This evening I shall be staying in town after the match and along with my friend Pete will be going to the Arbor House (formerly and properly known as the Arboretum) for something to eat and a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.70). The refreshments however are a mere precursor to the main event, which will see me heading to the Ipswich Transport Museum to witness the wonderful, extraordinary, and brilliant Robyn Hitchcock (formerly of the Soft Boys) perform a selection from his repertoire of over forty years’ worth of groovy tunes. Robyn is a particular hero of mine who first came to my notice back in 1978, a year that was an undoubted highpoint in my largely pointless existence, when a friend played me the Soft Boys single “(I want to be an) Anglepoise Lamp”. This evening, explaining how he comes to be playing a concert in Ipswich Transport Museum, Robyn will tell of how in the summer of 1963, as a ten-year old obsessed with the Beatles and trolleybuses he glimpsed Ipswich Corporation’s trolleybus-filled Priory Heath depot from the train line that runs by on the opposite side of Cobham Road. Robyn’s love of trolleybuses has not abated, and he will confide that playing the museum is a dream gig, and he’s right, it will be one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to. The last time I saw Ipswich Town and Robyn Hitchcock on the same day was 17th October 1992 when in the company of Pete’s then girlfriend, now wife, Claire, I witnessed a 1-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge before Claire and I ate burgers in Wendy’s on Oxford Street and then travelled on to the Powerhaus in Islington to meet up with Pete. But today, before the pleasure must come the pain.
After three consecutive two-all home draws in League matches, I have broken out of the pattern of driving into Ipswich in my trusty Citroen C3, parking on Chantry, and trying to get a drink in the fanzone but failing. Today I have travelled to Ipswich with the aforementioned Pete in his fourteen-year-old Ford Focus and am meeting another friend, Mick at the Greyhound for a pre-match pint of Adnam’s Southwold Bitter (formerly more simply known just as Adnam’s Bitter). I am anticipating that the break in habit will bear fruit with a first win of the season. At the Greyhound Mick kindly buys the pints of beer, so I don’t know what they cost, but I expect they were expensive. After three-quarters of an hour of intelligent conversation we leave the Greyhound beer garden (formerly the car park) at about twenty minutes to three and go our separate ways on Sir Alf Ramsey Way, Mick to what was the West Stand and me to what was Churchman’s after having both purchased a programme each (£3.50), so that we know the names of the players representing Town this week. It’s a good job we do too because today we have both a new goalkeeper, Christian Walton, and a new centre-half, George Edmundson and there are three more changes to the team that last played. I enter the ground through turnstile number fifty-nine because Pat from Clacton seems to be causing the formation of a small queue at turnstile number sixty. Entering the ground, I chat to Kevin who I know from our time at Wivenhoe Town.
On the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, by the time I’ve drained my bladder Pat from Clacton and Fiona have taken their seats and Ray and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood are here too; Ray’s son and his grandson Harrison are absent however because, as Ray will later tell me they are at Centre-Parcs. With both teams on the pitch and lined up, Conor Chaplin swings his leg to kick-off the match just as referee Mr Robert Madley reminds him that the teams are about to ‘take the knee’, which Conor proceeds to do, seamlessly transforming his shaping up to kick pose into a kneel as the crowd applauds and sticks it to racist knuckle-draggers everywhere.
Soon enough Chaplin begins the game and within a minute the assembled Boltonians up in the Cobbold Stand are asking “Is this a library?” through the medium of Italian opera. “You don’t know what a library is” bawls a man somewhere behind me, sounding like the embittered voice of the person responsible for adult education in Greater Manchester. Bolton win a corner. The fifth minute arrives and Wes Burns brushes aside the weakling challenge of Bolton full-back Liam Gordon to put in a low cross, which the oddly named Macauley Bonne merely has to side foot into the net, which he does, to give Town a very early lead and confirm that today things will be different. How we celebrate; the breath of life inflating our balloon-like hopes. “He’s fuckin’ superb, he is” says the coarse bloke behind me of Wes Burns. I can’t disagree, but might express the view differently. I breathe in the smell of the lush turf as the Sir Bobby Robson stand invoke the spirit of Boney M and Christmas with their oddly un-seasonal and goodwill-free version of Mary’s Boy Child.
A further five minutes pass, and the right hand side of the Town defence solidifies instead of gelling and Bolton’s Oladapo Afolayan sweeps the ball past Christian Walton to equalise. The balloon of hope has burst. “Who are ya? chant the Bolton fans repetitively, for reasons which are not clear. “Who the fuckin’ hell are you?” respond the Sir Bobby Robson stand equally repetitively and for equally obscure reasons, but whilst also possibly claiming short-lived ‘bragging rights’ by including a swear in what is usually a religious tune (Cwm Rhondda). The Bolton support responds in turn however with what sounds like “Wanky, wanky, wanky, wanky Wanderers”, although I could be wrong, and their thick Lancastrian accents may have disguised their true words beneath a layer of hot-pot, barm cakes and soot. But there is no time to dwell on this as the eager to gloat Boltonians follow up with renditions of the generally truthful “Sing when you’re winning” and the geographically inaccurate “Small town in Norwich, you’re just small town in Norwich”. Such is the quick-fire nature of their trawl through these songs that I half expect the PA system to announce their availability on three discs exclusive to K-tel Records via mail-order.
The Bolton fans’ jibes make the time pass quickly until their team’s next goal, in the 18th minute, which arrives courtesy of Kane Vincent-Young’s ill-advised and unnecessary attempt at a tackle in the penalty area. Eoin Doyle scores the penalty for Bolton as Christian Walton appears to dive out of the way of the ball. Within five minutes Vincent-Young is replaced by Janoi Donacien as he has already been given a glimpse of Mr Madley’s yellow card and no longer looks like a fully functioning full-back. Despite trailing, Town are not obviously the second-best team on the pitch and the Bolton defence is often desperate, to the extent that both Lloyd Isgrove and the delightfully Welsh Gethin Jones both have their names written down in Mr Madley’s notebook. A third of the game has passed and once again Wes Burns decides there is nothing for it but to bustle past the full-back and send in another cross from which the oddly named Macauley Bonne can score, but Bolton’s Ricardo saves Bonne the trouble of applying the final touch and Town are level. “E’s fuckin’ superb” says the bloke behind me of Wes Burns, just in case no one was listening after the first goal. An hour left and we’ve already reached the usual scoreline for a home league game, at this rate we’re heading for a six-all draw.
Hopes for a win are revived and the massively improved Sone Aluko heads over the Bolton cross-bar and also puts in a decent cross at the end of a fine move down the right. “E’s ‘aving a good game, ‘e is” says the bloke behind me of Aluko, in case we weren’t sure. There will be three minutes of time added on, which is more than enough time to score another goal. Wes Burns once again gets down the wing to the goal line and crosses the ball for Macaulay Bonne to direct towards the goal, but his off-balance stab at the ball bounces the wrong side of the goal post. Quickly Bolton launch the ball forward and with unsporting alacrity the ball is delivered to the feet of Oladapo Afolayan who scores what is almost a replica of his first goal with the Town defence unsure whether to gel, solidify or just melt away. For the first time this season it has become necessary to score a third goal simply to avoid defeat.
Half-time provides time to reflect on confused emotions and to talk to Ray who, as a former full-back, albeit for the YMCA in the 1970’s, has concerns about the defence and the midfield. Our conversation fills the space between the two halves completely and the game is almost beginning again as I take my seat and I haven’t yet eaten my Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar. Ever-present Phil says we’re going to win 5-4 and I remain hopeful too, especially as Finney and Worthington are both out for Bolton and have been for several years. The one portent of possible doom however, is that the lead in my Ipswich Town pencil has snapped. Three minutes pass and Bolton send a ball over the top to Doyle. Walton saves a shot from Antoni Sarcevic before the Town defence dissolves into an aqueous mess and Josh Sheehan scores a simple fourth goal. The bloke behind me vows to leave if Bolton score again.
The bright early autumn sunshine and blue sky seem to mock me with their beauty and question what I’m doing here on such a lovely September afternoon. The attendance is announced as being 19,267 with 553 of that number being supporters of Bolton Wanderers who must be lapping up the additional Vitamin D. Weirdly given the sunshine, at sixteen minutes past four the floodlights are turned on. “That Evans is a bag o’nails” says the bloke behind me in an unrelated and possibly surreal incident. A minute later George Johnston scores a fifth for Bolton as the Ipswich defence gets into what Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley could justifiably call a “sixes and sevens situation.” The bloke behind me leaves as he said he would. Loud boos emanate from the mouths of some Town supporters. “It’s a shame innit” says Pat from Clacton sympathetically. “We want six” chant the Bolton supporters less sympathetically. “We’ve got to go all-out attack now” says Pat to ever-present Phil, although the score line already suggests that if we’re not attacking we’re not doing anything else much either.
Conor Chaplin is replaced by 1960’s signing from Cambridge City Tommy Carroll. “Is this a library?” sing the Bolton fans reprising their earlier attempts at a Verdi opera, and the oddly named Macauley Bonne hits a post with subtle re-direction of a Hayden Coulson cross. “What I don’t understand is why he don’t bring Piggott on and play two up-top. That’s fuckin’ ignorance that is” says a voice behind me which sounds oddly like the voice that I thought had left after the fifth goal. The answer to what he doesn’t understand is that Piggott isn’t actually on the bench. Ignorance eh?
Town have plenty of possession now, but annoyingly Bolton appear to have gelled and we can’t find a way through. “Over and in” says Pat from Clacton willing the ball into the Bolton net from a cross, but it’s over and out for a corner. Soon it will be over and out full stop. “We can see you sneaking out” chant the hot-pot munchers upstairs in the Cobbold stand, conveniently ignoring the people like me, Ray, Fiona, ever-present Phil, and Pat from Clacton who will resolutely sit in our seats until the inevitably bitter end. A Bolton shot sails over the cross bar and lands the width of seven or eight seats and a gangway to my right. The bloke in the seat in front of me flinches and ducks away to his left, but it’s still early in the season and he clearly hasn’t gelled with his surroundings. Seven minutes remain and in what seems like the most aimless substitution of the season so far, Wes Burns is replaced with Kayden Jackson, although I reserve the right to change that view should Wes Burns prove to have been injured. “Kayden Jackson? We’d be better off with Gordon Jackson” I think to myself, involuntarily remembering both the 1970’s ITV series ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’. Thankfully I didn’t shout it out.
In due course the final whistle sounds to the inevitable boos from those elements of the home crowd ignorant of, or unable to see the truths in the words of Rudyard Kipling’s admittedly sexist poem “If”, about attitudes to triumph and disaster. I must admit however to preferring Lindsay Anderson’s film. I leave the Sir Alf Ramsey stand in the company of Ray, who is heading for Fonnereau Road where his wife Roz will pick him up, whilst appropriately, given the nightmare I’ve just witnessed, I head for the car park on Elm Street. But what do I care, the best of my day is yet to come and I know it.