Football: Fan's Eye View No 201Ipswich Town

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The Independent Online
Portman Road still holds one of the quietest and most stoical crowds around. They trudge in from Suffolk's market towns, arriving just minutes before kick-off, and leave early to beat the traffic. In between, they stand either silently appreciative or wearily resigned. Football may be more important than religion at some grounds but at Portman Road it ranks somewhere behind the state of the weather and the price of the car park.

This may be a response to the inconsistent form of George Burley's young team as the club tries to get used to life outside the Premiership. But Ipswich fans have never been a noisy lot. Even in the hooligan days of the 1970s, visiting fans used to say you could take the wife and a picnic to Ipswich's North Stand.

I went to Portman Road in the Division Two championship season of 1967- 68. My only experience of football crowds had been standing on the wooden terracing at Colchester United's Layer Road, and to this wide-eyed 11- year-old the Ipswich crowd seemed noisy enough. But when I moved away and watched football elsewhere, I realised how undemonstrative, fatalistic and phlegmatic Ipswich fans were.

Now I am a supporter-in-exile living in London. On my last visit to Portman Road they dented Crystal Palace's promotion hopes with a 3-1 win. Yet I had heard more singing and chanting at Chelsea reserves. My daughter, London-born and showing an alarming leaning towards Wimbledon, was attending her first Ipswich match. Even she was puzzled by the silence and kept asking me whether there was a club song.

You cannot have it all ways, though, and I am rather proud of Ipswich for being a bit different. Passion may be lacking but so too are aggression and violence. They might mutter a bit when things are not going well, but Ipswich fans don't yell for their manager's head as soon as they go a goal down.

That could also be because Ipswich is an island of sanity in an increasingly money-dominated game. Suffolk people are sensible with that folding stuff and would not stand for the inflated prices I endure in London. I paid pounds 28 for an ordinary ticket at Tottenham recently. At Ipswich I bought four for the same price. OK, so two were for children and one for a pensioner, but even allowing for the difference between the Premiership and the First Division, that is a huge gap. No wonder Spurs supporters cannot afford to leave the ground early.

In the big-money world of modern football, Ipswich may never make it back to the top. Along with other clubs like Norwich and QPR, Ipswich landed on the wrong side of the financial gap as the Premiership pulled away from the rest.

Yet George Burley is building a team in the slow, steady Ipswich way. It is still one of the few clubs that allows its managers time to build success. It works too. Which other club has produced two England managers of the likes of Sir Alf Ramsey and Bobby Robson?

As befits one of the best over-lapping full-backs of his day, Burley has created a team that builds their attacks from the wide defensive skills of Mauricio Tarricco and Gus Uhlenbeek. The midfield does not yet have the vision of past Ipswich stars like Muhren, Talbot and Thijssen, or my own personal favourite Colin Viljoen, but Geraint Williams sometimes shows a touch of class from those glorious days.

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