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 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.