Ipswich Town 2 Shrewsbury Town 0

It’s been a beautiful wet morning of silvery grey light beneath a shroud of pale cloud.   I woke early, before six, when the sky was blue and red as the sun came up, but that was too early, so I went back to bed, then overslept.

Earlier this week I woke up with my mind disturbed by vivid dreams of a time over forty years ago when I was a university student coming to terms with base desires to form shallow relationships with members of the opposite sex. Worryingly, in these dreams I fancied girls who at the time I didn’t think I did. Why my subconscious mind should want to re-appraise events of forty years ago I cannot fathom. The week has improved since then, and psychologically re-balanced I’ve now parked up my planet saving Citroen e-C4 and have stepped out across a slippery, soggy Gippeswyk Park, beneath Ancaster Road railway bridge and over the river to the old tram depot and Sir Alf Ramsey Way, where I cashlessly buy a programme for today’s match having waited my turn behind  a man who called the programme seller ‘mate’ at least four times and possibly as many as six during the  course of his brief transaction. I was tempted to address the programme seller as ‘programme seller’ but of course I didn’t. One day.

 At ‘the Arb’, I am a little bemused that there is no Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride today, but on the barman’s recommendation I order a pint of Mauldon’s Silver Adder (£4.00) and retire to the beer garden, which is already occupied by several drinkers of late middle age. I drink alone today because my friend Mick might be required away at any moment to collect a ‘stiff’; my words, not his and is taking the calls. Despite Mick’s absence, death still stalks me as at a nearby table I overhear a man talking of a funeral he had recently been to at the Seven Hills Crematorium.  “They just talked a bit about his life, played some music, and that was it” he says.  Later, he will tell his fellow drinkers about watching football on tv in Arabic by means of his Firestick, and how Richard Keys and Andy Gray are still working for beinsports in Qatar, where their grubby attitude towards women is clearly tolerated.  I would like to hear Andy Gray speaking Arabic.

I read my programme, gleaning from it the fact that Sam Morsy has been booked twelve times this season, which is four more times than any other Town player and twice as many times as the third most booked player, Wes Burns.  Finishing the Silver Adder, I return to the bar for a pint of Lacon’s Encore (£3.51 with Camra discount), by way of an encore.  At about twenty to three I depart for Portman Road. In Crown Street a young man steps out of a barber’s shop and sprays what I assume to be deodorant under his armpits from beneath his T-shirt.  An ambulance speeds by with its siren blaring; “Go, go save that person” shouts a lairy youth, no doubt trying to impress his friends with his off-the-wall ‘humour’.

I reach Portman Road and behind what was the North Stand a bearded man I know called Kevin sidles up to me and says hello. Kevin’s pre-match ritual is to have a pint at St Jude’s Tavern; he would join me at the Arb but can’t not stick to his ritual in case it causes a calamitous result.  We walk to turnstile 61 together; Kevin uses turnstile 61 because 1961 was the year he was born.  On what used to be the Churchman’s terrace I edge past Fiona to my seat next but one to the man from Stowmarket, although Fiona says he’s actually from Stowupland.  Two rows in front of us are ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood.  Pat from Clacton arrives a little after I do; she’s going to Great Yarmouth tomorrow on a ‘whist holiday’.

The teams process onto the pitch and Stephen Foster, the former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter and class-mate of my friends Pete and Ian, reads out the teams.  Along with ever-present Phil, I bawl out the Town players’ surnames, pretending to be French. If I was French, I’d already be retired now, and depending on where I lived I might support Racing Club de Lens, Lorient, Clermont Foot or Montpellier. It’s something I think about a lot in my many idle moments.  After a minute’s applause for former Town director John Kerr who died this week, Shrewsbury Town take the knee and applaud whilst Town players form a huddle, and then the match begins. Shrewsbury get first go with the ball attempting to send it mostly in the direction of the goal just in front of me, Pat, Fiona, Phil and Elwood.  Shrewsbury are sporting a change kit today because their usual, distinctive blue and yellow striped shirts would clash with Town’s all blue shirts.  Disappointingly,  Shrewsbury have opted for all-black, the magnolia of modern-day football kits,  for people who choose club kits but who also lack imagination. The addition of red smudges over the shoulders does nothing to alleviate the depressing absence of colour.  The referees however are doing their best for us and are wearing orange shirts.

An intimidating, brooding wall of silence encloses the ground providing the soundtrack to the games’ opening moves, but a bit of noise eventually emanates from the Blue Action section in the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, followed by the curious chants of “Addy, Addy, Addy-O”.  It’s damp, and a faint mist seems to hang over the pitch.  Town have the ball mostly, but all of a sudden Christian Walton is leaping acrobatically to tip a header from Luke Leahy (I like to think Leahy is pronounced leaky) over the cross bar to give Shrewsbury the game’s first corner. Quickly it has been established that Shrewsbury are going to be one of those teams who are all free-kicks, set pieces and shoving people over.  It’s a style of ‘football’ that is effective for a bit, but people soon get tired of it and that includes the players, just ask Mick McCarthy. 

Town soon re-establish their superiority, which manifests itself in three corners in five minutes as crosses and shots are blocked.  A dozen minutes have gone forever and half the pitch is now bathed in mottled sunlight and the other half wallows in the shadows of the stands.  I am struck by how spindly the legs of Shrewsbury’s number 33, Tom Flanagan, are and just to prove the point he slips over like new born Bambi.  The fifteenth minute arrives and Wes Burns scampers off down the wing, crosses the ball and George Hirst rises high, twists his neck, and heads the ball gloriously into the goal beyond goalkeeper Marko Marosi.  It’s the sort of goal centre forwards used to score all the time, and at half-time Ray will tell me how it reminded him very much of Trevor Whymark’s best work, and he’s right.  Town lead 1-0.

The sun is shining, the Town (Ipswich not Shrewsbury ) are winning and all is right with the world as I sit back and wait for Town’s next goal.  Before that however, comes the first booking as Wes Burns is tripped by Jordan Shipley, who forty years ago might have been called Gordon Shipley.  All twenty outfield players are within forty yards of the Shrewsbury goal as the resulting free-kick is taken, but the ball goes straight into the arms of Marosi.

With the game entering its second quarter, it feels like Town ease off a little as what had been a busy period of crosses and constantly probing possession comes to an end.  But the rest, is just a rest and soon Town are winning more corners. “Come On You Blues” I bawl.  “ They can’t hear you” says Pat from Clacton.  “I don’t think anyone can” I tell her, disappointed that all across the bottom tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand people haven’t joined in with me. “I can hear you” says Fiona, sounding like she wishes she couldn’t.

We descend towards half-time and from another  Wes Burns cross it looks as though the until now excellent Massimo Luongo has an open goal, but somehow he contrives to head the ball where we and presumably he didn’t want it to go, not into the goal.  In the interests of variety, Shrewsbury are awarded a corner as Cameron Burgess clears the ball behind from a rare, but awkward foray forward by the visting team, and Christian Walton saves a shot from that Gordon Shipley, before Conor Chaplin restores order but shoots wide of the Shrewsbury goal.  The half closes with an homage to BBC tv sitcom Dad’s Army as Shrewsbury number 15, Rekeil Pyke  fouls Luke Woolfenden, and hopefully referee Ollie Yates adopts a German accent to say “ Your name will also go into the book, what is it?”  From the touchline I think I hear Shrewsbury manager Steve Cotterill shout “Don’t tell him Pyke!” and both benches and Mr Yates fall about laughing.

With half-time, I hasten away beneath the stand to make use of the facilities and enjoy the luxury of the new hand dryers which since the last home game have replaced the old asthmatic ones.  I return to talk with Ray and his grandson Harrison at the front of the stand. Ray seems disappointed with the first half because Shrewsbury have had a couple of reasonable chances and Town have only scored once, but he liked the goal and talks of Trevor Whymark and Alan Lee.

The football resumes at seven minutes past four and I eat a Nature Valley honey and nut cereal bar, which I finish before Town seemingly score again as Conor Chaplin taps the ball in at the far post after a deep cross, but apparently he is offside; he doesn’t argue so he probably was, or he is the first player to work out that referees do not change their decisions.   The disappointment is only temporary however, but what isn’t?  Two minutes later there’s a cross, a Conor Chaplin shot is blocked and Massimo Luongo places a precise hooked shot inside the far post to put Town 2-0 up.

It feels to me like we’ve won already and it’s just a matter of how many goals Town can get. Shrewsbury are putting up decent resistance but we’re too good for them and almost proving the point George Hi⁸rst thumps a shot against a goal post, although he must ask himself why he missed the 7.32m wide gap to its left.  A minute later  Shrewsbury’s Matthew Pennington is booked for reacting childishly to a perceived dive by Nathan Broadhead and then an unseemly melee ensues with all the usual posturing and macho behaviour that you would expect from the drivers of enormous black SUVs.   When the free-kick is eventually taken, Leif Davis uncharacteristically launches it wastefully over the cross bar.

Ipswich’s early dominance of the second half nevertheless inspires some noise from the home crowd and the Sir Bobby Robson stand treat everyone else to the usual truncated rendering of Harry Belafonte’s, or may be Boney M’s, Mary Boy Child with specially adapted lyrics that tell of what now seem like mythical fights with Norwich on Boxing Day.  Shrewsbury are first to blink with regard to substitutions and two are made together, one of them being the aforementioned Pyke. 

Time rattles on by twenty minutes and Shrewsbury win a corner and Nathan Broadhead is booked for being fouled in the Shrewsbury penalty area despite Shrewsbury players concernedly helping him to his feet rather than pointing accusing fingers.  Todays’ attendance is announced by Stephen Foster as 26, 432 with 343 from Shropshire, and weirdly but as per usual, people applaud themselves  or each other, or may be they’re applauding Stephen Foster.  On the Clacton supporters coach the guess the crowd competition is won by Pat from Clacton’s great nephew Liam, who is just visiting for the weekend and is a West Ham United supporter.  Understandably, Pat seems disappointed that this ‘part-time supporter’ has won the prize and suggests various other guesses  on her list to Fiona and me that might be closer, but none of them are.

Fifteen minutes remain and it’s time for Town to begin their usual catalogue of substitutions and Freddie Ladapo and Marcus Harness replace George Hirst and Nathan Broadhead.  Another Shrewsbury corner sees Chey Dunkley strike the Town cross-bar  with a header, but typically for a team reliant on ‘big blokes’  there has been a foul, and Town are awarded a free-kick and Christian Walton receives lengthy treatment whilst everyone else enjoys a break by the touchline.  “Get Up!” shouts a frustrated pre-pubescent voice behind me.  His dad explains that you don’t shout “Get Up” at your own players, but the child simply replies ”But it’s taking forever”.  When he’s older he’ll realise that some of life’s best moments are when nothing is happening.

The last ten minutes of normal time have found their way here and it still time for two more Shrewsbury players to be shown Ollie’s yellow card  for fouling Conor Chaplin, and Kayden Jackson, who has replaced Wes Burns, although they probably would have fouled him too given the chance.   The eternal treatment to Christian Walton results in only seven minutes of added on time and whilst I hope for a third Town goal which would mark out the result as a modest thrashing rather than just a satisfactory win, it doesn’t happen, despite two more Town substitutions and an outbreak of rhythmic clapping.

Finally, at a minute before five o’clock the game ends and my little band of ultras and I bid our adieus until Good Friday.  It’s been a fine performance from Ipswich and ultimately a comfortable, if hard fought victory.  I will travel home this evening content, and safe in the knowledge that in forty years’ time it is unlikely my subconscious mind will unexpectedly want to re-appraise todays events, because I expect I will be dead.

Crewe Alexandra 1 Ipswich Town 1

Ipswich Town had never played Crewe Alexandra in Crewe or anywhere else before 21st October 1997, and I am proud to boast that I was there that very day to witness the stultifying goalless draw that ensued.  Crewe were new to the second division back then, although they had enjoyed a brief dalliance with that most joyful of divisions where the teams are generally good, but not that good, back between 1892 and 1896.  But whilst the 1890’s were synonymous with La Belle Epoque in Paris and evidently Crewe in the middle years of the decade, these were nevertheless the days before Crewe Alexandra’s natural habitat of the Third Division North and its offspring the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Football League first saw light of day.  All this is mere pointless preamble however, because I first went to Gresty Road to see Crewe Alexandra play Halifax Town in April of 1988.  Ipswich were away at Oldham Athletic on the Saturday and my friend Steve and I travelled up the previous day in my trusty Toyota Corolla, which actually didn’t prove that trusty because the exhaust blew somewhere on the A500, requiring a pre-match visit to Kwik-Fit; to add further excitement to the occasion neither Crewe nor Halifax managed a goal that Spring Friday night. The following day Ipswich Town lost 3-1 at Boundary Park to crown a successful weekend.

Almost thirty-three years later and today of course the Ipswich Town players and their entourage are the only people travelling to Crewe and I am sat at home listening to the unfolding story of the afternoon on BBC Radio Suffolk in the company of Brenner Woolley and his sidekick Stuart Ainsley.   I decide to listen to the game with my wife Paulene rather than sit alone in the back bedroom and this means that courtesy of the magic of an earphone and the Amazon Firestick I can also watch a French Ligue 2 game;  either Troyes v Auxerre, which BT Sport would doubtless bill as the Champagne derby if it  deigned to show it, or  Toulouse versus Clermont. 

We plump for the game in Toulouse because we like Clermont Ferrand and once took a very long tram ride on a very, very hot day to visit the city’s Stade Gabriel Montpied ground, how we laugh as we fondly recall that Paulene came out in a nasty rash because of the extreme heat. I tune into BBC Radio Suffolk in time to hear some irrelevant tosh about something called the Premier League and the good news that Norwich City have not won today, although sadly they didn’t lose either. Some commentary follows from when Town last played a league game in Crewe, which was in 2006 in the years before Marcus Evans, and Alan Lee and Dean McDonald scored to give Town a 2-1 victory.

Brenner Woolley’s soothing voice arrives through the ether to bring news of the inevitable changes to the Town line-up after the latest ignominious defeat.  Brenner reveals that Freddie Sears will be playing “up top” today and that Miles Kenlock replaces Stephen Ward at left-back; he asks Stuart Ainsley what he makes of this.  “Obviously positive for Kenlock” says Stuart, stating the obvious but also reminding us of the importance of the word ‘positive’.  In modern football the ‘positives’ are something which managers look for in every losing performance.  In Ipswich’s case Paul Lambert finds so many positives in every defeat, there is no longer any need to win.

I’m not sure if my concentration doesn’t divide very well between tv and radio, but I seem to miss the actual kick off in Crewe although Brenner is quick to allay my fears that I might have missed much by quickly telling us that it’s still ‘early doors’. In Toulouse the game began an hour ago because it’s now four o’clock there and the second-half kicks off with the score at one-all.   Brenner continues to ask Stuart about changes to the Town team and what he thinks of Alan Judge’s return to the starting line-up.  “I think it’s positive” says Stuart.  As he’s not being a football manager right now he either simply can’t think of anything else to say or he is trying to develop his radio persona by means of a catch phrase.

“Playing with gloves on, the blond-haired number ten” says Brenner of Crewe’s Kirk before Stuart postulates his theory that Luke Chambers should play in the middle alongside Woolfenden or McGuinness in order to create a blend of youth and experience at the centre of the defence. “It may work better; it may not, obviously” adds Stuart, almost admitting it’s a crap idea before he’s finished telling us about it.   On the tv  meanwhile, Toulouse take the lead, scoring direct from a free-kick hit so hard by Branco Van den Boomen, who is Dutch,  that it scares the defensive wall into evasive action.

“A rare involvement for the Czech” says Brenner, presumably as Tomas Holy receives the ball, but possibly as he fills out and posts off his annual subscription to the Royal Society of British Football Commentators.  Quickly back from the post box Brenner updates us on Paul Lambert’s attire today; “Only the eyes of the town manager visible on the far side, with the beanie hat and the hoody pulled over his face”.  Getting into his groove Brenner tells us that Tomas Holy is in all black and appears “very nonchalant but very accurate” as he plays the ball out of his penalty area.

Confirming the venue for today’s match Brenner refers to somewhere called the Alexandra Stadium, which is a name that sounds very salubrious and I wonder what happened to plain old Gresty Road where Crewe used to play.  After 15 minutes Gwion Edwards has a shot which the Crewe goalkeeper has to prevent from going into the goal.  “Town on top at the moment” says Brenner.  It sounds like Town are doing okay. “Not a million miles away from being a good ball” says Brenner as Town almost mount an attack.  It still sounds like Town are doing okay, but then Brenner raises his voice “Blasted over the top by Mandron…..when almost certain to be 1-0 to Crewe”.    It transpires that Miles Kenlock has saved the day with a last ditch block, or a tackle, or perhaps a block and tackle. Town “…definitely weren’t playing the way they were trying to play” explains Stuart confusingly, but somehow logically too.

From what I can make out, Town soon recover from almost conceding and are still the better team. “No one’s in the middle but in it goes anyway” says Brenner of the ball as the nine Town outfield players turn finding their lone striker into a game of Where’s Wally.    Brenner then proceeds to show off his knowledge of football terminology as he describes the Crewe goalkeeper catching the ball “…on his back stick”, an odd expression,  which only makes sense if there isn’t a cross bar, which interestingly, back in the 1860’s when the game was first codified there didn’t used to be.

Twenty minutes pass. Brenner makes reference to the “pony-tailed Woolfenden” as he does most games and Stuart tells us that “The game’s gone a bit untidy”, not unlike his use of the English language in that sentence.  On tv it’s the sixty-seventh minute of the match in Toulouse and the home team score again, this time a penalty from Stijn Spierings whom Brenner would call “the other Dutchman”.  “Terrible from Beckles, not much better from Gwion Edwards” says Brenner succinctly describing third division football and he does it again as he says “Crewe’s turn for some harmless possession”.  It sounds like the game has become rather uneventful, Brenner describes it as “A little bit cat and mouse”, in which case I hope Ipswich are the cat because in my experience of play between cats and mice it usually ends with the mouse being disembowelled or having its head left on the back doorstep.  “Ipswich have sort of sat off” is Stuart’s more nuanced assessment of the state of play.

The lack of excitement in the commentary leads me to notice the geographical nature of the Crewe back four with Lancashire, Pickering and Beccles (Beckles) creating some lengthy potential passes.  Meanwhile Brenner reflects on his liking for Crewe’s Charlie Kirk “I like Kirk when he gets the ball, very easy on the eye” purrs Brenner, adding an unexpected frisson of homo-eroticism to his commentary.

  With half an hour gone Crewe score, but happily the ‘goal’ is disallowed because the beautiful Kirk is offside.  Soon afterwards Miles Kenlock is booked for a lunge at Luke Murphy and Stuart speculates as to whether the wind is playing a part in the game. “Obviously you can’t tell from here” says Stuart, which is hard to contradict given that he’s 323 kilometres away in a radio studio.  His theory seems to be based on the fact that the corner flags are “blowing rapidly”. 

Beckles is booked for a foul on Sears.  “Goodness, that was awful from McGuinness” reveals Brenner of a separate incident, before back on the tv Clermont pull a goal back with a header from Jonathan Iglesias, who Brenner would probably describe as “the Uruguayan” if he was commentating on the French game .  Half-time is just a couple of minutes away and Freddie Sears shoots from some 25 metres from goal, which Brenner describes as “ambitious”.  Two minutes of additional time are announced at Crewe and four in Toulouse. The first half ends for Crewe and Ipswich and Brenner asks Stuart to summarise. “Are they playing without a number nine?” asks Stuart rhetorically “Quite possibly” is his not very conclusive answer too himself; perhaps he hasn’t noticed that Kayden Jackson isn’t even on the bench today, or perhaps he has. 

Half-time is illuminated by an espresso, a cup of tea and a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  With the game in Toulouse over, the Firestick is switched to Serbian television where two of my favourite French clubs, Montpellier HSC and RC Lens are playing in Ligue 1; it’s a colourful spectacle with Montpellier in navy blue shirts and orange shorts and Lens in red and yellow shirts with black shorts.  So engrossed in the French game am I that I miss the first three minutes of the second half at Crewe.  Lens score with a fine shot from outside the penalty area from Cheick Doucoure who Brenner would refer to as “the Malian”. 

Almost an hour of the game has been played when Crewe score through Brenner’s favourite Charlie Kirk.  Stuart contends that Crewe do not deserve their lead but that Ipswich “Need more players up the pitch”, although one on the goal line might have been handy a minute ago.  Freddie Sears, who Stuart considers is playing well, is replaced by James Norwood and Teddy Bishop replaces Luke Thomas.  Brenner cracks a joke; “Town look to be legally obliged to play just one up front this season” he jests.  For a few minutes Town’s or rather Paul Lambert’s refusal to play two players in a forward position is the main topic of the commentary.  Teddy Bishop is then booked for cheating by referee Mr Joyce who is one of the few officials whose surname is also a woman’s first name; I bet he had a tough time at school, always being called Joyce by everyone.   “A good foul by Bishop” is Stuart’s assessment, although he might not have thought so if he had had the ‘gift’ of clairvoyance.

Aaron Drinan replaces Gwion Edwards. Paul Lambert has broken the legal agreement and within a minute Drinan scores his first goal for Town.  The scores are level and Brenner and Stuart ‘riff’ for a moment on the apparently instant impact of having two strikers on the pitch. Stuart suggests it is obvious and Brenner tells him “Don’t worry about saying the obvious on BBC Radio Suffolk”, which is astonishingly honest of him and all of a sudden I think I feel the same way about Brenner as he does about Charlie Kirk.  Charlie Kirk may be easy on the eye, but Brenner is equally easy on the ear.

The game resumes and according to Stuart, Crewe miss a “big chance” to re-take the lead when three players all go for the ball at once, just four yards from goal.  “It’s 1-1, if you’re just re-joining us again having given up at 1-0” says Brenner revealing more of his refreshing honesty.  Meanwhile “Norwood tried to Cruyff it” says Stuart, trying to invent a new verb, but simultaneously inventing a game in which you turn your favourite or least favourite players/managers/owners into verbs.    With eight minutes of normal time remaining Teddy Bishop becomes the new Kayden Jackson and bishops things or may be jacksons them by committing another foul and Joyce sends him off.  Town have eight minutes to hang on, whereas a moment ago they had eight minutes in which to score the winner.

On the tv in Montpellier it’s half time, but back through the airwaves in Cheshire via St Matthews Street in Ipswich, Brenner tells of pointless and possibly dangerous bodily contortions as “Woolfenden wraps his foot around the ball”.  There will be five minutes of added on time and according to Brenner, who seems set on unnecessarily raising the tension, it’s “All hands on deck, everyone back”.  Happily from the remainder of the commentary it doesn’t sound as if the Town defence is overly stretched by Crewe and the five minutes pass quite quickly and comfortably.  With Joyce blowing her whistle for the final time Brenner asks Stuart to summarise. Stuart sighs and says “Ugh, neither team deserved to win it”.  Perhaps feeling that what he has said lacked the dressing room credibility which BBC Radio Suffolk is paying him for, Stuart repeats himself but incorrectly uses the past participle of do instead of the past tense, saying “Neither team done a lot to win the game”.  That’s better Stu mouths Brenner inaudibly, I imagine.

Happy that Town have not lost, but with a nagging sense that we should have done better I detach myself from my earpiece and turn off the radio.  I’m getting a little bored of listening to these games on the radio now, although at least there were two goals today, unlike the first two occasions when actually I went to Gresty Road; and it’s nice not to have not pay for a new exhaust too.