Ipswich Town have won their first four matches this season, something the team hasn’t done since 1999. It’s enough to make an Ipswich Town fan feel a bit giddy and I do, and worried. The last three of those wins have all been away from home and now the team return to Portman Road for today’s match versus Brentford, a club who I still can’t help thinking has its name prefaced by the words ‘fourth division’. That’s the division Brentford were in when I saw their most well-known (only?) celebrity fan, Rick Wakeman live at Ipswich Gaumont back in the mid 1970’s. As an Ipswich Town fan my most memorable football experiences are all rooted in the past. I haven’t got used to Brentford being a second division club, even though I know that in the 1940’s they were in the Premier League or First Division as George Orwell, Clement Attlee, Clark Gable and Josef Stalin knew it. I apologise to Brentford supporters everywhere, although hopefully some of you pine for those days of games against Colchester United and Crewe Alexandra.
Ipswich Town has something to lose, so it is with a sense of trepidation that I set out to catch the train. Can the Town maintain their unbeaten, all-conquering run? I am not used to such questions. As I stand on the platform waiting, on the other side of the tracks a poster advertising The SAMARITANS picks out the words “I’ve lost hope” which normally would be the case, but today I don’t know what to think. There is hope it seems, but is there really hope? Surely this run of consecutive wins will end now the team must play again in front of its taciturn, mostly silent, unsupportive home supporters. The pressure of playing in front of Brexit voting miserabilists will prove too much to bear, won’t it?
I try and enjoy the journey. Opposite me a man is taking his very young son to his first match. As the train passes through Colchester, he points out the Asda store to him. No, not Colchester castle, or Jumbo the water tower, or the fine Edwardian town hall clock tower; Asda, f…ing Asda. Perhaps he wasn’t a complete philistine, maybe he just worked in retail.
Arriving in Ipswich at about 13:25 it’s a temperate afternoon, but cloudy. The turnstiles of Portman Road are yet to open, but a few people, presumably with nothing else in their lives, wait at the doors to get in when they do. Otherwise Portman Road is quiet, the programme kiosks stand isolated by the kerb looking like designs rejected by the BBC for Dr Who’s Tardis. The statue of Bobby Robson stands alone looking as if he is directing people around the corner; polythene ‘goody-bags’ containing the local newspaper, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water litter the pavement waiting to be bought.
I walk on to St Jude’s Tavern which is quieter than usual, although there is a table of Brentford fans who obviously appreciate good beer. I consume a pint of Earl Soham Albert Ale with a beef and onion pie (£5.00 the pair) and later a pint of Milton Medusa (£3.40) and talk with a friend who has just returned with his partner from a week in Berlin; he tells me he didn’t get to see the home of Hertha Berlin but we agree that virtually everywhere either of us has ever visited in Europe is nicer than Britain. We don’t discuss why but I think it’s because we still have a monarchy and have failed to properly embrace social democracy.
Beer glass drained, it is time to head back down to Portman Road which is still not that busy even at ten to three. As I head towards the stadium a big-breasted woman walking the other way shouts swearily into her mobile phone. A seagull sits on a lamp standard looking down on the statue of Alf Ramsey, but with a beady eye on the burger van adjacent to him and any discarded junk food; it’s a good place for a scavenger to hang out. On the Cobbold Stand the club crest and the union flag fly together in the strong breeze and in the street below a Brentford fan is either playing aeroplanes or is being frisked as he queues to enter the ground. Inside the ground the lack of custom at the “matchday essentials” kiosk suggests it’s not really selling essentials at all.
I urinate in the appropriate place and then take up my seat in the stand. The teams enter the field and everyone applauds. The game begins. Brentford, whose nickname is The Bees, probably just because ‘B’ is the first letter in Brentford, wear red and white striped shirts with black shorts and red stockings, or socks as they are more prosaically known; they look a picture as teams in striped kits often do. In the away supporters’ stand two flags bearing the St George cross indicate that Brentford supporters are from as far afield as Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Ealing Road.
After some early, even sparring Brentford start to dominate possession of the ball, selfishly kicking it about amongst themselves, whilst Ipswich just try to keep it away from their own goal. The only cheer to emanate from Ipswich fans is when the Brentford goalkeeper slips over. Predictably the ‘keeper then stares at the turf where he slipped as if expecting to see a carelessly discarded banana skin which would explain away his embarrassment. The scoreboard dies; we do not see it re-illuminated all afternoon. The Brentford fans chant “Come on Brentford, Come on Brentford” which seems a bit superfluous because their team are doing fine, they just haven’t scored, and it seems that that sentence fragment is missing the word ‘yet’ on the end.
The Ipswich fans have to seek happiness where they can in a situation like this and helpfully the Bees number nine, Neal Maupay lies still on the ground after Jordan Spence brushes past him to win the ball. Receiving no free-kick Maupay jumps up quickly, too quickly, to remonstrate with the referee Mr Oliver Langford, thus proving his guilt as a diver and a cheat and according to the North Stand a “wanker” too. Maupay is a recent signing from France’s finest club St Etienne (although he was on loan at Stade Brestois last season) and being born at Versailles, although presumably not in the palace, he is French, so he may not have understood the word; for future reference the French translation for wanker would be branleur.
Maupay’s histrionics are perhaps a sign of The Bees growing sense of frustration and at about twenty-five to three that is increased as David McGoldrick runs into the penalty box and falls to the ground under a challenge; as everyone turns to the referee to see him signal no penalty, the ball and Town’s Martyn Waghorn are seemingly the only objects to keep moving and ‘Waggy’ joyously sweeps the ball past the Brentford goalkeeper to give Town a lead which, on the balance of attacking play is somewhat unexpected and undeserved. But the ‘balance of play’ has never counted for anything and probably never will unless the big six clubs in the Premier League consistently begin to lose every week despite having the ‘balance of play’.
Buoyed to ridiculous proportions by the goal, the North Stand fans break into a chorus of the folk song The Wild Rover , singing “ Ipswich Town, Ipswich Town FC, they’re the finest football team the world has ever seen” . This is a song not heard at Portman Road in some time and it stirs memories of the early 1980’s when the words rang true. Meanwhile the Bees have been stung into action and a very, very firmly struck shot hits the Ipswich cross bar with such force that the woodwork springs up and down in blurry resonance and I surmise that had an unsuspecting seagull been sat upon it, the unfortunate bird would have been catapulted up over the roof of the stand. Despite continuing Brentford possession of the ball, Ipswich do not yield and can enjoy their half-time teas and reflect on being in the lead.
I enjoy half-time by eating a Traidcraft mixed berries chewy cereal bar, which I did not purchase in the ground because such ethically sourced snacks are not available from the club’s food and drink outlets. With a captive audience, football clubs could prioritise the sale of locally and ethically sourced products, but they don’t, perhaps because they just don’t care. Later I muse upon a pitch- side advertisement at the far end of the ground for Red7 Marine who, apparently, are ‘jack-up barge specialists’. Do many football supporters often require the services of a jack-up barge specialist? Is this a good place to advertise? What is a jack-up barge? I conclude that there are many things in this world of which I have no understanding. God bless Google and their tax dodging ways, they will explain.
Fortunately the second half begins, although once again it’s Brentford who are buzzing while Ipswich just drone on, sportingly kicking the ball back to their guests to give them another go. But then at about ten past four Ipswich win a corner and Joe Garner’s diving header is cleared off the goal line; except that it’s not, because the ball has crossed the line and a slightly delayed celebration signifies that Ipswich now lead by two-goals to nil.
The spectators in the lower tier of the North Stand, who last season berated manager Mick McCarthy for this ‘shit football’ now become either self-deprecatingly ironic or simply overcome with such deep joy that they lose all sense of self-awareness and, rather endearingly, to the tune of the children’s song Skip to My Lou, they chant “Super, Super Mick, Super, Super Mick, Super, Super Mick, Super Mick McCarthy”. I imagine Mick McCarthy would find this amusing whilst muttering under his breath “duplicitous bastards”.
The game returns to its familiar pattern with Brentford players kicking the ball from one to another and occasionally to a Town player. Ipswich attack now and then as possession of the ball permits, but defend mostly and they do this very well indeed. Brentford pass the ball neatly, but they seem to be playing without forwards; Maupay is mopey and is booked. Ipswich are probably as likely to score as Brentford, although it’s not that comfortable an experience to watch for Town fans. I am struck by how much the Brentford number six resembles the FA Cup with his fashionable short back and sides haircut accentuating his sticky-out ears.
Happily Town are hanging on to win the match and the crowd appreciate their efforts, for this is a much weakened team missing all the club’s recognised senior centre-halves and two or three first choice midfield players. Naturally the majority of the crowd do not chant their appreciation in the traditional manner of football spectators, because this is Ipswich where voices are weak and people a bit shy, but there are bouts of rhythmic clapping; I am reminded of John Lennon telling the audience in the expensive seats at the Royal Variety Performance to rattle their jewellery to show their appreciation.
With the final whistle from the bonny Mr Langford, a wave of relief flows from the stands and the tannoy blares out the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over”; the only explanation for which must be that Town’s next match (a League Cup tie) is at Crystal Palace and that’s what they do there. Personally, I prefer the cover version by The Rezillos.
That’s five consecutive victories and the two-fingers raised to those who lacked the faith and the understanding of what it is to be a football supporter and therefore failed to renew their season tickets grows larger, although they will doubtless claim vindication as soon as Town inevitably do lose. Branleurs.