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If Ipswich Town, one of the most iconic clubs in English football, ever return to the Premier League, the first thing new owner Brett Johnson will do is get a tattoo of the club’s badge. “Yup. Ipswich. Premier League. That is a tattoo. I just have to figure out a way to break it to my wife,” says Johnson, who alongside partners Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer, acquired Town for a believed-fee of £40 million under their company Gamechanger 20 ltd. “I can’t wait for the day to explain to my wife that on your show, I made that commitment.”
The biggest commitment, however, is returning this important club to the glory days of the past. Ipswich Town is a club with an incredible history; UEFA Cup winners in 1980-81, having participated in all major European competitions — and never lost at home in Europe — throughout their 142-year history, with wins against the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Barcelona.
They have produced and developed recognized talent such as Kieron Dyer (currently the club’s U-23’s manager), Tyrone Mings and Titus Bramble and their managers have been some of the best in the history of the game, including the late Sir Alf Ramsey (World Cup winner with England in 1966) and the late Sir Bobby Robson.
Portman Road is one of the gems of English stadiums, opened in 1884.
The good times, however, are gone and Ipswich find themselves in mid-table obscurity of League One after being relegated from the Championship in 2019, thus ending their 63-year tenure in the top two tiers of English football.
Now, it’s a new day and Johnson looks ahead to the summer. This season is not done and dusted and despite being 11th in the table, a win against Wimbledon this weekend could see the Tractor Boys two points off a playoff spot. It’s been hard for manager Paul Cook, especially since they have gone five league matches without scoring, but it’s not impossible.
Regardless, Johnson and his partners are thinking about the immediate future but also, beyond.
“I think we have the right man in Paul Cook. That’s the right start,” says Johnson, who also owns the successful USL club Phoenix Rising. “We’re very pleased to have added Mark Ashton [the club’s new chief executive], relative to his pedigree, background and experience, certainly what he did with Bristol City. I think he’s going to bring a difference in terms of hands on. With the utmost respect to Marcus Evans [former owner since 2007], you know, it’s not a secret that he was fairly an absentee owner. You really have to live, breathe, eat this stuff 24 hours a day…and it’s a team effort. I feel very fortunate with the success I have seen in Phoenix Rising. The credit goes to other individuals…but I think having Paul Cook in his experience and Mark Ashton…but really looking into making some fairly dramatic wholesale changes over the summer window, and put a team that’s going to fight every single day for the honor to kinda restore Ipswich back to its former glory.”
If we use Phoenix Rising as an example, and how it succeeded in USL (winning the USL Championship in 2019) Johnson sees this as a good parallel as it’s ultimately about representing the town of Ipswich and its people. “These teams ideally live and thrive because of the community support,” says Johnson. “The supporters in Phoenix that were behind…the predecessor days of Phoenix Rising, it got me through some dark periods of time and I’ll never forget it, and I’m grateful to them. So by extension, I am grateful to the global community of Ipswich supporters. I’m going to work with the extended team, tirelessly to reward them and get this club back to a point of pride, for the broader community, because it’s where it deserves to be.”
Patience is key, however. Fans must be patient. But Johnson emphasizes that change will come this summer and a lot of moving parts will come internally as they look to change the squad’s trajectory. “It’s clear that we have to make changes. The club has to turn around relative to what’s going on the pitch.”
The hesitation to trust American ownership is evident these days, and the Super League did not help the narrative. Johnson agrees and is too aware of the sentiment, which is why he wants to be as transparent as possible about the present and future of this club and what the new owners plan to do in order to make sure everyone prospers.
“[In regards to Super League and clubs invited] It’s not a bold statement to say that collectively, clearly they [super league clubs owners] were tone deaf and I think rightly so, the response was appropriate,” says Johnson. “I’m glad it died a quick and painful death and I think some of the American owners deserve a lot of criticism relative to their role and naivete associated with that. One of the many things I love about owning a club in England – and I’ve owned a club through my partnership with Jordan Gardner in Denmark with Helsingor – is that I am a huge advocate of promotion and relegation. I believe strongly in that model. I wish we had it in the U.S. You can’t make a broad indictment of American owners because the reality is that we all come from different places and balance sheets, certainly different leagues, and I also view our partnership very much an Anglo-American partnership. But all that said, we take our role…with absolute reverence and humility and look forward to hopefully making good things happen.”
In the end, the goal for Johnson is to reclaim what Ipswich Town lost but can hopefully reclaim once again. There are obstacles to come, for sure, but the ultimate goal is to work together for the sake of the club and the community.
Make sure you watch the full interview on ¡Qué Golazo! YouTube as Johnson also chats about teams he admires, more about his plans for the club and a fantastic story about Didier Drogba when he arrived in Phoenix years ago and they persuaded him to come play for the club.