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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 27/09/03, 3.00pm
Ipswich Town
Significant stuff
By Matt Rowson

Quite a lot of significant stuff happened in 1992.

The siege of Sarajevo marked the onset of the Bosnian War. The acquittal of four white police officers for the beating of Rodney King kicked off the LA Riots. The first text-based web browser was made available to the public. Bill Clinton was elected US President.

Significant Stuff.

The formation of the Premiership was also a significant event, in a much smaller way, but not in a way that merits celebration, much less the offensively inappropriate "Year 0" status that 1992 has since been awarded in the Sky's revision of history. The football, the structure, didn't change. The money, the destiny of it, did.

The Premiership has been cited as a visionary development that revolutionised football in this country... but the main thrust of the revolution has been to erect a large fence around the richer pastures. The amount of money that competitiveness (in terms of player salaries if nothing else) demands in this arena forms a huge barrier to entry, protecting clubs established in the top flight from the much of the unreasonable uncertainty of relegation not present in any other industry. The same is true of the Champions' League at a higher level incidentally, in an even more criminal fashion - don't get me started...

Even mediocre players are traded for several million at the top level, and the real value in this practice to the likes of Spurs is the setting of a high opening bid to discourage competition from below. Promoted clubs face a choice between overcommitting themselves in an attempt to bridge the gap, or taking the decision to stick to a sustainable budget - sustainable whatever the eventuality - and accepting all the repercussions that almost certainly come with it. It speaks volumes that of all the clubs relegated from the Premiership in the last five years or so still in the Nationwide, only West Brom have escaped serious financial hardship.

They did so by being extremely frugal during their year in the sun and apparently accepting that they would need to play the long game if they were going to establish themselves. Charlton and Bolton are amongst the smaller sides in the Prem to have successfully adopted a similar approach over the last decade.

But it shouldn't have to be that way. And it shouldn't be the case that a side like Ipswich, two and a bit years after just missing out on a Champions' League (sic) place, are in the state they're in. I've no great love for the Tractor Boys - indeed, my years at school were made all the more uncomfortable by being located within Portman Road's catchment area - but Ipswich are surely the classic victims of the Premiership structure. Whilst others have played ostensibly risky games - Bradford, for example, were always asking for trouble with their transfer policy of 2000 - Ipswich weren't gambling too much in expecting to stay up the season after finishing fifth. Bad form and bad luck relegated them, and the side is now as pathetic a carcass as almost any in the division.

Kelvin Davis will be in goal for Town, Ipswich's only senior keeper assuming that Andy Marshall's doomed Portman Road career is at an end. The former Norwich custodian's move down the coast always looked a bit optimistic, but not as optimistic as his current search for a Premiership club. Luton are reputed to be interested. Youngster Lewis Price will be on the bench.

In defence, a sloppy defensive record will not be helped by an increasingly chronic injury list. Fabian Wilnis has been around for a while and is likely to feature at right-back; with the departure of Hermann Hreidarsson and a thigh injury to Chris Makin, Matt Richards should play on the left. Richards has looked good going forward, but is suspect defensively.

In the centre, Joe Royle really is down to the bones. As well as Makin, who can also take up a central role, John McGreal is out with a persistent back problem, and Drissa Diallo did his medial ligaments on Saturday following a collision with teammate Georges Santos. This leaves the unreliable Santos as the only fit, recognised centreback, something which probably gives Town fans nightmares. He will almost certainly be partnered on Saturday by Richard Naylor, more frequently a striker and looking fragile at the weekend on the odd occasion when Franchise put him under pressure.

The midfield has a more solid look to it... Jim Magilton is the playmaker, and much of the attacking play seems to come through him. Chris Bart-Williams has arrived on loan from Charlton to take up the donkeywork mantle vacated by Matt Holland. Another loan signing, Blackburn's Alan Mahon, is impressing on the left whilst Jermaine Wright is the only real option on the right. With Martijn Reuser (groin) and Tommy Miller (knee) also out, most of the competition here comes from youngsters, with Ian Westlake and Matt Bloomfield both highly rated.

Up front, another ligament injury deprives Royle of Darren Bent for the timebeing. With namesake Marcus on loan and off the wagebill at Leicester, this leaves Royle to pick from injury-prone warhorse Alun Armstrong, who scored in this fixture last season, talented but goalshy Pablo Couņago, who tends to impress less away from home, and pacy youngster Dean Bowditch, who was expected to be given a debut in the Carling Cup on Tuesday evening.

I don't know what the answer is to the problems introduced by the Premiership's divisiveness, and, depressingly, have no doubt that no solution would be adopted if one presented itself - simply not in the right people's interests. So for the time being just satisfy yourself with the knowledge that our tickets and pies are affordable. And send Richard Keys a history book.