Today is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. Looking out of my kitchen window I see that the International Day of Happiness is dull; the sky is grey and overcast; worse still, this afternoon’s match between Ipswich Town and Portsmouth at Fratton Park kicks off at one o’clock, when I should happily be enjoying lunch or a pre-match pint. More pleasingly, because my wife Paulene supports Portsmouth, we shall therefore be watching the game together. Over a cup of coffee at breakfast I ask her if she is excited about today’s game. She confesses that she is not. Portsmouth’s recent form has been as poor, even worse than Ipswich Town’s. The appointment of a new manager has not inspired her, Paulene cannot get excited about an appointment known as “The Cowleys”, and the fact that they managed Braintree Town seems to trouble her.
The early kick-off will probably spoil my whole day, it did when Town played at Gillingham a fortnight ago, although the final score played a part in that. Football needs to be at 3 o’clock, so at least I get a decent few hours to enjoy in the morning. Sensing that my negative feeling towards today’s fixture mean that I’m not really entering into the spirit of United Nations International Day of Happiness I try to spread some joy and write a birthday card for my step-son’s mother-in-law’s partner Larry, who is eighty years old today. Happy Birthday Larry. Larry is not really much of a football fan, he’s more into Far Eastern philosophy, although we did once go and watch Coggeshall Town play Witham Town in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.
With the Portsmouth v Ipswich fixture being our household ‘derby’ I am tuning into the ifollow to watch an away game for the first time. This means that I shall not be able to listen to my usual source of knowledge and insight, the commentary of Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills from BBC Radio Suffolk, but will instead be relying upon Brenner’s equivalent at BBC Radio Solent, a radio station that I like to think broadcasts from the sea bed and therefore has presenters who look like the cast of Gerry Anderson’s Stingray. We log-in just in time to hear the puppet presenters giving their predictions for this afternoon’s final score. “Ipswich are terrified of the ball” announces someone, I don’t know who, as they justify why Pompey will win. The predictions are 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0 to Pompey.
Brenner’s underwater equivalent announces that this afternoon’s match sees the start of “… a new era against a team that will provide memories of an old one”. Different club, different radio station, same old cliché-ridden, hackneyed drivel I think to myself. The commentator’s side-kick is introduced as former Pompey striker Guy Whittingham, “Danny Cowley is an experienced man” says Guy, “so is Nicky” he adds as an obvious afterthought. Any bloke over forty who isn’t a man because of recent gender re-assignment could probably be said to be “an experienced man” though.
The game begins and I learn that the aquatic version of Brenner is called Andrew Moon; he is soon describing Ipswich’s third choice shirt. “It’s what I am going to call maroon shirts with dark red stripes” says Moon, revealing straightaway that he is either colour blind or has no words in his vocabulary for dark blue. Much like Brenner would, he soon proceeds to tell us that “Paul Cook is watching the game very casually, with a mug of coffee in his hand”. Very quickly it is apparent that Moon has the same book of commentator’s words and phrases as Brenner. “Naylor goes to ground” he says as the Pompey number four scurries into a burrow. Minutes later Town earn a free-kick close to where the touchline meets the by-line; it’s“ a glorified corner” according to Moon; it’s not a phrase I’ve yet heard trip from the mouth of Brenner, but it would be worthy of him.
Fourteen minutes pass. “No significant opportunities at either end as yet” says Moon. Four minutes later Jack Whatmough fouls the oddly named Keanan Bennetts. “Surely, has to be a booking” says Moon showing admirable impartiality and honesty worthy of the BBC and its Reithian values. Craig McGillivray makes a decent flying save from little Alan Judges resultant free-kick. Moon emulates Brenner by mentioning the weather, “Spring not quite here yet” he adds, giving closure to the subject.
Nearly half an hour has gone and the oddly named Keanan Bennetts wins the game’s first corner, excluding ‘glorified corners’ that is. Four minutes later a fine passing move ends with an exquisite through ball from Gwion Edwards, which sends James Norwood into the Pompey penalty area where slightly unexpectedly he lashes the ball into the far corner of the net past a motionless McGillivray. Town lead 1-0, “… probably deservedly so, on play” says Guy Whittingham grudgingly and weirdly implying that there is another means to assess who deserves to be winning other than ‘play’. I suspect the ‘Whittingham method’ may be based on which team is wearing shirts with a crescent moon and star badge or contains players with the surnames Harness, Cannon and Raggett.
As I boldly begin to enjoy the game and imagine the name of Ipswich Town proudly ensconced in fifth place in the third division table Pompey win a corner. The ball narrowly avoids the head of Toto Nsiala at the near post before Pompey’s Tom Naylor heads the ball onto the far post which in turn diverts it into the goal. “Naylor scores the first goal of the Danny Cowley era” says Moon moronically in the style of some hack reporter. “Portsmouth have a leveller they probably don’t quite deserve” he adds more intelligently. Half-time arrives shortly after Pompey’s Ronan Curtis shoots wide with Luke Chambers struggling to get back and defend.
Half-time is busy. A parcel is delivered by Hermes, or as I childishly call them Herpes. It reminds me of an aircraft carrier-related joke which seems appropriate on a day when we are playing Portsmouth. A man tells his friend he has Hermes. “You mean Herpes” says the friend. “No, Hermes” says the man “I’m a carrier”. I pour myself a glass of Westmalle Dubbel Trappist beer, in part to celebrate James Norwood’s excellent goal and in part to blot out the disappointment of Pompey’s equaliser. I make Paulene a mug of hot chocolate.
Ipswich get first go with the ball when the game re-starts and are attacking the Milton End, where in normal times their followers would be sat, glumly supporting their team. Town have two shots on goal within the first couple of minutes. Five minutes into the half Pompey earn another corner, which Town fail to deal with comfortably as a Pompey player wins the initial header. The ball is eventually claimed by Tomas Holy. Ronan Curtis becomes the second Pompey player to be booked, following a foul on Teddy Bishop. “Probably the correct call” says Moon again showing the sort of fair, honest commentary you’d expect of the BBC, but for which Brenner Woolley would be criticised for being biased in favour of the opposition. After the delay for the booking, little Alan Judge prepares to take the free-kick. “The referee says off you go” is Moon’s slightly weird, imagined rendition of the conversation that precedes it.
The second half is not as good as the first from an Ipswich perspective. We are no longer the better team as Pompey dominate down their left, and I am now beginning to miss the wise and plentiful words of Mick Mills who would have explained where Town are going wrong if this were a home game. Guy Whittingham is no more a fitting substitute co-commentator for Mick than John Stirk was a fitting substitute full-back. Andrew Moon however, is showing that he has all the peculiar commentating skills of our own Brenner Woolley as he speaks of a Pompey player “rubbing his face in frustration” (as you do) and “Portsmouth picking up the pieces in the shape of Naylor” which has my mind’s eye working overtime and imagining what a football match painted by Pablo Picasso would look like. Moon then goes for his hat-trick of facile references to the perceived ‘new era’ with “The first substitution of the Cowley era” as Ben Close replaces Andy Cannon, moments after the referee creates his own hat-trick of Pompey bookings with Andy Cannon’s name.
For Town Armando Dobra replaces the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts. James Norwood and Ronan Curtis argue like schoolgirls, but according to Moon “Neither of them is stupid enough to be lulled in to doing something”. It’s an odd bit of commentary that barely makes sense in relation to the on-screen pictures and there is every possibility that Moon means provoked instead of lulled, unless perhaps what looks like an exchange of verbal abuse is in fact the two players singing softly to one another .
More than once Moon refers to Tomas Holy as the “big Czech”, as if his nationality mattered, and then with 20 minutes gone Town win their first corner of the second half. Presumably having found a free page in his notebook, Mr Young turns his attention to Ipswich and books Gwion Edwards and Luke Chambers in quick succession. Moon tells us that “A loud, gruff, Scouse accent shouts for the touchline”, which is quite reassuring for Town fans as long as Paul Cook is coaching the Town players and not just giving us his version of “Twist and Shout”.
Seventy one minutes have passed and Teddy Bishop becomes the equaliser in Mr Young’s private booking competition before we hear Moon excitedly say “…and Marcus Harness has turned it around for Portsmouth” and my heart sinks as I watch Harness get two shots on goal, the second one of which tickles the net. “Cowley’s certainly injected something into this team” continues Moon raising hopes that Town will be awarded the points when the Pompey players fail the post-match drugs test.
Town are never in the game again. “Step up” shouts a Cowley from the touchline; Pompey do, Town don’t. Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace little Alan Judge and James Wilson, but to no avail. Pompey’s Michael Jacobs edges the booking competition in Pompey’s favour. With less than two minutes of normal time remaining Troy Parrott replaces Teddy Bishop. Paulene answers the front door because Town have a free-kick and I refuse to leave the sofa; it’s my step -son calling to collect Larry’s birthday card. The free-kick produces nothing. Tomas Holy saves a header from James Bolton as another Pompey corner troubles the Town defence. Five minutes of added on time raise my hopes “Five minutes!” exclaims Paulene “where did they get that from?”
It doesn’t matter where the five minutes came from, because it goes and the game ends. Ipswich lose, Pompey win. There is no mention of any Pompey players failing the drugs test. Paulene apologises for my disappointment. We are told that this is the first time Pompey have come back to win after going a goal behind in nearly two years. Frankly, the United Nations International day of Happiness has not lived up to expectations, but at least I can look forward to the company of Brenner again next week.