Ipswich Town 0 Oxford United 1

Another Saturday and another football match;  having witnessed last Saturday’s victory over Burton Albion, as encouraging as it was, and having been to the mid-week game before that at Wimbledon and the Saturday match before that versus Peterborough I am feeling somewhat blasé about going to yet another game.  Today Ipswich will play Oxford United and therefore to set the mood it is with the sort of thoughtless, arrogant, complacent, condescending and contemptuous attitude associated with the most privileged people who go to the top schools and universities and end up as members of the government that I set out for the railway station. A warm, gusting wind blows me along and conifers waft and billow as I pass by.  The train is on time and I board it alone.

On the train I sit by a window, a man on the opposite side of the train slumps with his feet on the seats opposite, I give his shoes a stare worthy of Paddington bear.  “How do you think we’ll do today?” he says as he sits up and takes his feet down off the seat.  Oh crap, I think to myself, he’s seen my blue and white scarf and wants to talk about football.  As much as I like football, I hate talking football, the conversations are always the same.  This fella is one of “we need more investment” brigade.  I tell him the owner puts in 5 or 6 million quid each season and that most Championship clubs are technically insolvent, but he clearly finds facts too difficult.  I am saved when his phone goes off and he has a conversation about how he won’t be drinking much today as he was in the pub until 3 am, drinking Coronas, “I had about twelve” he says to the person on the other end of the phone “and I feel a bit fucked”.

The piazza in front of the railway station is deserted but there is a steady trickle of people sporting yellow and blue knitwear wandering up Princes Street towards the Station Hotel.  Portman Road is positively busy with people, many decked in yellow and blue. I follow a short woman and her two much shorter young children who each carry a yellow and blue back pack sporting a cartoon bull.  Disappointed that I fail to spot anyone who looks even vaguely academic, although the back-pack could be construed as school satchels, I continue on my way to St Jude’s Tavern.

In St Jude’s I find Mick looking up at the day’s beer list; together we choose Mad Dog brewery’s ‘Now in a minute’ (£3.60) of which Mick kindly buys a pint for each of us.  As he sits down Mick tells me that the barman let him have a taster because many customers thought it had an unusual taste.  It is slightly sweet, but it’s pleasant enough and reminds me a little of some of my own homebrew, on a good day.  St Jude’s Tavern is well populated today and we sit in a cramped corner of which the building seems to have several.  Our conversation includes the failings of Ipswich Town’s on-line ticket selling, the films of Sam Peckinpah, the new film of David Copperfield, not burning damp wood, avoiding air travel and Susan George, whose name I struggle to remember until Mick gives me a clue with reference to her surname being a common English regnal name, which is a bit ‘University Challenge’.  After I consume another pint of ‘Now in a minute’ and Mick has a Jameson’s whisky (£3.00) and the licensee reminds us of the time, we head off round the corner into Portman Road.

It’s about ten to three now and outside the stadium Portman Road is active with people scurrying to the turnstiles like charged particles.  “I can’t see any mortar boards or gowns” says Mick with genuine disappointment as if he really had expected Oxford fans to be a bunch of academics.  We enter the ground separately through turnstiles number five and six and after visiting the facilities beneath the stand clamber over our seats so as not disturb Pat from Clacton on the end of the row.  I wave to Ray down the front in his red kagoul and spot ever present Phil who never misses a game, who today has his young son Elwood with him, albeit an Elwood hidden beneath an anorak hood and obscured from my view slightly by the man with the heavily brylcreemed hair who sits in front of me.  With little further ado the teams emerge from the blue plastic concertina in the corner of the ground to the strains of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, a mystifying 1980’s rock anthem.  I hate rock anthems.  The PA announces that the team is being led out by the club’s community chaplain. Mick says he didn’t know we had a community chaplain; the thought seems to amuse him and he wonders if the club also has a community Imam, which is a fair question, although I thought that professional football served only mammon.

The game begins a minute late at 15:01 with Ipswich playing in the direction of Mick, me, Pat from Clacton, Elwood, ever-present Phil, Ray, his grandson Harrison and the man with the brylcreem. Today, for a reason to which I am not party, Oxford United are wearing an unnecessary change kit of white shirts with a blue and yellow diagonal stripe or sash across the chest in place of their customary yellow shirts.  Their bottom halves are covered by Oxford blue shorts and socks.  The Oxford shirts advertise the name of Singha beer from Thailand, which seems a little exotic.  I imagine a multi-lingual Oxford don having incidentally arranged the deal with the Boon Rawd Brewery whilst on a short holiday to find a Thai bride.  Ipswich wear the usual blue and white advertisement for on-line gambling and, as they so often do, begin the game sparklingly well, running down the flanks under the bright blue sky and sending in low crosses which only the Oxford defenders ever reach.   “Yellows, Yellows” bellow the 1,365 Oxonians in the Cobbold Stand who are either colour blind or are simply ignoring the pointlessly white shirts of their team.

The match is entertaining and it can only be a matter of time before Ipswich score as the ball continues either to be just out of reach Town players shaping up to shoot or to be blocked by the ubiquitous Oxford defenders.  The flags on the back of the Cobbold stand are blowing in the strong wind and seagulls hover like drones.  The visiting fans have brought an array of flags with them which are not flying but are draped over the front few rows of seats in the Cobbold Stand.  One flag, a cross of St George appears to have the words “We all live in a Oxford wonderland” printed on it; I am shocked by the poor grammar, which might not be so surprising in some backwater like Swindon or Norwich, but Oxford?

I am still enjoying the match and the football is good to watch but for the absence of shots that the Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood is required to save.  The bloke behind me sounds confident and says he wouldn’t mind Town “…meeting these in the play-offs”.  In the Sir Bobby Robson stand the normally more vocal supporters in the corner (Action 1878) seem quiet today and are not displaying their banners and flags.  In the corner of the Cobbold Stand a group of Oxford fans are standing and goading Ipswich supporters in the bottom tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand.  Pat from Clacton wonders how they managed to get the seats closest to the Ipswich supporters and we decide that the Oxford ticket office must ask supporters if they are would-be hooligans who want to goad the opposition and allocate them seats accordingly.  With the price of tickets nowadays this seems fair enough.

Despite Ipswich’s dominance it’s not until nearly half past three that they win a corner and then win another as Luke Chambers’ header is deflected over the cross bar.  The corner affords a close-up of Oxford number three Josh Ruffles who seems to have quite a large head which, with his muscular upper chest gives him the look of a very big clasp nail or tack as his body tapers down to a point around his ankles.  More minutes pass and an unexpected chorus of “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” lives then dies around the ground.  Pat from Clacton offers Mick and me sweets; I have one of those green metallic looking ones which fizz with sherbet. “We’ll score now I’ve got the sweets out” says Pat “Well, that’s what used to happen”.  Town don’t score.  Pat eats a “nice piece of fudge” left over from Christmas.   “They can’t pick a pass this lot” moans the bloke behind me as Town’s Gwion Edwards misplaces a pass for the first time in the game.  Paul Lambert runs up and down his technical area excitedly in what look like deck shoes.

Town still haven’t scored and it’s nearly half-time, so Oxford string a few passes together, the Ipswich defence melts away and Oxford’s number 9 the diminutive Matty Taylor scores instead.   Paul Lambert waves his arms around as if winding a huge key, which he sort of is metaphorically speaking.  Seizing their opportunity to either indulge in some half-time swatting in the event of an affirmative answer or turn up the goading quotient whilst utilising their knowledge of opera, the Oxonians sing “Is this a library?” to the tune of La donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto.  “What are they singing?” asks Mick. “Is this the Bodleian?” I tell him. The game begins again but not for long as it’s time for another visit to the facilities beneath the stand and a chat with Ray.

The second half begins, the blue skies have been replaced by grey cloud.  The match proves to be one of those that has two distinct halves.  Oxford United continue to thwart Ipswich’s attempts on goal which become ever more inaccurate, but also start breaking away and threatening to score again themselves, which seems a bit cheeky. Oxford win a corner and their number fourteen Anthony Forde holds up a hand to indicate where he intends to kick it, which would seem to be onto the head of Ipswich’s nearest defender and a good yard or two from the nearest Oxford player.

It’s nearly twenty five past four and the Oxford supporters spell out the name of their club to show the benefit of a university education but on the pitch the play descends to the level of the kindergarten.   Josh Earl and Matty Taylor  push each other around and salmon pink clad referee Mr Scott Oldham, who most unusually appears to be the tallest man on the field and sports a GI haircut, has to tell them to grow up, particularly Matty Taylor who is only 176cm ( 5’9”) tall.

Seventy two minutes have passed and Pat from Clacton admits to me that she might soon start to think about the jacket potato she’ll be having for her tea.  Oxford have adopted a more spoiling approach to the game this half although only their  Marcus Browne and Town’s Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt have seen Mr Oldham’s yellow card, and  Ipswich  now begin to vent their frustration with some pointless fouls.  Pat and I look forward to the announcement of today’s attendance which we will soon learn is 19,367; the nearest in the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton coach is Calum with 19,476.  Pat is disappointed again that no one’s pet cat or fish has won the prize.

The old dears who now sit in front of me but used to sit behind me leave early; I tell them I will let them know all about the goals they are going to miss. The bloke behind me leaves.  Ipswich’s Kayden Jackson leaves at the request of Mr Oldham after he is apparently spotted stamping on an Oxford player and is shown Mr Oldham’s red card.  There is a melee down by the corner flag in front of the Oxford supporters which could have been avoided if Mr Oldham had acted more decisively and given a free-kick to Ipswich instead of Oxford and  Town’s Luke Woolfenden is booked before the game stutters to a halt and the final whistle sounds. 

 I’d like to say that Luke Chambers either accidentally or ironically produces his trademark fist pump, but he doesn’t and instead the crowd dejectedly melts away into the night, apart that is from those who stay to boo.  Ipswich drop to eighth in the third division table which means they will be happy to meet any club at all  in the play-offs.

Ipswich Town 4 Burton Albion 1

It’s been an unfortunate fortnight for the ‘Super Blues’ with three consecutive defeats to ‘promotion rivals’ followed by an anaesthetising goalless draw away to ‘relegation threatened’ Wimbledon.  The three consecutive defeats were heralded somewhere, I can’t recall where, as being the first time Ipswich had lost three consecutive matches in the third division in sixty-four years, which sounds terrible until your brain engages and you realise that until this season Ipswich haven’t been in the third division at any time in the last sixty-four years and the club would have done well to lose matches consecutively or otherwise in a division in which it was not playing.

Inspired by the downturn in Town’s fortunes and the puerile whinging of alleged fans on social media, who seem unable to come to terms with their team not winning every game by several clear goals, I am looking forward to today’s fixture against the Albion of Burton a town from the top-drawer of provinciality which was famed for its beer brewing until it became associated with the name Coors.  It is a suitably grey and wintry day for a meeting between two clubs struggling to find love and form. I am at times swept along by a buffeting wind as I walk to the railway station, which is deserted but for two other would-be passengers cowering from the gathering storm in the waiting room. The train is on time and quite full as if people have stayed on board rather than alight into the grim, blustery weather outside.  Appearances can be deceptive however, and at Colchester most passengers disembark to be replaced by a handful of others sporting blue and white knitwear, although some of these unexpectedly get off at Manningtree suggesting that for them the lure of Brantham Athletic may be greater than that of Ipswich Town. Other passengers boarding at Colchester include screaming toddlers and a woman wearing huge quantities of an overpowering perfume; feeling sick from the smell and seeking peace and quiet I move to the other end of the railway carriage. My move is not wholly successful as behind me I now have a group of youths who take turns to make bleating noises after they see some sheep in a field.

Arrival in Ipswich is a blessed relief and the streets seem quiet, almost as if there is no match today; I imagine that perhaps I am the only person still going to the game, a version of Charlton Heston, the Omega Fan.  Turning into Portman Road however, my fears prove groundless as all human life is here with people stood impassively by the turnstile blocks and operatives in day-glo jackets sheltering from the wind and nascent drizzle, whilst other early-arrivers patronise the junk-food vendors whose bright trailers almost look inviting on such a grisly afternoon.  I walk on towards St Jude’s Tavern pausing only to admire the frontage of the ‘EU Supermarket’, which leads me to dream of a world in which both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage lie dead in a ditch in a cold embrace.

Mick is already seated at a small table when I enter St Jude’s Tavern and he quickly treats me to a pint of Leigh-On Sea brewery’s Crowstone Dark IPA (£3.60), a tasty beer suitable apparently for vegans. We talk of Munich, Marseille, pensions, aortas, Nieupoort in Belgium, jazz festivals and buying football tickets on-line; Mick also gives me a Christmas present, which he had intermittently forgotten about until today when he fully remembered it.  Two Burton Albion supporters sit on the next table and I wish them luck as they leave, although they seem more pessimistic than most Ipswich supporters and their pessimism seems well-founded as they step out into pouring rain. They head off to join the other 175 Burtonians who we will discover occupying the away supporters section in the Cobbold Stand today. The Crowstone Dark IPA has sadly run out, so before we depart I consume a pint of Mr Bee’s Sun Ray (£3.40) whilst Mick downs a Jameson’s whisky (£3.00).

Down Portman Road and onto the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, Mick and I edge past Pat from Clacton and take our seats just as the two teams emerge from the shiny polythene tunnel.  The usual PA announcer would seem have been substituted with an over-excitable character whose delivery and unnecessary enthusiasm smack of even lower league football or a school sports day.  Ever-present Phil who never misses a game has come prepared for the weather and is hidden beneath a large water-proof hood. 

Burton kick-off towards the Sir Bobby Robson stand wearing primrose yellow with black sleeves. From the very start Ipswich look keen and within a couple of minutes Kayden Jackson breaks forward on the left and sends the ball across the front of the goal. Will Keane arrives with perfect timing to not hit the ball directly at the goal and consequently have his fractionally delayed shot blocked by a Burton defender when a goal had looked the more probable outcome. A collective groan of disappointment rises up from the stand tinged with a hint of resignation.  Inevitably, Ipswich’s profligacy is swiftly punished and two minutes later Burton’s Jamie Murphy sweeps the ball casually beyond Town ‘keeper Thomas Holy having met minimal resistance from the Ipswich defence, which seems to have forgotten to post anyone on the right hand side.  Ipswich are a bit unlucky but at the same time not very good, which doesn’t make for a winning combination.  “Never mind” I tell Pat from Clacton “at least we’ve got plenty of time left to score some goals of our own”.

Behind me two blokes discuss Will Keane. “E’s quality wiv ve ball at ‘is feet” is the conclusion; one with which I think I more or less concur despite recent evidence to the contrary.  The game proceeds with Ipswich squandering chances with abandon as little Alan Judge thrillingly and spectacularly kicks the ball against the cross bar, and Kayden Jackson and Will Keane just miss or have shots saved. Burton get forward every now and then also and the Ipswich defence doesn’t always look composed, “E ought to ‘ave stuck his foot froo ve ball” is the opinion of the expert behind me on one occasion as Burton win a corner.  Meanwhile I admire the surfer dude look of Burton’s number four Ryan Edwards and their number two John Brayford; they both sport the sort of beards and unkempt hair that would stand them in good stead at an audition for Jesus Christ Superstar.  Where is Ipswich’s midfield Messiah?

Despite the failure to score there is thankfully no sense of resentment amongst the crowd, Town are playing well enough and I detect a collective faith and belief that Town will score.  At a bit before three-thirty with fine rain falling and occasionally blowing in beneath the roof of the stand that faith is rewarded as little Alan Judge’s shot from close range is deflected up high in to the goal.  For some unexplained reason little Judgey then proceeds to take off one his pink boots and throw it across the pitch, whilst his team mates attempt to mob him.  In some parts of the world shoe throwing is an insult, but it doesn’t appear that little Judgey has thrown his pink boot at any one in particular, although it did travel in the general direction of Paul Lambert and ‘the bench’.  The smoothly shaven-headed referee Mr Breakspear speaks to little Judgey, but unlike the openly provocative act of taking your shirt off, which could result in expressing an unwelcome opinion on your vest, boot removal is apparently not a bookable offence, if indeed it is an offence at all in the western football world. Little Judgey could have written something on his sock mind, although perhaps not much as I doubt his feet are very big.

Half-time is now on the murky horizon and Thomas Holy boots the ball the length of the pitch; Kayden Jackson reacts quickest to latch on to it and then send it past Burton’s all-green attired ‘keeper Kieran O’Hara, who ,with a bit of make-up and some tights might have a side line advertising tins of sweetcorn.  Not a goal of great beauty or technical difficulty and barely one that could be described as being from ‘open play’, but certainly one of outstanding simplicity and one which leaves us all happy when the time comes to visit the facilities beneath the stand after the Kojak look-alike blows for half-time.

After urinating and chatting to Ray, but not at the same time, I am ready for the second half and so it seems are Ipswich as with no more than six minutes played Kayden Jackson has scored again, this time with his head.  Mystifyingly this third goal is the cue for a tribute to Harry Belafonte and Boney M from the Sir Bobby Robson stand, although the lyrics of Mary’s Boy Child are altered a little to celebrate ‘The Norwich’ running away and eternal fighting rather than the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not much more than ten minutes later and incredibly Ipswich score for a fourth time with little Alan Judge’s  shot dribbling into the goal.  Ipswich goals are like buses, none for ages then four come at once.

There is still half an hour to go and with the game as good as won Pat from Clacton tells me about how much she enjoyed the  ‘Sounds of the 70’s Live’ show at the Princes Theatre in Clacton featuring Johnny Walker and how she is looking forward to The Roy Orbison Story next week;  Pat’s seen it before, but the bloke from Birmingham who sings is very good.  The game today has been so good Pat hasn’t once thought about the jacket potato she is having for tea. The crowd of 19,922 is announced and Pat and I check who’s won the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters bus; it’s a bloke Pat used to work with at Paxman’s Diesels in Colchester; we’re both disappointed that Woody the dog hasn’t won again. 

As the game rolls on empty crisp packets blow across the pitch like tiny sparkling tumbleweeds beneath the beams of the floodlights, which shine out of the leaden sky above the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.  Football matches on winter afternoons are beautiful occasions especially when you’re winning 4-1. On loan Josh Earl dashes up and down the left flank beneath his face mask, which ever-present Phil says make him look like the Phantom of the Opera and Luke Woolfenden’s newly bleached-blond hair gives a hint of ‘Scandi’ to the back three.  Substitutions come and go and Pat from Clacton hopes that Cole Skuse scores so that she can win the competition for last goalscorer; the chances are against it seeing as Skuse has previously scored just twice in 267 appearances for Town, but Pat has been on a winning streak this week, having already ‘scooped’ £4 playing whist, which has gone towards her cruise fund, so we have high hopes.

As with all the best things in life, the game is soon over and with no more goals scored Pat from Clacton’s cruise fund is temporarily becalmed, but it’s been a blast and the weather has not been as bad as expected, being just grey enough to add a dramatic backdrop but nothing more.  Interestingly it’s the first time Town have won a third division game 4-1 since the last time they did it.

AFC Wimbledon 0 Ipswich Town 0

After six months off-work due to illness, today is my first day back, albeit for a shortened day of just six hours toil.  Keen to prove to the world and myself that this really marks a return to normal life, I am going for broke and also making my first away trip of the season, catching one of three supporters’ buses from Portman Road (£21, but half price with my Season Ticket holder’s voucher) to Kingsmeadow (aka the Cherry Red Records Stadium), Kingston, current home of AFC Wimbledon.  At the start of the season I drew up a list of six third division football grounds, of which Kingsmeadow was one, that I would be able to visit for the first time following the Town; four of those away fixtures have already passed with me in no fit state to attend, so for someone who is blissfully transported by the sight of unfamiliar arrangements of floodlight pylons, coloured polyurethane seats, corrugated sheet metal and concrete steps tonight is an opportunity not to be missed.

Leaving my office at 3pm I make the short walk to Portman Road and approach the back of the short line of three buses. I am booked on Coach Two, which as logic demands is helpfully parked in front of Coach Three and behind Coach One.   I prepare to board but stood by the door and subtly blocking my path is a stern, un-smiling woman with a clipboard and passenger list; “Surname” she says and a subversive voice in my head says “Don’t tell her Pike!”. There was a time not long ago when it was possible to travel on these supporters’ buses anonymously, but times change and football clubs seem to have become ever more controlling and paranoid. In a spirit of mild rebellion and in an attempt to inject the friendly face of humanity I give her my first name also, she eyes me suspiciously as I mount the steps into the bus acknowledging the driver with a nod and muffled greeting as I climb.

The bus is almost full with the usual misfits that travel like this and most pairs of seats are occupied by at least one person; after checking that it is not taken I settle down on the first vacant single seat I come to next to a balding, grey haired and bearded man in a blue polyester football shirt.  Within not many minutes the buses set off one by one to make the left turn onto Handford Road and the highways beyond.  As the bus slows at the Tesco roundabout at the edge of town I check my watch; we’ve been on the road for ten minutes, it seems like hours.  I know I have to take my copy of “Soccer Empire The World Cup and the Future of France” (Laurent Dubois, University of California Press 2010) from my blue cloth bag decorated with the stars of the EU flag (a 2 Euro purchase from the gift shop at the EU Parliament in Brussels )and begin to read to pass the time.

Whilst I learn of Jules Rimet, Guadeloupe and Felix Eboue the buses speed beyond the Suffolk border and on past Colchester with its football ground sitting remote and detached from the town by the A12, past dull Witham and bland Chelmsford towards the M25.  The buses bear the name Suffolk Norse on their flanks, it’s a curious moniker for a fleet of coaches, but then I see the vision of us all lined up in pairs side by side down the length of the bus and I see a longship full of Vikings, of Norsemen, albeit Vikings and Norsemen who have lost their oars. The fleet name makes sense; we are a collection of middle aged blokes led by one severe woman setting off to metaphorically rape and pillage a small corner of metropolitan Surrey. 

Darkness falls somewhere in Kent and crawling through the endless pre-war Tudorbethan suburbia of Chessington, Tolworth and New Malden, two hours and fifty minutes after leaving Ipswich, we eventually spy the floodlights of Kingsmeadow, which shine like beacons to these weary, but in my case well-read travellers.  The buses draw up in front of a parade of suburban shops and I alight as fast as good manners will allow, turning back towards the entrance to the ground where I  have arranged to meet a longstanding friend who is known as Jah on account of his love of reggae music.  Jah lives nearby in Kingston (Surrey not Jamaica) and has sourced our tickets for tonight’s game.  With handshakes and greetings out of the way I buy a match programme (£3) and we head for what is not by any means the nearest public house; however, knowledgeable of my loathing of ‘rubbish beer’ Jah has selected a pub called The Norbiton where he says the beer is ‘decent’. It’s a 15 minute walk through anonymous residential streets to The Norbiton which appears gloriously out of the gloom, light spilling from its tall Edwardian windows and beckoning us in.  Inside we meet Jeremy a friend of Jah who already nurses a pint of what looks suspiciously like lager; he buys me a pint of an Espresso Stout the exact name of which I forget, whilst Jah has a pint of Sambrooke Junction Bitter.   Jeremy is kindly providing one of our tickets.  We talk of our past, our age, of my health, of politics, of women’s football and of Jeremy’s unusually small Toyota IQ car in which we will soon travel back to Kingsmeadow. Jeremy is impressed that I have travelled all the way down from Ipswich for tonight’s game.  Part way through our conversation I realise that although I paid for my programme back at the ground and took my change (four fifty pence pieces) I never actually took the programme.  Bugger.  After Jah treats me to a second pint, this time the Junction Bitter, and has a half himself, it is about twenty-five minutes past seven and time to head for the match. I fold myself into the back of the tiny Toyota whilst Jah, who for a man who is not yet sixty years old is very inflexible, clambers into the front passenger seat.  Jeremy tells us that he usually parks the Toyota directly outside the ground, but tonight the kerbs of Kingston Road are tightly packed and no spaces can be found, and kick off is fast approaching. We drive around the block again and praise be,  in a side road just opposite the ground we find a couple of metres of tarmac between a Vauxhall and a dropped kerb into which the Toyota will fit.

It’s a matter of yards across the street to Kingsmeadow; we enter through the main entrance beneath a high metal arch that announces the name “Kingsmeadow” and spotting the programme sellers beneath  I explain how I didn’t take my programme earlier; he must have realised too as he straightaway hands me one. Around the corner on Jack Goodchild Way we meet a man called Jonathan who incidentally has a Mexican wife, but more importantly the other ‘spare’ ticket and he also hands us each a programme; together we head for the entrance to the main stand.  Entering the stadium is like walking into a social club and it is self-evident that this is very much a non-league stadium. There are no turnstiles as such but we form two orderly queues and pass our bar coded tickets beneath a scanner; looking ahead through a short tunnel beneath the stand I can see the players are already on the pitch, it’s like a snatched glimpse into another world through a magic portal.  A few steps on and we are into the stand and stood at the side of the pitch; our seats are a little to the left beyond the players tunnel which we cross in front of, in the front row behind a thickly painted blue metal crush barrier.

The illuminated scoreboard in the corner of the ground shows that we have missed the first two minutes of the match but it also confirms that we haven’t missed any goals; no real surprise there.  Our seats are within a couple of metres of the pitch and it feels like we are truly part of the game, as indeed the crowd should be.  The atmosphere in this small stand is sociable and happy, clearly everyone here is a regular; club officials, coaches and players mingle in the stand and plainly know some of the supporters, this is like being at a non-league match.  Behind me a man who shouts to the referee that he’s a muppet sounds just like a man who shouts the same thing at Coggeshall Town.

The football is unexceptional.  Ipswich, playing in red and blue with pale yellow socks towards the beautifully and exotically named Chemflow Stand, also known less interestingly as the Athletics End, pass the ball about a bit and if this was a competition to see who could pass the most and most accurately they would win, but inaccurate hoofs and hopeful punts play their part in ensuring that incisive moves are kept to the barest minimum.  The Wimbledon supporters whose team is in all blue get their kicks where they can and cheer with more enthusiasm than perhaps the players’ abilities deserve.  Architecturally Kingsmeadow is a dull little arena, but beneath the floodlights with the backdrop of a few gaunt, grey, leafless trees it springs to life.

Jah and I point and chuckle and guffaw as play after play come to naught. We observe that the referee Mr Craig Hicks has very, very neat hair and Jah mentions the recently aired TV programme Inside Number Nine.   I admit to Jah that I have often wondered about referees’ sexuality.   Mr Hicks may just be light on his feet as he tiptoes away from a tete-a-tete with an errant player and then flicks his wrist theatrically for a free-kick, after which Jah and I spontaneously raise our arms to mimic his slightly camp wrist action whilst the people behind us probably wonder about our sexuality.

“Go on Piggy” shouts Jeremy at Wimbledon number thirty-nine Joe Pigott and I tell him how much I envy Wimbledon supporters having a player they can call Piggy.  Jeremy adds to my jealousy, telling me that they also shout “Feed the Pig”.   Joe Pigott is featured on the front of the match programme. Jonathan asks if I was at the 1978 FA Cup final and seems impressed when I tell him I was.  There are very few sustained songs or chants coming from either set of supporters and Jah and I lament the loss of the great tunes of Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band which are no longer socially acceptable.  When I returned to work this morning I would have very much liked to have sung to my colleagues “Did you miss me when I was away, did you hang my picture on your wall? Did you miss me every single day? I bet you didn’t miss me at all, at all, I bet you didn’t miss me at all. Hello, Hello. It’s good to be back. It’s good to be back.”

Ipswich hit the cross bar in a moment of madness and half-time arrives, and I am in great need of a visit to the small toilet beneath the stand; it’s a cold night and those two pints are trying to get out, but first we must wait for the players to leave the pitch and the blue polythene players’ tunnel to be retracted.  This stadium is the antithesis of the theatre of dreams and it’s great because it is full of the inconveniences that reflect real life.

Relieved we return to our seats for the second half.  If the first half was unexceptional the second is exceptional for being even more unexceptional. It’s as if the players have become frustrated or bored by their inability to do anything much very successfully and have given up.  Weirdly however, it’s not the sort of game that people boo because it retains a kind of competitive tension, either side could score because they are both so inept that either one could just hand victory to the other at any moment.  Hope remains but of course our hopes are foolish.  The absence of appreciable football does at least let me appreciate the fine oak tree that stands and spreads itself behind the covered terrace opposite in which the Ipswich supporters are stood. Jah and I also enjoy the mask worn by Town’s on-loan number three Josh Earl who inspires a conversation about the TV series “My name is Earl”.  When Earl is substituted a man behind us, possibly the “You’re a Muppet ref” man attempts to riff on the problem of a masked player taking off his mask when substituted and then coming back on to the field unrecognised. If anyone laughs, they do so quietly.  Meanwhile a small knot of Ipswich supporters try to scuff-up the bonhomie that has existed for most of the match with a chant of “Who the fucking hell are you?” but it is in no way clear to whom they are addressing their song and no one seems to care.

My hands are cold but I remember I have gloves in my pocket and I put them on, but warmer hands don’t make up for the poor standard of football in the second half, nor does a half volley by Town’s Will Keane which is spectacularly kept out of the goal net by Wimbledon goalkeeper Joe Day, a name which is impressive in its economic use of syllables.  Keane’s attempt is as close as Ipswich come to scoring and the game ends with Wimbledon pretending to be the attacking team as they win a couple of corners and generally mill about threateningly in the Ipswich penalty area.  The final whistle comes as a relief to all and Wimbledon’s supporters, again displaying the pragmatism of the lower leagues, seem happy with claiming a point, realising it’s better than not existing at all.

The evening is over so quickly and I bid Jeremy, Jah and Jonathan good night before heading back to my six-wheeled golden long ship and the voyage home. I’ve had a lovely time and look forward to coming back next season.

Ipswich Town 1 Peterborough United 4

This morning I awoke in Belgium. A couple of days on the windy West Flanders coast have passed in a flurry of sightseeing interspersed with seafood and glasses of excellent Orval, Chimay brun, Westmalle dubbel and advocaat plus rides on the brilliant Kusttram, the world’s longest tramline (68 kilometres).  Tonight KV Oostende have a home game with Sint-Tuiden, which they will win one-nil, and the Albertparkstadion or Versluys Arena as the sponsors would have it known is but a handy dozen stops away on the tram from where I have been staying, but I am loyal to Ipswich Town and courtesy of the E40, A16, le shuttle, M20, M25 and A12 and my trusty Citroën C3 I return home arriving shortly after 11am in plenty of time to catch the train to Ipswich.  I hope I don’t regret all this travelling and effort.

It’s a breezy, almost Spring-like day and some of the hedgerows have been fooled into blooming; yellow gorse almost glows on the bank behind the station platform.  I wait behind four millennials with scrubby, wispy attempts at beards who are struggling to buy tickets from the automatic ticket machine; I thought these ‘youngsters’ knew all about this technology.  The wait seemed longer than it was and the train is not due for another five minutes or it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t thirteen minutes late. I separate myself from the dozen or so people waiting for the train by the metal footbridge and sit further up the platform where a large, lumbering man swigs from a can of Abbott Ale; he looks like Jonathan Meades if Jonathan Meades wore a tracky top and woolly hat and swigged Abbot Ale from a can.  The man leaps into action with a film camera as an inter-city train thunders through the station; he’s a boozy, Jonathan Meades-look-a-like train spotter.  The whispering station announcements are carried away on the wind but heck, the train will either turn up or it won’t. It does.

Ipswich is busy with police, mostly stood in pairs, a policeman and a policewoman, like coppers on dates. The Station Hotel is enjoying the custom of Peterborough United supporters. I proceed in a north westerly direction on my way to St Jude’s Tavern.  In Portman Road a man who may have learning difficulties stands awkwardly as he stuffs his wallet and programme in his coat pockets; unwisely I make eye contact.  “What do you think the score will be today then?” he says as if he’s known me all his life and asks me this every week.  “I’ve absolutely no idea whatsoever” I reply as I walk on.

At St Jude’s I buy a pie (steak & kidney) and a pint (Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde Mild) for a fiver and sit at a table with one of the small group of old gits who are in here every match day.  Two more old gits arrive and then a third.  “If you’re not careful he’ll tell you about his scarf” says one of them about another who is wearing a football scarf. Unfortunately he does tell me about his scarf, which features the names and badges of both Ipswich Town and Fortuna Dusseldorf. The same man later relates how he lost his rucksack in Brussels and got on the wrong train, going to Antwerp instead of Bruges.  My eyes glaze over and the other old gits start to laugh; my honest face reveals the boredom we all share.

After another pint of Oscar Wilde Mild (£3.20) and more conversation, some of it about a big woman called Diane, who they know and I don’t, I make for Portman Road and the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. I don’t really know why but I buy a programme (£3.50), perhaps because it’s not every week we play Peterborough United. I sit down as the teams appear from the hole in the corner of the stadium.  Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, predictably, and today he is accompanied by young Elwood his heir. Pat from Clacton is here too and she knew I’d be here, even though I’ve been in Belgium.  The game begins with Ipswich getting first go with the ball and kicking it mostly towards me, Pat, Phil and Elwood when not going sideways and backwards.  The referee, Mr Andy Woolmer possesses the appearance of a vertically challenged skinhead, but in common with his two assistants he wears a salmon pink shirt T-shirt affair rather than a Ben Sherman.  The salmon pink shirts are possibly the result of Peterborough United’s decision to don a largely black kit, although with burgundy-coloured raglan sleeves and candy pink socks; for a football kit I find it overly camp.

The game begins in a swirl of passing and running about and these opening minutes are entertaining with the promise of a good match.  Peterborough, with their raglan sleeves hugging their muscular shoulders win the game’s first corner and the first shot ensues, a volley from Mark Beevers which Town goalkeeper Will Norris saves.   A tall man with quite long hair arrives late and shuffles along in front of Pat from Clacton and me; he sits next to me and places a large rucksack beneath his seat.   The noise in the ground is what you might expect from a football match although the Sir Bobby Robson stand supporters succeed in bringing the atmosphere down a notch with a typical rendition of the half speed, dirge version of “When the Town go marching in”; it’s as if they are toy bunnies whose Duracell batteries have all run down at once.

Back on the pitch and Town’s Luke Woolfenden appears to have recently visited a barbershop, or bought a little hat; fellow Blue James Wilson wears a matching design.  Behind me two blokes with local accents talk roughly and indistinctly as if they have mouths full of bees and every now and then I get a hint of body spray or eau de cologne, which smells faintly either of herbs or perhaps toilet duck.  Pat from Clacton decides to see if the popular crooner Ed Sheeran is here today and trains her telephoto lens on the executive boxes in whatever the West Stand is called nowadays.  I am impressed and a little worried that Pat knows where to point her camera to find the ginger multi-millionaire.  A man sat in front of Pat and me who has heavily brylcreemed hair suggests that Ed only comes to Cup matches, I make the point that he wouldn’t see many games in that case.  Pat soon shows me a grainy snap which confirms that Ed is ‘in the building’, although apparently he likes to leave early to beat the rush.  We coin the term ‘Patarazzi’ before Kayden Jackson wins a first corner for Town and some of the 1,908 Peterborough supporters in the Cobbold stand begin chanting “Who the fucking hell are you?” and then answer their own enquiry, albeit incorrectly, with “Shit Norwich City, you’re just a shit Norwich City”.  It’s not for nothing that the innate wit and ready repartee of people from Peterborough has never been mentioned before.  Displaying a misplaced and overblown faith in their own sense of superiority and importance which helps to explain the Brexit vote, the Sir Bobby Robson standers respond to the Peterborough-ites with chants of “Here for the Ipswich, you’re only here for the Ipswich”.

Fifteen minutes pass and wing back on-loan Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt has to be replaced by jazz trumpeter Myles Kenlock.  Luke leaves the arena gingerly drawing the top of the right leg of his shorts up to reveal an expanse of what we must guess is injured thigh.  A group of seagulls hover overhead, floating on the wind and getting a free view of the game.   Five minutes later and there is a rainbow above the corner of the Cobbold and Sir Bobby Robson stands, but it’s just reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets and has no bearing on the game although it’s not long before James Wilson fouls Peterborough’s Siriki Dembele in the penalty area and the linesman tells Mr Woolmer that he should award a penalty to the away team;  Ivan Toney scores as he sees Luke Norris feint to his right giving him the opportunity to coolly roll the ball to the goalkeeper’s left before Norris can react and follow the direction of the actual ball.

“It’s no Super Bowl” says one of the blokes behind me oddly, but in a rare moment of intelligibility. After 33 minutes the match is possibly even less like the Super Bowl, whatever that means, as Town goalkeeper Luke Norris attempts to dribble the ball around Peterborough’s Sammie Smozdics, but fails in his attempt thus allowing Sammie to score one of the easiest goals it is possible to score.  Is this the same Norris that used to be Coronation Street I wonder to myself. Pat and I are disappointed but remain optimistic of a comeback. “If we can just get a quick goal” says Pat and I add fuel to optimism’s flames by expressing my sudden belief that being two goals behind isn’t really that different to being just one down, in fact it’s the same thing. Pat looks at me a little weirdly.  The blokes behind me leave their seats and don’t return before half time.  Four minutes of added time fail to deliver the quick goal that Pat from Clacton had been hoping for.

The toilet, the half-time scores and a koetjes reep (Flemish or Dutch for chocolate bar) await me.  It’s a particularly fine chocolate bar for which some of the proceeds go to fund Mercy Ships a charity which provides free surgery in sub-Saharan Africa for people in need and helps fight poverty and disease.  I flick through the over-priced and overly thick match programme, the front cover of which make me think it’s Christmas still; I think it’s the red lettering with dark background and the little white spots which look like snowflakes or fairy dust.  The featured player today in the programme is Gwion Edwards and for my amusement I read the largely boring, clichéd piece to myself in the voice of uncle Bryn from Gavin and Stacey.  There is still time to have a quick chat with Ray and his grandson Harrison before at six minutes past four the second half begins.

The blokes behind me have returned and unless they are simply calling out random small groups of numbers between two and six are deep in discussion about the formations of the teams.  I’m bored already and Pat from Clacton tells me how she’s having a baked potato for her tea, she always has baked potato for Saturday tea and always starts thinking about her tea when the football gets a bit too much to bear.  It’s not just a baked potato of course, there’s crab sticks too and other stuff I can’t remember; it’s a small feast with a baked potato as the centre piece.  I tell her I will be having sausage and mash, and it’s true, I will.

It’s only ten past four and the diminutive Siriki Dembele scores a third goal for Peterborough, perhaps whilst Ipswich’s defenders are wondering what they’ve got for tea. From the Cobbold stand it sounds as if the Peterborough supporters are singing “Ernie, Ernie, gives us a wave” and the huge white cross girder between the floodlights on the Sir Bobby Robson stand takes on a faint orange glow as it reflects the rays of the slowly sinking sun.  The Peterborough fans are now in cruise control and break into that old favourite “Is this a library”,  possibly because they have genuinely never been in a library and are curious.

Ipswich have been playing alright in that they have played attractively enough, but without really looking like they will score a goal.  It’s twenty-five to five now and Sammie Smozdics scores again for Peterborough as Ipswich’s defenders prove sluggish returning from an impromptu drinks break by the dugouts; getting the opposition out of position with a pitch-side drinks party seems like a useful tactic.  This fourth goal leads to a mass evacuation of the ground and I wonder how I missed hearing the unpleasant “Woo-oo, Woo-oo, Woo-oo” sound that the woman with the strange Irish accent always tells me about every time I visit a Portman Road toilet.   The old dear and old boy who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me get up to go. “We can see you sneaking out” says Pat from Clacton.  “I’m not sneaking, I’m proud to be going” says the old dear twisting logic to try and make a virtue of her despicable fickleness.

With hopes of anything other than misery and defeat receding faster than former Town centre forward Steve Parkin’s hair, Pat from Clacton tells me about a TV programme she will be watching tonight in which celebrities dress up as animals and sing whilst other celebrities have to guess who the disguised celebrities are.  I had thought Belgium was an odd country.

There is time for James Norwood to raise Town supporters’ spirits by a tiny amount by scoring a penalty after being hacked down by the lanky Mark Beevers, but nothing else occurs to ease the pain.  Ten minutes plus five minutes of added on time elapse and all that happens of note is that a shot from Peterborough’s Jack Taylor heads over the cross bar towards me and Pat from Clacton; the ball smacks the seats in front of us and unbeknown to us at the time also hits young Elwood on the back of the head.  Ever-present Phil comforts the lad and a paramedic gives him an ice pack to hold over the bump that he says has formed; it’s sad end to a depressing afternoon, but at least Pat from Clacton’s got a baked potato to look forward to, and I’ve got sausage and mash.