Brentford 1 Ipswich Town 0

My train is seven minutes late, which means that changing at Stratford to catch the 12:12 Jubilee Line service to Waterloo will require speed and alacrity. This is a shame and adds to my existing disappointment from when I bought my train ticket and the cheerless young woman at the station first tried to charge me a couple of quid more than the price I’d been quoted on the National Rail website. It turns out that there are two fares for the same journey, but apparently I didn’t want a ‘day return’ (£23.50) I wanted a ‘day travelcard’(£20.65 with a Goldcard). In reality I just wanted to go to Brentford and back as cheaply as possible, not caring what the ticket is called. Two companies, two prices it seems. The joyless woman’s excuse for not quoting me the lower price is that she doesn’t know where Brentford is. What idiot decided it was a good idea to split up a national rail network into separate private companies anyway?
When the train arrives it is busy and one of the few vacant seats is next to a grandmother, her daughter and two young grandchildren, not a choice of seat I would usually make. One of the children announces the names of all the stations, the other is fractious and often close to tears. The adults make more noise than she does however as they shush her and try to divert her attention from whatever upsets her. More passengers get on at Chelmsford, I feel the warm breath of a woolly looking dog on my hand as it is led down the aisle, my look of surprise makes the woman opposite me laugh. Another woman provides interest with her golden finger and toe nails, they’re a work of art worthy of Gustav Klimt.
The journey is tortuous; making the connection at Stratford I have to wait half an hour OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor the next connection from Waterloo. But Waterloo Station provides entertainment, I stand beneath its famous clock and a dishevelled, smelly man who holds a red lead at the end of which is a small, contented looking black cat, talks, but no one listens. From Waterloo to Brentford takes another half an hour, but provides glimpses of the gothic Palace of Westminster, the neo-classical Tate Gallery and Art Deco Battersea power station; later the train crosses the River Thames at Barnes Bridge, so it’s a lot of sight-seeing fun. Brentford station is dull, like the weather, but just outside a way finder sign announcesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘New map coming soon’ as if it’s been decided to replace the old map of Brentford with one of somewhere more exotic like Montmartre. The buses in this part of London are run by RATP, the company that runs Paris metro; another two-fingers to bloody Brexit.
Griffin Park is a proper football ground, surrounded by neat streets of terraced houses, like the one in which Mr Benn of Watch with Mother fame lived; I half expect to see him emerge from one, waving stiffly and sporting a red and white striped scarf and disproportionately large rosette. Walking down Clifden Road from the station all four metal floodlight pylons hove into view; it’s a sight to gladden the heart of any football supporter. I buy a programme (£3.50) and jokingly complain to the seller about extortionate metropolitan OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAprices. Someone sells Chilli Con Carne from beneath a gazebo in their front garden. The Griffin pub is on a corner near the away supporters’ entrance and it and the terrace of bay-windowed houses opposite are built of the warm, yellow stock brick that defines so much of London. Football supporters spill out from the pub and into the streets which crawl with fans of both clubs. There is a good feel about this place. Despite its Twickenham postcode, nominally Brentford is a London club, but its supporters don’t have the obnoxious conceit of most London fans. I stroll up Braemar Road past the main entrance to the ground, beyond which is the club shop; it looks like a 1920’s suburbanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA bungalow with its red and white painted gable. Naturally I take a look inside; if Chelsea has a ‘megastore’, this is more of a corner shop.
At the end of Braemar Road chalkboards on the wall of the Princess Royal pub welcome fans of both clubs before and after the game. Walking past the New Inn on the next corner of the ground I am welcomed and ushered in, but perhaps rudely I don’t stay because the beer is Greene King. I carry on down New Road and pass the Royal Oak pub and can still see the Griffin Park floodlights above the roof top along with a passing jet airliner, one of the hundreds that roar over about every two minutes during the day as they leave or arrive at Heathrow.
I return to The Griffin because it serves the local Fullers beers and despite the heaving throng at the bar I get served quite quickly with a 500 ml plastic cup of Fuller’s London Pride (£4.10); the name of the beer and its presentation sadly don’t really match up, but it says a lot about modern Britain. I go outside and lean on someone’s front wall to watch the pre-match activity unfold before me as I consume my beer. Before heading into the stadium I use the toilet inside the pub. There is an orderly and good-spirited queue at the three urinals. Somebody jokes as he pees that this will probably be the highlight of his afternoon, whilst someone else queues with a pint of lager in hand, as if he might just tip it straight into the urinal and cut out the middle man.
Today I am meeting Tim who I have known since 1965 and who is travelling up from Weymouth with a friend of his. The news is that due to engineering works Tim has had to travel via Westbury (Wiltshire) and due to an incident on a level crossing in Cornwall his train is delayed. He will arrive at Paddington not much before 3 o’clock and will have to get a taxi from there, missing the kick-off. I have his ticket. It’s a bit of a pickle, but I am hoping that I can leave the tickets for collection so that I don’t have to hang around outside and miss anything of the match myself. I speak with the steward at the away supporters entrance who is stood by a red flag which announces “Here to help”. Assuming it’s not the flag that’s the helpful one I ask the steward nearby if it would be possible to leave the tickets for collection; he refers me to the Stand Manager, a lady just a few metres away, who is extremely helpful and immediately says it will be no problem at all and I should leave the tickets with the steward who I just spoke to and let Tim know his ID number, number 277. I am deeply thankful and impressed by their straightforward efficiency; seems like it’s 1-0 to Brentford already.
In the small Brook Road stand, known by home fans as the ‘Wendy House’, most IpswichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA supporters are gathered in the centre of the terrace directly behind the goal, I find a mostly pleasant, uncrowded spot towards the New Road stand. The only drawback is a youth stood staring at the Brentford fans making a masturbatory gesture; if only he knew how silly he looks. The roof is low, which gives the small terrace a good atmosphere and there is some singing from the Ipswich supporters as the teams appear amidst a posse of photographers and assorted hangers-on including the club mascots. Brentford, known as the Bees, have two mascots named Buzzbee and Buzzette, not surprisingly both are bees, but Buzzette looks worryingly like a Golliwog.
After a minute’s applause for former England international Ray Wilkins who died this week, Ipswich kick off the game wearing all blue although their usual white shorts would not have clashed with Brentford’s red and white striped shirts and black shorts. It’s a colourful scene against the back drop of the plain stands and lush green turf. Brentford are kicking towards the Brook Road stand. Town defend the Ealig Road end with its impressive backdrop of grey Brutalist tower blocks off in the distance. The early exchanges are symptomatic of the usual rubbish served up in what is nowadays known as The Championship, as players whose levels of fitness and strength far exceed their levels of skill cancel each other out and the ball flies between them like a pin ball. Ipswich’s Jordan Spence is the first player to be booked by referee Mr Robert Jones and it is only a quarter past three.
Tim and his friend arrive about five minutes later, but the game doesn’t improve; why should it? Two blokes beside me seem to be discussing whether someone’s hair is permed or not. An Airbus 380 flies over. There is little vocal support for the team from the Ipswich fans but plenty of singing of “Mick McCarthy, Get out of our club” to the usual tune of Sloop John B. Haven’t they heard? He’s going at the end of the season. It doesn’t seem likely that he will suddenly bugger off in the first half of a match, does it? These people need to get over this and just get behind the team. But many Ipswich fans love to accentuate the negative.
As a Brentford ball beyond the Ipswich defence reaches the penalty area Town ‘keeper Bartosz Bialkowski and Town captain Luke Chambers collide and it looks like Chambers has ’done his shoulder’ as a result. Chambers is replaced by substitute Myles Kenlock; in terms of spectacle the collision is the highlight of the first half although it inevitably prolongs proceedings. It’s been an even first half with both teams as bad as one another, so it seems that it’s not only Mick McCarthy’s football that is, in the words of the song, ‘shit’.
The second half is much the same as the first, although Brentford improve and are having much more of the ball with Ipswich rarely venturing towards their own fans; but who can blame them. The negativity in the Brook Road stand turns up a notch with a new song. At first I think they’re singing “We’re the arseholes, we’re the arseholes, we’re the arseholes over here” but then it becomes clear that the words is numbskulls, not arseholes, a reference to Mick McCarthy labelling some supporters numbskulls in a recent interview. Numbskulls is a word that seems to resonate with these supporters for some reason, as if they have found their true identity and along with chants of “We hate Mick McCarthy” they sing “Mick McCarthy’s blue and white numbskulls”. But their negativity isn’t confined to Mick McCarthy as they also very unjustly dust off Sloop John B once again to sing “I wanna go home, I wanna go home, Brentford’s a shithole, I wanna go home” . Only a numbskull could label a football ground with a pub on each corner a “shithole”.
A bald-headed bloke stood next to me, who has been joining in with the numbskull chants remarks that it looks like being a goalless draw “Yeah, if we’re lucky” I reply, tuning in to the pervading negativity. We’re not lucky. To our left in the New Road stand, a simple pitched roof structure with a line of thirteen bright red metal stanchions that line the pitchside, there are about twenty middle aged blokes all in identical grey flatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA caps, all sat together in a couple of rows. At about twenty to five most of them get up and file out through the back of the stand. Shortly afterwards Town’s Jonas Knudsen naively bumps Brentford’s Sergi Canos who falls to the ground. Referee Roberts who seconds earlier ignored a similar incident in which Town’s Luke Hyam appeared to be pushed over, awards Brentford a penalty. As a huge Ginsters pasty rolls into view on the pitchside electronic advertisement hoardings, Brentford’s French former St Etienne forward Neal Maupay steps up to score, sending the ball gently into the right hand side of the goal as Bartosz Bialakowski dives obligingly to the left.
With Ipswich losing, the Town ‘supporters’ that bother to sing now give free reign to their unpleasant feelings and unleash Sloop John B yet again to proffer the standard complaint that Mick McCarthy’s football belongs in the toilet. No criticism of Knudsen is made, obviously Mick coaches him to give away penalties when he can. As the game rattles along towards its conclusion Ipswich finally get forward a little more and muscular Martyn Waghorn gets through a couple of times. Kenlock the substitute is in turn substituted as the need for more effective attacking players builds, and Town play with two wingers. The sun is now shining and on the bench, well off it really, because he always stands up, Mick has taken off his coat as if to confirm that he’s not going anywhere soon and to stick it to the numbskulls.
A final flurry from Town isn’t enough and despite four minutes of added on time the game is lost. We make a swift exit to the railway station. It hasn’t been a good game, the result doesn’t help and the Ipswich supporters and their obsession with moaning at Mick McCarthy has made it worse. But Brentford has been grand, it’s a lovely ground to visit, so I don’t begrudge them the win even though the penalty that secured it owed more to the referee than any foul. I shall keep my programme and match ticket to help me remember Griffin Park, just like Mr Benn would have.

 

 

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Ipswich Town 2 Millwall 2

It is Easter, a time for miracles, but on this bank holiday Monday it feels like it will be a miracle if there is any sunshine. Biblical stories have somehow collided this weekend and Noah and his Ark and possibly St Swithin have muscled in on the crucifixion with a deluge of rain. Perhaps however, it will result in a bumper bank holiday crowd at Portman Road as famished fans of local non-league football splurge the money saved on half a dozen recent postponements on one game of league football.
Nevertheless, it’s dry and almost warm today as I walk past queuing cars to the railway station; the road side ditches are full of water and the floating detritus ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA modern living, presumably flung from the windows of passing traffic. At the railway station the hedgerows are in bloom, suggesting that Spring is here in spite of the grey sky. Signs of re-birth abound, but outside the station a dead rook is propped against the fence as if it had suicidally nose-dived into the pavement.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The train is on time and I sit on the opposite side of the carriage to a man and a woman in their thirties, she appears to be staring into her handbag, but I discern she has a kindle inside it, whilst he peers relentlessly at his phone. They don’t speak. As arrival at Colchester is announced she looks up somewhat scarily at her partner, lifting her eyebrows high above her staring eyes and grinning, showing off her uneven teeth. They collect their belongings and alight. Behind me I hear munching and the brittle rustle of a crisp bag as a balding man in an Ipswich Town shirt devours a packet of crisps.
At Ipswich there is a heavier than usual police presence, with police vans lined up on theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA station forecourt and police in baseball hats stood about in pairs. Town are playing Millwall. Outside the Station Hotel, which is reserved for away supporters, there are blokes in dark flat caps and black jackets and dark blue jeans; this must be “the look” for your fashionable dockland geezer this year. They somehow make me think of Dick Van Dyke and his band of cheery chimney sweeps in Disney’s Mary Poppins. No one wears club colours. The

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Station Hotel is making the most of its boozy south London visitors and has provided a gazebo in the pub car park, possibly just to stop them from coming indoors. Across the bridge and over the river the car park behind the old maltings appears to have been taken over by ‘travellers’. I do not know if this is related to the arrival of Millwall supporters or is just another Bank Holiday tradition; I just hope they’ve paid and displayed.
As I turn the corner into Portman Road the Millwall team bus arrives, to no particular OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAexcitement; unlike with other clubs, no fawning supporters gather at the gates to welcome their heroes, I am guessing they have sussed that they won’t get even a glimpse of them, the blacked out windows of the bus making it more like an out-sized black maria. I walk on to St Jude’s Tavern, collecting a programme (£3) on the way; the vendor entreats me to enjoy the match; which is nice, and admirably optimistic.
At St Jude’s the regular pre-match drinkers are present; I get a pint of a dark ale, which IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA don’t remember the name of (£3.40) and take a seat at a table next to a group of blokes in their sixties. Talk is almost exclusively of football, Mick McCarthy’s departure, who might replace him and the ten percent cut in season ticket prices. One of the sextagenarians admits to me that he only bothers to come because of his discounted ticket and the promise of a pre-match beer. As a second pint I have the Match Day Special (£2.50) and then as a Bank Holiday treat a half of the Stour Strong Ale (£1.90). An hour passes quickly

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and it’s time to roll down Portman Road. The floodlights are on and seem to shine more brightly than the pale sun which struggles to make its presence felt through the grey cloud. Portman Road itself is busy with people in hi-vis coats, Zero the sniffer dog and fanzine sellers; I see three within a distance of about 15 metres all selling Turnstile Blue issue 17; I buy a copy (£1). A youth lolls against Sir Bobby’s plinth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There is a queue at the turnstiles into the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, but that’s because not all the turnstiles are open and the ticket of the person in front of me won’t scan correctly in the bar code reader.

 

Inside the enclosure of the ground there appears to be a sale in the

stall selling Matchday Essentials. I meet Dave the steward with whom I used to work at Royal Mail; he left Royal Mail last year and now has a nice little admin job calculating pay rises for NHS staff. The undercroft of the stand is clearing rapidly as strains of ‘My Way’ drift beneath the seating, a song made more poignant by Mick McCarthy’s confirmed forthcoming departure. I need a wee.
Relieved, I take a seat in the same row as Phil the ever-present supporter who never misses a game and the teams break free from their enforced hand-shaking to skip about and then form separate ‘group’ huddles; football managers don’t talk about the team any more they talk about ‘the group’. I wish one week someone would join the wrong huddle. Sadly, although they seem to like ‘banter’ I don’t think any footballers are that subversive.
Before the match begins there is a minute’s applause for former Town manager Bobby Ferguson and former player Colin Harper. I always felt sorry for Ferguson being the manager to follow Bobby Robson and having to preside over the break- up of the team as it was sold off to pay for the Pioneer Stand. As if that was not enough it was the grim early 1980’s, a time of Reaganomics, Thatcherism, Monetarism , general neo-liberal nastiness, big hair and shoulder-pads.
There are plenty of Millwall supporters here today and they are in predictably good voice. Their team has won something like seven consecutive away games and are after a record eighth, whilst Ipswich have not scored at home for five games and have scored just one goal at home all year. I can’t recall going to a game where the odds are so heavily stacked in Ipswich’s favour. The Millwall fans sing about somewhere, possibly OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASouth London, being wonderful on account of it being full of “tits, fanny and Millwall”, which is an interesting combination and not the sort of thing you’re likely to find mentioned on TripAdvisor when you’re looking for an Indian takeaway in Deptford.
The game begins with Ipswich kicking towards me, Phil and the other occupants of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. Millwall are in a change kit of all black with gold trim, a colour scheme which probably matches their bathrooms. Ipswich start well and get in some crosses from the right, but there is no one to direct them at the goal because Town sportingly play without a centre forward. Muscular Martyn Waghorn (Waggy) wears the number nine shirt for Town but he’s not really a centre forward like Rod Belfitt or Paul Mariner or even Mich D’Avray used to be. He plays in a deeper role but succeeds in winning free-kicks and annoying the opposition however, and within a few minutes the satisfyingly foul-mouthed Millwall fans have tunefully announced that “Waghorn is a wanker”. Having sung of lady parts and masturbation their thoughts inevitably turn anal and they become some of the quickest supporters this season to dust off their Welsh hymn books as they notice that “Your support is fucking shit”. The paucity of the Ipswich vocal support is indeed the ‘bread of heaven’ to most away fans. It took them less than seven minutes to notice and I worry that they will use up their canon of abusive songs before half-time.
There is now rain in the air and a few spits find their way beneath the high roof, which IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA am pleased to see still sports a fine growth of buddleia. The smell of the damp turf rises up with a chill and behind me Crazee the mascot bangs his drum, half-heartedly and unsuccessfully trying to inspire some support for the team. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAway in the corner of the North Stand also a drum is briefly drummed and a muffled chant or two is heard; Ipswich win a couple of corners, but the early rush of enthusiasm from Town has abated. Nevertheless, Millwall’s run of seven consecutive away wins is beginning to look like a fluke and then a cross from the left is headed in by someone in a number 35 shirt called Jake Cooper and Millwall are winning, and it’s not half-past three yet. I respond with a few choruses of “Allez les bleus” but only Phil joins in and then it’s half-time and the toilet beckons as I reap the consequences of an hour in St Jude’s Tavern imbibing fine ales.
Under the stand I stare at people staring at the TV screens bringing them the half-time

scores; I eat a stick of Panda liquorice hoping to tap into the curative and mystical powers alluded to on the Panda website. I look at the prices of snacks and beverages and at my match day programme. The cover of the programme sports a picture of Town number 25, Stephen Gleeson, a sullen, unhappy- looking man with scruffy, greasy hair and a patchy attempt at a beard and moustache. The words next to his head reveal that he has a debt to Mick McCarthy and that he nearly quit the English game. I hope he feels better now, because he’s played quite well so far today.
Back in the stand I say hello to Ray, who is here with his son and grandson and tells me to carry-on with the singing, even though nobody understands it. The teams re-emerge onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to the pitch to be applauded by Crazee the mascot; Ipswich have made a change, with number 34 Ben Folami, who isn’t even listed on the programme, replacing Myles Kenlock. Folami sports a tuft of bleached hair which makes him instantly recognisable from afar, which is what is needed on a grey afternoon like this. He has only ever played once before for the Town, in one of those Cup games, which we like to lose in order to concentrate on the league.
Folami looks keen and runs with the ball in the direction of the Millwall goal. This is a good thing and it’s not even a quarter past four before Folami, or possibly Waggy scores a scrappy equalising goal and then Waggy takes advantage of a generous back pass to give Town the lead. The Sir Bobby Robson (North) Stand find a voice and the Millwall supporters reveal through their own song that “we forgot you were here”; what cards! The Portman Road crowd hasn’t seen anything like this in years, well, certainly not in 2018 and only an innate fear of being accused of sarcasm stops many from bursting spontaneously into a warm chorus of “Mick McCarthy’s blue and white army”. Talk now is of how many we will score. Certified dead on Easter Saturday afternoon, having lost 1-0 at Birmingham and put in a tomb by Michael Joseph of Arimethea McCarthy, Town have miraculously been resurrected on Easter Monday.
No matter that just six minutes later a bloke called George Saville, an anachronistic sort of a name which sounds to me like he could have been a great train robber, equalises for Millwall and then he and his team mates miss a procession of chances to win the match. Town’s Cole Skuse is injured and emerges from a clutch of concerned players with his head bandaged to add some further drama before being substituted, and four Town players are cautioned by referee Steve Martin, who is definitely not ‘The man with two brains’. But it is an exciting afternoon of football at Portman Road and lately that has been a rare thing, even if the excitement by the end is mostly fuelled by Schadenfreude and willing Ipswich to just hold on to deny Millwall that record away win.
Such is the relief when ‘The Jerk’ blows the final whistle that I stay on to applaud the players from the field and perhaps say a final farewell to Mick McCarthy. Whatever people say about Mick, he was definitely better than Roy Keane and Town supporters will miss him because he was their excuse not to sing and shout in support of their team like proper football supporters do.