Thirty-eight years ago today, give or take ten days, Ipswich Town played Nottingham Forest in the sixth round of the FA Cup. I travelled up to Nottingham for the game, taking the train from Brighton where I was at university and then, having met up with three other Town fans in London, by Morris Minor 1000 up the M1. We spent the night in Nottingham after the match, ate mushy peas and chips, drank large quantities of Home Ales bitter, slept on a floor of someone we knew at Nottingham University and drove back down south the next day. Nottingham Forest were the reigning European Cup holders and in two months’ time Ipswich Town would win the UEFA Cup. They were happy times.
Today, both clubs languish in the second division, Town awaiting inevitable relegation whilst Forest struggle in vain for a play-off place; but they meet in the day’s only match between the former winners of European cup competitions. It is a dull, blustery, mid-March day and layers of grey cloud are stacked up overhead as I walk to the railway station. Blossom from the trees is blown into the gutter. I pass by a newspaper recycling bin and feel perplexed that it is considered necessary to paint a sign on it advising people not to climb inside. At the railway station I meet Roly; the train is on time. Roly shows me a short video on his mobile phone of his eighteen month old daughter kicking a ball. Roly is nothing if not a very proud father.
Arriving in Ipswich the weather hasn’t changed; Roly gets some cash from an ATM whilst a group of Ipswich supporters struggle to get a car park ticket from an automatic machine. We head down Princes Street towards Portman Road and on to St Jude’s Tavern. As usual people mill about aimlessly in Portman Road waiting for the turnstiles to open, they must retain the hope that one week they will open early, otherwise why get here early week after week after week? There is always hope.
At St Jude’s Tavern Roly has a pint of Nethergate Bulldog (£2.50) and I have a similar quantity of the Match Day Special, which once again is St Jude’s own attractively named Goblin’s Piss (£2.50), a name that St Jude’s should really offer to Greene King for their IPA. We sit at a table next to the usual retirees who meet here pre-match. We talk football. Another clutch of retirees arrives, “What do you recommend” one asks looking at the beer list, “That you clear off somewhere else” is the response. Statler and Waldorf live. Not entirely satisfied by the ‘tired’ condition of our first pints, Roly and I switch to Nethergate Venture (£3.40) for our second; it’s okay but a bit too ‘floral’ for my tastes.
At about twenty to three the pub begins to empty out and Roly and I leave too. He doesn’t admit it but I suspect Roly wants time to get something to eat, that’s the kind of guy he is. With fifteen minutes until kick-off Portman Road is busy but the club shop isn’t and I pop in, much as I might pop to the Co-op, and buy a programme, redeeming the 115 loyalty points I have accrued from previous purchases in the process. In the past week I have now enjoyed two free programmes (at Kirkley & Pakefield and Colchester United) and a cut-price one, I am feeling blessed and if this carries on I will soon have saved enough to retire; hopefully Brexit won’t happen and I can go and live in the south of France, although if it does happen that is probably all the more reason to move to the south of France, or anywhere.
There is no queue at the turnstiles, I smile and thank the moustachioed turnstile operator as I pass through. After a brief conversation with Dave the steward, a former work colleague, I use the toilet facilities and then take up my place alongside Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood. There are a lot of Nottingham Forest supporters here today (the score board will tell us during the second-half that there are 1,691 in a crowd of 16,709) and Phil recounts how he visited his mum in Newmarket this morning and as he left he even saw one heading for Newmarket railway station. The teams enter the field and my view is through the net of a practice goal which hadn’t been wheeled away before the concertina-like players’ tunnel was extended out to the corner of the pitch.
The game begins with Nottingham Forest getting first go with the ball and playing towards the Sir Bobby Robson Stand and Alderman Road rec’, they are wearing red shirts, shorts and socks. Town are in their customary blue and white kit, despoiled by an ugly advert for an on-line scamming organisation, a likely contributor to this season’s eventual relegation; they are aiming in the direction of me, Pat, Phil and Elwood, but hopefully a bit to our right. The Nottingham supporters are in very good voice regaling us with a lyrically altered version of Land of Hope & Glory that tells of how they hate a number of other clubs but love Nottingham Forest, it’s an old favourite and takes me back to the 1970’s; the old ones are the best I think, sounding like my late father and his father and probably his father before that. Enjoy your youth while you can Elwood, because one day you will be an old git too.
Barely five minutes pass and Town produce a quick move of short passes in front of the East of England Co-operative Stand and the lifeless souls that populate it; Gwion Edwards gets behind the Nottingham defence, delivers a low cross and like a magical genie the hard to hide Collin Quaner appears from nowhere to deftly stroke the ball into the goal to give Ipswich the lead. It was a most beautiful goal. I have heard so-called supporters say rude things about Collin Quaner but I like him, he’s German, he has the distinctive, exotic look of an Easter Island statue (minus the big ears), but most of all he plays for Ipswich Town and therefore he’s alright.
The goal gets the home crowd going for a short while, “Allez, Allez-Allez-Allez” some of us sing, enjoying the linguistic abilities that a meeting of two former European competition winners bring. The noise of the crowd rises and swirls around in the strongly gusting breeze. But by and by the enthusiasm recedes and that goal is one of the last exciting things that happens at my end of the pitch as Nottingham Forest go on to un-sportingly monopolise the remainder of the first half winning four corners to Town’s none and having eight shot to our two. It’s not long before the home crowd is quiet once again and the Nottingham Forest supporters can begin their goading. “One-nil, and you still don’t sing” they chant to the tune of the Village People’s “Go West”, but without the manly bravura of the original version. Exasperated perhaps by the lack of a reaction the Forest fans invoke the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B to sing “We’ll sing on our own, we’ll sing on own”, which is probably the sensible thing to do in the circumstances, before their attention then turns to an obese Town supporter to whom they sing “Fatty, Fatty, give us a song”. After enquiring through the medium of song if he has ever seen his own genitals they entreat him to “Get your tits out for the lads”, he duly obliges. It’s hard to say if ‘Fatty’ enjoys his five minutes or fame, but he doesn’t return to his seat after half-time.
The game carries on and Ipswich are denied what looked like a corner “That was literally in front of you, you Muppet” shouts a woman from behind me at the linesman. Would that we could really have Muppet linesman I think to myself; the FA and The Jim Henson Company should forge closer links. I note how many foreign players Nottingham’s are fielding and am impressed by the performance of Pele at number 28 which is remarkable for a man in his seventies, but I am surprised to learn from the tiny little Guinea-Bissau flag against his name on the back of the programme that he is no longer Brazilian. My attention is also drawn to Forest’s number 29, Tunisian Yohan Benalouane who, with his completely bald head and pale complexion makes me think of Nosferatu; I don’t get a look at his finger nails.
It’s just gone half-past three and Nottingham Forest win a corner, the ball is directed towards goal, Bartosz Bialkowski dives to his left, Nottingham players raise their arms and the diminutive referee Mr Keith Stroud signals a goal, which the scoreboard attributes to the Malian number 13 Molla Wague, although it will later be said to be a Jon Nolan own-goal. It’s a shame for Town, for Molla Wague and for Jon Nolan and given that the goal has brought so much disappointment I am surprised it is allowed to stand. “Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be will be, You’re going to Shrewsbury, Que Sera Sera” sing the gloating Nottinghamians, revealing a hitherto unexpected admiration for Doris Day, although the earlier Go West song was perhaps a clue as to their preferences.
Half-time arrives and briefly Portman Road is once again back in the long lost 1970’s as the PA system provides an aural treat in the sound of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You ain’t seen nothing yet”, a song which makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I visit the facilities beneath the stand to drain off some more of that Goblin’s Piss; at the urinal I stand next to a man who is simultaneously either texting or checking the half-time scores on his mobile phone. I find the scene rather disconcerting and leave as quickly as nature allows before consuming a Panda brand liquorice stick as a tasty half-time snack and to help me forget.
The second half begins and Trevoh Chalobah replaces Cole Skuse. At ten past four Trev’ unleashes a spectacular shot that whistles just centimetres outside the right hand post of the Nottingham goal. Sometimes such a narrow miss is more thrilling than a goal, particularly an opposition one. The second half turns out to be much better than the first for Ipswich and Town dominate the attacking play, although admittedly without making too many clear cut chances to score. Chants of “Come on You Blues, Come on Blues” burst from stands on all sides of the ground and with increasing frequency. The referee Keith Stroud, who ‘has previous’ as far as Town fans are concerned adds to his record of failure and bias by not awarding Town free-kicks whilst giving undeserved favour to Nottingham, whose fans are now largely quiet. “Short refs, we only get short refs” sing Phil and I to the tune of Blue Moon. On the touchline Paul Lambert, as ever in his black v-neck jumper and black trousers, swings his arms about encouraging his team and the crowd. Little Alan Judge crosses the ball and Jon Nolan heads wide of an open goal.
On the Nottingham bench Roy Keane at first looks his usual sullen self, but as Town dominate more and more and the game moves into its last ten minutes he stands in the technical area gesticulating, looking annoyed and filled with murderous intent. The combination of the ‘enigmatic’ Martin O’Neil and psychopathic Roy Keane as a sort of latter day Celtic incarnation of the Clough/Taylor partnership can surely only end badly, but it could be fun to watch. I ensure that when the game is over I stay on long enough to boo Keane from the field for what he did to Ipswich Town. I offered to my friend Mick to boo Keane on his behalf as he could not be here today, he said to feel free and he was happy for me to spit for him too if I wanted. I thought that was going a bit far, although I imagine it is the sort of protest Keane might respect as he would then feel justified in meeting it with extreme violence.
Ipswich deserve to score again but don’t and the result is yet another one-all draw. This has arguably been the best game of the season at Portman Road and curiously despite being bottom of the league by several points for several months, with very little or no hope of staying up and only two home wins since August it has been the most enjoyable season for several years. What is more, the crowd are at last getting behind the team; if this is what it takes perhaps Town should just go for relegation every year.
To the tune of Auld Lang Syne….all together now…
We’ve won the League, we’ve won the Cup
We’ve won in Europe too
Now every week we draw one-all
There’s f-all else to do.