Portsmouth 2 Ipswich Town 1

Today is the United Nations International Day of Happiness.  Looking out of my kitchen window I see that the International Day of Happiness is dull; the sky is grey and overcast; worse still, this afternoon’s match between Ipswich Town and Portsmouth at Fratton Park kicks off at one o’clock, when I should happily be enjoying lunch or a pre-match pint.   More pleasingly, because my wife Paulene supports Portsmouth, we shall therefore be watching the game together.  Over a cup of coffee at breakfast I ask her if she is excited about today’s game.  She confesses that she is not.  Portsmouth’s recent form has been as poor, even worse than Ipswich Town’s.  The appointment of a new manager has not inspired her, Paulene cannot get excited about an appointment known as “The Cowleys”, and the fact that they managed Braintree Town seems to trouble her.

The early kick-off will probably spoil my whole day,  it did when Town played at Gillingham a fortnight ago,  although the final score played a part in that.   Football needs to be at 3 o’clock, so at least I get a decent few hours to enjoy in the morning.  Sensing that my negative feeling towards today’s fixture mean that I’m not really entering into the spirit of United Nations International Day of Happiness I try to spread some joy and write a birthday card for my step-son’s mother-in-law’s partner Larry,  who is eighty years old today.  Happy Birthday Larry.  Larry is not really much of a football fan, he’s more into Far Eastern philosophy, although we did once go and watch Coggeshall Town play Witham Town in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.

With the Portsmouth v Ipswich fixture being our household ‘derby’ I am tuning into the ifollow to watch an away game for the first time.  This means that I shall not be able to listen to my usual source of knowledge and insight, the commentary of Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills from BBC Radio Suffolk, but will instead be relying upon Brenner’s equivalent at BBC Radio Solent, a radio station that I like to think broadcasts from the sea bed and therefore has presenters who look like the cast of Gerry Anderson’s Stingray.  We log-in just in time to hear the puppet presenters giving their predictions for this afternoon’s final score.  “Ipswich are terrified of the ball” announces someone, I don’t know who, as they justify why Pompey will win.  The predictions are 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0 to Pompey. 

Brenner’s underwater equivalent announces that this afternoon’s match sees the start of “… a new era against a team that will provide memories of an old one”.  Different club, different radio station, same old cliché-ridden, hackneyed drivel I think to myself.   The commentator’s side-kick is introduced as former Pompey striker Guy Whittingham, “Danny Cowley is an experienced man” says Guy, “so is Nicky” he adds as an obvious afterthought.  Any bloke over forty who isn’t a man because of recent gender re-assignment could probably be said to be “an experienced man” though.

The game begins and I learn that the aquatic version of Brenner is called Andrew Moon; he is soon describing Ipswich’s third choice shirt. “It’s what I am going to call maroon shirts with dark red stripes” says Moon, revealing straightaway that he is either colour blind or has no words in his vocabulary for dark blue.  Much like Brenner would, he soon proceeds to tell us that “Paul Cook is watching the game very casually, with a mug of coffee in his hand”.  Very quickly it is apparent that Moon has the same book of commentator’s words and phrases as Brenner.  “Naylor goes to ground” he says as the Pompey number four scurries into a burrow.  Minutes later Town earn a free-kick close to where the touchline meets the by-line; it’s“ a glorified corner” according to Moon; it’s not a phrase I’ve yet heard trip from the mouth of Brenner,  but it would be worthy of him.

Fourteen minutes pass.  “No significant opportunities at either end as yet” says Moon.  Four minutes later Jack Whatmough fouls the oddly named Keanan Bennetts. “Surely, has to be a booking” says Moon showing admirable impartiality and honesty worthy of the BBC and its Reithian values.   Craig McGillivray makes a decent flying save from little Alan Judges resultant free-kick.  Moon emulates Brenner by mentioning the weather, “Spring not quite here yet” he adds, giving closure to the subject.

Nearly half an hour has gone and the oddly named Keanan Bennetts wins the game’s first corner, excluding ‘glorified corners’ that is.  Four minutes later a fine passing move ends with an exquisite through ball from Gwion Edwards, which sends James Norwood into the Pompey penalty area where slightly unexpectedly he lashes the ball into the far corner of the net past a motionless McGillivray. Town lead 1-0, “… probably deservedly so, on play” says Guy Whittingham grudgingly and weirdly implying that there is another means to assess who deserves to be winning other than ‘play’.  I suspect the ‘Whittingham method’ may be based on which team is wearing shirts with a crescent moon and star badge or contains players with the surnames Harness, Cannon and Raggett.

As I boldly begin to enjoy the game and imagine the name of Ipswich Town proudly ensconced in fifth place in the third division table Pompey win a corner.  The ball narrowly avoids the head of Toto Nsiala at the near post before Pompey’s Tom Naylor heads the ball onto the far post which in turn diverts it into the goal.  “Naylor scores the first goal of the Danny Cowley era” says Moon moronically in the style of some hack reporter.  “Portsmouth have a leveller they probably don’t quite deserve” he adds more intelligently.  Half-time arrives shortly after Pompey’s Ronan Curtis shoots wide with Luke Chambers struggling to get back and defend.

Half-time is busy.  A parcel is delivered by Hermes, or as I childishly call them Herpes.  It reminds me of an aircraft carrier-related joke which seems appropriate on a day when we are playing Portsmouth.  A man tells his friend he has Hermes. “You mean Herpes” says the friend. “No, Hermes” says the man “I’m a carrier”.   I pour myself a glass of Westmalle Dubbel Trappist beer, in part to celebrate James Norwood’s excellent goal and in part to blot out the disappointment of Pompey’s equaliser. I make Paulene a mug of hot chocolate.

Ipswich get first go with the ball when the game re-starts and are attacking the Milton End, where in normal times their followers would be sat, glumly supporting their team.  Town have two shots on goal within the first couple of minutes.  Five minutes into the half Pompey earn another corner, which Town fail to deal with comfortably as a Pompey player wins the initial header. The ball is eventually claimed by Tomas Holy.  Ronan Curtis becomes the second Pompey player to be booked, following a foul on Teddy Bishop.  “Probably the correct call” says Moon again showing the sort of fair, honest commentary you’d expect of the BBC, but for which Brenner Woolley would be criticised for being biased in favour of the opposition.  After the delay for the booking, little Alan Judge prepares to take the free-kick.  “The referee says off you go” is Moon’s slightly weird, imagined rendition of the conversation that precedes it.  

The second half is not as good as the first from an Ipswich perspective. We are no longer the better team as Pompey dominate down their left, and I am now beginning to miss the wise and plentiful words of Mick Mills who would have explained where Town are going wrong if this were a home game.  Guy Whittingham is no more a fitting substitute co-commentator for Mick than John Stirk was a fitting substitute full-back.  Andrew Moon however, is showing that he has all the peculiar commentating skills of our own Brenner Woolley as he speaks of a Pompey player “rubbing his face in frustration” (as you do) and “Portsmouth picking up the pieces in the shape of Naylor” which has my mind’s eye working overtime and imagining what a football match painted by Pablo Picasso would look like.  Moon then goes for his hat-trick of facile references to the perceived ‘new era’ with “The first substitution of the Cowley era” as Ben Close replaces Andy Cannon, moments after the referee creates his own hat-trick of Pompey bookings  with Andy Cannon’s name.

For Town Armando Dobra replaces the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts. James Norwood and Ronan Curtis argue like schoolgirls,  but according to Moon “Neither of them is stupid enough to be lulled in to doing something”.    It’s an odd bit of commentary that barely makes sense in relation to the on-screen pictures and there is every possibility that Moon means provoked instead of lulled, unless perhaps what looks like an exchange of verbal abuse is in fact the two players singing softly to one another .

More than once Moon refers to Tomas Holy as the “big Czech”, as if his nationality mattered,  and then with 20 minutes gone Town win their first corner of the second half.  Presumably having found a free page in his notebook, Mr Young turns his attention to Ipswich and books Gwion Edwards and Luke Chambers in quick succession.  Moon tells us that “A loud, gruff, Scouse accent shouts for the touchline”, which is quite reassuring for Town fans as long as Paul Cook is coaching the Town players and not just giving us his version of “Twist and Shout”.

Seventy one minutes have passed and Teddy Bishop becomes the equaliser in Mr Young’s private booking competition before we hear Moon excitedly say “…and Marcus Harness has turned it around for Portsmouth” and my heart sinks as  I watch Harness get two shots on goal, the second one of which tickles the net.  “Cowley’s certainly injected something into this team” continues Moon raising hopes that Town will be awarded the points when the Pompey players fail the post-match drugs test.  

Town are never in the game again.  “Step up” shouts a Cowley from the touchline; Pompey do, Town don’t.   Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace little Alan Judge and James Wilson, but to no avail.  Pompey’s Michael Jacobs edges the booking competition in Pompey’s favour.  With less than two minutes of normal time remaining Troy Parrott replaces Teddy Bishop.  Paulene answers the front door because Town have a free-kick and I refuse to leave the sofa; it’s my step -son calling to collect Larry’s birthday card.  The free-kick produces nothing.   Tomas Holy saves a header from James Bolton as another Pompey corner troubles the Town defence.  Five minutes of added on time raise my hopes “Five minutes!” exclaims Paulene “where did they get that from?”

It doesn’t matter where the five minutes came from, because it goes and the game ends. Ipswich lose, Pompey win. There is no mention of any Pompey players failing the drugs test.  Paulene apologises for my disappointment.  We are told that this is the first time Pompey have come back to win after going a goal behind in nearly two years.  Frankly, the United Nations International day of Happiness has not lived up to expectations, but at least I can look forward to the company of Brenner again next week.

Colchester United 0 Forest Green Rovers 3


It’s been a foul March day; blustery, wet and cold; at times the word very has been in front of those adjectives.  Now it is gone seven o’clock, the sun has gone down and it’s mainly miserable and dark, particularly at the Colchester Park & Ride car park, an exposed expanse of dimly lit tarmac next to the A12, adjacent to a petrol station and a McDonald’s. Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town.

Across the A12 the lights of the Colchester Community Stadium, currently known as the Jobserve Community Stadium and formerly the Weston Homes Community Stadium, which I like to call ‘Layer Road’, shine, but not enough to satisfactorily illuminate the ticket machine at the edge of the car park.  The machine  asks for at least three digits from my car number plate, then changes its mind and asks for all of them and then tells me to pay with coins; I don’t have any.  I trudge the 70 odd metres to the typically streamlined Park & Ride waiting room building and change a fiver into coins with the help of another machine. I ignore the queue of other people buying tickets at the machines there and trudge back to the dimly lit machine.  A kind man illuminates it with his mobile phone and after the machine first claims ignorance of my car registration it eventually allows me to purchase a ticket (£3).  

I walk to the football ground between bright lights planted into the ground that don’t actually illuminate the path only give me a clue where it might be.  I turn left onto Boxted Road and traverse the bridge over the A12 with its high metal sides presumably there to prevent suicidal football supporters from jumping down onto the highway; I turn left into United Way and arrive at another open expanse of tarmac upon which here and there are painted the words BUS STOP.  A white Mercedes Benz is parked partly across the word STOP.  I shed a tear for the shuttle buses which no longer ply their way to the stadium and were the only thing that made this god forsaken location for a football ground even faintly viable. I have probably watched Colchester United play well over 300 times in the last 35 to 40 years but have not been to ‘Layer Road’ since the shuttle bus service stopped running, until tonight. Tonight I have come to see Forest Green Rovers play Colchester United because I want to see Forest Green Rovers, the Football League’s only vegan football club, the only Football League club owned by a former ‘New Age’ traveller.  The irony that I have had to drive to watch this club famed for its ‘green’ credentials is not lost on me.

The Community Stadium is as bleak and lonely as it ever was, surrounded by a car park and nothing much else.  The Forest Green Rovers team bus sits up a corner by the main stand, disappointingly it looks like a regular team bus, not powered by methane or biofuel or anything other than dirty old diesel. I take a look in the well-stocked club shop, where trade is slow; toy bears stare out into the car park but no one is buying.

I queue at the turnstile for what feels like seconds wishing I had a bag for the steward to look into to make this experience more interesting.  Inside the ground however things look up, the programmes are free! This is like being in a civilised country like France where free football programmes are de rigeur and fleetingly I am transported to the imaginary Rue de Layer where Unifie de Colcestre are about to take on Nomades de Foret Vert in the Ligue National.   The sight of Pukka pies not baguettes and Carling instead of espresso coffee returns me from my reverie.   I spot a former work colleague called Mark, which is nice, and we shake one another warmly by the hand; he introduces me to his friend Darren who like me is really an Ipswich Town supporter.  Mark tells me this should be a good game, although Colchester United tend to either ‘do alright’ or lose 3-0.  Up in the South stand I take my seat,  I am sat behind a man and woman who I recognise from the Barside at Layer Road from over thirty years ago, they look much the same, just slightly shrivelled with age.

The U’s soon kick off towards me in their customary blue and white stripes, although from behind their shirts are all blue with white sleeves as if they couldn’t really decide if they want to be in stripes or not.  Their white socks have just two blue hoops as if they couldn’t decide if they should be hooped or not either.  There are no such uncertainties with Forest Green Rovers’ kit of overly dark bottle green with lurid day-glo green trim.

Colchester dominate the start of the game taking on the role of 6th placed promotion hopefuls eager to cement their place in the play-off positions, as someone on Sky Sports TV might say.  Ninth placed Forest Green defend capably.  “It’s a long way on a Tuesday, innit?” says the bloke behind me and is not fully understood by his companion.  He explains that it’s a long way for Forest Green supporters to travel from wherever it is that Forest Green is, “Somewhere down Portsmouth way, I think”.    Forest Green Rovers actually play in Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, so they’re more Laurie Lee than Lord Nelson, but I don’t turn round and tell him that.

The Forest Green number 23 Joseph Mills is the first player to make an impression; he is wearing his hair in a bun.   “You’ll never make it Ward” says a voice at the back of the stand, seemingly attempting to goad the Forest Green goalkeeper Lewis Ward who is dressed all in pink.  From the middle of the stand directly behind the goal a chorus of “Ole, Ole, Ole” rises or perhaps it’s “Allez, Allez, Allez”; it’s hard to tell, it could be both.  After twelve minutes Colchester win the game’s first corner.

Twenty minutes have passed, Colchester are doing okay just not scoring.  Forest Green cross the ball from the left to Lloyd James, he quickly shoots and scores from a good 18 metres or so from goal. No one was expecting that, it’s probably the first shot on target.  “Come on Col U” chant the understandably disappointed but not unduly upset occupants of the South Stand.  But things change, the crowd becomes more vociferous, less happy, more angry.  Colchester win another corner to no avail and Forest Green players spend time sat on the turf looking pained.  “Get on with it, you bloody…” shouts an angry man so irate that he can’t think of a word to finish his sentence.  It’s nearly twenty past eight and Forest Green break away down the right, one pass, another pass and number ten Reece Brown side foots the ball past Colchester’s slightly exotically named goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin.  Forest Green lead 2-0. Colchester’s number forty-five Frank Nouble kicks Lewis Ward out of spite and becomes the first player to be booked by the slightly portly referee Mr Alan Young. Colchester rather pointlessly win a third corner and Lewis Ward is booked for mucking about.

After three minutes of added on time comes the half-time whistle and I head downstairs for a pounds worth of PG Tips in a plastic cup and to check the half-time scores, but mysteriously all the TV sets are on their sides; perhaps the Sky subscription is cheaper like that; it would be okay if you could lie down on a sofa to watch it.  Ipswich are losing.

The second half is much like the first, just a bit colder.  The breeze is getting stronger and there are a few spots of rain in the air.  In the West Stand a man in a blue and white wig and bath robe reclines against his seat looking bored.  Perhaps like Bobby Ewing he will later step out of the shower and find it was all a bad dream. Colchester press forward but Forest Green defend well, blocking every shot, thwarting every move, frustrating the spectators.   The crowd begin to blame Mr Young for a lack of free-kicks to Colchester or too many free-kicks to Forest Green.  “You are kidding” shouts an exasperated man at Mr Young and drawing out every word.  “What is wrong with you referee?” asks someone else.  “Show some flair referee” says another rather more obscurely “Show some bollocks” replies yet another, a little crudely.  I for one want Mr Young to keep his shorts very definitely on.  A few rows in front of me a young woman, or very high pitched man shouts viciously, rendering herself or himself incoherent with vented spleen.   The atmosphere is unpleasant and it’s no wonder Boudicca sacked the place back in AD60 if the inhabitants were as narky as this.

Despite Colchester’s dominance of possession and shots it takes until gone ten past nine for Lewis Ward to make a decent save as he dives away to his right like a flying raspberry blancmange to give Colchester another pointless corner kick.  The final ten minutes begin and Forest Green show that they can keep and pass the ball very neatly, so much so that they end up passing to an unmarked Christian Doige who despite a suspicion of offside amongst the home supporters scores a third goal.  The names Shephard, Brown, Doige appear as verse on the scoreboard.

With the game lost its time for two youths to run onto the pitch, probably as their tribute to recent televised pitch incursions at Arsenal and Birmingham.  They only look about fourteen.  One of them makes a break for it trapping himself at the back of the East Stand having athletically vaulted over several rows of seats. “Wanker, Wanker, Wanker” shout the South Stand. “Wanker!” shouts an angry man behind me a little belatedly, and sounding a bit stupid as a result.  He should have saved his shout for the equally silly Frank Nouble who rounds off an entertaining evening by committing a needless foul, getting booked for a second time and consequently sent off.

The crowd of 2871 are already heading off into the dingy car parks and wasteland outside before five minutes of added on time are announced.  A wildly bearded man in patched double denim rails at the team as others shuffle past. “Worst game of the season” a man says to me unintentionally referencing Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons as he raises his eyebrows and edges past me. I wait until the very end to get my money’s worth (£18.50) before also heading off into the damp and dark to walk to my car and travel home alone fondly remembering the days when we left the ground together sharing our misery in a crowded shuttle bus.