Ipswich Town 1 Derby County1


I usually catch the train home from work at about ten to five, but today I am engrossed; writing a report and explaining why a deadline has to be extended. At about five past five however, my stomach feels slightly jittery, I am feeling inexplicably anxious and my concentration is waning , thoughts of beer and football tumble over one another displacing everything else in my mind. All at once it seems horribly late, it’s getting dark outside, I can feel my heart beginning to pound.  I have to leave.  At five-fifteen I step out into the cool, dimming light of dusk in Ipswich.  Office lights shine out sadly from upper floor windows casting shadows of regret.  But what do I care, I am making straight for St Jude’s Tavern.

I pass the Ipswich Town main gate where people wait like groupies at the stage door. Is it a free ticket they crave or a glimpse of a star player arriving for the match in his nastily ostentatious Audi or Range Rover?  A steward leans in towards the wound down window of a Ford Fiesta, perhaps explaining that this sort of car isn’t acceptable round here and there is a Council pay and display car park over in Portman Road for his sort. I walk on past warning signs about CCTV and bag inspections, past burger vans and polythene goodie bags containing the local paper. It all has a certain beauty.

In St Jude’s Tavern I collect a pint of the Match Day Special, St Jude’s Thaddeus (£2), I ask if they have any pies, but they haven’t. I console myself with the thought that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I sit down with two of the superannuated old blokes who are here before every match; we talk football and Ipswich Town.  The older looking of the two tells me he saw Town play three games during their last season in Division Three South in 1957, versus Bristol City, Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday.  He’s talking nonsense because none of those teams was in Division Three that season.  The memory can play tricks.

I buy another pint of Thaddeus and Mick arrives, and then so does ever-present Phil who never misses a game, they both drink Thaddeus and Phil remarks that it tastes like it’s ‘on the way out’, it is, and for my final pint of the evening I choose St Jude’s Oatmeal Stout (£3.60); it’s an extra £1.60 well-spent.  Along with third division football grounds, a jazz festival in Nice and what the city of Derby is famous for (Rolls Royce, real ale pubs and Bombardier trains) we talk of euphemisms for dying and I relay how a member of staff at the crematorium in Colchester referred to my ninety eight year old mother-in-law’s eventual death as being when “she performs”, which we all agreed was a very odd turn of phrase. 

After just a half, Phil leaves first for the ground because he’s going to visit the Fan Zone,  but Mick and I also leave earlier than is decent because Mick has to arrange a refund having bought two tickets together in the West Stand for tonight’s match even though I have a season ticket in Churchman’s.  Mick is extremely polite in the ticket office and I feel slightly guilty when the ‘saleswoman’ says that the club doesn’t usually move season tickets seats and I reply a little snappily “Well, they did for the Rotherham game.”  As a person who generally is almost as polite as Mick, I can’t really explain my bad attitude, but suspect I harbour a lot of resentment as a result of being a season ticket holder for the past 35 years. I am also fearful that if the club knew that I sometimes imagine handing out flares, or at least sparklers in the family and disabled enclosures I would be banned for life.

The ticket refund palaver has made us late and the teams are already on the pitch and participating in a minute’s applause for the late Gordon Banks who very sadly has ‘performed’ today.  By the time we have drained our bladders and taken up our seats the game is just kicking off.  Tonight’s opponents are Derby County a club whose appearances at Portman Road in their halcyon days of the early 1970’s I somehow contrived to miss. Despite first attending Portman Road in 1971, I failed to see Derby County play here until December 1977, by which time their once brilliant star had started to wane.  It is for this reason perhaps that I have no strong views on Derby County and in my mental map of league football they appear only faintly as peripheral, shadowy figures.   Tonight’s game will do nothing to alter this image as Derby line up and begin the game in the most insipid, uninspired and vapid kit of pale grey shirts, shorts and socks with lime green cuffs and trim. Town meanwhile sport their usual blue and white attire despoiled by the anything but magical “Magical Vegas” logo.

Perhaps as a result of low self-esteem induced by that “Magical Vegas” logo or because they simply didn’t notice the Derby players drift by in their shadowy, foggy kit, Town offer up the customary one-goal lead to the opposition within the first two-minutes. Bloody hell.   Town are now quite literally giving teams a goal start, I fear they will soon be kicking off every game with a ball already in the back of their net to save time.

Happily, once play resumes it’s as if the goal never really happened and for people reaching their seats only fractionally after Mick and me, it never did.  Town soon settle into playing passing football and they dominate possession. The crowd, who we will later be told number 18,604 (including 926 from Derby) are behind the team as one; the Sir Bobby Robson stand is as good as full and the enthusiasm engendered by the Blue Action group has seemingly spread all along the lower tier.  “Man On!” shouts the man behind me trying to help out Town’s on-loan full-back James Bree. “Who’s that” asks Mick . “Bree” I reply. “What, Bree as in tree?”. “Yes”.

“Ohh, just that bit too high, weren’t it” says the bloke behind me as a Town’s first corner kick sails over everyone’s’ heads. He’s not wrong. “O-oh no-o” he then says developing an ugly streak of pessimism when Alan Judge’s pass is intercepted.  There’s no such doubt in the Sir Bobby Robson stand however where “Ipswich ‘til I die, I’m Ipswich ‘til I die, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Ipswich ‘til I die (or perform)” is the life-affirming song of the day.   All the Derby fans can muster in response is a wishy-washy “Lampard, Lampard, give us a wave” which he does, limp-wristedly.

This is a good game and things get better as the first player booked is former Ipswich darling Martyn Waghorn, as he fails to fool referee Mr Andy Madly into awarding him a free-kick and pays the price for his impression of someone ‘performing’.  The smell of chips wafts up into the middle tier of the East of England Co-op stand as half-time approaches but the bloke behind me refuses to be optimistic “ Oh, here we go” he says as a Derby player runs at the Town defence.  A flowing passing move releases Town’s Collin Quaner into the penalty box, he shapes to shoot and I tense my calves, ready to jump up, but he shoots high and wide having almost fooled me into thinking he might actually score.

Matthew Pennington is having possibly his best game so far in a Town shirt and I can think of no higher compliment, for the time being, other than to say he reminds me of David Linighan; it’s his leggy run I think.  Less leggy is diminutive, little Alan Judge who is nevertheless a cut above his fellow midfielders and reminds me of Olympique Marseille’s Valere Germaine, but with a little bit more hair.  Trevoh Chalobah tips over Derby’s number seven Harry Wilson whom Brian Clough would hopefully have called Harold Wilson.  “He was lucky to get away with that” says the bloke behind, adding “He does do that” as if to explain that he can’t help himself, which the referee understands and is why he didn’t book him.   Pessimism soon returns however as the bloke behind me muses “If they score another, that’s it”.   He couldn’t enjoy the game if he wasn’t so miserable.

Half-time necessitates further bladder draining before stepping out onto the practice pitch to take the air and stretch our legs.  The middle tier of the West Stand is a little uncomfortable for people who exceed 1.8m height like Mick and me, but we rationalise our pain by deducing that in the 1950’s when the lower part of the stand was built people were probably shorter on average, perhaps because they never had the benefit of free-school milk that us baby boomers enjoyed.

Refreshed and un-coiled we resume our positions and Town resume their dominance.  Derby really are as pale and innocuous as their kit, which barely seems possible.  Surely Ipswich are on the brink of the play-offs and Derby bottom of the league?  “As if to verify this the North Stand chants “Can you hear the Derby sing? No-o, No-o”.  It is the first time in years that Town fans have had the confidence to sing this.  

A Derby player has the ball, “Put him under! “ Put him under” shouts a wannabe coach or anaesthetist.  Trevoh Chalobah misplaces a pass and we speculate that his bleached, dreadlocked fringe got in his eyes.  Jon Nolan replaces Flynn Downes for Town; for some reason I cannot hear the name Nolan without thinking of the Nolan sisters and I am reminded that Anne Nolan was married to former Blackpool footballer Brian Wilson and I enjoy the ‘Seasiders’ and ‘Beach Boys’ connection.  Within two minutes of Nolan’s appearance, Collin Quaner lays the ball off to him and everyone is in the mood for dancing as his low shot tears past Kelle Roos the Derby goalkeeper.   What a great goal!  But when your team hasn’t scored for three games and seldom does anyway, the feeling of elation reaches new heights. Winning might be overrated, but scoring isn’t.

This is the best match of the season so far, by far. Defeat at Norwich, or perhaps more so Paul Lambert’s alleged threats of violence towards the Norwich goalkeeping coach have been an inspiration.  “Paul Lambert is a Blue, Is a Blue, Is a Blue; Paul Lambert is a Blue, He hates Norwich” to the tune of London Bridge is falling down tumbles from the mouth of the Northstanders.  The rest of the stadium remains pretty moribund but they carry us through.  The pessimist behind remains un-moved from his dark outlook. “Uh, ohh” he groans as a Derby cross flies in.   Meanwhile I breathe deeply the smell of the damp, cold turf.  Derby come with a late surge on the back of some forlorn cries of “Come on Derby” from the 926 in the Cobbold Stand; they hit a post and miss a shot but nothing terrible happens.

After five minutes of additional time courtesy of six substitutions and the usual needy players craving the attention of the physio, the day-glo shirted Mr Madley whistles with final certainty.  We all get up to go home, but not before a round of applause and a general exchange of good wishes and loving feelings.  Happiness reigns; Town haven’t won, but they haven’t lost and even if they had I didn’t think most of us would have minded that much, because even though they didn’t look very much like scoring it was clear that was what they were trying to do.   It makes me wonder if we’re not re-defining sport here in Ipswich, returning it back to what it’s meant to be.  We’ll need a few more relegations to accomplish that fully however and the Southern Amateur League isn’t what it used to be.  It’s been a while since we played the Crouch End Vampires.

Ipswich Town 0 Aston Villa 4

It is April 21st but today it feels like summer. The sun shines brightly in a cloudless blue sky and it’s warm as I catch the train to a Saturday match in Ipswich for the last time this season. The platform is busy with people of various ages and shapes. Young men show off their legs and women their bra straps. A grey-haired man with a crooked mouth wears polyester trousers and carries a rucksack. The train is on time. On the train a bare-legged man drinks Smirnoff vodka with tonic from a can and looks at his mobile phone. A smooth-faced, bald headed man wearing two hearing aids looks at his mobile phone and talks hoarsely to his grey-haired wife. At Manningtree five ‘lads’ board and share out a pack of Budweiser beers. They all wear knee length shorts with turn-ups. One wears a Ralph Lauren polo shirt and Ray-Bans, he picks his nose.
At Ipswich there are policemen in what looks like spongeable ‘battledress’ on the

platform and outside on the forecourt and on the bridge over the river and in Portman Road; the implication is that large numbers of people from the West Midlands cannot be trusted to behave nicely. In Portman Road huddles of stewards in hi-vis await the arrival of the Aston Villa team bus. Soft rolls and burgers get folded into mouths of will-be spectators and everyone is standing and waiting. I carry on and orbiting the club shop, Planet Blue, buy a programme (£3.00). Up Portman Road and round to the right St Jude’s Tavern is busy, I head for the bar, nodding hellos to the regular patrons. The Match Day Special today is Springhead Left Lion and I order a pint (£2.50). I take a seat next to the regulars, glance through the programme and talk a little with them; the regular next to me can recall Town being promoted from Division Three South in 1957, no one else here can. In a while I am joined by Mick, who treats me to another pint of the Match Day Special and I give him his birthday present, which I have wrapped in a page from an old road atlas of France, handy if he needs to travel from Chalons-sur-Saone to Dijon. It was Mick’s birthday three weeks ago, so I’m a bit late. After yet another pint of Match Day Special, which is now Wigan Junction (same price as before) it’s time to set off for the main event, the match which Mick will be listening to on the radio; he has said he is considering getting a season ticket for next season, but seems unsure. I can’t say I blame him.
Back in Portman Road people are scurrying to the turnstiles, kick-off is fast approaching. Aston Villa have a large following at the game today as their team chases promotion;

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there are several supporters’ coaches parked up behind Sir Bobby Robson’s statue, which looks as if he’s helpfully pointing the way from the coach park to the away fans enclosure. Entry through the turnstile to the Sir Alf Ramsey stand is swift, but as I leave the gents under the stand the strains of ‘My Way’ are receding and the game is set to begin.

Portman Road stadium

The stadium is looking good today, two-thirds full under a summer sky. Town kick off towards me in their customary blue shirts and white shorts, but Aston Villa disappointingly sport a dull and anonymous all-black kit that says the club has no imagination; such a pity when their first choice colours are tasteful claret and pale blue.
For one of the few occasions this season the home crowd are in good voice, but somewhat weirdly they sing “Hark now hear, The Ipswich sing, The Norwich ran away…” The song trails off before the end as ‘the choir’ seemingly becomes aware that the words go on to mention Boxing Day, which is somewhat unseasonal on a day like today; but they probably never got to sing it in December, numbed as they were by the dire goalless draw with QPR. Picking up perhaps on the Town fans’ choice of a Christmas carol the Villa fans then proceed to sing an equally unseasonal ditty, “Walking along, Singing a song, Walking in a Villa wonderland”. It’s all a little odd and smacks of football supporters no longer fluent in supporting their team through the medium of song.
On the pitch, Ipswich start quite well with an early corner and with Grant Ward and Jordan Spence progressing down the right to send in crosses to the big man up front that only they can see. Town’s Luke Hyam commits the first foul and Miles Kenlock has the first shot. Perhaps this inspires over confidence in the home supporters in the North Stand or perhaps they are just being ironic, but they sing to the Villa fans “You’re support is fucking shit”. Alternatively they could just be the type of people for whom something is always “fucking shit” as they so eloquently describe it, and with the loss of Mick McCarthy’s football they had to find something else to bemoan. Off their faces on their miraculous new found optimism, Town supporters applaud an offside. But Aston Villa look like they have a plan and they also have some very sharp haircuts and luxuriant facial hair, particularly number 15 Mile Jedinak whose enormous beard makes him looksMile Jedinak like an Imam. Villa’s number 19 Jack Grealish has calves the size of other men’s thighs and by twenty past three Villa are somewhat greedily beginning to keep the ball pretty much to themselves. They win some corners and then at about twenty five past three rudely score a goal as Conor Hourihane shoots when unsportingly close to the goal.
Unusually, the goal provokes a positive response from some Town supporters who chant “Blue Army”, although sadly these chants don’t build into a crescendo of noise that pushes Town onto quickly equalise and then take the lead with a display of scintillating short passes and powerful running. The singing soon dies away and normality returns as the Villa fans employ Guiseppe Verdi in the time honoured way to ask “Is this a library?”, although understandably it’s taken them a while to realise today. Buoyed by the discovery of their own razor sharp wit they eschew any reference to opera with their subsequent chant of “You’re fucking shit, you’re fucking shit, you’re fucking shit”. What is it with football supporters and “fucking shit”?

Three minutes before half time Grant Ward is sent off by the shiny cue ball-headed referee Mr Simon Hooper for a poorly executed attempt at a tackle. Ward’s victim Neil Taylor recovers and is consequently booed thereafter for his trouble. It’s why we love the game. Ward receives generous applause from the Town fans as he walks to the dressing room.
Half-time brings some relief as the players hide in the dressing room for ten minutes or so and I talk to Ray who is nearby with his grandson Harrison who has cerebral palsy. Ray is of the opinion that Bersant Celina is not doing much, I agree and add the simple truth that overall Town’s players are not as good as Aston Villa’s. I re-visit the gents, eat a Panda brand stick of liquorice and look at the programme which contains a marvellous picture of the late Colin Harper in which he sports extensive sideburns and a moustache as if he was a member of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; it was a great look, in 1967. I recall attending Harper’s testimonial versus a Don Revie XI, I think the final score was something like 6-5, which is what the final score should be in all benefit matches. Also in the programme is a piece by a fellow supporter I know called Steve Cook in which he talks about his late mother’s dementia; I find it quite touching. Cookie is a lovely bloke.
The footballers return before I do and I miss the first minute of play but it doesn’t matter. A bit before a quarter past four Aston Villa score a second goal through Lewis Grabban, a former Norwich City player. As he runs behind the goal to celebrate in front of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand Grabban cups his hand to his ear, but quickly desists as if realising that he is in Ipswich so there wasn’t much noise even before he scored. Today’s attendance is announced as 20,034 and as if to torment Town fans further by reminding us of the year when Villa pipped us to the League Title, the number of visiting Aston Villa supporters is recorded as 1981.
Aston Villa are comfortably in control of this match and from the touchline theirSteve Bruce corpulent manager Steve Bruce looks on over his expanded waist, possibly affording time to imagine the enormous meal that he will perhaps later eat to celebrate the victory. I hope he has regular cardiovascular checks. Around him Villa’s coaching staff look like UPS delivery drivers in their dull uniforms. I admire the angles of the roofs of the stands at the other end of the ground.
With thirty minutes left to play, Martyn Waghorn has a shot for Ipswich and the Ipswich fans applaud, but honestly, not sarcastically as they had been doing a few weeks ago. In the 78th minute American, Cameron Carter-Vickers, one of Town’s inevitable cohort of loanees passes the ball rather carelessly to Villa’s Josh Onomah who quickly passes to Grabban, who scores for a second time.
The Villa fans, now feeling secure enough to gloat, once again ask if this is a library, but then something almost miraculous happens as a chorus of “I’m Ipswich ‘til I die” drifts up from behind the North Stand goal; it doesn’t last long, the team doesn’t respond and in the 82nd minute another former Norwich player (albeit a loanee), Henri Lansbury scores a fourth goal for Villa. I think of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Murder, She Wrote. Ipswich are well and truly beaten, soundly thrashed even and the dream that many people perhaps harboured that with Mick McCarthy gone the team would straightaway blossom into a creative, attacking force and would never look back is dashed. Nevertheless, Town fans rally and there is clapping and singing the like of which has not been heard almost since the days of terracing, or at least since 2001. It’s a bit late in the game, but the Town fans are giving vocal encouragement to a struggling team. Town are 4-0 down at home to a club managed by an ex-Canary and three of the goals have been scored by ex-Canaries, but it’s the happiest some supporters have been all season.
But I wonder if they are really supporting the team, or are they just covering their embarrassment that the football is actually no better despite Mick McCarthy’s departure? Sensibly it’s probably too soon to say, but we shall see if the same sort of support continues.
Summer is not here yet, even though the sun is shining.

Bluey at Portman Road