This morning I have lost two hours of my life. Waking up just before five o’clock, nature calls and I answer, but returning to bed I struggle to sleep as my nose starts to run and I become restless. I hear the clock strike six and then after fitful sleep I am sure I hear it strike seven. I’ll get up soon I think to myself. My wife Paulene is a light sleeper, the other half of the bed is vacant; but she’s often up before six. I lie there, luxuriating in the warmth of a bed on a winter’s morning. Time passes; I raise my arm and look at my watch. It’s twenty-two minutes past nine. Twenty-two minutes past nine! Confused and befuddled I leap out of bed, shower, dress and head downstairs where Paulene addresses me with a predictable greeting of “ At last!”
Feeling a mixture of guilt and disappointment that the waking moments of my precious weekend have carelessly been shortened, after eating a breakfast of porridge as a tribute to families of bears everywhere, I throw myself into Christmas card writing and present wrapping as I seek redemption. By one o’clock all cards are written, envelopes addressed and stamped, and I take them to the post box, which I can see from my kitchen window. The day is cold, damp and grey as December days should be. I skip over the muddy verge; my footsteps disturb the shallow puddles of the wet pavement; I discover that my old pair of shoes, which I keep in the kitchen for gardening in, leak. Back in the warmth and dry I surround myself with Christmas gifts, Christmas paper, sellotape and scissors. By a quarter to three the presents are wrapped; I am redeemed and ready to visit Portman Road through the medium of the ifollow. I celebrate with a pre-match ‘pint’ (actually only 330ml) of Brewdog Lock Down, described on the tin as a Guava & Grapefruit Pilsner, which I take from my beer-a-day advent calendar. Served cool on a hot summer’s day it would be refreshing, but it’s hardly a beer for a northern European winter’s day.
In the living room Paulene is aghast at a day-time tv programme in which a morbidly obese woman is fitted for an unsuitable wedding dress whilst frequently breaking down in tears because of unresolved psychological issues. Car crash tv such as this is horribly compelling and it’s gone five to three by the time we can tear ourselves away from the sight of the not quite as obese but very sweaty and terrified looking groom waiting at the altar. I access the ifollow just as the pictures from Portman Road switch to an advert for the ifollow, which seems a bit pointless given that I am already watching it. By the end of the commercial break it’s gone three o’clock and the game hasn’t started. Paulene looks at her phone and an app which says that the game is three minutes in. I check my lap-top and find a red on-screen button displaying the word ‘Live’; I click it and the broadcast miraculously moves forward in time to the fourth minute. That’s another three minutes of my life I’ve lost today.
I am calmed by the soothing voice of Mick Mills “I think we’re one of the better teams in the division” says Mick. “What you have to remember is this is not a good division” he adds, like a punchline. That one-liner aside, Mick is in positive mood and tells us that Town will be confident after last week’s win at Plymouth. I hope he’s right, but Paulene doesn’t because she supports Portsmouth. “Light rain tumbling at Portman Road” says Brenner Woolley poetically. “Headed on by the pony-tailed Marquis” he continues, although I think he means Harness because Pompey’s John Marquis doesn’t have a ponytail, whereas Marcus Harness does, and what’s more his first name and surname rhyme delightfully, but Brenner doesn’t mention that. “We were slow with the free-kick and very, very slow with the throw-in” says Mick casting early doubt on Town’s confidence.
With nine minutes gone a shot from John Marquis on the turn is very well saved by Town goal keeper David Cornell, who Brenner consistently refers to as Dai. Pompey win a succession of corners, although quite how many is unclear as the caption on the screen says three but Brenner says four. “They’re beginning to settle better than Town” says Mick of Pompey, questioning further his opening statement about Town’s confidence. “Portsmouth the better side at the moment” confirms Brenner, for those who might not have grasped the implication of Mick’s comment. “Bouncing the ball off each other like a ping pong machine” says Mick inventing a new type of machine in order to illustrate just how Pompey are currently the better side.
Happily the ping pong machine breaks down or is shown to be a figment of Mick’s imagination and Town begin to get into the game themselves. “The game has become much livelier now Town have entered the contest” says Brenner before repeating the sentiment but in footballspeak by saying that Town are “more into this game than they were early doors”. Town’s Albanian Armando Dobra “…gives the thumbs-up to his fellow teenager” having failed to catch an over hit pass but then shortly afterwards has Town’s first shot on goal after giving a “little shimmy”. But both Mick and Brenner agree Dobra should have scored, which is a pity because it will prove to be Town’s only decent attempt on goal all afternoon. Despite his miss, Dobra is the man of the moment and Mick waxes lyrical about his willingness to run at the opposition and the impact it has “He just throws them upside down” says Mick, leaving me worried that he’s bound to get booked sooner or later doing that.
With Town playing quite well Brenner relaxes and playfully mentions Toto Nsiala sharing some banter with the fans “… as he walks down the touchline with his black beanie hat”. Brenner has stopped mentioning what Paul Lambert has been wearing in recent weeks and I find it reassuring to know that Toto has a black beanie hat, even if we don’t know if he had it on and was wearing it at a jaunty angle or like a commando. It seems safe to say I am quite enjoying the game at the moment and Brenner adds to my enjoyment with his mention of the “man in the luminous kit”, a phrase he uses perhaps because it seems easier than using the Pompey goalkeeper’s name, Craig McGillivray, which looks difficult to pronounce but actually isn’t; it also looks incidentally, like a Scottish version of the planet that Dr Who is from. Time Lords aside, Brenner is on a roll and follows up with reference to Pompey’s Ryan Williams as “the pony-tailed Australian” , again showing his minor obsession with pony-tails as opposed to all other hairstyles , such as Luke Chambers’ Army conscript look or Stephen Ward’s very neat short back and sides.
Things seem just fine and so on 29 minutes Pompey score, the aforementioned pony-tailed Australian arriving in the penalty area on his own to hit the ball from about eight yards into the roof of the net after a precise passing move. Mick and Brenner give credit where it’s due, “Outstanding goal” says Mick. Four minutes later Town’s Jon Nolan is sitting on the turf rubbing his calf and is replaced by Brett McGavin. Pompey almost score again seven minutes later, but don’t. Ipswich meanwhile recover enough composure for Mick to be moved to say “It was lovely to watch and there was almost an end product, I didn’t dislike that”. Two minutes later the same pony-tailed Australian scores again and with three minutes additional time played Portsmouth lead 2-0 at half-time.
Paulene and I leave our seats for the half-time break; I return to the living room with two mugs of tea and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar; Paulene returns wearing a Pompey shirt and accompanied by Nelson the Portsmouth mascot, or at least a 30 centimetre high cuddly effigy of him. I think it’s her subtle way of gloating. Within three minutes John Marquis should score a third goal for Portsmouth and then seven minutes later he sends a header against the Town cross bar. Almost an hour of play has passed and we learn that Mick Mills has brought mince pies to the game, it’s a highlight of the afternoon’s commentary, as is the confession from Brenner that he has taken one of Guy Whittingham’s mince pies whilst he was away. It’s an interlude in the commentary that reveals a lot about the differing characters of generous Town legend Mick Mills and the sly, mince pie stealing BBC Radio Suffolk commentator. Mick does admit that he likes to be co-commentator because it gives him more time to eat, but no Town fan would be begrudge him that after a record 741 games for the blues.
Pointlessly, little Alan Judge is replaced by the weirdly named Keanan Bennetts and Kayden Jackson is replaced by Aaron Drinan. Pompey’s Ronan Curtis strikes the cross bar with a shot from outside the penalty area. Mick explains how the third goal in a game is the most important. “How can you listen to this bloke every week” asked Paulene of Mick. “He just the states the bleedin’ obvious” she adds in as lady-like manner as possible. Naturally, I leap to Mick’s defence, mis-quoting the words of Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in the 1964 film musical ‘My fair lady’; “I’ve grown accustomed to his voice” I sing to her. She doesn’t seem convinced.
Four more minutes pass and “Dai” Cornell makes another brilliant diving save to prevent another Pompey goal. Ronan Curtis is booked. Oliver Hawkins replaces Jack Lankester but not before Lankester is booked and Brenner continues to pronounce Lankester like the county town of Lancashire, despite the blatantly obvious difference in spelling; damn his short northern vowels, as Henry Higgins might say. Town are now playing with two strikers despite Paul Lambert’s assertion that his team is ‘hopeless’ playing such a formation. Lambert is right of course, because two ‘up front’ simply means we are fielding two players who rarely get to touch the ball, not just one. Mark McGuinness is booked for a foul on Marcus Harness to create a satisfyingly sibilant sentence. Brett McGavin is booked also to complete a bizarre four minutes of ill-discipline amongst Town’s youngsters. “Bennetts with his pink boots on” says Brenner, as he did last week in Plymouth. “This game has gone sort of very untidy now” says Mick, cleverly creating a metaphor for the game with his own untidy sentence construction.
With the game into its last ten minutes all seems lost. “Absolutely silent at the moment in Portman Road” Brenner tells us “You certainly wouldn’t know there were 2000 people here”. But in truth the same can often be said when there are 15,000 people present, so he shouldn’t be too surprised. A heavy sigh is audible before Mick says “We just can’t create”, but soon afterwards Town win a corner and Mark McGuinness heads over from a central position. “Just needed to head between the cross bar and the two posts” says Mick, stating the obvious or having possibly recently developed an unexpected streak of sarcasm. It’s something he repeats a short while later with “A chance to create a chance if ever there was one”.
“Town fans unable to leave early” gloats Brenner as four minutes of added on time is announced. Brenner sighs, “Really flat here” he says, sounding genuinely sorry, the thrill of an illicit mince pie clearly having passed. The game is about to end. “The inevitable boos are ten seconds away” says Brenner. His prediction is sadly correct although some fans applaud the team, as they should; we just happen to have been beaten by a better team, a team not necessarily of greater talent, but one of greater wile, better organisation, more consistency in terms of selection and greater experience. Paulene is shocked at how some of Town’s alleged ‘supporters’ have so easily turned on their team; I’m not. I’m used to it. “Britain’s most miserable football club” says Brenner of Ipswich Town, most appropriately, as the players leave the field to the strains of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”.
Often a piece of writing will end with a reference back to the beginning to provide a conclusion and satisfying circularity. If you recall, the opening of this piece was about two hours of my life that I had lost because I had overslept. It would be a bit obvious to say I’d lost another two hours of my life to Ipswich Town and the ifollow, so I won’t; what’s more I haven’t. Paulene enjoyed it anyway.