An evening match at Portman Road and it’s not worth going home after work, so I stay a little later, but not that late and then take ‘tea’ in St Jude’s Tavern. My walk to St Jude’s takes me past Portman Road where the scene is being set for later in the evening. It’s half past five so darkness already shrouds the streets, but the bright white strip lights inside the Bobby Robson stand already illuminate it, and a silent expectation spills down in to Sir Alf Ramsey Way. Isn’t it daft that the Sir Bobby Robson stand is in Sir Alf Ramsey Way and the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is at the other end of the ground? In Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Portman Road three burger vans are set-up; like the lights inside the stand they spill out a neon glow and with the absence of diners they possess a harsh, stark sadness, like paintings by Edward Hopper.
A gaggle of stewards head for their evening’s work of standing about in hi-vis jackets and the local newspaper ‘goodie bags’ are being lined-up on the pavement.
I pass by quickly and have soon ordered a chicken a mushroom pie (although the barman said it was steak and kidney) and a pint of Cliff Quay Powder Monkey, a bitter, for a fiver. I sit and read for a short while as I eat and sup my beer before I am joined by a friend who buys me a pint of Cliff Quay Anchor (£3.40) which I prefer to the Powder Monkey. As usual the St Jude’s is being patronised by pre-match drinkers, but not packed out by them, which is good because it’s not a very big pub. My friend and I discuss the scandal that is Universal Credit, the Budget, living in France, my friend’s heart condition, and haircuts; I order another pint of Anchor and my friend, whose name is Mick, as in Mills, Hill, McCarthy and Jagger has a half.
Glasses drained and farewells said I find myself in Portman Road, it’s not very busy, but then the game is on the telly and Ipswich ‘supporters’ are quick to abandon their club when the going gets tough, even though prices are reduced to a very reasonable £15 all over the ground tonight; as a season ticket holder I feel a little cheated by that. Entry into the ground offers nothing of note tonight, but the stand is pitted with empty seats, it seems likely that many deserted the cheap seats tonight due to that special offer. There are plenty of supporters from Sheffield, well over a thousand and despite being from the city of the Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and The Human League they hit on Depeche Mode’s “ I just can’t get enough” as their anthem from the start; frankly I am disappointed.
The match kicks off and the ball is soon in the air and the game isn’t as beautiful as the publicity or Pele say; there’s a lot of pushing and shoving. There’s not too much to excite and therefore the Ipswich fans are quiet, whilst the more effusive people of South Yorkshire continue to show no regional loyalty moving seamlessly from Depeche Mode to Jeff Beck with a rendition of “Hi Ho, Sheffield Wednesday…” although without ever finishing the lyric; they must just like the fact that those four words scan so neatly. With the Ipswich supporters typically silent, it takes just fourteen minutes before the Wednesdayites appropriate a bit of opera to sing “Is this a library”, as all but the very smallest and quietest gatherings of away supporters do at Portman Road, and justifiably so.
Eventually, after twenty minutes or so, Ipswich have a couple of shots which inspire their supporters to launch into a few dull, atonal chants of “Blue Army”. Sheffield Wednesday dominate possession, as most teams do against Ipswich, but in the English second division that counts for nothing as few teams are capable of converting possession into goals. Ipswich are doing okay. Then it’s half time and I wander dispiritedly beneath the stand, worried as ever by the ageing demographic of Ipswich’s supporters. I toy with the idea of sitting somewhere else for the second half, but my enthusiasm has been sucked from me by the stiflingly silent attitude of the home crowd and I return to my own seat amongst the living dead to continue this passionless marriage with the club that once moved me.
The second half begins as the stomping “Singing The Blues” fades from the tannoy and the Sheffield Wednesday fans take up the tune with a gusto unknown in Ipswich, though for their own wicked purposes of encouraging their team. But within three minutes Ipswich score; Joe Garner tapping the ball simply and easily into the net at the far post after a corner is headed across goal. Now that Ipswich are winning, Ipswich supporters in The Bobby Robson Stand can be heard supporting their team and things are looking up; Ipswich are playing pretty well. It’s all a bit a shock therefore when fifteen minutes later Ipswich’s Jordan Spence mindlessly, needlessly and almost invisibly handles the ball to gift Sheffield Wednesday a goal from the penalty spot. Happily Martyn Waghorn restores Ipswich’s lead with a looping header about five minutes later and Ipswich continue to be the more effective team, even if they still don’t possess the ball as often as Sheffield.
The mood is uncharacteristically upbeat although of course you couldn’t say the stadium is reverberating to the sound of passionate support; “The noise, the passion, the sense of belonging” that Bobby Robson said defined a club remain elusive in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand . Portman Road will never rival St Etienne’s Stade Geoffrey Guichard as “The Cauldron” ; not so much Le chaudron as le cemetiere.
The final twenty minutes see substitutions borne of desperation from Sheffield and fear of losing from Ipswich. Sheffield resort to an enormous bearded Kosovan, Atdhe Nuhui, who is 1.96m tall. Ipswich resort to trying to keep the ball in the far corner of the pitch rather than continuing to play proper football, which could bring a third goal. In the final seconds of the match Ipswich lose the ball, Wednesday break away, cross the ball and the giant Kosovan heads the ball into the top corner of the goal. The game finishes and the Ipswich ‘supporters’ break their Trappist vows to boo, forgetting most of the previous ninety four minutes and preferring to concentrate on the final disappointing seconds. It does feel like defeat but heck most of the people here are old enough to have seen this all before; I am.