No place like home: In the steps of Robson and Ramsey

As a former Ipswich player, Jim Magilton has embraced the best of the club's past as he has guided them into a fascinating promotion battle. Now he must find a way for their away form to match their impressive results at Portman Road

One of Jim Magilton's first deeds, when appointed manager of Ipswich Town in the summer of 2006, was to switch the home and away dressing rooms. As a player, it had never felt right to walk so far down the murky tunnel, past the physio room, past the opposition. "You used to walk into our dressing room and find it half-empty," he says. "So we changed things round, and knocked a couple of walls down. I wanted it bright, I wanted a guy to walk in and want to feel part of it."

Unfortunately, it has since come to seem as though the only away dressing room in the country where his players feel remotely at ease is the one at Portman Road. Their hopes of promotion to the Premier League have been undermined by a gross disparity in home and away form, measured by an average this season of 2.35 and 0.65 points per game. It was only this month that Ipswich finally won on the road. Perversely, the following weekend they promptly surrendered their unbeaten home record in the Championship, to Watford.

If the curse has been exorcised, it might be just in time. Though they lost 1-0 at the leaders, Stoke, on Saturday, they remain on the cusp of the play-offs in seventh. While that twilight zone has become rather a natural niche over the past 20 years, ambition at the club has been rekindled by a brand new owner in the reclusive tycoon, Marcus Evans. After all, any team capable of dishing out a 6-0 hiding to second-place Bristol City clearly has legitimate Premier League potential.

Though a deep thinker about the game, Magilton struggles to account for his team's split personality. He is exasperated that his men could overwhelm all comers with their fluency at Portman Road, and then succumb to inhibition against precisely the same opposition away.

"Confidence doesn't come and go on that regular a basis," he says, each syllable stony with Belfast candour. "Like any team sport, football's about personal battles. And the first five, six away games we were very competitive, we were unlucky. Then we had a few poor performances, and you did begin to wonder if it was psychological. But the principles remain the same. Unless you're prepared to scrap and fight, and earn the right, you're not going to win any games, home or away. Once it built up, once it became an issue, players became a bit intimidated. In the end it comes down to how they take pressure. And if this club has any ambitions to play in the Premiership, the players will have to perform under pressure week in, week out."

As such, he hopes that the experience will ultimately prove cathartic for a developing team. "Towards the end, we were waiting for the transfer window," he admitted. "We had targets, we knew they could bring in a different attitude. They weren't bogged down by it."

New funds from Evans were used to reinforce the midfield. In the process, the club addressed a new incongruity in its self-image, but a far more propitious one. Admired by many neutrals as a model of modest endeavour, dependent on its youth academy and the dignified legacy of two footballing knights, Alf Ramsey and Bobby Robson, Ipswich are suddenly in the money. No Championship manager spent more on a player, during the window, than did Magilton when he paid Plymouth £2m for David Norris.

Evans will certainly get a dividend if the club can break free of the purgatory that began with its Premiership immolation in 2002. Promoted via the play-offs two years earlier, Ipswich surrendered a Champions League place only on the final day of that dizzy first season. As it was, they found themselves playing Internazionale in the Uefa Cup, a competition George Burley, the manager, had won under Robson in 1981. Before they knew it, however, Icarus was in free fall. Ipswich were relegated, and entered administration soon afterwards.

"George showed great confidence in the players who got us promotion," Magilton says. "One or two new faces were introduced, but in a slow, subtle way, and those that came in were the right kind of characters. But in the second season, we had an influx of players, and one or two were always going to take time to bed in. We were probably rash in some signings. But I understand why George did it. Expectation levels had risen unbelievably."

Regardless of that collective fit of vertigo, Magilton does not feel that promotion necessarily dooms a Championship club to scrape and scratch against the abyss. He insists that there are many dimensions between the realistic bookends of ambition for almost every Premier League club: namely, fourth from the top, and fourth from the bottom.

"The ambition is to become recognised as a Premier League team, and to regard yourself that way as well," he says. "Bolton got promoted the year after we beat them [in the play-offs] and they've stabilised. We got promoted, and the next year were in the Uefa Cup. So it is possible. But the infrastructure has to be right. We still believe in youth development. We still believe in giving kids a chance, in bringing them through when the time is right. And we have a bunch of 17-year-olds here that we're very hopeful for."

Schooled in the Liverpool creed as a teenager, he sees a kinship in Ipswich and takes pride in the club's traditions. Along with David Sheepshanks, his chairman, Magilton is composing "a bible" for every member of staff. "We're calling it 'The Ipswich Way'," he says. "We're very proud of the heritage of the club. First and foremost, we have a way of dealing with people. And from a footballing point of view, we've always tried to play the game the right way. There is a very special atmosphere at this football club, and it always struck a chord with me, even when I came here as an opposition player."

As an apprentice at Anfield, he was responsible for Jim Beglin's kit. He was watching in the stands in 1987 when Beglin broke his leg in a derby game with Everton. In any meaningful sense, the emerging star's career was over at 23, and the lesson will have recurred to Magilton after what happened to Eduardo da Silva last weekend.

Sure enough, Magilton believes that the mutual responsibilities of clubs and players go deeper than any contract. When he joined Southampton in 1994, his first game happened to be against Liverpool. Southampton won 4-2, and he will never forget the Liverpool manager Roy Evans and coach Ronnie Moran waiting for him to leave the pitch. "I'm sure they had a million and one other things going through their minds," he said. "But they still thought of me, they stayed behind to shake my hand, and I thought so highly of them for that. I was very overcome that night."

Little wonder if Magilton, 38, is unabashed by statues of Ramsey and Robson at Portman Road. He says that their names do not intimidate him, but inspire him, and cherishes the privilege of being able to ring Robson at any time. There is, moreover, a direct link to the club president's heyday in Charlie Woods, the veteran chief scout. "I've brought two lads to the club after watching them 20 minutes," Magilton says. "If you try to dissect a player, you can end up over-analysing. But you get a tap on the shoulder from Charlie, and it's: 'Let's go'."

Though Magilton confesses that he spent his entire career planning for management, he felt a little cheeky when seeking an interview after Joe Royle left the club two years ago. Ipswich had just finished 15th, a 40-year nadir. "But I wasn't just going in there just as an ex-skipper who'd given good service," he said. "I wanted them to know that I had a vision of where I wanted to take the club. I think I shocked the life out of them. One, I had a passion for the place. Two, I had a plan. I wanted to turn round the work ethos, I wanted to develop the youth programme, I wanted a new scouting network, I wanted the morale of the club to change."

As a Belfast boy, raised during the Troubles, Magilton's instinct has always been to stand up and be counted. In 52 appearances for Northern Ireland, he led by example. It was difficult at first, admittedly, for some colleagues suddenly to address him as "gaffer". "I said on that first day that I wasn't going to mollycoddle anybody," he says. "But if they gave me everything they had, I would respond in kind."

He lost his first three games and was dumped out of the Carling Cup by Peterborough. Did he wonder what he had let himself in for? "I hated losing as a player, and it doesn't sit well as a manager," he says. "But I knew there was enough experience around me for it to turn. I think I've got better at controlling emotion, though you'd better ask the players about that. They will expect blood and thunder at times. Players want to come in at half-time and be given a sense of direction."

Discovering that some players would go home for an afternoon nap, Magilton changed training times to mirror match days. "We tried to keep things fresh, keep people thinking," he says. "Everything emanates from the four walls of the dressing room. That's where the inner belief comes from.

"Enthusiasm. Dedication. Perseverance. Those aren't just words to adorn the walls of our gym, as they do. They should mean something. You know there are going to be a lot of knocks. But it's about the getting up. This club has had a knock. It's been through administration. Now we've been given this huge lift: an investor who's come in, and has ambitions for the football club. There is an air of optimism about the place.

"I don't need telling how precarious the job is. Iain Dowie got sacked the other day, a personal friend of mine, the 30th manager to go this season. It's shifting sands, football. Instant success: everybody wants it. But what we're trying to build here is something that will not only give us that success, but a structure to keep it in place for years."

Packing a Suffolk Punch: The Ipswich managerial tradition

ALF RAMSEY

August 1955 to April 1963

Won promotion from Third Division South in second season, Second Division title in 1961 and League title in 1962.

JACKIE MILBURN

May 1963 to September 1964

Took them back down to the Second Division.

BILL McGARRY

October 1964 to November 1968

Top-five finishes in three of his four seasons, culminating in Second Division title in 1968.

BOBBY ROBSON

January 1969 to May 1982

Had nine top-six finishes in 10 years plus wins in the 1978 FA Cup and 1981 Uefa Cup. Left to take over as England manager in 1982.

BOBBY FERGUSON

August 1982 to May 1987

Finishes of ninth place, 12th and 17th before relegation from the old First Division in 1986.

JOHN DUNCAN

June 1987 to May 1990

Three top-10 finishes in old Second Division.

JOHN LYALL

May 1990 to December 1994

Second Division champions in second season.

GEORGE BURLEY

December 1994 to October 2002

Could not avoid relegation in 1994-95. Three successive play-off semi-final defeats before beating Barnsley in 2000 final. Fifth in first season back earned a Uefa Cup slot, before relegation in 2002.

JOE ROYLE

October 2002 to May 2006

Three top-10 finishes, but lost twice in play-off semi-finals.

JIM MAGILTON

June 2006 to present

Appointed after seven years on the playing staff.

James Mariner

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor