As I prepare to leave my house and head for Portman Road my wife Paulene is watching Aussie Rules footie on her lap-top, Geelong Cats are playing The Demons and whilst we don’t know it yet, the Cats will win by a massive eighty point margin. “Oh, are you going already” she says and I kiss her goodbye. Spring is here. It is the last weekend in March and as walk to the railway station the sky is a clear blue, it is sunny and verging on warm. A black cat looks down at me from a tree; I guess that it has climbed up there to avoid running across my path and bringing me good luck. Spicy smells waft from the local Indian restaurant; a man on the station platform is wearing sunglasses and shorts, which seems optimistic or foolish, perhaps both. The train is on time and busy with passengers, heads bowed in the thrall of their mobile phones. At Colchester a man in a Chelsea beanie hat picks his nose enthusiastically, gouging away at his left nostril with his index finger. A young woman opposite me wears leopard print sneakers. “Hold on Scarlett” says a big-chested woman to her young daughter as they pick their way between the seats and the train pulls away; she staggers a little and almost topples over “Whoops”. Sheep graze on the meadows near Manningtree and a haze hangs over the river, blotting out all sight of Felixstowe.
I’m first off the train at Ipswich and away over the bridge and up Princes Street. I look over the bridge parapet and in the beer garden of the Station Hotel a group of Hull City supporters all clad in black look like Goths, I photograph them and they wave; I wave back. In Portman Road I waste three pounds on a match day programme because somehow it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. I later regret my decision but am no doubt destined to repeat the mistake. There is a sense of sluggish anticipation outside the stadium as people wait for the turnstiles to open; some queue to collect tickets, others stand and munch on fatty fast food lunches. At St Jude’s Tavern the usual blokes in their sixties and seventies are drinking the usual beer. The Match Day Special is once again St Jude’s Goblin’s Piss (£2.50). I provoke a certain amount of jealousy because my pint has a head on it whilst everyone else’s looks flat. In truth the beer is cloudy and yellow and I now realise how it got its name. What it has to do with Goblins I don’t know, but I guess they couldn’t just call it Piss, although oddly I did once hear the lead singer of Brighton’s finest late 1970’s pub band The Piranhas (Boring Bob Grover) ask for a ‘pint of piss’ at a Student’s Union bar. The conversation is of French cricket teams, what a strange and wonderful country Belgium is, Belgian beer and football. I have a second pint of the Match Day Special and at about twenty to three depart for Portman Road.
The sun is still shining and walking down the hill towards the ground the huge, beaming face of Bobby Robson above the club shop seems to be peaking around the corner, as if he’s trying not to be seen. I pick my way through the crowds past queues into the increasingly shabby looking Cobbold Stand with its peeling blue paint.
I enter the ground through turnstile number seven where there is no queue, smiling broadly as I cheerily thank its moustachioed operator. After a visit to the gents I take up my usual place near Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood. Pat tells me about how she spent the week before last at the Burlington Palm Hotel in Great Yarmouth, playing whist in the afternoons and evenings but seeing the sites, including Burgh Castle and the seals of Horsey Beach in the mornings; she tells me she enjoyed it a lot more than coming here.
The game begins with Town aiming for but not hitting the goal just to the right of me, Pat, Phil and Elwood. Town get first go with the ball. Today’s opponents Hull City, known as the Tigers wear their traditional kit of amber and black striped shirts with black shorts and amber and black socks. In the opening minutes Town look keen and push forward; “Paul Lambert is a Blue, He hates Norwich” sing the North Stand touchingly raiding their collective childhood memory of nursery rhyme tunes and re-purposing “London Bridge is falling down.” It’s ‘early doors’(!) but Ipswich are on top and the North Stand are getting carried away with it all, goading the 485 visiting Hullensians with a chorus of “You’re support is fucking shit” which seems a bit rich. It disappoints me; good humour and humility are called for when supporting a team as bad as Ipswich Town is currently.
Inevitably Hull’s revenge is swift and three minutes later the Ipswich Town defence clear off to that place that they go at least once every match, where no one can see them, but they leave the ball with Hull City who score; a nicely placed shot by Kamil Grosicki formerly of Rennes, who like a true artist makes full use of the space offered by an open goal. “How shit must you be, we’re winning away” is the questioning and not unreasonable retort from the Humberside 485, although in fact they have already won as many as four away games this season. But the answer to their question has to be “very”.
Four minutes later and Jon Nolan who is the subject of the “One to One” feature in the programme and has his name on the cover, retires hurt. Nolan is replaced by ‘the boy’ Dozzell. With Hull leading, Ipswich fade a little; they still have lots of the ball but don’t do much with it that might result in a goal. “It’s all nice knocking it about, but….” shouts an exasperated voice from the stand not needing to finish his sentence to convey what he means. The Ipswich defence evaporates again and Hull nearly score a second goal and at half-past three Myles Kenlock has a shot which sweeps above the cross-bar and the brief spurt of excitement inspires an unexpected burst of support “Come On Ipswich! Come On Ipswich! Come On Ipswich!” sing what seems like several people all at once.
A large, bright, luminous presence appears to my right hand side; it is a hi-vis coat and inside is a steward who after listening to his ear piece proceeds to ask me if I am in possession of a camera. Thinking naively that he just wants to talk about photography, I rather proudly tell him I am; well, it’s quite a good one and wasn’t that cheap. He asks me not to take any more pictures. I think it’s rather unfair to single me out when virtually everyone in the crowd is carrying a mobile phone and many of them are being used to take pictures and videos. I tell the steward so and he says “Yes, it is a bit of a grey area”. Football Association Ground regulations state that photos or videos captured on mobile phones must not be published or shown on social media sites. Yeah, right. It reminds me a little of the first and second rules of Fight Club.
1 Notwithstanding possession of any ticket the Club, any police officer or authorised steward may refuse entry to (or eject from) the Ground any person:
1.1 that fails (or in the Club’s reasonable opinion is likely to fail) to comply with these Ground Regulations or any reasonable instruction issued by a police officer or authorised steward; and/or
1.2 whose presence within the Ground is, or could (in the Club’s reasonable opinion), constitute a source of danger, nuisance or annoyance to any other person
16 Mobile telephones and other mobile devices are permitted within the Ground PROVIDED THAT (i) they are used for personal and private use only (which, for the avoidance of doubt and by way of example only, shall not include the capturing, logging, recording, transmitting, playing, issuing, showing, or any other communicationof any Material for any commercial purposes); and (ii) no Material that is captured, logged, recorded, transmitted, played, issued, shown or otherwise communicatedby a mobile telephone or other mobiledevice may be published or otherwise made available to any third parties including, without limitation, via social networking sites.
19 Save as set out in paragraph 16 above, no person (other than a person who holds an appropriate licence) may capture, log, record, transmit, play, issue, show or otherwise communicate(by digital or other means) any Material in relation to the Match, any players or other persons present in the Ground and/or the Ground, nor may they bring into the Ground or use within the Ground (or provide to, facilitate or otherwise assist another person to use within the Ground) any equipment or technology which is capable of capturing, logging, recording, transmitting, playing, issuing, showing or otherwise communicating (by digital or other means) any such Material. Copyright, database rights and any other intellectual property rights in any unauthorised recording or transmission is assigned (by way of present assignment of future rights) to the Club and the EFL. You further agree (if and whenever required to do so by the Club and/or the EFL) to promptly execute all instruments and do all things necessary to vest the right, title and interest in such rights to the Club and the EFL absolutely and with full title guarantee.
Peeved and wanting to begin a revolution I stand up, face the crowd behind me and try and encourage everyone to get out their mobile phones and take pictures, predictably I fail, but it strikes me as funny how cow-eyed and mindless everyone looks.
Town have a couple of shots cleared off the line in the closing minutes of the half but so what. Half-time arrives and I vent some more Goblin’s Piss, look at the half-time scores and have a chat with Ray who today is here with his wife Ros as well as grandson Harrison. This is Ros’s third game this season; she doesn’t seem to be enjoying it that much, nor am I anymore.
The second half is much like the first but probably less exciting. Hull score almost immediately as Jarrod Bowen makes a speedy, jinking run from the middle of the Hull half, all the way down Town’s left flank and then passes to Kamil Grosnicki who hits a precise shot off the far post and into the net. It’s a good goal but most teams would have got close enough to Bowen to knock him over before he got to the penalty area.
After that the Tigers seem largely happy to let Ipswich rain in a series of inaccurate crosses and mis-place their passes whilst they wait to run away down the wings again when they get the chance. Referee Mr John Brooks shares his name with my grandfather, but disgraces it with a series of unwelcome decisions. Had the late John Henry Brooks been in charge I am sure Ipswich would have won, not because he was an Ipswich supporter, he grew up in rural Oxfordshire, but because he would have had a bet on the game beforehand and would have backed the team with the longest odds.
Pat shows me some of the pictures she took of the seals on Horsey Beach; it’s a second half highlight. With an hour played the large and angular German, Collin Quaner replaces nippy Kayden Jackson, who has played quite well considering the standard of the overall team performance. Paul Lambert urges his team on, prowling the ‘technical area’ in his Marks and Spencer v-neck jumper whilst Hull’s manager is less animated and wears a jacket and tie and looks a trifle staid. On seventy four minutes eighteen year old French-Tunisian Idris El Mizouni from Meudon just outside Paris makes his first appearance at Portman Road. As I tell Pat, I met Idris’s dad in Meudon last September when I saw Meudon play St Ouen in an early round of the French Cup. I very much hope Idris does well, we need more foreign players, they’re better than the British ones, they tend to be able to control the ball and pass to their own team mates.
There are moments where Town ‘come close’ but never close enough. The old boy behind me isn’t happy “ We pay good money to see this” he says . It’s Hull that come closest to another goal in time added on as a Marc Pugh shot curls against a post. With the game in its final minutes the crowd show a bit of life with some rhythmic clapping and a few supportive chants from the North Stand, which is unusual after a not very-good performance. Nevertheless, such support is a good thing even if the team could perhaps have done with it earlier in the game, rather than as a show of sympathy at the end. The final whistle is greeted with a bit of a love-in at the North Stand end of the ground despite abject defeat and the fact that Paul Lambert’s record as manager is now worse than Paul Hurst’s. Relegation is as good as certain but a lot of supporters remain simply satisfied that Mick McCarthy is no longer manager, or that’s what they’re saying.
On the train home I speak with three Hull supporters who are saddened that Ipswich should be going down and surprised that we have never played in the national third tier. They add that they know from experience that third division football is bloody awful, we should do well.