Ipswich Town 0 Visitors 0

When I saw who Town’s opponents were today, I did think about having a week off from writing this blog as a futile protest against the theft of Wimbledon Football Club’s status, identity and history and its translocation 70 kilometres away from its indigenous supporters.  But such a gesture, so long after the crime was committed would achieve nothing other than my having not to think of something to write about Town’s latest fruitless attempt to score a goal.  The time for protest and action was back in 2004; that was when supporters of all clubs should have stormed the offices of the Football Association, kidnapped the then England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and dumped truckloads of horse manure on the pitches of St George’s Park.  But revolution has never been a strong suit with the English; most of us are too self-centred to support the oppressed and act collectively for the common good, which is why we get so many Tory governments.

Politics aside, it is oddly appropriate that today Town should be playing what is effectively a sports franchise in the week that our club has been sold to a bunch of Americans.  Let’s hope our new owners don’t decide a in a few years’ time that their interests would be better served if our club was somewhere else where the local inhabitants are wealthier or more plentiful.

Not believing that today’s opponents are, as a club, worthy of their place in the Football League I am not particularly looking forward to this afternoon’s match,  and  I take a walk across the fields near my house to feel the blustery wind in my face and commune with nature in an attempt to purge myself of the ill-will I am harbouring for the visiting team and the club’s straggly-haired, short-arsed, pudgy-faced chairman, Pete Winkelman; but at least he has a surname we can all laugh at; unless that is your surname is Winkelman too.

Back indoors and with a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Adnams Broadside (two for £3 from Ocado) there are ten minutes to go before kick-off and I turn on my Lenovo lap-top and log-on to the ifollow.  It’s just a short while before I hear the familiar voices of Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills coming at me through the airwaves; my mind greets them like the old friends that they have become over the course of this season in lockdown. Brenner invites Mick to comment on the American takeover. “It’s something that’s happened that pretty much we all thought would happen, although when it went quiet I though it wouldn’t happen” says Mick , as clearly as he can before admitting that he is in “the Marcus Evans’ camp” and is thankful to the outgoing owner for the continued existence of our club.  As ever, Mick is right, but also, as ever, he doesn’t stop there.  Mick goes on and ends by telling us that the players are the most important part of any football club, but that lately at Ipswich “We haven’t seen the desire from the players”.  Of course, Mick is right, again.

The game is due to begin but cannot do so until we have had a silence for the very recently deceased Duke of Edinburgh.  Unlike dead footballers, who used to get a minute’s silence but now get a minute’s applause because the sort of people who watch football can’t be trusted not to shout profanities during a silence, the Duke, or Phil the Greek as he was known, gets a stonking two-minutes silence.   The silence ends and a brief self-congratulatory applause bursts out then quickly dies; it’s weird how nowadays people feel moved to applaud a successful silence; although it would have been weirder if one of the assembled players or officials had de-spoiled the silence by blurting out some anti-royalist sentiment.

The game begins and the visitors, appropriately attired all in black like the baddies that they are,  get first go with the ball,  kicking towards the Sir Alf Ramsey stand.  “How big to have Flynn Downes back, Mick Mills” says or asks Brenner making strange use of the word ‘big’ and using one of his typically unusual sentence constructions. “I like Flynn Downes” replies Mick, being atypically concise.

Just two minutes in and Armando Dobra clatters into a visiting player. “The referee belatedly wants a word with the Albanian youth international” says Brenner indulging his passion for telling us the nationalities of anyone who’s not English.  Dobra is shown the yellow card by referee Mr Tom Nield.

Play resumes and I think I hear Brenner refer to a player on the visiting team whose name is Harbey.  I pray silently that I didn’t miss-hear him and that perhaps there is an heir to the John Duncan era number three, who is one of the few Town players ever to be called Graham.  As I begin to wonder to myself if the blond-haired, gap-toothed full-back would have got into today’s team my reverie is punctured by the realisation that the visiting player’s surname is not Harbey, but Harvie.  Like the 1970’s, it was fun while it lasted.

Armando Dobra lobs the ball wide of the visitors’ goal following a decent pass from Flynn Downes to Aaron Drinan, before the ball returns to the other end of the field.  “Holy, clearly first choice under Paul Cook, the Czech” says Brenner, being Brenner but confusingly implying that Paul Cook is Czech like Tomas Holy before deciding to tempt fate by announcing that the visitors have never beaten Town during the course of normal time.  Clearly feeling compelled to qualify his statement however, he then adds “…they’ve only played us six times, it has to be said.”

Ten minutes gone and the game is not very exciting, although there is much passing of the ball. “ I’m not sure the players have got the capabilities to play this way” muses Mick quickly pointing out the truth behind Town’s season.  Gwion Edwards wins a corner for Town and the visiting players fall over a lot when Town players touch them, winning undeserved free-kicks.   The visitors attack down Town’s right and, says Brenner revealing his confusion over what footballers wear on their feet “…the ball goes fizzing across the Town area from McEachran’s shoe”.

Seventeen minutes pass. “There hasn’t been a whole heap of goalmouth action so far “says Brenner.  The visitors win a corner. A shot is fired straight at Tomas Holy.  Five minutes later Stephen Ward overlaps down the left and sends in a low cross but there are no Town players in the six yard box, only Gwion Edwards, who collapses pathetically between two defenders.  “There should have been a cluster of Town players there” says Mick, putting emphasis on the word ‘cluster’.  Mick is right yet again, cluster is a good word.

The game remains on the boring side of dull.  “Still very little in the way of a goal threat from Ipswich Town, from both teams in fact” admits Brenner with the honesty expected of a public service broadcaster.  “It’s windy at Portman Road this afternoon” Brenner continues,  “Paul Cook with beanie hat and gloves and hooded coat as well”  he adds, unintentionally giving advice on what to wear for anyone intending to commit any criminal acts in the Portman Road area in the next couple of hours.

In my kitchen I am suddenly bathed in pale sunlight as the grey clouds outside momentarily part.  All of a sudden I realise how Brenner must be feeling when he tells us about the weather at a match; how his heart must be lifted that he can tell us about something vaguely interesting and beautiful.  A half an hour has passed since the game began and Teddy Bishop commits a foul; previously I hadn’t realised that he was on the pitch.   Brenner tells us again that the visitors have never won at Portman Road and Mick assures us that this won’t change,  “ They don’t look like they’re going anywhere” he says, but balances this optimism with “ …and we haven’t got our game going at all”.

The visitors win another corner but mostly just pass the ball about a bit, prompting Mick to suggest that “At this level you can’t play that type of football”.  I’m thinking what type of football can you play ‘at this level’.  Brenner livens things up with some of his own special brand of football speak as he tells us that the visitors’ goalkeeper “…hasn’t been asked too many questions in terms of his glove-work unfortunately.”  The only question I have is what is glove-work?  Is it really just Brenner’s way of saying ‘making saves and catches’, or is there more to it?  Hand movements in the style of Alvin Stardust perhaps? Jabs and punches a la Muhammad Ali or donning the Marigolds to do the washing up?

Despite the efforts of Brenner and Mick I’m not enjoying the match.  Brenner suggests that the Town manager is also not happy.  “Paul Cook frustrated; by his body language down below”.  It’s an odd and somewhat unfortunate sentence from the BBC commentator which implies that something unpleasant is happening in Paul Cook’s nether regions. I do hope not.  As if worried by these developments also, the Town team ends the half with, an albeit tiny, flourish. Andre Dozzell has a corner kick “plucked out of the sky” by the visiting goalkeeper before a low Gwion Edwards cross is diverted wide of the visitor’s left-hand goal post by Dobra.   According to Mick “It’s the best opening we’ve had in the first half” and of course he’s right.  Half-time arrives, the score is blank and Mick says that the visitors “…are the better side”.

Half-time is the usual excitement of putting the kettle on and choosing a snack; today I return to the familiar comfort of the Nature Valley brand peanut and chocolate protein bar.  In the living room my wife Paulene has been watching her team Portsmouth trail to Burton Albion.  Uninspired by the efforts of the brothers Cowley and their team, Paulene decides to forego the second half and watch Racing Club Strasbourg Alsace versus Paris St Germain in French Ligue 1.  Wanting to extract every last penny from the £10 that has no doubt been debited from what I paid for my season ticket, I persist with Brenner and Mick.

The game resumes and the visitors are soon awarded a free-kick just outside the Town penalty area after a ludicrous dive that fools the referee.  A player who Brenner tells us played for Norwich shoots and Tomas Holy makes what Mick describes as a “brilliant save”.  “A save early doors in the second half by the big Czech” says  Brenner stupidly,  but apparently edging his way a little further to winning his bet that he can say “early doors” in every commentary for a whole season, or possibly a whole commentating career.

As time moves on towards the completion of an hour of the game, Town win three corners.  “More intensity about Ipswich Town, momentarily” says Brenner, knowing not to get carried away by the site of a Town player running.  Mick meanwhile is concentrating on his adopted theme for today which is the visitors’ propensity to pass the ball about at the back.  The visitors “…losing possession in the defensive half, that’s how we’re going to capitalise I’m pretty sure” says Mick sounding strangely convinced that Town will win.  Town earn a fourth corner inside six minutes courtesy of Aaron Drinan but typically Andre Dozzell fails to lift the ball above the first defender and the ball is cleared.

An hour has passed and little Alan Judge, Tristan Nydam and Freddie Sears replace Armando Dobra, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop.   The public address system sounds very loud as if it is being played for the benefit of those of us watching at home.  Tomas Holy makes an impressive double save and then Freddie Sears falls over when he should have got a shot in and I am suddenly struck by how very pale and white Flynn Downes’ skin looks; “I hope he’s not sickening for something” is what a concerned mother might say.

In the sixty-ninth minute Troy Parrott replaces Gwion Edwards whom Brenner had earlier referred to as the “Welsh wing-back”, showing his appreciation of alliteration.  The visitors meanwhile replace their lone striker Will Griggs with a former Town youth player who rejoices under the name of Charlie Brown. What were his parents thinking? Did they buy him a pet dog and call it Snoopy too?  But to be fair to mum and dad Brown however, he does have a big round head, very short legs and a long body.    

It’s the seventieth minute and Freddie Sears hits a “fabulous strike” according to Mick , although of course he doesn’t score,  whilst according to Brenner, Paul Cook is “being rather loud down below us”; it’s something that raises the prospect of Paul Cook replacing  the public address system and announcing his substitutions in person.  The second half is better than the first but ultimately remains annoying.  One of the few joys is Darling, the comedy surname of the visitors’ number six.  “Darling, I’m not sure what that was meant to be” says Brenner as if talking to the love of his life but in fact describing a wayward pass.  Eight minutes further on and the visitors’ lose possession “in the defensive half” as Mick predicted, and Freddie Sears only has to lob the onrushing goalkeeper to score; Sears lobs the goalkeeper, he must score, but no, the ball travels past the post on the outside of the goal.  It’s the sort of chance that you cannot miss and still expect to win. 

The final ten minutes of normal time turn up on cue and Flynn Downes is booked for a hopelessly late challenge.  Two minutes later and Brenner repeats his usual faux pas about players’ footwear and tells us that “Tristan Nydam lost his shoe in that challenge”. Only three minutes remain and Ollie Hawkins replaces Aaron Drinan for what a lot of commentators would probably describe as a “cameo appearance”, thankfully Brenner doesn’t, although that’s not to say he wouldn’t.

Four minutes of added on time are added on during which the visitors win a corner. Town defend this final assault comfortably which moves Mick to compare this to Town’s performance at the other end of the field.  “In attack it’s absolutely woeful” is Mick’s parting shot.  “The referee can’t take any more of this” says Brenner, only half in jest, and finally and Mr Nield calls time.   Feeling like another Saturday afternoon has been stolen from me I turn off the tv and log out of the ifollow.

I sit for a moment to reflect on what I have witnessed this afternoon, but give up concluding that it’s only football although in years to come when Ipswich Town are once again the best team in Europe, we can tell our grandchildren about the days when Town were so poor that we rarely scored and some weeks we were lucky to get nil.

Ipswich Town 2 Bristol Rovers 1

Bristol Rovers, The Pirates, The Gas; I first saw them at Portman Road on a cold Wednseday evening in February 1978.  Although the 29,090 souls gathered there that night couldn’t have been certain of it at the time, it was an auspicious occasion that would forever be significant in the history of Ipswich Town as the one replay on the route to FA Cup glory.  I remember Bristol in their anaemic yellow shirts and black shirts and how we thrashed them by three goals to nil (Mills, Mariner and Woods). At the time, I thought it was an exotic fixture; Ipswich an established, top First Division club, albeit having an iffy season in the league, and Bristol Rovers the underdogs, perennial under achievers from one of England’s biggest cities and a club Town hadn’t played at Portman Road  since before I was born.  A little more than a decade after that cup tie and Town v Rovers was a Second Division fixture and now thirty years further on we meet in the third division again as we did in the 1950’s.  Time is round, there doesn’t seem much doubt.

I switch on my Lenovo lap-top, connect it to the tv set in the kitchen and log on to the ifollow.  “Sex or nothing for me” I think I hear Mick Mills say.  It’s not what I expected, even though with his fulsome moustache and mahogany tan, back in the 1970’s Mick would not have looked out of place in a porn flick.  I soon adjust my perception however and realise that Mick had said ‘six’ not ‘sex’ and was talking about the number of points Ipswich would take from their next two fixtures, which are against the two teams currently bottom and second from bottom of the third division table, Bristol Rovers and Rochdale.  Deciding that despite my admiration for Mick, what he thinks about how many points Town will amass over Easter isn’t very interesting I mentally tune out and don’t tune back in until the game begins and I hear Brenner Woolley explaining that Bristol Rovers are wearing their away kit of black with yellow pinstripes and flashing down the sides of their shorts.  I find Brenner’s attention to detail admirable and hope that the listeners to BBC Radio Suffolk who don’t have access to the pictures from the ifollow appreciate the picture he paints for them.

After about 50 seconds Town score; “A most bizarre goal” is Brenner’s description. “Well explain that one” says Mick in a challenge to Brenner, before admitting “I haven’t a clue what happened”.   It’s a goal that if it were a painting would be in the Tate Gallery or Pompidou Centre alongside the works of the abstract expressionists.  Marvelling at the thought of a goal that it is impossible to describe I can only attribute it to some sort of early Easter miracle.  The metaphorical stone that usually blocks the opposition goal has rolled away and let the ball in the net, and it’s still only Good Friday.  The caption on the ifollow screen attributes the goal to Rovers’ Luke Leahy, whose surname I imagine is pronounced ‘leaky’.  In my world I award the goal to Jackson Pollock.

“What you want now is a real response from Ipswich” says Mick, living in hope of seeing the current team live up to the benchmark he helped set forty-three years ago.  “This is the time of all times you want to get on your front foot” he continues, clearly believing that the current team has a front foot. As part of his usual rendering of mini-biographies of opposition players in the opening minutes, Brenner mentions Ed Upson, a former FA Youth Cup winner with Town who is today playing for Bristol Rovers. Meanwhile Mick doesn’t seem able to get over that goal. “A strange sort of opening to the game…we’re winning one-nil” he says, sounding bemused.

Ed Upson fouls little Alan Judge; “Upson, no stranger to the yellow card” says Brenner, introducing a turn of phrase I haven’t heard him use before.  Referee Steve Martin meanwhile is not swayed by the fact that Upson has ‘previous’ and doesn’t book him.  It’s the eleventh minute; Andre Dozzell shoots weakly, the Bristol goalkeeper Anssi Jaakola saves and according to Brenner, Alan Judge “finishes off at the second time of asking”.  It’s two-nil to Town.  “Andre’s shot was awful” says Mick tempering our excitement with a reminder of the reality, but the reality is also that Town have now scored twice. Simply unable to resist the pun, Brenner tells us that it’s “…a good Friday for Town”.  I sigh deeply with resignation but am shaken from my torpor as I hear Mick say “Inevitably going to be a win for Town”.  I can only think that Mick has adopted the attitude of Donald Trump and that if he says something, then he thinks it’s true. 

Egged on by Mick’s optimism I begin to dream of Town scoring five or six.  Brenner meanwhile returns to the world of using his words to paint a picture for the BBC Radio Suffolk listeners.  But figurative art isn’t wholly Brenner’s style and he likes to add a dash of surrealism’ “Paul Cook being rather noisy…he’s got his beanie hat and gloves on”.  Back on the field of play the Rovers’ goalkeeper receives the ball; “The Finn plays it out quickly” says Brenner, as ever ensuring that the ‘leave’ voting BBC Radio Suffolk listeners can single out the foreigners if they need to.  “I can’t quite decide what Bristol Rovers are doing” admits Mick suddenly, but perhaps still thinking about the opening goal.

It’s the eighteenth minute. “That was shocking from Dozzell” says Brenner. “Awful play from Andre Dozzell” says Mick as Rovers’ Luke McCormick robs the dawdling midfielder of the ball, advances and chips the ball over Tomas Holy and into the Town goal.  “First goal of the season for Bristol Rovers against Ipswich Town” announces Brenner weirdly.  My dreams of a crushing victory evaporate and Bristol Rovers instantly and miraculously become the better side.  Five minutes later Tomas Holy collides with a Bristol player outside the penalty area and is booked by referee Steve Martin, although Brenner implies that Rovers’ manager Joey Barton is advocating a sending off.  “Joey Barton not happy” he says of the vengeful Scouser.  “It’s an awful mistake by Luke Chambers” says Mick, pinpointing where the blame really lies.  “Paul Cook’s head in his hands” continues Brenner, adding a layer to his aural picture which now resembles something by Hieronymous Bosch.  Happily, Rovers fail to score from the ensuing free-kick.

Thirty-four minutes pass and Town win a corner. “This hasn’t been a great performance” says Mick. “Both teams very untidy” he adds in explanation.  Mick is on good form; “Just taking his time there Andre, like he does”.   Bristol Rovers are dominating possession, making Town play on the break.  There are seven minutes until half-time. Suddenly Luke McCormick swings a leg at the ball in the town penalty area; “He should’ve made that two-two” says Brenner as the snap shot bounces past Tomas Holy’s left hand post. “Possibly” replies Mick, providing the voice of reason to quell Brenner’s hysterical panic.  “I thought it was in, and so did Tomas Holy, he was rooted to the spot” opines Brenner unconvincingly. 

Town fail to improve, “It’s not good viewing at the moment; Bristol Rovers the better side” confirms Brenner before adding a dollop of symbolism to his aural picture with “They’re really knocking on the door at the moment Bristol Rovers”.  Two minutes of additional time are added in which Town win another corner which produces nothing to excite.  It’s half-time and Mick’s assessment is that “It’s been a very average performance”.  I put the kettle on.

The second half begins with Aaron Drinan replacing James Norwood.  The assumption would usually be that if not a tactical change Norwood is injured, after all, as Brenner himself might say “Norwood is no stranger to the treatment table”.  But today Brenner speaks obliquely about Norwood’s “health” as if he hasn’t been substituted because of an injury but something more sinister like an affliction with Tourette’s, Dysentery or Cholera.

The game begins anew. “Free-kick to Bristol Rovers early doors” says Brenner, using his favourite football commentary expression before it’s too late.   Quickly, Mick and Brenner establish for us that the portents for the second half are not good. “Everything seems to be coming from mistakes” says Mick, as if he’s never seen a third division match before. “This could be a horrible forty-two minutes to watch” adds Brenner with a mixture of fear and ghoulish optimism.

Seven minutes into the half and in a rare moment of actively trying to influence the result, Teddy Bishop has a shot on goal, but it’s very weak and straight at Jaakola.  Seemingly already losing interest in today’s match Brenner is looking ahead; “Three successive away games in a row for Town” he says, exhibiting a disappointingly poor understanding of tautology and how to avoid it.  Returning to the present, Gwion Edwards has a shot cleared; “off the goal line” according to Brenner, although in truth it hadn’t got that far.  In the aftermath Luke Chambers goes down clutching some or other piece of his anatomy and whilst he receives treatment Brenner asks Mick to summarise things so far this half.  Rather than comment on the use of colour and poetic licence in Brenner’s commentary, Mick answers with another question “Why aren’t we much better than these teams rooted down the bottom?”

Chambers recovers and play resumes. An hour has passed. “Still not comfortable viewing” says Brenner moments before Teddy Bishop breaks down the right to the by-line. “That was a terrific Teddy Bishop burst on the ball, he just went past people as if they weren’t there” declares Mick incredulously.  Sadly Teddy’s low cross is easily blocked.  Twenty five minutes of normal time remain, “A long way to go” remarks Brenner before telling us of “Parrott stretching his hamstrings” as the pssitacine-named player warms up on the touchline.  It makes me wonder to myself if parrots actually have hamstrings.   Back on the pitch Aaron Drinan is booked for colliding with an opposition player.  Troy Parrott replaces Kayden Jackson.  “How did they do?” asks Brenner of Mick referring to the Norwood and Jackson striking partnership.  “They didn’t do very well” is Mick’s considered response, although he does go on to describe the mitigating circumstances of an absence of any helpful passes from our midfield.

The sixty-seventh minute and Gwion Edwards wins a corner for Town; nothing comes of it.  “Still for the most part a very poor football team to watch, Ipswich Town” says Brenner trying to keep us in suspense until the end of his sentence to find out which team he is talking about.  A little over fifteen minutes remain of normal time. “I can’t believe how cold it is at Portman Road, there hasn’t been much to warm the cockles it has to be said”  says Brenner, possibly  hinting at some contractual obligation to mention either the weather or Town’s inability to make people feel good.  The seventy-fourth minute and Rovers’ Brandon Hanlon runs past Luke Chambers and strikes the ball across the face of the goal; it’s either a poor shot or a poor cross, but probably both. “Not the first time the Ipswich Town captain has been caught out for pace in this game, it has to be said” says Brenner telling us once again that there are just some things that he has to say, although presumably as a radio commentator if he didn’t say anything he wouldn’t get paid.

Thirteen minutes remain. Rover’s substitute Oztumer, whose surname sounds horribly like an Australian cancer, is booked for a foul on Stephen Ward.  “Three goals in eighteen minutes, a mad period really” says Mick reminiscing about happier times.  Six minutes later and Brenner tells us that Town have won “their fourth corner of this second half”.  Unusually, Luke Chambers makes it to the ball first and sends a near post header onto the roof of the net. “Decent effort” says Mick, “Not the best corner I would have said” he adds making Luke’s achievement sound all the more impressive.  A fifth corner soon follows, cleverly won by Aaron Drinan.   It’s just a shame Town are not very good at corners.  “My goodness it’s really been very poor” fires off Mick, “I don’t think Ipswich have performed at all…just so messy…nothing to excite you at all”,

Normal time has almost expired and for no apparent reason other than to use up time, Teddy Bishop and little Alan Judge are replaced by Josh Harrop and Armando Dobra.  Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers replace David Ayunga with Josh Barrett who, Brenner tells us “is very stocky”.  Four minutes of added time are played, and twenty-two seconds into the ninety-fifth minute, through the medium of his referee’s whistle ,  Mr Martin says enough is enough and Town win.  Mick was right.

Mick’s closing words before the ifollow broadcast rudely cuts him off are “Everything seemed to be messy and untidy; the performance again, it’s miles away from what you want.”  Of course Mick’s not wrong, how could he be?  But heck, on the bright side we have won.  During the week I watched a programme about Trappist monks in Leicestershire who set up a brewery; one of them said that people are happiest when living life in the moment not thinking of what’s gone or what the future holds.  Tonight Town have won, be happy, the future will look after itself, like it did in 1978.