AFC Wimbledon 0 Ipswich Town 0

After six months off-work due to illness, today is my first day back, albeit for a shortened day of just six hours toil.  Keen to prove to the world and myself that this really marks a return to normal life, I am going for broke and also making my first away trip of the season, catching one of three supporters’ buses from Portman Road (£21, but half price with my Season Ticket holder’s voucher) to Kingsmeadow (aka the Cherry Red Records Stadium), Kingston, current home of AFC Wimbledon.  At the start of the season I drew up a list of six third division football grounds, of which Kingsmeadow was one, that I would be able to visit for the first time following the Town; four of those away fixtures have already passed with me in no fit state to attend, so for someone who is blissfully transported by the sight of unfamiliar arrangements of floodlight pylons, coloured polyurethane seats, corrugated sheet metal and concrete steps tonight is an opportunity not to be missed.

Leaving my office at 3pm I make the short walk to Portman Road and approach the back of the short line of three buses. I am booked on Coach Two, which as logic demands is helpfully parked in front of Coach Three and behind Coach One.   I prepare to board but stood by the door and subtly blocking my path is a stern, un-smiling woman with a clipboard and passenger list; “Surname” she says and a subversive voice in my head says “Don’t tell her Pike!”. There was a time not long ago when it was possible to travel on these supporters’ buses anonymously, but times change and football clubs seem to have become ever more controlling and paranoid. In a spirit of mild rebellion and in an attempt to inject the friendly face of humanity I give her my first name also, she eyes me suspiciously as I mount the steps into the bus acknowledging the driver with a nod and muffled greeting as I climb.

The bus is almost full with the usual misfits that travel like this and most pairs of seats are occupied by at least one person; after checking that it is not taken I settle down on the first vacant single seat I come to next to a balding, grey haired and bearded man in a blue polyester football shirt.  Within not many minutes the buses set off one by one to make the left turn onto Handford Road and the highways beyond.  As the bus slows at the Tesco roundabout at the edge of town I check my watch; we’ve been on the road for ten minutes, it seems like hours.  I know I have to take my copy of “Soccer Empire The World Cup and the Future of France” (Laurent Dubois, University of California Press 2010) from my blue cloth bag decorated with the stars of the EU flag (a 2 Euro purchase from the gift shop at the EU Parliament in Brussels )and begin to read to pass the time.

Whilst I learn of Jules Rimet, Guadeloupe and Felix Eboue the buses speed beyond the Suffolk border and on past Colchester with its football ground sitting remote and detached from the town by the A12, past dull Witham and bland Chelmsford towards the M25.  The buses bear the name Suffolk Norse on their flanks, it’s a curious moniker for a fleet of coaches, but then I see the vision of us all lined up in pairs side by side down the length of the bus and I see a longship full of Vikings, of Norsemen, albeit Vikings and Norsemen who have lost their oars. The fleet name makes sense; we are a collection of middle aged blokes led by one severe woman setting off to metaphorically rape and pillage a small corner of metropolitan Surrey. 

Darkness falls somewhere in Kent and crawling through the endless pre-war Tudorbethan suburbia of Chessington, Tolworth and New Malden, two hours and fifty minutes after leaving Ipswich, we eventually spy the floodlights of Kingsmeadow, which shine like beacons to these weary, but in my case well-read travellers.  The buses draw up in front of a parade of suburban shops and I alight as fast as good manners will allow, turning back towards the entrance to the ground where I  have arranged to meet a longstanding friend who is known as Jah on account of his love of reggae music.  Jah lives nearby in Kingston (Surrey not Jamaica) and has sourced our tickets for tonight’s game.  With handshakes and greetings out of the way I buy a match programme (£3) and we head for what is not by any means the nearest public house; however, knowledgeable of my loathing of ‘rubbish beer’ Jah has selected a pub called The Norbiton where he says the beer is ‘decent’. It’s a 15 minute walk through anonymous residential streets to The Norbiton which appears gloriously out of the gloom, light spilling from its tall Edwardian windows and beckoning us in.  Inside we meet Jeremy a friend of Jah who already nurses a pint of what looks suspiciously like lager; he buys me a pint of an Espresso Stout the exact name of which I forget, whilst Jah has a pint of Sambrooke Junction Bitter.   Jeremy is kindly providing one of our tickets.  We talk of our past, our age, of my health, of politics, of women’s football and of Jeremy’s unusually small Toyota IQ car in which we will soon travel back to Kingsmeadow. Jeremy is impressed that I have travelled all the way down from Ipswich for tonight’s game.  Part way through our conversation I realise that although I paid for my programme back at the ground and took my change (four fifty pence pieces) I never actually took the programme.  Bugger.  After Jah treats me to a second pint, this time the Junction Bitter, and has a half himself, it is about twenty-five minutes past seven and time to head for the match. I fold myself into the back of the tiny Toyota whilst Jah, who for a man who is not yet sixty years old is very inflexible, clambers into the front passenger seat.  Jeremy tells us that he usually parks the Toyota directly outside the ground, but tonight the kerbs of Kingston Road are tightly packed and no spaces can be found, and kick off is fast approaching. We drive around the block again and praise be,  in a side road just opposite the ground we find a couple of metres of tarmac between a Vauxhall and a dropped kerb into which the Toyota will fit.

It’s a matter of yards across the street to Kingsmeadow; we enter through the main entrance beneath a high metal arch that announces the name “Kingsmeadow” and spotting the programme sellers beneath  I explain how I didn’t take my programme earlier; he must have realised too as he straightaway hands me one. Around the corner on Jack Goodchild Way we meet a man called Jonathan who incidentally has a Mexican wife, but more importantly the other ‘spare’ ticket and he also hands us each a programme; together we head for the entrance to the main stand.  Entering the stadium is like walking into a social club and it is self-evident that this is very much a non-league stadium. There are no turnstiles as such but we form two orderly queues and pass our bar coded tickets beneath a scanner; looking ahead through a short tunnel beneath the stand I can see the players are already on the pitch, it’s like a snatched glimpse into another world through a magic portal.  A few steps on and we are into the stand and stood at the side of the pitch; our seats are a little to the left beyond the players tunnel which we cross in front of, in the front row behind a thickly painted blue metal crush barrier.

The illuminated scoreboard in the corner of the ground shows that we have missed the first two minutes of the match but it also confirms that we haven’t missed any goals; no real surprise there.  Our seats are within a couple of metres of the pitch and it feels like we are truly part of the game, as indeed the crowd should be.  The atmosphere in this small stand is sociable and happy, clearly everyone here is a regular; club officials, coaches and players mingle in the stand and plainly know some of the supporters, this is like being at a non-league match.  Behind me a man who shouts to the referee that he’s a muppet sounds just like a man who shouts the same thing at Coggeshall Town.

The football is unexceptional.  Ipswich, playing in red and blue with pale yellow socks towards the beautifully and exotically named Chemflow Stand, also known less interestingly as the Athletics End, pass the ball about a bit and if this was a competition to see who could pass the most and most accurately they would win, but inaccurate hoofs and hopeful punts play their part in ensuring that incisive moves are kept to the barest minimum.  The Wimbledon supporters whose team is in all blue get their kicks where they can and cheer with more enthusiasm than perhaps the players’ abilities deserve.  Architecturally Kingsmeadow is a dull little arena, but beneath the floodlights with the backdrop of a few gaunt, grey, leafless trees it springs to life.

Jah and I point and chuckle and guffaw as play after play come to naught. We observe that the referee Mr Craig Hicks has very, very neat hair and Jah mentions the recently aired TV programme Inside Number Nine.   I admit to Jah that I have often wondered about referees’ sexuality.   Mr Hicks may just be light on his feet as he tiptoes away from a tete-a-tete with an errant player and then flicks his wrist theatrically for a free-kick, after which Jah and I spontaneously raise our arms to mimic his slightly camp wrist action whilst the people behind us probably wonder about our sexuality.

“Go on Piggy” shouts Jeremy at Wimbledon number thirty-nine Joe Pigott and I tell him how much I envy Wimbledon supporters having a player they can call Piggy.  Jeremy adds to my jealousy, telling me that they also shout “Feed the Pig”.   Joe Pigott is featured on the front of the match programme. Jonathan asks if I was at the 1978 FA Cup final and seems impressed when I tell him I was.  There are very few sustained songs or chants coming from either set of supporters and Jah and I lament the loss of the great tunes of Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band which are no longer socially acceptable.  When I returned to work this morning I would have very much liked to have sung to my colleagues “Did you miss me when I was away, did you hang my picture on your wall? Did you miss me every single day? I bet you didn’t miss me at all, at all, I bet you didn’t miss me at all. Hello, Hello. It’s good to be back. It’s good to be back.”

Ipswich hit the cross bar in a moment of madness and half-time arrives, and I am in great need of a visit to the small toilet beneath the stand; it’s a cold night and those two pints are trying to get out, but first we must wait for the players to leave the pitch and the blue polythene players’ tunnel to be retracted.  This stadium is the antithesis of the theatre of dreams and it’s great because it is full of the inconveniences that reflect real life.

Relieved we return to our seats for the second half.  If the first half was unexceptional the second is exceptional for being even more unexceptional. It’s as if the players have become frustrated or bored by their inability to do anything much very successfully and have given up.  Weirdly however, it’s not the sort of game that people boo because it retains a kind of competitive tension, either side could score because they are both so inept that either one could just hand victory to the other at any moment.  Hope remains but of course our hopes are foolish.  The absence of appreciable football does at least let me appreciate the fine oak tree that stands and spreads itself behind the covered terrace opposite in which the Ipswich supporters are stood. Jah and I also enjoy the mask worn by Town’s on-loan number three Josh Earl who inspires a conversation about the TV series “My name is Earl”.  When Earl is substituted a man behind us, possibly the “You’re a Muppet ref” man attempts to riff on the problem of a masked player taking off his mask when substituted and then coming back on to the field unrecognised. If anyone laughs, they do so quietly.  Meanwhile a small knot of Ipswich supporters try to scuff-up the bonhomie that has existed for most of the match with a chant of “Who the fucking hell are you?” but it is in no way clear to whom they are addressing their song and no one seems to care.

My hands are cold but I remember I have gloves in my pocket and I put them on, but warmer hands don’t make up for the poor standard of football in the second half, nor does a half volley by Town’s Will Keane which is spectacularly kept out of the goal net by Wimbledon goalkeeper Joe Day, a name which is impressive in its economic use of syllables.  Keane’s attempt is as close as Ipswich come to scoring and the game ends with Wimbledon pretending to be the attacking team as they win a couple of corners and generally mill about threateningly in the Ipswich penalty area.  The final whistle comes as a relief to all and Wimbledon’s supporters, again displaying the pragmatism of the lower leagues, seem happy with claiming a point, realising it’s better than not existing at all.

The evening is over so quickly and I bid Jeremy, Jah and Jonathan good night before heading back to my six-wheeled golden long ship and the voyage home. I’ve had a lovely time and look forward to coming back next season.

Ipswich Town 1 Peterborough United 4

This morning I awoke in Belgium. A couple of days on the windy West Flanders coast have passed in a flurry of sightseeing interspersed with seafood and glasses of excellent Orval, Chimay brun, Westmalle dubbel and advocaat plus rides on the brilliant Kusttram, the world’s longest tramline (68 kilometres).  Tonight KV Oostende have a home game with Sint-Tuiden, which they will win one-nil, and the Albertparkstadion or Versluys Arena as the sponsors would have it known is but a handy dozen stops away on the tram from where I have been staying, but I am loyal to Ipswich Town and courtesy of the E40, A16, le shuttle, M20, M25 and A12 and my trusty Citroën C3 I return home arriving shortly after 11am in plenty of time to catch the train to Ipswich.  I hope I don’t regret all this travelling and effort.

It’s a breezy, almost Spring-like day and some of the hedgerows have been fooled into blooming; yellow gorse almost glows on the bank behind the station platform.  I wait behind four millennials with scrubby, wispy attempts at beards who are struggling to buy tickets from the automatic ticket machine; I thought these ‘youngsters’ knew all about this technology.  The wait seemed longer than it was and the train is not due for another five minutes or it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t thirteen minutes late. I separate myself from the dozen or so people waiting for the train by the metal footbridge and sit further up the platform where a large, lumbering man swigs from a can of Abbott Ale; he looks like Jonathan Meades if Jonathan Meades wore a tracky top and woolly hat and swigged Abbot Ale from a can.  The man leaps into action with a film camera as an inter-city train thunders through the station; he’s a boozy, Jonathan Meades-look-a-like train spotter.  The whispering station announcements are carried away on the wind but heck, the train will either turn up or it won’t. It does.

Ipswich is busy with police, mostly stood in pairs, a policeman and a policewoman, like coppers on dates. The Station Hotel is enjoying the custom of Peterborough United supporters. I proceed in a north westerly direction on my way to St Jude’s Tavern.  In Portman Road a man who may have learning difficulties stands awkwardly as he stuffs his wallet and programme in his coat pockets; unwisely I make eye contact.  “What do you think the score will be today then?” he says as if he’s known me all his life and asks me this every week.  “I’ve absolutely no idea whatsoever” I reply as I walk on.

At St Jude’s I buy a pie (steak & kidney) and a pint (Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde Mild) for a fiver and sit at a table with one of the small group of old gits who are in here every match day.  Two more old gits arrive and then a third.  “If you’re not careful he’ll tell you about his scarf” says one of them about another who is wearing a football scarf. Unfortunately he does tell me about his scarf, which features the names and badges of both Ipswich Town and Fortuna Dusseldorf. The same man later relates how he lost his rucksack in Brussels and got on the wrong train, going to Antwerp instead of Bruges.  My eyes glaze over and the other old gits start to laugh; my honest face reveals the boredom we all share.

After another pint of Oscar Wilde Mild (£3.20) and more conversation, some of it about a big woman called Diane, who they know and I don’t, I make for Portman Road and the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. I don’t really know why but I buy a programme (£3.50), perhaps because it’s not every week we play Peterborough United. I sit down as the teams appear from the hole in the corner of the stadium.  Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, predictably, and today he is accompanied by young Elwood his heir. Pat from Clacton is here too and she knew I’d be here, even though I’ve been in Belgium.  The game begins with Ipswich getting first go with the ball and kicking it mostly towards me, Pat, Phil and Elwood when not going sideways and backwards.  The referee, Mr Andy Woolmer possesses the appearance of a vertically challenged skinhead, but in common with his two assistants he wears a salmon pink shirt T-shirt affair rather than a Ben Sherman.  The salmon pink shirts are possibly the result of Peterborough United’s decision to don a largely black kit, although with burgundy-coloured raglan sleeves and candy pink socks; for a football kit I find it overly camp.

The game begins in a swirl of passing and running about and these opening minutes are entertaining with the promise of a good match.  Peterborough, with their raglan sleeves hugging their muscular shoulders win the game’s first corner and the first shot ensues, a volley from Mark Beevers which Town goalkeeper Will Norris saves.   A tall man with quite long hair arrives late and shuffles along in front of Pat from Clacton and me; he sits next to me and places a large rucksack beneath his seat.   The noise in the ground is what you might expect from a football match although the Sir Bobby Robson stand supporters succeed in bringing the atmosphere down a notch with a typical rendition of the half speed, dirge version of “When the Town go marching in”; it’s as if they are toy bunnies whose Duracell batteries have all run down at once.

Back on the pitch and Town’s Luke Woolfenden appears to have recently visited a barbershop, or bought a little hat; fellow Blue James Wilson wears a matching design.  Behind me two blokes with local accents talk roughly and indistinctly as if they have mouths full of bees and every now and then I get a hint of body spray or eau de cologne, which smells faintly either of herbs or perhaps toilet duck.  Pat from Clacton decides to see if the popular crooner Ed Sheeran is here today and trains her telephoto lens on the executive boxes in whatever the West Stand is called nowadays.  I am impressed and a little worried that Pat knows where to point her camera to find the ginger multi-millionaire.  A man sat in front of Pat and me who has heavily brylcreemed hair suggests that Ed only comes to Cup matches, I make the point that he wouldn’t see many games in that case.  Pat soon shows me a grainy snap which confirms that Ed is ‘in the building’, although apparently he likes to leave early to beat the rush.  We coin the term ‘Patarazzi’ before Kayden Jackson wins a first corner for Town and some of the 1,908 Peterborough supporters in the Cobbold stand begin chanting “Who the fucking hell are you?” and then answer their own enquiry, albeit incorrectly, with “Shit Norwich City, you’re just a shit Norwich City”.  It’s not for nothing that the innate wit and ready repartee of people from Peterborough has never been mentioned before.  Displaying a misplaced and overblown faith in their own sense of superiority and importance which helps to explain the Brexit vote, the Sir Bobby Robson standers respond to the Peterborough-ites with chants of “Here for the Ipswich, you’re only here for the Ipswich”.

Fifteen minutes pass and wing back on-loan Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt has to be replaced by jazz trumpeter Myles Kenlock.  Luke leaves the arena gingerly drawing the top of the right leg of his shorts up to reveal an expanse of what we must guess is injured thigh.  A group of seagulls hover overhead, floating on the wind and getting a free view of the game.   Five minutes later and there is a rainbow above the corner of the Cobbold and Sir Bobby Robson stands, but it’s just reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets and has no bearing on the game although it’s not long before James Wilson fouls Peterborough’s Siriki Dembele in the penalty area and the linesman tells Mr Woolmer that he should award a penalty to the away team;  Ivan Toney scores as he sees Luke Norris feint to his right giving him the opportunity to coolly roll the ball to the goalkeeper’s left before Norris can react and follow the direction of the actual ball.

“It’s no Super Bowl” says one of the blokes behind me oddly, but in a rare moment of intelligibility. After 33 minutes the match is possibly even less like the Super Bowl, whatever that means, as Town goalkeeper Luke Norris attempts to dribble the ball around Peterborough’s Sammie Smozdics, but fails in his attempt thus allowing Sammie to score one of the easiest goals it is possible to score.  Is this the same Norris that used to be Coronation Street I wonder to myself. Pat and I are disappointed but remain optimistic of a comeback. “If we can just get a quick goal” says Pat and I add fuel to optimism’s flames by expressing my sudden belief that being two goals behind isn’t really that different to being just one down, in fact it’s the same thing. Pat looks at me a little weirdly.  The blokes behind me leave their seats and don’t return before half time.  Four minutes of added time fail to deliver the quick goal that Pat from Clacton had been hoping for.

The toilet, the half-time scores and a koetjes reep (Flemish or Dutch for chocolate bar) await me.  It’s a particularly fine chocolate bar for which some of the proceeds go to fund Mercy Ships a charity which provides free surgery in sub-Saharan Africa for people in need and helps fight poverty and disease.  I flick through the over-priced and overly thick match programme, the front cover of which make me think it’s Christmas still; I think it’s the red lettering with dark background and the little white spots which look like snowflakes or fairy dust.  The featured player today in the programme is Gwion Edwards and for my amusement I read the largely boring, clichéd piece to myself in the voice of uncle Bryn from Gavin and Stacey.  There is still time to have a quick chat with Ray and his grandson Harrison before at six minutes past four the second half begins.

The blokes behind me have returned and unless they are simply calling out random small groups of numbers between two and six are deep in discussion about the formations of the teams.  I’m bored already and Pat from Clacton tells me how she’s having a baked potato for her tea, she always has baked potato for Saturday tea and always starts thinking about her tea when the football gets a bit too much to bear.  It’s not just a baked potato of course, there’s crab sticks too and other stuff I can’t remember; it’s a small feast with a baked potato as the centre piece.  I tell her I will be having sausage and mash, and it’s true, I will.

It’s only ten past four and the diminutive Siriki Dembele scores a third goal for Peterborough, perhaps whilst Ipswich’s defenders are wondering what they’ve got for tea. From the Cobbold stand it sounds as if the Peterborough supporters are singing “Ernie, Ernie, gives us a wave” and the huge white cross girder between the floodlights on the Sir Bobby Robson stand takes on a faint orange glow as it reflects the rays of the slowly sinking sun.  The Peterborough fans are now in cruise control and break into that old favourite “Is this a library”,  possibly because they have genuinely never been in a library and are curious.

Ipswich have been playing alright in that they have played attractively enough, but without really looking like they will score a goal.  It’s twenty-five to five now and Sammie Smozdics scores again for Peterborough as Ipswich’s defenders prove sluggish returning from an impromptu drinks break by the dugouts; getting the opposition out of position with a pitch-side drinks party seems like a useful tactic.  This fourth goal leads to a mass evacuation of the ground and I wonder how I missed hearing the unpleasant “Woo-oo, Woo-oo, Woo-oo” sound that the woman with the strange Irish accent always tells me about every time I visit a Portman Road toilet.   The old dear and old boy who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me get up to go. “We can see you sneaking out” says Pat from Clacton.  “I’m not sneaking, I’m proud to be going” says the old dear twisting logic to try and make a virtue of her despicable fickleness.

With hopes of anything other than misery and defeat receding faster than former Town centre forward Steve Parkin’s hair, Pat from Clacton tells me about a TV programme she will be watching tonight in which celebrities dress up as animals and sing whilst other celebrities have to guess who the disguised celebrities are.  I had thought Belgium was an odd country.

There is time for James Norwood to raise Town supporters’ spirits by a tiny amount by scoring a penalty after being hacked down by the lanky Mark Beevers, but nothing else occurs to ease the pain.  Ten minutes plus five minutes of added on time elapse and all that happens of note is that a shot from Peterborough’s Jack Taylor heads over the cross bar towards me and Pat from Clacton; the ball smacks the seats in front of us and unbeknown to us at the time also hits young Elwood on the back of the head.  Ever-present Phil comforts the lad and a paramedic gives him an ice pack to hold over the bump that he says has formed; it’s sad end to a depressing afternoon, but at least Pat from Clacton’s got a baked potato to look forward to, and I’ve got sausage and mash.

Ipswich Town 1 Lincoln City 0

It’s still January. Yesterday was grey and damp. The day before yesterday was grey and damp. Today is only grey and the pavements are drying in the gentle breeze that ruffles my hair as I walk to the railway station. Ipswich Town are playing at home again and all is well with the world.

I buy a return ticket to Ipswich (£12) and I wait for Roly on the station platform; he will arrive on a connecting service and alight from a smart, new, streamlined train that seemingly wouldn’t look out of place on the line between Tokyo and Hokkaido, but this being England it’s probably only designed to travel at 30mph. Roly was so excited by the sight of this train when he got on it that he texted me a photo accompanied by a message that read “On flashy new train”. 

Roly’s flashy new train arrives late, but the connection to Ipswich, a conventional metal box on metal wheels, waits politely. The train is busy with Saturday travellers and a good loading of football supporters, none of whom would stand out in a crowd.

We arrive at Ipswich as expected and before heading out into the mean streets I take a detour to the railway ticket office to ask about carnets; the woman behind the counter looks at me as if I’m speaking a foreign language, which I suppose I am.  She tells me that it’s probably something only available on-line;

I thank her, and Roly and I make our way up Princes Street, Portman Road and into St Matthew’s Street to St Jude’s Tavern. On our way we talk of burger sellers and the pros and cons of buying a programme now or when we come back to Portman Road after our visit to St Jude’s. Not buying a programme at all will eventually win out although I had intended to buy one because as Roly says “It’s not every day we play Lincoln City”, before somewhat unnecessarily going on to say what a boring season it would be if it was.

In St Jude’s Tavern, after Roly buys us each a pint of St Jude’s 20/20 (£2.20 each), we discover that we have a choice of tables and we sit at one before moving to another where there the seats have cushions to pamper our buttocks.  Roly’s thoughts soon turn to food and after resisting the temptation of a sausage roll (£1.50) he opts for a pie and a pint (£5); I wouldn’t want him to dine alone and step to the bar to order two pies (steak & kidney) and two pints (St Jude’s Stuffed Canary).   Before very long Mick arrives, he offers to buy us each a drink, but gesturing towards the array of full and part full pint glasses before us and the plates of pies in various states of demolition I tell him we’re actually “all set-up”.  Mick can do little but agree and just gets himself a pint of St Jude’s 20/20, which Roly and I recommend,  even though it doesn’t have much of a head on it.  Mick returns pint in hand and our conversation rambles around, moving from whether David Lowe would make it onto a list of Ipswich Town’s all-time top ten strikers to the revelation (to me anyway) that Hughie Green was Paula Yates’ father; we somehow all knew however that Peaches Geldoff died of a heroin overdose. Roly helpfully produces proof of both from the pages of Wikipedia.   In due course Mick buys another pint of 20/20 for me, a whisky for himself and, because in about three and a half hours-time Roly has to drive home from the station in his second-hand Vauxhall Astra, a half a pint of lemonade for the boy.

In time, with bladders drained we stroll down Portman Road.  I stop to buy a copy of Turnstile Blue (£1), which with its colour photos and artsy broad page margins punctuated with abstract streaks of blue ink no longer seems like the ‘fanzine’ it purports to be; it’s more of a bijou, special interest sports publication. But then, I am getting older and have reached the age where I mourn the loss of outside toilets, buses with open platforms at the back and road atlases.  Mick asks about Turnstile Blue and on my recommendation purchases a copy himself, amidst the excitement I forget to buy a programme.

There is a queue at turnstile eight, probably because turnstiles seven and nine are closed, but quick to spot an opportunity and not one to follow the herd, I enter the ground by turnstile two where there is no queue at all; I make a point of greeting and thanking the turnstile operator because people need to be nice to each other. Roly’s and Mick’s seats are in the upper tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand unlike mine amongst the groundlings, so I bid them farewell; their seats are freebies courtesy of Mick having a youthful relative in the club’s academy.  A last pre-match comfort visit follows and as I step up from the concourse into the stand I meet Pat from Clacton; she seems pleased to see me as I am her, it’s been a while; we hug and I realise she’s quite a bit shorter than I thought she was. We make our way to our seats; Pat begins to tell me about the cruise she’s been on but gives up in the face of the deafening aural onslaught from the PA system; we agree there is bound to be a dull bit during the game when we can talk more easily. 

With the teams running out on to the pitch I say hello to Ray and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and then join in with the na-na-na-nas of Hey Jude. The match begins with Town in their familiar blue and white having first kick of the ball in the direction of me, Phil, Pat and Ray.  Today’s opponents Lincoln City, known as ‘The Imps’, wear red socks with black shorts, and shirts that take on a different character depending on which way they are facing.  In the first half, with their backs mostly towards me Lincoln have plain, bright red shirts, but in the second half when they are running mostly towards me they are in red and white stripes; I prefer their second half kit but worry about their split personality or that of their shirt manufacturer and wonder what happened to shirts that were stripy on both the front and the back; it might have made the shirt numbers difficult to read unless they were stitched onto a big square of cloth, but no one seemed to mind too much. I decide to blame TV.

From the start Ipswich are on the attack although without having any shots on goal, but it takes only a couple of minutes to win their first corner.  Town dominate possession and even if they’re not scoring or shooting it feels much more comfortable than watching the opposition play lots of football whilst we run around after them like playful puppies.  The game is therefore good to watch although in truth it’s not long before Pat from Clacton can tell me all about her cruise from Jamaica to Santo Domingo, Cuba, Costa Rica and Panama; she thinks she even got on the local news in Port Royal, Jamaica.

By 3:15 Town have won their third corner and the referee, the balding, and slightly bandy legged Mr Lee Swabey (pronounced swah-bay I hope,  and not sway-bee which would be boring) is getting plenty of use from his can of fine white spray paint or shaving foam as Town win free-kicks at the sides of the Lincoln City penalty area.  Everyone seems to be enjoying the spectacle with some of the North Stand chanting, “Ole, Ole, Ole” or “Allez, Allez, Allez” depending on their choice of modern European language, whilst the 749 who have journeyed from Lincoln repeat “Red Army” until they get bored, which is may be why they only chant it three times.

Lincoln win a first corner of their own at a little after twenty past three and then at half past three Town’s king of the scrunchie (or whatever it is he ties his hair back with) Will Keane reminds us that although the game is enjoyable there is something missing and he has the first shot on goal, a snappily taken effort which quickly leaves the outside of his right boot and skids past the far post of the Lincoln goal.   As if that was a reminder of what the purpose of the game is, Lincoln then almost immediately have their own first shot, which is acrobatically tipped over the cross bar by Town’s other Will, Will Norris.  Lincoln make spurious claims for a penalty due to an imagined handball and then suddenly I can’t quite believe that the letters on the front of the Lincoln shirts read ‘STD’; they don’t, they read SrP but it’s not very clear when glimpsed as a player turns running at speed.

We are fast approaching half-time and it sounds as if Ipswich supporters are singing “Can you here the Ipswich sing? No-o, No-o”, but the Lincoln fans clearly believe the chant was directed at them and respond with something about making a noise wherever they go, which I wouldn’t think is always an appropriate thing to do; but hey, times change.  I begin to detect the unmistakeable and rather lovely smell of cold, damp turf as the natural daylight starts to fade and the afternoon becomes yet cooler.  I am shaken from my smelly reverie by Mr Swabey who brandishes his first yellow card of the afternoon in the direction of Lincoln’s Morrell, whose first name is the seeming phonetically spelt Joseff, although it might just be because he is Welsh.  Luke Woolfenden’s name soon unjustly follows Morrell’s after a “fifty-fifty” tackle on former Town loanee Tayo Edun.  ‘Woolfy’ makes amends however with only a minute and a bit left of the half as he heads a free-kick from Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt onto the far goalpost; the goalpost then deflects the ball onto the back of Lincoln goalkeeper Josh Vickers’ back and his back redirects the ball into the goal to give Town a deserved lead. Luke Woolfenden is deemed responsible for the goal and ever-present Phil leaps from his seat in celebration, his blue hoody lending him the appearance of a large and very happy gnome.

Half-time soon arrives after an unwanted two minutes of time added on for entropy and I guard Pat from Clacton’s handbag while she pops to the loo. I eat a Panda brand stick of liquorice whilst I wait for Pat and when she returns make my own visit to the latrines before speaking with Ray, his son whose name escapes me, and his grandson Harrison about favourite LP’s, Steve Hackett, concerts by living members of Pink Floyd, concerts by Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy not the former Bristol City and Colchester United defender)  and the cost of concert tickets.

At 16:04 the game begins again and whilst Ipswich remain dominant and the passing is accurate and Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt sends a shot whooshing past the far post, the play is steady rather than super exciting.  Behind me I catch a snippet of conversation; “You say that, but have you got any empirical evidence?” says a disembodied voice and I marvel at how serious and po-faced supporters’ discussions have become; it’s not all ‘bantz’ is it?

This afternoon’s attendance is announced as 18,795 and I help Pat from Clacton identify the winner of the Clacton Supporters’ bus guess the crowd competition.  The closest guess is 18,764 by Woody the dog, who I am pleased to learn is an actual dog and not a person with an unfortunate nickname.  It’s Woody’s owner who is on the bus today, Woody generally stays at home but likes to guess the crowd nonetheless.  Lacking the excitement engendered by knowledge of Woody the dog’s peerless guesswork the North Stand instead express their support for the team,  but I detect it’s tinged with anxiety as they chant “ Come on Ipswich,  Come on Ipswich, Come On Ipswich”

It’s gone twenty past four and Lincoln, which incidentally is the birthplace of former Town full-back Jamie Clapham, make their first substitution as the exotically monikered Tyreece John-Jules is swapped for Hopper; Tom not Edward sadly.  “Blue Army, Blue Army “ rings out from the Sir Bobby Robson stand and is countered with the unlikely “We Are Imps, We Are Imps, We Are Imps” from the corner of the Cobbold Stand before Lincoln’s 1.93m tall Irish defender Cian Bolger becomes the third player to be booked by referee Mr Swabey after he not very slyly trips Kayden Jackson.  Emyr Huws’ name soon evens the score in Mr Swabey’s notebook after Luke Chambers’s under hit pass to Emyr is all too easily intercepted by Jorge Grant and Emyr sacrifices fair play to hide Chambers’s mistake. 

There’s a quarter of an hour to go and the game has run out of momentum; this is the dullest part of the afternoon but Pat from Clacton comes to the rescue with the offer of a boiled sweet;  I choose a humbug and a while later one of those pale green ones which taste a bit sour, I thinks it’s someting to do with sherbert. It’s about now that I also glean pleasure from the name of Lincoln’s number twenty-four, who I am pleased to announce is called Max Melbourne, a name worthy of a minor Hollywood star of the 1930’s. Perhaps as a result of the dip in excitment or because it’s what he usually does at this time, manager Paul Lambert replaces little Alan Judge with Teddy ‘The Bish’ Bishop.  Nothing changes but James Wilson makes an excellent tackle to prevent a clear shot on goal for Lincoln after an unexpected through ball.  Happily that’s the last significant action of the game and despite the obvious desire for more Ipswich goals, lots of them, the one that has been scored suffices and in theory 18,046 people (that’s 18,795 – 749) go home happy, as indeed do I despite believing for some time that I might have lost a glove during the afternoon; I later find it in the lining of my coat; I like a happy ending. 

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.