Ipswich Town 1 Lincoln City 0

It’s still January. Yesterday was grey and damp. The day before yesterday was grey and damp. Today is only grey and the pavements are drying in the gentle breeze that ruffles my hair as I walk to the railway station. Ipswich Town are playing at home again and all is well with the world.

I buy a return ticket to Ipswich (£12) and I wait for Roly on the station platform; he will arrive on a connecting service and alight from a smart, new, streamlined train that seemingly wouldn’t look out of place on the line between Tokyo and Hokkaido, but this being England it’s probably only designed to travel at 30mph. Roly was so excited by the sight of this train when he got on it that he texted me a photo accompanied by a message that read “On flashy new train”. 

Roly’s flashy new train arrives late, but the connection to Ipswich, a conventional metal box on metal wheels, waits politely. The train is busy with Saturday travellers and a good loading of football supporters, none of whom would stand out in a crowd.

We arrive at Ipswich as expected and before heading out into the mean streets I take a detour to the railway ticket office to ask about carnets; the woman behind the counter looks at me as if I’m speaking a foreign language, which I suppose I am.  She tells me that it’s probably something only available on-line;

I thank her, and Roly and I make our way up Princes Street, Portman Road and into St Matthew’s Street to St Jude’s Tavern. On our way we talk of burger sellers and the pros and cons of buying a programme now or when we come back to Portman Road after our visit to St Jude’s. Not buying a programme at all will eventually win out although I had intended to buy one because as Roly says “It’s not every day we play Lincoln City”, before somewhat unnecessarily going on to say what a boring season it would be if it was.

In St Jude’s Tavern, after Roly buys us each a pint of St Jude’s 20/20 (£2.20 each), we discover that we have a choice of tables and we sit at one before moving to another where there the seats have cushions to pamper our buttocks.  Roly’s thoughts soon turn to food and after resisting the temptation of a sausage roll (£1.50) he opts for a pie and a pint (£5); I wouldn’t want him to dine alone and step to the bar to order two pies (steak & kidney) and two pints (St Jude’s Stuffed Canary).   Before very long Mick arrives, he offers to buy us each a drink, but gesturing towards the array of full and part full pint glasses before us and the plates of pies in various states of demolition I tell him we’re actually “all set-up”.  Mick can do little but agree and just gets himself a pint of St Jude’s 20/20, which Roly and I recommend,  even though it doesn’t have much of a head on it.  Mick returns pint in hand and our conversation rambles around, moving from whether David Lowe would make it onto a list of Ipswich Town’s all-time top ten strikers to the revelation (to me anyway) that Hughie Green was Paula Yates’ father; we somehow all knew however that Peaches Geldoff died of a heroin overdose. Roly helpfully produces proof of both from the pages of Wikipedia.   In due course Mick buys another pint of 20/20 for me, a whisky for himself and, because in about three and a half hours-time Roly has to drive home from the station in his second-hand Vauxhall Astra, a half a pint of lemonade for the boy.

In time, with bladders drained we stroll down Portman Road.  I stop to buy a copy of Turnstile Blue (£1), which with its colour photos and artsy broad page margins punctuated with abstract streaks of blue ink no longer seems like the ‘fanzine’ it purports to be; it’s more of a bijou, special interest sports publication. But then, I am getting older and have reached the age where I mourn the loss of outside toilets, buses with open platforms at the back and road atlases.  Mick asks about Turnstile Blue and on my recommendation purchases a copy himself, amidst the excitement I forget to buy a programme.

There is a queue at turnstile eight, probably because turnstiles seven and nine are closed, but quick to spot an opportunity and not one to follow the herd, I enter the ground by turnstile two where there is no queue at all; I make a point of greeting and thanking the turnstile operator because people need to be nice to each other. Roly’s and Mick’s seats are in the upper tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand unlike mine amongst the groundlings, so I bid them farewell; their seats are freebies courtesy of Mick having a youthful relative in the club’s academy.  A last pre-match comfort visit follows and as I step up from the concourse into the stand I meet Pat from Clacton; she seems pleased to see me as I am her, it’s been a while; we hug and I realise she’s quite a bit shorter than I thought she was. We make our way to our seats; Pat begins to tell me about the cruise she’s been on but gives up in the face of the deafening aural onslaught from the PA system; we agree there is bound to be a dull bit during the game when we can talk more easily. 

With the teams running out on to the pitch I say hello to Ray and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and then join in with the na-na-na-nas of Hey Jude. The match begins with Town in their familiar blue and white having first kick of the ball in the direction of me, Phil, Pat and Ray.  Today’s opponents Lincoln City, known as ‘The Imps’, wear red socks with black shorts, and shirts that take on a different character depending on which way they are facing.  In the first half, with their backs mostly towards me Lincoln have plain, bright red shirts, but in the second half when they are running mostly towards me they are in red and white stripes; I prefer their second half kit but worry about their split personality or that of their shirt manufacturer and wonder what happened to shirts that were stripy on both the front and the back; it might have made the shirt numbers difficult to read unless they were stitched onto a big square of cloth, but no one seemed to mind too much. I decide to blame TV.

From the start Ipswich are on the attack although without having any shots on goal, but it takes only a couple of minutes to win their first corner.  Town dominate possession and even if they’re not scoring or shooting it feels much more comfortable than watching the opposition play lots of football whilst we run around after them like playful puppies.  The game is therefore good to watch although in truth it’s not long before Pat from Clacton can tell me all about her cruise from Jamaica to Santo Domingo, Cuba, Costa Rica and Panama; she thinks she even got on the local news in Port Royal, Jamaica.

By 3:15 Town have won their third corner and the referee, the balding, and slightly bandy legged Mr Lee Swabey (pronounced swah-bay I hope,  and not sway-bee which would be boring) is getting plenty of use from his can of fine white spray paint or shaving foam as Town win free-kicks at the sides of the Lincoln City penalty area.  Everyone seems to be enjoying the spectacle with some of the North Stand chanting, “Ole, Ole, Ole” or “Allez, Allez, Allez” depending on their choice of modern European language, whilst the 749 who have journeyed from Lincoln repeat “Red Army” until they get bored, which is may be why they only chant it three times.

Lincoln win a first corner of their own at a little after twenty past three and then at half past three Town’s king of the scrunchie (or whatever it is he ties his hair back with) Will Keane reminds us that although the game is enjoyable there is something missing and he has the first shot on goal, a snappily taken effort which quickly leaves the outside of his right boot and skids past the far post of the Lincoln goal.   As if that was a reminder of what the purpose of the game is, Lincoln then almost immediately have their own first shot, which is acrobatically tipped over the cross bar by Town’s other Will, Will Norris.  Lincoln make spurious claims for a penalty due to an imagined handball and then suddenly I can’t quite believe that the letters on the front of the Lincoln shirts read ‘STD’; they don’t, they read SrP but it’s not very clear when glimpsed as a player turns running at speed.

We are fast approaching half-time and it sounds as if Ipswich supporters are singing “Can you here the Ipswich sing? No-o, No-o”, but the Lincoln fans clearly believe the chant was directed at them and respond with something about making a noise wherever they go, which I wouldn’t think is always an appropriate thing to do; but hey, times change.  I begin to detect the unmistakeable and rather lovely smell of cold, damp turf as the natural daylight starts to fade and the afternoon becomes yet cooler.  I am shaken from my smelly reverie by Mr Swabey who brandishes his first yellow card of the afternoon in the direction of Lincoln’s Morrell, whose first name is the seeming phonetically spelt Joseff, although it might just be because he is Welsh.  Luke Woolfenden’s name soon unjustly follows Morrell’s after a “fifty-fifty” tackle on former Town loanee Tayo Edun.  ‘Woolfy’ makes amends however with only a minute and a bit left of the half as he heads a free-kick from Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt onto the far goalpost; the goalpost then deflects the ball onto the back of Lincoln goalkeeper Josh Vickers’ back and his back redirects the ball into the goal to give Town a deserved lead. Luke Woolfenden is deemed responsible for the goal and ever-present Phil leaps from his seat in celebration, his blue hoody lending him the appearance of a large and very happy gnome.

Half-time soon arrives after an unwanted two minutes of time added on for entropy and I guard Pat from Clacton’s handbag while she pops to the loo. I eat a Panda brand stick of liquorice whilst I wait for Pat and when she returns make my own visit to the latrines before speaking with Ray, his son whose name escapes me, and his grandson Harrison about favourite LP’s, Steve Hackett, concerts by living members of Pink Floyd, concerts by Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy not the former Bristol City and Colchester United defender)  and the cost of concert tickets.

At 16:04 the game begins again and whilst Ipswich remain dominant and the passing is accurate and Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt sends a shot whooshing past the far post, the play is steady rather than super exciting.  Behind me I catch a snippet of conversation; “You say that, but have you got any empirical evidence?” says a disembodied voice and I marvel at how serious and po-faced supporters’ discussions have become; it’s not all ‘bantz’ is it?

This afternoon’s attendance is announced as 18,795 and I help Pat from Clacton identify the winner of the Clacton Supporters’ bus guess the crowd competition.  The closest guess is 18,764 by Woody the dog, who I am pleased to learn is an actual dog and not a person with an unfortunate nickname.  It’s Woody’s owner who is on the bus today, Woody generally stays at home but likes to guess the crowd nonetheless.  Lacking the excitement engendered by knowledge of Woody the dog’s peerless guesswork the North Stand instead express their support for the team,  but I detect it’s tinged with anxiety as they chant “ Come on Ipswich,  Come on Ipswich, Come On Ipswich”

It’s gone twenty past four and Lincoln, which incidentally is the birthplace of former Town full-back Jamie Clapham, make their first substitution as the exotically monikered Tyreece John-Jules is swapped for Hopper; Tom not Edward sadly.  “Blue Army, Blue Army “ rings out from the Sir Bobby Robson stand and is countered with the unlikely “We Are Imps, We Are Imps, We Are Imps” from the corner of the Cobbold Stand before Lincoln’s 1.93m tall Irish defender Cian Bolger becomes the third player to be booked by referee Mr Swabey after he not very slyly trips Kayden Jackson.  Emyr Huws’ name soon evens the score in Mr Swabey’s notebook after Luke Chambers’s under hit pass to Emyr is all too easily intercepted by Jorge Grant and Emyr sacrifices fair play to hide Chambers’s mistake. 

There’s a quarter of an hour to go and the game has run out of momentum; this is the dullest part of the afternoon but Pat from Clacton comes to the rescue with the offer of a boiled sweet;  I choose a humbug and a while later one of those pale green ones which taste a bit sour, I thinks it’s someting to do with sherbert. It’s about now that I also glean pleasure from the name of Lincoln’s number twenty-four, who I am pleased to announce is called Max Melbourne, a name worthy of a minor Hollywood star of the 1930’s. Perhaps as a result of the dip in excitment or because it’s what he usually does at this time, manager Paul Lambert replaces little Alan Judge with Teddy ‘The Bish’ Bishop.  Nothing changes but James Wilson makes an excellent tackle to prevent a clear shot on goal for Lincoln after an unexpected through ball.  Happily that’s the last significant action of the game and despite the obvious desire for more Ipswich goals, lots of them, the one that has been scored suffices and in theory 18,046 people (that’s 18,795 – 749) go home happy, as indeed do I despite believing for some time that I might have lost a glove during the afternoon; I later find it in the lining of my coat; I like a happy ending. 

Ipswich Town 4 Accrington Stanley 1

Before starting this account of Ipswich Town’s latest fixture I must let you the reader know that I am sick and tired of people droning on repeating that 1980’s advertisement for milk whenever Accrington Stanley is mentioned. There is no excuse for not knowing the name of Accrington Stanley and that child in the advert was an ignoramus and possibly an imbecile and deserves to suffer from calcium deficiency.

Today I am extremely excited; as excited as a Liverpudlian child with weak bones or a deficiency of vitamins E, B6 and B12 should be when offered a glass of milk. Today for the first time in five months I am returning to Portman Road to watch the latest chapter in the Superblues’ epic march back towards world domination, and today Town face the famous Accrington Stanley. The last game I saw was Town’s tepid one-all draw with Sunderland in August, soon after which I was found to have pneumonia, was put in a coma, diagnosed with Endocarditis, given open heart surgery to replace two valves eaten away by bacterial infection and placed on a two-month long course of industrial strength anti-biotics. Sunderland AFC was not implicated in these events.   Unlike Gloria Gaynor, who after all these years is still all about what she will do, I actually did survive, thanks to the fantastic NHS and at last I now feel fit enough to once more brave the streets and terraces of Suffolk’s capital city. Consider Emyr Huws’ return to the team after long-term injury, Andre Dozzell’s return to the team after torn ligaments, Ian Marshall’s return to the team after being run over by a shopping trolley; roll them all into one and you will come close to how I feel today. Today is, as those who speak in modern parlance say, ’massive’ or at least quite big.

It is a grey and windy Saturday, becoming of early January and the trains are not running. Refusing to pay train fares to travel by Corporation bus, yesterday I experimentally sought the assistance of fellow Ipswich Town supporters on social media and attempted to politely solicit a lift to Ipswich. With the sole exception of a sensible answer from a kind man in his sixties called Ian, the responses I received were at worst rude, ignorant or stupid and at best unhelpful. These responses included one from a man whose profile indicates somewhat worryingly that he is chairman of governors at an infants’ school, whilst another respondent claimed to be three years old after I notified him that his initial response implied he was not able to offer me a lift and that was all I needed to know.  Depressed that idiots and dumb arses trying to be smart arses are also Ipswich Town fans, I muse that at least Ian proves that decent people do exist and today I convey my gratitude to him as we travel up the A12 in his grey Volkswagen Tiguan. We talk of football and our plans for the pre-match period. Once the VW is parked up we go our separate ways, departing each other’s company with the reciprocal wish that we might enjoy the drive home on the back of a good win.

It’s only a quarter to one and Portman Road is still open to motor traffic; I assiduously keep to the pavement because it would be a waste to be mown down by a car now, having dodged death only a few months before and at public expense too. After stopping to buy a programme (£3.50) I continue up the gentle incline, across Handford Road to St Matthews Street, passing a few early-arrivers walking in the opposite direction.  I have time on my hands and rather than fall prey too early to the demon drink I walk on past St Jude’s Tavern to Francesco’s Hair Salon at 61 St Matthew’s Street.  My long period of convalescence has left me looking like Howard Hughes and I need a haircut, so I get one (£15.50) courtesy of a charming lady hairdresser with whom I chat about going to football, Christmas, family, drinking enough fluids and fruit.  Francesco’s is incidentally the same establishment where Bobby Robson would get his hair cut.  Although Francesco has moved premises since Sir Bobby’s time, I nevertheless can’t helping feeling I would have had Bobby’s endorsement for this match-day tonsorial, although it is only in my imagination that I see him smiling back at me from the mirror giving me the thumbs-up.

Looking like a new man I leave Francesco’s and make the short walk back to St Jude’s Tavern; upon entering I think I hear a small voice say “Martin”, but I pay no attention believing I have just happened to walk in on the end of a conversation about relatives of the polecat or cast members of ‘That was the week that was’.  I proceed to the bar, but before I can order a pint of today’s Match Day Special (£2.50) my friend and colleague Roly is at my shoulder and wishing me well, for it was he who spoke my name.  I have not seen Roly for several weeks and we talk agreeably, making jokes of everything we can think of, none of which we will remember.  Soon, my mouth parched from incessant conversation, I get a second pint of the Match Day Special which today is Mr B’s Hexagon, a name which refers to the shape of the honeycomb, but which I as a lover of all things French prefer to think of as celebrating the mainland part of metropolitan France, which the natives often refer to as l’hexagone due to its approximate shape.  I treat Roly to a half a pint of the same drink; he is on reduced ration because later he will be driving home in his second-hand Vauxhall Astra.

Before we leave St Jude’s for the match Mick pops in to give me my season ticket which he has been using whilst I have been confined to my sick bed. Mick doesn’t stay for a drink but lingers long enough to tell us how he met his friend Chris at the railway station and they had a drink in the Station Hotel, which on match days is dedicated as the ‘away supporters’ pub.  Unable to spot any away supporters Mick asked a bouncer where they all were; the bouncer turned and pointed to two blokes drinking quietly in the corner of the bar.  Later the number of away supporters attending the match will be announced on the Portman Road scoreboard as 155 in a crowd of 17,536.  I do not believe that 153 of these 155 Accringtonians are teetotal and I am pleased therefore that they paid no heed to being confined to the ‘away pub’ and sought their pleasure like free men and women, wherever they could find it.

Time passes and eventually with glasses and bladders drained Roly and I descend Portman Road in time for kick-off, the day remains dull and defined by grey cloud. I dodge my way across the stream of supporters flowing out of Portman Road car park and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way; I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile seven after a brief internal dialogue about which is the luckier number, seven or eight; I decide I don’t believe in lucky numbers. I say a hearty, smiling ‘hello’ to the lady turnstile operator and a little bizarrely also bid her ‘goodbye’ as the turnstile clicks; my excuse is that I am out of practice with this match-going lark, but i am also feeling a lot of love for the world and everyone in it.  After another brief visit to the toilet facilities I ascend the steps from the concourse into the lower tier of the stand to reacquaint myself with Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Ray, the old dears who formerly sat behind me, Bluey, Crazee and my view of the green, green turf and its dramatic, part human, part concrete, part blue plastic and steel backdrop.

It is with a heavy heart that I learn from ever-present Phil that Pat from Clacton is not at the game today because she is on a cruise, but I speak excitedly with Ray and his grandson Harrison before taking up a seat two along from ever-present Phil and in front of the old dears.  With all that lining up to shake hands malarkey out of the way referee Mr Charles Breakspear, whose name sounds like he might have played Association Football for Old Carthusians in the 1870’s, parps his whistle to begin the match.  Accrington Stanley get first go with the ball all dressed in a strong shade of red, which makes them look a bit like Liverpool and is ironic given that at least one fictional, undernourished child from that city has never heard of them.  Incidentally, my earliest contact with anything Accringtonesque was a short, balding bloke called Steve who I met when at university; he came from Accrington but shamefully supported Liverpool, I think if I described him as dwarfish and ugly it wouldn’t be an injustice.  My second contact with something touched by Accrington was by contrast an attractive lady work colleague who was a native of Oswaldtwistle or Ozzy as she called it, a town contiguous with Accrington or Accy as she called it. She was well versed in the names of Burnley players of the 1970’s  and rarely wore a brassiere, two possible reasons why I remember her over thirty years later.

With Town in their customary blue and white and the turf glowing green beneath the floodlights this could be a scene conjured up from a Club Edition Subbuteo set. Town start well, passing the ball accurately, playing towards me and ever-present Phil and looking keen to do well.  My attention is taken however by Accrington’s enormously tall number 5 whose name, the shoulder of his shirt tells me is Sykes, not Eric or even Bill sadly but Ross, like the fish fingers.  “Cor! He’s skinny” shouts a voice behind me. Sykes’s gangliness is however overshadowed by that of Accy’s number 36 Jerome Opuku, a player on loan from Fulham whose flailing arms and legs give him the appearance of a piece of nineteenth century agricultural reaping machinery or a drunken octopus; when tackled he collapses to the floor like a puppet that has had its strings cut.  That said he’s a half decent player.

After kick-off just twelve minutes pass and Ipswich take the lead; a glorious passing move involving the eye-rubbingly strange sight of Luke Woolfenden surging into the penalty area in open play (‘underlapping’ as ever-present Phil christens it) from his centre back position. I can’t recall having seen such a thing before at Portman Road, it’s tantamount to ‘Total Football’; a marvel, even if the ultimate finish from Kayden Jackson looks a bit scruffy as he slides on his bum side by side with an Accrington player to get the ball over the goal line.

“Come On Ipswich” chants the crowd, bemused or tentatively intrigued by the stylish football before them. Two minutes later another passing moving ends with James Norwood hopelessly mishitting the ball when well placed to score. In a rare idle moment I watch a seagull arc above the pitch, but this is a game that demands to be watched and before a half an hour has passed Norwood runs on to an instinctively reactive, first time volleyed pass from Emyr Huws and casually lobs the ball over the head of the Lambeth born Accrington ‘keeper Josef Bursik.  Time slows down as the ball follows a graceful arc, although I’ve yet to see an arc that isn’t so, and descends perfectly beneath the cross bar before striking the net.  The goal inspires a thankfully brief dirge version of “When the Town going marching in” from the North Stand and I decide that Jerome Opuku’s squad number of ‘36’ refers to his inside leg measurement.  Life is good if you’re a Town supporter inside Portman Road football ground today and just to prove the point a third goal is scored by little Alan Judge a minute before half-time. It’s the result of another fine passing move which this time has seen centre half Luke Chambers push forward in open play to set it off.  Luke Chambers mostly looks angry when he’s playing football, some might say he is pulling a determined face perhap. His snarly reaction to the latest goal today seems to imply he is claiming some responsibility for it, almost as much as Alan Judge; perhaps scoring again was his idea. 

Applause is the sound of the day as the teams clear off for half-time and I head down to the toilet before consuming a Nature Valley Protein Peanut and Chocolate bar which I had had the foresight to put in my coat pocket before leaving home almost four hours ago.  The queues for the refreshment kiosks are long and I’m pleased I am not in one.  I check the half-time scores on one of the overhead TV sets beneath the stand but get bored waiting to see anything of interest and consider how literally pointless half-time scores are.  My already cheerful mood is enhanced further however when I learn that Norwich City are losing and in my mind’s eye I see a poky, high up corner of Old Trafford where funny looking folk in yellow and green knitwear have paid exorbitant Premier League prices for the privilege of seeing their team humiliated.  I return to the stand and speak again with Ray before the teams return to play out the second half which with a satisfying sense of symmetry begins at four minutes past four.

The greyness of the afternoon deepens behind the stands making the floodlights seem to shine all the more brightly.  Predictably perhaps, the second half does not reach the heights of the first, in spite of the efforts of the glowing beams of electric light illuminating the pitch. Town begin well enough and continue to dominate possession, but the gaps in Accrington’s defence have been plugged and whilst the football is not bad, it’s been downgraded from the first half’s Copacabana-style to something more like Felixstowe-at-low-tide-style.  It’s been a game pleasantly devoid of histrionics or naughty fouls but at half past four Accrington substitute Ajibola Alese, who is on loan from West Ham United and is only 18 years old commits a foul on little Alan Judge which Mr Breakspear considers worthy of yellow card style censure. Cole Skuse replaces the wonderfully Welsh Emyr Huws, which is nice because their surnames rhyme, and then Teddy Bishop replaces little Alan Judge.   There are now two Bishops on the field as Accrington also have one in Colby Bishop, although to be honest he sounds more like a firm of estate agents than a footballer.

It’s getting on for a quarter to five and an Accrington player, possibly Dion Charles is left unmarked close to Ipswich’s goal; he shoots with his right boot; he should score but Town’s James Wilson, who makes me think of Labour prime ministers of the 1970’s moves across to deflect the ball away above the angle of the goal post and cross bar with his calf. “Lucky Ipswich” says the old boy behind me, but it wasn’t luck, it was good defending, eventually.  If it had been luck that stopped an Accrington goal it would have been of the sort that didn’t last because within a minute or so Accrington’s Congolese substitute Offrande Zanzala, who has previously played for Stevenage, Barnet and Chester, is pulled back and has a leg swiped across his chest courtesy of James Wilson. Zanzala manages to beat off a team mate who seemed to want to take the resultant penalty before he could and then scores.

There is still time for stomping Luke Chambers to get himself booked un-necessarily, which he does, and for Accrington to score two more goals, and that’s the sort of scenario that wouldn’t surprise an Ipswich supporter considering Town’s aggregate form over the last thirty years or so.  Today proves not to be the sort of day for that to happen however, and with the game into the time added on to compensate for substitutions and any nihilistic attempts to fritter away existence, Town’s third substitute, the imposing Will Keane robs an Accrington player of the ball, turns back towards the away team’s goal and sends a low shot past the man known to the French as le gardien and to Emyr Huws as the gol-geidwad.  With his hair drawn back in a scrappy pony tail Keane has the look from a distance, a long distance, of a poor man’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his record of three goals in the last four games is worthy of the big Swede.

The game ends amid much clapping and self-congratulation and after bidding ever-present Phil adieu I make a final visit to the toilet beneath the stand and then walk out into the evening, towards Ian’s Volkswagen, the soporific tones of Mick Mills on the car radio, the voices of assorted opinionated people calling to give Mick their worthless views and the journey home.

Finally, after Ian drops me off I walk around the corner to my house; a small coach drives by with the name ‘Enigma Travel’ painted on the side; “Probably on a mystery trip” I think to myself.