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 2 Bolton Wanderers 5

This evening I shall be staying in town after the match and along with my friend Pete will be going to the Arbor House (formerly and properly known as the Arboretum) for something to eat and a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.70).  The refreshments however are a mere precursor to the main event, which will see me heading to the Ipswich Transport Museum to witness the wonderful, extraordinary, and brilliant Robyn Hitchcock (formerly of the Soft Boys) perform a selection from his repertoire of over forty years’ worth of groovy tunes.  Robyn is a particular hero of mine who first came to my notice back in 1978, a year that was an undoubted highpoint in my largely pointless existence, when a friend played me the Soft Boys single “(I want to be an) Anglepoise Lamp”.   This evening, explaining how he comes to be playing a concert in Ipswich Transport Museum, Robyn will tell of how in the summer of 1963, as a ten-year old obsessed with the Beatles and trolleybuses he glimpsed Ipswich Corporation’s trolleybus-filled Priory Heath depot from the train line that runs by on the opposite side of Cobham Road.  Robyn’s love of trolleybuses has not abated, and he will confide that playing the museum is a dream gig, and he’s right, it will be one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to.  The last time I saw Ipswich Town and Robyn Hitchcock on the same day was 17th October 1992 when in the company of Pete’s then girlfriend, now wife, Claire, I witnessed a 1-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge before Claire and I ate burgers in Wendy’s on Oxford Street and then travelled on to the Powerhaus in Islington to meet up with Pete. But today, before the pleasure must come the pain.

After three consecutive two-all home draws in League matches, I have broken out of the pattern of driving into Ipswich in my trusty Citroen C3, parking on Chantry, and trying to get a drink in the fanzone but failing.  Today I have travelled to Ipswich with the aforementioned Pete in his fourteen-year-old Ford Focus and am meeting another friend, Mick at the Greyhound for a pre-match pint of Adnam’s Southwold Bitter (formerly more simply known just as Adnam’s Bitter). I am anticipating that the break in habit will bear fruit with a first win of the season.  At the Greyhound Mick kindly buys the pints of beer, so I don’t know what they cost, but I expect they were expensive.   After three-quarters of an hour of intelligent conversation we leave the Greyhound beer garden (formerly the car park) at about twenty minutes to three and go our separate ways on Sir Alf Ramsey Way, Mick to what was the West Stand and me to what was Churchman’s after having both purchased a programme each (£3.50), so that we know the names of the players representing Town this week.  It’s a good job we do too because today we have both a new goalkeeper, Christian Walton, and a new centre-half, George Edmundson and there are three more changes to the team that last played.  I enter the ground through turnstile number fifty-nine because Pat from Clacton seems to be causing the formation of a small queue at turnstile number sixty.  Entering the ground, I chat to Kevin who I know from our time at Wivenhoe Town.

On the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, by the time I’ve drained my bladder Pat from Clacton and Fiona have taken their seats and Ray and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood are here too; Ray’s son and his grandson Harrison are absent however because, as Ray will later tell me they are at Centre-Parcs.  With both teams on the pitch and lined up, Conor Chaplin swings his leg to kick-off the match just as referee Mr Robert Madley reminds him that the teams are about to ‘take the knee’, which Conor proceeds to do, seamlessly transforming his shaping up to kick pose into a kneel as the crowd applauds and sticks it to racist knuckle-draggers everywhere.

Soon enough Chaplin begins the game and within a minute the assembled Boltonians up in the Cobbold Stand are asking “Is this a library?” through the medium of Italian opera.  “You don’t know what a library is” bawls a man somewhere behind me, sounding like the embittered voice of the person responsible for adult education in Greater Manchester.  Bolton win a corner.  The fifth minute arrives and Wes Burns brushes aside the weakling challenge of Bolton full-back Liam Gordon to put in a low cross, which the oddly named Macauley Bonne merely has to side foot into the net, which he does, to give Town a very early lead and confirm that today things will be different.  How we celebrate; the breath of life inflating our balloon-like hopes. “He’s fuckin’ superb, he is” says the coarse bloke behind me of Wes Burns. I can’t disagree, but might express the view differently.  I breathe in the smell of the lush turf as the Sir Bobby Robson stand invoke the spirit of Boney M and Christmas with their oddly un-seasonal and goodwill-free version of Mary’s Boy Child. 

A further five minutes pass, and the right hand side of the Town defence solidifies instead of gelling and Bolton’s Oladapo Afolayan sweeps the ball past Christian Walton to equalise.  The balloon of hope has burst.  “Who are ya? chant the Bolton fans repetitively, for reasons which are not clear. “Who the fuckin’ hell are you?” respond the Sir Bobby Robson stand equally repetitively and for equally obscure reasons, but whilst also possibly claiming short-lived ‘bragging rights’ by including a swear in what is usually a religious tune (Cwm Rhondda).   The Bolton support responds in turn however with what sounds like “Wanky, wanky, wanky, wanky Wanderers”, although I could be wrong, and their thick Lancastrian accents may have disguised their true words beneath a layer of hot-pot, barm cakes and soot.  But there is no time to dwell on this as the eager to gloat Boltonians follow up with renditions of the generally truthful “Sing when you’re winning” and the geographically inaccurate “Small town in Norwich, you’re just small town in Norwich”.  Such is the quick-fire nature of their trawl through these songs that I half expect the PA system to announce their availability on three discs exclusive to K-tel Records via mail-order.

The Bolton fans’ jibes make the time pass quickly until their team’s next goal, in the 18th minute, which arrives courtesy of Kane Vincent-Young’s ill-advised and unnecessary attempt at a tackle in the penalty area. Eoin Doyle scores the penalty for Bolton as Christian Walton appears to dive out of the way of the ball.  Within five minutes Vincent-Young is replaced by Janoi Donacien as he has already been given a glimpse of Mr Madley’s yellow card and no longer looks like a fully functioning full-back.  Despite trailing, Town are not obviously the second-best team on the pitch and the Bolton defence is often desperate, to the extent that both Lloyd Isgrove and the delightfully Welsh Gethin Jones both have their names written down in Mr Madley’s notebook.  A third of the game has passed and once again Wes Burns decides there is nothing for it but to bustle past the full-back and send in another cross from which the oddly named Macauley Bonne can score, but Bolton’s Ricardo saves Bonne the trouble of applying the final touch and Town are level.  “E’s fuckin’ superb” says the bloke behind me of Wes Burns, just in case no one was listening after the first goal.  An hour left and we’ve already reached the usual scoreline for a home league game, at this rate we’re heading for a six-all draw. 

Hopes for a win are revived and the massively improved Sone Aluko heads over the Bolton cross-bar and also puts in a decent cross at the end of a fine move down the right. “E’s ‘aving a good game, ‘e is” says the bloke behind me of Aluko, in case we weren’t sure.  There will be three minutes of time added on, which is more than enough time to score another goal. Wes Burns once again gets down the wing to the goal line and crosses the ball for Macaulay Bonne to direct towards the goal, but his off-balance stab at the ball bounces the wrong side of the goal post.  Quickly Bolton launch the ball forward and with unsporting alacrity the ball is delivered to the feet of Oladapo Afolayan who scores what is almost a replica of his first goal with the Town defence unsure whether to gel, solidify or just melt away. For the first time this season it has become necessary to score a third goal simply to avoid defeat.

Half-time provides time to reflect on confused emotions and to talk to Ray who, as a former full-back, albeit for the YMCA in the 1970’s, has concerns about the defence and the midfield.  Our conversation fills the space between the two halves completely and the game is almost beginning again as I take my seat and I haven’t yet eaten my Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  Ever-present Phil says we’re going to win 5-4 and I remain hopeful too, especially as Finney and Worthington are both out for Bolton and have been for several years.  The one portent of possible doom however, is that the lead in my Ipswich Town pencil has snapped. Three minutes pass and Bolton send a ball over the top to Doyle.  Walton saves a shot from Antoni Sarcevic before the Town defence dissolves into an aqueous mess and Josh Sheehan scores a simple fourth goal.  The bloke behind me vows to leave if Bolton score again.

The bright early autumn sunshine and blue sky seem to mock me with their beauty and question what I’m doing here on such a lovely September afternoon. The attendance is announced as being 19,267 with 553 of that number being supporters of Bolton Wanderers who must be lapping up the additional Vitamin D.  Weirdly given the sunshine, at sixteen minutes past four the floodlights are turned on. “That Evans is a bag o’nails” says the bloke behind me in an unrelated and possibly surreal incident.  A minute later George Johnston scores a fifth for Bolton as the Ipswich defence gets into what Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley could justifiably call a “sixes and sevens situation.” The bloke behind me leaves as he said he would. Loud boos emanate from the mouths of some Town supporters. “It’s a shame innit” says Pat from Clacton sympathetically. “We want six” chant the Bolton supporters less sympathetically.  “We’ve got to go all-out attack now” says Pat to ever-present Phil, although the score line already suggests that if we’re not attacking we’re not doing anything else much either.

Conor Chaplin is replaced by 1960’s signing from Cambridge City Tommy Carroll.  “Is this a library?” sing the Bolton fans reprising their earlier attempts at a Verdi opera, and the oddly named Macauley Bonne hits a post with subtle re-direction of a Hayden Coulson cross.  “What I don’t understand is why he don’t bring Piggott on and play two up-top. That’s fuckin’ ignorance that is” says a voice behind me which sounds oddly like the voice that I thought had left after the fifth goal.  The answer to what he doesn’t understand is that Piggott isn’t actually on the bench.  Ignorance eh?

Town have plenty of possession now, but annoyingly Bolton appear to have gelled and we can’t find a way through.   “Over and in” says Pat from Clacton willing the ball into the Bolton net from a cross, but it’s over and out for a corner.  Soon it will be over and out full stop.  “We can see you sneaking out” chant the hot-pot munchers upstairs in the Cobbold stand, conveniently ignoring the people like me, Ray, Fiona, ever-present Phil, and Pat from Clacton who will resolutely sit in our seats until the inevitably bitter end.  A Bolton shot sails over the cross bar and lands the width of seven or eight seats and a gangway to my right. The bloke in the seat in front of me flinches and ducks away to his left, but it’s still early in the season and he clearly hasn’t gelled with his surroundings.  Seven minutes remain and in what seems like the most aimless substitution of the season so far, Wes Burns is replaced with Kayden Jackson, although I reserve the right to change that view should Wes Burns prove to have been injured.   “Kayden Jackson? We’d be better off with Gordon Jackson” I think to myself, involuntarily remembering both the 1970’s ITV series ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’. Thankfully I didn’t shout it out.

In due course the final whistle sounds to the inevitable boos from those elements of the home crowd ignorant of, or unable to see the truths in the words of Rudyard Kipling’s admittedly sexist poem “If”, about attitudes to triumph and disaster.  I must admit however to preferring Lindsay Anderson’s film.   I leave the Sir Alf Ramsey stand in the company of Ray, who is heading for Fonnereau Road where his wife Roz will pick him up, whilst appropriately, given the nightmare I’ve just witnessed, I head for the car park on Elm Street.   But what do I care, the best of my day is yet to come and I know it.

Bristol Rovers 0 Ipswich Town 2

The infection rate for Covid-19 is on the rise again and I am staying home, even though it’s Saturday and the prospect of either AFC Sudbury v Coggeshall Town in the Isthmian League or Ipswich Wanderers v Brantham Athletic in the qualifying round of the FA Vase is deeply enticing.  But my wife Paulene is in the extremely vulnerable category due to chronic asthma and given many people’s apparent inability to comprehend social distancing or the wearing of a mask I’m not taking any chances.  

After six months I have got used to this and my reality now is that football is a game witnessed on the television or followed on the radio, which sadly means non-league games are just results and all the footballers I get to watch are overpaid professionals.  But I can still follow the mighty Ipswich Town home and away, and because I would resent being charged ten quid for watching an hour and a half’s telly, I shall be listening to today’s match on the wireless, as I like to call it.

Today, the ritual of the pre-match pint is partly a reward for a morning of productive pottering in the garden, although it’s actually a pre-match 440 millilitres in the form of a can of Adnams Ghostship (four for £5.25 from Waitrose). It’s such a beautiful afternoon that I decide to take advantage of the weather and listen to the game outside whilst bathed in soft September sunlight. Tuning into Radio Suffolk doesn’t prove as easy as I had expected and by the time I have made fine adjustments to the dial and the physical position of the radio itself in order to shut out brash, ill-mannered Radio Essex and its impending commentary on Colchester United v Bolton Wanderers, the game is about to begin.  I feel like I am twelve years old again, trying to find Radio Caroline and Radio North Sea International on my tiny Vesta V70 transistor radio (about £2 from Woolworth’s) in the early 1970’s.

As ever, Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley is the man (it’s never been a woman) to relay his commentary to an eager county of football fans.  But by way of a change Brenner is assisted today, not by the regular, dependable, steady Mick Mills, but by one of Town’s few 21st century heroes, Marcus Stewart, a man almost as famous for his goals as his gloves, a replica pair of which I am proud to still own, despite their being pretty much unwearable.  I first take notice of the commentary as an early Gwion Edwards header is easily saved by Bristol Rovers’ Finnish ‘keeper Anssi Jaakola. “What about that chance Marcus?” asks Brenner; he receives no response, it’s as if Marcus just isn’t listening or has drifted off into a world of his own; perhaps he’s bored already.  “He should have done better shouldn’t he, Marcus?” adds Brenner sounding a tiny bit anxious.  Fortunately for Brenner, Marcus returns from wherever he’s been and gives some answer or other; I have drifted off a bit myself now and am listening to the chimes of a passing ice cream van, “Boys and girls come out to play” is the jangly, distorted tune that the loudspeakers are blaring out.  I love ice cream van chimes, they make me think of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Something wicked this way comes”.

In the absence of any decent football to commentate on, Brenner tells us that the Town have had to change for the match today in the supporters’ club bar, which is something that would have been far too risky to have allowed back in the seventies or eighties if the reputations of some former players are to be believed.  Brenner continues by commenting on Paul Lambert having adopted what he calls a “Tony Pulis look”, by which he means his blue baseball cap, not a sour facial expression, although he can do that as well.

Some football happens and Brenner describes the player with the ball as “running into traffic”, which sounds a little bizarre and suggests Bristol Rovers need a new stadium more than most.  It’s now just after half past three and there is a drinks break which sounds as exciting as the game.  With everyone refreshed nothing seems to improve however, but Marcus raises his game making reference to “big Devon White”, the towering centre forward who scored twice for Bristol Rovers in a 3-3 draw with Town back in August 1991.  On his debut, Marcus scored the other goal for Rovers in that match, but seems reassuringly modest about his career, allowing the modern players credit and telling us how difficult many skills are to perfect, and it sounds like the two teams are demonstrating the proof of that today.

Half-time looms and Marcus tells us that “Both teams are not fluid”.  “They’re not, are they” says Brenner as if he really means “No, they’re crap aren’t they”.

I use the half-time break to talk to my wife Paulene who is watching the Tour de France on the telly in the kitchen, it beats flitting down the steps to the gents underneath the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and staring up at the half-time scores on the screens in the under croft of the stand.  The respite from the game is all too brief and I’m soon sat at the garden table once again and Brenner reveals that Thomas Holy is “off to our right”.  In the first half I had drawn a little sketch plan of the pitch which I tried to use to keep track of where the ball was, but my plan was scuppered because I realised I didn’t know towards which end Town were kicking.  Interestingly, (perhaps) the very first BBC radio commentary for a match (Arsenal v Sheffield United in Division One on 22nd January 1927) used a system whereby the pitch was divided up into eight squares and the commentator Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam described the game whilst a co-commentator said which square the ball was in; a diagram showing the football pitch divided up into squares was printed in that week’s Radio Times.  I think Mick Mills has the perfect delivery for telling us what square the ball is in.

It’s five minutes past four and Brenner carefully describes the two teams’ kits as the second half gets underway; it’s a job well done and all Ipswich Town nerds will quickly realise that the red and blue ‘third kit’ has now been used three seasons running.  Nine minutes later and Brenner is perhaps more excited than he should be as he reveals that Norwood should have scored, although it would have been disallowed.  Marcus by contrast remains calm, I can only think he spotted the offside flag before Brenner.

Town seem to be on top now and at four- twenty two Brenner’s voice suddenly becomes louder and his words get closer together. “Edwards with a great chance!” he says, followed by silence.  I guess that he didn’t score.  Freddie Sears is replaced by Jack Lankester and a procession of Town players’ names follows over the airwaves as they take it in turns to get caught offside.

Time has moved on to half-past four and Brenner’s voice rises again in pitch and in volume. Nolan has a shot we are told and for a moment I think it’s a goal, it sounded like it must be, but no, it’s a corner.  A minute later and “Edwards goes round the goalkeeper!”, again I think we’ve scored, but no, it’s blocked on the line and Paulene sits down next to me to eat some crisps and Parma ham because she hasn’t eaten any lunch. 

Time is moving on apace; this is a good half for Town and Brenner’s voice is up and down in tempo and volume as he tries to convey what would be the waves of excitement if there was a crowd watching this game. It’s nearly twenty to five and Gwion Edwards shoots for goal again and then a minute later there’s a cross from Jack Lankester; a moment’s doubt from Brenner “It might be an own goal?” and indeed it transpires that Rovers’ German centre-half Max Ehmer has scored in his own team’s net, which is nice.   Marcus Stewart immediately starts a philosophical argument in my mind as he relates that the goal had been coming for the past twenty minutes.  I muse that had he been watching the game or listening on the wireless like me, the sixteenth century French theologian John Calvin might well have argued that it had been coming since the dawn of time, with all our fates being pre-ordained by God.  It’s not something Marcus picks up on and Brenner merely adds that after some earlier ‘last ditch defending’ from Bristol Rovers, this time it’s a goal.

There’s an interlude of sorts as Marcus Stewart expounds a theory that Jack Lankester should be awarded the goal if his cross was heading into the goal before Ehmer headed it; it’s not a wholly unreasonable proposition except that no one suggested Lankester’s cross was going towards the goal and the whole incident implies that once again Marcus may not have been paying full attention.  It’s a quarter to five and thirty years ago the game would have been over by now, but today there’s still time for the boy Dozzell to elicit the words “Lovely ball”  from the mouth of Brenner, and for Town substitute Ollie Hawkins to miss the goal, before quite suddenly I hear “ Here come Town;  Nolan, shoots, and finds the corner of the net”.  It sounds like it’s 2-0 to Town.  Brenner sounds less excited than he did when all those shots went wide earlier in the game, but eventually confirms that Town have “…strung together back to back victories”.

The referee Mr Hicks who thankfully has barely featured in Brenner and Marcus’s commentary calls time and the game is over.  I quickly turn off the radio to avoid being subjected to the stupidity of the post-match phone-in.  I have enjoyed my afternoon in my back garden in the sunshine and feel a curious ‘simpatico’ with my dead father, who would listen to cricket test matches on the radio on similar sunny afternoons.  Thinking back over the past hour and fifty minutes or so of radio commentary I have been consumed by the thoughts and descriptions from Brenner Woolley and Marcus Stewart, my one reservation being the illogical and groundless worry that every time Brenner Woolley said the name Marcus he was addressing Marcus Evans.

Endocarditis 1 NHS 2

On 5th July 1948, courtesy of Clement Attlee’s Labour government the people of Britain became the recipients of a national health service which was free to all at the point of use, paid for through progressive taxation, a tax system which put into practice the ideal of citizens contributing according to their ability to do so and receiving, in this case, according to their clinical need.  No longer would sick people feel the need to shy away from seeking help from a doctor because they could not afford to do so.  My mother still remembers her mother living in fear of the cost of the doctor’s bill. The population had ‘pulled together’ during World War Two and now a new post-war age was dawning in which selfless actions for the greater good could now be put to peaceful purposes.

I benefitted from the existence of the NHS when I came into the world at the Priory Hospital in Haverfordwest in 1960 and as a child I received all the free inoculations, dental treatment and medical checks that the system provided.  Inevitably, as a child I took it for granted and given that tooth extractions and injections were included I did not see it as a good thing; the polio vaccine-laced sugar lump was scant consolation for the promise of pain the health service otherwise represented in my young mind.    As an adult I never gave much thought to the NHS because I was rarely ill, and therefore had little need to do so; I visited the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at Ipswich’s old Anglesea Road hospital when I shut my right forefinger in the door of a Fiat 126 on men’s Wimbledon final day 1980 and then in autumn 1994 I attended the re-located A & E department at Heath Road when I chipped an ankle bone playing football; my darting run into the penalty area coming to a sudden premature halt as my ankle gave way on the uneven surface of one of the pitches up at Gainsborough Sports Centre.  But otherwise, the NHS meant little to me despite its apparently increasing profile in the national psyche, which more recently reached a crescendo in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, which almost seemed to define Britain in terms of its NHS; to be honest I thought it was going a bit far.

When Town drew at home with Sunderland on August 10th this year I was disappointed because it was a game we should have won, but I was not despondent, I wasn’t going to get ill over it. I went to work the following Monday as usual but on Tuesday morning awoke in the small hours feeling short of breath. I didn’t go to work on Tuesday because I felt lousy; a visit to my GP produced a course of Amoxycillin antibiotic to deal with a perceived chest infection. By Thursday I was no better and my wife Paulene called the doctor’s surgery, they asked me to come in but I was so short of breath by now I was barely able to walk; they said to call an ambulance.  I was admitted to Colchester hospital that afternoon; the following morning I was put into a coma. I had pneumonia, but on the following Tuesday lunchtime I travelled at speed under sirens and blue flashing lights to the specialist cardiac unit at Basildon hospital.

The following morning I had open-heart surgery to replace two valves that had been attacked by a bacterium; the pneumonia was a decoy, I actually had Endocarditis, a very rare but potentially fatal condition which infects and eats away at the endocardium (the inner lining of the heart chambers), and at the heart valves.

Town’s two-all draw at Peterborough came and went without my knowledge and then I missed the mid-week home game versus Wimbledon on 20th August, which was annoying, but my ventilator would no doubt have aggravated other supporters in the seats around me and it would have been difficult to give the team much vocal support with a bunch of tubes stuck down my throat. Being comatose however, is not necessarily a barrier to watching the Town at Portman Road,    as many season ticket holders in seats all around the ground regularly seem to prove; as animated as some Northstanders get, Portman Road cannot really be described as a cauldron of noise.  By the time Saturday came, and Town were heading ‘up north’ to Bolton Wanderers, I was out of the coma and was conscious, but sadly if predictably not fit to travel.  Judging by some of the hallucinations I was experiencing due to the pain-killing drugs I was receiving however, I doubt I would have understood what was going on even if I could have watched the game.  No one could have blamed me if the 5-0 final score in Town’s favour had seemed like just another weird imagining from my drug-addled brain. A 5-0 away win still seems a bit unlikely.

My recovery was to be a long one and one which now, almost three months later, is not yet over.  As my condition improved and I recovered from surgery I was moved out of the Critical Care Unit into a Cardiac ward.  I caught up on the results I had missed and as I continued to recover, Town continued to win, with the occasional draw just to give the other clubs a chance.  A variety of friends and neighbours swapped about my season ticket between them and sat with Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, so it didn’t go to waste and Town continued to do well.

Whilst everything was rosy at Portman Road my thoughts however had begun to linger on the fact that there were eight recent days in my life of which I had no memory. What struck me was that during these eight days I had apparently come close to death and my life had ultimately been saved by the NHS.  The open heart surgery I had been given was remarkable enough, but the NHS kept giving with continuing care of the highest quality.  I was struck by just how brilliant the staff were but also how they were of so many nationalities from all around the world.  As if the ideal of a free health service wasn’t enough the NHS operates as an international melting pot of doctors and nurses and auxiliary staff, a caring combination of all races, colours and creeds, a World health organisation in the service of a single national population.  That combination of being a health service free at the point of use and its being staffed by people from all around the world makes the NHS one of, if not the most magnificent achievement of human civilisation, an international fellowship of people acting solely for good and not for profit; it is awe-inspiring and achieves what much organised religion strives for.

If I had to come up with some laboured football related analogy I would say that the NHS is the World Cup of healthcare, free to tune in to whenever you want and in an Ipswich Town context it is a Portman Road where all the gates are open all the time and the team is made up of a selection of some of our best ever players (loanees included) all of different nationalities, except there must always be two particular Dutchmen;  for example: Bialkowski, Burley, Taricco, Thijssen, Hunter, Hreidarsson, Legwinski, Muhren, Crawford, Counago, Finidi.   Subs: Begovic, Diallo, Thetis, De Vos, Chopra, Dos Santos, Peralta.   Other team selections can be made according to how brilliant or amusing you want your team to be.

But the moral of this tale is not about football; it is more important than that, it is that matters of life and death seriously are about life and death. The NHS is always there to save anyone’s life at any time and it remains free at the point of use; so please think very carefully about who you vote for on 12th December if you want that to remain the case.