Despite the absence of football since early March, Ipswich Town Football Club has not been absent from my e-mail in-box, far from it in fact. Every week, it seems, I receive some electronic advertising missive from Portman Road in addition to the usual boring, banal weekly newsletter. Whilst the club has been slow to contact me about refunding the money I paid for that portion of the season that never has and never will happen, Bluey, Crazee and their chums are clearly chomping at the bit to try and sell me some football club related merchandise, or ‘merch’ as the hip people call it.
We live in a world of conspicuous consumption, and gift shops wherever they are, be it the Taj Mahal, le palais de Versailles or Ipswich Museum are a magnet to many. I know at least one person who I am told enjoys the ‘exit through gift shop’ element of his visits to art galleries, museums and historic monuments as much if not more than the visit to the attraction itself. I can honestly say my own life would not be as fulfilled and culturally enriched without my jigsaw of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People, bought at the Louvre in Paris or my postcard of George Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières purchased at the Tate Gallery in London. In the same way, football club shops are one of the secret joys of going to football, I have never been able to resist seeking out the messy, sparsely stocked retail outlet round the back of the main stand when on an away trip; if you’re lucky it’ll be a ‘portakabin’, if not so lucky a megastore. In his utterly brilliant book ‘Saturday 3pm, 50 eternal delights of modern football’, Daniel Gray refers to club shops as “…old curiosity shops, eccentric and other worldly.” He goes on to say “Let us salute the club-crested pencil case”. For such reasons a variety of F.C. fridge magnets decorate a metal board in my study, club pennants dangle over one’s head when sat in my upstairs toilet and my wife has a cupboard full of beanie bears and miniature mascots in replica kit. It’s not that club shops tempt me with fabulous objects of desire so much as they amaze and amuse me by peddling what I can only describe as ridiculous crap.
Having not been able to browse through the assorted collection of polyester training wear, replica kit, pointless souvenirs and dubious fashion in person since ‘lockdown’, I eventually came to welcome the ceaseless trickle of Ipswich Town e-mails urging me to buy, buy, buy and the easy access it promised to the club shop website. “On-line shopping; you know you want to” the e-mail didn’t say enticingly in the voice of Nigella Lawson, but it might as well have. Further cajoled and teased by the ‘something for nothing’ bait of free postage I let my right index finger open the e-mail with a single, fateful click of the mouse.
For all Ipswich Town’s apparent inability to connect with its fan base, Marcus Evans knows his market and he knows by now that a lot of people in Suffolk are nothing if not a bit stingy and so it’s sale goods that are being pushed here, the real garbage that nobody at all wanted. Here is where you can pay homage to the consumer-society on the cheap, filling up on the season before last’s home kit, the much sought after ‘relegation special’. Only my intense dislike of tacky, itchy, nasty polyester stops me reaching for the credit card. Perhaps I will be more tempted by the ‘ITFC Stamp Tee’, a shirt reduced from £16 to a tenner; or perhaps not, having seen the bizarre blob of white on the chest in the form of a postmark. Why a postmark? What are we, a team of chuffin’ posties?
On the same page as the ‘Stamp Tee’ the Paul Lambert poster is reduced from a fiver to £ 2.50, a fair summation of the fall in the level of his stock in the eyes of many Town fans after an eleventh place finish in the Third Division. Most damning though is the 90% discount on postcards of James Norwood and Kaydon Jackson which are reduced from a modest, yet still vastly over-priced £1 to a somewhat insulting 10 pence. It’s a scale of reduction so impressive that that it is used to headline the e-mail but without telling you that it only applies to two poxy postcards that no one wants anyway, hence their appearance in the sale. If these two players’ agents had succeeded in negotiating image rights in their contracts, then this is Marcus Evans’s revenge. It did however set me wondering who buys a postcard of Kaydon Jackson. A visitor to Ipswich wanting to relay its glory to a friend or relative ‘back home’ would surely pick one of our splendid Victorian town hall or may be the remarkably pargetted Ancient House, or perhaps the Grade I Listed Unitarian Chapel, glassy, curvy Willis building or even the soaring Orwell Bridge. The only sort of friend who could possibly send you a postcard of Kaydon Jackson or James Norwood would surely be an art student trying to impress by being so ‘post-modern’.
Nothing much was grabbing my attention as something I would want to buy; Cuddly T-Rex? No; Retro colouring book? No; Piggy bank? No. I thought of who I knew who might have a birthday soon that I could palm off cheap sale goods on. The cheapest of the cheap, the least wanted of the unwanted were presumably the items marked ‘clearance’. But I couldn’t think of a friend for whom a giant Bluey the mascot badge (£3.99 down to £.200) or ITFC bunting (£3.99 down to £3.00) would define our friendship. An ITFC birthday card was out of the question being un-reduced at £3.50. One ITFC birthday card incidentally features a picture of a battered looking trophy cup engraved with the words ‘Happy Birthday’. I can only think that as Ipswich are one of just three clubs out of the one hundred and fifteen in steps one to five of the English football league pyramid not to have won a trophy or been promoted in the past 20 years (the other two are Oldham Athletic and Everton), this ‘Happy Birthday’ trophy card was inspired by a desire to show younger Town supporters what a cup even looked like.
Eventually, the seemingly limitless cornucopia of blue and white Ipswich Town branded goods before me was too much and I gave in to the pressure of consumerism, as we all do. Rationalising my decision by agreeing with myself to dispose of two grotty looking but much loved un-branded T-shirts that are probably 20 years old, I bought something described as a Button Neck Tee for £10, reduced from £16. After receiving the shirt in the post a little over a week after ordering it I went back to the website to post a review of my purchase, which under the heading of ‘Cheap’ & Cheerful went something like this: I bought this garment in the sale, reduced from £16 to £10. It arrived after just over a week. I was a little disappointed with the quality and was glad I hadn’t paid full price. The material is very thin and the finish around the collar quite poor, with an unsightly lumpy seam where the collar meets the neck. Otherwise however, I like the design and the colour, it’s a good fit and the club badge is nicely embroidered. It’ll do for hanging about in at home but I wouldn’t wear it out. Naturally enough, and not unreasonably, the club reserves the right to moderate the reviews it receives, but despite my review not including any rude words or grammatical errors it has not appeared on the website. I submitted a similar review again a week or two later and that has never appeared either. I have now posted the review for a third time and am waiting to see if Ipswich Town publish it. Very little of the merchandise on the Ipswich Town website seems to have been reviewed; apart from Ipswich Town supporters being an apathetic lot, which is true, it seems there could be another reason.
With ‘lockdown’ now being loosened, Ipswich Town are withdrawing the offer of free postage and the club shop will re-open its doors on Friday 3rd July. I am going to miss those e-mails from Planet Blue tempting me to buy club branded doormats, duvets, rubber ducks and shoe laces, but I will keep trying to post my review of the cheap and cheerful ‘Button Neck Tee’ until the shirts are all sold and they disappear from the website altogether. With no football still to go to I need something to do on a Saturday afternoon.