Football kits can speak volumes about a club’s state of mind. Block colours and classic designs suggest confidence and stability, outlandish combinations scream of a club wanting everyone to believe they’re OK, when probably they’re not. This season Ipswich Town have gone for a beautifully classic Adidas home strip and a grotesque away kit which looks like it’s been washed with a tissue in the pocket. It seems to characterise them well.
I hadn’t realised what a mess they’re in until I read this article in the Guardian yesterday. On paper, they’re one of the bigger teams in the division and sitting in 6th you’d think they were a solid promotion candidate.
It’s clearly a climbdown from the team of the early 1980s which I supported before being seduced into the world of Oxford United. At that impressionable age, I thought all clubs won the FA Cup and conquered Europe before their manager and captain headed off to lead England. It was a heady few years, until Oxford turned my head and nearly did the same in the latter part of the decade.
I suppose most League 1 clubs are on the brink of one disaster or another, it’s why they’re in the division they are. They live beyond their means and operate on short horizons, they fear League 2 or worse, but crave The Championship or better. Volatility is baked in. But, there’s something about Ipswich which always suggested a certain stability. Unlike Sunderland, Wigan or Bolton, who plummeted into League 1 like falling from a sixth floor window, Ipswich seemed to glide in by parachute destined to dust themselves off and glide back up again.
Oddly, our own position is much better, although our league position suggests otherwise. We seem to have a stable base and a proactive and ambitious board which is quite the opposite of the ghost club that fell asleep on the job, as the Guardian puts it.
We are, however, going through something akin to a period of mourning after the defeat to Swindon on Saturday. It’s understandable, to some point, the end of a near-twenty-year unbeaten run is a shock. The specific nature of the collapse makes it all the more galling.
Another way of looking at it, of course, is that we were also seconds from extending that unbeaten run, though there’s little comfort in saying that now. Like saying a dead loved one had a good innings.
There’s been a lot of over-reaction to the defeat, accusations of people not caring or not getting ‘it’. Suddenly everything is wrong and someone has to be to blame. Inevitably there has to be a scapegoat and a lot of that anger has been directed at Simon Eastwood.
Yesterday, almost everything Jack Stevens did was, according to someone or other on Twitter, something Eastwood could never do. Peter Rhodes-Brown described a routine clearance by Stevens as though Eastwood had never successfully kicked a ball in his life. Granted, his form has been sluggish, but his miskick against Swindon was a freak, not a sign of universal incompetence.
I feel for Eastwood, a recent interview suggested that he had a healthy attitude to the game and that football was a job to him. His family are based in the north, it seems likely they’ll be in, or close to, a Tier 3 region. With the current frequency of games, it must be hard to see his family, recover from games and get his head right mentally. It’s harder to perform when you’re not happy. The temptation is to demonise him to satisfy our own frustrations, perhaps we need to think about what he needs.
Jack Stevens was largely untested on Tuesday and the game felt like an EFL Trophy tie at times. Ultimately, both teams needed a result to stem the tide of defeats they’ve suffered recently. On paper a clean sheet against a top six side looks like a good result, but looking below the surface, at all Ipswich’s problems, we might have expected more. Ultimately, it represented a symbolic victory over our inner demons, in another circumstance we might have demanded more, but at the moment, it’ll do.
There were opportunities to win the game in the first half. On Saturday we took a chance, on Tuesday we hit a post. That’s the way it is sometimes. In the second half we did what we should have done against Swindon and strangled the life out of the game, Ipswich too seemed to be of a similar mind, and understandably so. Neither team needed the win more than they needed to avoid defeat.
It wasn’t a great spectacle, but it met our immediate need. I, for one, will take that given the circumstances. Sometimes you can reignite a season with a jolt, as we did last year with a blistering win at Lincoln, other times you need to turn the corner more gently. These are strange times, and people are facing all sorts of struggles, perhaps we need to ease our way to recovery.