Ipswich Town 1 West Bromwich Albion 2

It has been a grey November day, but this afternoon there have been glimpses of blue sky, small windows of hope amongst the otherwise perpetual gloom, proof perhaps that life is not all bad. Further proof, if further proof is needed lies in the existence of flexi-time. It is the end of the ‘flexi-month’ and I have worked so many hours these past four weeks that if I don’t leave at four o’clock today, I shall be working for free and that would be contrary to my strictly held religious beliefs. “Thou shalt not be a mug” is my credo.

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Tonight I’m a latter day Arthur Seaton and I’m out for a good  time so from work I head, with my accomplice Roly, for the Briarbank Brewery. The bar above the Briarbank Brewery is by far the best decorated bar I know, the walls festooned with black and white photos of closed Ipswich pubs, the sort Arthur Seaton would have drunk in had ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ been set in Ipswich, not Nottingham. I have a pint of Samuel Harvey VC (£3.50) a beer named after one of two men from Ipswich who were awarded the Victoria Cross medal. As well as a beer, Samuel (who was born in Nottingham) has a bus in the Ipswich Buses fleet that bears his name. My conversation with Roly covers a wide range of subjects including Noel Edmonds, Ciiff Richard and Sue Barker, Shake n’Vac and Billy Joel.
From the Briarbank Brewery, Roly and I make the short walk up Fore Street to TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Spread Eagle, a Grade 2 listed building that dates back to the 17th century, where I drink Grain Brewery Best Bitter (£3.50 a pint). The leather aprons of the bar staff remind me of Fred Gee, the pot-man at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, but I don’t suppose he’s still in it, particularly since Fred Feast, the actor who played him died in 1999. Roly and I continue not to talk about football, not from any previous agreement, but just because there doesn’t seem anything to say. From the Spread Eagle it is a bit more of a walk along Orwell Place and Tacket Street, up Brook Street and Buttermarket, over Giles Circus and Cornhill, along Westgate Street to St Jude’s Tavern in St Matthew’s Street. They may not all be looking at their best, but Ipswich’s medieval or even Saxon pattern of streets remains and is brim-full of fine buildings; if only the locals appreciated it.
St Jude’s Tavern is busy with Friday night drinkers and football supporters when we arrive a bit before six o’clock. After a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which tonight is St Jude’s Thaddeus (Thaddeus is another name for Jude in case you didn’t know), we have a beef and onion pie each, mine is accompanied by a pint of something the name of which I can’t recall (pie and a pint £5.00). I garnish my pie with red sauce, Roly prefers brown. After we’ve eaten, a drunk staggers into the pub and sits at a table of regulars; he tries to cadge a drink but the bar man is quickly wise to his presence and succeeds in throwing him out before apologising to his patrons; but we all re-assure him that we enjoyed the show, it beats open-mike night.
Beer glasses drained, Roly is keen to get to Portman Road because he is meeting his friend Andrew and because not satiated by a beef and onion pie, he has it in mind to eat a burger. Rolling down Portman Road the glow of the floodlights draws us like moths to a flame or in Roly’s case a glutton to a fast-food joint. The streets are unusually busy and due to the football club having made tickets being made available for the realistic price of ten pounds each a crowd of 22,995 will watch the game tonight. Roly meets Andrew, and I visit the club shop because at short notice I have been informed that ever -present Phil’s son Elwood is eight years old today! How I love the club shop and its fabulous array of blue and white toot. Today my eye is drawn to a gnome and the club’s ‘retro’ range which I imagine outsells everything else given that our best days are all in the past. Although at least we have won major trophies, something many of our rivals and other clubs from towns and cities bigger than Ipswich cannot claim with real conviction (League Cups pffft!).

 

 

It’s twenty-five past seven and a coach disgorges tardy West Bromwich supporters into Portman Road. An Ipswich fan points at a West Bromwichians yellow and green away shirt. “ You can’t wear that here mate”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The visitor looks somewhat bemused and blurts some exasperated expletives in the direction of one of his fellow supporters; his thick Midland’s accent rendering them incomprehensible and unpleasantly nasal. I pass the grinning statue of Bobby Robson; his best playing days were arguably with the ‘Baggies’ of West Bromwich, but thankfully he never picked up the accent.
At the Alf Ramsey Stand (Churchmans) all the turnstiles are open but the queues are of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunequal lengths.; with a self-satisfied air of streetwise, intellectual superiority I join one of shorter ones and am inside the ground whilst others still queue. On nights like this it’s fun to laugh and sneer at those people who aren’t regular supporters and are only here because the tickets are cheap. I head for the betting shop bit beneath the stand where the handy shelf gives me somewhere to write the greeting on Elwood’s birthday card. I stop to talk to a steward I know called Dave, but at the very moment I arrive at his side so does another acquaintance of his who begins a personal monologue. I wait for the other man to pause so that I might speak to Dave, but the other man breathes through his ears and doesn’t draw breath for a second; so I screw my eyes up at Dave and nod sympathetically; I imagine my face might look a bit like the one Gary Lineker pulled in the 1990 World Cup semi-final after Paul Gascoigne was booked and became tearful. But tonight I’m not indicating that Gazza is upset, I’m signalling to Dave that I’m going to bugger off, and that’s what I do.
Up in the stand Bluey is playing the part of ‘greeter’ and gives me the thumbs up, which is nice, even though I do know he’s not a real Suffolk Punch. Ever-present Phil who never OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmisses a game and son Elwood are already here and I settle down a couple of seats along before giving Elwood his birthday card and a few ITFC ‘goodies’. Phil tells me that earlier in the club shop Elwood had handed in an ITFC badge that he found on the floor to the staff serving behind the counter. One of the things I have given Elwood is such a badge; it seems like Elwood has been rewarded for his honesty and whilst we all know that’s not true, in an ideal world it would be.
Between each seat is a folded up piece of printed card which makes a clapping noise when hit against another surface; I saw that people were cynical about this on social media but I think it should be lauded; something needs to be done to shake Ipswich and Suffolk people out of their puritan misery and to “make some noise for the Tractor Boys”, as I believe the saying goes.

 


The teams appear; the match ball is plucked from its plinth and once multiple hands are shaken the game begins with Ipswich literally getting the ball rolling in the direction of me, Elwood, Phil and Pat from Clacton who has arrived a bit late due to the traffic. Town wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves and shorts; West Bromwich cause offence to many by wearing yellow and green striped shirts with green shorts and socks. The Baggies win an early corner and Jay Rodriguez (that’s his ‘Equity’ name surely) heads the ball over the cross bar. There is noise in the ground tonight and it’s not all from the 1,000OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA odd West Bromwich Albion supporters cooped up in the corner of the Cobbold Stand. In the corner, in the bottom of the North Stand blue and white flags are being waved and drums drummed and voices voiced; for a little while anyway. But West Bromwich Albion are better at football than Town and as they start to dominate, some of the enthusiasm ebbs away, which is the opposite of what should happen of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcourse because it obvious that a struggling team needs most support. But then logic is not always a strong point in ‘Leave’ voting Ipswich. The West Bromwich fans soon sense our weakness and after first chanting something stupid about being a “…shit Norwich City”, which is a bit rich from people supporting a team wearing yellow and green, they go for the jugular with the reliable old “ Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit”. Cut to the quick I try some chants of my own but the cowering reticence of the Suffolk public means I’m beaten before I begin, even with my cardboard clapper, which is a little too lightweight and disintegrates as I bash it relentlessly on the back of the seat in front of me. Only ten minutes have gone and Town’s Matthew Pennington is booked by referee Mr Keith Stroud who is possibly theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA smallest referee I have ever seen; he doesn’t even rival Paul Hurst in stature.
On the touchline Paul Lambert prowls like a black panther in his trademark black Marks & Spencer jumper and black slacks, kicking every ball and seemingly feeling the self-same emotions as the fans in the stands, but with added Celtic menace. It’s a chilly evening and he should really get himself a coat, even if that jumper is pure new lambs’ wool. Perhaps Marcus Evans should put his hand in his pocket for a coat for our Paul.
Sadly, Town are second best to West Bromwich, who despite having been ‘a bit rubbish’ in the context of the evil Premier League last season are evidently still too good for us tonight. But we are trying and what we’re watching is recognisable as football, which wasn’t always true last season. Perhaps we can hold on and then sneak a goal I think to myself. A paper plane engineered from a re-purposed cardboard clapper lands next to the West Bromwich goal keeper Sam Johnstone. The fact that it disappoints the home crowd by not hitting Johnstone is a portent for the evening. Within minutes Town’s defence watch the ball cross from one side of the pitch to the other and back into the middle where Jay Rodriguez scores from very close to the goal. Oh well. How I was hoping that wouldn’t happen, and now it has. The West Bromwichians are happy though, their high spirits expressed by making good use of Chicory Tip’s 1972 chart topping single “Son of my father” with a chorus of “Woah wanky-wanky, wanky-wanky, wank-wanky Wanderers”, in honour of their own version of Norwich City, the neatly alliterative Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The clock moves on and behind me a man explains to his child that there are another five minutes until half-time and then another forty-five minutes after that before they can go home. A minute of the half left and Ipswich win a corner from which West Brom’ come closer to scoring than the home team as they breakaway courtesy of a failed tackle from Jordan Spence. One minute’s added time passes and then it’s half-time. I wander down to the front row of seats to have a chat with Ray and generously he offers me one of his wife Roz’s sausage rolls, I accept the offer. Behind us dancing girls with Lycra bottoms, bare mid-riffs and sparkly tops gyrate; a human manifestation of the popular retro-range.

 

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The second Act begins amidst shouts of “Come On Ipswich”, but the man behind me feels compelled to admit that West Brom’ are stronger than us “…in every department”; I think of Debenhams and John Inman. But Town are playing better than in the first half; they have more possession of the ball and in more locations across the pitch and Matthew Pennington even has a decent looking shot on goal. But then West Brom’ also have a decent shot, which causes a sharp intake of breath as it hits a post; a lad called Harvey Barnes is the perpetrator, it’s a name that sounds like it was copied from a 1914-18 War Memorial.
Town must be doing alright though, people aren’t moaning but still most of them aren’t really supporting either, at least not vocally. The club should have said “We’ll let you in for a tenner, but you have to make a noise or we’ll chuck you out”. The ‘Blue Action’ group in the North Stand do their best, but there aren’t really enough of them, Ultra Culture hasn’t yet made its mark in Ipswich. I remain hopeful however that the Rodin exhibition in the gallery behind Christchurch Mansion, which opens this weekend, will stir people’s inner passions. Rodin is to sculpture what Arnold Muhren was to midfield artistry.
We’re only losing 1-0, a draw is still a possibility, a win even. But the seventy sixth minutes arrives and that Harvey Barnes is in the penalty area, he shuffles about a bit and shoots; he scores. The shot somehow avoids at least four legs and Bartosz Bialkowski’s left hand. It couldn’t hurt more if he’d missed and the ball had hit me in the ‘groin area’.
Substitutions ensue and the West Brom’ supporters sing “Lambert, Lambert, what’s the score?” seemingly labouring under the mis-apprehension that he is still manager of Aston Villa. They compound their mistake with a rendition of “Shit on the Villa, shit on the Villa tonight” to the tune of ‘Roll out the barrel’. Ipswich supporters may not sing much, but at least when they do the songs are relevant.
Both teams have shots on goal which are blocked as the game heads towards its finale, Ipswich are looking as likely to score as concede, which on balance with only ten minutes left is a good thing. With six minutes of normal time left to play substitute Kayden Jackson scores for Town and there is belief that may be, just may- be, Town could get a draw. Clearly West Brom’ think so too and they resort to foul or generally unsporting play with Matthew Phillips, Kieran Gibbs and Sam Johnstone all getting their own personal viewings of Mr Stroud’s yellow card. Town have no luck however and when Jack Lankester’s shot hits a post and deflects away rather than hitting a heel or a divot and deflecting in to the goal, we get confirmation that Portman Road will remain joyless for another week.
The skies today were grey and despite glimpses of blue, they remain so. But at least there have been glimpses. I retain the faith and like Arthur Seaton I won’t let the bastards grind me down.

 

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Ipswich Town 3 Preston North End 0

Ipswich Town and Preston North End are arguably two of the least interesting teams in whatever it is that Football League Division Two is now called. Preston, despite being the original ‘Invincibles’ have not played in the top flight of English football since 1960 and now, almost famously, Ipswich have been becalmed, marooned, stuck in English football’s second tier for 15 years and nobody really expects either club to do much more than finish in mid-table. Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy said as much in his pre-match press conference; he is nothing if not truthful is our Mick. These two ‘small-town’ provincial clubs have both enjoyed a level of success in the past that far exceeds what might be expected of them and for that reason they are both very special.
It is a grey, wet, blustery, thoroughly autumnal day as I set out for the train station and the bright floodlights of Ipswich. The largely infrequent, but nevertheless large plops of rain are enough to warrant the carrying of an umbrella, which the wind blows inside out. A Colchester United fan boards the train with me, blissfully unaware that his team are destined to lose at home to non-league Oxford City later this afternoon in the first round of the FA Cup. A Town fan in a wheelchair sits by the sliding doors. Leaves swirl horizontally past the train window. Pulling out of Colchester the serried ranks of suburban homes look at their best on such a drab day; the wet tarmac of the estate road shining in front of them like a snail trail under torchlight. Opposite me a mother and daughter sit, each with the same long, blond/mousey hair and Roman nose. One is doing her best to look much younger, the other trying hard to look holder. It makes me feel guilty to be a man. At Manningtree the grey clouds and subdued colours of the trees in Dedham Vale are just right to keep John Constable at his easel and away from Portman Road this afternoon, but four other blokes get on and share their mild, blokey humour with one another. I look down out of the window and see a tomato plant on the track and three plump green tomatoes that will never be fried or ripen to be eaten in a Salade Nicoise.
The train arrives on time in Ipswich and the man in the wheelchair asks me to find a guard to get him off the train; happily, the first one I meet is on her way to get him.38133418286_f6fc1767bc_o Outside, Ipswich is beautiful in a grey, wet and shiny sort of a way. I head down Princes Street then down and up Portman Road to St Matthews Street and St Jude’ s Tavern. In Portman Road the turnstiles are already open, stewards fiddle with their metal detectors and the sniffer dog and his handler peer up the street. I think about buying a match programme as I approach the kiosk and read ‘Here to help’ on the back of the seller’s jacket. I am tempted to test the boast by asking if the programme is worth the £3 I would be expected to pay for it.

I chicken out and walk on, saving my cash to spend just two-thirds of it on a pint of Nethergate IPA at St Jude’s; it’s cheap because it is today’s Match Day Special! It is so good St Jude's Tavern 69 St Matthews StI have another and then, to avoid feeling like a complete skinflint I pay full price (£3.40) for a pint of Bearstown Polar Eclipse, a dark beer which is exceedingly good. At the table next to me in the pub are a group of five Preston North End fans; I tell them I have heard good things of their bus station and they smile, sort of. It transpires that none of them now lives in Preston. One of them tells me they are literally ‘exiles’; I don’t ask. I chat off and on with them and one confides that Ipswich are still the best team he has ever seen play against Preston; in an FA Cup third round match in 1979 which Town won 3-0. It is one of those “aw shucks” moments to hear my team complimented so. Another one of the group tells me how amazed they are that St Jude’s is so close Portman Road, is such a good pub and yet isn’t rammed to the gills. I confide that Ipswich fans don’t seem to ‘get’ real ale and it reminds me of how in Hunter Davies’ book ‘The Glory Game’ a Spurs skinhead says how Ipswich is his favourite place to visit, “More cunt” he says “They ain’t got no supporters. All the geezers up there don’t know what it’s for. We always stay the night there and chase their birds’. That was in 1972; that skinhead later became Defence Minister, allegedly……
I bid farewell to the good Prestonians, wishing them a happy season as they leave for the match before I visit the lavatory and then set off for Portman Road myself, remembering to return my empty glass to the bar before I leave. As I turn into Portman Road I notice38189181011_81180be5db_o the poor state of the street name plate, which looks like someone has got at it with an angle grinder. Slightly upset that anyone could do this to something that signifies an Ipswich icon, I nevertheless continue on my way. The weather has cleared up and

although the floodlights are on, the lowering sun is still to be seen over the silver roof of the north stand, or Sir Bobby Robson stand as it is now known. I pass on down Portman Road and the statue of Sir Bobby seems to point me on my way, which is unnecessarily helpful of him. I glance up at the Cobbold Stand admiring the rhythm of its concrete stanchions, although no doubt it fails to impress the Preston fans, spoiled by their fabulous Grade II listed, Brutalist, bus station. There is no queue at the turnstile and no security check to ensure I am not a suicide bomber or concealing a musical instrument about my person, which would be a serious breach of ground regulations.
Before today’s match there is a minute’s silence because this is the closest day to Armistice Day on which Town have a home match and apparently the club wants to pay its respects. It is weird, in all those years when there were most people still alive whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fought in the two greatest conflicts ever, the two World Wars, a minute’s silence only took place at 11 am on the 11th of November and on Remembrance Sunday; nowadays it’s best to tread softly at this time of year when entering a football stadium in case you inadvertently interrupt one. There are eight paratroopers in the centre circle and a lone bugler who plays the last post. The bugler is miked up and relayed through the PA system, but unfortunately because the PA system is so loud there is feedback or reverb and a simultaneous ‘farted’ rendition of the last post is heard through the loudspeakers. According to Wikipaedia, Le Pétomane, Joseph Pujol the French ‘flatulist’ retired from the stage because he was so horrified by the inhumanity of the First World War.
The paratroopers march off and around the pitch as people applaud and into the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand where they break ranks and begin to fumble in their OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtunic pockets for their match tickets, looking a bit confused as to where they are supposed to sit. The game begins. It’s awful. Perhaps one of the worst forty five minutes of ‘football’ I have ever seen. Nothing of any genuine sporting interest happens. Preston players fall over a lot, but the Ipswich trainer is also called on to attend to the fallen and all that really happens is that added-on time is racked up. Even Crazee the Ipswich Town mascot looks to have given up all hope today as heOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA hangs his head despairingly, standing at the top of the stairs. Mick MCarthy adopts various poses, showing himself off to good effect in his nylon tracksuit. I spend a little time looking at the Preston supporters to see if I can spot the blokes I was in the pub with; in a following of about 430 it’s not that difficult and I pick them out all sat in a row. I wonder what they are making of the game.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My attention is then caught by the Preston number four Ben Pearson because his hair is longer than that of the other players; watching it flow and flop and bounce as he runs about is more entertaining than the game and I am reminded of Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, as I often am by my wife who is besotted with him. But Pearson is no Rabiot and he needs more work on his hair.
As ever, the Portman Road crowd (14,390 today) is very quiet; there is a momentary rumble of drums at the start of the match and some muffled chants but they soon lose interest in getting behind the team. I chant and clap “Ipswich! Ipswich! Ipswich!” when a corner is won, but am ignored in the same way that people would put their heads down and pass quickly on past a drunken derelict shouting at passing cars. The first and only ripple of anything like enthusiasm manifests itself on 23 minutes when the crowd cheer the booking of Preston’s Jorgan Hugill; that’s what they thrive on in Ipswich, Schadenfreude. Incidentally, Hugill is a man who, with his World War One conscript style hair cut looks from a distance a bit like Terry Hall formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three. Preston have many injured players who cannot play today and with a weakened team it seems that they are banking on ensuring no football is played, in the belief or hope that twenty two blokes just running around and occasionally falling over will result in a goalless draw. Sadly Ipswich don’t have the wit or guile to prevent this and have a bit of a record of adopting a similar tactic in recent seasons, relying on randomly won free-kicks and corners to create goalmouth confusion and hopefully goals, albeit scrappy ones. All goes well for Preston until Ipswich’s Martyn Waghorn wins a free-kick some 25 metres from goal. It’s a chance to by-pass the awkward footballing bit of the game and just kick the ball over the assembled human wall of Preston players and straight at the goal. This is what Martyn Waghorn proceeds to do, sweeping the ball majestically over that Maginot Line and into the goal as Preston’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell helpfully throws himself out of the way. Within five minutes added-on time there is a moment in which Preston’s dreadlocked Daniel Johnson launches the ball on to the top of the Ipswich cross-bar with a flash of inspiration, but then it’s half time. The crowd applaud as Town leave the field, forgetting the first forty-four minutes of the match and only recalling the last five in which Town took the lead. But I have mentioned it, lest we forget.
I seek out a former work colleague at half-time who I had spoken to on the phone the day before; he sits with his grandson who has cerebral palsy. I then meet another friend Phil, who is famous as a man who has seen over a thousand consecutive competitive Town

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Phil (bottom right)

games home and away; he gets featured in articles and stuff, not just blogs that very few people read. Phil is a proper supporter, whose love for Ipswich Town is unconditional. He doesn’t whine when Town lose, or hurl abuse at Mick McCarthy, he’s too busy worrying if he might miss the next game.
Within three minutes of the resumption of play Town are 2-0 up as David McGoldrick rises at the far post to head in a right wing cross. Phil jumps up much more enthusiastically than I do, but then he is a good ten years younger than me. People around me are happier now, but even before the goal they seem generally lighter of mood in this little bit of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand than they do where I usually sit. It’s as if the first half was July 28th to December 24th 1914 and now it’s Christmas Day and a football match has spontaneously broken out.
Things get better still as a move down the right sees Ipswich’s Kosovan loanee Bursant Celina forge his way into the penalty area and surprise everyone by suddenly booting the ball into the goal past the goalkeeper, who is inevitably by now hapless. Phil and I chant “Ohhh, Bursant Celina” to the tune of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. No one else joins in. Preston are now forced to seriously alter their game plan and Ipswich are therefore required to defend more, so we don’t see any more goals today. Ipswich fans are happy and smiling and there are even some chants at the other end of the ground. The North standers, their confidence boosted by the three goal cushion, remember that the Preston manager was previously the Norwich City manager; “Alex Neal; what a wanker” they sing.
Those seeking out the familiar territory of disappointment can do so by reflecting thatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ipswich haven’t scored four or five goals today, but to be fair to the team they have achieved a very respectable victory by playing just half a game. With the final whistle I applaud the team and then file away with everyone else into Saturday evening. At the southern end of Portman Road the street nameplate which sits at first floor level on the Archant building looks pristine in contrast to that at the northern end.

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