Ipswich Town 2 Shrewsbury Town 1

The football aspect of my weekend has started well.  On Friday evening I logged into FFF tv, the free tv channel of the French football association, to watch one of my favourite French teams, FC Sete take on Stade Lavallois in Ligue National, the French third division; it’s sort of like watching ifollow, but without BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley or Mick Mills (Michel Moulins in France) , and not being English the FFF don’t charge for it.   Things didn’t immediately go well, Sete went a goal behind, a blow from which they never recovered but early in the second half I checked up on how my other Ligue National team, Red Star St Ouen, were doing; somewhat annoyingly, seeing as I wasn’t watching them, they were winning 3-0 away at Avranche. I soon switched feeds but not soon enough to see Red Star’s fourth goal, although at least I saw their fifth and sixth goals to create some welcome Anglo-French symmetry with Town’s recent thrashing of Doncaster Rovers.

This morning the sun continues to shine, literally, from a bright blue autumn sky.  It’s the sort of beautiful day that makes you feel glad to be alive.  I do the usual things, parking up my trusty Citroen on Chantry and strolling down through Gippeswyk Park, but by way of a change from routine I am going to buy my programme (£3.50) before my pre-match beer.  Having only a twenty-pound note in my wallet I decide to buy my programme from the club shop where I can pay by card; but stepping over the threshold I am witness to a sea of unmasked faces queuing at the tills. It looks like a cross between the January sales and the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.  Not wanting to even risk entering a scene of such thoughtless disregard for the health and safety of others in such a confined space, I make a hasty retreat and form a queue of one at the nearest programme seller’s booth.   Programme in hand, I proceed up Portman Road, along Little Gipping Street, across Civic Drive, up Lady Lane and St George’s Street to what used to be The Arboretum, but is now known as the Arbor House.  The bar is surprisingly empty and having purchased a pint of Nethergate Copperhead (£3.80) I make the short walk through to the beer garden where I am mildly surprised to find Mick already sat at a table behind a pint of Mauldon’s something or rather (he can’t remember exactly what), with his mobile phone in hand,  texting me to say “Je suis dans le jardin”, which I tell him is exactly what I was going to do if he hadn’t beaten me to it.   

Having discussed “new Labour”, Mick’s daughter’s recent wedding and his father of the bride speech, how we have been born in the wrong country, the utterly unbelievable ineptness of Boris Johnson, the whereabouts of mutual friends, and the Sheffield Wednesday game we find we have drained our glasses and with no time for more beer we head for Portman Road.  As we walk to the ground we share our bafflement over what appears on the front of Ipswich Town’s shirt. I think we both know it’s something to do with a tour by Ed Sheeran, but what does it mean?  I tell Mick that I don’t think it makes any sense in algebraic terms and we confide in each other that we had both wondered if the mystifyingly popular ginger recording artist was trying to say something obliquely about living in ‘divided times’, but we had both been a bit embarrassed to mention it to anyone else.⁹

Having bid farewell to Mick at the West Stand turnstiles in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I proceed past checkpoint Covid on the Constantine Road gate to turnstile No 59, the portal to another world, the foyer to which is the men’s toilet beneath the Sir Alf Ramsey stand; relieved, I am soon making my first appearance this month in the lower tier seats.  Against the usual background of overly loud music, presumably intended to excite me as well as make my ears ring unpleasantly, stadium announcer and former Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster somewhat alarmingly speaks of Town having put Doncaster Rovers “to the sword” in the last home game.  Then, sounding like an entertainer at a child’s birthday party, Stephen asks the crowd if Town can do the same to Shrewsbury. The response is not an enthusiastic one and suggests that “probably not” is the consensus.

Following the taking of the knee, which we all applaud, the game begins with Shrewsbury Town getting first go with the ball, which they are mainly hoping to aim in the direction of the goal just in front of me.  Today, Shrewsbury are wearing an unusual kit of pink socks, black shorts, and black and pink hooped shirts; they look like a team of Denis the Menaces who are in touch with their female side.   There don’t appear to be any away fans wearing the replica shirts of this kit, although I think I can see a woman in a pale pink cardigan.  To my right Fiona and Pat from Clacton discuss the UEFA Cup celebrating musical ‘Never Lost At Home’ which Fiona is seeing at the Wolsey Theatre tonight and Pat saw last night.  “It brought back so many memories” Pat tells Fiona.  I share with them that I am going to watch it on-line this evening, and I am destined to discover that my experience mirrors Pat’s.

Eight minutes pass and Wesley Burns receives a through ball, which he crosses low for the oddly named Macauley Bonne to hit into the Shrewsbury goal from close range, only for Macauley Bonne to have been offside.  The near miss provokes a burst of noise from the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and a fulsome chant echoes around the stands for at least a few seconds. Town are permanently ensconced in the Shrewsbury half. “Here we go” says Pat from Clacton trying to influence events as the ball is crossed from a free-kick; but Wes Burns’ header goes into the side netting.  Town win a corner. “Ipswich, Ipswich”, “Come On You Blues” chant the Sir Bobby Robson stand with gusto and Matt Penney sends an angled shot whistling past the far post from 25 metres out.

“Nice to see the ball down here” says the bloke behind me contrarily as Shrewsbury make a rare foray towards Vaclav Hladky’s goal and Ryan Bowman heads over the cross bar. It’s an incident that causes excitement amongst the Shropshire lads lurking in the shadows at the back of the Cobbold Stand, who don’t sing but instead read from their books of poetry by AE Housman. Two minutes later and a left foot shot from Lee Evans is blocked.  A further minute passes and the oddly named Macauley Bonne heads a Matt Penney cross goalwards forcing  a flying save from Shrewsbury ‘keeper Marko Marosi.  But Marosi can only push the ball away and Conor Chaplin nips in to fire the ball into the net and give Town a deserved lead.   A little bizarrely, the reaction of the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand is to go all 1970’s and sing about endlessly fighting ‘the Norwich’ because of Boxing Day, I can only attribute this to a liking for the back catalogue of Boney M.

Relaxing, confident that we are on our way to another handsome victory, I think to myself how Town’s Cameron Burgess reminds me of Town legend Terry Butcher; this is mostly because of his height and the shape of his legs, but also extends to his ability to boot a ball up the left side of the pitch and curl it out into touch for a throw to the opposition.  Behind me one bloke asks the other if he thinks we might see another 6-0 win, but thankfully he doesn’t mention the use of swords.

Five minutes go by in which Town worryingly follow my ill-advised lead and appear to begin to relax too.  The inevitable result is that Sam Morsy loses possession on the edge of the Town penalty area, and the unfortunately monikered Shaun Whalley silences anyone tempted to call him a wally by lashing the ball into the net from 20 metres out.  The recurring pattern has recurred.  “Why don’t we ever shoot from there?” asks the bloke behind me; possibly because the opposition don’t give the ball away in that position I respond, but only in my head. Up in the shadows of the Cobbold Stand the Shropshire lads briefly chant “You’re not singing anymore” but oblivious to the irony, very soon they’re not doing so either, although for no particular reason such as Town scoring again.

With the scores level, Town seem to lose all memory of what they stepped out on to the pitch to do and the remainder of the half drifts away somewhat aimlessly, but with Shrewsbury Town spending more time in the Ipswich half of the pitch; at one point they even win a corner.  With ten minutes of the half remaining Shrewsbury’s number twelve Ryan Bowman is replaced by their number nine Sam Cosgrove. I think the scoreboard gets it the other way round, but it’s an easy mistake to make given that in a sensible world players would be numbered 1 to 11, and substitutes 12 to infinity.  Of course, I might have got that wrong, but it’s an easy mistake to imagine given that in a sensible world players would be numbered 1 to 11 and substitutes 12 to infinity.

The final ten minutes of the half see Cameron Burgess booked by referee Mr Will Finnie, who kicks his heels too high and has overly neat hair for my liking.  Three minutes of additional time are added on during which Pat from Clacton remarks on how nice Fiona looks in her new home shirt, which Fiona collected from the club shop today.  As ever Pat is right, the home shirt is a rich shade of royal blue and suits Fiona to a tee.  Half-time arrives and departs in the flurry of a toilet visit, a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar and a chat with Ray and his grandson Harrison.  The talk is of whether we can score another goal in the second half; I think we can and am hopeful for a third too.

At 1605 the second half begins, and the floodlights flicker on soon afterwards despite it being a bright afternoon, and sunset not being for almost another two and half hours.  I suspect our club’s new owners are just showing off how Americans have no qualms about the conspicuous consumption of energy, or wasting it.  Today’s attendance is announced as 19,256 with the 202 from Shrewsbury being made up of not only Shropshire lads, but Salopians of all ages and sexes.

The half is nine minutes old, and Town earn a corner. Lee Evans crosses the ball and the oddly named Macauley Bonne runs towards it, jumps, and sends a glancing header obliquely across the face of the goal and comfortably inside the far post to restore Town’s lead.  I love a glancing header, one of my favourite types of goal; the twist of the neck, the precise contact with the ball, the eyes following its path into the net, poetry that A E Housman might have appreciated.  “ He’s one of our own” sing the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand to the tune of Sloop John B, before going on to sing about beating up a Norwich City supporter (poor little budgie), this time through the medium of a top 20 hit recorded in 1979 by the Abbey Hey Junior School.

With the sun now hidden behind the West Stand, the temperature drops and the smell of the damp turf drifts into the stands;  I breathe it in deeply like an inhaling dope fiend.  Matt Penney whizzes in a low cross, which the oddly named Macauley Bonne fails by a matter of a fraction of a second to slide into the net.  Kyle Edwards replaces Wes Burns with seventeen minutes of normal time remaining.  Toto N’siala replaces Matt Penney with the game into its last ten minutes.  Three minutes remain and Vaclav Hladky rises imperiously to catch a cross and reap the applause of the home crowd.  Town haven’t managed to score a third goal, but it doesn’t look like they will need to.   For Shrewsbury George Nurse draws laughter from the crowd, firstly falling over as he boots the ball up field and then heading the ball into the ground and somehow managing to get hit by it as it bounces up again; the boy is a natural.  The oddly named Macauley Bonne is replaced by Joe Piggott and five minutes of added on time are announced.  There remains time for Scott Fraser to go down in the penalty area and to be booked by Mr Finnie for diving.  Predictably it’s not a popular decision amongst the Town supporters, but this Town supporter thought it was a blatant dive and Fraser deserved to be booked and possibly kicked when he was on the ground, which then would have been a penalty.

The final action sees the Sir Bobby Robson lower tier singing “Addy, addy, addy-o” for reasons unknown other than that they must be happy and seemingly this makes them reminisce about pre-school. With the final whistle Fiona and Pat from Clacton make a sharp exit, but I linger to applaud the Town players and witness the sadness in the faces of the Shrewsbury players.  It’s been a good day; the sun is still shining and I still have the joy to look forward to of listening to the analysis of Town legend Mick Mills, and the Radio Suffolk phone-in as I drive home. Sometimes life just keeps giving, but then it stops.

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.

Ipswich Town 2 Morecambe 2

 A year ago, the 2020/21 football season began for me in my back bedroom as Town met Bristol Rovers in the League Cup via the airwaves of Radio Suffolk and the descriptive powers of Brenner Woolley and his esteemed sidekick and expert summariser Mick Mills.  But fate, as fickle as it is, has taken an apparent turn for the better and today as the 2021/22 season begins I am returning to Portman Road along with 21,000 or so other souls who have so far survived the pandemic.  With luck I shall never have to endure another ninety-minutes of radio commentary ever again.

As a naturally lazy person, going out again on a Saturday afternoon is something of an effort, but as ever I surprise myself with what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.  At two o’clock I rock up in my trustee Citroen C3 on Chantry estate where I park before taking a brisk walk through Gippeswyk Park, beneath the London  to Stowmarket main rail line, through what was once the site of Reavell’s factory and over the Sir Bobby Robson bridge to Constantine Road where I meet my friend Mick, who has made it easy for me to find him amongst the crowds by  telling me through the medium of the mobile phone that he would be standing next to a pink ice-cream van. Mick, an ethical man, is true to his word; someone less like Boris Johnson I have yet to meet. Mick and I haven’t seen each other in eighteen months but our conversation is oddly brief. Neither of us seems overly keen on entering the fanzone for a beer or to experience whatever other joys it has to offer, and what with the queues to get in we decide within ten minutes to leave further socialising for another day and go our separate ways.  I head off to purchase a programme (£3.50) from the nearest convenient kiosk before weaving my way between the buses and coaches of Beeston’s and Whincop as they disgorge rustic supporters from Hadleigh and Peasenhall.  A programme is an essential purchase today in order to have any clue  about the identity of the team.  Having safely weaved my way I join a queue to have Covid credentials checked before entering the ground in Constantine Road. In the queue behind me a “well-spoken” young man seems oblivious to the pandemic and is turned away, having no proof of vaccination or negative lateral flow test.  Did he really think he would be able to just turn up and get in? Apparently, he did.  I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile number 60 and cheerily thank the operator for letting me in.  For the gatekeepers to a world of dreams and possibilities turnstile operators are much underrated and somewhat taken for granted; their replacement with automatic scanning equipment that beeps in lieu of hoping I enjoy the match is a sad loss.

Out on the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand I re-acquaint myself with Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game (except when games are played behind closed doors), Phil’s son Elwood and Ray.  There is change however, and next to Pat from Clacton is sat Fiona, and the old dears who used to sit behind me but then sat in front of me are conspicuously absent; I do hope they’re okay.  It is good to be back nevertheless, even if hardly anyone except the stewards is wearing a facemask.

From the players’ tunnel a white t-shirted and trackie-bottomed Paul Cook appears to take the crowd’s applause, he’s not a sophisticated looking man sartorially, as I guess his scouse accent foretells. The teams follow soon afterwards and before the game begins a picture of the recently deceased Paul Mariner appears on the scoreboard and we are told that there will be a minute’s applause in his memory, but before the announcer can finish his sentence or the referee can blow his whistle the applause begins; it’s a case of premature appreciation.

Applause over, the Beatles’ Hey Jude strikes up like a metaphorical post-coital cigarette; no one joins in and today’s visitors Morecambe kick-off their first ever game in the third division with a hoof up-field. For those who combine a love of decimal anniversaries and symmetry it is vaguely appropriate that Morecambe are playing Town, who sixty years ago this month began their first ever season in what I believe people now call the Premier League; Town were at Bolton, they drew 0-0.  This season is also the sixtieth anniversary of Morecambe winning the Lancashire Combination league for the second time.

Not much happens to begin with. Morecambe are the first to win a corner. I enjoy the sight of a Town player with a headband, Wes Burns; historically many of the greatest footballers have had plenty of hair, Netzer, Best, Kempes, Pirlo are good examples.  Less enjoyable is Morecambe’s kit, a boring all red creation with white bits at the sides of the shirts and a diagonal white band which would have been okay if it didn’t fade out like a peculiar chalky skid mark.   My attention is also claimed by the Morecambe goalkeeper, Letheren, which is a suitably violent sounding surname for a man with the build of a night club bouncer.

Oddly, given the absence of anyone Spanish in either team or anyone even dressed as a matador, the North Stand break into a chorus of Ole, Ole, Ole.  Perhaps I’m wrong however, and they are singing Allez. Allez, Allez to Frenchman Toumani Diagouraga who played for Town under Mick McCarthy but today is appearing for Morecambe: I guess I’ll never know.  At ten past three Town are awarded a free-kick when Scott Fraser is knocked over; it’s the ninth minute of the game and some supporters attempt a half-arsed attempt at another minute’s applause for Paul Mariner, it’s an effort doomed to failure so soon after that first over eager applause. The free-kick flashes past Letheren’s right hand goal post to gasps of smothered hope from those around me.

At fourteen minutes past three Kane Vincent-Young is victim of the game’s most blatant and spectacular foul as he pushes the ball past Liam Gibson and the antediluvian looking full-back takes him down at waist height.  Referee Mr Craig Hicks, who will later go all out to set himself up as an early contender for the worst referee of the season barely speaks to him.  “It’s going to take quite a few games to gel” I hear Pat say to Fiona as the free-kick comes to nought.  The concept of ‘gelling’ is being discussed everywhere in Ipswich right now, my only hope that when it happens it does so in the ‘coming together’ sense of the word rather than any sort of unpleasant stiffening or solidifying.

Joe Piggott stoops to head a glancing header onto the roof of the net and I wonder if he is known by his team-mates as Piggy.  “Stand up if you hate the scum” chant the North Stand for no apparent reason, particularly given that they are all standing up already. Then Morecambe score through Cole Stockton but courtesy of the Ipswich defence suffering collective amnesia with regard to why they are all wearing football kit and boots.  “I’m Morecambe ‘til I die” chant the 356 Lancastrians in the corner of the Cobbold Stand perhaps putting into song what they imagine the budding comic partner of Ernie Wise , John Bartholomew said when he changed his name to Eric.

Despite being behind, I’m not worried, but I quite can’t decide if it’s because I think our new team will ultimately overcome or if I no longer care.  Toto Nsiala goes off injured to be replaced by Janoi Donacien and I’m struck by how unnaturally neat the hair of the linesman with the red and yellow flag is; and how he somehow reminds me of Neymar, as if Neymar had a really dull older cousin or uncle.  I am shaken from my reverie by a shout of “Do ‘im, ee’s shit” from somewhere behind as Kane Vincent-Young again comes faces to face with Liam Gibson.  The first half drags on past a quarter to four. “Come on Ipswich, come on Ipswich” chant what sounds like a most of the crowd, but soon both Town and Morecambe go off because it’s half time, and we still trail.

Half-time passes in a blur of conversation and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar, just like it always did. The game resumes at the ridiculously late time of nine minutes past four.  Piggy soon has a shot saved and then Morecambe’s Anthony O’Connor is the first player to be booked as he sends Chaplin’s hat and cane flying.  It starts to rain and I catch the lovely scent of damp air on a summer’s afternoon as the North Stand shout “Wanker, wanker, wanker” at the ever more inept Mr Hicks.  Town’s left back Matthew Penney is felled by an outstretched leg but no free-kick is given provoking chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”, which I decide is also probably true of whoever cut Luke Woolfenden’s hair.

An hour has passed and then we score, Scott Fraser leathering the ball past Letheren after a one-two with Chaplin.  We’ll win now won’t we?  We’ve been looking by far the better team, and Morecambe have hardly been in our half.  Parity lasts eleven minutes and then Luke Woolfenden, possibly momentarily paralysed by a flashback to a recent experience in a barber’s shop gives the ball away to Cole Stockton who merely has to run unopposed at the goal, drop a shoulder or two to fox Town’s latest east European goalkeeper, Vaclav Hladky, and roll the ball into the goal net. Bugger.

Pat from Clacton was right, it will take time to gel.  But then we don’t panic, we just carry on as we were, showing faith in ourselves and putting in plenty of effort despite the best efforts of Mr Hicks, who proceeds in the space of six minutes to book Lee Evans, Matthew Penney and then James Norwood who replaces Piggy.  The oddly named Macauley Bonne also enters the field in place of Conor “Charlie” Chaplin.  But time has drifted by and we are already into the four minutes of added-on time. I admit I have given up hope and have accepted defeat; good luck to plucky little Morecambe I’m thinking in as patronising a manner as I can muster. But then James Norwood heads the ball on, the oddly named Macauley Bonne collects its and sends a fine right-footed shot beneath the sprawling Kyle Letheren and into the goal. We are probably not going to lose after all I think, and I’m right, we don’t.

It’s been a funny afternoon but an entertaining one nevertheless, an afternoon of Lee Evans, C Chaplin, Morecambe and wise words from Pat from Clacton about taking time to gel. 

Ipswich Town 5 ABBA 5

The football season is over save for the silly play-offs, and now it’s the height of Spring,  and with little else to occupy him a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of the Eurovision Song Contest;  or maybe not.  But last week’s transmission of the bizarre, annual , musical  television ritual extravaganza was inevitably accompanied by the airing of a clip show on BBC4 of past performances by the competition’s only notable success, Abba.  I have never bought, stolen, borrowed or owned an Abba record, tape, download or CD, but I will admit to being unable to suppress a smile when I hear one played.    Equally, I couldn’t resist watching that clip show and felt rewarded when it brought back memories of a road trip I made in the summer of 1995, which took me and my then girlfriend via Parkeston Quay, DFDS Seaways ferry, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Uppsala and Sundsvall to Pitea in northern Sweden, where we stayed with my girlfriend’s pen friend and her husband.  It was a very long drive for which the soundtrack for several stages of the journey came courtesy of a CD of Abba Gold belonging to my girlfriend.

The experience of listening to Abba on that road trip has stayed with me and it led to an article in the erstwhile Ipswich Town fanzine A Load of Cobbolds.  Now, in the spirit of nostalgia inspired by the fortieth anniversary of Ipswich Town’s UEFA Cup win and  in the absence of anything better to do I have reproduced that article below, updating it to modern times where necessary:

When you’re an eleven or twelve year-old football and pop music loom large as pre-pubescent priorities.   I bought my first record (Happy Christmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon & Yoko Ono) in 1971,  the same year that I started watching Ipswich Town, and I  soon began to feel that footie and pop music were somehow inextricably linked. The late Sixties and early Seventies was a time when it was easy to confuse footballers with pop stars and my two worlds satisfyingly collided.  The fashion for any bloke who aspired to being hip and trendy was an enormous thatch of hair coupled with equally vast sideburns.  Squeezed into a pair of bollock-hugging, crushed-velvet flairs and sporting a deafeningly loud shirt,  Ian Collard or Rod Belfitt might have been members of The Hollies, or Kevin Beattie a member of Nazareth.

The similarities in the appearance of pop stars and footballers subsided a bit as the Seventies wore on and sadly, sartorially Punk Rock never seemed to catch on with any footballers at all.  There were however still some startling lookalikes within the ranks of the PFA, I thought.  It could have just been my addled perception, but I always felt that Arsenal’s Frank Stapleton and Shakin’ Stevens were the same bloke.  Moving on into the 1980’s the separation at birth of Oldham Athletic’s Andy Ritchie and Jimmy Somerville was ‘well documented’ at the time, but less well-known is the fact that Roy Keane and Sinead O’Connor were also twins.

More amazing than these superficial similarities, which admittedly are largely the invention of my fevered imagination, is the very precise correlation between the success of one particular football club during the 1970’s and early 1980’s and a particular pop group.  Both were at their peak between 1973 and 1982. The football club of course was Ipswich Town and the pop group was Abba.

If you take time to trawl through the collected works of the famous Swedish songsters, as Dave Allard might have called them, you will not only enjoy a richly rewarding aural experience, but you will soon reach the conclusion that the fact that Town and Abba were both at the peak of their powers over precisely the same period of time is no coincidence.   Listen carefully to the lyrics and you will be able to trace the history of the Town’s success through that glorious era.  You will find that listening to Abba Gold (Greatest Hits) is as close to a religious experience as you can hope to get;  something akin to an Ipswich Town Dreamtime, harking back to an epoch when Portman Road was inhabited by ancestral figures of heroic proportions who possessed supernatural powers.   In the film Muriel’s Wedding the eponymous Muriel says that Abba’s songs are better than real life.  Now, as we sit in the murky depths of the third division and look back at Town’s glorious past you too will believe this is true.

As you might expect from Europe’s foremost supergroup many of the songs make reference to Town’s European campaigns of that era in the UEFA and European Cup Winners’ cups.  It is likely that it was through Town’s exploits on the continent that the talented Swedes first became Town supporters, although we were actually only drawn against Swedish opposition  once when in 1977 we met Landskrona Bois and most inconveniently The Stranglers played the Ipswich Gaumont on the very same night as the home leg.  Naturally, I missed The Stranglers concert and sadly never got a second opportunity to see them.    There is clearly a reference to Town’s UEFA Cup triumph over Lazio in the title of the number one hit ‘Mamma Mia!’, a song which also contains a lyric that suggests one of Abba had perhaps had a brief flirtation with a Town player or supporter and may explain the uncanny connection between Abba and the mighty Blues;

“Yes, I’ve been broken hearted, Blue since the day we parted.”

The moving ballad ‘Fernando’ is sung to an imaginary Spanish fan and recalls those sultry September and cooler autumn evenings when we entertained Iberian opposition from Real Madrid, Las Palmas and Barcelona.

“There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando….

Though we never thought that we could lose, there’s no regrets. If I had to do the same again I would, my friend Fernando”

That last line referred to the fact that Town were twice drawn to play Barcelona, whilst the line  before that refers to our having lost both ties despite being confident after winning the first leg.  Another song, ‘Super Trouper’, whilst still referencing games played under floodlight, perhaps because of the lack of daylight hours in Sweden during the English football season, refers to an individual player and employs little-known Swedish rhyming slang in a thinly disguised paean to goalkeeper Paul Cooper.

“Super Trouper lights are gonna find me shining like the sun, Smiling having fun feeling like a number one”

In the 1978 Abba hit “Take a chance on me”   the subtle Swedish Blues fans reveal the little known story of how Frans Thijssen successfully pleaded with Bobby Robson to let him join his compatriot Arnold Muhren at Portman Road and to try his luck in English football. 

Honey I’m still free, take a chance on me. If you need me let me know and I’ll be around. Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie, if you put me to the test, if you let me try”.

Although those days were such wonderful times for Town, not every song described a happy or uplifting event.  There were sad days too at Portman Road back in the Seventies and hard decisions had to be made for the good of the team.  The 1977 ‘Number One’ hit ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ was about the departure of former Portman Road favourite David Johnson, the one-time ‘King of Portman Road’, who left Town to join rivals Liverpool.  In the song, the reflective Scouser looks back on the good times he has had at Portman Road since his move to Town from Everton four years earlier.

  “Memories, good days, bad days, they’ll be with me, always”

David appreciates however that his recent form has not been good and in the circumstances a move is the best thing for everyone.

  “Knowing me, knowing you, there is nothing we can do, we just have to face it this time we’re through; Breaking up is never easy I know but I had to go, Knowing me, knowing you it’s the best I could do”.

Back in the Seventies, money wasn’t the driving force in football that it is today.  Nevertheless, the spending power of clubs such as Manchester United, who were able to make expensive signings virtually every season despite being rubbish, rankled with Bobby Robson and he longed to be able to make big signings for Town.  Abba’s “Money, Money, Money” was a song about his frustration. 

“In my dreams I have a plan, if I got me a wealthy man…  “

”All the things I could do if I had a little money…”

“Money, money, money, always sunny in a rich man’s world”

Both ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’ showed something of the downside of those glory years and as we look back on those days from the fag-end of the first quarter of the miserable twenty-first century a melancholy aura pervades our memories, in part because ultimately Town failed to win the League Championship that we deserved, but perhaps also because even at the time we knew it all had to end one day, and when Bobby Robson left to manage England in 1982 we secretly knew it had.  Abba knew it too and two of their hits put these feelings in to sharp perspective.  The haunting melody of ‘Winner takes it all’ explores the pain that looking back on the good times would bring; it begins:

 “I don’t want to talk about things we’ve gone through, though it’s hurting me now it’s history”

Abba’s last big hit ‘Thank you for the music’ is sung from the perspective of our legendary club captain Mick Mills who reminisces, having regretfully left Town for Southampton, about the joy and beauty of those days between 1973 and 1982.  If you’ve listened to the slightly dull monotone of Mick’s summaries as he sits alongside commentator Brenner Woolley on BBC Radio Suffolk, you will appreciate the opening lines to this song; 

“I’m nothing special in fact I’m a bit of a bore, If I tell a joke, you’ve probably heard it before…”

But Mick’s talent was as full-back and captain of the greatest Ipswich Town side ever and this was the ‘music’ referred to in the title of this most moving of Abba songs.  This was a song from the heart of ‘Mr Ipswich Town’, Mick Mills, and it is truly uncanny how Mick with his blond locks and luxurious facial hair even looks like a bit like a composite of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson the song’s composers.  This song is the ultimate celebration of those ten seasons at the top in which Mick thanks fate for the glorious hand he was dealt.

“I’ve been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair

I want to sing it out to everybody

What a joy, what a life, what a chance

So I say Thank You for the music

The songs I’m singing

Thank you for the joy they’re bringing…”

The songs of Abba define and encapsulate a golden period in the story of the twentieth century and the time before Thatcherism and neo-liberalism destroyed your innocence.  Abba’s songs, their success and the glory of Ipswich Town, the nicest professional football club the world had ever known did not happen together by coincidence.  The proof is in the lyrics of the songs, and shows that cosmic forces were at work.  Those of us who lived through the 1970’s were truly blessed to have experienced the music of Abba as it happened, but we are doubly blessed to have been Ipswich Town supporters too.

Thank you for the music Bobby Robson and Mick and all the lads who played for us between 1973 and 1982 , and thank you for the music Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

Ipswich Town 3 Fleetwood Town 1

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain; words I half expect to hear as the Town team trot out onto the Portman Road turf for the last time in the 2020-21 season, led by their soon to be superannuated captain and stalwart Luke Chambers.   The last match of the season is what we have all been waiting for since the very first match of the season.  It’s the day when everything is resolved, other than those pesky play-offs of course,  and after which we can sit back and wait to go through another  nine and a bit months of purgatory all over again starting in August.  This season Town’s fate was resolved early and the outcome is that we have all wasted our time and money again, but heck we knew the risks; didn’t we?

Today therefore is a  bit of a jaunt, it’s the last day of term,  and unlike the previous two games at Shrewsbury and Swindon, which were simply pointless, meaningless and irrelevant, at least this one draws a solid line under the whole sorry season.    It has been the “worst season of all time” according to Mick Mills in his pre-match ramble to the ifollow commentary.  But Mick as ever has the right idea and tells us that Town will be out to “…end the season on a high”.  I’m all for that, but in the absence of a stash of recreational drugs I slump down on my blue bean bag in front of my Lenovo lap-top, HDMI lead and LG television set with a cup of green tea.  The twelve o’clock kick-off means it’s too early for a pre-match pint , and after yesterday’s intake of Cremant, beer, Champagne and red wine in honour of my wedding anniversary and a very close friend who died a year ago, I’m not sure I would want one.

The game begins before I realise and sixteen unobserved seconds are lost to eternity, but BBC Radio commentator Brenner Woolley tells me that today’s opponents Fleetwood have started brightly.  I catch the name Rossiter from Brenner’s lips and imagine a Reginald Perrin lookalike in the Fleetwood line-up.  Another Fleetwood player, Burns, Brenner tells us, “flies into the netting” at the side of the goal.  I imagine BBC Radio Suffolk listeners without the benefit of the ifollow pictures, suddenly haunted by the image of a Fleetwood player who resembles a huge moth.

“Up the right hand of the Fleetwood right-hand side” says Mick describing where Fleetwood are attacking the Town goal from, and sounding like he’s ending the season on a high too.  Brenner barely has time to refer to Armando Dobra as “The Albanian” before the same player ends his dribble in to the penalty area by delivering a short square pass to the incoming James Norwood , who places the ball into the corner of the Fleetwood  Town goal net; Town, our Town that is,  lead 1-0.  “A lot of things happened with that ; it was quite interesting” says Mick unintentionally sucking the spontaneous joy and celebration out of the goal with his in-depth analysis and detailed description of what just happened.  It doesn’t seem like three minutes have passed, but after Mick’s soliloquy it suddenly does.

It’s the sixth minute; “It’s very, very early doors” says Mick using the sort of language that he can only have picked up from sitting next to Brenner all season long.   Now it’s the ninth minute and Gwion Edwards scores a second for Town, having made a run down the left wing. “A big mistake actually led to that goal” says Mick , once again pouring cold water on my joyful celebrations as he descends into a detailed description of how the goal came to be.  But Mick is actually enjoying the game as much as I am, I think, and as usual he has plenty of sensible things to say; he’s very sensible is Mick.  “Sometimes forget ‘tempo’, just be casual on the ball” Mick advises, evoking memories for me of his former team mate Arnold Muhren.  Mick is definitely enjoying the match, he keeps using the words ‘nice’ and ‘nicely’ about Town’s play;  what finer praise could there be?  I think of ‘Here Come The Nice’ by the Small Faces which was recorded in 1966, about the time that Mick joined Town from Portsmouth and was cultivating a Steve Marriott haircut.

Gwion Edwards is replaced by the oddly-named Keanen Bennetts, having sustained an injury.  “Lovely sunny afternoon” says Brenner, unexpectedly referencing The Kinks song ‘Sunny Afternoon’, also released in 1966.  The mention of the Fleetwood manager Simon Grayson by Brenner then makes me think of the Harry Enfield character Mr Cholmondely-Warner, and also Grayson Perry.  I begin to worry about why I always associate one word with another.

It’s the twenty-ninth minute and Troy Parrott scores a third goal for Town, having been put through with just the Fleetwood keeper between him and glory by James Norwood.  “The reverse ball, a semi-reverse ball by James Norwood” is Mick’s description of the goal-providing pass.  It was a beautiful goal, and the words ‘Carnival Football’ leap into my mind from 35 years ago; it was an expression used by a bloke I used to stand with at the back of Churchman’s who admired the commentary style of John Motson.

Half-time is approaching and after spotting a deliberate trip, the referee Mr Busby, whose name incidentally makes me think of the early days of BT , has a word with Troy Parrott. I amuse myself by imagining that Parrott repeats Mr Busby’s words back to hm. The half ends with my mind dwelling on Fleetwood’s Barry McKay, a name that somehow has me back in the 1970’s.  A minute of time is added to the original forty-five of the first half.  “Not quite sure why just one minute” says Brenner, seemingly and mysteriously ignorant of the fact that a minute is the amount of time most commonly added to first halves. It’s as if forty-five other League games had never happened; although in truth they might as well not have.  The half ends and Mick tells us that “The stats are interesting.”  It seems unlikely. “One corner kick for both teams; not for both teams” begins Mick, realising the absence of logic from his initial statement and quickly correcting himself. Happily Mick is quickly cut-off by the ifollow’s desperation to assail us with the same advertisements that have not influenced us to buy the same boring products promoted on at least twenty-two previous occasions this season.

Physically restored by Town’s astonishingly impressive half-time lead, I pour myself a half-time ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star American IPA (four for £6 from Waitrose) and make a cup of tea for my wife Paulene, who is in our bedroom suffering Portsmouth’s home defeat to Accrington Stanley. Half-time passes quickly as ever, and Brenner is soon telling us that Fleetwood are effectively playing in an Arsenal kit.  For that to be true the shirts would surely need to bear an Arsenal badge, which seem unlikely. Brenner really needs to forget about Premier League teams, they are nothing to do with Town now.

The second-half begins unexceptionally, but after thirteen minutes a marvellous through ball by Andre Dozzell puts Troy Parrott through on goal; he shoots but, Brenner tells us, “Hill was in the way”,  which seems appropriate for a small geographical feature.  I can’t be sure,  but it then sounds as if Mick refers to Armando Dobra as Amanda Dobra. The game continues to entertain despite the commentary or my hearing,  but more likely because of them. The sixty-fifth minute sees a “Great ball from Bennetts” according to Mick. The ball reaches James Norwood but he fluffs his shot.  “May be Norwood didn’t expect it” continues the Town legend not unreasonably implying that great balls from Mr Bennetts are rare, and provoking barely stifled laughter from Brenner in the process. Five minutes later and Teddy Bishop replaces James Norwood, who according to Brenner “goes off in his pink boots”; as if there was a possibility he would change his footwear before leaving the pitch.

The seventy-second minute brings a goal for  Fleetwood as Wes Burns out-runs Mark McGuiness and a mysteriously absent Myles Kenlock  down the left before booting the ball beyond Dai Cornell and inside the far post. “It’s quite windy now at Portman Road” says Brenner,  reminding me of the government and their lackeys diverting our attention away from any real issues  that might cause concern.  Brenner proceeds blandly; “Paul Cook and Gary Roberts just talking about something or other”.

Thirteen minutes of normal time remain and Town indulge in a mass substitution with Josh Harrop replacing Dobra and  Kayden Jackson replacing Parrott, whilst the oddly –named substitute Keanen Bennetts experiences the ultimate ignominy of being the substitute who is substituted; on this occasion by Cole Skuse who is doubtless making his last ever appearance for Town.

The game continues to entertain. Rossiter is booked and Fleetwood make multiple substitutions of their own.   As time runs out on the season, Brenner reflects upon it like commentators and journalists do.  It was embarrassing Brenner tells us to go out in the group stages of the Papa John’s Trophy, although not as embarrassing I would venture as being involved in such a crappy competition in the first place, which is sponsored by a hot-food takeaway and includes the Under 23 teams of Premier League clubs.

Three minutes of additional time are attached to the basic ninety.  Brenner draws our attention to the cardboard cut-outs of supporters in the bottom tier of the Cobbold Stand as play proceeds in front of them; I’m not sure why he does this but it passes the time and soon the game and the season end.  “ It was a game of good quality” concludes Mick not unreasonably, although he tempers this with the equally reasonable opinion that in the second-half of the game Fleetwood had ”the better performers in their team”.  As the players leave the field to the strains of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” the ifollow broadcast abruptly ends and I am left alone until August.

That’s my fifty-first season gone for ever. It ended with neither a bang nor a whimper, but something in between, like popping bubble wrap. I’m going to miss Mick and Brenner, but with a bit of luck will never have to listen to them or watch the ifollow ever again.