THEY said it would never work, the marriage of genteel Ipswich Town from sleepy Suffolk and football’s one-man riot, Roy Keane.
And they were so right. From (almost) start to finish Keane’s time at Portman Road has been a massive and expensive footballing failure, one which was brought to an end when owner and chairman Marcus Evans gave the Cork man the bad news by phone on Thursday afternoon.
It actually began quite promisingly; the Portman Road press room was as packed as it’s ever been as a confident Keane was unveiled in April 2009.
It must have been a bumper day for Ryanair as the cream of the Dublin and Cork media joined their London and Ipswich counterparts for the start of what promised to be a new era for Town, a club starved of success since the early part of the decade under George Burley.
Season tickets duly sold by the thousand and the final two games of the 2008/09 season ended in victories.
It appeared that up was the only direction in which the Blues were headed.
The summer of 2009 was a sad one at Town with Bobby Robson succumbing to cancer. Keane’s clear respect for the club’s legendary former boss impressed supporters, but that period prior to the start of 2009/10 ended up as a high watermark in terms of Keane’s relationship with fans. Runs of 14 matches without a win tend to do that.
Meanwhile, the local pressmen were getting to know the new boss, who from their perspective was nothing like the old.
Jim Magilton had become increasingly entrenched during his time as manager and even handed media duties over to assistant John Gorman for several months after a blazing row during his final season.
He returned in the last few weeks of his reign but provided little other than the week’s injuries, nothing for hungry reporters to get their teeth into.
History will probably record Roy’s press conferences as the one real success of his time at Town. Whether it was his own team — “one or two players from the weekend are unlikely to play for me again” — to Ireland’s out-pouring of grief after that handball — “get over it” — there was always something.
Most weeks, too much. It was rare for a press conference not to stretch to 40 minutes, veering from arcane Ipswich minutiae to the big national stories of the day, usually courtesy of Sky Sports, who sent a reporter every week, something rare if not unprecedented at a Championship club.
There were, of course, the occasional fall-outs with media men on the end of the famous temper and infamous stare. One of the local hacks was hit by an almost nuclear blast of venom after making an inevitably incorrect stab at the identities of the players whom Keane had cast aside. He’s still not entirely over it.
Another piece in one of the Ipswich papers which irked Keane led to a senior journalist being repeatedly told ‘your card is marked’ in a manner which suggested his name really would be added to a black book when the Town boss returned to his office.
Most famous, of course, was the phone.
It wasn’t mine, but I was sitting next to the person whose it was and I think the stare may have done some collateral damage to my psyche. The owner has since got used to his status as a star of YouTube.
But generally, Keane and the regular reporters enjoyed a good relationship, banter flew back and forth and he was even bought some rugby books as a Christmas present having taken the team to watch an oval ball game prior to the Cardiff fixture.
It wasn’t always quite the same with national reporters, one of whom made the error of asking if he might nip and see the Pope when he was visiting England — “You come here, asking daft questions about the Pope…” growled Keane.
While reporters were generally lapping up Keane’s wit and wisdom, Ipswich supporters were less than impressed with life under his management.
The 14-match winless streak may have come to an end, but the hustle and bustle style of football wasn’t overly exciting and was certainly not in the traditions of the likes of Robson and Burley.
Mid-table was scraped into and the Blues finished 15th, hardly acceptable after significant spending for the Championship. Several of Keane’s signings — too many of them from Sunderland and/or Ireland for a lot of fans — had under-performed and some had been swiftly overlooked and then sent on loan. The rotation of the team with players often in unfamiliar roles was another regular frustration amongst fans.
This season started well, he appeared to have cracked it. But — after a bust-up with departing skipper Jon Walters and further rumours of fall-outs with players — form again fell away and the relationship between fans and boss became ever more fractious.
“A lot of people do not have a clue what they’re talking about,” said Keane. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” responded the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.
The beard made a brief appearance as Keane’s post-match press conferences became reflective to the point of being maudlin.
The end was nigh. Keane knew it, we all knew it. It was only a matter of time. Evans’s reluctance to throw more money his way in January an additional sign that things were coming to a head.
The pressroom yesterday wasn’t quite so packed as chief executive Simon Clegg confirmed the divorce; Ryanair won’t have had such a profitable day.
It was finally over, fans are almost universally delighted, only the pressmen of Suffolk shed a tear.
- Philip Ham is editor of independent Ipswich Town website TWTD.co.uk, and columnist for the Ipswich Evening Star