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 0 Sheffield United 1

The ‘hectic Christmas schedule’ is over and today is the first Saturday of the new year and is therefore the day of the FA Cup third round, once one of the most auspicious dates in the English football calendar. The evil Premier League and the Football Association itself have together destroyed the glory of the FA Cup, but those of us who remember it as it was can stir our memories and pretend, shutting out the horrid reality to enjoy what should be a season highlight. Forty-four years ago I recall, Ipswich played Sheffield United in the FA Cup third round, it was the first FA Cup tie I ever saw and we won 3-2 having been 2-1 down. The wonderfully named Geoff Salmons and the brilliant Tony Currie scored for Sheffield United; ‘magic’ Kevin Beattie won the game with two goals in two minutes just before half-time and super Brian Hamilton got the other one for Town; marvellous. We went on to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next round.
The draw has in one way been good to Ipswich, giving us a home tie, but sadly it is against a team in the same Division as us, so there is no chance of a ‘Cup upset’ and no road-trip to some far off exotic, provincial town like Fleetwood or Rochdale that Town have never graced.
It is nevertheless with a spring in my step that I set off for the railway station under a pale winter sun, wrapped up against the bitter cold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The train is three minutes late and I board it along with a bearded man in a khaki hat and camouflage jacket and a teenage boy and girl who are carrying skateboards. In the far corner of the carriage a bearded hippy in a leather jacket drinks from a tin one of those peculiar ‘ciders’ that contain fruit other than apples. The man in the camouflage jacket huddles into another corner as if trying not to be seen, but he clashes horribly with the blue moquette of the train seats.
At Colchester all these passengers leave the train except for the hippy, who once the train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAleaves the station inexplicably moves to the other end of the carriage leaving me alone with my winter clothing and enthusiasm for the FA Cup. Arriving in Ipswich the afternoon is not as bright, there is a pall of grey cloud. Football supporters spill out of the station and across the bridge opposite, there are three swans swimming in the river below; the tide is high and all is quiet, almost serene.

 

As usual Portman Road is a curious, greasy street cafe peopled with stewards in shapeless coats policing nothing in particular. The search dog looks happy and a man searches amongst the sauce bottles by one of the hot food stands. Programmes are only £2 today, so I buy one and a man on a bike weaves past me.


In St Jude’s Tavern the usual bunch of ageing Town fans sit and discuss football whilst I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (Yeovil Brewery Company’s Star Gazer – £2) and very good it is. I am soon joined by Mick who will be accompanying me to the game. We talk about travelling through Italy, Welsh counties, Donald Trump, Andrew Graham-Dixon and football. Mick gives me the £10 he owes me for the match ticket. After another pint of Star Gazer we head down Portman Road at about twenty minutes to three and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way. There is a short queue at the turnstile for the stand formerly known as the West Stand and once inside Mick remarks on the picturesque coffee stand, painted somewhat bizarrely to look like it’s built of stone.
In the stand we use the facilities and are both amused by the sign on the hand dryers which reads ‘Danger Electricity’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFearless as we are, and confident in our general familiarity with modern electrical appliances we use the dryers nevertheless, despite the jolting, tingling sensation it gives us. It is two minutes to three by the scoreboard clock as we take our seats, but the teams are already lined up and ready to kick-off. Town are of course wearing their traditional blue shirts and white shorts with blue socks, but I am bitterly disappointed, mortified even to see that Sheffield United are not wearing their distinctive red and white stripes with black shorts. Instead, the visiting team sport plain white shirts with black shorts, like some sort of pathetic imitation of Port Vale or Germany. What is wrong with these people? They just keep finding new ways to ruin the game.
The game begins and Ipswich, fielding a more or less full strength team, given that most of the first choice midfield is injured, start quite well. They pass the ball to one another and approach the opposition penalty area. Sadly Sheffield begin to play a little as well and after about ten minutes and it becomes apparent that Town won’t be able to just dismissively swat away their challenge, which is a pity. The game evens up and Ipswich’s early bravado dissipates a little, but it’s okay, we’re playing better than usual because we have the ball as much as the opposition do. Then, at about twenty five past three a bloke called Nathan Thomas shoots from way out into the top corner of the Ipswich net and we’re losing. Crap.
The 1,100 odd Sheffield supporters who have been shouting and singing support for theirOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA team during the preceding minutes now do so with added joy and vigour. The 10,957 odd home supporters haven’t made much noise up until now and still don’t, although their team really needs some encouragement right now. The game dribbles on to half-time as depression sets in with the majority of those in attendance. Mick and I are sat in Block Y which is in the centre of the top tier of the West Stand; normally these are the most expensive seats in the ground, they are padded and they’re brown, not blue. But the people who sit in them are as quiet and miserable as the people I usually sit with in the more modestly appointed Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, they just look better fed and sound more pleased with themselves. A Sheffield player goes down injured and requires treatment, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. I remark to Mick how back in 1974 the North Stand would have been braying “Dig a hole and fuckin’ bury him”, but now they just grumble a bit to each other. People knew how to make their own entertainment back then.
The top tiers of both the North Stand (Sir Bobby Robson Stand) and Churchman’s (Sir Alf Ramsey Stand) are closed to supporters today because of the reduced crowd due to it not

being another bloody boring League match, but an exciting FA Cup game. The club has nevertheless placed stewards amongst the rows of empty North Stand seats, and all around the ground there seem to be a lot of stewards in parts of the ground where they are the only people there. It all helps add to Portman Road’s unique atmosphere.
At half-time I use a different toilet where the hand dryers don’t carry health warnings,

before Mick and I gaze out across the practice pitch beyond a red Citroen H van towards the former municipal power station and tram shed. We marvel that local authorities once built and provided these fabulous things, but don’t comment on the Citroen. The sun is steadily setting behind the cloud and when we return to our seats the pitch is glowing gloriously from the illumination of the floodlights.
The second half begins with some rare vocal encouragement for Town from the North Stand and I realise that the Sheffield United fans must be the first away supporters this season to have witnessed a whole first half without singing “Is this a library?” I can only think they don’t have opera in Sheffield or if they do they don’t much care for Verdi. Perhaps it is a hangover from the Thatcher era when Sheffield was the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire and opera is just too patrician. But full marks to these Blades fans for being more interested in supporting their own team than berating the opposition.
The heady early minutes of the second half fade away like the taste of the half-time beers, snacks and hot beverages and the game descends into dullness. Ipswich don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t create any attempts on goal, which suggests they have misunderstood the point of the game. Sheffield on the other hand do fashion some chances but spurn them. Ipswich captain and centre-half Luke Chambers and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski seemingly attempt to settle the result with the sorts of misjudgements that one would only expect from the most inept of youths in full-time education, but the Blades are not sharp enough to take advantage.
Apart from the noise from the Sheffielders the game is conducted in near silence, with swathes of seats completely empty it feels like a reserve game. As the contest spirals down towards its miserable conclusion the North Stand at last find a song in their dark hearts, “ We want a shot”, they chant. Having inspired themselves with their own wit they proceed to trawl through their back catalogue of scatological old favourites: “ We’re fucking shit, we’re fucking shit; we’re fucking shit” and “You’re football is shit, you’re football is shit, Mick McCarthy you’re football is shit”. It doesn’t help lighten the mood or motivate the players to do better, I can’t think why.
Oddly, the announcement of four minutes of added on time is greeted with a rare growl of enthusiasm from the crowd, but it makes no difference and there is a sense that people are just clearing their throats for the inevitable booing that greets the final whistle. Ipswich Town are once again out of the FA Cup and after the long descent from the top of the stand Mick and I bid each other farewell. Mick thanks me for getting him a ticket and he means it; he doesn’t see Town play often and although it was a poor game he has enjoyed it. Mick is a very rational man. We go our separate ways and I depart through the club car park and its array of obscenely expensive Ferraris, Mercedes Benz, Audis and Range Rovers. Humming the Buzzcocks’ ‘Fast cars’ I look back on the stadium, the dark shapes of the stands silhouetted in the beams of the floodlights; such beautiful sadness.

 

Ipswich Town 2 Reading 0

It’s another cold, clear, cold, bright and cold December day. Today is Ipswich Town’s last home game before Christmas. As I walk to the railway station I fear breathing too deeply because that can cause a heart attack in a man of my age. But I enjoy the pale blue sky, decked with fuzzy white lines like a somewhat anaemic Mark Rothko canvas. It’s odd how the noxious, condensed exhaust fumes from jet airliners can be beautiful.
At the railway station a small dark haired and excitable man is shouting into his mobile phone; he’ll be ‘there’ about 1.30 apparently because the train is running late; with his phone call over, he proceeds to laugh girlishly and talk loudly to a man with a fashionable haircut and beard and a checked grey coat. A third man arrives wearing a Rupert Bear scarf and I can’t shake them off as they board the same carriage as me when the train arrives eight minutes late. On the train another man asks me if this train stops at Manningtree “Er yes, yes it does” I tell him, growing in confidence through the course of my short sentence. The excitable man is talking loudly to Rupert Bear; he squints because the sun is shining into his eyes, which makes him look worried as if he expects Rupert Bear to tell him some bad news; Badger Bill has been gassed.
Approaching Ipswich the train stops and a bored and world-weary sounding driver informs us that a train has broken down so another train has had to return to Ipswich and as a result there is no room in Ipswich station for our train. It’s like the Christmas story all over again; if there is a pregnant woman on this train her child might have to be born in a railway cutting. But this doesn’t come to pass and a slow descent into Ipswich precedes an amusing apology from our driver who sounds ready to cut his wrists as he tells of “…strange things happening and trains breaking down all around us as we continued on our course” before wishing us joy in whatever we are doing this afternoon.
It’s about twenty to two and the train has arrived a good fifteen minutes late. Leaving the station and crossing the road outside, a strange looking man in Ipswich Town shirt, tracky bottoms and a huge coat that looks like a bivouac breaks into a run. Time is less pressing for me so I simply stride purposefully across the bridge opposite the station and on towards Portman Road. On the opening day of the season the lampposts on the bridge were adorned with blue banners in support of the Town, but today they are bare andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA skeletal like the winter trees, as if the banners fell with the autumn leaves. In Portman Road the turnstiles are open; a man eats a banana, people queue for burgers, stewards crowd around the ‘Search Dog’ who barks, some very ordinary looking people enter the Legends Bar and Hall of Fame and the six-wheeled Reading team bus sits secure behind sturdy steel gates, looking like a cross between a juggernaut and a 1950’s Cadillac. Behind the North (Sir Bobby Robson) stand The Salvation Army band take five. Competing fast food stands try to attract custom with staff dressed up as St Nicholas and as some rather conspiratorial looking elves. There are signs on the back of the North Stand directing the way to the ‘Fanzone’, arrows point skywards suggesting a heavenly place, but I know it’s just a big tent on the practice pitch, serving insipid Greene King beer. I would love to use the ‘Fanzone’, but my good taste won’t allow me.

 

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As I head on beyond the stadium the Salvation Army strike up, delivering a rendition of one of the most joyless of all Christmas carols, Once in Royal David’s City; probably a Town supporters’ favourite. As ever I soon arrive at St Jude’s Tavern and today take solace in a pint of the “Football Special”, St Jude’s Elderflower (£2), which happily does not smell like elderflowers, but is nevertheless light and slightly floral. The pub is busier today because much of the population seem to rediscover pubs near Christmas, which is

 

a bit annoying for us all year round pub users who enjoy a quiet drink. Having consumed my first pint I return to the bar (where else?) for a second. A full-faced man who has just been served is picking up a glass of a dark looking beer, I ask him what it is; he doesn’t know. I fancy something dark, because it’s winter, something that tastes like Christmas pudding. I ask the barman for a dark beer and in exchange for £3.40 he brings me what he says is a new amber beer from Nethergate brewery, but it’s quite a dark amber and full of flavour. I sit at a small round table and look about the bar full of mostly men, middle-aged and older. In front of me stands a man in a ‘retro-style’ Reading shirt; he seems to be listening to a pod-cast through ear phones, either that or he is profoundly deaf, it’s difficult to tell nowadays. His shirt has a rather attractive badge that features three trees and I ask him if these trees are the elms of Reading’s former Elm Park ground; it turns out they are. We talk more, reminiscing about Elm Park and moving onto our dislike of modern football and not really wanting our respective teams to get promotion. He tells me that Reading currently play a sort of ‘anti-football’ whereby they just pass it around endlessly across the back four. I say that Ipswich let the opposition have the ball and play on the break, and on the basis of this he predicts that Ipswich will win. This Reading fan lives in Brighton and doesn’t go to home games, but just picks away trips that appeal to him, and Ipswich is such a trip. He says he likes Portman Road, knows there is good beer here and now that Ipswich Town have dropped the away tickets to a sensible price (£24 instead of £40) that’s enough. I feel pleased that an away supporter likes to come to Ipswich, and he’s right, we are truly blessed in Ipswich, it is fine town with a perfectly situated football stadium, close to both the railway station and the town centre; possibly the best located football ground in the whole of Britain.
Eager to avoid strange men who come up and talk to you about your shirt, the Reading supporter sups his beer and leaves, but not before we shake hands and wish each other well; now alone I sit down to finish my dark amber beer. One of the bunch of older blokes on the next table starts to talk to me; we discuss school reunions, Harvey’s brewery of Lewes and Whitehawk football club, which we agree is like having a Chantry football club in Ipswich, although to our shame we strangely forget Whitton United.
I seem to have crammed a lot into my 45 minutes in the pub today. Outside the cold air is invigorating and it’s a lovely walk down Portman Road, with the floodlights revealing themselves one by one as I draw closer to the ground. The ‘Turnstile Blue’ fanzine sellers on the corner in front of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue are waving fanzines about enthusiastically, and selling some too. I always buy a copy, although it can be a bit sanctimonious and earnest at times, with too few articles about footballers’ haircuts. TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cobbold stand is looking good today, it’s row of white painted concrete struts producing a fine repetitive rhythm along the street, above people waiting, looking at their watches and heading for the turnstiles where there are no queues today.
Inside the ground I buy a programme (£3) and drain my bladder, then go to my seat. The teams are on the pitch and Reading kick-off towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) stand wearing orange hi-vis and black shorts; they look like they should be out gritting the roads of Berkshire on a day like today, not playing football. In the third minute Ipswich add to the possibility that we are watching Ipswich Town v Berkshire County Council Highways Department by scoring easily with their first attack, Callum Connolly placing the ball inside Italian Vito Mannone’s near post. Thereafter, Reading just pass the ball amongst themselves, as the Reading fan in the pub had forecast, and then they do it some more. Despite being a goal ahead the Portman Road crowd are as quiet as ever; they probably get more animated watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly than they do here. As all visiting fans do, the Reading fans ask through the medium of la donna e mobile from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto if this is a library. Arts Council money is never wasted. Reading do succeed in missing a few opportunities to score and Ipswich are having to defend, but then a bit before half past three a corner is headed on and Joe Garner heads a second goal. It’s as if someone has tried to leave the library without checking their book out and the alarms have gone off. But the excitement is temporary and Reading keep passing the ball.
Half-time comes as a relief for the ball which has visibly shrunk with all that constant Reading passing. Having used the toilet facilities I take a wander about; down on theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA concourse beneath the stand strings of lights dangle from above as Ipswich Town embraces the festive season. I eat a Fairtrade cereal bar, which I brought with me from home, because the football club does not sell such things. On the pitch a small brass band play Christmas carols. I flick through the programme in which club captain Luke OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChambers tells us that “You never know in life what is just around the corner. What grenade can hit you”. He goes on to add “I think most people would have taken where we are if it was offered to us at the start of the season, especially with the injuries we’ve had”. It makes me think “Blimey, shrapnel wounds”. Also in the programme there is a feature on Town’s Grant Ward who I like to confuse with the twentieth century American artist Grant Wood, famous for American Gothic. Grant Wood attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and wonderfully the article tells us that Grant Ward played for Chicago Fire in the MLS. Incidentally, why did the Americans name a football club after a disaster that befell the city? It’s like the Japanese having a club called Hiroshima Bomb.
I decide to change seats for the second half and go to the other side of the goal and nearer the pitch to join super-fan Phil who never misses a game. I speak with Pat, the secretary of the Clacton-On-Sea branch of the supporters club who sits a couple of rows behind Phil; apparently only sixteen people have travelled on the supporters’ bus from Clacton today. She tells me how a fastidious female steward always carefully searches her bag each week as she enters the stadium, whilst people in big coats are not even patted down. There are no security searches entering the ground from Portman Road, just signs saying there will be. Pat asked the steward what she was looking for; the answer was “wires”. Marcus Evans is probably fearful of being tapped but Pat now carries her grenades on a belt under her coat; she’s been coming to Portman Road since the 1960’s.
It’s dark now and the floodlights shine through the translucent roof of the stand above

 

me. Being closer to the pitch lends this position an atmosphere not present at the back of the stand. In front of us is the disabled supporters enclosure and a boy with Downs Syndrome puts everyone to shame with his enthusiastic shouts and clapping; he gets what this being a football fan is about.
The second half is oddly compelling given that Reading continue to pass the ball ceaselessly but pointlessly and Ipswich just give the ball back to them whenever they win it. On 52 minutes Reading’s Paul McShane is booked and  I recall one of several reasons why I never liked Hi-de-hi. Reading are hopelessly ineffective; Bart Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal catches or punches away several crosses, but doesn’t have a shot to save. The highlight of the half is the 67th minute applause for Dick Murphy, the kitman and caretaker at the club academy who died during the week. A piece in the programme pays tribute to Dick who is described as a “loyal servant of the Blues”. I had never heard of Dick Murphy before today and think it’s an awful shame I have now only heard of him because he is dead.
There is a kind of tension about the second half as the home fans wonder if Town will hold on without actually touching the ball which gives the game its name. Occasionally this tension translates into some crowd noise; based on the experience of the first half if Town do manage to keep the ball long enough to make four or five passes they could score again. It fools us all into thinking we’re being entertained.
Despite five minutes of added on time for a number of real and imagined injuries the match doesn’t seem to drag on and at about five minutes to five referee Mr Bankes closes proceedings in the customary shrill manner.  As the stands empty a serious looking steward wearing a large head set watches on; I like to think he’s listening to the classified results.   It’s been a strangely enjoyable afternoon, possibly only because Town have won; the football was largely forgettable.

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Ipswich Town 3 Wigan Athletic 0

An evening in early April and Ipswich Town’s last mid-week match of the season will follow an after work beer with a friend, a beer with my tea (a pie) and a pre-match beer with some bloke who I talk to about why he generally only ever goes to evening matches; he owns horses. About 7.30 I set off down Portman Road from St Jude’s Tavern.
Evening matches are best. They make a grand punctuation mark at the end of a day and the creep of dusk and darkness is a lovely thing, particularly when it’s shot through with bright, white floodlight. As I approach the corner of the ground where that light spills over the tops of the stands, I hear an unfamiliar accent and encounter two big blokes excitedly but carefully composing a selfie with the stadium in the background. They must be football tourists, and I ask them where they are from. “We’re from Norway, there’s lots of us here tonight and loads of Swedes too”. Those Vikings just can’t break the habit can they? Coming over here in their long boats, and now courtesy of Scandinavian Airlines. Just for something to say I tell them I nearly ended up heading for Trondheim once when trying to drive out of Ostersund towards Karlstad. It’s a story I like to tell all Scandinavians. “I’m from Trondheim” and “He’s from Trondheim” they said simultaneously. I shake their hands; meeting football supporters from abroad almost brings a tear to my eye, we love them and they love us. They’re a friendly bunch, our European neighbours, and so are 48% of British people who voted in that there referendum (OK, so Norway isn’t in the EU, but Sweden is and Denmark, and Finland). As I dream of the entente cordiale, the Scandinavians meet up with some fellow countryman to clap and chant “Ipswich, Ipswich”,

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clearly misunderstanding the local custom of being very quiet in Portman Road.

Tonight Ipswich Town will play Wigan Athletic, a coming together of the town on the river from which George Orwell took his name, with the town about whose residents George Orwell wrote in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier.

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With both clubs floundering at the crappy end of Division Two, it’s appropriate that his book dealt with the hardships and suffering of the great depression, though I may be guilty of losing perspective there.

To celebrate my wealth compared to the poor devils of 1930’s Wigan, I splash out £3 on a programme. Tonight, the cover features Jordan Spence, who squints at the camera and I think looks a bit like Tyrone Mings, which could be why Town signed him.

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Bart Bialkowski and David McGoldrick peer over his shoulder and stare at the nape of his neck respectively, poised to step forward should he fall forwards off the page.

I have a choice of turnstile to get into the ground tonight because there’s nobody much here and I pick number seven, “ Lucky number seven turnstile tonight “ I say to the operator “Ha ha. Yes” he says humouring me. Inside the ground I have a brief chat with a steward with whom I used to work, before taking up my seat near the back of the stand. With the game soon to start I am a little surprised to see the same steward walking up the steps towards me a few minutes later; he tells me there was a complaint the previous Saturday about a supporter banging a tambourine. That supporter was me and I am asked not to bang the tambourine.

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I stand up and announce to everyone around me that I have been banned from banging a tambourine in support of the Town. People laugh, and indeed it is laughable. I am not allowed to make a noise at a football match. Then again, this is Ipswich, which has clearly never recovered from its 17th century position as a stronghold of puritan killjoys where playing sport was banned on Sundays.
Seditiously, I invite others to bang the tambourine on my behalf, which a couple do half-heartedly, but there would be no revolution. One would have hoped the club would have censured the complainer for being a ridiculous arse and sided with me. I should have complained first of course, saying I would like to complain about anyone who might complain about my banging a tambourine. Then, when the complainant complained they could have told him that they’d already received a complaint about him and he should desist from complaining forthwith.

The game begins. Ipswich are better than Wigan and score. I can’t bring myself to celebrate. When Crazee the mascot appears by the steps into the stand to bang his drum, yes; bang his DRUM, much noisier than a tambourine, I expect a steward to tell him to stop. Nothing happens, so I skip down the steps to Crazee and explain my situation to him and most obligingly he rattles the tambourine to the cheers of the crowd. Feeling a little better for this small victory, this two-fingers to my oppressors I cough up a cheer and bang the tambourine naughtily when Ipswich score a second goal.
At half-time I consider moving to another seat but I’m a broken man and instead contemplate throwing myself off the top tier to make a statement, but I think better of it in case the referee abandons the game when we’re 2-0 up and heading for a rare victory. I’d never forgive myself, although may be I wouldn’t have to. Anyway, I stay sat where I was and console myself by sniggering at the name of the Wigan Athletic No 6 who is called Max Power.

The football resumes and Ipswich Town are playing okay tonight, although Wigan Athletic are not at all good and have been the architects of their own downfall (or as it subsequently said in the report on the ITFC website, the “victims of their own downfall”…well durr) , but at least Ipswich look like they know they must score goals. Wigan Athletic come close to scoring a few themselves however, even though they are rubbish, and despite Town eventually winning 3-0 it is Ipswich Town’s goalkeeper, Bialkowski who is the man of the match. Satisfyingly Max Power is booked for tackling too strongly; he probably needs some sort of resistor, although at least he doesn’t blow a fuse and get himself sent off.

The final whistle blows and Town have won at last; I look up at the slogan placed by the club at the top of the North Stand. “What is a club?” it asks, and rather cockily answers its own question: “The Noise, The Passion, The Feeling of Belonging”. Yeah right. You can probably make your own conclusions about that.