for us and Kean[!], to a feeling that our owners have no place in the English game, "promising the world but ultimately delivering nothing", as one of the Ipswich fans wrote. One of the fans who came across as older, remembered the days when Ipswich under Ramsay, and Robson achieved success "on a shoestring" [envious of Uncle Jack, do you think?] and commented that these days "everyone looks to lavish, if prudent, owners. Yours don't seem to have demonstrated either trait in great measure."
The most outspoken remark, however, came from the person who only answered this question. This read as follows: "The vitriol shown to Steve Keene was appalling. The owners are unpopular but the personal attacks on Keene were a new low imho. Don't understand why you couldn't protest against the board and support your manager."
Well, as this is the first game of the season, this is the easiest bit of this preview to write! None of our pre-season games has been against Championship opposition so we've nothing really to compare ourselves with.
Town finished last season 15th in the Championship with a 4-point gap between them and the team below them. They will actually have played their first competitive match before we meet them as they have to play Bristol Rovers at home in the first round of the Capital One [a.k.a. League] Cup next Tuesday; only Bolton and ourselves of this season's Championship teams have a bye into the Second Round.
Like us, they've had a wide range of opponents in pre-season friendly games and again like us, they've played a couple of games in Holland; both Town's games were at the start of their pre-season programme against teams from the Dutch Second Division, drawing both. They then played against Cambridge United, Luton Town and Southend United before beating West Ham 3-1 and finishing with a game at Colchester United.
As with so much else, this depends on which team Coco decides to put out on the afternoon. All the pre-season friendlies in the world will count for nothing if he doesn't get this one right and we fail to make a good start to the season. We've been unlucky in that Best's injury presumably means that "Plan A" has gone out of the window.
That's aggravated for anyone preparing a Preview like this because the transfer window's still open, which means that, between my posting the Preview on the Board and the actual kick-off, half the team [well, maybe two or three of our more saleable assets] could be on their way to pastures new.
In the hope that nobody is sold between the squad getting home from Cork and next Saturday and in the expectation that Kazim-Richards, rather than Rhodes, is the recruit to take Best's place, I guess that the team which began the game in Ireland [Robinson, Lowe, Dann, Givet, Orr; Formica, Etuhu, Pedersen, Nunes; Nuno Gomes & Kazim-Richards] will be pretty close to the one to start next Saturday.
Personally, I'd like to see a place for Vukcevic [there surely can't be visa problems preventing him getting to Ewood?] in midfield with either Formica or Nunes joining Kean [J]; Morris, Hanley, Paulo Jorge, Goodwillie and, doubtless, Dunn on the bench.