Games against Lincoln City are like buses are supposed to be, you don’t see one for ages and then a whole bunch of them come along almost at once. Of course things have moved on in Suffolk and nowadays you don’t see a bus for ages and then find out that the County Council have withdrawn financial support for it. But that aside today is the seventh time Town have played the Imps in the past four years, having not played them previously since 15th of April 1961, and despite an absence of passengers or paying customers at Sincil Bank the game is still going ahead.
It’s a grey, overcast day, a dull end to the end of British Summertime and I have spent the morning half-watching live coverage of the Aussie Rules Grand Final between Richmond Tigers and Geelong Cats. The Cats are probably the under dogs, if that’s possible. I once stopped in Geelong for a cup of coffee and some food on a road trip from Melbourne and out along the Great Ocean Road, I also used to own a pet cat; these seem to me to be good enough reasons to be rooting for the Geelong Cats today. My wife Paulene has an on-line subscription to watch every Aussie Rules game, every week of the season, and she is supporting Richmond. Richmond win by 81 points to 50, but sportingly I join in Paulene’s celebration and share in the bottle of Crémant that I thoughtfully put in the fridge after breakfast. Indeed, today my pre-match ‘pint’ is one of Crémant, which accompanies a light lunch of left over rice, salad and prosciutto.
Whilst Paulene switches her attention to the Giro d’Italia cycle race, I tune into Radio Suffolk on my trusty Sony transistor radio, plugging in the earpiece, and finely adjusting the dial to eliminate the hisses and crackles of the ether and Radio Essex just in time to hear a female voice handing over to Brenner Woolley and Alex Mathie in faraway Lincoln. Brenner is quickly down to business asking Alex what he wants to see today; Alex is equally quick to tell us that he wants to see Town playing football in the attacking third of the pitch; thereby implying that he does not want to see the defence passing it aimlessly amongst themselves like they did at Doncaster Rovers last Tuesday in what could only euphemistically be called ‘building from the back’. Meanwhile it sounds like Oasis are playing over the Sincil Bank PA system, but I could be wrong.
I didn’t watch or listen to the game at Doncaster on Tuesday, I’m not entirely sure why but I think it was the case that I simply couldn’t be bothered and preferred to sit and read a book. Nevertheless, I was giving my support by wearing my button-collar blue T-shirt purchased on-line in the Planet Blue sale over the summer. The T-shirt had previously not witnessed a Town defeat, but sadly by bedtime when I removed it from my rippling torso it had to be added to the huge pile of lucky garments that weren’t.
Back at Sincil Bank, or the LNER Stadium as the soulless lackeys of the capitalist system would now have us call it, Brenner helpfully describes how Town are wearing all blue whilst Lincoln wear red, black and red and are defending the goal off to Brenner and Alex’s left. The reception on my Sony 310 transistor radio has become rather poor and I have to jiggle the radio about a bit whilst Brenner reveals that today’s referee is Mr Kevin Johnson. The “ball runs to one of those red shirts” says Brenner, understandably unable to recognise the unfamiliar faces of the Lincoln players, although also suggesting to me at least that there could just be some red shirts strewn about the pitch. Brenner fills his commentary with superfluous information about which clubs the Lincoln players have played for previously, where they went to school and what their first pets were. Just three minutes have passed and it should be 1-0 to Lincoln. “It’s all Lincoln just now” is Alex’s expert assessment.
Ipswich’s goal survives the opening minutes and our heroes work their way into the game a little more. Both Brenner and Alex pronounce Lankester as Lancaster betraying their far northern heritage with their ugly short vowels; but they both now agree that it’s a good game. “You’ve never seen them win here” says Brenner to Alex, and then in an attempt to feign positivity he adds “It’ll change this afternoon, fear not”. He doesn’t fool me.
Oliver Hawkins seems to be playing well. “When the ball comes in, he’s made it stick” says Alex muddling his tenses and using a sort of glue metaphor to tell us that Hawkins can control a football. The ball goes “…into the palms of Palmer the ‘keeper” says Brenner, becoming enjoyably playful with his words before sharing the important fact that there has never been a goalless draw between the two sides.
Twenty five minutes have passed. “There’s not a great deal happening at the moment” says Brenner. Glancing through the living room window it looks like the world has started to melt. “Rain!” shouts Paulene, and as one we dash out into the hall, through the Kitchen and into the back garden to rescue various socks, items of underwear and T-shirts from the rotary washing line, whilst I simultaneously hope I don’t miss a goal; happily I don’t.
A third of the match has now passed in to broadcasting history and Hawkins has a header cleared off the goal line. “He just rose and he’s hung in the air” says Alex taking one from the near the top of the pile of football commentating clichés, but sensibly eschewing any mention of salmon; it was “.. a phenomenal header” adds Brenner. A minute later Hawkins shoots for goal and clears the stand; it sounds like it was a phenomenal shot.
Entering the final third of the first half Brenner refers to someone playing the ball with “his left shoe” and to Andre Dozzell getting “on his bike”, something Freddie Sears did in last Saturday’s match, and with Freddie not playing today I wonder if it’s the same bike or if each of the players has his own and if so how they all fit in the underfloor lockers of the team bus. Does the presence of all the bikes mean that the kit has to be stowed on overhead luggage racks inside the bus? Back in 1962 when Town won what is now called the Premier League, most of the players actually used their bikes to get to training each day. Tsk, how times change, eh?
As the game drifts towards half-time, play has apparently stopped and there is talk of a drop ball and neither Brenner nor Alex seem to know exactly what is going on, or how we got into this situation, whatever the situation is. It’s a most disconcerting few seconds of my life; it’s bad enough not really knowing what’s happening anyway when one listens to a radio commentary, but when the commentators don’t either it feels I’m like falling into a dark abyss, or at the very least being locked in the cupboard under the stairs. It’s a relief when the action returns to my ears, although all too soon I feel my heart leap as Brenner’s voice suddenly rises in pitch and volume and Lincoln City’s Brennan Johnson surges into the penalty area, but thankfully shoots past Tomas Holy’s right hand goal post. The half closes with Alex Mathie giving us his assessment that the game “deserves a goal,” although I’d argue that virtue is its own reward.
Over half-time I relocate from the living room to the Ikea Poang chair in the ‘back bedroom’ because I am struggling to concentrate on the finer points of Brenner and Alex’s commentary whilst also still able to hear the commentary of the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly. I try out the kitchen first but for some unfathomable reason the radio reception there just isn’t good enough. I put the kettle on and make tea for Paulene but forget to pour a cup for myself. Evidently under stress, but not knowing it , I settle down in the Poang to hear Alex conclude that it was an even first half but that “…Lincoln just shaded it with chances” before predicting that “whoever gets the first goal is likely to go on and win the game”, which suggests that neither team is very good ‘up front’. At three minutes past four “Nolan rolls the ball back to Wilson” and the second half begins. Town are now playing, Brenner tells us, towards the end at which little Alan Judge scored the winning goal in the FA Cup last season. Disappointingly Brenner fails to mention the towers of the Gothic cathedral that can be seen up on the hill beyond the roof of the Stacey West stand but in his defence , he does mention the Lincoln City player with the “Alice band keeping his blond hair in place”. Radio commentary is all about painting a picture with words.
I look at Twitter and catch up on the FA Cup scores at Leiston (drawing 2-2 with Barnet), and at Banbury where Bury Town are winning 1-0. It’s nearly twenty past four now and Brenner again raises the question of whether this game could be the first ever goalless draw between Town and Lincoln City. There is clearly little sign of there being a goal at Sincil Bank, which incidentally is one of my favourite names of any Football League ground; let’s hope the club’s custodians never think it’s a good idea to move elsewhere.
Back in the commentary box it sounds like Brenner and Alex are about to argue. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have thanks to Twitter but I think that perhaps contrary to Brenner’s view Alex is trying to say that Town have had a good start to the second half “Are you admonishing me , Alex?” says Brenner. “No I’m trying to convince myself” replies Alex climbing down. It’s the most exciting moment of the half so far.
The game dribbles on; Brenner predicts that Lincoln’s Liam Bridcutt is heading for a yellow card as a result of a number of niggly fouls that “…he has committed since 3 o’clock”, from which I infer that Brenner thinks he may have been committing fouls before 3 o’clock too. Bridcutt is not booked, although he was booked at Fleetwood the previous Saturday, so Brenner was right.
It is thirty-three minutes past four and all of sudden Alex Mathie provides an object lesson to all co-commentators in how to sound exasperated. “ You don’t need to do that…” says Alex before seemingly being struck speechless as Toto Nsiala nudges over Brennan Johnson, and Mr Kevin Johnson the referee, perhaps taking a lead from Boris Johnson about awarding honours and contracts to your friends and now it seems namesakes, awards a penalty to Lincoln City. Brenner picks up the commentary from the stupified Alex, and Jorge Grant scores. “He doesn’t miss many when he takes them” says a recovered Alex, devising an odd variation on that motivational poster nonsense about always missing 100% of the shots you don’t take.
“I’d like to see it again Brenner” says Alex to his colleague about the penalty, as if this is something that Brenner has the power to arrange. We now have a female Dr Who, so in the interests of diversity why not a Time Lord who has a side line commentating on Town matches. Keanan Bennetts replaces Jack Lankester with ten minutes remaining and then the game expands into four minutes of added-on time. In the fifth minute of added-on time Jon Nolan is shown a “straight red” for a foul on Lincoln’s Harry Anderson and Brenner’s and Alex’s commentary sends me tumbling into the darkness once again, they don’t seem to know what is going on, or prudishly won’t tell me. It sounds like there is a punch up, which judging by the rest of the commentary of this half is the most exciting thing that has happened all afternoon, but the detail in the commentary is sadly lacking. I am sat in my Poang wanting to know who is pushing who and who’s restraining who from doing what, but all Brenner tells me is that both goalkeepers are involved; but involved in what? Throwing punches? Kicking opposition players? Kicking their team mates? Wrestling people to the ground? Pulling faces? Flicking v-signs? “Frustration, that’s all it is” says Alex. I know how they feel.
The game ends and I rather wish I hadn’t bothered, but heck what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon than pretend I’m at a football match. I wonder if there’s any of that Cremant left.