Put Ipswich Town’s Academy First

We at the Trust have noted the speculation in terms of whether the club should adopt Category One or Two status under the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). Like most football fans, we at the Trust found the attempts of the Premier League to bully the clubs into accepting the EPPP, and while we were saddened that these tactics worked, but we were pleased to hear that Ipswich Town had voted against the Premier League’s proposal.

However, At a time when millions of pounds have been thrown at the first team in the form of pushing for a Premier League place, the club has publicly questioned whether they will push forward for Category One status. With this in mind, the Ipswich Town Independent Supporters Trust are today launching a campaign to Put Ipswich Town’s Academy First.

Prior to entering administration in 2003, the club spent over £1m a season on running the academy, and obviously the club had to make cuts at that time, but the £1.5m it is claimed by the Premier League that Category One status will cost a club per season (in addition to a £750k per season grant from the Premier League) is well within the club’s financial range, if the club wish to pursue it.

However, it was also disheartening to hear former Academy goalkeeper and FA Youth Cup winner Shane Supple’s comment on Twitter recently that “[Marcus] Evans’ money might have saved the club financially but the day he came in a part of ITFC died. The heart was ripped from the club, budgets were cut, the academy suffered most from this. Not only have the quality of youth players coming through dried up but good people and coaches who understood the values of the club lost their jobs.”

It is welcoming to hear Paul Jewell state that he is firmly in favour of the club applying for Category One status, and we would hope that any future manager of the club would agree. Having a great academy makes the job of the manager easier, in that it strengthens that natural depth of the squad, and means that the manager can look to the youth teams when injury crises occur, instead of being forced to use the loan system instead – an option that will no longer be open to Football League clubs from 2014, after FIFA rules that the “emergency” loan system adopted in England is illegal.

If the club can Put Ipswich Town’s Academy First then it also makes it easier for the club to adapt to the abolition of the “emergency” loan system, should the club still be in the Football League from 2014. It should be noted that because of the young age that youngsters are allowed to join Academies, any decision made today, does not just effect Paul Jewell, but any manager that Ipswich may employ in the next ten years, and even a subsequent upgrade in future years will still mean that we have lost in the meantime,

Bringing through youngsters, whether it is has been through the Apprenticeship or Youth Training schemes of the past, or the Academy route of the present, have always been at the heart and soul of Ipswich Town Football Club. Ipswich have always been known for their excellent youth policy, and have been able to attract young players by being able to show that they are more likely to progress into the first team here, than they would at most clubs.

And while Simon Clegg asks would a youngster from Newcastle move to Ipswich in order to gain access to the academy, one look at our history shows that we have attracted players from all over the country (and beyond) into our youth schemes of the past. In fact, when you ask Ipswich Town fans who their most popular players are, the names Kevin Beattie (Carlisle), John Wark (Glasgow), George Burley (Ayrshire) all come to mind as youngsters who travelled hundreds of miles to join the club as apprentices, and were part of the most successful side in the club’s history, as Sir Bobby Robson Put Ipswich Town’s Academy First.

Chris Kiwomya joined the club, despite being from West Yorkshire, and Tony Vaughan turned down approaches from home town clubs Manchester City and Manchester United to become a Youth Trainee with Ipswich – both left the club for seven figure fees. However, whilst maintaining the reputation of being able to attract players from all around the country (and beyond), it is also about ensuring that talented youngsters are attracted to Ipswich Town, and not tempted away to other clubs with better academy facilities.

Had this decision to adopt a lesser academy have been taken 20 years ago, would the likes of Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramble and Richard Wright been snapped up by Norwich City’s academy, rather than our own? When Connor Wickham’s father was posted to Colchester, would they have still signed Wickham up to the Ipswich Town Academy, or would they have been tempted by the longer drive to a London club with Category One facilities? A decision to accept a Category Two Academy would allows clubs such as Norwich City (who have already stated they will take Category One status) and those in London to take youngsters from the club’s doorstep.

Even from a financial decision, it appears to make sense. If you look at the record sales of the club, nine of the top ten (Darren Bent, Titus Bramble, Jason Dozzell, Kieron Dyer, Chris Kiwomya, James Scowcroft, Tony Vaughan, Connor Wickham, Richard Wright) came from the club’s Academy or its predecessors – only Jon Walters was bought by the club. The fees received from all the Academy players sold since the beginning of the 2001-2002 season comes to over £30million – more than double the amount it would have cost to run a Category One academy in that time.

While the past is of no indicator of future performance – especially not in a sport like football – we at the Trust implore the club to make the right decision, and apply for Category One status. The club has thrown millions on a “quick fix solution” to gain access to the Premier League that has shown no signs of working at this time, it would be unthinkable for the vast majority of fans to see that the current guardians of the club are interested in sending out signals that they are interested in the short-term, but not the long-term.

Over the years our Academy has been First Class – it is the one area of the club where we should never accept being Second Rate. So, we appeal to Marcus Evans, Simon Clegg, Paul Jewell and anyone else involved in this decision to Put Ipswich Town’s Academy First for the present and the future.


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