Ipswich Town have just won promotion back to the Championship thanks to the help of new American ownership who have made big promises to the local fans and community.
The American Owners Reviving a Lower League English Giant
A Gamechanging Journey
Who Are Ipswich Town?
Rewind to April 2021 and Gamechanger 20 Ltd, an American based ownership group underpinned by the Arizona pension fund, completed the purchase of third tier English side Ipswich Town promising investment, community and progress. Fast forward to now and the club have just won promotion. Here we look at who Ipswich Town were, what has changed and the future ambition of the owners.
The average American soccer fan probably won’t know Ipswich Town. A hardcore follower of soccer will though with the club having mixed it up with the elite at times in the past alongside having had some stellar names attached to them.
Sir Alf Ramsey
The club have been around a long time having been formed way back in 1878. It wasn’t until much later that the club really stole headlines though with Sir Alf Ramsey – England’s World Cup winning manager in 1966 – guiding the club to a First Division title in 1962. Remarkably, Ipswich, under Ramsey’s tutelage, had only won promotion the prior season having won the second tier.
Ramsey moved on to the England job soon after. A few years later another mega name in soccer – Sir Bobby Robson, who again went on to manage England as well as the likes of Barcelona and Newcastle, arrived. Robson built on Ramsey’s success and took Ipswich to 1978 FA Cup glory and a European triumph three years after that as the now dubbed Tractor Boys won the UEFA Cup.
Jump forward to the early 2000s and more joy arrived. After several up and downs since 1981, Ipswich landed back in the big time of the Premier League now managed by a former playing hero of that previous era in George Burley – the uncle of ESPN pundit and Celtic player Craig. Burley guided Ipswich to playoff success at Wembley and then led them to a fifth-place finish and, subsequently, European football. They’d beat Inter Milan the next season but ultimately be eliminated over two legs before suffering relegation.
The Rot Begins
After relegation back to the second tier, Ipswich were hit with financial issues and an exodus of players.
A tightly ran ship of “wheeler dealer” style offered some glimmers of hope under Joe Royle’s experienced hand but, ultimately, success didn’t return, and the club were sold to Marcus Evans. Making his fortune from the hospitality industry, Evans runs his company, Marcus Evans Group, with numerous hotels and casinos offering live dealer games and entertainment services alike around the world. His company operates around 56 offices globally, however, he is better known for his involvement with Ipswich Town, which he later sold it to a U.S. consortium. Until then, Evans threw some cash at newly appointed manager Roy Keane before tightening purse strings and slowly sucking the life out of the club.
The team were eventually relegated to the third tier in 2019. The academy was decimated, fans had left in their thousands and the stadium and training ground were in a sorry old state. The club was joyless and dying a slow and painful death.
In April 2021, Gamechanger took charge of Ipswich spearheaded by Brett Johnson, Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay. They’re dubbed the ‘Three Lions’ and are supported in their position by another duo in Ed Schwartz and Mark Steed. The ‘Three Lions’ own around 10% of the Gamechanger company as of today with the other 90% belonging to ORG Portfolio Management or, as we mentioned earlier, the Arizona pension fund.
This pension fund has close links to the Arizona Fire Department and, as part of that, Jason Schechterle, a now retired Fire Officer and public speaker that suffered life altering injuries in the line of service, has formed close links with the club. His message – along with the vision of Gamechanger appointed CEO Mark Ashton – is about ‘Running Towards Adversity’.
This message is something that Ashton and co are keen to live by with the ultimate aim being one that sees the club face and overcome hurdles rather than shrinking away from challenges.
What Has Changed At Ipswich Town?
Gamechanger acted swiftly when first landing in Ipswich with a change of manager. Paul Cook arrived to replace Paul Lambert, a former Champions League winner as a player. Despite playing ‘demolition man’ in his first summer, he didn’t last long in his role. Manchester United assistant coach Kieran McKenna was soon appointed for his first crack as a first team manager.
Gamechanger already had fans on board wasting little time in investing in the stadium with respect of a fresh lick of paint and introducing artwork that took visitors on a journey of the clubs glittering past. McKenna’s job was to get a tune out of the newly assembled squad on the pitch. That very quickly and clearly developed with a clear style of playing being implemented as Ipswich began to dominate games with a high pressing, possession-based style.
Owing to the slow start under Cook, Ipswich didn’t make it to the promotion shakeup. That changed in McKenna’s first full season in charge. Ipswich have just finished second in the league earning automatic promotion with 98 points and scoring 101 goals – along with holding the best defensive record in the league.
Off the pitch, the ownership group have been keen to build links to the community. Strong community programmes have been put in place, which helps but mass appeal has come through the club’s shirt sponsor namely global superstar Ed Sheeran, who is a lifelong Town fan. That has helped the club post record shirt sales and recapture a generation of local fans.
All of that has seen crowds of near on 30,000 returns to Portman Road. With the club now back in England’s second tier, the Gamechanger journey is only now beginning. Making it to the Premier League – and then back to European football – is the ambition.