I’ve been waiting a while to see my team Ipswich Town play AFC Wimbledon at Portman Road. Sadly for me I missed the clubs’ first encounter back in September 2019 having been detained by the National Health Service; something to do with heart valves. Town’s 2-1 victory back then no doubt aided my recovery from surgery and now, re-built using bovine spare parts, I am fit enough to attend Portman Road, but circumstances have conspired against me again and the global pandemic means I along with everyone else must once again witness today’s match via the marvel of modern technology that is the ifollow. But with Town in a remarkable run of form that has seen them fail to score a single goal in five matches, mine and everyone else’s exile from Portman Road is probably for the best. Excited at the prospect of today’s game nevertheless, I have made the effort to order a programme, on the cover which is a slightly startled, or possibly forlorn, looking Kane Vincent-Young
Earlier today, as part of an attempt to ensure that the nation’s investment in one of my vital organs should not be in vain, I pumped up the tyres on my bicycle for the first time in three years and cycled a little over six miles. I had quite forgotten how uncomfortable a bicycle saddle can be and I am now only just able to walk, my legs feeling as if I am wading thigh deep through thick mud. Such exercise requires reward and I therefore enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ of Fuller’s ESB (four for £6 from Waitrose) as I slump lifelessly in front of the telly catching the tail-end of Portsmouth versus Bristol Rovers on the ifollow, which my wife Paulene has been watching, Pompey being her team. Pompey win and Bristol Rovers are relegated. Coincidentally, Pompey and Bristol Rovers are the only two teams against whom Ipswich have scored in the last nine games; furthermore Town have beaten Bristol Rovers three times this season whilst Pompey have beaten Ipswich three times. I regale Paulene with these fascinating facts in the style of a radio commentator; predictably she is unimpressed, but it doesn’t stop me.
With tv pictures of Fratton Park now just a memory, I log on to the ifollow in time to catch the names of today’s virtual mascots who are Finlay, Harrison, and what sounds like RJ and Milan, but I could be wrong. It nevertheless sets me to hoping that Milan has a sister called Florence and that somewhere in northern Italy there is a child called Ipswich. In the manner of the FA Cup draw the next voice I hear is that of BBC Radio Suffolk’s stalwart commentator Brenner Woolley, who as ever has alongside him the redoubtable and legendary Mick Mills. “We really are at the business end of the season” says Brenner , by which I think he means that all the speculation since August about which teams would be promoted and relegated will soon be resolved. Ipswich will neither be promoted nor relegated, but their ‘business’ appears to be that of setting a new record for consecutive matches without scoring a goal; five and counting.
Brenner asks Mick to expound his current theory as to Town’s existence. Mick postulates that Town “…went from playing ‘A’ class football and not being able to do it and going for a more direct style”. Mick continues at length and I start to stare into the distance, but I get the drift. “No sign of the boys in blue” says Brenner as the Town team begin to saunter onto the pitch. I don’t think he’s talking about the police, he’s just not being very observant.
After the teams “take the knee” the game begins, Wimbledon getting first go with the ball and kicking towards the Sir Bobby Robson Stand. “Here’s Vincent-Young coming in-field with pink footwear” announces Brenner, eschewing deeper analysis for the sheer colour of the spectacle. “Not very much has happened so far but the one thing that’s happened is watching Teddy Bishop…” chips in Mick before completing his observation, which is that Teddy Bishop has been pushing forward down the left; so far he’s successfully been caught offside twice, but Mick’s advice is that he should keep trying.
“Paul Cook sipping on his coffee” says Brenner, introducing the by now obligatory mention of Paul Cook drinking coffee, and providing the sort of aimless detail worthy of an existential novel. It’s the fourth minute and Wimbledon’s Will Nightingale heads over the Town cross-bar. Mick Mills muses on how Town goalkeeper David Cornell stayed on his goal line but should have come to catch the cross. Mick is not impressed. Meanwhile Brenner tells us that Wimbledon have scored as many goals in their last four games as Ipswich have in their last nineteen, before reporting “Beautiful day at Portman Road, nil-nil, Town have now gone nine hours without a goal”. It’s a careful combination of facts from Brenner that leaves me not knowing whether to feel happy, disappointed or in awe. Wimbledon win a corner, Town win a corner. A punt forward sees Mark McGuinness head the ball away from David Cornell as he comes out to collect the ball. “McGuinness and Cornell got in a bit of a sixes and sevens situation” is Brenner’s peculiar description of events.
The match proceeds much as all recent games have done. “Bennetts; that was terrible” says Brenner as the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts runs at the Wimbledon defence and then sends a shot hopelessly wide of the far post. At the other end Wimbledon are no better. “Rudoni shoots wide, he should have scored”. Twenty minutes have passed. “Wimbledon on top at the moment; the better side” is Brenner’s assessment and then Wimbledon are awarded a penalty, possibly for shirt-pulling. Happily Joe Piggott’s spot-kick is easily saved by Cornell, albeit with his legs and feet. “ I didn’t like the run-up of the player” explains Mick relaying how he thought Piggott would miss.
“Bennetts; terrible lay-off” says Brenner, continuing the theme of inept play that has “ Paul Cook screaming his heart out down below” ; it’s a description from Brenner that suggests an image of the Town manager suffering infernal torment. There are twelve minutes of the half remaining. “Surprise, surprise it’s nil-nil” says Brenner, introducing an unwelcome note of sarcasm. Gwion Edwards shoots over the Wimbledon cross-bar; it’s Town’s second shot on goal in thirty-four minutes. “A massive difference in positivity in both teams” says Mick attempting to explain what we’re seeing.
Some passing breaks out. “Good play this from Ipswich Town” says Brenner as a corner is won, but then taken short and Mick shares our frustration. With none of the current Town team capable of scoring, Brenner resorts to telling BBC Radio Suffolk listeners that former Town player Will Keane has scored for Wigan Athletic and is currently in a “rich vein of form”. It’s just the sort of thing we all want to hear. Back to Portman Road and “Poor from Dozzell, ball out” are Brenner’s words. “He wanted to do something that wasn’t there” explains Mick raising philosophical questions about the nature of reality. Gwion Edwards wins Town’s third corner of the half with two minutes to go before a minute of added on time is…added on. It’s time enough for Brenner to refer to “Cornell…the Welshman” in much the same way that he usually refers to “Holy…the Czech”. Half-time arrives and Brenner concludes that “Ipswich continue to struggle”. “We are the inferior team” is Mick’s summation before he is rudely cut-off by the ifollow commercial break; it’s a phrase from Mick that would look good on a banner in the North Stand or on a t-shirt.
Half-time relief comes in the form of a mug of tea and two Christmas tree-shaped ginger biscuits; stocks of the un-seasonal confections acquired at a knock-down price remain healthy. All too quickly the game begins again. “Just three and a half more games for us to suffer” says Brenner. Armando Dobra has replaced the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts although “…anybody could have come off at half-time” is the honest assessment of Brenner.
Cornell is soon making a decent save at the feet of Wimbledon’s Ayoub Assal. “A lovely afternoon at Portman Road” says Brenner trying hard to look on the bright side of life before referring to “spring-heeled McGuinness”, which almost sounds like an epithet he’d pre-prepared. Ollie Hawkins appears to head the ball against the Wimbledon crossbar but Town earn a corner so he probably didn’t. “Nice little spell, it’s not lasted long, but it’s promising” says Mick as Town start to look more like a team that hasn’t just turned up because it’s a sunny afternoon and they’ve nothing better to do.
The game is nearly an hour old. “Nine and three-quarter hours since a Town goal” says Brenner, clearly not counting down the minutes until he can say that Town haven’t scored in ten hours. Kane Vincent-Young breaks down the right. “Vincent-Young has got open grass in front of him, just opening his legs” is Brenner’s slightly unpleasant description which probably sounds even more disturbing to BBC Radio Suffolk listeners who don’t have the accompanying tv pictures. Town players are moving and passing the ball well; another corner kick ensues which Gwion Edwards steps up to take and lumps way beyond the penalty area. “Ridiculous” says Mick “An awful corner kick”, and there is not a soul on Earth who would contradict him.
Woolfenden wrestles the ball from Assal; “…too big and strong for the young Moroccan” says Brenner, ticking another off the list of nationalities that he has referenced in his commentaries this season. Cole Skuse replaces Teddy Bishop and Armando Dobra has a shot on goal. “Tzanev finally makes a save after sixty-three minutes of this game” says Brenner. Mick then points out that Vincent-Young had made a good run ahead of Dobra “…if he’d rolled the ball to him” says Mick “I think we might have created a walk-in opportunity”. Oh for a “walk-in opportunity” I think to myself, whilst also reflecting that Brenner’s pronunciation of Tzanev sounds a lot like Sanef, the company that manages the best part of 2,000 kilometres of the French motorway network.
Aaron Drinan replaces Ollie Hawkins. Wimbledon are awarded a free-kick about 25 metres from goal after a foul by Andre Dozzell; Joe Piggott takes the kick, “The Welshman had to make the save and he did” Brenner tells us leaving radio listeners unsure if the shot had been saved by David Cornell, Gwion Edwards or Harry Secombe. The game reaches its seventieth minute; “Ipswich Town have now gone ten hours without scoring a goal” announces Brenner unable to hide the fact that he has been waiting all afternoon to say it.
“We’ve been better in this half” says Mick very reasonably. “Are Ipswich Town going to score another goal this season?” asks Brenner, rhetorically I assume and so does Mick because he doesn’t offer an answer. Kayden Jackson replaces Andre Dozzell and I begin to feel a little sleepy. Tzanev makes a block at the feet of Jackson. Mick suggests Town could score “since we’ve tinkered with a few changes”. Brenner guffaws loudly, seemingly amused by Mick’s tentative suggestion that this Town team “could score a goal against AFC Wimbledon”. How dare Brenner laugh at anything Mick says, particularly just two days before the forty-fifth anniversary of his testimonial match against FC Twente Enschede.
With the game into its final ten minutes of normal time, Town win a free-kick to the left of the Wimbledon penalty area. “It’s ten hours since Ipswich Town last scored a goal, is this their moment?” asks Brenner as Gwion Edwards steps up to take it. Edwards boots the ball high over the penalty area and cross-bar and into the North Stand. “Oh, Christ” Mick can be heard to say off-mike, sounding as glum as Marvin the paranoid android in the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Despite excellent comic timing Mick apologises for his blasphemy whilst Brenner laughs like a schoolboy. This is the sort of enjoyment supporters of clubs at the top of the table will never know.
Five minutes remain of normal time. My eyes close involuntarily and I have to try hard to stay awake; I blame strong beer at lunchtime. Wimbledon win a corner, Cornell takes a drop kick and “…hits it high into the Suffolk sky” according to Brenner. A throw-in is taken and “Dobra offers himself up” continues Brenner in his own slightly weird poetic mode. Three minutes of added on time are played and the game ends. “Another ninety-minutes in the can for Vincent -Young” is as good as it gets from Brenner who doesn’t bother to explain, depending on your choice of slang, either why he is now drawing analogies with film making or why Vincent-Young spent ninety minutes in the toilet.
The ifollow doesn’t allow us to enjoy Mick’s match summary before its broadcast effs-off into adverts and match statistics. For myself, I think the second half has been reasonably enjoyable despite the absence of goals, but after six and a bit matches I have now become accustomed to that and have sought my pleasure where I can. Today I have particularly enjoyed the exotic name of the Wimbledon right-back Nesta Guinness-Walker and every mention by Brenner of Wimbledon’s Ben Heneghan has to my addled mind sounded like van Hanegem, and has had me imagining I was watching Feyenoord or Holland in the mid 1970’s. On that basis, the wait to watch AFC Wimbledon play at Portman Road was worth it.
Three more matches, four and half more hours…plus time added-on.