Ipswich Town 1 Reading 2


In 1974 the BBC broadcast one of the first ever fly-on–the-wall documentary series; a precursor of modern ‘reality television’ it was called The Family and followed the lives of the Wilkins.  I remember the series had a haunting, wistful theme tune played mostly on a flute (I think) over family photos and stills of a murky urban landscape; at the end of the tune a voice seemed to sing “Ha,ha,ha” very slowly, which was quite appropriate because sat watching the programme with my own family, I found it very funny, we all did.  I recall that Mrs Wilkins was quite a domineering woman, Mr Wilkins was a bus driver with brylcreemed hair, they had four children and a grandchild and all lived together in a house in Reading.  I don’t recall Reading Football Club featuring in the programme.

Back in 1974 Reading FC was a top-six team in Football League Division Four and Ipswich Town qualified for the UEFA Cup.  Today, forty-five years on and Ipswich Town and Reading meet in Division Two, both with the longer term aim of avoiding relegation to the third division.  As I walk to the railway station I speculate on whether any descendants of the now deceased Terry and Margaret Wilkins will also be travelling to the game.  I always think of The Family when Town play Reading.

It’s been a grey, dank morning; dull, leaden cloud hanging in the air sullenly.  It was a perfect day for football but as I leave the railway station I am disappointed to see that it appears to be brightening up.  I proceed nevertheless, past the Station Hotel with its multiple signs in the window advising that it is a pub for away supporters only. I hear strains of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline emanating from the bar; another set of provincial football supporters striving to be ‘interesting’. I overhear two Reading fans as I cross the bridge over the river “It was dead boring in there”, “Yeah, but they’ve started singing now”. 

I walk on up Portman Road with its burgers, poor quality bread rolls and more than the usual number of people seemingly desperate to get into the stadium as early as possible. I don’t buy a programme because £3 is a lot to pay for something which will spoil the line of my overcoat and from which I will probably derive very little if any pleasure, except to deride it in all its glossy vacuity.  By the time I reach St Jude’s Tavern I am feeling warm and curse my jumper and overcoat, I feel over dressed for what seems to have become a Spring day.  In St Jude’s Tavern I ask the barmaid what the Match Day Special is. “Goblin’s Piss” she replies.   Understanding that this is not her way of telling me I am not welcome in this hostelry but is the name of the beer I ask for a pint; after all, it only costs £2.50.   I find a seat next to the usual bunch of grey-haired Town supporters who frequent this pub and Portman Road out of sheer habit.  After five or ten minutes Mick arrives; I am pleased to see that he is wearing a well-insulated looking parka and so I will not sweat alone; Mick has a pint of Hoppy Jude’s (£3.20), largely I think because the name “Goblins’ Piss” does not appeal and it does smack of a brewery asking a thirteen year old boy to come up with names for its beers.

Mick and I talk of the expressiveness and eloquence of the French, of funerals and the weird names that people give their children ‘nowadays’, and the even weirder spellings.  Mick tells how his daughter had wanted to call her child Maverick if it was a boy.  Mick considered it was his duty to dissuade her with the argument that Maverick is a crap name; fortunately Mick now has grand-daughter.   I like to think however that had the baby been a boy he would have grown up to become an accountant.

First drinks drunk, Mick buys me a pint of Hoppy Jude’s, although I had asked him to get me a pint of Nethergate Old Growler, and he has a Speyside Malt Whisky, because there was no Glenmorangie.  Imperfection seems to be the theme of the day.  The pub clears early, probably because a large crowd is expected and a little after twenty five to three we make our way too.  Outside, the gloom of the morning has completely gone and we comment on how Spring-like it is.  As we descend Portman Road a police van and car pass us with blue lights flashing; we speculate as to whether there’s “trouble”, which would be unexpected from Reading, a club like Ipswich with no reputation for it.  “You might see some gore” says Mick optimistically.  We catch up with the blue lights which have parked near Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue but there is nothing to see here, just one policeman talking into his radio and looking slightly puzzled.

By way of a change, today I have seats in the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand, our tickets giving entry through turnstiles 19 and 20.  We join the queue for turnstile 19 because although the two queues are directly side by side, it is much the shorter of the two.  I suggest this is because some people have an inherent fear of prime numbers.   I like the area beneath the Cobbold Stand with its unfathomable layout of cramped passages and 1970’s painted concrete and there are even pictures on the walls, albeit ones painted by primary school children;  it’s very different to the cavernous, drafty, emptiness that I am used to beneath the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand where I have my season ticket.

Today the two teams are led onto the pitch by a dog called Bowza.  Every month Ipswich Town nominates a Community Champion and this month Bowza is that champion after he helped save the life of a sick woman by keeping her warm whilst she waited for medical help.   There should be more dogs at football matches, but I don’t suppose they can afford the ticket prices. However, the @nonleaguedogs twitter account suggests this isn’t necessarily so outside the Football League or ‘EFL’ as it is now dubbed because TV or the interweb has made people’s attention spans too short to deal with whole words anymore.

Bowza’s appearance will prove to be a highlight of the afternoon.  Ipswich kick-off playing towards Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, who I can just make out in their usual seats in the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  Town are as ever in blue and white with a nasty logo across their chests entreating on-line fools to part with their money.  Reading, whose hooped blue and white home kit is likeable wear an awful all-black affair which fades to grey over their stomachs; it’s hideous and looks nothing like a football kit.

 Soon, with Bowza just a fading memory Town and Reading begin to show why they are both haunted by relegation.  This is not to say that I am not entertained however, although I am not a big fan of pantomime.  Everyone loves to hate a pantomime villain however and in Nelson Oliviera Reading have one of the best ever seen at Portman Road.  Not only is Oliviera on-loan to Reading from Norwich City but just to make it clear that he is the embodiment of evil today he is also wearing a black mask. All he is missing is a tall black hat.  Oliviera quickly gets into his stride with an audacious and obvious dive in the penalty area as Bartosz Bialkowski comes to collect a typically over-hit forward pass.  But referee Mr Geoff Eltringham is wise to him, it would be difficult not to be, and lets him have a personal viewing of his yellow card.  “Wanker, Wanker” shout the Sir Bobby Robson Stand at Oliviera to everyone’s approval.  Evil genius Oliviera ain’t.

Ipswich look particularly clueless in much of the first half of this game and this may be because they have unexpectedly switched to a complicated looking 3-5-1-1 formation which no one comprehends.  With eighteen minutes having passed all three players in Ipswich’s defence run towards Reading‘s weirdly spelt Garath McCleary as he runs to the left edge of the penalty area.  With no defenders in the middle of the penalty area, even a forward not good enough to play for Norwich City understands that it is a good place to be and Oliviera moves in, receives the inevitable pass from McCleary and has the time to light a cigar and feed his cat before choosing whereabouts in the goal to put the ball.  He shoots, he scores and heads off on a slightly bandy legged run to taunt the Ipswich supporters in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.   Had Geoff the ref not already booked him once his offensive gloating would surely have led to a caution from a referee who will eventually show his yellow card to seven players during the course of the afternoon, some of them for some hilariously bad and extremely entertaining attempts at tackles.

The remainder of the half passes with Ipswich often looking not as good as Reading; which is a worry.  Town create one very good opportunity to score with Jon Nolan appearing unmarked much as Oliviera did, but he shoots where the Reading goalkeeper Damian Martinez, who sounds as evil as Oliviera is, can save it instead of where he can’t.With the half-time whistle Mick and I descend beneath the stand to the gents and then to the crowded bar to catch up on the half-time scores.  Like some sort of conceptual art installation the TV set is showing the view from the stand of the empty pitch.  Mick heads back to the stairs to ask the steward if there is another TV, there isn’t but the steward says he can come and change the channel for us, “Yes please” says Mick and he does and we catch up on the half-time scores, which aren’t as interesting as we’d hoped. I don’t think we realised who was playing who and had hoped to see a score somewhere where Ipswich were winning.   We return to our seats which are roughly level with the penalty area at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end of the ground.  “At least we’ll get a good view of all the goals this half” I say to Mick “Yes” he replies, throwing back his head slightly as if to laugh loudly, but then not doing so.

The second half begins.  The bald man in front of me smells unpleasantly ‘pine fresh’; it must be his aftershave or body spray, either that or he’s been cleaning out toilets all morning.  If my wife Paulene were here she would surely have an asthma attack.  Ipswich now have all three substitutes on the field, an admission perhaps that the 3-5-1-1 formation was not a success, although the injury to central defender James Collins before half-time had doubtless messed it up further.  Collins is joining that long line of much vaunted crocks from Kevin Beattie, through Tony Humes to Johnny Williams and David McGoldrick who have, due to injury, seemingly missed as many games as they’ve played.

Ipswich improve, but not sufficiently; that will sadly prove beyond them.   The crowd get behind the team, a bit; there is a will even if there isn’t a way.  But not everyone is supportive.

“Get off Quaner” shouts a bloke behind me at the gangly German.  He shouts it again, but happily Quaner can’t hear him and to voluntarily go down to ten men seems like bad advice.  “He’s fucking, shit” moans the bloke behind me refusing to let up, but I’ve already decided he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and block out his whining with  higher thoughts; it’s not difficult.

Disappointingly Oliviera is substituted in the second-half but not before he makes one final scene as clutching the back of his leg he then throws himself down flat on his back having undergone a miraculous transition from evil nemesis to flouncy drama queen in just under an hour.  He’s been a lot of fun but if asked I would say that a post-playing career in Hollywood does not await the bandy Portuguese.   

As Jon Nolan is booked for one of those hilarious attempted tackles, players of both teams square up to one another childishly and completely ignore the crumpled Reading player writhing about to show how hurt he is. Meanwhile I contemplate how Geoff the ref is the most barrel-like of all referees I have seen this season; he is so wide he appears to have a leg at each corner.  I am biased but Ipswich are worth a goal and there is mounting excitement as the clock counts down towards ten to five.  ‘Pine-fresh’ man in front of me keeps jumping up from his seat whenever the ball nears the Reading goal, which is rather annoying, but with full-time approaching it is all quite exciting even if the Reading goalkeeper’s best save ends up being from one of his own players; but it’s that sort of a game, no one is fully in control of their faculties.  Then, with 83 minutes having passed into history Gwion Edwards scores, lashing the ball in at the far post; at first I think he must have missed, but he hasn’t.  Town will surely go onto win now, although being happy with a draw is the story of the season.  Instead, as injury time approaches Reading break away and although Town’s goal looks defendable with three defenders and Bartosz Bialkowski against two strikers, it doesn’t prove so and Gambian Modou Barrow rolls the ball past Bartosz to win the game for Reading.  In my head I hear a  plaintiff voice sing “Ha-ha-haaaaa”.

Ipswich Town 0 Queen’s Park Rangers 0

It is Boxing Day and I would quite like to stay in and eat and drink the leftovers from the day before, may be read a book, watch a film, do some colouring-in in my book of “…tous les 20 logos des équipes de Ligue 1 pour la saison 2016-17.” The colouring book was a Christmas present.
Up until 1959 there were Football League matches played on Christmas Day; imagine that. Often, a season’s biggest attendance is drawn for a Boxing Day game and whilst this used to be due to local derbies, there is still an added attraction for games played over the Christmas holiday period, perhaps just because there’s not a lot else to do.
Mindful of the tradition of the Boxing Day football fixture today I am setting out to watch Ipswich at home to Queen’s Park Rangers, which as a London club is as close as we now get to a local derby on a public holiday. Sadly, in these cautious, pale and insipid, wimpish modern times the days of the Christmas and Easter derby games against Norwich are long gone. Incredibly, there is no public transport today; it is wrong that that a football match that will definitely draw a crowd in excess of 10,000 is allowed to go ahead at all when there are no buses and no trains. So much for trying to reduce road congestion and air pollution by discouraging the use of private cars.
Previously, I have not bothered with Boxing Day games because of the absence of public transport, but no one wanted my ticket today and rather than waste it I thought I’d help contribute to global warming instead and drive to the game. Parking up ‘over Chantry’,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA it’s a pleasant stroll down through sunny Gippeswyk Park beneath a pale blue winter sky towards Portman Road. From the top of the Park there is a fine view across the town centre, which takes in the Portman Road floodlights and the back drop of town centre office blocks which define down-town Ipswich from a distance. It’s a bit after two o’clock and the streets are quiet; I walk past the railway station not quite believing that it could be shut, but it definitely is.
On Princes Street, banners have been put up on the lamp standards to advertise the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApantomime at the Regent theatre; aside from the railway station being shut, it’s the only sign that it might be Christmas. Across the car park from Portman Road the former Sporting Farmer public house sits shut and awaiting demolition; it’s been a part of the match day landscape of Ipswich since 1962, but there is no seasonal, pre-match boozing this year, just Heras fencing and darkened windows.


Portman Road is a little busier than usual for a quarter past two, and I snake my way through the crowds as I head for the Fanzone. Usually, I might have a couple of pre-match pints at St Jude’s Tavern, but having to drive to the match today has meant that

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not only will I be helping destroy the planet, I will also be helping with the decline of the local economy. A group of three or four stewards stand at the entrance to the Fanzone, checking tickets and bags. A casual wave of my season ticket card and I’m in. I feel like I’ve been admitted to Studio 54.
In the Fanzone there is a large white marquee that looks like something from a summer wedding reception. It’s warm inside the marquee and people mill about holding plastic cups of lager and Greene King beer. At one end are three TV screens, which face three or four neat lines of chairs, it’s like a waiting room, it just needs a few magazines and an occasional table. Outside there is a children’s penalty shoot-out, which is popular, in contrast to the merchandise stall from which a lonely salesperson peers blankly.
There’s nothing for me here so I leave and make my way to the Sir Alf Ramsey stand; inside I decide to break with tradition and invest in an overpriced cup of hot chocolate. A pretty, smiling young woman serves me and asks for £2.10. I hand her a twenty-pound OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnote and apologise, but add that the club doesn’t make her job any easier by sticking odd ten pences onto their prices. She agrees that the prices are awkward for what is supposed to be a fast service. Any way to squeeze an extra few pence out of the supporters though. Clutching my Cadbury’s branded cup of pale brown liquid I find my seat. The club mascot Bluey is prowling the aisle that leads to my seat, offering himself up for selfies and hugs. Bluey doesn’t speak and a woman tries to communicate with him through grunts and sign language; odd.
Once Bluey has gone I take the plastic lid off my hot chocolate and stir it thoroughly toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ensure that all of the chocolatey gunk which contains the flavour has dissolved. I taste the pale brown liquid; it’s watery and the water has a slight tang which fights with and then beats off the chocolate flavour. Hot chocolate should be thick, this isn’t; I won’t be buying it again.
The game begins and the QPR fans are the quickest this season to ask if they are in a library, it’s almost as if they had already decided that would be their first song before they even got here. Ipswich start the game reasonably well and David McGoldrick soon has a decent shot on goal. Teddy Bishop, who I don’t feel I have ever really seen play, has made a rare start and is looking good, although QPR seem intent of kicking him into the air at every opportunity; perhaps because he has the temerity to run at defenders.
Teddy returns to the toy box before half-time due to injury and the game goes downhill from here. Callum Connolly has had a good looking shot from distance for Ipswich and Bartosz Bialkowski tips a QPR player’s header onto the cross-bar, but otherwise the game is awful. The physicality of the game leads to injuries, which are a good way of wasting time and nullifying the scant football content still further. The referee Mr Andy Davies, a couple of physios and a clutch of QPR players with bald heads create a tableau ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA suffering in the QPR penalty area. The only cheers from the crowd are derisive ones as a pass goes wildly astray or someone falls over, which happens quite a lot; derisive cheers are what the Portman Road crowd does best.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I descend beneath the stand to check the other half-time scores and join the spectators standing about and gawping at the tv screens which mostly advertise some mysterious place called Brocket Hall and days at the races. White lights dangle from the high roof and there is a Christmas tree at the foot of the stairs to

the Legends Bar and a string of something green winds its way around a soil pipe, but otherwise it doesn’t seem like Boxing Day, the Christmas spirit is elusive.
I decide to endure the second half with Phil the ever present fan but today he has his son Elwood with him and the seats beyond Elwood are taken up by people for whom this is presumably some sort of Christmas ‘treat’. I sit a couple of rows back next to Pat the secretary of the Clacton branch of the supporters club. Pat admits to not really liking Boxing Day fixtures either, she’d rather be at home and says she hopes every year for away fixture.
The second half witnesses the home crowd finally get festive with an albeit isolated chorus of “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away, and we will fight for ever more, because of Boxing Day” . Christmas is the season of peace and goodwill to all men after all, but that may be why, regrettably, Ipswich Town have not played Norwich City on Boxing Day for over thirty years.
The match gets worse; both teams are inept, but this is largely due to their desire to simply run around as fast as they can and knock each other off the ball. A lot of modern professional football is like this in an age where the levels of fitness and strength of footballers exceed the level of their skill. Sports science is a curse. Both Ipswich and Queen’s Park Rangers are managed by pragmatists whose teams are built on their ability to ‘put in a shift’. I get tired just watching it; or is it bored?
Seven minutes from time Ipswich Town bring on arguably their most skilful player, Bersant Celina. The crowd cheer cheerily for once. Messiah-like, Bersant brings light to the game and brightens up the final minutes. He introduces some hope, some optimism, but that’s all, even when QPR’s Josh Scowen is sent off, booked by Mr Davies for a second time. Despite Scowen making the longest walk even longer there are only three minutes of added on time and they quickly ebb away as does the crowd of 18,696 when Mr Davies blows the final whistle.

Ipswich Town 3 Preston North End 0

Ipswich Town and Preston North End are arguably two of the least interesting teams in whatever it is that Football League Division Two is now called. Preston, despite being the original ‘Invincibles’ have not played in the top flight of English football since 1960 and now, almost famously, Ipswich have been becalmed, marooned, stuck in English football’s second tier for 15 years and nobody really expects either club to do much more than finish in mid-table. Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy said as much in his pre-match press conference; he is nothing if not truthful is our Mick. These two ‘small-town’ provincial clubs have both enjoyed a level of success in the past that far exceeds what might be expected of them and for that reason they are both very special.
It is a grey, wet, blustery, thoroughly autumnal day as I set out for the train station and the bright floodlights of Ipswich. The largely infrequent, but nevertheless large plops of rain are enough to warrant the carrying of an umbrella, which the wind blows inside out. A Colchester United fan boards the train with me, blissfully unaware that his team are destined to lose at home to non-league Oxford City later this afternoon in the first round of the FA Cup. A Town fan in a wheelchair sits by the sliding doors. Leaves swirl horizontally past the train window. Pulling out of Colchester the serried ranks of suburban homes look at their best on such a drab day; the wet tarmac of the estate road shining in front of them like a snail trail under torchlight. Opposite me a mother and daughter sit, each with the same long, blond/mousey hair and Roman nose. One is doing her best to look much younger, the other trying hard to look holder. It makes me feel guilty to be a man. At Manningtree the grey clouds and subdued colours of the trees in Dedham Vale are just right to keep John Constable at his easel and away from Portman Road this afternoon, but four other blokes get on and share their mild, blokey humour with one another. I look down out of the window and see a tomato plant on the track and three plump green tomatoes that will never be fried or ripen to be eaten in a Salade Nicoise.
The train arrives on time in Ipswich and the man in the wheelchair asks me to find a guard to get him off the train; happily, the first one I meet is on her way to get him.38133418286_f6fc1767bc_o Outside, Ipswich is beautiful in a grey, wet and shiny sort of a way. I head down Princes Street then down and up Portman Road to St Matthews Street and St Jude’ s Tavern. In Portman Road the turnstiles are already open, stewards fiddle with their metal detectors and the sniffer dog and his handler peer up the street. I think about buying a match programme as I approach the kiosk and read ‘Here to help’ on the back of the seller’s jacket. I am tempted to test the boast by asking if the programme is worth the £3 I would be expected to pay for it.

I chicken out and walk on, saving my cash to spend just two-thirds of it on a pint of Nethergate IPA at St Jude’s; it’s cheap because it is today’s Match Day Special! It is so good St Jude's Tavern 69 St Matthews StI have another and then, to avoid feeling like a complete skinflint I pay full price (£3.40) for a pint of Bearstown Polar Eclipse, a dark beer which is exceedingly good. At the table next to me in the pub are a group of five Preston North End fans; I tell them I have heard good things of their bus station and they smile, sort of. It transpires that none of them now lives in Preston. One of them tells me they are literally ‘exiles’; I don’t ask. I chat off and on with them and one confides that Ipswich are still the best team he has ever seen play against Preston; in an FA Cup third round match in 1979 which Town won 3-0. It is one of those “aw shucks” moments to hear my team complimented so. Another one of the group tells me how amazed they are that St Jude’s is so close Portman Road, is such a good pub and yet isn’t rammed to the gills. I confide that Ipswich fans don’t seem to ‘get’ real ale and it reminds me of how in Hunter Davies’ book ‘The Glory Game’ a Spurs skinhead says how Ipswich is his favourite place to visit, “More cunt” he says “They ain’t got no supporters. All the geezers up there don’t know what it’s for. We always stay the night there and chase their birds’. That was in 1972; that skinhead later became Defence Minister, allegedly……
I bid farewell to the good Prestonians, wishing them a happy season as they leave for the match before I visit the lavatory and then set off for Portman Road myself, remembering to return my empty glass to the bar before I leave. As I turn into Portman Road I notice38189181011_81180be5db_o the poor state of the street name plate, which looks like someone has got at it with an angle grinder. Slightly upset that anyone could do this to something that signifies an Ipswich icon, I nevertheless continue on my way. The weather has cleared up and

although the floodlights are on, the lowering sun is still to be seen over the silver roof of the north stand, or Sir Bobby Robson stand as it is now known. I pass on down Portman Road and the statue of Sir Bobby seems to point me on my way, which is unnecessarily helpful of him. I glance up at the Cobbold Stand admiring the rhythm of its concrete stanchions, although no doubt it fails to impress the Preston fans, spoiled by their fabulous Grade II listed, Brutalist, bus station. There is no queue at the turnstile and no security check to ensure I am not a suicide bomber or concealing a musical instrument about my person, which would be a serious breach of ground regulations.
Before today’s match there is a minute’s silence because this is the closest day to Armistice Day on which Town have a home match and apparently the club wants to pay its respects. It is weird, in all those years when there were most people still alive whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fought in the two greatest conflicts ever, the two World Wars, a minute’s silence only took place at 11 am on the 11th of November and on Remembrance Sunday; nowadays it’s best to tread softly at this time of year when entering a football stadium in case you inadvertently interrupt one. There are eight paratroopers in the centre circle and a lone bugler who plays the last post. The bugler is miked up and relayed through the PA system, but unfortunately because the PA system is so loud there is feedback or reverb and a simultaneous ‘farted’ rendition of the last post is heard through the loudspeakers. According to Wikipaedia, Le Pétomane, Joseph Pujol the French ‘flatulist’ retired from the stage because he was so horrified by the inhumanity of the First World War.
The paratroopers march off and around the pitch as people applaud and into the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand where they break ranks and begin to fumble in their OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtunic pockets for their match tickets, looking a bit confused as to where they are supposed to sit. The game begins. It’s awful. Perhaps one of the worst forty five minutes of ‘football’ I have ever seen. Nothing of any genuine sporting interest happens. Preston players fall over a lot, but the Ipswich trainer is also called on to attend to the fallen and all that really happens is that added-on time is racked up. Even Crazee the Ipswich Town mascot looks to have given up all hope today as heOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA hangs his head despairingly, standing at the top of the stairs. Mick MCarthy adopts various poses, showing himself off to good effect in his nylon tracksuit. I spend a little time looking at the Preston supporters to see if I can spot the blokes I was in the pub with; in a following of about 430 it’s not that difficult and I pick them out all sat in a row. I wonder what they are making of the game.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My attention is then caught by the Preston number four Ben Pearson because his hair is longer than that of the other players; watching it flow and flop and bounce as he runs about is more entertaining than the game and I am reminded of Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, as I often am by my wife who is besotted with him. But Pearson is no Rabiot and he needs more work on his hair.
As ever, the Portman Road crowd (14,390 today) is very quiet; there is a momentary rumble of drums at the start of the match and some muffled chants but they soon lose interest in getting behind the team. I chant and clap “Ipswich! Ipswich! Ipswich!” when a corner is won, but am ignored in the same way that people would put their heads down and pass quickly on past a drunken derelict shouting at passing cars. The first and only ripple of anything like enthusiasm manifests itself on 23 minutes when the crowd cheer the booking of Preston’s Jorgan Hugill; that’s what they thrive on in Ipswich, Schadenfreude. Incidentally, Hugill is a man who, with his World War One conscript style hair cut looks from a distance a bit like Terry Hall formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three. Preston have many injured players who cannot play today and with a weakened team it seems that they are banking on ensuring no football is played, in the belief or hope that twenty two blokes just running around and occasionally falling over will result in a goalless draw. Sadly Ipswich don’t have the wit or guile to prevent this and have a bit of a record of adopting a similar tactic in recent seasons, relying on randomly won free-kicks and corners to create goalmouth confusion and hopefully goals, albeit scrappy ones. All goes well for Preston until Ipswich’s Martyn Waghorn wins a free-kick some 25 metres from goal. It’s a chance to by-pass the awkward footballing bit of the game and just kick the ball over the assembled human wall of Preston players and straight at the goal. This is what Martyn Waghorn proceeds to do, sweeping the ball majestically over that Maginot Line and into the goal as Preston’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell helpfully throws himself out of the way. Within five minutes added-on time there is a moment in which Preston’s dreadlocked Daniel Johnson launches the ball on to the top of the Ipswich cross-bar with a flash of inspiration, but then it’s half time. The crowd applaud as Town leave the field, forgetting the first forty-four minutes of the match and only recalling the last five in which Town took the lead. But I have mentioned it, lest we forget.
I seek out a former work colleague at half-time who I had spoken to on the phone the day before; he sits with his grandson who has cerebral palsy. I then meet another friend Phil, who is famous as a man who has seen over a thousand consecutive competitive Town

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Phil (bottom right)

games home and away; he gets featured in articles and stuff, not just blogs that very few people read. Phil is a proper supporter, whose love for Ipswich Town is unconditional. He doesn’t whine when Town lose, or hurl abuse at Mick McCarthy, he’s too busy worrying if he might miss the next game.
Within three minutes of the resumption of play Town are 2-0 up as David McGoldrick rises at the far post to head in a right wing cross. Phil jumps up much more enthusiastically than I do, but then he is a good ten years younger than me. People around me are happier now, but even before the goal they seem generally lighter of mood in this little bit of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand than they do where I usually sit. It’s as if the first half was July 28th to December 24th 1914 and now it’s Christmas Day and a football match has spontaneously broken out.
Things get better still as a move down the right sees Ipswich’s Kosovan loanee Bursant Celina forge his way into the penalty area and surprise everyone by suddenly booting the ball into the goal past the goalkeeper, who is inevitably by now hapless. Phil and I chant “Ohhh, Bursant Celina” to the tune of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. No one else joins in. Preston are now forced to seriously alter their game plan and Ipswich are therefore required to defend more, so we don’t see any more goals today. Ipswich fans are happy and smiling and there are even some chants at the other end of the ground. The North standers, their confidence boosted by the three goal cushion, remember that the Preston manager was previously the Norwich City manager; “Alex Neal; what a wanker” they sing.
Those seeking out the familiar territory of disappointment can do so by reflecting thatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ipswich haven’t scored four or five goals today, but to be fair to the team they have achieved a very respectable victory by playing just half a game. With the final whistle I applaud the team and then file away with everyone else into Saturday evening. At the southern end of Portman Road the street nameplate which sits at first floor level on the Archant building looks pristine in contrast to that at the northern end.

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Ipswich Town 0 Norwich City 1

‘I like my football on a Saturday’ sang Ray Davies in the Kinks song Autumn Almanac and it’s convenient for the purposes of this piece to believe he meant that he liked his football on the afternoon of the first day of the weekend to the exclusion of all other days. If it had scanned, Ray might have added that a smattering of mid-week evening matches during the season are fine and the occasional Friday game as well, because as every TV commentator knows the atmosphere under lights ‘is always a bit special’. But football should not be played at midday ever, and definitely not on a Sunday. To make matters worse today’s match is the ‘derby’ between Ipswich and Norwich, the most over-hyped and unpleasant fixture of the season. It is with a heavy heart full of bitterness and rancour therefore that I set off at twenty to eleven to catch the train to Ipswich to watch this match. At least I have the recent memory of sausage, bacon, eggs, mushroom, tomatoes and a few rounds of toast plus tea and coffee to sustain me and ensure I won’t need to buy any over-priced, low nutrition, grease-based lunch inside Portman Road.
It is a grey, cloudy morning but as the train hoves into view faint sunlight can just about be discerned, but it won’t last.  A few other people board the train with me and are clearly bound for Ipswich and the match. A man opposite me seems to struggle to respond to his young daughter’s questions and conversation. At Colchester a couple on Platform 4 awaiting a London bound train nuzzle up to each other and hold hands. The carriage fills up at Manningtree with an assortment of blue shirted people, mostly men. The train crosses the river, the tide is neither in nor out; if I was looking for portents, may be that would suggest the game will be drawn. A few seats away an opinionated man dominates the conversation with his fellow travellers, his piercing voice finding a pitch that cuts through the rattle and whoosh of the speeding train, or perhaps he is just shouting. Arriving at Ipswich we are welcomed by a bevy of hi-vis clad police37597036700_95b1488178_o who wait by the foot of the pedestrian bridge. Outside there are more police, and more, and more, and more. There are white police vans with mesh grilles to cover the windows, motor bikes, dogs, horses, Kevlar, helmets and batons. I thought I was travelling to a football match, but I appear to have arrived in Paris in May 1968, or Brixton in the summer of 1981.

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A long crocodile of Norwich supporters; mostly ugly blokes in their twenties and thirties, are being shepherded along the pavement across the road; they chant coarsely and leer both threateningly and gormlessly at Ipswich fans across the street, who look and behave just like them. A policeman on horseback steers an errant Norwich fan in the right direction by grabbing him by the hood of his coat and dragging him back into line. Depressed, I soldier on in to Portman Road, a young policeman asks me “Are you Sir Alf?”37806242966_834240dcea_o by which I quickly surmise he means is my seat in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, but not before I laugh and it crosses my mind to say “No I’m not, and I don’t think you’ll find him here today, he died in 1999.” I think there is a flicker of recognition across the policeman’s face that his question was a bit daft or at best poorly framed, but I’m not completely sure. I don’t know why he picked out me to ask. Perhaps I looked a bit lost, I feel it. There are metal barriers along Portman Road to usher the Norwich people into their area of the Cobbold Stand and tables are stood before the turnstiles where bags are being searched, but no one is being patted down, so it would be possible to smuggle in a flare or smoke canister or firecracker under your coat, if that was your thing.
Inside the ground I buy a programme (£3.00), talk to a steward I used to work with and then take my seat in the stand. Someone has smuggled in a smoke canister and the acrid smell and the smoke waft up from the concourse beneath the seats. The public address system drowns out the sound of any noise football supporters might spontaneously make and the stadium announcer gives a clue to his age and catholic tastes by playing Bon Jovi and Heaven 17. The teams come onto the pitch and everyone has been given blue pieces of card to hold up to ‘turn the stadium blue’;37597139880_d54efdafd5_o(1) it doesn’t look that impressive and would look better if some bands of seats had been given white cards to hold up; at least the club has tried however. I am confident of an Ipswich win today based on the law of averages: Town having not recorded a victory in any of the last eight matches between the clubs it’s about time they did.
The game begins with a roar of enthusiasm and there are people stood up in the seats in front of me, which results in the drafting in of extra stewards. The lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey isn’t usually populated by people who would stand during a game, indeed it’s37597066870_dbc81449ee_o likely that standing to pee is as much as many of the regulars can manage. But the front of the Alf Ramsey Stand is close to the seats where the Norwich people are accommodated and therefore if you like nothing more than spending an afternoon making masturbatory gestures, gurning and telling people they are ‘scum’ and should ‘fuck off’, it’s the only place to be. There are a few chants from Ipswich supporters but very few from the Sir Alf Ramsey stand lower tier, which is more full than usual, but seemingly no more likely to burst into song in support of the team, despite its newly acquired standing contingent.
The first half is pretty even, but whilst Norwich may keep the ball for longer, Ipswich come closest to scoring. Early on Town’s Danish defender Jonas Knudsen kicks the ball very, very hard against a post of the Norwich goal; what he lacks in craft and accuracy he sometimes makes up for by kicking the ball very hard. David McGoldrick heads the ball over the goal from a free-kick when he could and should score, but this is symptomatic of an anxiety that permeates his play all afternoon.
There’s a cold wind swirling about the stadium and I have turned up the collar of my coat. At half-time I seek shelter in the space beneath the stand where the bars are doing a good trade. A large group of young men are singing, clearly not understanding that traditionally at football the singing takes place on the ’terraces’ during play. It seems that a generation or more of Ipswichians has forgotten or may be never have learned how to support their team. I wander up and down a bit and notice the large banners projecting from pillars announcing that Greene King brewery is proud to be supporting Ipswich Town, and they are no doubt proud too to know that their bland and insipid IPA bitter is being sold for £3.90 a pint.37806224896_a53532601b_o24002096988_4635c03522_o Back up in the stand one of Town’s more senior supporters tucks into a ham sandwich that he brought to the match wrapped in tin foil.
The game returns and Norwich are better than before and by a quarter past one they take the lead through James Maddison, who sounds and looks like he could be in a boy band. Maddison parades about the pitch, his floppy hair bouncing as if he is advertising L’Oreal shampoo, because today he is worth the £3million Norwich paid Coventry for him. Little Jimmy Maddison is better than anyone Ipswich have in midfield today, but of course he’s no Arnold Muhren.
Ridiculously, given the amount of time left, the goal kills the game. Norwich are better on the ball than Ipswich, they have a plan and are versed in winning 1-0 away from home. Ipswich don’t have the guile or skill; they run about, but they hit and hope too much and it will take more than the half an hour left for the law of averages to render a goal from this random approach. Naturally, the Ipswich fans are unable to help because they don’t even try. A bloke near me becomes frustrated and begins abusing the Town players. It is disappointing, but if the supporters don’t know how to support the team why should the players know how to play. The Norwich supporters have songs they all know, they are coherent like their team, and neither the Ipswich team nor its supporters has any answers.
The final whistle provides a sort of relief and I leave the ground as quickly as possible whilst some Ipswich supporters boo their own team, which no doubts adds to the Norwich people’s joy. The police presence outside the ground and on the approach to the railway station is as great as before the game. Rank upon rank of policemen and women are strung across Princes Street, a human obstacle course to the stream of fans heading to catch their trains.
It’s been a disappointing day; everything about the day has been depressing, which I guess the law of averages says has to happen sometimes. But as Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss tells us, all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Yeah, right. Keep the faith.

Ipswich Town 0 Fulham 2

I had not originally intended to go to this match; I had thought that the game between Colchester United and Football League ‘new boys’ Forest Green Rovers was a far more attractive prospect. Looking ahead at the fixtures I figured Ipswich would probably be beaten if not embarrassed by Fulham and Forest Green Rovers, as their name implies are rather interesting. FGR are based in the smallest settlement to ever have a team in the Football League (Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, population 5,800 in 2011), the chairman is a former new-age traveller turned sustainable energy entrepreneur and the pies at their home ground are intentionally meat-free. But no one would take my Ipswich ticket off my hands and I am still suffering from early season inertia, so I have no ticket for Colchester and I end up on the train to Ipswich once again.
The train is on time and a well-built woman with a brood of children of various ages rudely bustles on whilst other people try to get off. On the train an ageing couple sit silently and then change seats in Colchester without speaking; as if they were communicating by telepathy. A woman in her seventies with blonde hair (yeah, right) clutches a plastic drink bottle to her mouth like a small child. It’s a warm, still, almost sultry late August afternoon and I can feel my T-shirt sticking to me slightly as I lean back on the dark grey moquette of the train seat.
The train hurtles along the tracks at a fair tilt and arriving in Ipswich on time I head for the St Jude’s Tavern as usual, responding to the rare promise of good draught beer. Ipswich Town Football Club tells us that they serve real ale but sadly it always seems to be Greene King. Portman Road is still fairly quiet, but a few Fulham fans are here already waiting for the turnstiles to open; the stall selling old programmes is almost set-up, the burger vendors have their griddles heated and a couple of early diners sit on a low rail and fold foamy bread rolls into their mouths with ketchup tainted fingers.


At St Jude’s Tavern I sit alone today and so have bought a copy of the programme (£3.00) to read. I drink a pint of Gannet Mild (£3.40) and twenty minutes later a pint of Nethergate Five Rifles (£3.00); it’s still only twenty five past two so I throw caution to the wind and down a third pint; Lacon’s Legacy (£3.20). The programme is not very interesting, as ever, full of the usual platitudes and cliché. There is an article about the young player Tristan Nydam, which labours under the weird and meaningless title of “Tris and Shout”.36839260615_e37db216a2_o It takes me a few seconds to twig that this is an attempt at a pun based on the song title “Twist and Shout”. Within seconds I come up with my own vastly superior choice of pun title: “Tristan’s Handy”, which actually means something, clearly relates to the player’s name and raises the tone by referencing a work of Irish literature, with which Mick McCarthy as former manager of the Eire national team will surely be familiar (that’s Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne…just in case).
Leaving St Jude’s I make my way down Portman Road, following three gentlemen36668891822_90b2dbac4d_o who have the appearance of a Last of the Summer Wine tribute act. Inside the ground the public address system is playing Bon Jovi, I head for the toilet to drain my bladder, but there is no escape from the dreadful, anthemic, 1980’s hair-rock, which is possibly being fed in through the cistern. Now in my seat I feel doubly relieved as the strains of Bon Jovi recede, the teams enter the field to a particularly bloated rendition of ‘My Way’ (Bobby Robson’s favourite song apparently) and it’s time for the game to begin; it is two minutes past three, we’re late.
Fulham take control of the game with indecent haste, barely allowing Ipswich a kick-of the ball. The home crowd settle down into their accustomed quietude and predictably the Fulham fans ask through the medium of song “Is this a library”? In places it resembles a chapel of rest as the demographic for Town fans becomes increasingly top heavy with those who remember the good old days. In lieu of the parachute payments enjoyed by other clubs who make it into the Premier League for a season, ITFC could probably make up the shortfall by offering their own funeral service.
There is little to excite the home fans and a when the female linesman (lineswoman?) appears to miss the ball going out, she provokes ire, setting back the cause of feminism by a hundred years. A shot from a Fulham player hits a post and I dare to think that may be Fulham will continue to completely dominate but will never score. It is twenty five past three and I don’t think Ipswich have had the ball in the Fulham penalty area yet. 36005304804_15826af0a9_oThe Fulham goalkeeper wanders about to keep awake and in the manner of a grizzly bear, rubs his back on the pole that secures the goal net; he is wearing a vivid all red kit the colour of a nationalised, 1970’s Eastern Counties bus.
Half past three goes by and Ipswich have their first shot in the general, but not exact direction of the Fulham goal. Five or so minutes later however, a deep cross from the left is met by the head belonging to Fulham’s Neeskins Kabano and Fulham take the lead. I am disappointed, Ipswich have won their first four league games, I had hoped for better, but I cannot deny being impressed by a bloke with the name Neeskins Kabano. I cannot begrudge a goal scored by a man whose name brings together the very best of Dutch football from the 1970’s and a spicy, Polish pork sausage. All power to his elbow and other joints and limbs.
Puffed up with the sense of self-love that football crowds seem to develop when their team is winning, the Fulham fans start to chant “Super Fulham, Super Fulham FC” which36701521662_8193909c95_o is a bit confusing as it sounds as if there are two teams, ordinary common or garden Fulham FC and then another team called Super Fulham FC. Unimpressed by such boastfulnesss, Ipswich manage their first shot on target. Then, for a second time in the space of a few minutes the Fulham physio is called on to attend to their evidently rather needy number 10 after he blocks a shot Ipswich’s from Martyn Wagstaff (Waggy).
Half-time. I wander about beneath the stand eating a Traidcraft chewy cereal bar. I look up at a floodlight above the stand, I look out into Portman Road through the gates guarded by men in hi-vis; long gone are the more generous, less uptight days of getting in free at half-time. I look towards the players’ tunnel and a point beyond which a sign tells me I am not permitted. The sniffer dog and his handler walk in from Portman Road; the dog has perhaps had a recreational break involving local lamp posts. I see a girl who looks a bit like Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, I decide it’s her nose that’s the similarity but he’s better looking.
The second half releases me from my aimlessness and I return to my seat. The game is soon lost however as Ipswich’s Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski, and therefore the player most likely to be familiar with kabanos, makes a brilliant one-handed save, only for some other bloke in a white shirt and black shorts to score from the rebound. Bugger. Fulham are streets ahead of Ipswich, as they were when they played here last season, but I shall put this result down to the law of averages; Ipswich were unbeaten and Fulham had yet to win so it was bound to happen. There is little enjoyment to be had from now on knowing the inevitable fate of my team. The first defeat of the season is always hard to take because I always harbour the hope that one day they will go the whole season without losing. Arsenal have done it; Preston North End have done it; The New Saints of Oswestry Town and Llansantffraid have done it so why not Ipswich Town?
I enjoy an advertisement hoarding for Red7Marine the “The marine partner of choice”, even though I would probably choose Aqua Marina from Stingray and I derive some amusement from the reaction of Fulham’s number 9 who, after colliding with one of the safety gates as he slid off the pitch, seems to complain to the referee about its existence as if expecting that the edge of the pitch should stretch off into infinity rather than there being stands around it. The attendance of 16,844 is announced, with 1,236 being with Fulham. I muse on the apparent baldness of David McGoldrick and whether, if the comb-over was still socially acceptable, he would as a professional footballer follow the lead of Bobby Charlton. Fulham bring on their substitute striker Aboubakar Kamara who I saw score for SC Amiens last season at the marvellous and yet dilapidated Stade de la Licorne,36872899585_2f4f6bde2b_o when Amiens played Gazelec Ajaccio in French Ligue 2. Happily Aboubakar doesn’t score today and in fact he doesn’t look very good.
The final whistle is a relief. On balance 0-2 is quite a good score from Ipswich’s point of view. A bloke a few seats along from me reflects on a couple hours of his life having past that he won’t get back. Well we can all say that, even the Fulham fans and players. I learn that Colchester United beat Forest Green Rovers 5-1 and my afternoon is complete.