Ipswich Town 1 Derby County 0

I have been in the office, where I now work just one day a week, since eight o’clock this morning and it’s now half past four in the afternoon.  I have wasted enough of my day just existing and accumulating the means to continue my shallow, feckless Western lifestyle, now it’s time to live and be shallow and feckless.  I check my mobile telephone. At 16:12 I received a message from Pat from Clacton. Pat tells me she was joking last week when she told me she would not be at the match tonight, but then proceeds to tell me she won’t be at the match tonight.  Pat says she’s still suffering the after-effects of Covid, which apparently includes heavy breathing. As much as watching a football match with a 1968 vintage Jane Birkin appeals to me, it’s probably best for Pat that she stays in Clacton tonight.  The good news however is that Pat won £51.25 playing whist whilst on holiday in Great Yarmouth, but the real point of the message, I think, is to ask me to photograph ever-present Phil who never misses a game when he celebrates Town having scored a goal.  Pat from Clacton always photographs ever-present Phil when he celebrates a Town goal at Portman Road, it’s a ritual like a state funeral or pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Tonight, Town are playing Derby County in a third division fixture, something that has never ever happened before in this universe, like Boris Johnson telling the truth.  If casually asked how many times I had seen Derby County play I would have guessed at a mere fifteen or sixteen. In fact, I have discovered that Derby County are one of twenty professional clubs I’ve seen play over thirty times.  Despite two League Championships, Brian Clough and Robert Maxwell, Derby County have seemingly made little impression on me, perhaps because of their anonymous monochrome kit or their uninteresting out of town stadium which has meant I know little of Derby itself. What is Derby famous for? Rolls Royce engines and East Midlands airport?  Still without answers to these questions time passes and a little short of two hours after receiving Pat from Clacton’s text message I walk through the front door of the Arbor House formerly the Arboretum pub; it’s heaving with Friday night revellers. I order a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£4.00) and a Scotch egg (£4.50) and retire to the beer garden to wait for my Scotch egg and the arrival of Mick.  As the evening light recedes into darkness I struggle to read the programme (£3.50) I had bought earlier in the club shop after I left work, but this is partly because the programme is hopelessly dull too, despite its rainbow colours on the front page, which also features an un-flattering cartoon image of George Edmundson in which he looks uncannily like Kryten from the BBC TV comedy series Red Dwarf.

By the time Mick arrives I’ve eaten my Scotch egg and am amusing myself with a private mobile phone-based exhibition of the photos from my holiday in Brittany whilst unavoidably hearing the conversation of the middle-aged couples on the next table which concerns whether they would go to a concert by Ed Sheeran at Portman Road. The consensus seems to be that they would go “just to say they’d seen him”.   It seems to me a bit like flushing a couple of fifty-pound notes down the khasi.  Over by the window to the gents’ toilet two old boys, possibly on their way to, or from, a ‘Tarts and Tramps’ fancy dress party shuffle in, one wears a floppy hat and talks loudly about the range of beers at the Moon and Mushroom pub in Swilland, whilst the other sounds like he’s growling.

When Mick arrives he buys us both pints of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride plus a packet of Fairfield Farms cheese and onion flavour crisps, which pleasingly have only travelled from Wormingford near Colchester, some 33 kilometres away.  Our conversation this evening is punctuated with laughter as we discuss burials and the disposal of people’s ashes and how people seem to have become strangely sentimental lately.  With kick-off not until 8 o’clock this evening, courtesy of Sky TV’s broadcasting schedule, we have more time than usual to laugh about such things and don’t notice everyone else leaving for the match and it’s closer to kick-off than usual when we eventually leave, making a sharp exit through the back gate.

Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way are less busy than usual when we arrive because most people are already inside the ground.  As I hasten through the turnstiles, I can hear former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster ‘giving it large’ as he reads out the team line-ups in his archetypal radio DJ manner; he sounds even more Tony Blackburn than usual tonight, no doubt for the benefit of Sky TV. By the time I take my seat next but one to the man from Stowmarket, the teams are on the pitch, and the Town team are forming a collaborative huddle preparing to start the match.  It’s Town who get first go with the ball I think, I’m not really paying attention yet as I get to grips with seeing Ipswich wearing all black and Derby in maroon or burgundy shirts and white shorts.  I imagine Derby think they look exotic like AS Roma or Sparta Prague, but they remind me of Northampton Town.  As for the Ipswich team, they look like Johnny Cash, though I guess that’s preferable to looking like Ed Sheeran.

With the start of the game come the chants from both sets of supporters, Derby transporting us back to the 1970’s by repeating “Derby, Derby, Derby” over and over again to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’, just like Town fans used to chant “Ipswich, Ipswich, Ipswich” in that run to the FA Cup semi-final in 1975, the year Derby last won what I believe is now called the Premier League.  “Score in a minute, we’re gonna score in a minute” continue the Derbeians less nostalgically but more optimistically.  “Addy, Addy, Addy-O” add the Town fans from what in 1975 was the North Stand, and there are even a few chants of the same from the top of what was the West Stand.  It’s a sign that the stadium must be as good as full to capacity.

 A young bloke with a beard sits himself down in Pat from Clacton’s seat. I give him a look like Paddington Bear. “Is this seat free” he asks a little nervously. “Well, there’s no one sitting there tonight” I tell him in a voice that’s as close as I can get to sounding like a Suffolk Johnny Cash.  He smiles broadly.  I think I’ve put him at his ease.  On the pitch the play is frenetic, with both teams trying to play neat, passing football but frequently interrupting one another. Sam Morsy is booked after just ten minutes for a foul on the wonderfully named Lewis Dobbin. Ipswich have more success at getting close to their opponents’ goal and win three early corners, George Edmundson heads wide and Tyreece John-Jules clearly dives in the penalty area having won a few free-kicks already elsewhere.  I thought it was an obvious dive; the way he had already established eye-contact with referee as he fell gave it away, a bit like a Labrador staring at you as you eat your dinner.  He should be told to leave any desire to cheat in North London where it belongs, or Kieran McKenna will write to his mum.

“Come on Dorby” comes the chant from the Cobbold Stand and I think I detect a hint of a Midlands accent. Soon the away support are riffing on a familiar theme,  “Football in a library, de-de-dur” is followed by “No noise from the Tractor Boys” and “Shall we sing a song for you” as the youth of Derby vainly goad the pensioners and families in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, who stoically wait for Town to take the lead before thinking about whether they might start to clap or break a smile.  But the ground has gone a little quiet, they’re right.

The half is half over and Derby equalise in the competition to see who can have most players booked as  the name of James Chester is recorded in referee Mr Swabey’s notebook.   The game is almost a third over before Derby win their first corner.  “Are you alright mate?” says the bloke behind me to his son, who answers “Yeah”.   My view of the pitch is temporarily blocked as the people in front all stand up to let pass someone, who I guess couldn’t wait thirteen minutes until half-time for a pee.  A chant of “Blue and White Army” builds quickly and then falls away just as soon.  I notice that Derby have no sponsor’s name on their shirts.  “Peter Sykes, please contact the nearest steward” announces the voice of Stephen Foster.  I look but can’t see anyone approaching their nearest steward. It’s not that the game isn’t holding my attention, it is, and it is unpredictable, but the goalkeepers could have made hammocks from their goal nets and it wouldn’t really have mattered.  Perhaps to relieve his own boredom, Derby ‘keeper Joe Wildsmith gestures wildly at the linesman for not flagging Kayden Jackson offside.  The linesman predictably ignores the wild Wildsmith,  but would probably secretly like to give him ‘the finger’.   The half ends with hopes of a goal as Town win a free-kick on the edge of the Derby penalty box.  Children at the front of the stand prepare to video the event with their mobile phones, but their youthful hope and enthusiasm is dashed as Lee Evans shot avoids the defensive wall but not Joe Wildsmith. Three minutes of added on time are announced with a flourish by Stephen Foster but bring forth nothing to justify his optimistic tones.

The half time break sees me join Ray, his grandson Harrison and Harrison’s dad Michael ‘down the front’ where I encourage Harrison to buy ‘Shufflemania’, the new LP by Robyn Hitchcock which is released today.  Ray regales me with a story about his dad who used to drive the Ipswich Town team bus in the 1960’s.  Ray’s dad was known as ‘The Cat’ by the Town players and he maintained that this was because he would play in goal in 6 or 7-a-side warm up games when only twelve or thirteen players would travel as there was only one substitute allowed, and before 1965 no substitutes at all.  Ray was to find out later from a Town player of the period that his dad wasn’t called ‘The Cat’ because of his goal keeping prowess, but because late one night, having returned from a distant away trip , he backed the bus off Constantine Road and over the club cat.

The second half begins with renewed vigour from Ipswich and Derby fans alike who both sing “Ole, Ole, Ole” as if vying with one another in some sort of choral competition.  The encouragement seemingly works and just seven minutes into the half we witness the first shot from open play that is worthy of the name as Marcus Harness conjures up a half-volley that is blocked.   It’s a symptom of Town now dominating possession and looking the team most likely to score.  In the Cobbold Stand the Derby fans sing a song which to my ears sounds as if it’s about a man, possibly called Michael, who found an octopus, but I doubt that’s right. “ We forgot that you were here” respond the Town fans in the old North Stand in a curious role reversal; I conclude that the half-time break can do funny things to people and to prove the point the Derby fans produce a chant which sounds like the theme from the Addams Family, but then it is nearly Hallowe’en.

The second half is a better ‘watch’ for home fans even if it is ‘all up the other end’ from my perspective in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. In the sixty-seventh minute it all gets much better still as Kayden Jackson breaks down the right, loses the ball but carries on running as the unsuspecting Derby defender decides on a back pass which is nothing more than a pass to Jackson who shoots on goal.  The ball hits the post but rebounds to Wes Burns who has plenty of time to hit the ball into the net and give Town a lead which they now probably deserve, and they haven’t even made any substitutions yet.  I remember to take ever-present Phil’s photo for Pat from Clacton as Phil and his son Elwood hold their arms aloft whilst grinning joyfully.  “E-i E-i E-i-o, Up the Football league we go” sing the Town fans, and not to be outdone the Derby fans sing the same before deciding that they would be better served by a chorus of the sneering “Sing when you’re winning, you only sing when you’re winning.”

Tonight’s attendance is announced by Stephen Foster as 28,415, with 1,777 of them being the people who have been shouting all evening about Derby and what poor supporters Ipswich fans are. Ipswich continue to be the better team however, and Kayden Jackson shoots the wrong side of the goal post, substitutions are made and with seven minutes left former Town player David McGoldrick tries to make amends for collecting much of his salary from Town whilst not actually playing, by kicking Wes Burns in the penalty area.  After pausing to decide if he should really give Ipswich a penalty, Mr Swabey points to the spot.  It seems he was right to pause for thought because sadly Town will waste the opportunity given to them.  “Jackson’s taking it! ” says the bloke behind me somewhat incredulously and his surprise proves well-founded as Kayden’s kick lacks both the pace and accuracy required unless the goalkeeper dives the wrong way.  Wildsmith dives the right way and the score remains 1-0. 

“Ken Rodwell, contact the nearest steward” announces Stephen Foster perhaps making up a surname laced with double entendre to help reduce the tension of the closing minutes as Derby win a rare corner.  Seven minutes of added on time are announced and at the first stoppage in play four Town players collapse to the ground.  I don’t think they’ve got the hang of this time-wasting thing, they’re surely meant to go down one at a time? 

Time moves on inexorably. “Got to be it” says the bloke behind me after what he thinks seven minutes feels like. “Got to be it” he says again a short while later and then again. “Got to be it, innit” he says before saying “Got to be” at least twice, and then inevitably it is it, the final whistle, and a tidal wave of relief floods from the stands, not because Derby had looked like scoring, but just because no one has any faith that Town can win a match that’s shown live on the telly, well they just did.

Ipswich Town 0 Lincoln City 1

 As far as I can make out from a somewhat half-hearted, cursory trawl through the interweb, Ipswich and Lincoln have three distinct things in common.  Chronologically, these things are Sir Thomas Wolsey, Jamie Clapham and having football clubs in the current third division.  Sir Tommy, as his mates back in Ipswich probably called him,  was born in Ipswich in 1473 and became bishop of Lincoln in 1514.  Conversely, Jamie Clapham was born in in Lincoln in 1975 and was bishop of Ipswich or perhaps more accurately left-back for Ipswich Town during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Today bears witness to the final commonality, which is that both Ipswich and Lincoln have third division football teams; today the two teams meet at Portman Road in a football league fixture.

Today also happens to be my mother’s ninety-seventh birthday and after a morning spent with her and my sister  in which I gift (to use weird modern parlance) her a bottle of sherry, a box of gin-laced chocolates and a birthday card consisting of an intentionally and unavoidably surreal collage of family photos from the 1960’s and 1970’s, I head for the Arbor House (formerly The Arboretum). Having parked up my trusty Citroen C3 I step out across Gippeswyk Park and Sir Alf Ramsey Way where I manage to avoid being run over by the Lincoln City team bus and buy a programme (£3.50) using coins of the realm, just for old time’s sake.  It had been a light blue, sunny afternoon when I was with my mother, but now a threatening, heavy pall of fashionably deep grey cloud much the same colour as the Lincoln City team bus hangs over the town and I carry a small umbrella as insurance against a heavy shower. Arriving at the Arboretum, I find Mick already at the bar; like the decent man that he is, Mick buys two pints of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (one is for me) and a packet of cheese and onion crisps ((£9.00). We repair to the beer garden and hope it doesn’t rain as all the covered table are occupied. Our conversation is as predictable as ever, being mostly sad at the state of the world and humanity, but tinged with hope.  It helps that our football team mostly wins nowadays.  The Suffolk Pride seems particularly delicious today but somehow we resist the temptation to buy another pint and at about twenty-five to three we leave our empty glasses at the bar and head off down High Street past the museum towards Portman Road.

Bidding Mick farewell in Sir Alf Ramsey Way at the turnstiles to the Magnus West stand, I pass the serried ranks of supporters’ buses in Constantine Road and eventually make it to turnstiles 50 to 61; I choose number 61 because 1961 was the first half of the season we won the Football League; the cheery turnstile operator seems pleased that I have chosen his turnstile.  That music that is meant to heighten our expectation is already playing as I emerge from beneath the stand into the grey autumn light to find my still empty seat; those around it are already occupied. Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here with his son Elwood and Fiona is here too, and Pat from Clacton has now recovered from Covid so I welcome her back.  The man from Stowmarket is here as well, but there is a stranger between us.  At the far end of the ground there is a small tifo; it’s a modest affair, just the top sliced off the club crest really, but it’s a start.

Before the game begins a minute’s applause is clapped in memory of former Town manager John Duncan who died a week ago.  A minute’s reflective silence would have been preferable but sadly not everything changes for the better.  As I recall, John Duncan’s term as manager ended rather miserably, with chants of ‘Duncan Out!’ being the catchy chorus to the soundtrack of late 1980’s Portman Road. But to John Duncan’s everlasting credit he did leave a worthwhile legacy having signed some decent players for the Town including David Linighan, Neil Thompson, Ian Redford and the excellent David Lowe.  Many home grown players also became first team regulars in his time. It was also during John Duncan’s time that Town went a whole season without conceding a goal at the North Stand end of the ground.  A quick rendition of mostly the ‘Na-na-na’ bits of The Beatles’ Hey Jude follows the applause and then the game begins.

Town, in blue and white, get first go with the ball and are kicking towards me, Pat from Clacton, Fiona, Phil, Elwood and the man from Stowmarket. Lincoln are in shirts that make them appear to be wearing a different kit depending on which way they are facing. From the front Lincoln’s shirts are of red and white stripes, but from behind they are all red, it’s a design that prevents names and numbers getting lost in the stripes, but I can’t say I like it.  Lincoln’s black shorts are thankfully the same whichever direction they are viewed from.

“Addy, Addy, Addy-O, ITFC” sings the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand as if carrying out warming up exercises for their vocal cords.  I’m not sure if it’s the noise of the big crowd or my hearing, but the blokes behind me are talking very indistinctly and sound like they’ve all just been to the dentist and had anaesthetic; it could just be their accents though.  “Ole, Ole, Ole” continue the Sir Bobby stand perhaps in celebration of Pablo Counago’s presence at the game today.

On the pitch nothing has happened yet; the game is stuck in midfield.   I find my entertainment in the names of the Lincoln team and take a particular liking to Matty Virtue who sounds like he would make a good superhero, whilst Jack Diamond could easily be a character in a novel or a Hollywood matinee idol; finally, I hope that Ben House has a wife or a sister called Wendy.  There is still not much of interest happening on the pitch and as if by way of commentary on the game’s moribund nature the Sir Bobby stand embarks on a rendition of their turgid, funereal version of “When the Town go marching in”.

Despite the satire the football is still uninspiring. The Lincoln fans are singing about making all the noise everywhere they go before the gloomy clouds break slightly to let in a little autumn sunshine.  All of sudden, Conor Chaplin almost sets Wes Burns away with a through pass, and then from a left -wing cross Freddie Ladapo directs the ball without controlled intent roughly in the direction of the Lincoln goalkeeper, the appropriately named Carl Rushworth.  An audible frisson of excitement runs through the home crowd prompting the Lincoln fans to chant “We forgot you were here”.  Football supporters are such liars.

Town are still not doing much.  Sam Morsy launches a cross field ball towards Wes Burns. “A Dom Perignon of a ball” says the bloke behind me, feigning a knowledge of vintage champagne.  In fact it’s not even a Babycham of a ball, as it is headed away by a defender before reaching its intended target.

Over twenty minutes have passed since the game kicked off. Lincoln win the game’s first corner.  “Come On Lincoln, Come On Lincoln” chant the Lincolnites up in the Cobbold Stand, like football supporters are supposed to.  The first foul of the game is committed; it’s a blot on the reputation of matinee idol Jack Diamond and the moguls at RKO won’t be happy. Lincoln win the game’s second corner and then its third, Town haven’t had one yet.  From the third corner the ball is directed to the near post, it goes up in the air and then across goal to the far post where Wendy House’s relative is stood all alone like he hasn’t washed in a month.  From very close-range House heads the ball into the Town goal and Lincoln lead 1-0.  These things happen.

I hadn’t realised as I waited for Town to have a shot on goal, but this game needed a goal.  A Town goal would have been my preference, but the Lincoln goal has seemed to at last provoke Town into playing a bit. Within four minutes of the goal Town win a corner, and then another as a Conor Chaplin shot is deflected away. Lee Evans heads over the cross bar.  As the first half slips into its final ten minutes Conor Chaplin, Sam Morsy and Lee Evans all have shots on goal, Evans’s is deflected slightly and then pushed onto the goal post by Rushworth and away for another corner.  George Edmundson heads wide; from another corner Leif Davis shoots over. “They look a half decent team, well organised” says the bloke behind me of Lincoln City.  They can certainly defend corners.

With the last memorable attacking action of the half Town win a free-kick just outside the penalty area, which Lee Evans places around the defensive wall and into the arms of Rushworth.  Two minutes of added on time are added on and then we all get a break and I chat to Ray and Harrison before eating a Nature Valley oats and honey Crunchy bar. Ray asks me If I’ve checked my phone since the game began in case any new Chancellors of the Exchequer have been appointed.

From the start of the second half Town are into the attacking mode that we turn up at Portman Road expecting to see nowadays.  Oddly however, as if fate is trying really hard this afternoon to make the point that you don’t always get what you deserve, it is Lincoln who come closest to confirming their victory.  From a corner, House lingers alone beyond the far post and heads the ball back, but somehow no Lincoln player gets to it before it is cleared.  Jack Diamond then forces Christian Walton into a smart save on the goal line and finally, Leif Davis appears to blatantly handle the ball in the penalty area but gets away with it; VAR would doubtless have called it proving once again that it’s a good thing not to be in the Evil Premier League.   

For the last half an hour or slightly more the  second half is simply a procession of corners and shots for Town interspersed with lots of passing across the pitch.  Every now and then the ball comes up to the “Churchmans” end of the pitch and Pat from Clacton says “Careful” as Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson pass it amongst themselves avoiding harrying Lincoln players, but mostly we witness Marcus Harness shooting over the cross bar at the far end.  The Lincoln supporters are largely struck dumb as anxiety becomes their chief emotion. Kieron McKenna makes his usual substitutions which again seem to work well with Kyle Edwards and Kayden Jackson both adding pace on the flanks and Tyreece John-Jules adding a bit of guile and unpredictability.

Despite mounting frustration, the game continues to hold our attention as we concentrate hard to avoid falling off the edge of our seats. The home crowd even support the team in their adversity, which isn’t something they often do, or at least not very well. “Come On Ipswich, Come On Ipswich” replaces chants about the significance of Boxing Day and previous more successful teams. The attendance is announced as being 27,608 with 653 of that number being from Lincoln.  Unusually, the crowd doesn’t applaud itself for turning up, perhaps because we’ve got used to such attendances, but may be because the tension is just too great.

The Ipswich attacking play is relentless as pass follows pass, follows corner, follows block, follows shot, follows corner, follows block, follows shot, follows block, follows pass, follows pass, follows pass, I could go on. In the final ten minutes the Lincoln fans chant “Come On Lincoln, Come On Lincoln”, not urging them to score, but just to hold on. Unfortunately for Town they do , and through seven minutes of added on time.  Town lose their first league game at home this season and fail to score in a league game for the first time also.

Today is disappointing but not exceptional, I’ve witnessed the same thing umpteen times before at Portman Road and am pleased to say I’ve seen Ipswich do the same thing to other clubs away from home too. It will happen again too, and at least we didn’t lose to one of the other teams in the top six.  I’m sure if Sir Thomas Wolsey were at the game today he would have said the same thing.

Colchester United 2 Harrogate Town 1

It’s the first day of the second weekend in October and in the space of a week the leaves on the trees have begun to turn to shades of yellow and brown; it’s autumn and it’s cool.  I had wanted to head north to Morecambe today following Ipswich Town, but fate conspired to leave me without a car this morning and a hoped-for message that would have seen me ‘get a lift’ never arrived.  But like Ray Davies I like my football on a Saturday and so I have sought my fun elsewhere.  Local non-league football is always an attraction and Halstead Town, both Stanway Rovers and Stanway Pegasus, Little Oakley and Coggeshall United are all at home this afternoon but sticking two fingers up to the cost of living crisis I choose Colchester United versus Harrogate Town.  As some people collect vinyl records, Smurfs or infectious diseases so I collect Football League teams (well sort of) and I’ve never seen Harrogate Town.  It should be an “interesting” match, with the teams being third and fourth from bottom of the fourth division, but at least Col U should have a chance of winning.

Since Colchester United stopped running shuttle buses to their ridiculously remote stadium at Cuckoo Farm I have only been to see them there once, I used to be a regular. The Colchester United website now makes no reference to getting to the Community Stadium by public transport, the implication being that you can only get there by car, which is scandalous given the urgent need to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.   We are all doomed, but nevertheless I book a space on-line for my trusty Citroen C3 at the ‘Park and Walk’ car park (£3.00), which is over the A12 from the stadium, and make the short drive towards oblivion.   

It’s a pleasant walk from the car park beneath pale blue afternoon skies punctuated with fluffy clouds, over the roaring A12 to United Way and its vacant expanses of tarmac haunted by the ghosts of terminally delayed shuttle buses.  At the ground I visit the club shop to marvel at the pencils, mugs, cuddly toys and fridge magnets; this is Colchester’s Fitzwilliam Museum.  I pick up a programme in the shop and am pleasantly surprised to find that these are still free, “It’s like being in France” I tell the woman at the counter.  Mysteriously the cover of the programme is printed with the words “£3.00 where sold” and I wonder where that might be. Outside, I take a wander, easily resisting the temptation to pay £4.00 for a plastic cup of fizzy ‘IPA’ from the Legends Bar, although the alfresco Yogi Bear-style tables look inviting and £4.00 a pint is actually very cheap for a football ground.  Up a shaded corner sits the Harrogate Town team bus, provided by a local company with the fabulously Yorkshire name of ‘Murgatroyd’; it’s a name straight out of “Last of the Summer Wine”, and I imagine the Harrogate team running out to the theme tune at home games.

My fascination with the outside of the Community Stadium is soon exhausted and I head inside the stadium, successfully scanning my ticket and pushing through the turnstile at the third or fourth attempt; computer technology frequently succeeds in belittling me like this and I expect I shall meet my eventual demise at the hands of artificial intelligence.  I drift past the poorly patronised food stand beneath the stand, with its alluring smell of hot cooking oil and grease and find my way to my seat, which is sufficiently close to the foot of the stairs for the safety rail to be annoyingly in my field of vision.  Over the PA system, ‘Lost in music’ by Sister Sledge is followed by Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ and I wonder if I’m not back at Layer Road in 1979 waiting to see Mick Packer, Steve Leslie and Trevor Lee strut their stuff.  Some of the people sat around about me look as if they would have been getting the benefit of a ticket at the concessionary price even back then.

“The teams are in the tunnel” announces the voice of the PA system excitedly to no reaction whatsoever from the crowd.  The teams soon emerge and as they line up for the usual pre-match pleasantries my view of them is almost totally obscured by the rail and the steward zealously guarding it.  Quickly, a couple of old boys sarcastically ask him if he’s going to stand there for the whole match, whilst also telling him to retreat into the stairwell, which he obligingly does; but I think he’s here to see the match as much as we are.

Colchester United get first go with the ball as the match begins and they attempt to aim at the goal closest to the town itself, which is over 3.5 kilometres away.  The U’s are wearing their traditional kit of blue and white striped shirts with white shorts and blue socks, and very smart it is too, particularly with just three broad blue stripes, although the red numbers on the backs of their shirts are mostly illegible.  Harrogate are regrettably one of the increasing number of teams that feel compelled to wear a funereal all-black away kit, despite there being no colour clash whatsoever between their yellow and black home kit and the U’s blue and white.   On the plus side, today is the first home league game for Col U’s new manager Matt Bloomfield, who joins the long list of former Ipswich Town players and managers at ‘Layer Road’, albeit that he only played one game for Town

“Col U” bang-bang-bang is the noise off to my right as the heirs to the Barside and Layer Road end get behind their team with a chant and the aid of a drum that sounds like a large cardboard box.  “Oooh, they’re in black, another bad sign and we’re kicking the wrong way” says the old bloke behind me cheerily like some soothsayer who might have told fortunes for Queen Boudicca.  “Only about bloody ten of ‘em” he continues, commenting on the Harrogate supporters in the opposite stand. “Got bloody cars in Yorkshire in’t they?”  He then proceeds to count them coming to a total of twenty-one.  Regrettably, I can’t resist doing the same and make the total twenty-five, although I don’t tell him.

“Blue and white army, de-de-de-de-dur” chant the home fans behind the goal as if they’ve either forgotten half the words or just couldn’t be bothered to think up any more.  “Hit the bloody thing” calls the old bloke behind me as Col U get into the Harrogate penalty area.  So far, so scruffy, it’s hard to  believe Col U beat Ipswich in the  League Cup earlier in the season.  “New manager’s made a difference, don’t you think” says someone behind the bloke behind me, perhaps only half in jest.  “Give him a chance, we’ve only had five minutes” says the voice of reason next to him, not quite getting the ’joke’.   “Who’s the wanker in the black” chant the Col U fans behind the goal, which is as close to wit as most football chants ever come.

When football is not of a high quality there comes a tipping point where this increases the likelihood of goals due to mistakes or ineptness, and happily this is what happens next.  A punt forward by Tom Dallison sails over the head of a Harrogate defender, who was either stood in the wrong place or didn’t jump high enough, and lands at the feet of Kwesi Appiah who is left with an unimpeded 20 odd metre run towards goal; he easily evades the Harrogate goalkeeper and runs the ball into an empty net whilst looking slightly surprised and possibly embarrassed.  Col U lead 1-0.

With Col U winning I relax and realise I haven’t seen the Col U mascot Eddie the Eagle, I hope he hasn’t succumbed to bird flu.  Col U are the better team with more attacking ideas, I hesitate to call it ‘verve’. “Go on push him” shouts the bloke next to me as Appiah chases another punt forward and the Harrogate defender who is ahead of him. Unfortunately, Appiah takes the bloke at his word and physically pushes the defender, inevitably conceding a free-kick.   The game is 25% gone and Frank Nouble heads a cross against the inside of a goal post, but it defies the laws of physics, and the angle of refraction somehow falls short of the angle of incidence and the ball stays out of the goal.  “There’s been more action in this first twenty minutes than in the whole season” says the bloke behind me sounding uncharacteristically positive.

I count the Harrogate fans again and it looks like there are thirty of them now, if they go on like this there might be forty of them by full-time; it seems unlikely though.  Perhaps aware of their swelling support, the Harrogate team begin to get something of a game together and win a corner and then another as Harrogate’s Armstrong, a bearded man with his hair tied back dangles a foot at the ball by way of an attempt on goal.   At first referee Mr Hicks give no decision and looks to his linesman. When the linesman signals goal-kick Mr Hicks awards the corner. “That’s teamwork” says the bloke next to me.

With ten minutes to go until half-time, Harrogate’s Joe Mattock has the honour of being the first player to be booked as he fouls the mouthy and theatrical Appiah.  Col U are strongest down the flanks and two minutes later a low cross from Junior Tchamadeu evades everyone in the penalty area expect Frank Nouble who is lurking beyond the far post and strikes the ball firmly into he goal to give Col U a 2-0 lead.  “Ole, Ole, Ole” chant the crowd behind the goal, simultaneously celebrating the goal and re-living holidays on the Costa Brava.

Four minutes of added on time are announced. “Where’d he get that from?” asks the bloke behind me but no one answers.  “You officials are a joke” shouts someone else when a possible handball is ignored and then Harrogate have their first shot on target, but it’s easily caught by Sam Hornby in the Col U goal.

With the half-time whistle I stand up to stretch my legs, and devour a Nature Valley Canadian Maple Syrup Crunchy bar as I check the half-time scores and discover that Ipswich are losing 1-0 at Morecambe. 

With the re-start of the game Harrogate replace Joe Mattock with Warren Burrell, I agree with the bloke beside me that Mattock had looked like he might get sent off if he wasn’t substituted, such was his enthusiasm.  Harrogate’s kick-off for the second half doesn’t show much hope for their approach as the ball is tapped back from the centre spot and then launched straight into touch as if just trying to gain distance from their own goal.  The other half-time substitute for Harrogate, Josh Falkingham fouls Appiah and quickly becomes the second player to be booked by Mr Hicks. “You dirty northern bastards” chant the Col U fans behind the goal, to my shame it’s a chant which, as someone who has never lived north of Ipswich, I have always found enjoyable.

Col U soon win another free-kick, but in the Harrogate half;  Mr Hicks sprays a line on the pitch ten yards from where the foul was given but  there is not a Harrogate player within ten yards of it. When Col U come to take the kick, they play it backwards.  “Go on boy, open your legs” cries the bloke next to me as Tchamadeu breaks forward again down the wing, I try not to look. Behind the goal the home fans have moved the choice of music in the stadium from the 1970’s to the 1980’s as they launch into a rendition of Depeche Mode’s ‘I just can’t get enough’.  They switch to ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ as Mr Hicks brandishes his yellow card in the direction of Col U’s Cole Skuse.  As the sun goes down,  over half of the pitch is now in shadow and I’ve got cold hands.

Not quite an hour of the match has gone and as happened when Col U scored their first goal, a moment in which any ability a player has suddenly deserts him occurs again.  This time Hornby’s seemingly easy clearance barely leaves the ground and travels directly to Harrogate’s Daniel Grant who strides forward, and slips the ball through to Pattison who shoots the ball into the far corner of the Colchester goal, the score is 2-1.  Weirdly, the Harrogate fans do not appear to celebrate; if they do they do it quickly and quietly, but then, it might not be possible to hear them because they are so well spread throughout the away fans enclosure in groups of no more than two or three, it’s almost as if they don’t get on or are embarrassed to be seen with one another.

Harrogate win another corner from which McArdle heads over the cross-bar and then they make another pair of substitutions.  When a Harrogate player is injured and stays down he’s attended to by the physio who is a woman.  At least one person in the stand behind the goal feels it’s appropriate to produce a wolf whistle and the bloke behind me suggests that the injured player will be looking into her eyes and telling her the pain is in his groin area.  It is sobering to find there are people who still think like this.

The last twenty-five minutes of the match play out in a series of free-kicks, the occasional corner, the evening up of the number of yellow cards shown and some more substitutions, three for Col U and one for Harrogate.  Col U’s defending gets more desperate with Luke Chambers hoofing the ball inelegantly even when he doesn’t have to, like he did for Ipswich in his latter days. When Col U win a free-kick the bloke behind me suggests they bring on Freddie Sears who has already been substituted. “It’s what they do in America” he says, attempting to justify his stupid comment, with an equally stupid one. 

In the final ten minutes of normal time Luke Chambers is booked, almost wilfully it appears, and Alex Newby and Luke Hannant miss simple looking chances in quick succession that could have secured the win for Col U. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon is the nine minutes of added on time that is to be played, but this might just be because in previous years four minutes has always been what we’ve come to expect.

With the final whistle there is applause, the crowd has clearly enjoyed the win even if it wasn’t the greatest game ever played. Often however a game between two evenly matched teams will be perfectly watchable regardless of how good they are; Col U and Harrogate were evenly matched today but Col U were the better team and deserved their victory.  I head off back over the A12 to the car park and learn that Ipswich have come from behind to beat Morecambe 2-1 and all is right with the world.

Ipswich Town 3 Cambridge United 0

If I had known on the third of April this year, as I made my way home from seeing Town lose 1-0 to Cambridge United, that tonight Town would again be playing Cambridge United, I would have been looking forward to it, even then.  I had been looking forward to that game back in April because I wanted revenge for a 2-1 home defeat to Cambridge over thirty years before in the season that Town last won the second division championship.  Back in 1991, entertaining, skilful, sexy Ipswich were beaten by a horrible Cambridge team managed by John Beck who had reduced the beautiful game to something like a cross between rugby league, cage fighting and carpet bombing. I’m a mild-mannered fellow, I don’t think I’m one to bear a grudge, but in this case, I seem to have made an exception; I hated that bloody Cambridge team and want revenge.

After over eight hours of my one day a week in the office, I decide that I have been here long enough and break free of the shackles of my desk, tablet and screen; I start to roam, then I’m in town; it’s a sadly depressing place at this time of day, everything is closed, it’s like a ruin. After I’ve browsed the books in Waterstones and bought my mother a bottle of Croft original sherry (£12.50) for her birthday from Sainsbury’s, where the very old man at the checkout struggles amusingly to remove the magnetic security tag, there’s nothing to do.  I take the sherry back to my car and head for the Arbor House, formerly known as the Arboretum.  I walk past the Axa Insurance building (formerly Guardian Royal Exchange) and through the window I see one those supposedly inspiring quotes printed on a wall. “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered” it says. “Sod that”, I think.

At the top of High Street, what was once the Arboretum shines out like a beacon in the fading evening light, as pubs do. I order a pint of Lacon’s Encore (£3.80) and a portion of ‘Very French French Fries’ (£7.00) which consists of thick cut chips intermingled with bits of bacon and brie. Out in the beer garden I sit and wait for Mick and cannot avoid hearing the conversation of three lads sat a few tables away.  They are talking football, it’s a boring conversation.  My Very French French Fries arrive before Mick does, but he’s not far behind and he orders some chips covered with stuff too; we talk of my recent holiday in France and the six football matches I went to, of the French resistance and German U-boat docks, of Rennes, Nantes and the long deceased (1514) Duchess Anne of Brittany and driving in French cities.

With beers drunk and chips eaten, we depart for Portman Road, a bit earlier than usual but it’s dark now and the lure of football under floodlights is drawing us in like moths to a flame, or even a floodlight.  Leaving Mick at the turnstiles to the Magnus Group Stand (formerly the plain old West Stand) in Sir Alf Ramsey Way (formerly Portman Walk), I wish him ‘Bon match’ and strike out for turnstile 60 at the back of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand (formerly Churchman’s). The cheery young turnstile operator bids me hello, cheerily, and I thank her for doing whatever it is she does to let me into the temple of Sir Alf.

In the lower tier of the stand ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here, but Fiona isn’t and Pat from Clacton still has Covid, and for the first time ever I have arrived before the man who is definitely from Stowmarket. As I reach my seat stadium announcer Stephen Foster tells us that kick-off will be delayed by 15 minutes because of an earlier incident on the Orwell Bridge, which has apparently caused traffic congestion in the town. I am left to stand alone and watch the pitch being heavily watered and  the stands fill up inexorably, which of course they do and before I know it the teams are striding onto the pitch and Fiona and the man from Stowmarket are sat beside me.  Before kick-off we observe a minute’s silence as mark of respect for the 174 football supporters killed in a stampede or crush at a match in Indonesia between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya. But for the roaring drone of a jet aeroplane above and a few coughs the silence is perfect and still.

When kick-off comes it is Town who get first go with the ball and are quickly into their swift passing game, producing slick interchanges of the ball down the right and crosses into the Cambridge penalty area.   Up in the Cobbold stand close to 2,000 Cantabrigians are gathered and many ramble through some unintelligible, tuneless mantra as the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand launch into their signature version of Boney M’s million-selling Christmas number one from 1978, although credit must also go to Harry Belafonte who first recorded it in 1956.  “Who the fuck? Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you” continue the Cambridge boys rather mysteriously, as if they’d forgotten where they’d come to in the course of an 85 kilometre one hour journey.  

After the initial burst of noise from the excitement of kick-off, the stands fall quiet for a while, then Freddie Ladapo chases a through ball to raucous encouragement before being flagged offside. Town are on top, but the ball is moving too swiftly over the wet turf and through balls and forward passes are eluding the likes of Wes Burns and Freddie Ladapo.  When Cambridge get the ball they try to break quickly too, causing ripples of concern amongst the home crowd.  In fact, it is Cambridge who have the first shot that isn’t blocked, although the player responsible might have wished it had been as Jubril Okedina’s effort poses more threat to the people sat behind the goal than it does to Christian Walton’s clean sheet. 

The man from Stowmarket and I are swopping comments about the wet pitch; he says he is expecting to see a submarine surface any minute.  As long as the torpedoes are ours I tell him, and it’s not a Russian submarine,  he adds.  Nearly twenty minutes have been lost to history and talk of underwater craft; Conor Chaplin wins a free-kick on the edge of the Cambridge penalty area as he appears to be lifted off the ground by a challenge.  Chaplin gets back on his feet to lift the ball over the defensive wall nicely enough, but it’s an easy catch the Cambridge ‘keeper Dimitar Mitov. “De, de-de-de, de- fuckin’ useless” chant the Cambridge boys to the tune of Pigbags’ ‘Papa’s got a brand new pigbag’, which they obviously know reached number three in the UK singles chart in 1982.   The Town fans retaliate with the same chant just a few minutes later as full-back George Williams wellies the ball hopelessly into touch with all the finesse and control of Boris Johnson’s hair stylist.

In a break from tradition tonight at Portman Road, it is the away supporters who are telling the referee that he doesn’t know what he is doing as he resists the temptation to award free-kicks whenever a Cambridge player comes in contact with the wet grass.  Some habits die harder however, and the Cambridge fans are still the ones to ask “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” and as per usual no one takes them up on their kind offer.

Nearly half an hour has gone and whilst Ipswich are dominating, their frequent crosses and forays down the flanks aren’t producing many shots that Mitov is having to save. Again, Cambridge spurn a rare chance when Sam Smith shoots both high and wide after a free-kick and low cross.  Cambridge are frustrating Town with their dense defending and as usual the Town supporters clam up when their team aren’t winning.  “Your support is fucking shit” sing the Cambridge fans, quickly following it up with “You’re supposed to be at home”, and I imagine a youth up in the Cobbold stand sat thinking “which chant criticising their support shall we sing next?” and someone else is saying “Oooh yeah, that’s a good one, let’s do that”.

Wes Burns can’t keep the ball in play from another forward pass and Pigbag’s only hit is heard for a third time; it’s getting boring now. But then Wes has more luck and Janoi Donacien heads one of his crosses narrowly wide before another cross sets up Leif Davis for a header which is blocked to give Town a corner. Both teams then win aimless corners and Town produce one of the finest moves of the half as Marcus Harness threads through a through ball for Wes Burns who then crosses to the far post for Leif Davis to strike the ball into the side netting.  Another corner follows and a minute of time is added on, but the score remains disappointingly blank which means that Cambridge are effectively winning.  The players leave the field to the opening bars of Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump It Up’, another song from that wonderful year 1978.

With the half-time break I leave my seat to go and speak with Harrison and his dad; Ray isn’t here tonight because he is at the Ipswich Regent watching Steve Hackett, another of the community of literally immortal prog rockers from the 1970’s who just can’t stop playing.

The football resumes at seven minutes past nine and for the opening minutes the Sir Bobby Robson stand lower tier have renewed voice. “Come On Ipswich, Come On Ipswich” they chant. “Fuck off Ipswich, Fuck Off Ipswich” respond the lads from the Cambridge Footlights Review satirically, before quickly remembering that they were meant to be criticising us for our poor support and switching to  “We forgot that you were here”.  We are no match for the untamed wit.

The second half is a repeat of the first,  but with more square passes from Ipswich and fewer successful through passes and crosses, but equally Cambridge hardly get forward at all. Something better change I think and with sixty-six minutes of the game gone forever Kyle Edwards replaces Wes Burns, Lee Evans usurps Dominic Ball and Tyreece John-Jules is the new Conor Chaplin.  Tonight’s attendance is announced as 26,414 with 1,745 being Cambridge fans and they sing “Football in a library, de-de-dur” as they continue to riff on the familiar theme for just a short while longer and sing another song in which at least half of the ‘words’ are really just noises made with their front teeth.

Everything is in place for the seventy-second minute, which arrives on time and sees Lee Evans play the ball out to Marcus Harness whose low cross is brilliantly but inadvertently flicked up in the air by a Cambridge defender. From where I’m sat it looks like the ball spins up and drops down under the cross bar, but in fact Tyreece John-Jules is the man to apply the coup de grace and Town lead 1-0.  What a relief, and once again the substitutions have worked almost instantly, as if some sort of magic wand has been waved.  Tonight, there is no fear that the magic will be undone with a sudden unwarranted equaliser and the reason for this is that within two minutes Town score again, this time Kyle Edwards possibly shaping up to cross the ball, but instead launching it into the far top corner from an improbable distance and bearing. It’s not luck, it’s the law of averages; if you cross the ball enough sooner or later a defender will deflect it favourably for you or a cross will go straight into the goal.

With fifteen minutes of normal time remaining Portman Road is filled with the noise of the home supporters emitting “lo-lo-los” and “Ei-Ei-Os” for all their worth. The transformation from the relative quiet of five minutes before is astonishing and the Cambridge chants of “Sing when you’re winning” don’t really begin to describe how fickle we are in our support for our team.

Kayden Jackson replaces Freddie Ladapo and Cambridge makes substitutions too, one of whom is former Town starlet Jack Lankester; the other is Fejiri Okenabirhie whose name is pronounced by PA man Stephen Foster with the verbal dexterity one would expect of a former BBC presenter, even if he was on Radio Suffolk.  The goals haven’t changed the game tonight, Town continue to plug away and Cambridge can only defend.  Sam Morsy hits a post with a shot which looked to be about to hit the net, and then with four minutes remaining of normal time a Tyreece John-Jules shot is blocked and spins across the penalty area, Kyle Edwards reacts with an alacrity that makes the Cambridge players around him look like they’ve been rolling joints for the past hour and steers the ball into the Cambridge goal with the outside of an outstretched foot.  

The ensuing joyful songs and chants are too much for the Cantabrigians, many of whom begin to head back to the sanctuary of the A14.  Four minutes of added on time are played and then it’s history, Ipswich Town have beaten Cambridge United 3-0, it’s the sound thrashing that we’ve been waiting to give them for thirty years.  It’s just as well revenge is a dish best served cold.

Ipswich Town 3 Portsmouth 2

I have history with Portsmouth, family history.  My father was born there and either his grandfather or great grandfather lived there. As a child, my family lived just outside the city over the other side of Portsdown Hill for two years and both sides of my wife Paulene’s family have lived in the city for generations, and she grew up there going to Fratton Park for the first time in 1966 or ’67, about the time of The Beatles best LP’s.  We think her dad probably went to the 1939 FA Cup final when Pompey beat Wolverhampton 4-1, unfortunately he’s too dead to ask now. I even went to the 2010 FA Cup Final.

Ipswich versus Pompey games are therefore different to other games for me and today is no exception as I am accompanied by Paulene, who because she thought sitting with the Pompey fans would be too exciting and would antagonise her asthma, has consented to sit with me in the quieter, more contemplative surroundings of the lower tier of Sir Alf Ramsey stand, formerly known as Churchman’s.

The start of the afternoon does not bode well; an unexpectedly quick drive into Ipswich in my trusty Citroen C3 is halted by a queue up and beyond Crane Hill.  Having seemingly developed a morbid fear of traffic queues in my later life I divert through Chantry only to find the car park on West End Road is already full, as is the one in Portman Road and it’s not even half past one.  There is a queue for the underground car park, South Street is full and there is a queue for Crown Street which the on-street signs say is full also.  I phone Mick to tell him that we might not get to see him at the Arbor House (formerly The Arboretum) at 13:45 as previously arranged.  Mick stoically tells us that he already has a pint of beer and a packet of peanuts so he’s fine; if we get there we get there, if we don’t, we don’t. Giving up all hope, I bring the Citroen to rest in an on-street parking space on Fonnereau Road.  It is two o’clock; I pay £3.40 at the parking ‘meter’ for the maximum 3 hours, which won’t quite be enough time to see me back after the game, but I decide to live dangerously, beginning the excitement before the match even starts and continuing it on beyond the final whistle.

Paulene walks slowly and dictates that we should just walk to the ground, and not via The Arbor House.  I find it hard to conceive of going to the game without having a pre-match pint and we walk through the busy streets of central Ipswich in silence. I buy a programme using coins that I found this morning in the drawer of my bedside table and we enter the ‘Sir Alf’, via turnstile 60 through what seems like his ‘back entrance’ off Constantine Road.  There is a half an hour to live through until kick-off and although Paulene sits in the stand I can’t abide the noise from the PA system and retreat beneath it where, despite having told Paulene the drinks are over-priced and I don’t like any of them, I queue for a plastic cup of black coffee (£2.75), partly for want of anything better to do, but I am thirsty.   It’s a decision to compare with some of the worst I have ever made, the cup of Douwe Egbert ‘coffee’ is utterly foul and could not taste less like a cup of coffee if it was a scoop of earwax.

Returning to the seats, Fiona has now arrived, as has ever-present Phil who never misses a game and the man who I think is from Stowmarket, but absent today are Phil’s son Elwood and Pat from Clacton, who has contracted Covid, apparently whilst on holiday in Torquay.  I talk to the man who I think is from Stowmarket, who confirms that he is indeed from Stowmarket, although he was actually born in Cambridge.  On the pitch, stadium announcer and former class-mate of my friend Pete, Stephen Foster reads the teams out from the scoreboard.  I notice today that he has a little Ipswich Town crest on the foamy bit at the top of his mike.  In the predictable style of a man whose life has been immersed in popular music and local radio he asks the crowd to make lots of noise and to turn the volume “up to eleven”.  He goes on, I think, to say something about “noise annoys” which I imagine is a slightly more obscure reference to a tune by The Buzzcocks, the ‘B’side to their fabulous 1 minute 46 second long single ‘Love You More’, which I recall buying in Parrot Records in Queen Street back in that annus mirabilis 1978.

At last, the game begins, Town having first go with the ball and mostly sending it in the direction of me Paulene, ever-present Phil, Fiona and the man who definitely does come from Stowmarket.  Town are in their traditional blue and white kit,  whilst Pompey wear an all-black kit with sleeves of a sort of golden colour which blends with the skin tones of their arms and makes them look like they are wearing black sleeveless vests.  Undeterred, the Pompey fans up in the Cobbold Stand sing “Portsmouth City, Portsmouth City FC, the finest football team the world has ever seen” despite the fact that as far as I am aware no team called Portsmouth City FC has ever existed. Odd.

Less than two minutes have elapsed and Pompey’s number six Connor Ogilvie is writhing on the floor after some sort of tackle or collision with Leif Davis, for which he earns a free-kick. “Dirty bastards” says Paulene to me. “Time wasting already” I reply.  “You’re supposed to be at home” sing the Pompey fans to which the Sir Bobby Robson Stand responds with possibly their favourite song, Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child”, but with amended lyrics about fighting Norwich for ever more because of Boxing Day, the relevance of which is hard to fathom.

The Pompey support wait a whole six minutes after kick off before asking “Is this a library” but there is audible noise from Sir Bobby Robson Stand, even more so when Wes Burns wins the game’s first corner and Tyreece John-Jules, who incidentally is the nephew of actor Danny John-Jules of Red Dwarf fame, wins the second as his close range shot is deflected wide.  A Conor Chaplin shot is then pushed onto a post and away by Pompey’s beanpole goalkeeper Josh Griffiths.  Just ten minutes played and Town are all over Pompey like a rash and Dane Scarlett even gets booked as he assaults George Edmundson. Pompey’s only other attacking effort is a massive drop kick from Griffiths which by-passes every player on the field except Christian Walton. Janoi Donacien wins a third corner at the end of a magnificent passing move down the right, George Edmundson’s header is saved and it all seems easy for Town, but then the balance alters.

Pompey win a corner as Donacien heads clear a right-wing cross and then begin to have more possession of the ball.  Out on the left Owen Dale, who I like to imagine is a relative of Jim Dale performs some stepovers as Pompey grow in confidence,  but then hilariously takes one step too many and collides with his marker.  The poorly executed stepover routine is one of football’s funniest faux pas after the ‘Bryan Gunn’.  Dale then produces another crowd pleaser as he blazes a shot hopelessly high and wide at the end of a set-piece routine, just to confirm his ‘Carry On’ heritage.  The comedy continues as I notice that Pompey’s Sean Raggett is knock-kneed.

The balance of the game then swings back towards Town and a fourth corner is won, this time as a shot from the constantly overlapping Leif Davis is deflected over the cross-bar.  The corner comes to nothing however.  Midfield play ensues and Lee Evans concedes a free-kick, but Sam Morsy wins the ball back and finds Conor Chaplin and in a split second Chaplin produces a pass for Marcus Harness to pursue right through the middle of the Pompey defence; he has just Griffiths to beat and he does. Town lead 1-0, it’s not much past twenty five past three. “Please make some more noise for our scorer, number eleven, Marcus Harness” announces Stephen Foster as if requesting a round of applause for someone who has just won the prize for biggest marrow at a village fete. The crowd oblige.  A chant of “We’ve got Marcus Harness, We’ve got Marcus Harness” is heard but quickly fades away as if a group of supporters know there is a football song about possessing a player, because they’ve heard it before, but they’re not sure of the rest of the words.   Like a calming post coital-cigarette, celebration for the Sir Bobby Robson stand comes in the form of their funereally-paced version of “When the Town going marching in”.

At half past three I see Christian Walton diving at the feet of an on-rushing Pompey player and then someone behind says, “he’s given them a penalty”.  Christian Walton gets to see the referee’s yellow card and then as Colby Bishop, who I like to think is grandson of Ernest and Emily in a fictional parallel universe of soap operas, kicks the ball into the middle of the goal from the penalty spot Walton dives conveniently out of the way.  Town’s lead had lasted barely six minutes and it feels like this happens every week.

“It’s all gone quiet over there” sing the Pompey fans to the tune of ‘Eye, Eye, Ippy, Ippy Eye’, or may be ‘She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain’ and they have a point. For some reason Ipswich supporters never react supportively to their team conceding a goal. Pompey fans meanwhile sing something about Danny Cowley, which presumably tells us what a good bloke he is, although it would take more than a song to convince me.  On the pitch however, Town are back on the attack and with two minutes of the half remaining Wes Burns is released into the penalty area by Conor Chaplin, but his shot is not directed sufficiently away from Griffiths who manages to deflect it away for another corner just by standing still and sticking his arms out. Town then win yet another corner, but nothing arising from it or the subsequent two minutes of added on time can stop the score being one-all at half-time.  It’s been a very entertaining game indeed so far, and whilst Portsmouth have been very good, Ipswich have been better and there is a slight air of disappointment cut with frustration that we didn’t hold onto that lead. But then again, the equaliser was a penalty and unless for a hand ball on the goal line I view penalties as random acts of kindness by the referee towards the team that is awarded it.

Half-time is whiled away in conversation with Ray, his son Michael and grandson Harrison, who asks me about my recent trip to Norwich to see Robyn Hitchcock play live.  I tell him that I have written an account of the gig under the heading ‘Robyn Hitchcock 17 Norwich 0’.  Ray and I speak of the new Prime Minister Liz Truss, who we agree is probably and incredibly even worse than the previous one.  Ray says he has a joke about ‘trickle-down economics’; not many people get it.

At four minutes past four the football resumes.  “Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up” sing the away supporters to the ‘tune’ of the Portsmouth guildhall clock.  “Fuck off Pompey, Pompey Fuck Off” chant the Town fans, possibly believing themselves to be the heirs to the quick wit and ready repartee of Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain.  Pompey win a free-kick as Leif Davis fouls Owen Dale and referee, the Victorian sounding Charles Breakspear paces out 10metres (or is it yards?), but amusingly Town’s defensive wall already proves to be further from the spot where the kick is to be taken; Paulene and I wonder if Mr Breakspear just has little legs, or feet. The free-kick sails over the goal like a satellite. “Is this a library?” sing the Pompey fans in case we didn’t hear the question the first time, and it brings no response again. In the Sir Bobby Robson stand one half of the lower tier have their hands over their brows to shield their eyes from the lowering sun and they possibly can’t do this and sing at the same time. Pompey win a corner, but so far the second half is less exhilarating than the first.  The attendance is announced as a stonking 28, 434; our local rivals’ Carrow Road ground couldn’t accommodate that many people even if they wanted to.  We are told that there are 1,941 away fans here, but Paulene and I know there are 1,942.

It’s about twenty-five past four and time for that part of the game where like ritual sacrifices, substitutions are made. Pompey are the first to wield the metaphorical dagger as Joe Morrell and Josh Koroma are slain in favour of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ronan Curtis. Pompey win a corner in the wake of their changes and the Pompey chimes ring out again from the Cobbold stand; it must be good to have a one-stop, go-to chant for any occasion. Town fans used to be happy with a burst or two of “Come On You Blues” but that doesn’t seem good enough for today’s Town fans’.  Eight minutes further on and Town bring on Kyle Edwards and Freddie Ladapo for Marcus Harness and Tyreece John-Jules.  Harness and John-Jules have played well, but their involvement in the game has tailed off in the second half and their replacement will hopefully bring fresh impetus.  No sooner thought than done and Leif Davis pulls the ball back into the penalty area for Ladapo to strike beautifully into the top corner of the goal with his first touch of the ball, it’s a terrific goal and Town are winning again.

This time the lead lasts barely five minutes as once again play is stopped only to find that Mr Breakspear has once again awarded Pompey a penalty. I have no idea at all why this time, someone behind says something about handball but it seems that Sam Morsy or George Edmundson might have fouled someone.  Once again, it could be just a random act of kindness towards Pompey from Mr Breakspear.  The way players dive and feign injury nowadays who can honestly say what’s a foul and what isn’t?  Ernest and Emily’s boy scores from the penalty spot again, Christian Walton contriving to dive to his right as the ball goes to his left; where’s Paul Cooper when you need him?

Fate has seemingly dealt Town an undeserved blow and as if in an almost Roman Catholic outpouring of guilt fate quickly makes amends and within a minute Kyle Edwards is heading goalwards and then towards the by-line; he crosses the ball, but it strikes a lunging defender.  I think to myself that we’ve got a corner, but as the people in front of me rise from their seats a roar goes up and it seems we’ve scored. Edwards’ cross has spun up into the air over goalkeeper Griffiths and fallen perfectly for Wes Burns to nod simply over the goal line from point blank range. Town lead 3-2.

The game is into the last ten minutes of normal time and the nuanced, incisive play of Conor Chaplin is sacrificed for the solidity of Dominic Ball.  “He’s one of our own” chant the Pompey fans dolefully in a touching tribute to their former player as he draws the applause of the nearly 57,000 hands. Still the Pompey fans sing “Play Up Pompey” in a demonstration of genuine, relentless support. From the Sir Bobby Robson stand a version of Boney M’s biggest Christmas hit belts out once more. Four minutes of normal time are left and Pompey’s Michael Morrison makes way for Reeco Hackett; I idly wonder to myself if Reeco (pronounced reeko by Stephen Foster) is known as ‘stinky’ to his friends.  Edwards wins Town yet another corner. Pompey waste their own time by making yet another substitution with just a minute left of normal time.  An improbable seven minutes of time added on is announced; the man who is from Stowmarket had predicted only five. But Town run the game out without undue concern, winning two final corners and making a final substitution whilst keeping Pompey a safe distance from the goal.  More cretins than I realised came to Portman Road try to trash the good reputation of Town supporters forged over many years, by not throwing the ball back when it goes into the stand, but they are only an unfortunate footnote to an excellent afternoon of football.

With the final whistle the relief is palpable, but it’s mostly because we have at last beaten a promotion rival, not because we were desperately hanging on for the result.  Portsmouth played well, but Ipswich played better. I exit the stand sharply, eager to get back to my trusty Citroen to discover if my parking gamble has paid off, I am pleased to find that it has.  The drive home is a happy one but as all supporters should, I know not to gloat about today’s result.  Paulene and I are going out tonight to our daughter-in-law’s 40th birthday party, by way of personal sacrifice for Towns win I shall drive.