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GET WITH THE PROGRAMME - Ipswich Town

GET WITH THE PROGRAMME - Ipswich Town

I am writing this edition of GWTP just after the Owls’ home defeat to Neil Swarbrick, so apologise in advance if I struggle to contain the anger, but here we go on a trip back to the mid-nineties for a game against Ipswich. These were the days before PGMOL and their matey relationship with the established Premiership players and managers. It makes you long for the days when referees still looked down their nose at players and referred to them by their surname or number, rather than having a chat with their mate ‘JT’ throughout the entire game.

In these days, the referees were probably just as incompetent, but at least they showed an equal level of disdain for each team. That said, the referee for this particular game was a certain Mr G. Poll, probably one of the first of the modern breed of ‘celebrity’ referees who believe they belong to the hearts and minds of football supporters just as much as the players and supporters. Well sorry to disappoint you chaps, but you don’t and you never will. Just get on with your jobs and remember that the best referee is the one that is not noticed.

Right, having got that out of my system (although I’m not sure I really have to be honest) let’s get back to the matter in hand. We had some good wins against Ipswich in the 90s, the obvious one being a 5-0 trouncing in 1993-94. Unfortunately, I’ve already covered that season so decided to go a season later to another big win, but in different circumstances.

We land on Sunday 14th May 1995, the final game of the 1994-95 season, and an Owls side that had gone seriously backwards during the course of the season. After four seasons of top half finishes, a promotion, European football and cup finals, this was the year went things came down with a bump. Going into the game Wednesday sat in 17th place (sixth from bottom) and not mathematically safe. As the Premiership was being reduced from 22 teams to 20, four teams were to be relegated, with Wednesday only two places and three points above Crystal Palace, the only team in the bottom four that could still claw themselves to safety.

Manager Trevor Francis was keen to ensure there was no complacency “..however remote the possibility of Crystal Palace overhauling us may seem”. After all Trev, like us, was around on the last day of the 1989-90 season and knew that a three point gap and a slightly better goal difference was not necessarily enough.

Trev was also realistic about the disappointment of the season, saying “I sympathise totally with the dismay I’m aware our supporters feel, but, knowing the quality and capabilities of our squad when everyone is available, I don’t feel we have suddenly become no-hopers”. Unfortunately ‘no-hopers’ was pretty much exactly what the team had become in recent weeks, with only one win in 10 games, and only five goals scored in that run. One of those goals came in the particularly hope-sapping 7-1 home defeat to Forest, which for many marked the beginning of the end for Tricky Trev, and so it proved as this was to be his last game at the helm before being replaced in the summer by David Pleat.

That run had seen Wednesday fall from a relatively respectable eighth place into the potential relegation struggle in which they found themselves. Captain Des Walker was not holding back about the reasons : “This season, generally speaking, we haven’t played well enough. It’s not down to luck”.
There was no doubt, however, that the team still had quality in their squad with the likes of Waddle, Hirst, Bright, Sheridan and Walker still around. Unfortunately most of the best players had spent chunks of the season out injured (sound familiar). Add to this the fact that in the summer Nilsson, Worthington, Palmer and Pearson were replaced by Atherton, Nolan, Taylor (by now at Swarbrick, sorry I mean Villa) and Petrescu and it wasn’t hard to determine why things seemed to be on the slide.

Still, it could have been a lot worse, and one man who would attest to how bad things could really be was a man for whom the programme contained an obituary followed his recent death : H.E. McGee (1917-1995). Most of us will probably know this, but for any younger readers who have managed to pull themselves away from their phones and xBoxes long enough to read this tosh, we are talking about Herbert ‘Bert’ McGee, chairman of the club from September 1975 to March 1990 and the man who took the Owls from the brink of relegation to Division Four and financial implosion to the relative security of the top flight.

Bert was the kind of chairman who used to be common in the Football League but are now a dying breed – the local self-made businessman. Bert was an engineer by trade and, after starting as an apprentice, rose to chairman of Easterbrook Allcard’s, later to be renamed Presto Tools. Most of us will, of course, know Presto as the faded name that no-one could ever seem to remove from the roof of the South Stand – perhaps that’s the way Bert would have wanted it.

Bert got the club working again and appointed managers such as Jack Charlton, Howard Wilkinson and Ron Atkinson, with Peter Eustace being probably the only real blot on his record as far as managers were concerned. As Bert himself said : “We kept a tight control on overheads, instituted rigorous, sensible housekeeping, appointed sound management and let them get on with it”. Football doesn’t quite work like that now, but it certainly worked when we needed it to back then.

We were now, of course, in the Premier League era. Fans had recently been consulted for the 1995 FA Premier League Fan Survey, with the League apparently keen to listen to the opinion of the fans. Apparently the average football fan of the time was “a man aged between 31 and 40 with no school-age children”. Demographically this seems a bit odd to me as either there were a lot of single blokes around, or they had kids early or late. Or maybe they were just the ones that had time to actually respond to the survey.

Still, those fans had a lot to say, with their key concerns issues such as:
-Being able to stand at matches;
-A lack of atmosphere;
-Increasing ticket prices; and
-The “widening gulf between top clubs and others.

Also, over two thirds agreed that the old Wembley needed replacing, with the majority suggesting the new national stadium should be in Birmingham.
The cynic in me would look at the above and suggest that the survey was undertaken merely to appease the fans of the time with no actual intention of doing anything about anything. And the cynic in me would be absolutely spot on.
In the newspaper review feature ‘The Cutting Press’ Leicester manager Mark McGhee suggested “I think the true measure of a manager is one who can be in danger of relegation and still have a sex life!” It isn’t made entirely clear whether McGhee was talking about himself or not, but our Jos is at least half way there.

Now, I know I have commented before on the various events laid on by the club in the past, but one in particular caught my eye on this occasion. “Every Thursday throughout the months of June, July and August” the club were pleased to announce “Salmon and Strawberry Evenings”, including a “Summer Drink on Arrival” and “Dancing until Midnight”. I will admit I am no culinary expert but does salmon go with strawberries? Or do the strawberries come after the salmon? What sort of dancing was involved? Did anyone actually go to these things?

In opposition

Ipswich had been struggling for a couple of seasons and had succumbed to relegation some weeks before, sitting bottom of table with just 27 points, 18 points from safety. Manager John Lyall had resigned earlier in the season and been replaced by George Burley, who couldn’t halt the slide.
The Visitors section in the programme was dominated by a full length shot of John Wark, another of those footballers who it’s hard to believe was any younger than his mid-forties. The rest of the Ipswich squad didn’t contain much quality but a few players who might spark a vague memory for those around at the time were David Linighan, Bontcho Guentchev, Steve Sedgley, Frank Yallop and the legendary Adrian Paz.
Also in the squad was ex-Owls striker Lee Chapman (I had no memory of him ever playing for Ipswich to be honest), by now winding down his career and looking like a solid panic buy. Also involved was Neil Thompson, who of course has been in the Owls’ coaching set-up for some years now.

The game

As I mentioned above, Wednesday had been here before so there was more than a hint of nervousness around. Was playing the bottom team who had nothing to play for a good thing or a bad thing.
Thankfully, the nerves were settled early on with a Guy Whittingham goal on 7 minutes – a most un-Wednesday-like thing to do.
Still, it wouldn’t be Wednesday if they didn’t make it at least slightly difficult, as Alex Mathie equalised for the visitors five minutes after half time.
Within 10 minutes though, the Owls were pretty much home and dry by taking a two goal lead. Firstly, winger Michael Williams scored what was to be his only goal for the club, before Whittingham grabbed his second.
Mark Bright added a fourth a minute from time to put the seal on it, leading to a somewhat flattering 13th placed finish, proving how tight the bottom half of the table was.

Next up

So, having disappointed you all by failing to review a five goal win, maybe I can find another one……  

Unread article 06/03/2018 at 13:39

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