Ipswich Town’s relationship with Chelmsford City allows Finley Barbrook and Henry Gray to thrive on-loan


Whilst Ipswich Town have been firmly putting themselves among the Championship’s title fight, some of their youngsters are getting involved in a battle to win promotion of their own.

Young duo Finley Barbrook and Henry Gray have been at Chelmsford City, managed by ex-Norwich City youngster Robbie Simpson, in a side that is firmly showing off their promotion credentials.

Ipswich Town are unbeaten in six matches; Gray and Barbrook are becoming some of the first names on Simpson’s teamsheet in a squad that has lost just twice in the league since December 23.

It’s an even more impressive feat for Barbrook who is making his first venture away from Portman Road for regular adult football.

Barbrook says: “I have enjoyed every minute here. I have learned a lot from being at a great club like Chelmsford City and each game has been competitive. There’s quite a big gap between us and teams like Welling but it’s still a competitive game.

“A game like tonight was only going to further my learning and I feel like I have learned a lot whilst here.”

Simpson says: “Fin has been amazing for us right from the start. He probably had his worst game against Welling but we know that as a young lad, playing week in and week out he might get those games but we have to make sure we protect him.

“That allows him to more often than not put in performances like he has been where he’s been absolutely exceptional.”

“Fin will say himself that he learns every game and that’ll be the case again tonight [against Welling],” Simpson adds. “But more importantly, I think Ipswich will be really happy with the job we’re doing in helping him develop as they’re going to have a much better player when he goes back than when he left.”

Versatile midfielder Barbrook, who skippered Town’s Under-21s, has been ahead of ex-Town man Anthony Wordsworth. Although the former Blue, now 35, showed he has certainly still got an abundance of talent with a smart finish in a 3-0 win at Eastbourne Borough.

At the time of writing the Essex outfit, 41 miles from Portman Road, Gray and Barbrook are part of a side well and truly among the promotion contenders. There are eleven points between themselves and runaway league leaders Yeovil Town, but the Clarets are two ahead of third-placed Worthing and seven ahead of fourth-placed Braintree Town.

In England’s sixth-tier only one side can win automatic promotion and the next two are guaranteed a spot in the play-off semi-finals, whilst the four teams below them must fight for a spot in the final four with a one-off eliminator fixture.

Finley, who signed a professional deal with the Tractor Boys alongside his twin brother Harry in March 2023, joined the Clarets initially in October before having it extended in January until at least March.

His and Gray’s time away from Portman Road at the Melbourne Community Stadium has now been extended until the end of the season – a transfer agreement that has certainly been pleasing for City fans.

Barbrook is capable of playing as a midfielder or in defence (Credit: Roger Robinson)

Barbrook is capable of playing as a midfielder or in defence (Credit: Roger Robinson)

In recent fixtures, Barbrook has filled in as a defender whilst Gray, who only joined the Clarets in December, is among the league’s top five best shot-stoppers with eight clean sheets from 14 matches (57%). They have conceded the fewest amount of goals in the National League South.

“It’s the perfect place for that [my loan]to happen and it’s the place to be to continue my development,” says Barbrook. Simpson added: “He’s very much part of us and part of what we do and what we want to achieve.”

The youngster has trained on several occasions with Kieran McKenna and the first-team squad. He was also involved in pre-season friendlies during Town’s tour to Austria in the summer.

With the Blues now pushing for Premier League status, however, Barbrook is fully aware that loan moves to Chelmsford City will be crucial for players like himself and shot-stopper Gray. Whilst the Clarets might be several leagues below Town, it also offers plenty of opportunities for fellow academy players to continue their development.

“[These sorts of club connections] are always good for lads who are 18 or 19 and need a loan then this is perfect if Chelmsford agrees to it,” he says. “Henry and I both thought why not and it’s now paying off for both of us.”


About Author

When not busy covering local news for EssexLive, Matt Lee can be found in the press box at Portman Road covering Ipswich Town's return to the Championship and push for the Premier League.

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