Gloom to glory: The fall and rise of Ipswich Town

By Brenner Woolley, BBC Radio Suffolk's Ipswich commentator for 21 seasons

Once upon a time, in a commentary, I described Ipswich as "Britain's most miserable football club", which I stand by to this day.

There was no attractive football, no success on the pitch, no academy graduates coming through, supporters did not like manager X, manager Y or manager Z and complained about everything from the music at Portman Road, to the price of tickets and the away shirts - they did not like anything.

But under Kieran McKenna, the sun has come out from behind a big, dark cloud.

The club got the right man at the right time and the impact he has made has been absolutely seismic - now grimaces have been replaced by smiles.

The fans could never have imagined things progressing as they have in such a short period of time, but now their dream has come true - a place in the Premier League.

The 'horrible' years at Portman Road

I started doing commentary off the back of relegation from the Premier League in 2002, which was followed by a spell in administration.

There were a couple of play-off runs in 2004 and 2005 under Joe Royle but Town were in the doldrums in the Championship for so many years until Mick McCarthy did the same in 2015.

In 2018-19 came the low point. Paul Hurst was sacked after only winning one game and for the rest of the season, under Paul Lambert, they sleepwalked towards relegation to the third tier for the first time in more than 60 years.

There had been boos from fans, performances were very poor and fans were unhappy with a perceived lack of investment by then owner Marcus Evans.

Everything was horrible, and the club in terms of its infrastructure was in a state of disrepair.

But in April 2021, American investment came in when Gamechanger 20 Ltd bought the club and since then it has been a different world at Portman Road.

'Demolition man' starts rebuild

Paul Cook was only manager for nine months in 2021 but he had a vital role in the upturn in Ipswich's fortunes.

He described himself as the "demolition man" because he had come in and taken over a squad he had very little time for - he made no bones about it - and there was a mass cull that summer.

In their place came some key players and from the group McKenna inherited, some of those Cook recruits have been instrumental, captain Sam Morsy being the obvious one.

Goalkeepers Christian Walton and Vaclav Hladky, defenders Cameron Burgess and George Edmundson, attacking midfielder Conor Chaplin and winger Wes Burns were all Cook signings, so he did a good job that summer in terms of recruitment - but he was not the new owners’ man.

They did bring in their man in December 2021 - and what an appointment it has been.

Destined for the top

The job that McKenna has done with the players he inherited, with the business he’s done, is utterly astonishing, gobsmacking.

Within a couple of weeks I thought, from speaking to this man, he was going to manage in the Premier League. But I did not dream it would be with Ipswich Town.

He just looked destined for the top and what I’ve seen of him these past couple of full seasons in lifting Ipswich from League One and back to the top flight has just underlined that – he will certainly manage at the very highest level.

He is very tactically astute, a fine man manager, a great communicator and he has improved players, whether it’s Morsy, who is 32 now, fellow midfielder Massimo Luongo, a similar age, young players coming into the building or new signings – he has revolutionised the club on the playing side.

Clearly, he demands very high standards, and from the word go his training methods have involved drones and other technology.

The way he conducts himself and deals with the media has been so refreshing after difficult times with various other managers down the years.

The players absolutely love him; they are very hard to play against, well coached and well organised, but above all else, they have this phenomenal togetherness, this attitude of having each others' backs.

Players that are not even on the bench go along and watch games and join in post-match celebrations. It is wonderful to see.

That spirit has dug them out of holes, got them equalisers, got them wins when they were drawing, they keep going to the end and are phenomenally fit.

Yes, they have had injuries but nowhere near the number that previous incarnations have had at Ipswich.

Some mornings I have thought 'is this really happening? Are they so close to the Premier League?'

From top to bottom, Ipswich are a club revolutionised. They are close no longer - they are there.