11 July ~ Back in 2008, a caller to Radio 5 Live's 606 was unimpressed by new manager Brendan Rodgers' efforts to reinvent his Watford team. "If he wants to play pretty football," he scoffed down the phone, "he should go and manage Ipswich." There's a pleasing perception of Ipswich as a club with a stylish tradition, which was why many fans felt uneasy to learn of the signing of Lee Bowyer. The issue has divided Town's support, not just over its merits but in concept. "He's not an Ipswich type of player" has been a commonly-expressed sentiment, which contrasts with: "If he can do a job, who cares about his past?"

What's an "Ipswich type of player"? Hopefully one who isn't a racist – a charge that continues to follow Bowyer around. But do we know that he is? CCTV footage of the offences that brought him a criminal conviction in 1996 show racist behaviour. But he was 19 then. In other circumstances I'm likely to find myself arguing that young men who offend in their teenage years shouldn't carry those labels around forever – so perhaps the same should apply to Bowyer. Several very serious accusations were made of Bowyer during his 2003 GBH trial, but the judge – controversially, it must be said – instructed the jury not to consider any racist motive and, of course, Bowyer was acquitted anyway.

Notwithstanding the above, a club which wants to present a positive, inclusive image should have looked to someone other than Bowyer. But while more should be done to stigmatise and punish acts of racist or homophobic behaviour within the game, there has to be a limit on the extent to which fans can realistically expect to share ideological space with all the players they watch. Former Ipswich defender Wayne Brown was a popular figure during his time at Portman Road. It was several years later, when Brown was with Leicester, that he upset many of his team-mates by announcing that he'd voted for the BNP in the 2010 election.

A more pertinent objection might be that even at the age of 34, Bowyer can lose control of himself on the pitch, as evidenced by the tackle on Bacary Sagna which brought him a three-match ban for violent conduct earlier this year. That, as much as anything else, may support the assertion that he doesn't fit with the Portman Road culture. The stark fact remains, however, that "Ipswich type of players" (if indeed that's who the club has been employing in its midfield over recent years) have hardly brought memories of the Bobby Robson-era flooding back, either in terms of success or style.

None of this will have me racing to get BOWYER printed onto the back of a Town replica shirt. But for a club who lays claim to an image which sits uneasily with the prospect of a snarling Bowyer patrolling the midfield, there is a balance to be struck between pragmatism and pride. The question, perhaps, is how far down the pragmatic route Ipswich can go before we lose all sight of what we were once proud of. We may be about to find out now. Gavin Barber

Comments (8)
Comment by Jongudmund 2011-07-11 12:58:29

Surely the bigger concern for fans should be the future performance of any player? And that would be a real concern to me if I was an Ipswich fan. He's probably on a substantial wage. How many games will he play?

Comment by Barnstoneworth 2011-07-11 13:09:10

Was Roy Keane an Ipswich type of manager?

Comment by jonmid 2011-07-11 13:11:36

Your also forgetting his injury problems as well so chances he could not play that much

Comment by jonmid 2011-07-11 13:43:53

erm no Keane wasn't

Comment by tratorello 2011-07-11 15:48:34

Not in any way, shape or form happy with this signing but in Bowyer's defence, questions about his fitness seem to be slightly misplaced seeing as he played 29 Premier League games last season (plus 6 cup games) and 35 the season before that, in that respect he's no Jimmy Bullard.

Comment by HarryWainwright 2011-07-11 16:37:33

Most Ipswich supporters are more concerned about whether or not Bowyer will last the season. He is the right type of player, but the jury is out on whether or not he is the right player. A lack of steel in midfield cost us badly in the early part of the last season.

The perception of Ipswich as a pretty passing team amuses me. We certainly have always has a philosophy of playing attractive stylish attacking football, but players like Terry Butcher, John Wark and Paul Mariner had no qualms about bullying opponents. If anything, the seam of aggression we had in our great days is now missing (as well as two Dutch and three English internationals, admittedly). Look at the videos from the early eighties - Ipswich were a tough, tough team.

P.S. Barnstoneworth - is Eric Olthwaite still on your books? He was a cracking player, and we could well do with him.

Comment by gavinbarber 2011-07-12 00:06:55

@ Barnstoneworth and jonmid: Good points re Keane, I was tempted to chuck that into the "Ipswich type?" mix but wanted to concentrate on the issues surrounding Bowyer.

FWIW I do think that Bowyer clearly brings an improvement to an Ipswich midfield shorn of David Norris and Jimmy Bullard from last season (and which, let's be honest, wasn't actually that great anyway). Recent experience suggests that, even at 34, he's more likely to miss games through suspension than injury.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-07-13 05:04:31

"If he wants to play pretty football," he scoffed down the phone, "he should go and manage Ipswich." I reckon that comment says more about watford's style of play than it does about Ipswich's.

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