I haven’t seen Ipswich Town play since the 1-1 draw with Norwich City in early September. Three weeks house-sitting in Paris and watching the other-worldly football of Paris Saint Germain (see previous posts) and I am pining for the prosaic drudgery of Championship football with its ceaseless reliance on running about and winning free-kicks to play set–pieces because no one has the vision or skill to have confidence enough to score goals through open play. It’s probably why managers, including our own Paul Hurst sadly, play ‘one-up front’. Why waste a player trying to score in open play when you can have extra insurance against unexpectedly conceding a goal. Well, that’s what it looks like to me.
But Ipswich Town have been my team since 1971 and I have missed them these last few
weeks. With gladness in my heart therefore, I set off for the train to Ipswich. My joy is doubled today because I am sharing the experience with my wife Paulene, courtesy of the generosity of Ipswich Town who have allowed me as a season ticket holder to buy four additional tickets for just ten pounds each, although if truth be told that’s only a fair price, not a cheap one.
We board the train through the first set of sliding doors and after Colchester share the carriage with just one other fellow traveller. It’s a pleasant journey as the lowering autumn sun streaks through the trees on the embankments to lay dappled, diffused sunlight on the carriage window.
Unusually it’s a twelve carriage train and our arrival in Ipswich feels like we are halfway to Needham with a lengthy walk down Platform 3. There are police on the platform, two dodgy looking blokes with stubble and tattoos, not very Dixon of Dock Green at all, even though we think they are with the Met’ because today Town are playing a London team, Queen’s Park Rangers.
Outside the station the Queens Park Rangers supporters are enjoying the beer garden of the Station Hotel, which no doubt equally enjoys their custom. Behind the pub the River Orwell is glassy and still, a beautiful mirror to reflect the ugly metal sheds and wasteland that squat on its northern bank waiting to be re-developed. Further on in the car park of what was once Churchman’s factory a lady sells coffee from the back of a van.
Paulene has an espresso (£1.80). Like Paulene the lady visits Portman Road once a year with her husband, just to humour him. In Portman Road, it’s gone half past one, but the turnstiles are not open yet and weirdly keen people are standing, waiting for them to do so. People with buckets collect money for the RNLI whilst others look at the statue of Bobby Robson, which has been adorned with scarves and flowers in response to the recent death of the man generally considered to be Town’s best ever player, Kevin Beattie. The scarves around Sir Bobby’s legs make it look as though if he tried to take a step forward, he might fall over.
We head for St Jude’s Tavern as is my tradition; I have a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which today is Black Hole Bitter from the Black Hole Brewery in Burton-On-Trent; Paulene has a glass of Rose (£2.50). I speak with the man at the table next to us about the recent games I have missed and share news of the team with him and the other blokes at his table when it appears on my mobile phone; there is general consternation that there will again be a right-back (Janoi Donacien) at left back and just one player ‘up front’ (Freddie Sears). The mood is not one of joy, but we should be able to do okay against Queens Park Rangers, shouldn’t we? They have fourteen points, we have just nine but we’ve scored more goals and conceded fewer.
I have another pint of Black Hole Bitter before we head back down Portman Road. At the junction with Sir Alf Ramsey Way I buy a copy of Turnstile Blue fanzine from a young boy who takes my money but needs a parent to prompt him to hand over the fanzine in exchange, kids today eh? We pass through the turnstiles and take up our seats to a soundtrack from the PA system of Queen‘s “Don’t stop me now”. Indeed, I am having such a good time. Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with his young son Elwood; Paulene is very pleased to see them, I think it’s why she agreed to come today. Pat from Clacton is absent today however. Next to me sits a young man with learning difficulties, he says hello and I introduce myself; we shake hands, his name is Matthew and he thinks Town will win 1-0.
The teams line up to some mournful music (I think it’s from a film) before hurrying off into huddles and the music gets more upbeat thanks to Neil Diamond and then the game begins; QPR get first go with the ball and are aiming in the direction of Matthew, me, Paulene, Elwood and Phil. Ipswich wear their blue shirts with white sleeves, blue socks and white shorts; it could be a smart kit but sadly the red adidas stripes and trim and hideous ‘Magical Vegas’ logo make the ensemble look a terrible mess. QPR wear vigorously pink shirts and socks with black shorts, very metrosexual. The scene is a Fauvist riot of colour beneath a clear pale blue sky. As the game starts Matthew is quick to encourage, “Come on Ipswich, Come on!” he shouts.
The first foul, within two minutes of the kick-off, is on Town’s Gwion Edwards by QPR’s Jake Bidwell and the first few minutes are messy and inconclusive as the players seem to try and work out what to do with this strange plastic-coated spherical object at their feet. The QPR supporters (we will later be informed that there are 1,338 of them) are in good
voice, fuelled by liquids from the Station Hotel no doubt. They sing something about being the pride of somewhere, possibly west London; but either their diction isn’t very good or my hearing is letting me down. But I manage to make sense of “ Come on you R’s!” . “ Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Seven minutes pass and QPR win the game’s first corner; there is a scrum of players on the goal line. This isn’t football, it’s like children jostling one another to be first onto the school bus, but referee Mr Geoff Eltringham doesn’t seem too bothered about it. His laissez-faire attitude seems to say “It’s your own game you’re ruining”. QPR win another corner, which Israeli Tomer Hemed heads over the bar from close to the goal. “Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Ipswich aren’t doing much, but QPR win another corner as Luke Chambers heads the ball back limply and forces Dean Gerken to save a shot from Pawel Wszolek. From the corner the ball arcs into the top far corner of the goal off the flailing glove of Dean
Gerken and Ipswich are losing. “Come On Ipswich!” shouts Matthew, this time with a hint of frustration. In the Cobbold Stand and North or Sir Bobby Robson Stand spectators shield their eyes from the lowering sun, or it could be from what they are seeing on the pitch.
Shamelessly stealing the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B, the celebrating QPR fans now sing “We’re winning away, We’re winning away, How shit must you be? We’re winning away.” They have a point. Ipswich supporters offer little in return by way of encouragement for their team, although there is some occasional half-hearted banging of a drum in the North Stand and the odd brief chant drifts off up into the afternoon sky.
Providing an accurate musical commentary for the afternoon, the QPR fans sing “No noise from the Tractor Boys” to the tune of the Village People’s Go West. “Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Ipswich are displaying a worrying lack of both skill and tactics and it takes until gone three-thirty for Gwion Edwards to provide the first action of any interest as he makes a darting run forward and crosses the ball. This is the start of what in the context of what they have done so far is a good spell for Town. Trevoh Chalobah makes a run down the right and crosses to Grant Ward who is unmarked inside the penalty area. With consummate ease Ward slices the ball wide of the goal as he languidly strikes it ‘first time’. People groan. A couple of minutes later Gwion Edwards draws warm applause from a crowd clearly still harbouring optimism deep down as he has a cross blocked just a fraction of a second after the ball leaves his boot. “Come On Town!” shouts Matthew, still optimistic too.
Half time is near and QPR win what is their sixth or seventh corner of the half and then win another. The ensuing mess in the penalty area sees QPR’s Eberechi Eze stretch for the ball but not control it, but then the straining leg of Aristote N’Siala makes contact with him and although the contact was unintentional and had no bearing on what Eze did or would do next, it’s a penalty. Geoff Eltringham seems to point almost apologetically to the penalty spot. As the penalty is taken Dean Gerken moves to his right and then stops to look back over his shoulder and see where Tomer Hemed has actually kicked the ball.
It’s 2-0 to QPR and it’s time for a welcome break.
To keep my strength and spirits up for what will no doubt be a testing second half I eat a Panda brand stick of liquorice before visiting the toilet facilities and speaking with Ray, who like Paulene is wearing a parka today, because although it’s bright there is a nip in the air and we are sat in the shade. Paulene is pleased to meet Ray, because she’s heard a lot about him. I look about to see what I can see and notice a tambourine in the window
of the crowd control box above the players’ tunnel. I can only surmise that it was confiscated from someone trying to support the team; as I know to my cost (see Ipswich Town v Wigan Athletic post) such plans can only end badly, but I brought it on myself I was told. Above me on the stand roof I am amazed to see that the buddleia which I had admired for so long during so many dull moments has gone! I am slightly saddened by what seems like the passing of an old friend. But this is the strongest indication yet that the “New Era” under Paul Hurst is for real.
Town begin the second half and quickly hoof the ball into touch, losing possession. When Town do win the ball back it’s not for long and the old girl behind me vents her frustration “They can’t even kick it to one of their own” she says dismissively. QPR add to their corner count and then claim the afternoon’s first booking after Joel Lynch poleaxes Freddie Sears, who is Elwood’s favourite player. Whilst foul play is a ‘bad thing’, usually a team chasing a game like Ipswich are would collect a couple of bookings, just through over-enthusiasm. Today however, Town seem not only too sluggish to win a tackle, but too sluggish to even make a late tackle, the unfortunate exception being N’Siala’s in the penalty area. Town are playing so poorly it feels like they’ve achieved something when the QPR goalkeeper is the player with the ball; his name incidentally is Joe Lumley which makes Paulene and me think of Patsy Stone and Purdey and Matthew shouts “Come On Town”
An hour of the game has gone and a Chalobah cross leaves Edwards with a free header which he directs straight at Lumley, but it’s probably Town’s first effort on target. The shadows are lengthening inexorably and most of the pitch is now in shade, the drop in temperature brings the damp out of the heavily watered pitch and the smell of the turf greets my nostrils arguing the case against 3G pitches. Almost as inevitably as the creeping shade, QPR win more corners and Matthew shouts “Come on Town”.
Town make a couple of unpopular substitutions and it feels like Mick McCarthy never left; Gwion Edwards and Grant Ward, the two ‘wingers’ are replaced by two forwards, Kayden Jackson and Jack Lankester who is in the Under 18s team. The crowd are losing patience. “That black bloke is crap” Matthew tells me. “What Toto?” I ask unnecessarily, because all afternoon Toto has been noticeably poor at passing the ball and giving away penalties, well, a penalty, but one is too many. The new blood helps a little for a minute or two and Town briefly show some more urgency and win some free-kicks in what would be threatening positions if Neymar was in the team. But Town waste them, failing to even get a shot in on goal. Matthew and his carer leave before the final whistle.
Pretty much any Town player you can name will have justifiably had his detractors this afternoon. “Look at the state of him!” says the old girl behind me with conviction. “That flippin’ Chalobah is completely useless”. Nevertheless, a cross he makes, which goes behind the goal, draws applause; odd. Shamefully, there are even a couple of thankfully shy sounding choruses of “What a load of rubbish” from the North Stand. As QPR seemingly achieve a new world record number of corners I shout “McCarthy Out!”, but I don’t think anyone gets the joke.
The final whistle is a relief for everyone, but a good number of people cannot resist booing. The capacity of Ipswich supporters to stay silent through the ninety minutes of a match, never uttering a word of encouragement, only to find the breath to boo at the end never, ever ceases to disappoint. Fortunately, I was sat next to Matthew who showed himself to be a true supporter, even if he did think Toto N’Siala was crap and leaving before the end wasn’t his decision. But, as a man called Tim said to me as we left the stand “That wasn’t good enough”. At first I thought that was something of an understatement, but on reflection it’s all that needs to be said. We haven’t been relegated yet and there is time still to improve, even if there have been few if any signs of recovery today. But in true football-manager fashion I travel home ‘taking away the positives’ from today’s game. These were that I enjoyed two pints of fine beer and good conversation, it was a beautiful autumn day, I met Matthew and I shared the whole experience with my wife….except the beer that is, because she has a grain intolerance.