Ipswich Town 1 Arsenal 0 – Our Blue Heaven

It’s Saturday May 6th 1978, I will be eighteen in about seven weeks’ time and today I am going to the FA Cup final. I am going with my dad; we were two of the 24,207 who saw Town beat Hartlepool United in the fourth round of the FA Cup and the 29,532 who witnessed the 3-0 win in the fifth round replay against Bristol Rovers; we went to the semi-final at Highbury on a supporters’ coach from Shotley. We saw Landskrona Bois, Las Palmas and Barcelona at Portman Road back in the autumn and have seen about a dozen league games on top of that, so we had the requisite vouchers to get tickets for the final. But this morning my father has woken up feeling unwell; he doesn’t think he’ll be up to going to Wembley and so for my friend Tim who lives five doors away, it’s his lucky day. I walk along the street, knock on his front door and ask if he wants to come to the FA Cup final; he does. Tim’s dad Charlie will this evening deliver a bottle of sherry by way of a thank you.
I listen to a few selected tracks from Blondie’s first album ‘Blondie’ (released in December 1976 )as I get ready to go; ‘Look good in Blue’ seems apposite this bright morning as does ‘In the sun’ with its lyric “In the sun , we’re gonna have some fun”. We get to Ipswich railway station somehow; on the 202 bus, or does someone give us a lift? Ticket to WembleyFrom Ipswich we are on a special chartered train that turns right at Stratford and plots a course through north London round to Wembley Central. In Wembley Stadium the terrace steps at the tunnel end are much bigger and steeper than those in Churchman’s or in front of the East Stand, blue and white abounds. The sun shines and Arsenal, wearing yellow and blue, kick off with Ipswich playing towards that blue and white tunnel end. Paul Mariner hits the cross bar, John Wark twice shoots against a post, Pat Jennings saves acrobatically from George Burley, Paul Mariner misses, bigmouth Malcolm McDonald is rubbish, Clive Woods is brilliant, David Geddes crosses, Willie Young is a lumbering donkey, Roger Osborne scores, we cheer, we sing, Roger Osborne is substituted for Mick Lambert, Town win and Mick Mills lifts the FA Cup and turns to show it to us.
Back at Wembley Central railway station after the match a half-brick or a stone bounces off the window of our train as we wait to depart back to Ipswich. Arriving back in Ipswich, Tim and I celebrate with a couple of pints of Tolly Cobbold bitter in the Railway Tavern on Burrell Road as we wait for a lift home in Tim’s dad’s green Morris Minor 1000.

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Forty years and eighteen days later it’s a dank evening in Ipswich, I have been to work, visited my mum, parked up in Portman Road and arrived at the New Wolsey theatre, which didn’t exist in 1978, although there was repertory theatre in Tower Street. I am with my wife Paulene. My father has been dead for nine years, happily his cause of death was unrelated to his illness of 6th May 1978, he enjoyed almost 21 years of good health subsequent to that and made it to the UEFA Cup final second leg in Amsterdam. Tim now lives in Weymouth and oddly he still only gets to see the Town when I get him a ticket (this season we went to Brentford). The Railway Tavern has been demolished; the green Morris Minor was scrapped long ago. But the name of Ipswich Town is still inscribed on the plinth of the FA Cup.
My seat at the Wolsey theatre tonight is in the front row of the auditorium, my wife Paulene is sat in the row behind; she sat behind to give me more legroom. The production is so popular we couldn’t get two seats together. We are the first people in the auditorium, Paulene’s asthma means she needs time to acclimatise. I read the programme (£4) and think “Cup final prices”. The stage is just a metre in front of me, the ‘boards’ are under a green covering patterned to look like turf. At the back of the stage a pair of blue doors look like the doors at the back of the old North Stand, above them is a projection of the type of corrugated cladding also redolent of the old North Stand. But there was never a sign that said ‘Welcome to Portman Road’ back then, there isn’t now. Also part of the projection is the old Ipswich Town crest, the slightly imperfect yellow and blue one, which should be restored out of respect to the past and to John Gammage who won the competition to design a distinct crest for the club back in 1972.41429848635_33f2609053_o
I watch the ‘crowd’ as the auditorium fills up to the sounds of assorted 1970’s pop hits, nostalgic but mostly awful. The majority of people here seem to be my age or older, old enough to have witnessed the 1978 Cup final. A few people are sporting blue and white scarves; one man wears a bright red blazer as if he’s just got here from Butlins. In the front row are three young lads, pre-teens, one of them wears a parka which lends an unexpected layer of 1970’s authenticity. Paulene says she feels cold, I say if I’d known she was going to I would have brought a blue and white bobble hat for her.
The lights dim and tonight’s performance of ‘Our Blue Heaven’ begins with Blondie’s “Hanging on the telephone” played live as the soundtrack to a domestic scene in which a young couple, Mel and Scott arrange their wedding for Saturday 6th May 1978, and then the draw for the third round of the FA Cup is announced. I resist the temptation to put my hand up to point that Blondie’s Parallel Lines album, from which ‘Hanging on the telephone’ was taken as a single would not be released until September 1978. I am not really a pedant and whilst I may not always like it, I do understand the concept of artistic licence and have been known to use it myself; I deny all accusations that it was merely lying.
Mel’s sister Sue is a dedicated and faithful Town fan and from the start foresees that she will want to be at Wembley on May 6th. Meanwhile, in a parallel story Smudger and Ange are awaiting their first child, with Ange’s ‘expected date of confinement’ surprisingly enough being 6th May, although the nurse at the hospital, who happens to be Mel and Sue’s mum Sheila tells them that babies never arrive on time. Smudger is as committed a Town fan as Sue and is predictably torn between his love for the Town and supporting his wife.
The simple domesticity portrayed is all a bit ‘Play for Today’, particularly when it transpires that Mel and Sue’s dad Paul is a striking fireman, whilst Scott’s dad Brian is a Thatcherite policeman; and that just adds to the authenticity and feel that it is 1978. I am transported back in time on a wave of Nostalgia (from the Buzzcocks Love Bites album and like Blondie’s Parallel Lines, also not released until September 1978, but also sadly not in the show).
Scenes from the two families’ stories are spliced with Town’s progress through each round of the FA Cup introduced by popular songs of the time, Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, Patti Smith’s ‘Because the night’, something or other by the Bee Gees. For the sixth round trip to Millwall the band plays the Clash’s London Calling, at which point I really do want to put my hand up because the Clash’s album was not released until December1979, a whole 20 months later. I only hold back when London Calling runs into White Riot, which is much more temporally authentic having been released as a single in March 1977, and a cracking tune to boot.
For each match a group of male and female dancers act out the crucial on-pitch events to the background of the songs and a BBC radio style commentary. My friend Gary texted me before the performance to tell me there was just one thing he did not like about the production and later he will tell me that it was the football sequences. Re-creating football well is notoriously difficult to do, as proven by awful films such as Yesterday’s Hero, in which incidentally the football sequences were filmed at half-time during a game at Portman Road; this is why I don’t consider that the director really bothered to do so. The dancers don’t look like footballers and they are only dancing, creating an impression through movement; they could have been supporters recreating the goals, children doing so in the school playground, and that is authentic. So Gary, you are wrong and need to brush up on your critiquing skills.
The intertwined stories of the families and the FA Cup run are good ones, there is drama, pathos, human emotion aplenty, humour and of course a happy ending. But the thread that runs through the production is the character of Bobby Robson who intermittently comes on to the stage like some sort of visiting angel wearing a series of 1970’s style suits and coats, imparting words of wisdom and assorted homilies about football and the wider experience of our lives beyond. As if this isn’t enough, the actor playing him, Peter Peverley does so brilliantly, better even than Michael Sheen’s rendering of Brian Clough in The Damned United. Peverley has the accent which is easy enough, and he has perfected the mannerisms too, but more than that he has captured the slight hoarseness in the voice, it’s almost uncanny. He wears a pretty bad wig though.
The finale to the production has the marriage, the birth and the FA Cup final taking place on stage simultaneously following the singing of Abide With Me, the Cup final hymn since 1927; a maudlin little number but a cracker nevertheless because it is the Cup final hymn and has been marinated in 90 years of Cup final history. Being sat right at the front, my view is now partly obscured by some of the on stage props, so I watch the audience. People who know the words sing along with Abide With Me, whilst others hold their scarves aloft. It is likely that many of the people here, like me were at the Cup final in May 1978 and are part of the story, but this makes people feel involved all over again, it’s nostalgia with knobs on, re-enacting the past, albeit part fictional, but this is somehow how it felt.
The story ends and it truly feels like Town have won the FA Cup all over again, and then Roger Osborne, the personification of the day because he scored the winning goal enters the stage, inevitably to a standing ovation. The ultimate finale however, comes with the cast all assembled on stage with Bobby Robson leading us in a sing-song, some Cup final community singing of our own; a rousing rendition of Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown. It’s bloody marvellous and everything that matches at Portman Road no longer seem to be, utterly joyous. I give it my all.
I have had a most marvellous evening and for much of it I am not ashamed to admit I have had a tear in my eye. I have been taken back in time, but don’t know if I’m tearful for my lost youth and the passing of the days when Ipswich Town was such a wonderful football club and team, and when the FA Cup was something that really mattered, or if these are tears of joy and happiness, for a love of my team and a sense of belonging that has been re-kindled.
Nostalgia is warm and cosy, but it’s not a healthy thing, because we cannot go back and we have to live in the present; but tonight after watching Our Blue Heaven I genuinely feel uplifted.
My name is Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown
I’m a football supporter of Ipswich Town
Wherever they play, you’ll find me
I haven’t missed a game since I was three
With me scarf and me rattle and me big rosette
Singing where was the goalie when the ball went in the net
Follow the Town
Up or Down
I’m Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown but everybody calls me Ted.

Football, Football,
Whose the greatest of them all,
Let’s put it to the test
Come to Portman Road on a Saturday and you’ll see the best
Oi!
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!

My name is Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown
I’m a football supporter of Ipswich Town
Wherever they play, you’ll find me
I haven’t missed a game since I was three
With me scarf and me rattle and me big rosette
Singing where was the goalie when the ball went in the net
Follow the Town
Up or Down
I’m Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown but everybody calls me Ted.

2-4-6-8 who de we appreciate?
It isn’t hard to tell
Just you take a closer look at me
And you’ll know darn well
Oi
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!

La la la
La lala la lala lalala
Lala lalala la lala lalala
La lalala lalala, and lots more lalalaing, you get the picture ?

 

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