Ipswich Town 4 Accrington Stanley 1

Before starting this account of Ipswich Town’s latest fixture I must let you the reader know that I am sick and tired of people droning on repeating that 1980’s advertisement for milk whenever Accrington Stanley is mentioned. There is no excuse for not knowing the name of Accrington Stanley and that child in the advert was an ignoramus and possibly an imbecile and deserves to suffer from calcium deficiency.

Today I am extremely excited; as excited as a Liverpudlian child with weak bones or a deficiency of vitamins E, B6 and B12 should be when offered a glass of milk. Today for the first time in five months I am returning to Portman Road to watch the latest chapter in the Superblues’ epic march back towards world domination, and today Town face the famous Accrington Stanley. The last game I saw was Town’s tepid one-all draw with Sunderland in August, soon after which I was found to have pneumonia, was put in a coma, diagnosed with Endocarditis, given open heart surgery to replace two valves eaten away by bacterial infection and placed on a two-month long course of industrial strength anti-biotics. Sunderland AFC was not implicated in these events.   Unlike Gloria Gaynor, who after all these years is still all about what she will do, I actually did survive, thanks to the fantastic NHS and at last I now feel fit enough to once more brave the streets and terraces of Suffolk’s capital city. Consider Emyr Huws’ return to the team after long-term injury, Andre Dozzell’s return to the team after torn ligaments, Ian Marshall’s return to the team after being run over by a shopping trolley; roll them all into one and you will come close to how I feel today. Today is, as those who speak in modern parlance say, ’massive’ or at least quite big.

It is a grey and windy Saturday, becoming of early January and the trains are not running. Refusing to pay train fares to travel by Corporation bus, yesterday I experimentally sought the assistance of fellow Ipswich Town supporters on social media and attempted to politely solicit a lift to Ipswich. With the sole exception of a sensible answer from a kind man in his sixties called Ian, the responses I received were at worst rude, ignorant or stupid and at best unhelpful. These responses included one from a man whose profile indicates somewhat worryingly that he is chairman of governors at an infants’ school, whilst another respondent claimed to be three years old after I notified him that his initial response implied he was not able to offer me a lift and that was all I needed to know.  Depressed that idiots and dumb arses trying to be smart arses are also Ipswich Town fans, I muse that at least Ian proves that decent people do exist and today I convey my gratitude to him as we travel up the A12 in his grey Volkswagen Tiguan. We talk of football and our plans for the pre-match period. Once the VW is parked up we go our separate ways, departing each other’s company with the reciprocal wish that we might enjoy the drive home on the back of a good win.

It’s only a quarter to one and Portman Road is still open to motor traffic; I assiduously keep to the pavement because it would be a waste to be mown down by a car now, having dodged death only a few months before and at public expense too. After stopping to buy a programme (£3.50) I continue up the gentle incline, across Handford Road to St Matthews Street, passing a few early-arrivers walking in the opposite direction.  I have time on my hands and rather than fall prey too early to the demon drink I walk on past St Jude’s Tavern to Francesco’s Hair Salon at 61 St Matthew’s Street.  My long period of convalescence has left me looking like Howard Hughes and I need a haircut, so I get one (£15.50) courtesy of a charming lady hairdresser with whom I chat about going to football, Christmas, family, drinking enough fluids and fruit.  Francesco’s is incidentally the same establishment where Bobby Robson would get his hair cut.  Although Francesco has moved premises since Sir Bobby’s time, I nevertheless can’t helping feeling I would have had Bobby’s endorsement for this match-day tonsorial, although it is only in my imagination that I see him smiling back at me from the mirror giving me the thumbs-up.

Looking like a new man I leave Francesco’s and make the short walk back to St Jude’s Tavern; upon entering I think I hear a small voice say “Martin”, but I pay no attention believing I have just happened to walk in on the end of a conversation about relatives of the polecat or cast members of ‘That was the week that was’.  I proceed to the bar, but before I can order a pint of today’s Match Day Special (£2.50) my friend and colleague Roly is at my shoulder and wishing me well, for it was he who spoke my name.  I have not seen Roly for several weeks and we talk agreeably, making jokes of everything we can think of, none of which we will remember.  Soon, my mouth parched from incessant conversation, I get a second pint of the Match Day Special which today is Mr B’s Hexagon, a name which refers to the shape of the honeycomb, but which I as a lover of all things French prefer to think of as celebrating the mainland part of metropolitan France, which the natives often refer to as l’hexagone due to its approximate shape.  I treat Roly to a half a pint of the same drink; he is on reduced ration because later he will be driving home in his second-hand Vauxhall Astra.

Before we leave St Jude’s for the match Mick pops in to give me my season ticket which he has been using whilst I have been confined to my sick bed. Mick doesn’t stay for a drink but lingers long enough to tell us how he met his friend Chris at the railway station and they had a drink in the Station Hotel, which on match days is dedicated as the ‘away supporters’ pub.  Unable to spot any away supporters Mick asked a bouncer where they all were; the bouncer turned and pointed to two blokes drinking quietly in the corner of the bar.  Later the number of away supporters attending the match will be announced on the Portman Road scoreboard as 155 in a crowd of 17,536.  I do not believe that 153 of these 155 Accringtonians are teetotal and I am pleased therefore that they paid no heed to being confined to the ‘away pub’ and sought their pleasure like free men and women, wherever they could find it.

Time passes and eventually with glasses and bladders drained Roly and I descend Portman Road in time for kick-off, the day remains dull and defined by grey cloud. I dodge my way across the stream of supporters flowing out of Portman Road car park and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way; I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile seven after a brief internal dialogue about which is the luckier number, seven or eight; I decide I don’t believe in lucky numbers. I say a hearty, smiling ‘hello’ to the lady turnstile operator and a little bizarrely also bid her ‘goodbye’ as the turnstile clicks; my excuse is that I am out of practice with this match-going lark, but i am also feeling a lot of love for the world and everyone in it.  After another brief visit to the toilet facilities I ascend the steps from the concourse into the lower tier of the stand to reacquaint myself with Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Ray, the old dears who formerly sat behind me, Bluey, Crazee and my view of the green, green turf and its dramatic, part human, part concrete, part blue plastic and steel backdrop.

It is with a heavy heart that I learn from ever-present Phil that Pat from Clacton is not at the game today because she is on a cruise, but I speak excitedly with Ray and his grandson Harrison before taking up a seat two along from ever-present Phil and in front of the old dears.  With all that lining up to shake hands malarkey out of the way referee Mr Charles Breakspear, whose name sounds like he might have played Association Football for Old Carthusians in the 1870’s, parps his whistle to begin the match.  Accrington Stanley get first go with the ball all dressed in a strong shade of red, which makes them look a bit like Liverpool and is ironic given that at least one fictional, undernourished child from that city has never heard of them.  Incidentally, my earliest contact with anything Accringtonesque was a short, balding bloke called Steve who I met when at university; he came from Accrington but shamefully supported Liverpool, I think if I described him as dwarfish and ugly it wouldn’t be an injustice.  My second contact with something touched by Accrington was by contrast an attractive lady work colleague who was a native of Oswaldtwistle or Ozzy as she called it, a town contiguous with Accrington or Accy as she called it. She was well versed in the names of Burnley players of the 1970’s  and rarely wore a brassiere, two possible reasons why I remember her over thirty years later.

With Town in their customary blue and white and the turf glowing green beneath the floodlights this could be a scene conjured up from a Club Edition Subbuteo set. Town start well, passing the ball accurately, playing towards me and ever-present Phil and looking keen to do well.  My attention is taken however by Accrington’s enormously tall number 5 whose name, the shoulder of his shirt tells me is Sykes, not Eric or even Bill sadly but Ross, like the fish fingers.  “Cor! He’s skinny” shouts a voice behind me. Sykes’s gangliness is however overshadowed by that of Accy’s number 36 Jerome Opuku, a player on loan from Fulham whose flailing arms and legs give him the appearance of a piece of nineteenth century agricultural reaping machinery or a drunken octopus; when tackled he collapses to the floor like a puppet that has had its strings cut.  That said he’s a half decent player.

After kick-off just twelve minutes pass and Ipswich take the lead; a glorious passing move involving the eye-rubbingly strange sight of Luke Woolfenden surging into the penalty area in open play (‘underlapping’ as ever-present Phil christens it) from his centre back position. I can’t recall having seen such a thing before at Portman Road, it’s tantamount to ‘Total Football’; a marvel, even if the ultimate finish from Kayden Jackson looks a bit scruffy as he slides on his bum side by side with an Accrington player to get the ball over the goal line.

“Come On Ipswich” chants the crowd, bemused or tentatively intrigued by the stylish football before them. Two minutes later another passing moving ends with James Norwood hopelessly mishitting the ball when well placed to score. In a rare idle moment I watch a seagull arc above the pitch, but this is a game that demands to be watched and before a half an hour has passed Norwood runs on to an instinctively reactive, first time volleyed pass from Emyr Huws and casually lobs the ball over the head of the Lambeth born Accrington ‘keeper Josef Bursik.  Time slows down as the ball follows a graceful arc, although I’ve yet to see an arc that isn’t so, and descends perfectly beneath the cross bar before striking the net.  The goal inspires a thankfully brief dirge version of “When the Town going marching in” from the North Stand and I decide that Jerome Opuku’s squad number of ‘36’ refers to his inside leg measurement.  Life is good if you’re a Town supporter inside Portman Road football ground today and just to prove the point a third goal is scored by little Alan Judge a minute before half-time. It’s the result of another fine passing move which this time has seen centre half Luke Chambers push forward in open play to set it off.  Luke Chambers mostly looks angry when he’s playing football, some might say he is pulling a determined face perhap. His snarly reaction to the latest goal today seems to imply he is claiming some responsibility for it, almost as much as Alan Judge; perhaps scoring again was his idea. 

Applause is the sound of the day as the teams clear off for half-time and I head down to the toilet before consuming a Nature Valley Protein Peanut and Chocolate bar which I had had the foresight to put in my coat pocket before leaving home almost four hours ago.  The queues for the refreshment kiosks are long and I’m pleased I am not in one.  I check the half-time scores on one of the overhead TV sets beneath the stand but get bored waiting to see anything of interest and consider how literally pointless half-time scores are.  My already cheerful mood is enhanced further however when I learn that Norwich City are losing and in my mind’s eye I see a poky, high up corner of Old Trafford where funny looking folk in yellow and green knitwear have paid exorbitant Premier League prices for the privilege of seeing their team humiliated.  I return to the stand and speak again with Ray before the teams return to play out the second half which with a satisfying sense of symmetry begins at four minutes past four.

The greyness of the afternoon deepens behind the stands making the floodlights seem to shine all the more brightly.  Predictably perhaps, the second half does not reach the heights of the first, in spite of the efforts of the glowing beams of electric light illuminating the pitch. Town begin well enough and continue to dominate possession, but the gaps in Accrington’s defence have been plugged and whilst the football is not bad, it’s been downgraded from the first half’s Copacabana-style to something more like Felixstowe-at-low-tide-style.  It’s been a game pleasantly devoid of histrionics or naughty fouls but at half past four Accrington substitute Ajibola Alese, who is on loan from West Ham United and is only 18 years old commits a foul on little Alan Judge which Mr Breakspear considers worthy of yellow card style censure. Cole Skuse replaces the wonderfully Welsh Emyr Huws, which is nice because their surnames rhyme, and then Teddy Bishop replaces little Alan Judge.   There are now two Bishops on the field as Accrington also have one in Colby Bishop, although to be honest he sounds more like a firm of estate agents than a footballer.

It’s getting on for a quarter to five and an Accrington player, possibly Dion Charles is left unmarked close to Ipswich’s goal; he shoots with his right boot; he should score but Town’s James Wilson, who makes me think of Labour prime ministers of the 1970’s moves across to deflect the ball away above the angle of the goal post and cross bar with his calf. “Lucky Ipswich” says the old boy behind me, but it wasn’t luck, it was good defending, eventually.  If it had been luck that stopped an Accrington goal it would have been of the sort that didn’t last because within a minute or so Accrington’s Congolese substitute Offrande Zanzala, who has previously played for Stevenage, Barnet and Chester, is pulled back and has a leg swiped across his chest courtesy of James Wilson. Zanzala manages to beat off a team mate who seemed to want to take the resultant penalty before he could and then scores.

There is still time for stomping Luke Chambers to get himself booked un-necessarily, which he does, and for Accrington to score two more goals, and that’s the sort of scenario that wouldn’t surprise an Ipswich supporter considering Town’s aggregate form over the last thirty years or so.  Today proves not to be the sort of day for that to happen however, and with the game into the time added on to compensate for substitutions and any nihilistic attempts to fritter away existence, Town’s third substitute, the imposing Will Keane robs an Accrington player of the ball, turns back towards the away team’s goal and sends a low shot past the man known to the French as le gardien and to Emyr Huws as the gol-geidwad.  With his hair drawn back in a scrappy pony tail Keane has the look from a distance, a long distance, of a poor man’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his record of three goals in the last four games is worthy of the big Swede.

The game ends amid much clapping and self-congratulation and after bidding ever-present Phil adieu I make a final visit to the toilet beneath the stand and then walk out into the evening, towards Ian’s Volkswagen, the soporific tones of Mick Mills on the car radio, the voices of assorted opinionated people calling to give Mick their worthless views and the journey home.

Finally, after Ian drops me off I walk around the corner to my house; a small coach drives by with the name ‘Enigma Travel’ painted on the side; “Probably on a mystery trip” I think to myself.

Endocarditis 1 NHS 2

On 5th July 1948, courtesy of Clement Attlee’s Labour government the people of Britain became the recipients of a national health service which was free to all at the point of use, paid for through progressive taxation, a tax system which put into practice the ideal of citizens contributing according to their ability to do so and receiving, in this case, according to their clinical need.  No longer would sick people feel the need to shy away from seeking help from a doctor because they could not afford to do so.  My mother still remembers her mother living in fear of the cost of the doctor’s bill. The population had ‘pulled together’ during World War Two and now a new post-war age was dawning in which selfless actions for the greater good could now be put to peaceful purposes.

I benefitted from the existence of the NHS when I came into the world at the Priory Hospital in Haverfordwest in 1960 and as a child I received all the free inoculations, dental treatment and medical checks that the system provided.  Inevitably, as a child I took it for granted and given that tooth extractions and injections were included I did not see it as a good thing; the polio vaccine-laced sugar lump was scant consolation for the promise of pain the health service otherwise represented in my young mind.    As an adult I never gave much thought to the NHS either because I was rarely ill and therefore had little need to do so; I visited the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at Ipswich’s old Anglesea Road hospital when I shut my right forefinger in the door of a Fiat 126 on men’s Wimbledon final day 1980 and then in autumn 1994 I attended the re-located A & E department at Heath Road when I chipped an ankle bone playing football; my darting run into the penalty area coming to a sudden premature halt as my ankle gave way on the uneven surface of one of the pitches up at Gainsborough Sports Centre.  But otherwise the NHS meant little to me despite its apparently increasing profile in the national psyche, which more recently reached a crescendo in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, which almost seemed to define Britain in terms of its NHS; to be honest I thought it was going a bit far.

When Town drew at home with Sunderland on August 10th this year I was disappointed because it was a game we should have won, but I was not despondent, I wasn’t going to get ill over it. I went to work the following Monday as usual but on Tuesday morning awoke in the small hours feeling short of breath. I didn’t go to work on Tuesday because I felt lousy; a visit to my GP produced a course of Amoxycillin antibiotic to deal with a perceived chest infection. By Thursday I was no better and my wife Paulene called the doctor’s surgery, they asked me to come in but I was so short of breath by now I was barely able to walk; they said to call an ambulance.  I was admitted to Colchester hospital that afternoon; the following morning I was put into a coma. I had pneumonia, but on the following Tuesday lunchtime I travelled at speed under sirens and blue flashing lights to the specialist cardiac unit at Basildon hospital.

The following morning I had open-heart surgery to replace two valves that had been attacked by a bacterium; the pneumonia was a decoy, I actually had Endocarditis, a very rare but potentially fatal condition which infects and eats away at the endocardium (the inner lining of the heart chambers), and at the heart valves.

Town’s two-all draw at Peterborough came and went without my knowledge and then I missed the mid-week home game versus Wimbledon on 20th August, which was annoying, but my ventilator would no doubt have aggravated other supporters in the seats around me and it would have been difficult to give the team much vocal support with a bunch of tubes stuck down my throat. Being comatose however, is not necessarily a barrier to watching the Town at Portman Road,    as many season ticket holders in seats all around the ground regularly seem to prove; as animated as some Northstanders get, Portman Road cannot really be described as a cauldron of noise.  By the time Saturday came, and Town were heading ‘up north’ to Bolton Wanderers, I was out of the coma and was conscious, but sadly if predictably not fit to travel.  Judging by some of the hallucinations I was experiencing due to the pain-killing drugs I was receiving however, I doubt I would have understood what was going on even if I could have watched the game.  No one could have blamed me if the 5-0 final score in Town’s favour had seemed like just another weird imagining from my drug-addled brain. A 5-0 away win still seems a bit unlikely.

My recovery was to be a long one and one which now, almost three months later, is not yet over.  As my condition improved and I recovered from surgery I was moved out of the Critical Care Unit into a Cardiac ward.  I caught up on the results I had missed and as I continued to recover, Town continued to win, with the occasional draw just to give the other clubs a chance.  A variety of friends and neighbours swapped about my season ticket between them and sat with Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, so it didn’t go to waste and Town continued to do well.

Whilst everything was rosy at Portman Road my thoughts however had begun to linger on the fact that there were eight recent days in my life of which I had no memory. What struck me was that during these eight days I had apparently come close to death and my life had ultimately been saved by the NHS.  The open heart surgery I had been given was remarkable enough, but the NHS kept giving with continuing care of the highest quality.  I was struck by just how brilliant the staff were but also how they were of so many nationalities from all around the world.  As if the ideal of a free health service wasn’t enough the NHS operates as an international melting pot of doctors and nurses and auxiliary staff, a caring combination of all races, colours and creeds, a World health organisation in the service of a single national population.  That combination of being a health service free at the point of use and its being staffed by people from all around the world makes the NHS one of, if not the most magnificent achievement of human civilisation, an international fellowship of people acting solely for good and not for profit; it is awe-inspiring and achieves what much organised religion strives for.

If I had to come up with some laboured football related analogy I would say that the NHS is the World Cup of healthcare, free to tune in to whenever you want and in an Ipswich Town context it is a Portman Road where all the gates are open all the time and the team is made up of a selection of some of our best ever players (loanees included) all of different nationalities, except there must always be two particular Dutchmen;  for example: Bialkowski, Burley, Taricco, Thijssen, Hunter, Hreidarsson, Legwinski, Muhren, Crawford, Counago, Finidi.   Subs: Begovic, Diallo, Thetis, De Vos, Chopra, Dos Santos, Peralta.   Other team selections can be made according to how brilliant or amusing you want your team to be.

But the moral of this tale is not about football; it is more important than that, it is that matters of life and death seriously are about life and death. The NHS is always there to save anyone’s life at any time and it remains free at the point of use; so please think very carefully about who you vote for on 12th December if you want that to remain the case.

Guest Blog 2 – Richard Goes To Bolton

Unfortunately Martin will be unable to write the blog for a while. We hope you will enjoy the guest blog that follows

Since that game against Fulham nineteen seasons ago, a lot has happened.  Got married, had three lovely children, started my own business, got divorced, got engaged, fiance moved out and am now with a very special young lady who makes me very happy and who tries to understand football. She thinks she supports West Ham United. The irony!

For Burton Albion on the opening day the car lines up with my partner Jenna, her daughter Lauren  (first match for both of them), my youngest son Jacques,  plus regular football companion Adam. At Luton Town we mixed it up, just myself, Jacques and his elder brother Patrick. For Peterbrough United, it was all three of my kids, the boys plus my eldest Anna.

For the first long trip of season the girls in my life planned to takeover. Alton Towers is on the way to Bolton discovers Anna. Before I know it the fifth game of season where we could possibly go top has turned into a girls day out. Jenna, Anna and Lauren have vouchers so I am to leave at 6 am to get them to Alton Towers for 9am. Then I go on, arrive in Bolton at 11 and pick them up after the match. It’s all sorted and I plan the journey as I always like to know what’s happening.  I’m 53 years of age and have turned into my dad.

Fast forward to Friday. I’m at Portman Road watching young Jacques play for the Academy Under 12’s against of all clubs, you’ve guessed it, West Ham United. He scores the opener in a 6-1 demolition. Happy days! During the match Anna gets a call to say her GCSE grades are good enough to do A Levels where she wants to. The day gets better and better. Then it’s discovered Alton Towers vouchers are not applicable in August. We must cancel the trip I’m told as full price is ridiculous. Cancel the trip? Some have forgotten why we will be in the North West. So a couple of calls later and the old away crew from many past seasons is back together.  Myself, good friends Adam who lives around the corner and his dad Glenn plus his friend Susan. I used to sit with the three of them in Y block for many seasons.  I’m now loving it in Sir Bobby Robson lower. We agree to leave at 8.45am. Gives us loads of time. 

So Saturday has finally arrived. Thank heavens you are all thinking. I wanted to set the scene though. The Jag is fuelled up, ready to continue destroying the ozone layer quicker than Trump or the Chinese. My passengers are waiting outside Glenn’s house. The first dilemma of the day. Seating hierarchy, “Oh you’re in the front are you?” Susan challenges Glenn. Glenn naturally sits in front,  he has been folowing the Town as long as I have been alive. Adam jumps in with an official looking folder and we are away. A quick stop for cold drinks and the away fans bible, the  Saturday edition of the Sun. It’s already 23 degrees, bet it’s still raining in Manchester though. I’ve planned our route from Marks Tey, down to Stansted,  up the M11, A1, M62, M60. 248 miles. Decided to avoid A14 and M6. We will stop halfway up the A1. It’s all planned and Glenn approves of route. 

Now for many seasons we played a game (hense the folder), we would predict the days Premier League and Championship  results plus Colchester United. 3 points for correct score and 1 point for correct outcome, plus an ‘It’s a Knockout’ joker match with double points. We played for a fiver each winner takes all, which invariably is Glenn (who wisely has a newspaper with the form). Adam opens folder and we expect  printed out fixtures.  To our disappointment it’s a blank sheet. We agree the Championship should be replaced by the Third Division (not this League One nonsense). Curiously none of us think Norwich will lose .  I boldly predict we shall win 6-0. Adam says knowing us, we will struggle to a 1-0 win. We also predict the starting line up. All agree Holy must start but then think will Norris get the nod. Surely the new lad from Col U must start, if fit. We all agree Chambo will return but not at cost to Woolfie.  Kenlock will play but needs a good game as other options will soon be back. We agree Scuse and Downes surely play.  But then is it with Georgiu, Judge, Huws, Edwards or Rowe. Agree again with the two up front. 

We find ourselves at Stansted Airport in no time and the M11 is running well, much less traffic than expected. The sun is shining and the Mercury continues to steadily rise. All is good. Even the lifetime speed restiction area just past Cambridge passes without significant delay, all is good, plenty of time. Cambridge services come and go, ‘We can do better!’ I confidently exclaim. Within twenty minutes the dreaded red of a hundred brake lights appears on the horizon. We are literally on a junction . Do we turn off? We decide the delay will be brief. One then two fire engines with sirens blaring and lights demanding a through passage speed from the side road and force their way through.  That’s not great we think as one. Minutes later two police cars bustle through as well. Whatever has happened is 300 yards up the road. We are trapped between a turn off and an accident involving fire engines.  This really is not good. I hope nobody is hurt, but am really more concerned over how long we will be stuck here in the baking sun. 175 miles to go, and over four hours to kick off. We reassure ourselves the ground is just off the motorway so there’s still plenty of time. Twenty minutes pass and nothing.  We put some comedy on the radio and chuckle at James Mansfords observational humour. Then we start to move. We pass the scene, run of the mill three car shunt where fire engines appear to have moved the wreckage to the side of the road. Well done lads we all mutter. They’ve dealt with that well.

A few miles up the road we pull in to services at Stibbington, a cafe in a dustbath of a car park. Adam and myself go into the gents where a trucker is washing his smalls in the sink. As we go into the eating part of this establishment I sense this is not quite what Glenn had in mind for brunch. the menu is written messily on a giant blackboard. People were queuing and those sitting were without food. The chef (I use the word loosely) shouted to the guy behind counter, “do us a favour and drop the till on the floor so we can go home. At least a 20 minute wait for food!”. We left, hungry and another quarter of an hour used up. Back in the car the satellite navigation proudly informs us that the M62 is heavily congested. We can cut across the Peak District  (an area my father knew well from his walking days). We turn off the A1 near Rotherham and stop at a services that has a Diner. We go in , are seated promptly then ignored for ten minutes. We go to the petrol station for brunch. Glenn chooses a cold pasty. Susan a sandwich,  Adam selects a kids cheese and cracker snack and I opt for a Turkish Delight (they’ve shrunk ). We return to the Jag eagerly, raring to crack on, we’ve been blocked in by a delivery lorry. I mutter obscenities under my breath. He’s a nice chap though and promptly moves.

We soon find ourselves crossing the beautiful National Park. Miles of unspoilt by humans countryside. I’m enjoying proper driving roads and for the first time since Cambridge have to check our speed. 70 miles with two hours to go and enjoying the drive. The Norwich v Chelsea match entertains us. Then just by Glossop we join the back of yet another queue. We travel 3 miles at a snails pace. Frantically checking a map for a short cut to the motorway that is close. I turn off up a side road to beat the delay to a set of traffic lights further up. A couple of minutes later we are on a farm track barely wide enough for us. Adam is convinced it will end up in a farm. Desperate, as now time is firmly against us, I stubbornly continue (we have all done this). Incredibly we find ourselves on tarmac. The time is 2.02pm and we still have 37 miles to the stadium. We hit more traffic and we spot a shortcut across an industrial  estate to the motorway spur road. Not so lucky this time, we turn around and sheepishly try to be allowed back onto road by those we overtook minutes before. We end up exactly where we were before. 2.15pm and 33 miles. We join the motorway and it is clear. Apart from an elderly man trying to wipe us out, we travel as fast as the law allows us. Car park A is for away fans. The approach road is clear. Fourteen minutes before kick off and we are parked up in a barely half full car park.

After the relief of realising we had made the kick off, a strange thing happened. My memory transported me back to after the 4-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers in our Premier League relegation season . The defeat and the nature of how we had no fight that afternoon, pretty much sealed our fate. I vividly remember the Trotters supporters goading us and celebrating our demise as if they had won the FA Cup. It was their revenge for the play offs two seasons before. It was in just about the same space in the car park as I was now, “Ipswich scum!” “F**k off you tractor boys!” was shouted at us with real hate in their voices. Here I was now, feeling for them, in the perilous position they found themselves. As we joined the queue Town fans all said thank you to the turnstile operators (normally it was just head down and get in). A good 700 Ipswich supporters were in good voice.  Other than that the Macron, or whatever it’s called now, was dotted with clusters of home fans. 
What happened next brought a tear to my eye and summed up our supporters, reminding me of when Billy Sharp scored against us days after losing a young infant, the whole ground stood and cheered him.

I’d gone down to get some food and Susan asked for a bottle of water. I see a sign for a meal deal, Burger and drink £5.50. Perfect I think.  In front of me at the counter a man appears to be arguing with the young girl serving.  I’m trying to eavesdrop but am just out of range. All I can make out is him saying that he has paid for and insists that he had what he has paid for. When it’s my turn the drinks chiller is empty bar a few cokes. The girl explains looking forlorn that as the club hasn’t paid the bills no drinks supplier will supply them. She offers free tap water in a plastic glass, plus £2 for the drink part of deal as refund. I then realised that the man in front had insisted on paying for the tap water as then did nearly all our fellow fans. The girl was almost in tears. That really summed up the mess the people in charge had made of this famous old club.
The match itself really was men against boys. Our lads scored the five they had to to keep up with clubs who had gone before. No wild celebrations just compassion at the end. It now appears the game will be voided from official records as the clocks ticks down to the 5pm deadline to remain part of the Football League. The trip home took just under four hours with a break. We go again Saturday.  Take a moment to consider the Bolton fans who will probably never see their team play again.

(Written before the current situation was made public)

ALLEZ LES BLEUS!

Guest Blog 1 – Introducing Richard Hipkin

Unfortunately Martin will be unable to write the blog for a while. We hope you will enjoy the guest blog that follows

Many football fans find themselves supporting their club through two very traditional methods of selection,  fathers team or local team, (more often than not I would imagine both). My route was a little more complicated. Born in Hadleigh, the Essex version with the castle not Suffolk, my local team was Southend United. (There are many pronouncations of Southend but the correct way is Saufen-mate always said with an Eastenders accent.)

My dad though was a season ticket holder at Stamford Bridge, originally coming from Battersea in South London. Back in the late 70’s Chelsea were, of course, a different animal to todays club and you couldn’t really take a 10 year old there.

This was a time when Southend played at home on Friday nights as many fans also followed West Ham on a Saturday, (many of you will remember Colchester United and Tranmere Rovers did the same, with their fans also supporting Ipswich Town and Everton or Liverpool). So my first games were at Roots Hall with my dad in the old Fourth Division. My love affair with football had begun. My two best friends Mark and Phil also watched Southend United, but also followed a big team. Mark was a Leeds United fan, to the best of my knowledge he did this purely as a glory hunter. Phil was and still is a fan of West Ham United and indeed now takes his grown up son Luke to games. I went with both of them to Upton Park to see West Ham beat Leeds in a 4-3 thriller. The crowd and atmosphere was so much larger and noisier than at Roots Hall. It was a baking day and I’m sure I remember Mark nearly passed out on the packed terrace.  I enjoyed it but my mum presumed I had become a Hammer and promptly purchased me a pink and turquoise replica shirt. Back then Southend United did not produce such things. 

So by the time I reached 14 years of age, I had wanted to go with my dad and watch Chelsea but couldn’t, had started watching Southend United but wore, very reluctantly, a West Ham shirt for a season. 

I soon developed a dislike for the Hammers and their disgusting kit and settled down to following Southend United home and away until 1996. I was lucky to be supporting them during the most successful period in their history. I remember them beating Newcastle United 4-0 on New Years Day to go top of what is now the Championship, then later that season beating West Ham United 1-0.

My best memory though was a couple of seasons later when Southend United were away to Fiorentina in the Anglo-Italian Cup. 200 fans flew out on the day and me and my mates were in a bar in Florence drinking in the afternoon.  The bar area had scarves from so many of the big teams the Viola has played over the years left by opposing teams supporters.  The owner offered to give us a round of drinks in exchange for my scarf. What happened next was surreal. Ipswich Town have Ed Sheeran, Southend United back then had Alison Moyet (she used to stand just behind us). Alison rocked up into our bar and the owner recognised her, ‘if she sings, the food is on the house’. So I ended up being a backing singer for Yazoo in Italy! The game by the way was settled by a twenty minute first half hat trick by none other than Gabriel Batistuta!

During the 1995/96 season I took my girlfriend at the time to a game against Stoke City as I remember. At half time an over zealous steward pushed her and she was covered in scalding hot chocolate.  I reacted very badly and was literally thrown out of ground by four thug stewards and my love affair with my home town club was over.

I spent the next three seasons following England, at the same time I had moved up to Colchester through work. I missed club football so much. I’d caused such a stink at the club over how I had been treated that I was told I was no longer welcome there.  I found my love of Southend United turn to hatred in the same way it easily can with an ex. I couldn’t follow Colchester United on principal so found myself ground hopping to random matches.  Without the passion  and caring about the result I soon found games uninteresting.

I needed to find a new love. Just as in human relationships, on occasions you find your perfect partner by accident. Many of my customers followed Ipswich Town and I remembered their great Bobby Robson team well. I was invited to the Fulham game when Martyn Reuser debuted. I enjoyed the game, the passion of those around me. I knew that day Ipswich Town was who I was going to support and fell in love again.

My first away match was Bolton 2-2 in the First leg of the Play Off Semi Final. What a match! I couldn’t get a ticket for the 5-3 but did go to Wembley.  From there onwards I’ve had season ticket and been to most away games up until two seasons ago, when I could not cope with the McCarthy brand of the beautiful game anymore. My season ticket has returned this year and I will support the Blues in every game home and away

So that explains how and why drove to Bolton on Saturday August 24th 2019.

ALLEZ LES BLEUS!