Ipswich Town 0 Cheltenham Town 0

It’s been a while since I’ve been to watch the Town at Portman Road, having forgone the last six matches thanks to the pandemic.  But it’s been a lot longer since I last saw Cheltenham Town play (7th September 2002 at Layer Road, Colchester to be precise), and it’s a lot longer still since Cheltenham Town played at Portman Road (19th March 1938 in the Southern League).  Add to the weight of history the fact that because I am not in my nineties, I have never seen Ipswich Town play Cheltenham Town at Portman Road, and you have the recipe for an evening of excitement to rival that of the last match I saw live, Town versus Barrow in the FA Cup, a truly awful goalless draw as I recall.  On days like this I don’t miss the Championship one little bit.  What’s being in the third division for if it’s not for playing the likes of Cheltenham Town?  Live for the moment and breathe as deep as you dare.

Rocking up on Anglesea Road at twenty-seven minutes to seven, I park my trusty Citroen C3 on a single yellow line and head for what I call the Arboretum pub, but the current occupiers label the Arbor House.  Eight minutes later I have hurried as quickly as I could through the bar, pausing only to mumble a request for a pint of Lacon’s ‘Jack Valentine’ (£3.80) through my face mask, and now I sit in the peace, solitude and creeping cold of the softly lit beer garden.  Amusing myself with the wonders accessible on my mobile phone I sip my beer and get into the funky groove of the righteous soul music climbing out of the plastic speaker in the corner of the garden shelter in which I’m sat. If I didn’t know I was in Ipswich I’d think I was in 1970’s Harlem as the sounds of Sir Joe Quatermain and Free Soul ((I got) so much trouble in my mind (1973)); Smokey Robinson (Baby that’s backatcha (1975)) and the Bobby “Blue” Band (Ain’t no love in the heart of the city (1974)) move my feet and my boogie body.  Beginning to feel like I’ve stepped back in time and looking forward to seeing the likes of Ian Collard, David Johnson and Colin Harper at Portman Road tonight I suddenly return to the now with the realisation that for £3.80 I could probably have bought everyone in the pub a drink or may be two in 1973, although I would have been a tad underage to have done so.

Leaving my reverie in the pub garden I head for Portman Road, my heart leaping a little as I catch a first glimpse of the glare of the floodlights in the night sky.  I approach the ground along Alderman Road to manufacture that ‘going to the match’ down terraced streets feel.  In the back of the Sir Bobby Robson (North) stand supporters already in the ground appears as silhouettes on the stairs and through the plate glass windows of the concourse.  Having purchased nothing with coins of the realm for over a month I recklessly buy both a programme (£3.50) and a Turnstile Blue fanzine (£1). I walk between the rows of fumy supporters’ buses lined up opposite the old tram depot and approach the Sir Alf Ramsey stand from the Constantine Road gate, eventually returning to Portman Road through turnstile number 60. I’m back.

In the stand I reacquaint myself with Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never missed a game until he caught Covid; they’ve missed me, or at least that’s what they tell me; they’re nice like that. With seconds to go before kick-off Fiona arrives too and I say hello to the man who sits to my right, who I always imagine is older than me, but possibly isn’t.  The game begins; Town getting first go with the ball, but I am quickly struck by how disappointed I am by Cheltenham’s kit. In my mind’s eye, a phrase that reminds me of my favourite Small Faces song, I see Cheltenham Town in red and white stripes, but tonight they sport a sort of knock-off Arsenal shirt with pinstripes and a Raglan sleeve.  The Raglan sleeve incidentally is the least desirable of all the sleeves for use on a football shirt.

Aside from the shirts, the football is fast and frantic, with Wes Burns uncontrollably shooting over the cross bar from close range after five minutes, and Bersant Celina making a weaving run before dipping the ball over the cross bar not five minutes later as Town confidently dominate their sartorial inferiors. The ostentatiously bald-headed referee, Mr Andy Davies, unexpectedly makes me think of the similarly hairless, on-loan St Etienne goalkeeper Paul Bernadoni, before a man behind me with a slightly Northern or Midlands accent annoys with a laugh that sounds like Disney’s Goofy.  “Unlucky, unlucky, unlucky; keep going, keep going, keep going” says an oddly repetitive woman from behind as another Town attack comes to nought and the Sir Bobby Robson Stand show signs of life, breaking into Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child”, to sing as ever of ceaseless fighting despite Norwich having run away, and all apparently and mysteriously because of Boxing Day.   High up in the Cobbold Stand the Cheltenham followers reveal a lack of originality matched only by their lack of memory as they chant “We forgot, we forgot we forgot that you were here” to the tune of Cwm Rhondda. With my attention back on the pitch, I can’t help but guffaw as Cheltenham’s  Reece Hutchinson hurls himself headlong to the ground in a wonderfully unconvincing attempt to cheat his way to a free-kick.  What was I thinking, staying away to avoid Covid when I could have been a part of this rich tapestry?

Ipswich’s dominance is total and is such that two of our three defenders, Janoi Donacien and Luke Woolfenden are seen exchanging forward passes within twenty-five metres of the Cheltenham goal.  Then a deep, angled Tommy Carroll cross is met with a diving header from Conor Chaplin, only for Cheltenham goalkeeper Owen Evans to palm the ball away in front of Bersant Celina, who is taken too much by surprise to attempt to kick the ball back at the goal.  I’m just thinking how we haven’t been able to exploit Kayden Jackson’s ability to run very fast, when he suddenly breaks down the left, but when he comes to cross the ball he seems to have become over excited and at the far post the ball skids off the forehead of Conor Chaplin at such speed that it must have caused a friction burn.  It somehow feels as if everyone is just a bit too eager,  but out of the blue at the North Stand end Christian Walton fails to clear the ball successfully and his scuffed effort falls to a Cheltenham’s theatrically named Elliott Bonds, but fortunately Bonds’ left footed shot sails hopelessly high above the goal.

Town’s onslaught resumes and Cheltenham show the first sign of resorting to non-footballing tactics to relieve the pressure. “Oh, get up you wanker” says a polite sounding woman behind me as a red-shirted defender lays prostrate on the turf following a gentle collision with another bloke in a football shirt.  “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” chant the Cheltonians predictably in a quiet moment, and equally predictably no one responds.  Kayden Jackson delivers a slightly limp shot into the arms of Owen Evans and with the first half half-over, Town win their first corner, from which Tommy Carroll shoots impressively wide to the extent that the ball arcs away from the goal and stays on the pitch; Bersant Celina spots the unlikely trajectory and crosses the ball back into the ‘mixer’ but there’s no happy end to the incident.

 The second half of the first half plays out in a succession of Town corners and missed goal attempts.  Much of the first half football has been as exciting as it’s ever been at Portman Road in the past twenty years, but the plain truth is there has been no one to put the ball in the net.  As the half draws to a close Wes Burns turns to lash the ball back into the area in front of the goal from the by-line, but the ball strikes Hutchinson’s outstretched arm or possibly arms; VAR would doubtless have recorded the crime but instead Town are awarded another corner from which Luke Woolfenden deftly diverts a graceful header very precisely over the cross bar.

With the half-time whistle the Cheltenham players jog hastily and as one from the pitch, as if someone had just said “last one back in the changing room’s a sissy”.   By contrast Town’s players seem either less enthused, or just less sensitive to childish name calling.  It seems more likely they are lost in thought, grappling to understand how they are not two or three goals up. Forgetting about football for a bit I pop down to the front of the stand to talk to Ray, his grandson Harrison and Harrison’s dad.  Behind us stadium announcer and former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster hands over his microphone to comedian and TV personality Omid Djalili, but sadly his words are completely scrambled by the hopeless public address system. Meanwhile Harrison’s dad offers me what the Tim Horton’s website enticingly describes as a ‘mini donut style cake ball’.  I am warned that it will probably taste of maple syrup; but contrarily it tastes of cinnamon. Whilst not ungrateful, and happy to ingest either cinnamon or maple syrup flavoured foodstuffs I am happy not to be offered another.

Cheltenham Town kick-off the second half by lumping the ball down field in the traditional manner.  Town soon get back to winning corners, but with much less frequency than before and somehow the speed and excitement of the first half has departed, leaving in its place mis-directed passes and an unsporting belief amongst the Cheltenham team that they could break away and score a goal of their own.   I remain full of hope, but either Town have lost their mojo or Cheltenham have worked us out.  The game descends into more of a battle with half an hour to go as Cheltenham’s Charlie Colcutt becomes the first player to enter Mr Davies’ address book for a heinous foul on Wes Burns and then the substitutions begin with Kane Vincent-Young replacing Dominic Thompson and the oddly named Macauley Bonne appearing in lieu of Kayden Jackson.  Cheltenham stopper Lewis Freestone is next to have his name etched in copper plate in baldy-Davies’s book as ten minutes later the Cheltenham number six ruthlessly chops down Conor Chaplin.

One bright spot in the second half is the announcement of the night’s attendance of 21,318, of whom 251 are supporting Cheltenham.  Pat from Clacton announces to Fiona and I that the winner of the Clacton supporters’ coach guess the crowd competition is the squirrel that steals the food from the bird table in her garden. I explain to Fiona that squirrels are very clever animals, but I didn’t know they enjoyed coach travel.

Following speed, excitement and accurate passing, enjoyment now leaves the game as Callum Wright of Cheltenham hangs about too long in a prone position on the turf and draws the vitriol of the Sir Bobby Robson stand for his trouble.  “Wanker, Wanker!” roar the lower tier to Wright’s bemusement as he is soon substituted with Aaron Ramsey.  “How could they tell?” he must be wondering to himself as he looks for hairs on the palms of his hands.  Time is running out and in desperation a chant of “Come On You Blues!” is sent out into the ever more chilly night air.  But the chant is only repeated twice more, almost as if everybody feels a bit self-conscious about shouting for any longer than that.  

The final ten minutes are miserable as Cheltenham players spend an unusual amount of time apparently suffering from cramp, something that I thought only happened in extra time in Wembley Cup finals.  Sadly, the ever-unresourceful Town fans can only think of chanting “Boring Boring, Cheltenham” rather than urging on their own team to victory by turning Portman Road into a frightening cauldron of noise.  Cheltenham do waste time, but what professional football team doesn’t when they are close to claiming a hoped for but not necessarily expected away point?  

“Come on Ipswich, score in the final second” I say to creation as the sixth minute of added on time ebbs away. But the final whistle blows, and it feels a bit like we’ve lost.  That’s the trouble with expectation, especially when you’ve not had any for a while.  Not to worry, I think I’ll still be back again next time.

Ipswich Town 1 Leeds United 0

Today sees the fourth game at Portman Road in 26 days, it’s as if Town don’t play away from home anymore and I’m getting a bit fed up with it to be honest and hanker after a change of scenery. The wide open spaces of non-league football are ever more attractive compared to the claustrophobic pall of gloom that hangs around Portman Road and seemingly seeps from the pores of so many home ‘supporters’.
But what’s this? Today Ipswich are playing Leeds United and I shall transport myself back to the 1970’s with a scarf tied round my wrist, double denim, feather cut and platforms. In my mind Leeds United embody the 1970’s, that awful but grimly fascinating and rather marvellous decade, and I love to see a game against Leeds United because of that, and also Leeds are guaranteed to bring a good number of supporters who are equally guaranteed to make a noise and create that rare thing at Portman Road, a bit of atmosphere and the sensation that there is a football match taking place.
It is a dull, grey January day as I head for the railway station past flat, featureless, cold

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fields above which a few seagulls circle. At the station I meet Roly who has travelled from Borley and looks slightly disagreeable as he clutches a paper cup of coffee. He admits to having eaten a bacon butty from the station buffet and says that he only feels marginally happier than if he hadn’t eaten it, which for a greedy man like Roly means it was not a good bacon butty.

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The train is three minutes late due to ‘congestion’ attributed to engineering works.
Once on the train we discuss grandmothers sucking eggs and how the use of powdered egg affected this during World War Two; we also discuss the relative merits of the minute’s silence or applause at the start of football matches. I long to be trusted to be respectfully silent in a dead person’s honour as football fans used to be, but Roly points out that there is now an unwritten etiquette of applauses for individuals who have shuffled off the mortal coil naturally, whilst armistice day and terrorist attacks and the like attract a silence. We agree that an applause in the wake of a terrorist attack might be misconstrued, but it nevertheless makes us laugh.

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Arriving in Ipswich we are greeted by a posse of police on the station forecourt. The Station Hotel opposite looks packed, there is condensation on the windows, bums on the window sills and a crowd of Leeds fans occupy the car park and garden.

 

 

It’s not the prettiest riverside setting, but probably makes these Yorkshiremen feel at home, like they’re down by t’canal. Roly and I stroll on and the Leeds United team bus passes us heading towards Portman Road, which is the scene of a military operation. Police vans partly

block the road whilst policemen are strung across the road restricting the easy flow of people along the street. The Leeds team bus has disappeared into the yard behind the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and a group of people clamour around the gates, presumably seeking a glimpse of Leeds players, or maybe they’re bus spotters. We walk on, a group of late-middle aged men meet beneath the hollow gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s insouciant statue.

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In St Jude’s Tavern we each drink a pint of today’s ‘match day special’ (£2 a go) which is Elgood’s Festive Feelgood; we talk football and in particular of the myriad of players who have appeared for Town in the last twenty years or so. We speak of Kevin Ellis, who made one appearance against Arsenal in the Premier League 1995, remained at the club for two more years before going to King’s Lynn and never playing another game for a League club. We both have another pint of the ‘match day special’ and then I have a half of St Jude’s Hazelnut Stout (£1.80), partly because I feel guilty about only drinking the cheap beer. It’s only 2.30pm, but Roly is eager to leave so that he can buy a pie; he is probably not obese, but he could easily become so. We part in Portman Road because Roly’s seat is in the posh seats in the East of England Co-operative Stand, where by rights he should get divvy on his pie.
In Portman Road the police are hard at work controlling the crowd for whatever reason, which means not allowing passage behind the Cobbold Stand for home fans and sending us all around the ground and back up Princes Street to get access to the Sir Alf Ramsey

stand. I don’t mind; this scenic route, it makes a change. I buy a programme from a girl in a kiosk on the corner of Alderman Road and pass by the main entrance to the club as a massive black Bentley sweeps through the gate.
By the time I’ve enjoyed my walkabout and the street theatre that the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary are providing today it’s nearly time for kick –off and the teams are soon on the pitch when I take up my seat. Before the game today there is a minute’s applause for Ted Phillips, one of the greatest players ever to represent Town, who died this week at the age of eighty-four. Ted was in the teams that won the Third Division South, Second Division and First Division championships and in total scored 181 goals in 295 games. We’ll probably not see his like again, definitely not for the twenty-odd quid a week he got paid. I would happily stand and applaud him all afternoon and am very disappointed that his picture is not on the cover of the programme.
The game kicks off and is closely fought, but this is not a Leeds United I recognise, this team is the anti-thesis of the renowned Lilywhites, this team are wearing an all-black kit,

they could be anyone; a team of referees. Leeds United in all-black, it’s just wrong. But happily the Leeds fans are still the same; loud, raucous, foul-mouthed and very heavily stewarded. There are even police inside the stadium today, although strangely they seem to be watching the home fans. Without the Leeds fans this game would be dull like all the others; they have the whole of the Cobbold Stand today and have displaced Ipswich season ticket holders, but it was the right thing to do, it has made this game special and if Ipswich hasn’t got supporters interested in filling the ground and creating a match atmosphere, then let someone in who has. Nevertheless, there are only 18,638 of us here today and that is despite the addition of visiting supporters of Fortuna Dusseldorf who have adopted Town as their English team; we seem to have lost nearly 20,000 people somewhere since Town met Leeds in the FA Cup sixth round in 1975.
There are a lot of fouls in this game, a nostalgic nod to ‘dirty Leeds’ of the 1970’s perhaps, but the fouls are mostly clumsy rather than cynical, niggly or vicious although both teams’ physios are called upon to treat the wounded. Like most Second Division matches nowadays it’s a bit of a mess, as once again levels of effort and running exceed levels of skill. I nevertheless think I see Town captain Luke Chambers quite artfully control the ball and pass it accurately and then look rather pleased with himself; it may just have been a look of surprise however.
It’s not a bad game, but the presence of the noisy away support is carrying it somewhat. It takes until the 19th minute for the first decent shot on goal and this is followed by the news from the Leeds fans through the medium of “Cwm Rhondda” that “your support is fucking shit”. It’s taken them a while to realise this but they got there in the end. It doesn’t look like either team is particularly likely to score and then in the 37th minute the odds on a goal shift in Town’s favour as Leeds United’s Eunan O’Kane is sent off by referee Robert Jones for an off the ball assault (headbutt)on Town’s Jonas Knudsen.

 

Everyone loves a sending off, if it’s not one of their own players. Kane must walk the full length of the pitch and a Leeds fan set off a fire cracker, the loud crack and the smoke just add to the drama and excitement.

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After four minutes of time added on for injuries and sundry stoppages, during whichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Town’s on-loan Kosovan Bersant Celina hits a post with a shot, the imposing Mr Roberts, who likes to stand with his hands on his hips, blows his whistle for half-time. I head down to the concourse and devour a piece of left-over Christmas cake that I had brought with me in lieu of thebacon butties or pies that others might eat to see them through the afternoon. I gaze up at the TV set delivering the half-time scores and first half stats, which are clearly wrong. I learn that I could buy a hospitality package for £35 plus VAT. I look at the programme and am impressed by the diversity of the Leeds squad with players from fifteen different countries. Ipswich players come from just seven countries, and one of them is Wales. The Leeds squad also has some fine surnames, my favourites being Roofe and Grot although Borthwick-Jackson and Peacock-Farrell also deserve a mention. Inside the programme there is a tribute to Ted Phillips, but if as the tribute says he is a legend, and he is, it should probably run to several pages, not just two. Also in the programme is the usual piece from club captain Luke Chambers. Luke is in philosophical mood today and amongst other nuggets says “I think football stadiums in general have become places where supporters can vent their frustrations over 90 minutes, sometimes that frustration comes from life as much as football. You see it everywhere now ”. It’s a very funny read.
For the second half I decide to sit with Pat from the Clacton-On-sea branch of the supporters club because the people near where Pat sits seem to have a bit more life in them, although they don’t really sing either, and at least when I do they laugh. The players and officials return to the pitch and Mr Roberts crosses himself, which is pure showmanship and not really becoming of a referee, but hey-ho.
The Leeds fans are still in good voice and treat the home crowd to renditions of “We all love Leeds and Leeds and Leeds” to the tune of ‘The Dambusters’ March’. Soon afterwards the chant of choice switches to “ We are Leeds, We are Leeds, We are Leeds” to no particular tune at all and then “When the Whites (sic) Go Marching In”, forgetting that their team is wearing all black, which may be why they previously had to remind themselves that they are Leeds.
Ipswich’s superiority in numbers isn’t making very much difference, although they are having more possession than usual and Leeds are not looking very likely to score. It will take a moment of very inept play or one of special skill to get a goal from this game and surprisingly it’s the latter that comes to pass in the 67th minute. Bursant Celina receives the ball from a throw-in on the left; he drifts in towards the centre of the field running sideways like a stray dog before suddenly unleashing a beautiful, gently dipping, but powerful shot into the corner of the Leeds goal. It truly is a thing of beauty, mostly because it is scored by someone in an Ipswich shirt.
Ipswich should really press home their advantage even more now, but they don’t, although they are the dominant team.

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At the side of the pitch the managers and coaches are animated, the Spanish Leeds manager looking sharp in a smart, tailored coat, Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor looking like a couple of scallies in anoraks and tracky bottoms.

 

A Leeds substitute comes on with his socks turned up over his knees so that he is in black from neck to toe like a mime artist, but for some reason he also reminds me of Papa Lazarou in League of Gentlemen. The Leeds players become frustrated, particularly their Swedish centre-half Pontus Jansson who deserves an award for succeeding in getting the bulk of the North Stand lower tier to sing loudly in unison; to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, they chant, even if it is just to ask “Who the fuck, Who the fuck, Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” and then, after presumably consulting their programmes to answer their own curiosity “Jansson, Jansson, you’re a cunt”. The upshot is that Jansson is booked by Mr Roberts, possibly for having inspired the putting of rude words to a hymn tune, but more probably for persistent fouling.
There is not long left but Town have to hold out against a late Leeds onslaught in which goalkeeper Dean Gerken saves the day with a fine dive to his right to parry away a shot from Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who is German. Finally however, Mr Roberts calls time; it has been an enjoyable afternoon for several reasons; Ipswich have won, the goal was spectacular and the opposition have had a player sent off, but also because of the presence of the Leeds fans who have created an atmosphere usually so sadly lacking at Portman Road. I am look forward to next season’s game already, if I can survive all the dreary ones in between.