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.