Today is a beautiful day; the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing; February is not yet over but it feels like Spring is here. I spend the morning in the garden. It’s been a sunny week and an odd week of rumours about Ipswich Town being the subject of a takeover, a buyout, a sale. What seemingly started as a joke on social media has grown into a rumour sufficiently credible, or at least prevalent, for the local newspapers to report it and the club owner to deny he is “actively looking to sell”. To add a layer of complexity to the story, those calling for Town manager Paul Lambert to be sacked are now having to contend with the team having found some decent form, having at last beaten a team in the top six of the third division and having not conceded a goal in three games. All this coincides with the buffoon who is ludicrously Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announcing details of what he calls his ‘road map’ for the nation’s way out of lockdown and a hoped for return to normality in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly, optimism is the ‘new normal’, although as all Town fans know we must be careful what we wish for.
Rewarding myself for my morning’s work in the garden I sit outside and pour a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (£13.95 for eight bottles direct from the brewery). I am reminded of the song ‘Winter’s Over’ by the erstwhile Norwich band ‘Serious Drinking’, the lyrics of which read “Thanks God the winter’s over, December’s far away, let’s drink outside at lunchtime , on another sunny day”. My wife Paulene has a gin with soda water and together we kick back and enjoy the warmth of the sun on our faces and bare arms; feeling like an Englishman at the seaside I roll up my trouser legs and top up on much missed Vitamin D.
As we lose ourselves in the joy of being outside in the sun, time moves on and three o’clock soon approaches; I move to the kitchen and Paulene to the living room where separately we tune in to the ifollow, me to watch Town, Paulene to watch Pompey play Gillingham. By the time I log on and hitch my lap top to the tv, today’s opponents Doncaster Rovers are on the pitch in their red and white hooped shirts and red shorts, hugging and forming a circle like new age weirdos crossed with a Rugby League scrum. Town trot on to the pitch and then together the two teams ‘take the knee’ to annoy all the people who deserve to be annoyed. I feel like I’ve arrived in the ground just in time for kick-off, as you do when it’s been difficult leaving the pub.
The game begins, Ipswich having first go with the ball and kicking towards what will always be Churchman’s, although the Sir Alf Ramsey Cigarette End sounds good, but I doubt Sir Alf smoked. “Doncaster lack a goal scorer; a bit like us” are the first wise words of the afternoon that I hear Mick Mills say as side-kick to BBC Radio Suffolk’s commentator Brenner Woolley. The Town team is unchanged from the beautifully unexpected 1-0 win at Hull on Tuesday. “Bostock trying to pull the strings” says Brenner of the Doncaster midfielder, quickly settling into football speak. Midfielders always ‘pull the strings’ in football and not only those on the waist bands of their shorts. “Smith, on loan from Manchester City, the blond-haired player” continues Brenner, airing his interest in all things tonsorial and using his trademark back to front sentence construction.
Brenner tells us that it’s a “Fine Spring afternoon at Portman Road”; indeed it is and to make the point again Brenner describes how some player or other “…goes square into the sunshine”. Doncaster have started ‘brightly’ we are told, it must be all that sunshine. Suddenly, “That was awful from Judge” says Brenner excitedly as little Alan Judge inexplicably turns and plays a perfect through ball for a Doncaster wide player to run onto. “That was woeful from Town” adds Brenner just so we can be sure how bad it was. “Doncaster, very lively on their feet” says Mick. It’s a sentence that might suggest that they are not so lively on other parts of their bodies, but we never find out. It seems likely however that ‘lively feet’ are a pre-requisite for footballers, and for goalkeepers ‘lively hands and arms’ too.
Just eight minutes have elapsed since kick-off and Doncaster, or ‘Donny’ as Brenner is calling them, to show off his knowledge of local slang names, are dominant. “The (Town) defence is working overtime, they really are” says Mick conjuring up images of Marcus Evans on the phone to his accountants checking that Luke Chambers only gets time and a half and not double time. “Gorgeous weather over there” says Brenner of the far side of the pitch and thereby displaying a worrying perception that being in the shade means he is experiencing different weather from somewhere a hundred metres away.
Three minutes later and “Doncaster, the better side after eleven minutes” is Brenner’s assessment. “The tide will turn if you’re professionally about it” replies Mick, accidentally using an adverb and adding another natural phenomenon to the commentary to compliment Brenner’s interest in the weather. Doncaster’s Joe Wright ”… puts his foot through the ball” according to Brenner , who then follows up with reference to what he had expected “early doors”. We are not yet a quarter of the way through the game and impressively Brenner has used most of his football-ese vocabulary already.
Doncaster’s John Bostock is a frequent name in Brenner’s commentary as he continually links up play between Rovers’ defence and wide players. Bostock is 29 years old. “All these years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen John Bostock” admits Brenner, but then he hasn’t been commentating for local radio in Leuven, Antwerp, Lens, Toulouse and Bursa where Bostock has played 148 of his 200 odd club games. Myles Kenlock wins the game’s first corner. “If Town score it’ll be very much against the run of play, but we’ll take it” says Brenner magnanimously. Why do people say “we’ll take it” ? What is “it”? Has anyone ever “not taken it”? If you take “it”, where do you put it? Thankfully in the circumstances, Town don’t score.
John Bostock is still the dominant presence in midfield and therefore it is Doncaster who have the ball most of the time. “It’s Dozzell and Freddie Bishop we need more from” says Mick. Town break down the right and win a free-kick. “Judge not keen to put the ball in the painted crescent by the referee” says Brenner , unusually getting his trademark sentence construction all wrong. From the free-kick Toto Nsiala sends a decent header across the face of the goal.
Town break forward again, this time more centrally and Teddy Bishop is adjudged to have been fouled by Doncaster’s Taylor Richards. Mick isn’t convinced it was a foul, but presumably someone decides we should “take it”. A knot of Town players surround the ball. “Norwood’s been told to do one” says Brenner, eliciting a stifled chortle from Mick. Little Alan Judge takes the free-kick and arrows a superlative right-footed shot into the top right hand corner of the Doncaster goal. “That was a fabulous goal” says Mick, and after twenty-four minutes Town lead one-nil. “A cracking free-kick from the Irish midfielder” says Brenner characteristically reducing little Alan Judge to a nationality whilst also sounding a bit like Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit animations.
For a short while Town have as much of the ball as Doncaster. Luke Chambers gets forward from his full-back position and earns a corner “ Yeah, good play” confirms Mick. Then little Alan Judge almost scores again as Myles Kenlock makes a long run forward to pull back a deep cross to him. Town win a third corner and then a fourth. Brenner saying “Bostock with that bleached mohawk haircut” and “Bostock along the deck” announces Doncaster’s return to having more possession and Brenner’s continued interest in coiffure and his curious need to describe football using nautical terminology.
Ten minutes to half-time and Doncaster almost score, with Tomas Holy deflecting a shot away with his right leg and the follow-up shot from Josh Sims , who makes me think of Joan Sims, being blocked by the excellent Toto Nsiala. “Best attack from Doncaster if you’re talking about ending up with something on target” says Mick having clearly spotted that in spite of all their possession Doncaster have had very few decent attempts on goal. Another Doncaster shot is on target but Brenner confirms that it’s “straight down the mouth of Tomas Holy, who drops on the ball for extra security”. Mick thinks the Doncaster player should have done better, with “Control, finish” being his unusually succinct assessment of what he needed to do.
With half-time approaching, Brenner adds a little incidental colour to his commentary telling us that Paul Lambert is “just screwing the top back on his water bottle”; it sounds like a euphemism but it’s probably not. Half-time comes and Brenner tells us that it’s a case of “Town with that slender 1-0 lead” as opposed, presumably, to a huge 1-0 lead or even a slender 3-0 lead. With Mick heading off into a long and convoluted explanation of the first half, the BBC Radio Suffolk transmission is rudely interrupted by the ifollow’s own commercial break , disgusted that Mick must play second fiddle to consumerism and capitalist greed, I get up to put the kettle on.
The second half begins with a cup of tea and a couple of ginger Christmas tree biscuits ,which are very tasty and which my wife Paulene acquired at a generous 70% discount due to Christmas having happened two months ago. Paulene incidentally has given up on Pompey v Gillingham and has turned to Dijon FCO versus Paris St Germain in French Ligue 1, where former Town loanee Bersant Celina is playing for the home team and is destined to have easily his team’s best attempt on goal, but his team will lose four-nil. Brenner meanwhile announces that if Town win this afternoon it will be “a huge feather in their cap and a right old boost”, whilst Mick summarises the game so far by stating “Bostock and Smith have been much better than Dozzell and Bishop”, and naturally Mick is right.
Just two minutes into the half and Myles Kenlock is booked for an unnecessary foul on Taylor Richards. Mick tells us that Doncaster had 71% of possession in the first half, although personally I was more impressed with their 85% passing accuracy. “A lazy leg in there from Okenabirhie” says Brenner as the Doncaster player fouls Andre Dozzell and I imagine Okenabirhie dragging his idle, recalcitrant leg about the pitch constantly committing fouls as other players fall over it. Doncaster start the half well, but it’s Town who almost score as James Norwood bounces a shot off the ground and Joe Wright heads it off the goal line. A minute later Wright concedes a corner; the ball is headed on from the edge of the penalty area and James Norwood nips in to scramble it past the exotically named Doncaster goalkeeper, Ellery Balcombe who sounds like he might write pulp crime fiction when he’s not picking the ball from the back of his goal net. Town lead 2-0; I let out a cheer, clap my hands above my head and kick my legs out in front of me. “Goodness, gracious me” says Brenner mysteriously channeling Peter Sellers and making me imagine Mick as Sophia Loren.
Moments later little Alan Judge shoots a little high and a little wide or, as Brenner rather gruesomely describes it, “he opened up his body from 19 yards”. “Greedy for me” says Mick and suggests Troy Parrott was free and better placed. If Parrott was perhaps older, had been at the club longer and knew little Alan “as a person”, Mick believes he would have given little Alan Judge a “volley” of abuse. It’s an entertaining insight from Mick.
An hour passes; Doncaster make two substitutions and win what Brenner refers to as a “rare Doncaster corner”. Tomas Holy rather weirdly “pats the ball into the ground” according to Brenner, who goes onto speak, as he did last week, of a “bit of brown ground down this nearside”. It’s a phrase that suggests Brenner has no concept of mud or bare earth and has me wondering if he otherwise thinks of the pitch as “green ground”.
Doncaster begin to recover from the blow of the second Town goal and in the 64th minute almost score. “That was close to a goal from Doncaster” says Brenner and Mick backs him up with “That was a big chance for Bogle, it really was”. Three minutes on and Gwion Edwards and Flynn Downes replace Little Alan Judge and Andre Dozzell. Five minutes further on and a Doncaster shot strikes an Ipswich goalpost. A minute after that Taylor scores for Doncaster after a slightly desperate tackle from Flynn Downes sees the ball squirm away to Jon Taylor who is in space and strides forward to hit the ball across Tomas Holy and inside the far post. “Maybe they deserve it” says Mick sportingly but resentfully, citing that Doncaster had hit a post.
Fifteen minutes of normal time remain and Josh Harrop replaces the oddly named Keanan Bennetts. Eleven minutes of normal time remain and Aaron Drinan and Freddie Sears replace James Norwood and Troy Parrott. Mick questions the wisdom of changing half the team. “It’ll be awful if Town let a 2-0 lead slip in this game” says Brenner mischievously before going onto predict “an uncomfortable final eight minutes for Ipswich Town fans”. Brenner is right and yet he’s not; Doncaster camp around the Town penalty area, passing the ball back and forth but seldom if ever threaten the Town goal.
With two minutes left Aaron Drinan breaks down the right. “Poor from Drinan” says Brenner as an over hit cross by-passes a Doncaster penalty area which is devoid of Town players in any case. “Still Town on top in terms of score line” says Brenner, reassuringly stating the obvious. Four minutes of added on time will be played. “Stand by your beds, it won’t be easy listening” says Brenner, fulfilling his own prophecy before he’s said it; “All hands on deck for Ipswich Town off to the right”, although I think he meant starboard. In the ninety-third minute of added time the ball falls to Teddy Bishop who aimlessly and apparently in a state of panic lumps the ball away up field, provoking the sort of sweary outburst from me that would be frowned upon within earshot of the Family Enclosure at Portman Road. But Doncaster are playing with only Omar Bogle up front and he’s not been by any means a prolific goalscorer at any time since he left Grimsby Town in 2017, consequently the score remains unaltered and Town win.
“You wait all this time for a victory against a top six side and then two come along at once” says Brenner, reprising, but mostly repeating his public transport based analogy from last week. I think to myself how you can wait years for a public transport related analogy in a football commemtary and then two come along at once. To the strains of “Hey Jude” the players leave the pitch; they have taken a sad song and made it better. It really has been a beautiful day.