Ipswich Town 1 Bolton Wanderers 1

Here we go again, and it’s still July.  I will admit to not looking forward to the start of the football season because as a person who seeks fulfilment in being idle I enjoy summer Saturdays with nothing much to do, and summer is still in its prime, it won’t begin to flop into autumn for another three weeks at least, that’s when the football season should begin again. But hey, how else are we going to fit in 46 league games, at least three games trying to win a pizza pan and probably no more than two or three games trying to win two cups that are inevitably destined to end up on the sideboard of one or two of the same four clubs from London and the north-west?

 Today, it is ordained that we shall play Bolton Wanderers, last season’s nemesis who along with Rotherham United were the only team to beat us both home and away, which in the week of the last episode of Neighbours I will admit, whilst in confessorial mood, was my Australian ‘soap’ of choice.   The last time Town played Bolton Wanderers on the first day of the season was in 1961, albeit at Burnden Park, and Town of course went on to win the Premier League that season, although it wasn’t called that then.  By way of yet another private confession, last night I dreamt about today’s game and how Town drew two-all after twice going ahead with the opposition equalising twice from spectacular long range shots into the top right hand corner of our goal.  I say opposition because oddly Town were playing West Ham United in my dream although they also seemed to be called Bolton Wanderers.  Even odder is that I then dreamt that I woke up and realised I had been dreaming because all I could remember of the game were the two Bolton/West Ham goals and an empty ground.  Then I really did wake up and felt a bit disorientated.

Having happily reined in my subconscious mind I have negotiated the crawling traffic of the A12 and walked across Gippeswyk Park.  At the junction of Ancaster Road and Ranelagh Road I must decide whether to turn left towards the Bobby Robson Bridge or right towards the station hotel where I will not doubt be serenaded by boozing Lancastrians in the pub garden singing the praises of barm cakes, back to back housing and cotton mills.  Seeking the quiet life as ever, I opt for the former. In Alf Ramsey Way I purchase a match day programme in the modern cashless manner which seems to take several minutes, before heading off over Civic Drive, past the enchanted Spiral car park which used to just be known as ‘the underground car park’ and up St George’s Street to the Arbour House (formerly The Arboretum) to meet Mick and discuss life over a pint of  a beer (£3.90) from the Burnt Mill brewery which the pump clip said was Japanese, I ask the  barman where it was from, “Stowmarket” he replies.  Mick’s and my conversation rambles between spotty liver disease, the quality of television pictures, Ipswich Town’s latest signings and funerals before I buy a pint of Lacon’s Encore and a packet of Fairfield’s cheese and onion crisps (£1.00) and we discuss VHS videos of Ipswich Town’s greatest moments in history and retirement.

We leave earlier than usual for Portman Road because I have a bag of six Ipswich Town VHS videos to give to a bloke called Ash from Swaffham; I have arranged to meet Ash at twenty to three by the Sir Alf Ramsey statue, but he doesn’t turn up. I ask several people stood about if they are called Ash, but none are and two people think I have asked them if they’ve got any hash.  Disappointed but not surprised, because the world is an increasingly unreliable place, I head for turnstile number 60 to begin yet another season full of hope and likely disappointment; but you never know (that’s the hope again).

Out in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand Pat from Clacton, Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and his son Elwood are already here looking fresh and revived in their summer clothes, it reminds me of what the first day back at school used to feel like.  On the pitch, be-suited stadium announcer and former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster reads out the teams looking as if he is the best man at a wedding.  Banners festoon the front of the Sir Bobby Robson stand telling us “The future is bright, the future is blue and white”; it rhymes, it must be true.  To our right is the new scoreboard, beaming messages to us like something out of Orwell’s 1984. The stadium is alive with the sound of nigh on 27,000 people and as the game begins those in the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand break inexplicably into a chorus of Mary’s Boy Child, with lyrics altered to tell of eternal fighting and Norwich running away, because it’s Boxing Day.  Off to my right in the Cobbold Stand, in an equally surreal vein, it sounds as if the Bolton supporters are singing “Oh wanky wanky, Wanky wanky wanky wanky Northerners.”  But my hearing isn’t what it was and Boltonians do have thick accents.

The opening minutes of the match are messy with lots of physical effort, but little discernible entertainment.  All the Bolton team appear to be about 2metres tall and there’s not a Frank Worthington amongst them. “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” chant the Bolton fans.  As nice as that might be, no one takes them up on their kind offer and in a fit of pique they impolitely tell the Ipswich fans “Your support is fucking shit”, before peevishly announcing like thwarted adolescents that the large crowd is because “You’ve only come to see The Wanderers”.   Only six minutes have passed and it’s like last season never ended; clearly supporters have wasted the whole close-season and not come up with a single original new chant between the lot of them.

A frisson of excitement shoots through the home support as a punt forward forces the Bolton ‘keeper James Trafford to play sweeper for a moment. Up in the Cobbold Stand the brief roar of excitement from the home support is an excuse to unleash what passes for wit with a chant to say they had forgotten we were here. How droll.  It’s the eleventh minute and Town win a corner as a Bolton defender heads the ball out of his goalkeeper’s hands.  Lee Evans’ exotic curling corner-kick curls too much and goes disappointingly straight into touch like a metaphor for last season. It is a quarter past three and Bolton win a corner leading to Wes Burns breaking away down the right  and putting in a low cross which is blocked. Burns is looking neater and slimmer than last season suggesting to me that his call-up to the Welsh squad and access to the bright lights of Cardiff might have turned his head.

“They love a ball up the middle don’t they?” says the bloke behind me to the bloke beside him as Bolton launch an attack like a Russian missile strike.  Fortunately for Town, Bolton’s attacks are producing few goal-attempts, but they are dominating play and look generally quicker and stronger than Town for whom debutants Marcus Harness and Leif Davis are doing little other than entertain me with the thoughts that Marcus Harness sort of rhymes and that Leif is a great first name.

The first half is more than half over and all of a sudden Bolton have a penalty from which Aaron Morley scores.  Leif Davis is adjudged to have tripped some Bolton play or other who predictably makes full use of the opportunity to fall headlong to the turf whilst simultaneously looking up pleadingly at referee Mr Samuel Barrett, who is not to be confused with Samuel Beckett.  Disappointment reigns. But unusually the goal against proves a turning point in Town’s favour and for the rest of the match Ipswich are the better team.  Corners are traded as the half hour approaches and in the Town penalty area some male posturing ensues.  “Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” chant the inhabitants of the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and the Bolton supporters sing the same thing.  Nobody seems to know who anybody is.  It could be the result of dementia but it’s probably because third division footballers are generally not household names, with the exception of course of Town’s number 17, Ed Sheeran.   Bolton’s number three Declan John becomes the first player to be booked in a possibly not unrelated incident.

The 37th minute has arrived and another of the day’s debutants, Freddie Ladapo, has a shot deflected away for a corner which Conor Chaplin passes into the penalty area for Lee Evans to side foot into the goal net in a moment of combined thought and invention that was two steps ahead of the entire Bolton team and probably a good 27,000 other people too.  The sadness and shame of having gone behind in the first game of the season is instantly forgotten.  “ You’re not singing any more” chant the home fans to the Boltonians delving delightedly into bottomless wells of Schadenfreude.   More is to come almost, as a beautiful interchange of passes down the right between Janoi Doncaien,  Conor Chaplin, Wes Burns and Sam Morsy ends with Freddie Ladapo having a shot blocked almost as soon as it leaves his boot.

Two minutes of the half remain and having already given away a penalty on his debut, Leif Davis then makes a bid for immortality as he also becomes the first Town player of the 2022-23 season to be booked; it’s a good effort from him but no one will ever rival the appalling Town debut of Mark Fish, who funnily enough also played for Bolton Wanderers.   Three minutes of time added on are played and then it’s half-time.  I consume a Panda brand liquorice stick and talk to Ray, who tells me that his son Michael and his grandson Harrison are missing today’s game because they are respectively in Greece and Scotland.  We share our doubts over the validity of the penalty and the efficacy so far  of the left land side of the Town team. 

The game resumes at eight minutes past four with the mystifying partial rendition by the Bolton fans of Manfred Mann’s 1964 Number One hit record ‘Do-wah-diddy diddy’ (although it was originally recorded the year before by American band The Exciters).  On the field of play, things are more mundane with the usual procession of corners and stuff that you get in football matches.  It’s a little bit after a quarter past four and Trafford spectacularly tips a Lee Evans header over the cross bar; five minutes later and the first of a host of substitutions materialise with the luckless Lief and ineffective Harness being replaced by Greg Leigh (not to be confused by Prog-Rockers with Greg Lake) and Tyreece John-Jules (impossible to confuse with anyone).   An hour has gone Freddie Ladapo shoots tamely at Trafford before Leigh gets back to acrobatically head away a Bolton cross.

As the final third of the game progresses the sky begins to cloud over a little, there are flying ants taking to the air and landing on the shirt of the bloke in front of me;  seagulls circle over the Portman Road car park; it’s stiflingly warm.  It’s a dog day afternoon; I think of Al Pacino.

Ending a sequence of three ever worsening fouls, Bolton’s Conor Bradley chops down Tyreece John-Jules particularly dirtily and is booked. “You dirty Northern bastard” chant the Sir Bobby Robson standers reciting possibly football’s greatest chant. “Small Town in Norwich, You’re just a small Town in Norwich” is the Boltonian’s weak response, which does little to dispel the rumours that Bradley hasn’t washed, is Northern and was conceived outside wedlock.

Both teams continue to make substitutions like they’re going out of fashion, making four each with Sone Aluko and Kayden Jackson replacing  Conor Chaplin and Freddie Ladapo for Town.  Ipswich dominate, pinning back Bolton and making them play sardines in their own penalty area.  It’s a niggly game as both teams display their frustration at being unable to beat the other.  The crowd is announced as 26,688, and it seems wakes week has come early with 1,392 pale and pasty-faced folk from the mills and the mines making up the numbers in the Cobbold Stand.  Pat from Clacton wins the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus with a prediction of 26,679; she seems a little shocked but I can tell she’s excited by her win, it’s been a long time coming.

Back on the pitch Luke Woolfenden is the second Town player to be booked.  A Wes Burns header brings another corner, Sone Aluko shoots past the post and so does Tyreece John-Jules, who also has a shot saved and then in the best opportunity of the whole game Wes Burns runs deep into the penalty area before placing one of those crosses usually labelled ‘inviting’ in front of Sam Morsy.  Morsy sends Trafford the wrong way with his shot but the ball strikes the fortunate keeper’s legs and is cleared.

After six minutes of time added on the game ends.  It’s a shame not to start the season with a win, yet again, but it was a tough match against a strong team and Town did recover from going a goal behind, and on balance these are all good things.  One swallow does not make a summer seems an appropriate homily for the occasion, because every occasion needs a homily; although in this case it’s not so much a lovely, swooping, screaming swallow as a scrounging, step-sibling murdering cuckoo.

Ipswich Town 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Ipswich Town first played Sheffield Wednesday back in August of 1958 in a second division game at Portman Road; trolleybuses were still running in Ipswich and Sheffield still had trams the first time round.  Town of course won (2-0), as we often did before the turn of the century.   By the time I started watching Town the twentieth century had the best part of thirty years still to run, but Sheffield Wednesday were down in the third division and Town were just getting established in what has now unfortunately become the Premier League, and hence the two clubs never met, not even in the Cup.  The first time I saw Wednesday was therefore not against Ipswich at all but at Layer Road, Colchester, in September of 1979, neither team managed to score.  When I eventually did see Town play Wednesday it was at Hillsborough in September of 1984, halfway through the miner’s strike. After the 2-2 draw I was amongst Town fans who were whisked back to Sheffield Midland station at high speed in a double-decker bus escorted by police motorcycles. As we sped through the streets of Sheffield that Saturday evening, we felt unsure if we would end up at the train station or hurtling through a jeering picket line to do a strike-breaking shift at a local colliery. 

Today is a somewhat grey September Saturday morning and it feels nothing at all like thirty-seven years ago, the class struggle seems to have been lost and now both Town and Wednesday languish in the third division playing second fiddle to their loathsome local rivals. I don’t know if it has anything to do with a loss of revolutionary zeal, but my enthusiasm for today’s fixture is oddly muted, particularly given Town’s first win of the season last weekend, and as if to confirm my feelings of ennui this morning I chose to put on a pair of socks that depict Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Nevertheless, there is never any doubt that I won’t drive to Ipswich, park up my trusty Citroen C3 on Chantry, wander down through Gippeswyk Park and search out a pre-match beer. Later as I walk up Princes Street, what I assume is a police drone hovers above and I am struck by the new views of Portman Road that have been opened up following demolition of the former Mann Egerton garage from where in 1978 my father bought the brown Triumph Dolomite in which I wooed my first girlfriend.  Having witnessed a man shouting and swearing at his friend or partner trying unsuccessfully to back a mini into a parking space, I end up at the Arbor House (properly known as the Arboretum) where I sit alone in the garden and drink a pint of Woodforde’s Kett’s Rebellion (£3.80). 

At about twenty-five minutes to three I head for Portman Road and join the crocodile of supporters descending St George’s Street from the Greyhound.  Making my way along Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Constantine Road I show my Covid credentials and then enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile number sixty, offering a cheery ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ to the turnstile operator as I enter the ground.  The programme seller in the driveway to the main reception has sold out so I make my way to the little shop at the far end of the stand where I buy a programme (£3.50). “Enjoy the match” says the young man behind the counter as he hands over the glossy booklet and my change from a five-pound note.  “Or bon match as they say in France”, I reply pointing to the “Allez les bleus” slogan on the front of my T-shirt as I turn away and walk into one of the metal barriers that have been set out in front of the shop, presumably to marshal the invisible throng of people over eager to buy programmes and other assorted toot.

On the lower tier of the stand Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Ray, his son and his grandson Harrison are already in their seats. Pat from Clacton arrives soon after I sit down and as the teams run out, the little band called Blue Action who now occupy Section 6 of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and wave blue and white flags, and brandish a colourful banner that reads “Uppa Towen”.  Compared to the tifos seen in the stands of Marseille or Lens, Blue Action’s effort is rather pathetic, but in the context of soporific Suffolk it’s a bloody marvel and I like it very much.  At a minute past three the game begins with Scott Fraser making first contact with the ball as Town aim to put it in the big white goal just in front of me to my right.  Within 30 seconds Sheffield Wednesday win a corner with their supporters still singing along to ‘Hey Jude’, a song which is played over the PA system with the intention of rousing the home fans, not the away ones; but it’s good to be optimistic.  Three minutes later and Town should be ahead as a simple through ball from Cameron Burgess puts the oddly named Macauley Bonne through on goal, only for Bonne to take too much time and eventually place the ball weakly against the chest of Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, a man who looks like a giant orange-flavour Lyons Maid Mivvi, sounds like a firm of accountants and can stop most shots by merely stringing his name out across the goalmouth.

Behind me two blokes debate which of Town’s two defensive midfielders is Idris El-Mizouni and which is Tommy Carroll. The louder, more assertive bloke concludes that Idris is number 25, which he is not, because that’s Tommy Carroll.  I briefly toy with the idea of turning around to point out his error, but happily his more cautious accomplice discovers the truth a short while later to save me the trouble.   Meanwhile, up in the Cobbold Stand the Sheffielders sing “Shall we sing a, Shall we sing a, Shall we sing a song for you” to the tune of Cwm Rhondda.  Nobody responds, presumably because most people are thinking to themselves “Well, they’re already singing a song, what are they on about?”.  For my part, I’m impressed by their politeness and given a choice would ask for something by Heaven 17, Pulp or the Arctic Monkeys.

Fifteen minutes have elapsed since the game started and so far not very much of note has happened. Then, Wes Burns slams the ball into the net after either the oddly named Macauley Bonne or Scott Fraser flicks the ball on to him, but Burns is, unbeknown to me and those around me, offside; we therefore stand up as one and cheer wildly only to sit down again a moment later feeling cheated and very slightly embarrassed.  To their eternal credit the Wednesdayites do not chant “You thought you had scored, you were wrong, you were wrong”, which is nice of them.

The game is close and compelling although not of particularly good quality; Sheffield are quicker to the ball and dominate possession, but fortunately their tiny ten, the wonderfully named Barry Bannan tends to overhit most of his crosses and long passes.  For Town meanwhile, the oddly named Macauley Bonne looks somewhat lonely up front on his own and I surmise that he wears the number eighteen shirt because he’s doing the work of two number nines.

“It’s gonna come innit?” announces the bloke behind me optimistically as Town waste an opportunity with Idris El-Mizouni passing to Wes Burns when he could have had a shot and Wes Burns overhitting the ensuing cross.  Then, slightly unexpectedly, we witness a Sheffield Wednesday goal instead; Dennis Adeniran becoming the first man called Dennis, with two ‘n’s like the fire engines and dust carts, to score at Portman Road in living memory, although Denis (only one ‘n’) Maffey did score for Town back in September 1947 in a 4-0 win over Southend.

The Sheffield supporters away to my right are predictably pleased and sing an incomprehensible song to the tune of the ‘Yankee Doodle’ nursery rhyme; their euphoria and short vowels rendering their words indecipherable, but for the final one which is ‘Wednesday’.   I have to admit to feeling somewhat depressed that Town have gone behind again at home and can barely remember when I last saw them comfortably win a game by three or four goals to nil, like we used to do.   There must be young supporters who are barely aware that such things ever happened or are even possible.  Pat from Clacton echoes my disappointment. “It’s a shame, isn’t it?” she says.

As if the frustration of being a goal down wasn’t enough, the referee Mr Andy Davies, whose head is conspicuously hairless, then proceeds to deny the oddly named Macauley Bonne a free-kick when his feet miraculously disappear from beneath him as he attempts to side step a Wednesday defender on the edge of the penalty box.   “You don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing” chant the Sir Bobby Robson stand employing a childish simplicity reminiscent of the school playground.  Further decisions from the increasingly inept Mr Davies go against Town and as he speaks to and perhaps compares haircuts with a clearly perplexed Paul Cook, the crowd ask “Who’s the wanker in the black?” suggesting both that they haven’t read the back pages of their programmes carefully enough and that they care not about the possibility of either of the linesmen thinking “Ooh, I hope they don’t mean me?”.

The half-time break arrives and Town still trail, I console myself with a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and a chat with Ray, who bemoans the performance of Mr Andy Davies and more controversially of Bersant Celina, who doesn’t look as fit or sharp as he might.  Not far from where Ray and I are standing former Town and Sheffield Wednesday player Shefki Kuqi appears, looking trim and very smart in a grey suit good enough for a job interview or court appearance, and takes the well-deserved applause of the whole ground.

At four minutes past four the football resumes and Town enjoy more possession, although a lot of it involves passing the ball across the field waiting for the right opening to appear.  It’s not long before Mr Davies is showing off his poor refereeing skills once again as Wednesday’s Liam Palmer is tripped on the edge of the Town penalty box.  Appearing uncertain whether the foul happened inside or outside the box, Mr Davies doesn’t give a foul at all, making it the Wednesdayites’ turn to tell him he doesn’t know what he’s doing, provoking ironic jeers from the Town supporters to which the Wednesday fans respond with a chant of “We forgot, we forgot, we forgot that you were here”. It’s easily done.

In the sixty-seventh minute Wednesday’s tiny ten, Barry Bannen, leaves the pitch as slowly as his little legs will carry him to be replaced by Callum Paterson.  Barry’s departure leaves Wednesday’s Sam Hutchinson as the only player on the pitch with particularly naff looking bleached blonde hair.  The oddly named Macauley Bonne shoots straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell for a second time this afternoon, and then for a while substitutions seem to become the purpose of the game, as Wednesday swap seven for seventeen and Town swap Celina and Burns for Harper and Chaplin, before the oddly named Macauley Bonne has another opportunity, which this time is deflected away for a corner, and then Cameron Burgess heads wide of the goal.  For the first time this afternoon the Sheffield Wednesday support has fallen silent, although not as silent as most of the Ipswich crowd is the rest of the time .

Twelve minutes remain and as Sheffield make a rare foray forward, Idris El-Mizouni manages to fell two of them at once with a Keystone Cops style assault, which unfairly results in his being shown the yellow card by the hopeless Mr Davies, who plainly doesn’t appreciate good slapstick comedy when he sees it.  Not long afterwards Idris is replaced by Joe Piggott, but he leaves the field to appreciative and well-deserved applause having played a skilful, controlled game to be expected of a player who grew up in France.  He will be the new Zizou yet.

With the game entering its final throes, one of the seats in the row in front of me and to my left becomes occupied by what I can only describe as a gobby oik, who complains that Town are knocking the ball around like they’re winning.  He seems to know the bloke behind me and after flicking ‘v’ signs at the Sheffield supporters he turns to him seeking his approval; I’m not sure he gets it.  He doesn’t like that no one sings in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and I share his despair, but otherwise he seems a right berk and I hope he abides by his promise that he’ll watch the next game from the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.

Not much more than five minutes of normal time remain and Cheyenne Dunkley, who is even more oddly and improbably named than the oddly named Macauley Bonne, replaces Said Berahino for Wednesday.  Two minutes of normal time remain and Ipswich press for an equaliser. “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” chant an almost respectable number of the home crowd, but slightly shyly.  Ninety minutes are up and from my seat it looks like Bailey Peacock- Farrell is about to make a drop kick, but suddenly the oddly named Macauley Bonne has the ball and the Wednesday defence is in disarray, Bonne passes back across the face of goal to  Scott Fraser and Fraser sends it onto Conor Chaplin at the far post and he smashes the ball into the gaping Wednesday net! We’ve equalised! Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

Most of time added on for assorted stoppages remains and Town have the opportunity to score the winner as Rekeem Harper surges unpredictably into the penalty box,  but shoots weakly at the orange Mivvi .  The remaining time ebbs away and the game ends with no further goals, although Scott Fraser makes a final flourish in Mr Davies notebook with a cynical trip.  As the players leave the pitch a good number of people stay back to applaud their efforts.  I am pleased that we haven’t lost, because I thought we were going to, but overall, I am still a little disappointed that we haven’t played better.  As I drive home listening to Radio Suffolk, mainly for the laughs, it’s a view that I learn the legendary Mick Mills also holds, although many listeners seem to disagree.  It is very unusual for me to be disappointed with a Town performance when other Town supporters aren’t.

The first home victory of the season still remains annoyingly elusive, but heck, we’re playing bottom of the table Doncaster Rovers next, so how difficult can it be, so I’ll stay positive and try not to wear the Edvard Munch socks again.

Ipswich Town 0 Burton Albion 0

During the night I kept waking up in the middle of strange dreams, dreams of a spiritual, religious nature. In one I seemed to be a captive of some religious sect and a younger man who was with me wrote something on a piece of paper and hid it inside what looked like a part of a curtain rail. At that moment another man, who looked as if he might be a priest walked in, took the curtain rail and looked at the message etched inside, which consisted of the numbers 6 and 10. The ‘priest’ smiled and I seemed to know what he was going to say, but was a bit surprised when he said ‘Love thy Club’. That’s a bit naff, I thought. Either my descent into madness is further advanced than I realised or a large brandy before going to bed is not advisable.
Today is grey and cold and as I walk to catch the train to Ipswich, there is the occasional spot of rain in the air carried on a swirling breeze. I walk past a dead bird that lies in the road, its feathers are ruffled by the wind. Only three people wait for the train with me, a man and two women, one of whom wears a white coat. I enjoy a poster urging me to keep what would be an imaginary child strapped in. The train arrives, I board and as I walk through the carriage a man in his sixties eyes me and my blue and white scarf

suspiciously, as though he may be a Daily Mail reader. I sit in a seat that I must give up if an elderly or disabled person needs it; I’m not a betting man but I’ll take my chances, it’ll add some excitement to the journey. On the opposite side of the carriage to me are a couple who wear grey, comfortable clothing which blends in with the upholstery. Three people get into the carriage at Manningtree, one is wearing a very large, hooded, Ipswich Town ‘sports coat’; the cream and red stripe on the arms dates it to the mid 1990’s; he looks like a huge gnome.
Arriving in Ipswich it is raining and the plaza in front of the station shines with the wet

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sending reflections of lamp posts deep into the ground, a seagull perches on the ridge of a slate roof. There is no one much about and little sign that a football match will soon take place. In Portman Road stewards huddle out of the rain in a doorway and a car park attendant shelters beneath an umbrella.

The only crowd is one of twenty or so Burton Albion supporters waiting to buy tickets.

Rain drops run down the faces of the statues of Bobby Robson and Alf Ramsey and look like tears, droplets form at the ends of their noses. Sir Bobby’s fist looks like he’s angrily squeezing a wet sponge. I buy a programme (£3) from a girl in a box with a window, “Enjoy the match” she says.

St Jude’s Tavern welcomes me in from the rain and the gloom with the warm sound of retired men’s conversation. I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) and standing at the bar a man with a straggly beard tells me a ‘joke’ about the definition of the word ‘pansexual’, the punchline is something to do with kitchen utensils, which is a bit obvious, but he seems very amused. I take a seat and my friend Mick arrives; he has a pint of the Match Day Special too and asks if non-meat pies are on the menu; they’re not, so he buys a packet of Guinness flavoured crisps. We talk and our conversation covers walnut cake, organised crime, Mick McCarthy, Gilou Escoffier, the attractions of Lille, Charles de Gaulle and his ‘blown-up’ Citroen DS. Mick is considering buying a season ticket next year. We both drink a further pint of the Match Day Special as other drinkers drift away towards Portman Road. Eventually, It is time to leave too, we say goodbye; I depart for the match and Mick for the toilet. Outside, a foreign man waiting at a bus stop steps aside to let me pass, he smiles and says something I don’t understand and I ask him where he’s from. “Turkish” he says and then “Istanbul”. He shakes my hand and I say “Welcome to England”.
There are very few people heading down Portman Road and I half worry that my watch is slow and it’s later than I think, but it’s not, it’s just that the Ipswich public would seem not to be enthused by the prospect of today’s fixture against Burton Albion, the team 24th in the league table, who have lost their last five matches. I don’t understand why, surely it’s a good opportunity to see Town win, and isn’t that the point? Personally, I enjoy games against ‘small’ clubs like Burton Albion, which people who favour analogies drawn from other sports describe as ‘punching above their weight’. I sometimes consider that I am a person more suited to watching lower division football, but I am ‘punching above my weight’ in supporting a team in the Second Division, and I don’t even like boxing.
Portman Road is so quiet as I head for the turnstiles that I feel a bit like Charlton Heston in the Omega Man. I waste no time queueing today, only in deciding which queue-free turnstile to go through; too much choice. Once inside I head straight for ever-present Phil, eschewing my allocated seat in favour of human contact. Today Phil has his young son Elwood with him. The teams are already on the pitch, Burton wearing all yellow, weirdly with black shoulders; they are kicking towards the North Stand.

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Ipswich of course wear blue shirts and white shorts with what once were called blue stockings, before socks entered common parlance. The game starts slowly and Ipswich even slower, allowing Burton Albion, nickname ‘the Brewers’ to keep the ball much of the time. Burton’s club badge is a stylised B and an A set within the outline of a man with a beer belly kicking a ball; it’s not about bravado and ‘sporting excellence’ and I like it all the more for that.
An elderly sounding couple with distinct Suffolk accents sit behind me. “There isn’t many here today; twelve thousand?” he says. “They’ll say fifteen, but there in’t ” she says dismissively and almost angrily. A lot of Ipswich supporters seem convinced that the club overstates its attendance figures, it’s a mystery why, particularly given that Marcus Evans the club owner is probably the sort of bloke who is constantly running scared of the Inland Revenue. That’s Ipswich people for you, a suspicious lot.
The football takes on the character of the afternoon, drizzly and soggy. Burton Albion are playing better than Ipswich, but nevertheless there seems little likelihood of them scoring a goal despite the presence in their team of former Ipswich prodigy Darren Bent, but he’s now aged thirty-three and his best years are a fading memory. Behind me, talk turns to how players ‘nowadays’ stay on the ground for ages when they get a knock and thump the turf with their fists; why do they do that other than for reasons of pure affectation? “They’ve got tha wages, why not take ‘em orf” is the frustrated question behind as a Burton player receives treatment. “They could use that cart their got”.
The absence of match atmosphere is palpable. Nevertheless, despite the paucity of the crowd I sense a mild collective will to win as if the real miseries are not here today and those left are as optimistic as Ipswich people get. They sit in near silence in terms of vocal support, but there is a background hum of hope and expectation, although it could just be the rain on the roof. The half ends with Ipswich winning a corner, which there isn’t time to take. There is some booing as the teams leave the field, but I applaud enthusiastically, partly by way of hopeful encouragement and partly because what I have just seen was so poor that I am a little in awe.
At half-time I go down onto the concourse to drain off some of the Match Day Special and then stare with the others at one of the TV screens. The statistics show that Burton Albion had four shots on goal but none was on target; Ipswich did not have a single shot on goal. That of course does not tell the whole story, because the team were terrible in many other ways as well. I turn to leave and see two children looking disbelievingly at the price list of drinks and snacks from the refreshment counter.

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I look at the programme which is as dull as the game, but for a piece on Town’s 6-1 victory at Millwall in the sixth round of the FA Cup back in 1978. It was a game that was memorable as a great win, but also for the violent behaviour of some Millwall fans, and Bobby Robson was quoted by Jimmy Hill on Match of the Day as having said that “they should turn the flamethrowers on them”. The piece reports that Bobby Robson later explained that what he had said after the match was said in private and was not for public consumption. The piece then adds rather startlingly that Bobby said it was apparent from letters he had received that what he had said actually summed up the feelings of “all genuine football lovers”. Those were the days.

I return to my seat in time for the re-start of the game, which shows a very slight improvement on the first half as Ipswich finally manage a shot at, but not on goal, which is greeted with ironic and sarcastic cheers and extended applause by the witty home crowd. With an hour gone Ipswich make a double substitution and Mustapha Carayol makes his debut for the team; he is Town’s first ever Ghanaian player, which is nice. Carayol looks keen and wins a free-kick with his first touch; a little later he runs past two Burtonians with ease, but sends in a weak cross, which is effortlessly cleared as he quickly assimilates into the team. Passes go astray and the ball is booted aimlessly up field and the woman behind me is baffled by how inept these highly paid footballers can be. “That’s all they gotta do all day long, practice”. She pauses for a moment’s thought then adds “Until lunchtime; when they go to the bookies”.

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On the Burton Albion bench manager Nigel Clough is well wrapped-up against the cold up with a scarf across his face like some hybrid manager-cum-ultra. There is genuine, warm applause from the Ipswich crowd as Darren Bent is substituted in the 71st minute, but then the north stand decide that enough is enough and they remind Mick McCarthy through the medium of Sloop John ‘B’ that his football is faecal. But the singing is not delivered with gusto and soon fades away, perhaps because there aren’t enough of them here to really do the song justice. The afternoon’s attendance is announced as 13,815, the lowest figure for a league game at Portman Road since the late 1990’s apparently. There are 169 supporters from Burton and they become the first away fans this season not to have employed opera or any other means to tell the home crowd that their support smells much the same as Mick McCarthy’s football. Given however, that they have travelled from Staffordshire on a cold, wet, February afternoon to watch a miserable game of football, they would have had every right to do so.

Burton finish the game on the attack and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski literally single-handedly saves Ipswich from defeat with a spectacular one-handed save, before referee Mr David Webb breathily spins the pea in his whistle for the final time and releases us from his thrall. It has been a terrible afternoon of football and utterly life affirming. If it wasn’t for misery there would be no great art. Football like life is wonderful and simultaneously bloody awful too.

Phil, Elwood and I walk away from the towering lights and stands of Portman Road and we are all the stronger for our experience this afternoon. I have invited Phil and Elwood back for dinner and we’re having sausage and mash with carrots because that’s what Elwood likes.

Ipswich Town 2 Brentford 0

Ipswich Town have won their first four matches this season, something the team hasn’t done since 1999. It’s enough to make an Ipswich Town fan feel a bit giddy and I do, and worried. The last three of those wins have all been away from home and now the team return to Portman Road for today’s match versus Brentford, a club who I still can’t help thinking has its name prefaced by the words ‘fourth division’. That’s the division Brentford were in when I saw their most well-known (only?) celebrity fan, Rick Wakeman live at Ipswich Gaumont back in the mid 1970’s. As an Ipswich Town fan my most memorable football experiences are all rooted in the past. I haven’t got used to Brentford being a second division club, even though I know that in the 1940’s they were in the Premier League or First Division as George Orwell, Clement Attlee, Clark Gable and Josef Stalin knew it. I apologise to Brentford supporters everywhere, although hopefully some of you pine for those days of games against Colchester United and Crewe Alexandra.
Ipswich Town has something to lose, so it is with a sense of trepidation that I set out to catch the train. Can the Town maintain their unbeaten, all-conquering run? I am not used to such questions. As I stand on the platform waiting, on the other side of the tracks a poster36677654895_b0685b3db9_o-1 advertising The SAMARITANS picks out the words “I’ve lost hope” which normally would be the case, but today I don’t know what to think. There is hope it seems, but is there really hope? Surely this run of consecutive wins will end now the team must play again in front of its taciturn, mostly silent, unsupportive home supporters. The pressure of playing in front of Brexit voting miserabilists will prove too much to bear, won’t it?
I try and enjoy the journey. Opposite me a man is taking his very young son to his first match. As the train passes through Colchester, he points out the Asda store to him. No, not Colchester castle, or Jumbo the water tower, or the fine Edwardian town hall clock tower; Asda, f…ing Asda. Perhaps he wasn’t a complete philistine, maybe he just worked in retail.
Arriving in Ipswich at about 13:25 it’s a temperate afternoon, but cloudy. The turnstiles of Portman Road are yet to open, but a few people, presumably with nothing else in their lives, wait at the doors to get in when they do. Otherwise Portman Road is quiet, the programme kiosks stand isolated by the kerb looking like designs rejected by the BBC for Dr Who’s Tardis. The statue of Bobby Robson stands alone looking as if he is directing people around the corner; polythene ‘goody-bags’ containing the local newspaper, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water litter the pavement waiting to be bought.

I walk on to St Jude’s Tavern which is quieter than usual, although there is a table of Brentford fans who obviously appreciate good beer. I consume a pint of Earl Soham Albert Ale with a beef and onion pie (£5.00 the pair) and later a pint of Milton Medusa (£3.40) and talk with a friend who has just returned with his partner from a week in Berlin; he tells me he didn’t get to see the home of Hertha Berlin but we agree that virtually everywhere either of us has ever visited in Europe is nicer than Britain. We don’t discuss why but I think it’s because we still have a monarchy and have failed to properly embrace social democracy.
Beer glass drained, it is time to head back down to Portman Road which is still not that busy even at ten to three. As I head towards the stadium a big-breasted woman walking the other way shouts swearily into her mobile phone. A seagull sits on a lamp standard looking down on the statue of Alf Ramsey,36672917115_22e6776e6b_o but with a beady eye on the burger van adjacent to him and any discarded junk food; it’s a good place for a scavenger to hang out. On the Cobbold Stand the club crest and the union flag fly together in the strong breeze and in the street below a35863643543_fd0a0303c0_o Brentford fan is either playing aeroplanes or is being frisked as he queues to enter the ground. Inside the ground the lack of custom at the “matchday essentials” kiosk suggests it’s not really selling essentials at all.
I urinate in the appropriate place and then take up my seat in the stand. The teams enter the field and everyone applauds. The game begins. Brentford, whose nickname is The Bees, probably just because ‘B’ is the first letter in Brentford, wear red and white striped shirts with black shorts and red stockings, or socks as they are more prosaically known; they look a picture as teams in striped kits often do. In the away supporters’ stand two flags bearing the St George cross indicate that Brentford supporters are from as far afield as Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Ealing Road.35863614623_f780c5d607_o
After some early, even sparring Brentford start to dominate possession of the ball, selfishly kicking it about amongst themselves, whilst Ipswich just try to keep it away from their own goal. The only cheer to emanate from Ipswich fans is when the Brentford goalkeeper slips over. Predictably the ‘keeper then stares at the turf where he slipped as if expecting to see a carelessly discarded banana skin which would explain away his embarrassment. The scoreboard dies; scoreboardwe do not see it re-illuminated all afternoon. The Brentford fans chant “Come on Brentford, Come on Brentford” which seems a bit superfluous because their team are doing fine, they just haven’t scored, and it seems that that sentence fragment is missing the word ‘yet’ on the end.
The Ipswich fans have to seek happiness where they can in a situation like this and helpfully the Bees number nine, Neal Maupay lies still on the ground after Jordan Spence brushes past him to win the ball. Receiving no free-kick Maupay jumps up quickly, too quickly, to remonstrate with the referee Mr Oliver Langford, thus proving his guilt as a diver and a cheat and according to the North Stand a “wanker” too. Maupay is a recent signing from France’s finest club St Etienne (although he was on loan at Stade Brestois last season) and being born at Versailles, although presumably not in the palace, he is French, so he may not have understood the word; for future reference the French translation for wanker would be branleur.
Maupay’s histrionics are perhaps a sign of The Bees growing sense of frustration and at about twenty-five to three that is increased as David McGoldrick runs into the penalty box and falls to the ground under a challenge; as everyone turns to the referee to see him signal no penalty, the ball and Town’s Martyn Waghorn are seemingly the only objects to keep moving and ‘Waggy’ joyously sweeps the ball past the Brentford goalkeeper to give Town a lead which, on the balance of attacking play is somewhat unexpected and undeserved. But the ‘balance of play’ has never counted for anything and probably never will unless the big six clubs in the Premier League consistently begin to lose every week despite having the ‘balance of play’.
Buoyed to ridiculous proportions by the goal, the North Stand fans break into a chorus of the folk song The Wild Rover , singing “ Ipswich Town, Ipswich Town FC, they’re the finest football team the world has ever seen” . This is a song not heard at Portman Road in some time and it stirs memories of the early 1980’s when the words rang true. Meanwhile the Bees have been stung into action and a very, very firmly struck shot hits the Ipswich cross bar with such force that the woodwork springs up and down in blurry resonance and I surmise that had an unsuspecting seagull been sat upon it, the unfortunate bird would have been catapulted up over the roof of the stand. Despite continuing Brentford possession of the ball, Ipswich do not yield and can enjoy their half-time teas and reflect on being in the lead.
I enjoy half-time by eating a Traidcraft mixed berries chewy cereal bar, which I did not purchase in the ground because such ethically sourced snacks are not available from the club’s food and drink outlets. With a captive audience, football clubs could prioritise the sale of locally and ethically sourced products, but they don’t, perhaps because they just don’t care. Later I muse upon a pitch- side advertisement at the far end of the ground for Red7 Marine who, apparently, are ‘jack-up barge specialists’. 36508278362_db3bd9aa74_oDo many football supporters often require the services of a jack-up barge specialist? Is this a good place to advertise? What is a jack-up barge? I conclude that there are many things in this world of which I have no understanding. God bless Google and their tax dodging ways, they will explain.
Fortunately the second half begins, although once again it’s Brentford who are buzzing while Ipswich just drone on, sportingly kicking the ball back to their guests to give them another go. But then at about ten past four Ipswich win a corner and Joe Garner’s diving header is cleared off the goal line; except that it’s not, because the ball has crossed the line and a slightly delayed celebration signifies that Ipswich now lead by two-goals to nil.
The spectators in the lower tier of the North Stand, who last season berated manager Mick McCarthy for this ‘shit football’ now become either self-deprecatingly ironic or simply overcome with such deep joy that they lose all sense of self-awareness and, rather endearingly, to the tune of the children’s song Skip to My Lou, they chant “Super, Super Mick, Super, Super Mick, Super, Super Mick, Super Mick McCarthy”. I imagine Mick McCarthy would find this amusing whilst muttering under his breath “duplicitous bastards”.
The game returns to its familiar pattern with Brentford players kicking the ball from one to another and occasionally to a Town player. Ipswich attack now and then as possession of the ball permits, but defend mostly and they do this very well indeed. Brentford pass the ball neatly, but they seem to be playing without forwards; Maupay is mopey and is booked. Ipswich are probably as likely to score as Brentford, although it’s not that comfortable an experience to watch for Town fans. I am struck by how much the Brentford number six resembles the FA Cup with his fashionable short back and sides haircut accentuating his sticky-out ears.
Happily Town are hanging on to win the match and the crowd appreciate their efforts, for this is a much weakened team missing all the club’s recognised senior centre-halves and two or three first choice midfield players. Naturally the majority of the crowd do not chant their appreciation in the traditional manner of football spectators, because this is Ipswich where voices are weak and people a bit shy, but there are bouts of rhythmic clapping; I am reminded of John Lennon telling the audience in the expensive seats at the Royal Variety Performance to rattle their jewellery to show their appreciation.
With the final whistle from the bonny Mr Langford, a wave of relief flows from the stands and the tannoy blares out the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over”; the only explanation for which must be that Town’s next match (a League Cup tie) is at Crystal Palace and that’s what they do there. Personally, I prefer the cover version by The Rezillos.
That’s five consecutive victories and the two-fingers raised to those who lacked the faith and the understanding of what it is to be a football supporter and therefore failed to renew their season tickets grows larger, although they will doubtless claim vindication as soon as Town inevitably do lose. Branleurs.

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