Ipswich Town 2 Barnsley 2

Barnsley FC, Wikipedia tells us, has spent more seasons in the second division than any other club. Just to prove the point I have seen Ipswich Town play Barnsley thirty times and but for one FA Cup tie all of those matches have been in the second division.  This does of course mean that Ipswich Town are also second division perennials.  Today’s fixture, therefore, is exceptional and indeed it is the first time that Ipswich and Barnsley have ever met as third division teams; what it is to live in interesting times.

In all other respects today is a normal, sunny, late summer Saturday as I make my way down through Gippeswyk Park, beneath the railway tracks and over the river to Portman Road, where, as ever, I buy a match programme (£3.50) in the modern cashless, but slightly slow manner.  Programme in hand I march on towards the Arbor House (formerly the Arboretum) where both doors are open wide; I step inside and turn towards the bar. “Gary, what the hell are you doing here?” I exclaim at the unexpected sight of my friend and former work colleague, Gary stood at the bar. “I’m buying you a drink, what would you like?” is Gary’s very quick and very welcome response.  I have a pint of something for which the pump clip says “Suffolk Punch” and Gary has a pint of some lager or other, but not one of the industrial brands. We retire to the garden where Mick is already sat with a pint of what looks like Suffolk Pride.  Gary and Mick have met before but introduce themselves to one another nonetheless; it really shouldn’t but it feels to me a bit like when your wife meets a former girlfriend. 

The pub garden is alive with drinkers wearing the blue shirts of Ipswich Town, far more so than usual.  Cheerily, we talk of funerals because Gary has been to a few lately and Mick works for an undertaker. Gary tells the story of two people he knows who were concerned that they might not get a seat at a cremation which was likely to be ‘popular’ (perhaps well-attended would be a better choice of words), and so sat through the previous cremation too, just to be sure.  With our glasses drained, a bloke at the next table chain smoking and blokes at the table beyond talking far louder than is necessary, we depart a little earlier than usual for Portman Road.

Bidding farewell to Gary and Mick in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, because their season tickets are in what used to be the Pioneer stand, I carry on to the Constantine Road entrance where a man in a suit compliments me on my ‘Allez les bleus’ T-shirt as he checks my ticket. “Wouldn’t it be great if we all supported Town in French” I say to him a bit weirdly, although he seems to accept the idea.  I enter the stadium, taking the rare opportunity to use turnstile 61, which today is operated by a young woman who is very possibly the nicest looking turnstile operator I have ever seen at Portman Road.  I arrive at my seat in time to see the teams walk on to the pitch and hear them announced by former Suffolk Radio presenter Stephen Foster, who once again looks a bit like a best man, microphone in hand in his grey suit.  My attention is briefly snagged when I think I hear that the Barnsley number ten is called George Benson, but checking the handily placed scoreboard I sadly see that he’s actually called Josh Benson, but the idea was good while it lasted.  Naturally, ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with this son Elwood and so are Pat from Clacton and Fiona as well as the man who I think is from Stowmarket; I can see Ray and his son Michael and his son Harrison down at the front of the stand.

With knees taken and applauded Barnsley get first go with the ball as, wearing their traditional kit of red shirts, white shirts and red socks they aim the ball towards the goal at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end. Town of course wear their traditional blue shirts and white shorts and as the teams line up it looks like a re-enactment of my childhood Continental Club Edition Subbuteo set, albeit without the strange poses of the plastic players.  Despite a high level of background noise, it takes just one minute and twenty seconds for the visiting Barnsleyites to deliver a chant of “Is this is a library?”.   Up in the Cobbold Stand there are several well filled red shirts in the away section and a bald-headed, middle-aged bloke in what looks like full kit, makes me think of Brian Glover’s Mr Sugden the PE teacher in Ken Loach’s classic film ‘Kes’.

Beside me today is a man in a bright orange hi-viz jacket emblazoned with the name of Veolia, the French waste disposal company. “Come on mate” he shouts, possibly to Freddie Ladapo as Conor Chaplin shapes up to thread a through ball beyond the enormous Barnsley defenders. “Come on, early pressure” continues my neighbour, “Pass it around, pass it around”.  He’s living every moment of his own live commentary.  A radio commentator might say that Town have started ‘on the front foot’ and by way of proof the bloke behind me announces that “ the pressure is unreal” .  The first two shots on goal however are by Barnsley players. There is a lot of jeering from the Barnsley fans and it sounds as if someone may be being ejected from the ground, around me people stand up tall and peer to their right to see what’s happening, they remind me of meerkats.

It’s the tenth minute and people rise and applaud as one in memory of a baby who has died.  On the pitch the game is interrupted by a foul and then carries on.  Neither side is exactly peppering the opposition goal with shots and the match is tense and physical; it’s engrossing but not exciting. Barnsley make an early substitution due to injury, reducing the aggregate of the numbers on their shirts by three as number 22 replaces number 25.

It’s the eighteenth minute and Wes Burns and Liam Kitching race for the ball, the enormous Kitching sticks out an arm to impede Burns and holds his shirt, Burns holds Kitching’s shirt and the linesman flags for a free-kick to Barnsley.  It’s a biased decision favouring the defender who had been first to foul, it would have been better to have made no decision at all.  “Pressure” shouts the bloke from Veolia out of the blue. Barnsley substitute, and former occasional Town player James Norwood can be seen trotting from the bench to the dressing room. “He’s injured already” says the bloke behind me. “Going for a Nando’s” says the bloke next to him.  “Come on Town, we haven’t even got out of…” bawls the bloke beside me trailing off, seemingly unable to remember what it is we haven’t even got out of.  If this was going to be a driving analogy I would guess “first gear” is what we haven’t got out of, but if this was going to be an analogy about going to bed it might be “our trousers”; admittedly however this would be an unusual analogy .

It’s the twenty seventh minute and Wes Burns is victim of over physical defending and Town have a free-kick about 20 metres from goal. Conor Chaplin steps up to send a sublime shot over the defensive wall and into the top corner of the Barnsley goal.  It’s a marvellous, beautiful goal and Town are winning. “They’ve gotta come out now” says the bloke behind me, suggesting that he believes some of the Barnsley players will now reveal that they enjoy the company of other men.

Six minutes later and following a series of Barnsley free-kicks the ball is crossed to the far post where Jack Aitchison heads it across goal and inside the far post to provide an unexpected equaliser. “It’s all gone quiet over there” chant the Barnsley fans conveniently forgetting that they are in a library, so it would be quiet wouldn’t it?  They compound their error by chanting “You’re not singing anymore” when apparently, according to their earlier chants we weren’t singing anyway.  Like ‘leave’ voters who don’t want to queue to have their passports stamped when only going ‘next door’ to Holland or France they seem to want their cake and to eat it too.

Leif Davis and Sam Morsy have shots blocked and Davis heads past the post as half-time looms.  When three minutes of added on time are announced, Barnsley’s number two Jordan Williams is sprawling on the grass. “Ha-ha” calls a Nelson Munce-like voice from somewhere behind me.   It’s been a good half of football but not a thrilling one if one inexplicably forgets Chaplin’s goal,  so the Nelson Munce soundalike has gained a higher profile in my mind than he probably deserves.

Half-time is the usual round of talking to Ray and Harrison and Michael and eating a Nature Valley Honey and Oats Crunchy bar.  Ray asks what I know about solar panels, and I tell him I have them on my roof because my mother in-law died. 

The game re-starts at two minutes past four and Christian Walton is soon making a fine save, diving to his right to ensure a decent passing and running move by Barnsley does not end with a goal.  “Can you hear the Ipswich sing? I can’t hear a fookin’ thing” chant the Barnsley fans in their South Yorkshire dialect. “Your support is fookin’ shit” they continue before rounding off their medley with a rendition of “Top o’ the league, your ‘avin’ a laff”.   It’s the fifty -third minute and Freddie Ladapo has an attempt cleared off the line. “Get up ya fairy” calls the man from Veolia at Luca Connell as the Barnsley player writhes about in the centre circle before being attended to by a physio. Today’s attendance is announced as being 25,001 with 613 being Tykes and Colliers from Barnsley.  On the Clacton supporters bus the winner of the guess the crowd competition is just two out, guessing 24,499, although misleadingly the guess of 25,050 gets more of the actual digits correct and therefore almost looks closer.

The game is nearly two-thirds over and Barnsley’s Callum Styles is booked for a cynical block on Wes Burns.  Barnsley win a corner. “I’m getting worried you know” admits Pat from Clacton beginning to lose her faith that Town will win this match.  “Come on Town, defend” shouts the bloke beside me giving helpful advice as the corner kick is taken.  The corner is defended as suggested and when play next stops Barnsley make another substitution, James Norwood replacing Jack Aitchison who walks off so slowly and gingerly that he looks like he might have suffered a sudden attack of diarrhoea.

The sixty-sixth minute and the Barnsley supporters think they’ve scored as the ball rattles into the side netting in front of them at the end of another decent move.  Relief and schadenfreude combine to transform the mood of Town fans in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand who are able to jeer at the stupidity of their northern neighbours.   With the game into its final quarter Town introduce mass substitutions. Stephen Foster announces that there will be three, but only tells us about Kayden Jackson replacing Freddie Ladapo and Marcus Harness replacing Tyreece John -Jules.  The forgotten substitution sees Kane Vincent-Young appear in place of Leif Davis.  As happened at Shrewsbury last week, the change quickly produces results and Wes Burns runs down the right and into the box before producing a low cross which Sam Morsy side-foots into the net.  Town lead, and are on top to the extent that three minutes later Marcus Harness scores a third, only for alleged referee Steve Martin to disallow it for reasons unknown.  Unlike his American namesake, this Steve Martin seems to be the man with no brain rather than ‘The man with two brains’ and should in future be known by the same name as Steve Martin’s dog in his 1979 film ‘The Jerk’, alternativley ‘The Jerk’ would do.

As if having an idiot for a referee is not bad enough Town soon suffer further by failing to defend a corner and allowing Barnsley’s Callum Styles, a man who according to the app on my phone is shorter than Conor Chaplin ( I think the app must be wrong) , a free header which he places just inside the far post.  If only the man from Veolia had shouted “Come on Town, defend”.  As I remark to Fiona “ I think that is what is called giving him too much time and space”.

Despite the disappointment of gifting Barnsley another equaliser Town press on for another winning goal and dominate the remaining fifteen minutes, reducing Barnsley to desperate clearances rather than considered passes out of defence.   Wolfe is booked for fouling Sam Morsy and a Wes Burns shot is pushed away for a corner by the outstretched arm of the Barnsley goalkeeper Brad Collins, who I like to think was named after Brad in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sone Aluko replaces Conor Chaplin with five minutes of normal time left.  James Norwood is booked for diving and happily does nothing to suggest it was a mistake to let him go. Anderson of Barnsley is booked for kicking the ball away when a free-kick is awarded; it’s a display of bad sportsmanship and unneccessary nastiness which seems common to this team of mostly mardy millennials.  Fiona leaves early to get away for a family barbecue, despite the fire risk due to the drought, and a ridiculous eight minutes of time added on are announced.  Town win a corner from which George Edmundson heads against a post; Kane Vincent-Young sends a header towards goal, but it is kept out with a flying save; Aluko and Harness both have shots blocked.

 It’s almost five o’clock when The Jerk ends the game and walks off to the boos of the crowd, including mine.  We now expect Town to win, and only the referee and some uncharacteristically forgetful defending have prevented that today, but that’s not so unusual, and at least we didn’t lose. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose as it might say on a future T-shirt when we all start supporting Town in French.

Ipswich Town 0 Peterborough United 1

This week I have thought very little about football. Until Friday night, when I checked, I wasn’t totally certain even who Town would be playing today.  I am not sure why this was; an unusual and very uncharacteristic fixation with work perhaps? Lockdown fatigue?  Disappointment with recent results? Or may be a suppressed subconscious knowledge that we will be playing Peterborough United and are therefore likely to lose.

It is not until Saturday morning therefore that I log onto the Ipswich Town website, copy my code down and then type that code into the ifollow.  Relieved that I have organised what I consider to be my foreseeable future I leave my wife Paulene at the piano and take a walk out into the cold and gloomy streets, because it is important that we exercise if we are not to become ugly and obese.  About half an hour later I return to find Paulene no longer at the piano and about to finish a twenty minute stint on her exercise cycle before tuning into the BEIN Sports tv channel, courtesy of the Amazon Firestick, to watch Clermont Foot 63 versus AJ Auxerre in French Ligue 2, a fixture which reminds me incidentally that Town’s own Sylvain Legwinski was born in Clermont Ferrand.  I witness Clermont ,who are playing with just Mohammed Bayo ‘up front’,  create numerous chances and then take a 13th minute lead through Jodel Dossou who is playing a sort of Gwion Edwards role wide on the right.  With a little over twenty minutes gone of the match I head to the kitchen to prepare a light salad lunch with Comte cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham.

Half-time or ‘mi-temps’ arrives at the Stade Gabriel-Montpied in Clermont-Ferrand with the home team still ahead by a single goal. I leave Paulene in the small part of the Auvergne that has become our living room and head to Portman Road, which is back in the kitchen with the dirty plates and cutlery from lunch.  I put the kettle on for Paulene and sensing that I might be in need of an alcoholic crutch, pour myself a pre-match ‘pint’ (330ml) of Westmalle Dubbel Trappist beer (£2.20 from Waitrose).  I enjoy the thought that a Trappist beer should be the beer of choice for the notoriously quiet Portman Road crowd – if there ever is one again.  

The ifollow broadcast begins, with commentary as ever from BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley, and his side-kick Mick Mills, who is straight into his lengthy pre-match soliloquy.  Mick believes that there is no longer a home advantage and that “…it levels off under the Covid situation”.  It’s easy to see why Mick would believe this given Town’s collection of four defeats from their last five home games. Brenner takes up the mike from Mick and I can’t help laughing when he reveals that Town’s new loan signing from Preston North End, Josh Harrop has tested positive for Covid before he’s even kicked a ball for us. If Marcus Evans sold our club, with our luck it would be to Donald Trump.

Town kick-off towards what used to be called Churchman’s and Brenner tells us he is trying to work out if Paul Lambert is on the bench today; apparently it’s difficult to make him out amongst  a dark mass of big black coats and beanie hats down by the touchline.  Sartorially obsessed, Brenner describes what colour kits the teams are wearing and it sounds like he enjoys the alliteration of the Peterborough goalkeeper Pym, being dressed in purple.  The kettle boils and I make a cup of tea for Paulene. Town win an early corner.  “It’s a good start” according to Mick “We’ve forced two or three throw-ins”.  Brenner follows up with “Pressure, early doors” unable to resist the temptation to break open his locker of football-ese expressions at the earliest opportunity, although ‘early doors’ is inevitably at the top of the pile.

The ball is mostly in the Peterborough half of the pitch, but seldom in their penalty area. “Again not good distribution from Chambers” says Brenner as the Town captain lumps the ball forward inaccurately. “He berates himself in the aftermath” continues Brenner, which doesn’t really atone for Chambers’ failings but produces a welcome mental image of the Town stalwart schizophrenically shouting and pointing his fingers at himself.  Town’s positive start has evaporated a little. “Nobody really taking advantage of the game at the moment” says Mick, not quite using all the right words to convey what he wants to say.  Feeling a soft blanket of disinterest creeping over me I glance out of the kitchen window at the two plastic shopping bags that I hung on the washing line yesterday evening. Mesmerisingly, the shopping bags waft back and forth on the faintest breeze.

Back on the ifollow and BBC Radio Suffolk, Brenner breaks my concentration. “He’s not done well at all so far, the captain” says Brenner as Luke Chambers makes a two-metre pass to an ungrateful opposition player on the edge of the Peterborough penalty box.  It’s not unusual for Brenner to make a statement and then only tell us who it’s about at the end of the sentence; I suppose it provides a little suspense when the football doesn’t.  Pleasingly Brenner soon has better news and reports that he has evidently spotted Paul Lambert who is wearing a snood, big coat and beanie hat.  I tick it off my list of things I need to know about this afternoon’s match. Having tuned into the theme of winter clothing Brenner then announces “Brown, another player with gloves on in the Peterborough side”. 

The game has entered a mildly engaging phase as the two teams appear well matched, but no one is creating goal scoring chances.  “Cat and mouse” says Mick. “Even Stevens” says Brenner, not to be outdone by the expert.  “They’ve done well so far, Ipswich Town” adds Brenner using his back to front sentence construction again.  Gwion Edwards is awarded a free-kick on the left of the Peterborough penalty area after a foul by Frankie Kent.  After a lengthy description of the event Mick concludes that he’s not sure if it was a free-kick at all. Unperturbed, presumably because he’s not listening to BBC Radio Suffolk , referee Mr Coggins doesn’t change his mind.  The ball is played to little Alan Judge who shoots and misses.

Flynn Downes commits a couple of his trademark, pointless, petulant fouls but escapes a booking.  “Chambers on the left, Chambers on the right” says Brenner probably correcting himself, but possibly showing that he is confused about where Luke Chambers is, or about which is his left and which is his right. Nearly a third of the game has passed and Peterborough win their first corner and then a second before   Siriki Dembele gets the “first sight of the goal for Peterborough United” according to Brenner; Dembele misses and Mick launches into a long monologue about why the game is even.

 Out of the blue Siriki Dembele has a run into the penalty area in the company of Aristote Nsiala. Nsiala makes a tackle, Dembele falls to the ground and after initially giving a corner referee Mr Coggins, who shares a surname with the amusingly named American TV evangelist Pastor Randy Coggins the second, awards a penalty to Peterborough.  Peterborough’s top scorer, Jonson Clarke-Harris, who greedily has three surnames, steps up to blast the ball into next week and over the cross-bar.  “Brilliant!” says Mick enthusiastically as I simultaneously guffaw loudly.  “If you go that high, there’s a risk you can hit it over the bar” says Mick sagely, but apparently not realising that if you put it that high it will always go over the bar, because the bar is set at 2.44metres above ground and doesn’t move. 

In my back garden it’s snowing, and at Portman Road Mick advises that Peterborough are “starting to loosen up a little”, although I don’t think the two things are related.  Mick is having a good afternoon at the microphone and cheekily rivals Brenner with some superior football-speak as he pleasingly refers to Town’s new Covid-infected signing as “The boy Harrop”.   Sadly Mick goes on to state the obvious as he explains about footballers that “You can almost say they’re successful by stats”, proposing that the players who score most goals and make most decisive passes are the better players.

Back on the pitch Luke Chambers spectacularly slices the ball away and it travels high up into what I still call the Pioneer stand. Evidently the ball lands near the commentary position and Mick is moved to boast that had it landed just a little bit closer to him, he would have played it back to Luke Chambers’ feet, he probably would have too; he certainly wouldn’t have sliced it.  A minute of added on time is played once the first forty-five have elapsed and it’s half-time.

Grasping the moment I put the kettle on and grab a half-time snack consisting of a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar.   Back in the Auvergne, in the living room, Clermont still lead Auxerre 1-0; they almost double their lead in the dying moments of the game but don’t, but nevertheless climb to second in the Ligue 2 table above Toulouse, who don’t play until Monday.  On BEIN Sports tv attention moves north and east to Hauts de France and the Stade Felix Bolleart-Delis where RC Lens are playing Olympique Marseille in Ligue 1. 

Helplessly I return to Portman Road where I pour the tea into my TSV 1860, mug which my friend Mick (not ‘Millsy’ sadly) kindly brought me back from Munich in 2019. I still imagine Mick descending the steps from the aeroplane and announcing not “Peace in our time” but “Tea in this mug”. One of the things I like best about the mug is the word spulmaschinebestandig printed on the bottom, which is German for dishwasher-safe.

On the ifollow the action resumes, it is four minutes past four. Within seconds Peterborough win a corner but it comes to nothing.  “Lots of huff and puff” says Mick misquoting the wolf in the story of the three little pigs. “No real quality at either end of the pitch” he adds a little unnecessarily for anyone who’s watched Ipswich previously this season.  Brenner then refers to Mark McGuinness as “the teenage defender” and I think what a good title that would be for a super-hero, before Andre Dozzell makes a raking diagonal pass to no one in particular, apparently because that’s what he does. The ifollow has become staccato with frequent buffering and for a short while the broadcast becomes almost unwatchable. Weirdly for someone doing a live commentary Brenner seems to have the same experience “Time seemed to stop there for a second” he says as Teddy Bishop loses the ball, then pushes his opponent over rather than try and get it back.

“The passing isn’t very good” says Mick, confirming for the BBC Radio Suffolk listeners what the ifollow watchers have probably already noticed.  Over an hour has been played and a caption appears on the screen to tells us that the proportion of possession is 51% to 50% in Peterborough’s favour, which is mind blowing and proves that anything, even the impossible,  is possible in the EFL.

The sixty-ninth minute arrives, the ball is crossed into the Ipswich penalty area and with the grace of a giraffe that’s been stung by a bee, Mark McGuinness the “teenage defender” slices the ball into the Town goal to give Peterborough what will prove to be a winning lead. “Oh bugger” I say, sensing that the game is probably lost even with twenty minutes to play; and I’d had such high hopes.

Little Alan Judge, the sadly anonymous Aaron Drinan and Teddy Bishop are soon replaced by Luke Thomas, on loan from Barnsley, Freddie Sears and Jon Nolan.  Nolan quickly hits a shot over the cross bar from 25 metres.  “ Town have really come to life since that triple substitution from the bench” Brenner tells us, suggesting, but providing no evidence, that substitutions from other places are possible too.  Gwion Edwards has a shot which is apparently deflected away from goal by a Peterborough player but no corner is given by the tv evangelist’s namesake.  It is now snowing.  A close-up of the electronic scoreboard at Portman Road shows that the ifollow on-screen clock is twenty seconds ahead of the actual game, which implies Brenner was right and time really did stand still.  If only time had stood still a bit more and it was still 1981.  There are just ten minutes left of normal time and Brenner is clutching at straws on behalf of Town supporters as he speculates that there won’t be enough snow to have the game called off now.  More sensibly Brenner then plays with words saying  “Up goes Downes”.

With time running out Brenner gets to use his “..runs into traffic” phrase as Jon Nolan runs into two opponents at once; five minutes of added on time are announced.  Tomas Holy goes up for a corner but the ball is carefully directed away from him, and although Toto Nsiala gets to volley it spectacularly in to the Peterborough net, it had gone out before it was played back to him.  Coggins calls time, Ipswich lose at home, again.   “A better performance than a week ago at Burton” concludes Brenner. “A fair result would have been a draw” says Mick.  

I turn off the ifollow and draw down the blinds to shut out the gloom.  I think I shall pretend this never happened. There’s another game on Tuesday, perhaps we’ll win that.

Ipswich Town 1 Barnsley 0

April is well under way and the relief brought by the end of the football season is in sight. Ipswich Town and Barnsley both have just five matches left to play and tonight is the last evening match of the season, the last opportunity for a while to enjoy the thrill and spectacle of a game beneath electric illumination, to see the turf glow green in the drenching beam of the floodlights. Barnsley are struggling to stay in the light away from the gloomy pit that is relegation. Ipswich stand in the blinding, harsh, desert light of mid-table, of nothingness and futility, which is rather how I like it.
It’s been a grey, misty day; the sort to evoke memories of November, of autumn when Town were seventh in the league table just four points off the play-offs and anything seemed possible. But now it’s nearly five o’clock and anticipating the joy of kick-off the sun is out, Spring is back and I leave work in the manner of Fred Flintstone leaping from my desk to slide down the back of an imaginary brontosaurus whilst shouting “Yabba Dabba Doos, Come On You Blues!”. My excitement and anticipation of another Big Match is not reflected however in the scene I find as I pass along Constantine Road; there is no one much about, all is calm. Threatening notices about Ipswich Town’s use of CCTV in this area glare down at me amidst a host of signs about collecting tickets, for scouts and

the suspension of parking. One of those naughty Millwall fans has placed a sticker on the borough crest of the Portman Road street name plate, in the manner that a ‘masseur’ might advertise in a phone box. From the ‘corporation’ bus garage opposite the ground the open top double decker looks out forlornly, wondering if the football club will ever require its services again.

I walk on past a burger van painted grey as if it might once have belonged to the RAF.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Behind the North Stand the 1978 FA Cup Winners ‘mosaic’ looks like someone’s nicked a couple of tiles for their kitchen or bathroom. Some stewards eat chips around a table. I buy a programme (£3.00) in the club shop.

In St Jude’s Tavern my accomplice for the next half an hour or so, Roly, leans back in a tilting chair in the corner of the room behind a pint of unidentified copper coloured beer. Meanly, he doesn’t offer to buy his friend a drink and I reciprocate, but buy a pint of St Jude’s Woody Brew (£3.40) for myself. We talk of football, of football managers and promoting ‘from within the boot room’. We decide Portman Road has a small boot room in which there was only room for Bobby Ferguson and there’s probably nothing in there now except boots and Bobby’s old tracksuit top, memorably and unfortunately adorned with the letters BF. The discussion wanders on until Roly leaves me to ‘dine’ with the father of the mother of his daughter at Sainsbury’s. But Roly doesn’t dine, he scoffs.
I change seats and buy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50)’Edge American Pale’. I talk more football to some of the men in their sixties who are here before every game and I buy a pint of Milestone Crusader (£3.40). The clock on the wall chimes, it’s twelve minutes slow. As one, the patrons of the pub rise and depart for Portman Road, after a visit to the ‘facilities’. The ‘crowd’ outside the stadium is sparse, only slightly more so than the one within it (13, 271). The strains of Clo-Clo’s ‘My Way’ drift off into the floodlit air as I speak with Dave the steward in the undercroft of the Alf Ramsey Stand and I miss the kick-off.
Eventually settling down on a seat a few along from ever-present Phil who never misses a game, my enjoyment of the match begins. Barnsley, whose colours are red and white OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kick-off wearing a needlessly changed kit of white shirts with green sleeves and shorts; Ipswich as ever are in blue and white. “This is the last evening one” I hear the old boy behind me say to is wife or mistress or sister as he reflects nostalgically, as I had done on the last game under floodlights this season. An offside flag is raised “He put that flag up late – I don’t know why they can’t do it beforehand” she says, unknowingly making me imagine the introduction of clairvoyant linesmen. The football is quite poor. Ipswich have two wingers on the pitch but seem incapable of getting the ball to them, preferring to play inaccurate balls ‘over the top’ to no one in particular. In midfield for Town a young player is making his debut; his name is Barry Cotter, which makes me think of the surviving Bee Gee and Rab C Nesbitt. I live in a world of little more than word association sometimes.
The conversation behind me turns to Mick McCarthy and season ticket renewal. “I want to know who the new manager is before I get my ticket, they might bring McCarthy back” she says. I think how I’d like to see a beaky nosed man with obviously dyed, jet black and receding hair introduced to the press by Ian Milne as Town’s new manager Michalis McCatharios, who has been prised away from under the noses of Greek Superleague clubs.
The man in front of me literally stuffs his face with smokey bacon odour crisps, the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

buddleia on the roof of the stand still looks down on us as it did on Easter Monday and the Barnsley fans sing “Come On You Reds!”. Town are making the occasional fitful attack, which breaks down meekly, but my veins are coursing with passion and the feeling of belonging and I embark on some rousing choruses of “Lo-lo, Lo-lo-lo, Lo-lo, Allez les bleus” in the style of a French Ultra. Phil joins in and so do a couple of the joyful young lads in the disabled enclosure in front of me. I get carried away. I stand up, I turn to the crowd behind me and wave my arms about to articulate my song like a manic, Gallic, Ralph Reader. Nothing. I carry on for a bit, but fearing that I could be ejected or sectioned for being too noisy I sit down and sulk instead.
On the pitch I like to think Ipswich respond by almost assembling a passing move resembling flowing football. The crowd murmurs. “Stop it” I shout to the team “You’ll get them excited”.
Half-time and the Barnsley supporters (276 of them) join the esteemed ranks of the few visitors to Portman Road who have not sung anything about libraries or our support being “fucking shit”. I could probably take credit for that, but will instead praise the good folk of Barnsley for being a decent bunch of people more interested in supporting their team than in castigating anyone else for their apparent or perceived shortcomings. I release some more of what I imbibed at St Jude’s Tavern and chat with ever-present Phil and Pat from Clacton. Phil says it’s the thirtieth anniversary of his having not missed a match, but also recommends I sing “Come On You Blues” instead of “Allez Les Bleus” because people don’t know what I’m saying. I am disappointed, not in Phil, but that what he says is no doubt true; he should know, he’s a teacher and so is partly responsible for the nation’s general ignorance I contemplate asking a steward if they could run and get me a step ladder and a megaphone.
The second half is better than the first for us Ipswich supporters as Town begin to play less disjointedly. Egged on by my new found acolytes I chant a bit more and mid-song, at about ten past nine Town’s on-loan Gambian, Mustapha Carayol crosses the ball and Danish Jonas Knudsen sends a stylish glancing header over his right shoulder and past Barnsley’s Welsh guardian Adam Davies and into the goal net. Hurrah! How we cheer. I love a glancing header, it’s a prince among headers; that subtle twist of the neck, that obtuse angle, that flashing beauty.
The rest of the game fails to live up to that brief moment of joy, but it’s not so bad. Town do okay and Barnsley don’t really look as if they can equalise, despite fielding the 6’ 5” Kieffer Moore who, whilst he looks like he might have previously played for Sydney Swans in fact joined Barnsley from Town in January. On tonight’s showing however, it was not a mistake to sell him and he should never have left the AFL. The home crowd allow themselves some enjoyment and from my seat in Churchman’s I can’t hear any of the pointless vitriol that has marred recent matches. It’s not a popular thing to say and I am as irreligious as the next man, but there are a good number of people who would seriously benefit from being introduced to some of the salient points of the Gospels.
Happily the game is not extended unduly and it’s possibly a little before 9:35 when referee Mr James Linington stuffs his little whistle in his mouth and blows for the final time this evening. There are smiley, happy people in Portman Road once again and Phil suggests a chant of “You’re football’s alright, You’re football’s okay, Mick McCarthy, You’re footballs okay”. I catch the early train home with ease.
It is not until I arrive home that I learn that Mick McCarthy has left the club; I’m glad he won his last game for us, for him. I liked his press conferences even if his football very often wasn’t very good, but then a lot of Championship football isn’t very good and he did a decent job for much of what was for a football manager a very long time. Also, he’s just a man.

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