An evening in early April and Ipswich Town’s last mid-week match of the season will follow an after work beer with a friend, a beer with my tea (a pie) and a pre-match beer with some bloke who I talked to about why he generally only ever goes to evening matches; he owns horses. About 7.30 I set off down Portman Road from St Jude’s Tavern.
Evening matches are best. They make a grand punctuation mark at the end of a day and the creep of dusk and darkness is a lovely thing, particularly when its shot through with bright, white floodlight. As I approach the corner of the ground where that light spills over the tops of the stands I hear an unfamiliar accent and encounter two big blokes excitedly but carefully composing a selfie with the stadium in the background. They must be football tourists, and I ask them where they are from. “We’re from Norway, there’s lots of us here tonight and loads of Swedes too”. Those Vikings just can’t break the habit can they? Coming over here in their long boats and now courtesy of Scandinavian Airlines. Just for something to say I tell them I nearly ended up heading for Trondheim once when trying to drive out of Ostersund towards Karlstad. It’s a story I like to tell all Scandinavians. “I’m from Trondheim” and “He’s from Trondheim” they said simultaneously. I shake their hands; meeting football supporters from abroad almost brings a tear to my eye, we love them and they love us. They’re a friendly bunch, our European neighbours, and so are 48% of British people who voted in that there referendum (OK, so Norway isn’t in the EU, but Sweden is and Denmark, and Finland). As I dream of the entente cordiale, the Scandinavians meet up with some fellow countryman to clap and chant “Ipswich, Ipswich”, clearly misunderstanding the local custom of being very quiet in Portman Road.
Tonight Ipswich Town will play Wigan Athletic, a coming together of the town on the river from which George Orwell took his name, with the town about whose residents George Orwell wrote in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier. With both clubs floundering at the crappy end of Division Two, it’s appropriate that his book dealt with the hardships and suffering of the great depression, though I may be guilty of losing perspective there.
To celebrate my wealth compared to the poor devils of 1930’s Wigan I splash out £3 on a programme. Tonight the cover features Jordan Spence who squints at the camera and I think looks a bit like Tyrone Mings, which could be why Town signed him. Bart Bialkowski and David McGoldrick peer over his shoulder and stare at the nape of his neck respectively, poised to step forward should he fall forwards off the page.
I have a choice of turnstile to get into the ground tonight because there’s nobody much here and I pick number seven, “ Lucky number seven turnstile tonight “ I say to the operator “Ha ha. Yes” he says humouring me. Inside the ground I have a brief chat with a steward with whom I used to work, before taking up my seat near the back of the stand. With the game soon to start I am a little surprised to see the same steward walking up the steps towards me a few minutes later; he tells me there was a complaint the previous Saturday about a supporter banging a tambourine. That supporter was me and I am asked not to bang the tambourine. I stand up and announce to everyone around me that I have been banned from banging a tambourine in support of the Town. People laugh, and indeed it is laughable. I am not allowed to make a noise at a football match. Then again, this is Ipswich, which has clearly never recovered from its 17th century position as a stronghold of puritan killjoys where playing sport was banned on Sundays.
Seditiously, I invite others to bang the tambourine on my behalf, which a couple do half-heartedly, but there would be no revolution. One would have hoped the club would have censured the complainer for being a ridiculous arse and sided with me. I should have complained first of course, saying I would like to complain about anyone who might complain about my banging a tambourine. Then, when the complainant complained they could have told him that they’d already received a complaint about him and he should desist from complaining forthwith.
The game begins. Ipswich are better than Wigan and score. I can’t bring myself to celebrate. When Crazee the mascot appears by the steps into the stand to bang his drum, yes; bang his DRUM, much noisier than a tambourine, I expect a steward to tell him to stop. Nothing happens, so I skip down the steps to Crazee and explain my situation to him and most obligingly he rattles the tambourine to the cheers of the crowd. Feeling a little better for this small victory, this two-fingers to my oppressors I cough up a cheer and bang the tambourine naughtily when Ipswich score a second goal.
At half-time I consider moving to another seat but I’m a broken man and instead contemplate throwing myself off the top tier to make a statement, but I think better of it in case the referee abandons the game when we’re 2-0 up and heading for a rare victory. I’d never forgive myself, although may be I wouldn’t have to. Anyway, I stay sat where I was and console myself by sniggering at the name of the Wigan Athletic No 6 who is called Max Power.
The football resumes and Ipswich Town are playing okay tonight, although Wigan Athletic are not at all good and have been the architects of their own downfall (or as it subsequently said in the report on the ITFC website, the “victims of their own downfall”…well durr) , but at least Ipswich look like they know they must score goals. Wigan Athletic come close to scoring a few themselves however, even though they are rubbish, and despite Town eventually winning 3-0 it is Ipswich Town’s goalkeeper, Bialkowski who is the man of the match. Satisfyingly Max Power is booked for tackling too strongly; he probably needs some sort of resistor, although at least he doesn’t blow a fuse and get himself sent off.
The final whistle blows and Town have won at last; I look up at the slogan placed by the club at the top of the North Stand. “What is a club?” it asks, and rather cockily answers its own question: “The Noise, The Passion, The Feeling of Belonging”. Yeah right. You can probably make your own conclusions about that.