The team has a very famous spon­sor and a pro­gres­sive young coach.

For the sec­ond year in a row, the Pre­mier League will be replen­ished with a team with the word “town” in its name. These dif­fer from “cities” in the size of their home­towns; they are small­er. A club from Ipswich, whose pop­u­la­tion is half that of the peo­ple liv­ing in the Moscow dis­trict of Maryi­no, has returned to the Eng­lish tow­er. When the team last played in the Pre­mier League, Belling­ham had not yet been born, Ronal­do had not had his icon­ic hair­cut, and Abramovich had not bought Chelsea.

In the last round of the 2001/02 sea­son, Ipswich had to defeat Liv­er­pool and count on Sun­der­land’s defeat in the match with Der­by Coun­ty, the only way to avoid rel­e­ga­tion. We got 0:5 at Anfield and left the Pre­mier League for 22 long years. In 2019, they final­ly man­aged to leave the cham­pi­onship, but on the oth­er hand, they dropped from last place to League 1, the third strongest divi­sion in Eng­land.

Ipswich fans cel­e­brate the team’s pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League.
Pho­to by Reuters

Main characters

After three sea­sons in the mid­dle of the table, a sharp rise began, which has not stopped yet. A year ago, Ipswich took sec­ond place in the cham­pi­onship and again got into the cham­pi­onship, and now they have anoth­er sil­ver and pro­mo­tion to the elite. And this is a real sen­sa­tion. Before the start of the game, no one believed in the team. More pre­cise­ly, they sim­ply didn’t think about it. You don’t seri­ous­ly assess West Ham’s chances of win­ning the cham­pi­onship, do you?

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Leices­ter, Leeds and Southamp­ton were con­sid­ered the favourites. This is the order they end­ed up in, with Ipswich squeez­ing into sec­ond place. If you tuned in to his match­es or even saw his pho­tos, the unusu­al inscrip­tions on the T‑shirts prob­a­bly caught your eye. Where the name of the spon­sor should be, it is writ­ten: “The + – = : x Tour”. The expla­na­tion is sim­ple, and it will also make it clear that the club’s fan base extends far beyond the town: Ipswich have been spon­sored by Ed Sheer­an for three years now, and the name of his tour is writ­ten on their jer­seys.

The singer has loved foot­ball since child­hood and chose an unpop­u­lar option as to who to root for. But here every­thing is also sim­ple: at the age of four, the future Gram­my win­ner and his fam­i­ly moved to Suf­folk, the largest city of which is Ipswich. Even in his sta­tus as a glob­al super­star, Sheer­an reg­u­lar­ly drops by at the 30,000-seat Port­man Road, can eas­i­ly pour a drink for fans in the sta­di­um bar, and some­times wears his favorite blue T‑shirt to con­certs. It is sym­bol­ic that as music mon­ey came, so did the results.

Kier­an McKen­na.
Pho­to by Reuters

Anoth­er key fig­ure is 37-year-old coach Kier­an McKen­na, who has been at Ipswich since the end of 2021. Since his appoint­ment, no spe­cial­ist in all Eng­lish divi­sions has scored more points than the North­ern Irish­man — 236. That is, nei­ther Pep nor Klopp. Nobody! McKen­na end­ed his play­ing career at the age of 22 due to a hip injury, with­out ever play­ing a match in senior foot­ball.

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Pre­vi­ous­ly, McKen­na had not worked solo at this lev­el, only in youth teams or assist­ed more famous coach­es. At Man­ches­ter Unit­ed he was part of the staffs of Mour­in­ho, Sol­sk­jaer and Rang­nick. Back­ground, of course, helps. Kier­an pumps up the play­ers and gives them room to grow. Just like in acad­e­mies. The cham­pi­onship’s best assis­tant, Leif Davis, will not let you lie: “It’s his cred­it for my assists, because he helped me improve my game in the final third of the field.”

Like Chelsea loa­nee Omari Hutchin­son: “When I came in, he and I hit it off right away. He worked at the acad­e­my for a long time and knows how to work with young guys.” By the way, 15 years ago Ipswich were coached by Roy Keane. It would be inter­est­ing to hear how he is doing with mutu­al under­stand­ing and con­tact with young peo­ple.

Leif Davis.
Pho­to by Reuters

Playing style

What we have: a young and clear­ly promis­ing coach who is adored by the whole city, work­ing on the team with the most goals in the league. What kind of foot­ball do you think he plays and whose ideas are he inspired by? The ques­tion is rhetor­i­cal. The only way to attack is from below. In some places you can see adap­ta­tions of Guardi­o­la’s draw­ing.

Ipswich are very adapt­able. The team loves to over­load the flanks in order to sharply trans­fer the ball to the oth­er side, where the full-back or winger is already ready to cross half the field with­out any resis­tance at all. But most often the ball is moved through the mid­dle. The cen­tral defend­ers are not afraid to pass direct­ly to the for­ward at 30 meters, also low. And, of course, pres­sure. There is nowhere with­out him now. Ipswich are in the top 3 in the Cham­pi­onship for tack­les in the final third.

Ipswich play­ers with the tro­phy.
Pho­to by Reuters

You will not find estab­lished, well-known names on the team. Top scor­ers with 13 goals are Conor Chap­lin and Nathan Broad­head. Between them they have two min­utes in the Pre­mier League in their careers, all of which belongs to Nathan. The most expen­sive play­er costs just 6 mil­lion euros, the afore­men­tioned Davis. He’s not even in the top 50 across the league. The entire ros­ter is val­ued at €50.50 mil­lion — 15th out of 24.

The under­ground is charm­ing. Many neu­tral fans look with plea­sure at the poor Luton, who play in an old-school sta­di­um, and wish them vic­to­ries. Because every­thing looks lamp-like and some­how real. And the Pre­mier League debu­tant has already proven that with a tiny bud­get you can fight in the top divi­sion. Per­haps they will fly out, but the chances of stay­ing are not lost yet.

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There is a feel­ing that Ipswich will cap­ti­vate the mass­es too. And worse than Luton. It’s Ed Sheer­an, fash­ion­able, effec­tive coach­ing solu­tions, fun and lots of goals in all direc­tions. The soil for attract­ing new fans is fer­tile. In a cou­ple of weeks the club will cel­e­brate 43 years since win­ning the UEFA Cup. Repeat­ing such achieve­ments is a long way off; first we need to gain a foothold in the Pre­mier League. And Kier­an McKen­na gives the impres­sion of a coach who can do it.