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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 22:02 GMT
Ipswich appeal to Peel

By BBC Sport Online's Adrian Harte

As well as being known as "the single most important figure in popular music over the last 25 years", John Peel is famous for being one of Liverpool's most famous fans.

But Peel, who now lives in Stowmarket in Suffolk, readily admits to a growing affection for his local side, Ipswich Town.

The Blues have emerged this season as the Premiership's surprise package, building on last season's promotion from the First Division with a run that has taken them to third place in the top flight.

Peel's Ipswich infatuation is such that he even penned a letter with his wife Sheila to his local newspaper, the East Anglian Daily Times, to praise George Burley's side.

Burley the new Shankly

An abridged version of his missive reads:

"(Ipswich's Tractor Boys nickname) is symptomatic of the very reasons we go to Portman Road - a close identification with, and affection for, the players, and a sense of community and independence.

"These are the lost virtues that one of us, a lifelong Liverpool supporter, used to celebrate at Anfield. George Burley the new Bill Shankly? Maybe so."

When he spoke to BBC Sport Online this week ahead of Ipswich's visit to Old Trafford, Peel explained how he has become smitten by the Suffolk side.

Mark Venus
Peel has been impressed with Mark's Venus rebirth

"I can't get up to Anfield as much as I would want and even then it is difficult to get tickets," he said. "It's a four-and-a-half hour drive and it's only 20 minutes to Ipswich."

Peel's wife is a dedicated Ipswich fan, so much so that football proved a tonic after serious illness.

Peel said: "Ipswich had a very profound therapeutic effect for my wife. She suffered a brain haemorrhage four years ago and was ill again a year ago.

"Watching Ipswich proved a large part of her therapy, particularly this season. When Ipswich are above Liverpool in the table she has a spring in her step bordering on arrogance."

Peel's wife never misses a home game, while his own near-conversion is such that he goes to three out of every four matches himself.

Even for Peel, who named one of his son's after Liverpool's double-winning side, there is a temptation for that switch of allegiance to become complete.

Their level of self-belief is almost tangible
  John Peel

He says: "When Ipswich played at Anfield, Liverpool were so feeble that towards the end I was secretly hoping that Ipswich would win."

As well as that disappointment in his own team, there's a palpable sense that Peel feels deeply about his second side.

"Their level of self-belief is almost tangible," he says. "When they go behind they are not at all fazed. And when they lost against Derby it didn't knock them out of their stride."

Peel is particularly impressed with Town boss George Burley.

He said: "He did an amazing job in the First Division. His use of the loan system and excursions into the transfer system were nothing short of inspired.

Jamie Clapham
Peel believes Clapham should be playing for England

"He got Jamie Clapham on loan from Spurs and then bought him and he should be playing for England. He should win Manager of the Month every month."

While admitting that Town have some fine players, Peel marvels at how Burley has turned First Division players into Premiership stars.

"With respect, Mark Venus was plugging a gap in the First Division, and he's been great this season. It's wonderful to watch."

Peel will never betray his Liverpool roots, thus imbuing this Saturday's Manchester United v Ipswich match with added significance.

"Last weekend's result (Liverpool defeating United) was the biggest of the season for me, so if Ipswich could follow it up, I really would start believing in a god."

John Peel presents Home Truths on BBC Radio 4 each Saturday at 09.00 GMT.
He presents his legendary Festive 50 on BBC Radio 1 from Tuesday 26 December to Thursday 28 December from 22.00-2400 GMT.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 |  Ipswich Town
No blues at Ipswich
19 Dec 00 |  Worthington Cup
Ipswich sink City in extra time
19 Dec 00 |  Ipswich Town
Tractor boys making noise
16 Dec 00 |  Eng Prem
Ipswich come back to beat Saints
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