Ipswich Town 2 Shrewsbury Town 1

I first saw Shrewsbury Town back in February 1982.  I was an unemployed, fresh-faced graduate, Ipswich Town were sitting pretty somewhere near the top of what is now called the Premier League and Margaret Thatcher was vigorously laying the foundations for today’s unpleasant climate of self-centred, “I’m alright Jack” nationalist politics.  With that Shrewsbury match at Gay Meadow I witnessed an Ipswich Town performance over thirty years ahead of its time as Town dropped out of the of the FA Cup to lower league opposition, although to be fair we had made it to the fifth round.  I returned to Gay Meadow two years later for another FA Cup defeat and then in August of 1987 for a goalless League match.  Disillusioned with the poor returns from long trips to Shropshire I didn’t bother to travel the following season and consequently missed our 5-1 victory under the obviously inspirational captaincy of the World’s greatest living Canadian, Frank Yallop.

As I mull over those dark days of the 1980’s I log in to the i-follow on my lap-top and breathe a sigh of relief that it works.  I am just in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots being read out on Radio Suffolk; they are older people today, it’s something to do with highlighting or counter acting loneliness during lockdown. What I take from it is that a lot of the mascots seem to be called John.

The pictures from Portman Road appear on my screen and the dulcet, gently north-eastern tones of Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley tell me that Shrewsbury Town, who are visible doing pre-match warm-ups, are today wearing all-white, although he omits to mention the purple flashes on their shoulders which for me give the kit a much needed je ne sais quoi.  Ipswich are soon taking the field and Brenner refers to captain Luke Chambers “Bursting out from the pack” as the players run from the tunnel, and to Tomas Holy’s all lime green kit.  My mind’s eye momentarily conjures an image of Luke Chambers bursting.

As the on-screen caption advises that today’s referee is Tim Robinson I start to beat out the intro’ to ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ on the arm of my Ikea Poang chair and the game begins.   Shrewsbury are kicking from right to left towards what was called Churchman’s back in the days when Mr Robinson  was on Top of the Pops before everything was converted into money.  I am just beginning to wonder if Brenner has his trusty co-commentator with him today when I hear a stifled chuckle in the back ground and Mick Mills joins in describing with much merriment how Town’s Mark McGuinness has been pole-axed by what Brenner later refers to as a “winding challenge”, (that’s winding as in forcing air from the body rather than turning something).

Mick’s presence is a blessing and he soon adds value to the commentary suggesting that Paul Lambert not only prefers Nsiala and McGuinness as centre-backs but as ‘individuals’.  This immediately makes me wonder what this might mean and whether Nsiala and McGuinness offer not only strength at the back but  also more interesting conversation than Woolfenden and Wilson; do they have better dress sense, better personal hygiene, give better presents at birthdays and Christmas, have broader musical tastes; are they better read and have more cohesive political views?  Which central-defensive partneship would you invite to dinner?

My reverie is cut short as Mark McGuinness betrays a lack of manners and clumsily trips Shaun Whalley to give Shrewsbury a penalty.   As  Oliver Norburn runs up to take the spot-kick Brenner tells me that Shrewsbury haven’t scored at Portman Road in 53 years; presumably Brenner says this just to make sure that Shrewsbury do score now. Brenner’s tempting of fate is successful, although had Tomas Holy not dived before Norburn kicked the ball he might have saved it; Brenner says as much in a roundabout way, asking if Tomas might not be “self-critical there”.

Depressed by Shrewsbury taking the lead and Brenner’s silly commentary (this is only the fifth time in 53 years that Shrewsbury have even played at Portman Road), I console myself with the thought that there is plenty of time to equalise, score a winning goal and apply icing to a metaphorical cake.  As if to celebrate Shrewsbury’s goal Brenner unleashes some of his familiar commentator-speak, referring to little Alan Judge “running-into traffic” as he brings the ball out of defence and Tomas Holy “putting his foot through the ball” as he  boots it up field.  Not satisfied with this, Brenner proceeds to wilfully muddle up his footballs suggesting that Brett McGavin is playing in a “quarter-back” position.

Despite their goal deficit Town show only occasional urgency along with a very limited ability to equalise; they don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t do enough to make Shrewsbury worry that that they might not win despite being a goal ahead.  In the sixteenth minute Shrewsbury make claims for a second penalty as someone in a white shirt with purple trim “goes” in the words of Brenner “to ground”, which makes him sound like a small animal retreating into a burrow instead of a footballer falling over.

Time passes and Jon Nolan is hurt and replaced by Jack Lankester, and Shrewsbury’s Marc Pugh becomes another “Shrew” to fall over in the penalty area, and he gets short shrift from Brenner for doing so. “Crawling along the deck in rather embarrassing fashion” says Brenner of Pugh sounding every bit as witty and cutting as Oscar Wilde might have if he’d been a sports commentator for BBC local radio.

Town earn their first corner.  “A little opportunity for us with the big boys coming up” says Mick.  The opportunity is spurned by the ‘big boys’ and the small ones too.  Little Alan Judge is not having a good game, every time he has the ball he passes to a Shrewsbury player or just loses it.  I notice that the Shrewsbury goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne, who is a vision from head to toe in pink, is also sporting a moustache that any mid-twentieth century European dictator would have been proud of.

There are about seven minutes until half-time;  Kayden Jackson successfully chases a pass into the penalty area, pulls the ball back to set up Jack Lankester for a shot that is blocked and thereby sets up Freddie Sears for a shot that is deflected away for a corner; it’s the most excitement I’ve had all half.  Four minutes of time are added on and pass without incident worthy of mention.  Half-time arrives, the pitch is vacated and I wonder to myself why it is that referees and their assistants always walk off the field together, it surely makes them an easier target for a well-aimed grenade.

Half-time passes in a flurry of tea, half-time scores, stats and an advertisement for the ifollow in which a threatening Scouse voice claims that there is no better way to show your love than the ifollow; by the end of the advert I feel that  if I don’t subscribe I should start avoiding dark alleys .  The players appear for the second half and Brenner tells me that Town are now “attacking the Sir Bobby Robson end”, which seems a little disrespectful.   

The standard of play does not improve, nor does the commentary; a pass is under hit and Brenner tells me “the ball doesn’t have enough steam on it”.   Teddy Bishop is substituted for Emyr Huws, who I have decided to make my favourite player because he sounds like an extra from ‘Ivor the Engine’ and unlike a lot of modern players doesn’t have a haircut that makes him look like a First World War conscript.  

Not very much happens, or at least not enough to result in Town scoring a goal.  Brenner airs his obsession with Tomas Holy’s nationality “The Czech was dependable” he says as Tomas catches a cross.  Mick Mills embarks on a long explanation about something, but is interrupted without apology by Brenner as something happens on the pitch that looks like it could result in one those “goals” that I’ve heard about, perhaps predictably however it doesn’t.  It’s a pattern that is repeated and I can’t quite decide if Brenner is rude to interrupt or if Mick just tends to witter on a bit too long and needs to learn how to be more concise.  It also worries me that Mick doesn’t notice what is happening on the pitch and doesn’t interrupt himself.  Either way, it adds to the fun.

Town’s patient approach isn’t producing very much in the way of excitement although a shimmy and a cross from Freddie Sears almost results in little Alan Judge forcing the ball over the goal line, but his legs were just that bit too short.  The game enters its final 20 minutes; I haven’t fallen asleep yet because in truth it isn’t exactly boring and oddly I’m feeling quite relaxed and not frustrated at all by the absence of an equaliser.  Suddenly, the weirdly named Keanen Bennetts sends a low, not particularly good cross in to the penalty area and without another Town player touching the ball it runs just inside the far post and Town have equalised.   Not quite believing what I’ve seen I cheer, quietly in case it’s a false alarm, but happily it’s not.

The remainder of normal time runs out, much as the other 75 minutes did with nothing overly exciting happening and Town patiently and at times monotonously passing the ball.  Shrewsbury are provoked into trying to regain their lead and more of them fall over in the penalty area when in close proximity to Toto Nsiala, but unusually the tactic fails to influence Mr Robinson.  Substitution follows substitution follows substitution and there is so much added on time that new layers of geology are formed. It is the 97th minute, little Alan Judge pops up on the left , he cuts in , he shoots, the man all in pink with the moustache parries the shot and Jack Lankester hurls himself headlong to propel the ball into the Shrewsbury goal, “… Town have won it,” says Brenner. I cheer in the same manner as before.

Despite a valiant attempt to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory, Luke Chambers clearing a Shrewsbury shot off the goal line in the tiny amount of time left, Town hang on to win as Brenner predicted. “What a huge victory this could be for Ipswich Town” says Brenner excitedly and without explanation.  Town haven’t really deserved to win this game “says Mick more soberly when asked to sum up.

The ifollow broadcast quickly ceases as the players leave the field, disappointingly cutting off Mick and Brenner in their prime.  Despite Brenner’s entreaties to phone in and talk to Mick, I don’t.  Having turned off my lap-top I head for the back garden where I light the fire-pit and celebrate with a bottle of Adnams Old Ale and my wife Paulene. “A win is a win is a win” we chant as we dance around the flickering flames and think of the unfortunate Shrewsbury Town players “truckin on through the night” back to Shropshire, as Tom and possibly Tim Robinson might sing.

Colchester United 1 Port Vale 1

It is the day before Christmas Eve, a dull, dirty December day. A breeze has dried the pavements and roads but the damp is in the ground and releases a chill into the air like a radiator in reverse. It’s a short train journey into Colchester but the carriage is well loaded with people ‘going to stay’ for Christmas, the gangways between the seats are blocked up with suitcases.
Opposite me a bulbous-eyed, red faced man is on his mobile phone organising last minute work details as he heads off for the holidays… “Take Stella’s name out….sanitise it….just say it’s a commodity distribution company….a cdc…”. It all sounds a bit dodgy. Twat, I think. Behind me a woman asks a man if he is going to Colchester. No, Stowmarket” he says. “Is that near Norwich?” “ Yes “ he lies, although I suspect it would just be too much bother to be truthful and to say “No”. People do that I find; I do that.
In Colchester I leave the train and head for the Bricklayers Arms, following a bald headed man in a camouflage jacket who disappears into the pub fifty yards ahead of me. I stride across the pub car park eager for a beer, there is a man with a large Airedale terrier in the smoking shelter. At the bar I order a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65; I can’t see the man in the camouflage jacket anywhere). There are a few people enjoying a drink, it being nearly Christmas, but conversation is quiet and there don’t seem to be many football fans in yet. Two men and a woman, who is wearing a sparkly woolly hat with a furry bobble, occupy the next table along from me. The woman is on her mobile phone as she sits down. “No, I’m going to London tomorrow. We’re taking the dogs up town” she says mysteriously before sitting down with her back to me. Phone conversation over, one of the men dominates the pub conversation; he talks about the Star Wars films. “I’m not a sci-fi person” he says “ But basically those three made in the 1990’s were shite; but I always go and see them all because I feel if I don’t I might be missing something… I know I’m going to come away disappointed.”
I get another pint of beer (Adnams Broadside £3.70) and speak to a man at the bar called Mike who I vaguely know from my wife’s church. He is waiting to swap a pint of St Austell Tribute which refuses to settle, for a pint of Adnams Ghostship. The Broadside is very enjoyable and I am still savouring it as I board the bus to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium (£2.50 return). There is plenty of leg room

on the bus which is good. The front window on the upper deck has a blue tint across the top which reminds me of my first car, a mark two Ford Escort. Hopefully the bus won’t get written off on a frosty road like the Ford Escort did.
Once off the bus I join a queue for a programme (£3), then pop into the club shop, not to

buy anything but just because I am fascinated by club shops and the things they sell. It’s like visiting an art gallery. Back outside the Port Vale team bus nestles at the back of the main stand, a few hardy souls sit and drink coffee at the picnic tables outside the Hot Shots café, which is serving locally made ice cream. At the corner of the ground a vast screen stares out across the A12 advertising forthcoming ‘attractions’. It seems that in

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July four young women dressed as prostitutes will appear under the name ‘Little Mix’. I turn away because they make me feel a little uneasy, and head for the turnstiles.
Inside the south stand I take in the aroma of breeze blocks and urinal deodorizer blocks and for reasons I cannot explain decide to buy a sausage roll (£2.30). It’s a decision I begin to regret as I peel the pastry from its plastic wrapper which has turned brittle in the microwave. The wrapper tells me that what I am about to eat has a ‘pork-based filling’, a phrase which worries me slightly. The list of ingredients reveals a pork content of just

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18%. On the front of the wrapper it says “…don’t compromise”; as the slimy sausage roll slides down inside me I realise that it’s too late.
Feeling disappointed with myself I take up my seat and the game begins with Port Vale kicking towards Colchester town centre with the McDonald’s across the other side of the A12 at their backs; they are wearing an all-black kit with narrow yellow and white stripes running down from the armpit; Colchester wear their usual blue and white stripes with white shorts. Port

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Vale’s kit is rather nasty. A new layer of disappointment is added as the game unfolds not into a beautiful flower but into a scrunched up mess. A win could see Colchester step into the top six in the fourth division, whilst Port Vale are only four points above the relegation zone; so a Colchester win is expected. But neither side is very good, although Port Vale are slightly better than expected and Colchester far poorer.
The game and the pervading atmosphere are dull and grey like the weather. The man sitting in front me who has a very full head of grey hair mildly vents his frustration with a slightly camp flick of his wrist as referee Mr Kinseley gives Port Vale a free-kick. “but he got the ball “ the grey–haired man opines. Behind me two men talk about things other than what is unravelling in front of us. As ever, one of them dominates the conversation. “I’ve got a feeling Braintree are at home ……..he’s got a very funny surname…..I watched this thing, it mighta been on Channel Five, about a bloke that built a lot of stuff in this country….Brunel, fuckin’ ‘ell, what a clever bloke…”
On the pitch Port Vale’s Marcus Harness stands out, not just because his first and

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surnames kind of rhyme, but because he runs around a lot to good effect and has a very bouncy, almost fluffy ponytail. Just after half past three a ball is lumped over the Port Vale defence, Sammie Szmodics runs onto it and kicks it beyond the appropriately named Ryan Boot in the Port Vale goal. It’s a bit of a surprise, but more importantly it’s a goal.
At half-time I step outside the back door with the smokers and eat the last of a box of Fairtrade cereal bars that has lasted me several months. Whilst some spectators smoke and top up with fast food at the burger van parked outside, I browse through the programme; it’s not very interesting today, but I enjoy reading the names of the Colchester United squad; my favourites are Doug Loft, Kane Vincent-Young and Rene Gilmartin. To read out aloud a team containing such names would be something like poetry.
The grey afternoon gets darker as the sun goes down and the second half begins. Hopes of there having been a stirring half-time team talk which has inspired the players to

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produce anything approaching entertaining football are soon dashed; this is dull. Eddie the Eagle peers on glumly through his huge startled eyes, wearing a red coat edged in white; I assume this is Eddie‘s sartorial nod to St Nicholas, but in fact he looks more like a bizarrely colourful Teddy boy, or perhaps he is just wearing his dressing gown.
Port Vale are Colchester’s equals today and with a quarter of an hour left Marcus Harness scores the equalising goal with a glancing header. For the first time the small band of away supporters can be heard,” Vay-al, Vay-al” they chant, once or twice. Five minutes of added-on time raise hopes that Colchester can re-establish their lead, but they don’t. With the final whistle I am up quickly and on my way to the bus stop. This seems like a wasted afternoon; a wasted £17.50. But may be football is like Star Wars; shite, but you can’t not go in case you miss out on something.

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Colchester 1 Wycombe 0

Remaining true to my fictional new year’s resolution to ‘get out more’, I return for the second dull Tuesday night in a row to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium for a second helping of Colchester United in the competition properly known at Football League Division Four.

Two pints of Adnams Old Ale in The Bricklayers Arms and a speeding, top-deck, bus ride that’s worth £2.50 of anyone’s money are the prelude to the shock of arriving at the stadium. There’s a queue at the turnstiles because tonight’s the night the U’s play Wycombe Wanderers, their meanest, nastiest foe who once, long ago in 1991 pipped the U’s to promotion by scoring more goals. The rotters. Like last week a steward asks if he can look in my bag, of course he can, but I tell him he probably won’t see much because its a navy blue bag and it’s awfully dark out here. He peers down perfunctorily and fondles the bottom of the bag just a little before turning away, perhaps a tad embarrassed.

Into the ground and I immediately meet my next door neighbour, who explains that she is here to see her son take penalties at half time with the Coggeshall Under 15’s team; I’ll look out for that I tell her. I meet her husband in the toilet who’s here for the same reason, although he’s in the toilet to have a piddle, like me.

After the usual modern age twee ‘sporting’ nonesense of handshakes and standing in a line, the game kicks off. The teams are made up of the usual collection of young men with serious yet silly haircuts and Colchester once again field ex Ipswich prodigy Owen Garvan – Hurrah! Wycombe meanwhile have a star in their midst , a star the size of a planet, Adebayo Akinfenwa who apparently weighs 16 stone. Mr Akinfenwa’s football career spans a century, albeit the 21st one and he is a Football League legend who has also won medals in the Premier League and the Welsh Premier League; with Barry Town; he is enormous, absolutely vast. It might be an exaggeration to say he is worth the entrance money alone, but you get a lot for your money with Ade. He doesn’t run so much as waddle about the pitch, but he knows where to be and when. He’s always in the right place at the right time, but when you’re as big as him it’s difficult not to be. Ade is apparently known as ‘The Beast,’ but he seemed like a very lovely man indeed, playing as he does with a smile on his face despite being called a ‘fat bastard’ by those Col U wags behind the goal. Far from being a beast, Ade is the sort of bloke you’d happily invite round for afternoon tea and a plate of fancies with your mum. You wouldn’t want to invite a ‘beast’ round for that would you, they might leave something nasty in your downstairs toilet, and as Kevin Keegan might say, no ones a fan of that.

Inspired by Ade, as anyone would be, the Wycombe fans are in good voice and have a drum, which they bang, or one of them does. Sensibly, those Wycombe fans who want to stand up do so at the back of the stand where they can see over the heads of those who prefer to sit. It looks a very neat and tidy arrangement, they’re evidently not daft in Buckinghamshire. Wycombe start well and whilst the Col U fans also have a drum, they have no rhythm yet and their unco-ordinated shouts produce a hollow echo off the tin roof and walls.

Colchester send a shot past the post and the U’s fans offer a double salvo of “Fuck Off Wycombe!” but it somehow doesn’t quite sound quite right, saying that to an innocuous town in the home counties; you wouldn’t say that to Gerrards Cross now would you, so why Wycombe? Things are getting nasty, well kind of, and Wycombe’s Will de Havilland is booked for not controlling his elbow well enough in the vicinity of someone else’s face. I imagine the referee asking his name and saying “Really? de Havilland? What like her in Gone With The Wind?”

Moments later the U’s are in front and no one looks more surprised than the goalscorer George Elokobi, whose spectacular effort from 20 odd yards arcs delightfully into the top corner; it might have been a cross originally though, there’s no knowing from where I’m sat. The U’s fans rise as one and a man in a beanie hat in front of me stands purposefully as if to address the players, and slowly stabs both his temples with his forefingers. Odd.

The U’s are in full flow and Brindley sends the ball low across the face of goal, like you do. Then at the other end Akinfenwa literally squashes Brindley, who has to be shaken back into shape by the physio. Mascot Eddie the Eagle then helps referee Mr Kettle to ensure the ball is placed accurately in the little ‘D’ for a corner kick. The scoreboard fleetingly advises us to kit ourselves out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at cufc retail, and by the look of a few people around me they have done just that. Unimpressed, Olivia de Havilland shoves a Col U player and a bit later does it again, she is substituted at half-time.

The game is what you might call ‘attritional’. A Wycombe player with a hair cut which is part Marge Simpson, part skinhead gets in to a good position, but then sends his cross far over everyone’s head, before scratching his own as if unable to fully comprehend what just happened. Then U’s Lapslie has a free-kick awarded against him. “What about the foul earlier?” cries an angry, plaintiff voice. Indeed, what about it, eh, Mr Kettle? ” Oh sorry, you’re absolutely right, my mistake”. But no, Mr Kettle didn’t say a word to his accuser; how cool is that?

At number 12 Wycombe have a player rejoicing under the name of Paris Cowan-Hall. Paris, now there’s an exotic name for a footballer, but his double-barrelled surname perhaps suggests Patrician parents who benefitted from a classical education. In Greek legend Paris was a bit like a stereotypical Premier League footballer; he was ‘one for the ladies’ having a fling with a nymph called Oenone before getting Aphrodite, Hera and Athena to get their kit off and then eloping with Helen who was already married to Menelaus king of Sparta; all of which resulted in the Trojan Wars and that big horse and everything. Just thought you’d like to know in case they ask a question on University Challenge .

On the cusp of half-time and the U’s keeper tries to look busy as he taps the soles of his boots on the goal posts and swigs from a bottle, even though he is only seconds away from a nice cup of half-time tea. Sadly I am more than seconds from my half-time tea and spend so long in the not very long queue that I only return to the stand in time to see the Coggeshall Under 15’s leave the field, having presumeably scored all their penalties against the hapless Eddie the Eagle. I’ll lie to the neighbours.

There’s just time to enjoy Pulp’s Mis-shapes over the tannoy before the action recommences. An early boot into touch sees a wonderfully disinterested looking ballboy in a bobble hat take an age to return the ball to a Wycombe player who seems to curb his impatience because the lad is so very small and looks so much like he’d rather be elsewhere. I like to think that his dad was right chuffed to get young Tommy in as a ball-boy, but actually Tommy is day-dreaming about trying on his sister’s dresses or doing ballet.

Moving on and U’s earn an obvious corner . “Corner!” shouts a reedy voice behind me as if challenging Mr Kettle not to give it. Again Mr Kettle stays calm. The game rolls on and Colchester have the ascendency, doing most of the attacking and doing it with a fair lick of pace. This is in contrast to Wycombe who seem restricted to move at the same pace as big Ade, after all, they wouldn’t want to leave him behind. He nevertheless wins quite a few headers and defies physics for one final moment in injury time and has one cleared off the goal line. The Wycombe fans have been silenced largely, although with 10 minutes to go they had raise a few “Come on Wycombe” chants to save face.

Responding to a prompt from the scoreboard the U’s fans get behind the U’s once more to carry their team over the winning line on a wave of vocal encouragement. A fine win for the U’s and a most enjoyable evening for which credit must also go to the vanquished team and in particular Ade Akinfenwa, what a great bloke and worth a hundred Premier League players; by weight alone.