Today is the 30th December, the last Saturday of 2017 and I am travelling to Portman Road to witness the third game of the ‘Hectic Christmas Schedule’. It being Christmas week it doesn’t feel like a Saturday, but it definitely is and will no doubt bring the joy or despair to prove it.
The train is on time and peopled with passengers clearly going home after Christmas. A woman opposite me wears a woolly hat with a disproportionately large fluffy bobble; her jeans hug her calves but her knees are exposed through fashionable rips. Further down the carriage a woman bawls at her young daughter, ironically telling her to be quiet. It’s an average train journey.
It is a mild, bright and blustery day and on Princes Street in Ipswich the wind has torn some banners promoting the annual pantomime from their fixings on the lamp posts. Portman Road is its usual Saturday afternoon self as I walk along it. The turnstiles are not yet open and people who must have very little else to do indeed, queue by them. Burgers and buns are eaten, programmes are bought, blokes with strange ‘North meets the Midlands’ accents talk of the “Station Hotel or summat” where, as visitors to Ipswich they might be allowed to buy a drink.
In St Jude’s Tavern the usual collection of blokes is present, enjoying their pre-match beer. Today’s Match Day Special is Mauldon’s Silver Adder (£2) and that‘s what I drink before I am joined by my friend Mick; we talk of Christmas, travelling to Lille, Brussels and Paris by car or train and ‘top’ Parisian football clubs (PSG, Red Star, Paris FC, and Creteil; Entente SSG get forgotten). Mick admits that his one great regret is that he was born English or at least never went to live abroad. Mick makes a very good point about how people like to moan about their lot but never do anything about it. I am deeply unhappy about being an Ipswich Town supporter, but I write it down.
After another pint of Match Day Special (which has been changed to Crouch Vale Brewers Gold) and a half of Nethergate Old Growler (£1.80) later, I am descending Portman Road without any sense of anticipation or excitement. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I was only here on Tuesday. It’s a bit annoying to have to come back again so soon when what I saw on Tuesday was so awful.
Inside the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand (Churchman’s) is a pair of signs pointing the way for blood donors. Season ticket prices won’t be going up this year, but supporters will be required to donate a pint of blood each. I need to urinate and so visit the toilets. I wash my hands and use the blow dryer, which breathes warmly across my wet hands with the force of a chronic asthmatic. I take my seat and to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way’ the teams take to the field. ‘My Way’ was apparently Bobby Robson’s favourite song, but amusingly it could equally be the theme tune of current manager Mick McCarthy or the elusive and seemingly parsimonious club owner Marcus Evans. Is the club having a laugh at our expense?
Derby County begin the game, kicking towards the Sir Bobby Robson stand and wearing vile, day-glo yellow shirts and navy blue shorts. Quite why Derby feel the need to wear a change kit when their club colours of white shirts and navy blue shorts would not remotely clash with Ipswich’s blue shirts and white shorts is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, which probably has something to do with selling replica shirts. As the Town players shield their eyes, Derby dominate possession and their supporters are soon singing Verdi and enquiring in which part of the stadium they will find nineteenth century romantic novels.
The home crowd is of course quiet and become even quieter when Derby score a goal in the 13th minute, a header from a corner by a stocky bloke called Sam Winnall. Ipswich win three corners in the first half and a few free-kicks within sight of the Derby goal, but the home crowd offer nothing in the way of support for their team and it makes me feel quite angry. Ipswich are being outplayed, which isn’t what I want to see, but I can’t help thinking these people get the team they deserve. I shout and I chant, on my own.
At half-time I move seats to sit near Phil the ever-present fan and his son Elwood, but not before I eat a piece of Christmas cake that I had brought along to keep my spirits up. There are scores of empty seats and this is the cheap part of the ground, maybe it’s not cheap enough. Crazee the edgy, urban Suffolk Punch mascot struts his stuff in front us; if he’s trying to rally the supporters he’s almost literally flogging a dead horse. I think of a disturbing scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which a peasant flogs his feeble old horse to death in the street and onlookers join in. Crazee can add masochism to his list of edgy behaviours, which really only amount to wearing sunglasses and a hat which is on back to front.
A new half like a new year brings new hope, but that is soon dashed as Sam Winnall hits a long distance swerving shot into the top left hand corner of the goal that Ipswich are defending. I am virtually in perfect line with the shot and get a spectacular view of it as it hits the goal net. How lovely for me. A man behind me can’t contain himself and goes into raptures. But the goal doesn’t ‘do for’ Ipswich and the second half is a more even contest with Ipswich even pressing at times. A string of corners sees the electronic scoreboard flash “Come On You Blues”, but it must be tempting for the operator to type in “Go on, Sing you Bastards!” and I live for the day. Eventually, and in spite of the indifference of the crowd, Joe Garner heads the final corner into the net and Ipswich now only trail 2-1; a draw is a possibility. The silence in the stands is broken by cheers of joy; people stand and wave their arms about in happy abandon. At times thereafter there is some rhythmic clapping around the ground and some drumming in the Sir Bobby Robson stand, and the last twenty minutes are more enjoyable. The Derby supporters are quieter now as they worry whether their team will hang on, but they do.
Five minutes of added on time pass quickly by and referee Mr Oliver Langford, who awarded far too many free-kicks to Derby, calls time on another disappointing afternoon at Portman Road, which will doubtless fuel much rage, fury, wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media; if only people could channel their over-excitement about disappointing results into backing their team when they are actually playing.
Up The Town!