Ipswich Town 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Sunday bloody, Sunday, a classic angst ridden film drama from 1971 directed by John Schlesinger starring Glenda Jackson, Murray Head and Peter Finch and featuring a doomed dog called Kenyatta, but also how I describe the Christian Sabbath when Town have to play on it.  I like my football on a Saturday and at 3 pm to boot.  Noon on a Sunday should be when the pubs open and nothing else.  To make matters worse today’s is the first match of the league season, a fixture which for the sake of symmetry if nothing else should kick off at the same time as every other club’s first game of the season.  As if Boris ‘Bozo’ Johnson being Prime Minister wasn’t enough to cope with.  Why do things only ever get worse?

Waking from my slumbers a little before 8 o’clock I draw the blinds and am bathed in bright early autumn sunlight. I shower and dress, donning my button neck, blue, Ipswich Town branded T-shirt purchased over the summer from the Planet Blue website, where my review of the garment has never appeared despite having been submitted three times (see previous blog post “Consumer City 1 Lockdown Town 0”); I’m not bitter, but the truth must be told. After a breakfast with my wife Paulene of bacon, egg, toast, tomatoes and mushrooms with tea and an espresso coffee, all prepared by me, I look for things to fill the time until shortly before noon when I will switch on my lap top, log on to the ifollow and hope that it lets me watch the match.  I have heard that yesterday Portsmouth supporters were unable to watch their game versus Shrewsbury Town on the ifollow and ended up listening to local radio.  I am soon in my garage breaking up cardboard boxes to put out for the refuse collection on Wednesday; it’s been a busy week of deliveries with two new toilet seats and thirty-two bottles of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer pale ale all arriving courtesy of men driving white vans.  Boxes crushed, I potter about and fold away the blue and white bunting that bedecks my garden each summer to celebrate the season the sun and the Town.

Time passes quickly and Paulene is soon telling me that she has logged me onto to the ifollow and  it’s working.  I pour myself a pint of water, which I liven up with a squirt of lime juice, and lie on my back on  the orange canvas bean bag that normally sits in the corner of the room, but which I have re-positioned centrally in front of the smart tv.   I have today’s match programme by my side; impressively it arrived in yesterday’s post in time for the match.  It’s not the best programme I’ve ever seen, it’s front cover, which appears to be an homage to the programmes of the 1980-81 season is a little speckled at the edges, like a poor photocopy, which is possibly the source of the design, but at least the cover price is a £1 cheaper than if this was a normal game.  I don’t mind if there are fewer pages and less to read, I just want a few folded sheets of paper that are specific to this match and which lists the teams or at least the names from which the teams will be selected.  Who actually reads all the other drivel that’s printed in the massive programmes we pay the price of a paperback book for anyway? Less is more in the world of football match programmes and I pine for those of the 1960’s and 70’s.  In France, the clubs that produce a programme do not charge for it.

I am now comfortably slumped and as the broadcast begins I am surprised, but pleased, to hear the familiar, nearly Geordie tones (he’s from Berwick-Upon-Tweed) of Brenner Woolley and the flat, steady delivery of Mick Mills.  Mick sets out on a lengthy monologue in which he immediately tempts fate by explaining that this is a good time to play Wigan.  He goes on to explain in a manner which suggest he thinks we should be surprised, that he has been doing a bit of research and had logged on to the Wigan website to see who is in their squad.  But he tells us that they have shipped out sixteen players and only brought in two so it was a waste of time; presumably he didn’t recognise any of the names. 

The players are now walking onto the pitch to the accompaniment of the crap-rock strains of Van Halen’s “Jump”, this despite the absence of a crowd.  I wonder to myself if the ‘entrance music’ is meant to inspire the players, and feel glad I am not a professional footballer.  Sadly the opportunity has not been taken to have some fun with the entrance music by playing something like Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” or something by Roger Whittaker.  I’m pleased to see the players ‘take the knee’ and hope that all the people that it annoys, and sadly there are some,  are so annoyed that they slam their heads repeatedly against the nearest wall and pour boiling water over their own genitals.  Today’s referee and assistants are wearing purple tops which make them look like sporting Anglican bishops, which is appropriate for a Sunday game.  Meanwhile , Brenner Woolley tries to trump Mick Mills efforts to tempt fate by telling us that Wigan Athletic as a club are “in free fall”, which is probably not quite true.   At 12:02 little Alan Judge literally gets the ball rolling for Town who are resplendent in their new kit of all blue with Adidas decorations and the yellow  and blue badge that the team wore back in the days when it won Cups and was one of the very best in Europe, if not the World.  Wigan in contrast are today’s ‘baddies’, wearing all-black, although the gift of the tv close-up reveals that the shirt features a grim machine-like pattern of various shades of grey hexagon.

The game begins like a tennis match with the ball being knocked back and forward pointlessly between the two teams, but this disappointment is tempered by the realisation that Brenner Woolley’s radio commentary is actually much better than the usual tv commentary because he makes the effort to say who has the ball, and that is all we really need to know. On a tv screen the numbers and names on the backs of the players’ shirts are too small to read and most of the players look the same with their conscripts’ haircuts.

Eight minutes pass and Wigan should be ahead as 19 year old Nigerian Emeka Obi is left all alone to head Gary Roberts’ corner powerfully but clumsily past the post; the Ipswich defence seemingly need to learn the lesson that black lives especially matter when they’re in your own penalty area.  At about this time Paulene comes into the room and by some sorcery manages to make the screen bigger.  This naturally adds to my enjoyment but not as much as Teddy Bishop does in the eleventh minute as he heads into the goal an attempted clearance of a Freddie Sears’ left-wing cross.  It’s a goal that in its construction has something in common with Roger Osborne’s FA Cup winning goal in 1978, with the Wigan defender playing the role of the hapless Willie Young and with Freddie Sears as David Geddes.

As well as putting Town ahead, the goal highlights the fact that the commentary is fractionally ahead of the pictures on the screen as Brenner tells me that Teddy has scored a moment before the ball strikes the net.  As the game continues it’s a lack of synchronisation that ultimately proves reassuring as Emeka Obi is twice more left free to score, but Brenner promptly tells me that he fails to do so at the very moment when my heart is about to enter my mouth.  Brenner spoils it a bit though when he confirms that Wigan should be ahead, but adds, sounding slightly disappointed “…as it is , it’s 1-0 to Town”.  From wrongly placed bias Brenner then veers towards surrealism with the phrase “Ipswich Town’s ball, in the shape of Stephen Ward”.   The picture in the programme of Stephen only adds to my worries because I hadn’t realised he had a nose bigger than mine and hair neat enough to suggest he might follow a career as a referee once his playing days are over.

Whilst Brenner Woolley’s commentary adds things to the commentary not visible to the human eye, Mick Mills is I think having a very good day, providing some convincing and totally plausible tactical analysis about the full-backs and how the two teams’ respective line-ups and formations cancel each other out.  On days like this it’s as if Mick is wearing the number 4 shirt again in Frans Thijssen’s absence and is running the midfield.

Wigan had looked quite good for a spell but Town are looking better, and a passage of absolutely marvellous play ends with Teddy Bishop having a shot tipped away on to the post by Wigan goalkeeper Jamie Jones, whose name instantly has me breaking into the opening song on the Clash’s eponymous first album.  It’s easily the highlight of the match so far, but soon Brenner is competing with more weirdness as he tells how “Naismith scoops Sears’ cross away with his left shoe”.  His left shoe! No wonder we’re winning if Wigan are playing in their shoes; but presumably for these Lancastrians it’s better than playing in clogs.

With a half hour gone there is a drinks break and the camera lingers on Wigan manager John Sheridan and his coach gesticulating and pointing enthusiastically as if relaying the latest odds on another relegation to the club’s former owners.  Meanwhile Town manager Paul Lambert is wearing a rather unpleasant shiny grey Adidas training top and a blue Ipswich Town branded baseball cap.  I’m not a fan of baseball caps, to me they just say “Sir Francis Chichester”, and whilst I have nothing against the sadly deceased circumnavigator, he wasn’t a Town fan.  What have you done with your v-neck black jumper Paul? That looked much more classy.

As the end of the half draws nigh Joe Garner hits the Town cross bar with an overhead kick and my attention is grabbed by his nascent ginger beard, but also his skinhead haircut, which makes him look like he could be a member of the BNP, although I’m certain he isn’t.  The half ends with Mick Mills telling us that “A second goal would be handy to say you’re in a good position” before the sound from Radio Suffolk takes on a weirdness to match Brenner’s commentary making the co-commentators sound like a cross between the Daleks and Peter Frampton. Oddly it’s an aural effect that suits Mick more than Brenner.

Half-time brings adverts like on the real telly and I am being encouraged to purchase the services of Screwfix, something called Utilita, some sort of video game and to watch the EFL on Quest, and then it happens all over again as if I might need reminding.  Not really interested in this commercially driven filling of the football broadcast sandwich I head to the fridge and pour myself a glass of Faro Foudroyante lambic beer.  Paulene is watching the Tour de France on the telly in the kitchen and expresses her surprise that Town are winning.  My beer tastes a bit like cider and is very refreshing on a warm day like today.

The joys of the ifollow broadcast return with Norwood replacing Drinan for Town and Perry replacing a Wigan player; like Mick Mills, I don’t know who.  At 13:07 the fun begins again and soon Brenner is saying “Norwood takes the ball on his shoe”. What is it with these northerners playing in shoes? Are Church’s and Clark’s suddenly offering better sponsorship deals than Nike and Adidas?  This doesn’t bode well I’m thinking; thank goodness we’ve already scored one goal because I can’t see Norwood scoring  if he’s not wearing boots.  Idiot.  I’m surprised Paul Lambert allows it.

The second half is interesting enough to begin with; but Wigan are doing better and Brenner suggests that Town let Gary Roberts go too soon, although he is now thirty-six years old; but it’s an opinion I support. In recent years Town and English football in general have valued athleticism and endurance above skill far too much. I want to watch football not long distance running.  Brenner now adds incontrovertible facts to set alongside his opinions and lets us know that Town have won only four of their last sixteen home games before Mick Mills advises that someone else should have a go at the free-kicks after Freddie Sears sends  a second hopelessly over the cross bar; I couldn’t quite understand why he took them when Bishop and Dozzell are both playing, but perhaps  I am wrong to see them as the heirs to Peter Morris, Arnold Muhren, Mark Brennan, Ian Redford and Jimmy Juan.

An hour has passed and Luke Chambers is the first player booked, but the match is becoming a bit boring; Mick Mills euphemistically describes it as ‘mundane’ and asks if Wigan aren’t beginning to be the better team.  If I didn’t have beer to hand I’d be hoping for Pat from Clacton to appear with a bag of sweets now; hopefully the sugar would help me feel less queasy at the sight of Joe Garner’s completely tattooed left arm, which makes him look as if he has a nasty skin condition, all his veins and capillaries are a little too close to the surface  or he hasn’t washed his arm for a year.  But more to do with the game I am currently unimpressed with Norwood who seems to be wrongly playing beyond the defender who is marking him (Naismith), which means the ball is always intercepted before it reaches him, whereas Drinan played in front of the defender, received the ball, controlled it and laid it off bringing Dozzell and Bishop, the attacking midfield players, into the game.  I like to think that Mick Mills would be impressed with my tactical evaluation.

 Seventy-three minutes pass and Edwards replaces Sears, and three minutes later Huws replaces Bishop and the game swings back in Town’s favour.  Just four minutes after Huws comes on Edwards doubles Town’s lead after a second excellent passing moving from Town, again down the left, and our record of sixteen successive games televised by Sky tv without a win looks set to end.  The game is as good as won and the remaining highlights are reduced to seeing Wigan substitute Oliver Crankshaw massaging his right buttock, although he does have reassuringly long hair.  Town attempt to end the game with panache, playing ‘keep ball’ until it reaches Luke Chambers and it’s good to see Emyr Huws then kick Joe Garner in the stomach. But there’s nothing more to this and at four minutes to two referee Mr Thomas Bramall calls time. 

It’s been an afternoon of mixed and fluid emotions just as should be the case with proper football matches.  The game has been won, but the result was often in doubt and credit to Messrs Woolley and Mills, today they have reflected and explained the turmoil, the trouble and the ultimate satisfaction, a much better performance than last Saturday.  The ifollow has also done its job and I feel more confident about watching future broadcasts, even if I am paying over the odds just to watch the telly.

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 3 Newcastle United 1

It is Easter Monday, and it is a weekend of two league matches for every team. Traditionally, at least one of the games is a local derby. In keeping with tradition, the Football League, or EFL as it now calls or rather brands itself, sent Ipswich to Burton-On-Trent on Good Friday and has today paired them with Newcastle United the club in the second division that is furthest away from Ipswich. There’s nothing the fixture planners at EFL seem to like better than the thought of football supporters making long journeys in Bank Holiday traffic. But happily for Ipswich supporters the match today is at Portman Road, so what do they care.

This afternoon I am in the company of a Newcastle United supporter who has driven from Stockport, but he forsakes his car to make the final leg of the journey by train, because it seems like the responsible thing to do. My wife has joined us because she wants to meet this ‘Geordie’ who has impressed her by goading me on Facebook. 33944499342_be7ecabcc4_oFrom the railway station the three of us stroll up Portman Road towards the St Jude’s Tavern. It’s about 1:30 and Portman Road is much busier than usual at this time on a match day. Zero the sniffer dog is out and about and so are plenty of strangers in black and white striped shirts. It’s somehow appropriate that the Newcastle United kit should be monochrome because all their greatest moments were back in the days of black and white film.

There is already a good trade at the kiosks for match day programmes. Today has been anointed ‘Sir Bobby Robson day’ (presumably because he managed both clubs and was a Newcastle supporter as a boy) and the programme is a 100 page ‘special’ which includes a Sir Bobby Robson tribute. It costs a quid more than usual and a donation from the programme sales will go to the Bobby Robson Foundation. Also celebrating the day is the local paper, which is selling ‘Bobby Robson Goodie Bags’. The paper flogs ordinary, anonymous ‘goody bags’ at most games, so I anticipate may be a Bobby Robson novelty hat or a plastic effigy of the great man in this one; but for a pound all that’s on offer is the usual copy of the East Anglian Daily Times, a bottle of water and a packet of crisps all in a clear polythene bag.

Up at St Jude’s Tavern we chat and decide the result doesn’t matter as long as there are plenty of incidents in the game to make us laugh. St Jude’s is busy with pre-match drinkers, but from the long list of real beers 33289899543_015258db88_othere is only time to sample two before we have to head back round the corner and down the hill to Portman Road. The streets behind the stands are thronged with folk going to the match, hurrying along to their allotted turnstile; it’s like a real life version of LS Lowry’s ‘Going to the match’, or it would be if it wasn’t for the modern obesity epidemic. It will be a big gate today with the club having given season ticket holders the chance to buy up to four additional seats for a tenner each; added to which of course it is a Bank Holiday, it is ‘Sir Bobby Robson day’ (I feel like there should be a cheer after I type that) and the visitors are Newcastle United, the best supported team in the division. The ‘perfect storm’ is avoided however, as Ipswich have been rubbish this season and so there is no local ‘feel good factor’ and consequently the official attendance is over 4,500 short of capacity at 25,684.

We part company with our Newcastle supporting friend as he heads off to join those of his ilk in the Cobbold Stand, whilst my wife and I head for the monastic calm of the Co-op Stand upper tier. Soothed by the balm that is Sir Bobby Robson day, the biggest crowd of the season is largely a happy one and there isn’t the toxic, moronic, vitriolic atmosphere of the derby game with Norwich; the only other time more than 20,000 attended Portman Road this season. Once the game starts it becomes apparent that this could be the best Ipswich have played all season. Newcastle are frankly disappointing considering they have been top of the league most weeks since last August, but Ipswich give a far better account of themselves than usual and there is no injustice as they take the lead courtesy of Freddie Sears just a few minutes before half-time . However, there has been a private party going on in the seat next to me since about a quarter past three, for that is when my Pompey owning wife (she’s a shareholder) learned that Portsmouth had scored at Notts County, potentially clinching promotion to the Third Division. She’s barely paid attention to what’s happening in front of her since then, being consumed with what another team of Blues are doing to some another team of Magpies 225 kilometres away in Nottingham.

At half-time I find it is necessary to run the gauntlet of the sickly fragrance of the urinal deodoriser blocks that are so redolent of football stadia. Along with frying onions, the whiff of ‘urinal cake’ always conjures up the thrill of the professional football for me. Relieved, I return to my seat in time to catch the tail end of another tribute to Sir Bobby Robson in the form of some competitive cheerleading, 33301970703_13182d8c3e_zas a dozen or more girls in white shorts and tops and a few boys in tracky bottoms jump and throw themselves about in honour of Sir Bobby in time to some energetic music, including an up-tempo version of Sir Bobby’s favourite ‘My Way’.

The second half continues in a similar vein to the first with Newcastle still disappointing and possibly still missing their 1970’s striker John Tudor, who the historian in me would have loved to have seen line up alongside Marcus Stewart. But in the 62nd minute Newcastle all of sudden and without warning cut through the Ipswich team ‘like a knife through butter’ leaving former Town starlet Daryl Murphy with a chance he can’t miss, and he doesn’t. However, nothing really changes but the score and after another seven minutes David McGoldrick restores Ipswich’s advantage as Freddie Sears’ cross carves open the Newcastle defence albeit with just a hint of offside.
Without any sense of irony or apparent memory of the many matches that they have witnessed in more or less total silence, the Ipswich supporters in the Sir Bobby Robson stand 34008874062_e314998022_ochant “You’re not singing anymore” to the 1,900 odd Newcastle fans who, it has to be said, aren’t singing anymore. Meanwhile 225 kilometres to the northwest, Notts County equalised not long after half-time and the Pompey party next to me is for the time being on hold.

Ipswich are playing pretty well and if either team is likely to score again it is them. The taciturn Town fans are thawing out and some of them in the East of England Co-operative Stand dare to break into a rhythmic clap as their team passes, moves and generally threatens the Magpie’s goal in the way that proper football teams do. Then Portsmouth take the lead through Jamal Lowe; the afternoon moves up a gear and does so again on the cusp of time-added-on as Lowe scores Pompey’s third and three minutes into time-added-on Ipswich also get their third and most satisfying goal with the poetically named Emrys Huws despatching an inevitably spectacular volley from a lonely position at the far post. The game ends soon after and the Town support is as ecstatic as it knows how to be and Portsmouth, the biggest fan-owned club in the Football League are promoted back to Division Three after four seasons.

We meet up with our friend from the North again at the railway station and I offer him my condolences; to his credit he takes the result like a man, or at least like someone who has supported an under-achieving football club all of his life. However, Sir Bobby Robson and his day notwithstanding, in my household it is the Portsmouth result that really matters today and at home later that evening a champagne cork pops.

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Colchester 1 Wycombe 0

Remaining true to my fictional new year’s resolution to ‘get out more’, I return for the second dull Tuesday night in a row to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium for a second helping of Colchester United in the competition properly known at Football League Division Four.

Two pints of Adnams Old Ale in The Bricklayers Arms and a speeding, top-deck, bus ride that’s worth £2.50 of anyone’s money are the prelude to the shock of arriving at the stadium.  There’s a queue at the turnstiles because tonight’s the night the U’s play Wycombe Wanderers, their meanest, nastiest foe who once, long ago in 1991  pipped the U’s to promotion by scoring more goals. The rotters.  Like last week a steward asks if he can look in my bag, of course he can, but I tell him he probably won’t see much because its a navy blue bag and it’s awfully dark out here.  He peers down perfunctorily and fondles the bottom of the bag just a little before turning away, perhaps a tad embarrassed.

Into the ground and I immediately meet my next door neighbour, who explains that she is here to see her son take penalties at half time with the Coggeshall Under 15’s team; I’ll look out for that I tell her.  I meet her husband in the toilet who’s here for the same reason, although he’s in the toilet to have a piddle, like me.

After the usual modern age twee ‘sporting’ nonesense of handshakes and standing in a line, the game kicks off.  The teams are made up of the usual collection of young men with serious yet silly haircuts and Colchester once again field ex Ipswich prodigy Owen Garvan – Hurrah!  Wycombe meanwhile have a star in their midst , a star the size of a planet, Adebayo Akinfenwa who apparently weighs 16 stone.   Mr Akinfenwa’s football career spans a century, albeit the 21st one and he is a Football League legend who has also won medals in the Premier League, the Welsh Premier League; with Barry Town;  he is enormous, absolutely vast.  It might be an exaggeration to say he is worth the entrance money alone, but you get a lot for your money with Ade.  He doesn’t run so much as waddle about the pitch, but he knows where to be and when. He’s always in the right place at the right time, but when you’re as big as him it’s difficult not to be.  Ade is apparently known as ‘The Beast,’ but he seemed like a very lovely man indeed, playing as he did with a smile on his face despite being called a ‘fat bastard’ by those Col U wags behind the goal.  Far from being a beast Ade is the sort of bloke you’d happily invite round for afternoon tea and a plate of fancies with your mum. You wouldn’t want to invite a ‘beast’ round for that would you, they might leave something nasty in your downstairs toilet, and as Kevin Keegan might say, no ones a fan of that.

Inspired by Ade, as anyone would be, the Wycombe fans are in good voice and have a drum, which they bang, or one of them does.  Sensibly, those Wycombe fans who want to stand up do so at the back of the stand where they can see over the heads of those who prefer to sit. It looks a very neat and tidy arrangement, they’re not daft in Buckinghamshire.  Wycombe start well and whilst the Col U fans also have a drum they have no rhythm yet and their unco-ordinated shouts produce a hollow echo off the tin roof and walls.

Colchester send a shot past the post and the U’s fans offer a double salvo of “Fuck Off Wycombe!” but it somehow doesn’t quite sound quite right, saying that to an innocuous town in the home counties; you wouldn’t say that to Gerrards Cross now would you, so why Wycombe.  Things are getting nasty, well kind of, and Wycombe’s Will de Havilland is booked for not controlling his elbow well enough in the vicinity of someone else’s face.  I imagine the referee asking his name and saying “Really? de Havilland? What like her in Gone With The Wind?”

Moments later the U’s are in front and no one looks more surprised than the goalscorer George Elokobi whose spectacular effort from 2o odd yards arcs delightfully into the top corner; it might have been a cross originally though, there’s no knowing from where I’m sat. The U’s fans rise as one and a man in a beanie hat in front of me stands purposefully as if to address the players, and slowly stabs both his temples with his forefingers. Odd.

The U’s are in full flow and Brindley sends the ball low across the face of goal, like you do.  Then at the other end Akinfenwa literally squashes Brindley, who has to be shaken back into shape by the physio. Mascot Eddie the Eagle then helps referee Mr Kettle to ensure the ball is placed accurately in the little ‘D’ for a corner kick.  The scoreboard fleetingly advises us to kit ourselves out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at cufc retail, and by the look of a few people around me they have done just that.  Unimpressed, Olivia de Havilland shoves a Col U player and a bit later does it again, she is substituted at half-time.

The game is what you might call ‘attritional’.  A Wycombe player with a a hair cut which is part Marge Simpson part skinhead gets in to a good position, but then sends his cross far over everyone’s head, before scratching his own as if unable to fully comprehend what just happened.   Then U’s Lapslie has a free-kick awarded against him. “What about the foul earlier?” cries an angry, plaintiff voice. Indeed , what about it. Eh, Mr Kettle?  ” Oh sorry, you’re absolutely right, my mistake”. But no,  Mr Kettle didn’t say a word to his accuser; how cool is that?

At number 12 Wycombe have a player rejoicing under the name of Paris Cowan-Hall.  Paris, now there’s an exotic name for a footballer, but his double-barrelled surname perhaps suggests Patrician parents who benefitted from a classical education.  In Greek legend Paris was a bit like a stereotypical Premier League footballer; he was ‘one for the ladies’  having a fling with a nymph called Oenone before getting Aphrodite, Hera and Athena to get their kit off and then eloping with Helen who was already married to Menelaus king of Sparta; all of which resulted in the Trojan Wars and that big horse and everything.   Just thought you’d like to know in case they ask a question on University Challenge .

On the cusp of half time and the U’s keeper tries to look busy as he taps the soles of his boots on the goal posts and swigs from a bottle, even though he is only seconds away from a nice cup of half-time tea.  Sadly I am more than seconds from my half-time tea and spend so long in the not very long queue that I only return to the stand in time to see the Coggeshall Under 15’s leave the field, having presumeably scored all their penalties against the hapless Eddie the Eagle.  I’ll lie to the neighbours.

There’s just time to enjoy Pulp’s Mis-shapes over the tannoy before the action recommences. An early boot into touch sees a wonderfully disinterested looking ballboy in a bobble hat take an age to return the ball to a Wycombe player who seems to curb his impatience because the lad is so very small and looks so much like he’d rather be elsewhere.  I like to think that his dad was right chuffed to get young Tommy in as a ball-boy, but actually Tommy is day-dreaming about trying on his sister’s dresses or doing ballet.

Moving on and U’s earn an obvious corner . “Corner!” shouts a reedy voice behind me as if challenging Mr Kettle not to give it. Again Mr Kettle stays calm.  The game rolls on and Colchester have the ascendency, doing most of the attacking and doing it with a fair lick of pace. This is in contrast to Wycombe who seem restricted to move at the same pace as big Ade, after all, they wouldn’t want to leave him behind.  He nevertheless wins quite a few headers and  defies physics for one final moment in injury time and  has one cleared off the goal line.  The Wycombe fans have been silenced largely, although with 1o minutes to go they had raised a few “Come on Wycombe” chants to save face.

Responding to a prompt from the scoreboard the U’s fans get behind the U’s once more to carry their team over the winning line on a wave of vocal encouragement.  A fine win for the U’s and a most enjoyable evening for which credit must also go to the vanquished team and in particular Ade Akinfenwa, what a great bloke and worth a hundred Premier League players; by weight alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ipswich Town 1 Leeds United 1

If this was 1973, what a fixture this would be, and it was, but Leeds won back then, nil to three, in front of a crowd of 27,513.

Dirty Leeds.   Northern bastards.   Tetley bittermen.  They never won anything fairly said Brian Clough; cheats the lot of ‘em. They should have put their medals in the bin.    And this is why you have to love a fixture against Leeds United today.  The weight of such history can’t be lifted and why would you want it to be.

Everybody hated Leeds United in 1973 and, if we have an opinion, a lot of us still do.  In these times of image and branding, Leeds United still retains a strong hold on the minds of supporters because of what they were forty years ago.  That all white home kit, that so 1970’s curvy LU badge, the garters on the socks and those players, Bremner, Lorimer, Norman ‘bite ya legs’ Hunter, ‘Sniffer’ Clarke , Gray, Madeley, Jones, Reaney and Cooper.  That Leeds United defines a time and place, the nasty early 1970’s of IRA bombs, the three day week, power cuts, industrial unrest, Baader Meinhof,  tank tops, platform shoes, Chicory Tip and the Wombles.  Leeds United with all their nastiness were a reflection of the age; a footballcentric Clockwork Orange.   In their stark white kit they were the ruthless professionals who replaced the likes of the homely Matthews and Finney; Leeds United was the monolithic new Arndale Centre that swept away the Victorian streets, and the teased coiffure and the feather cut that usurped the plastered down Brylcreemed pates of the 1950’s for ever.   Efficient, impressive, modern, but ugly and lacking a soul.

Of course in Ipswich we never had an Arndale Centre; we had the Greyfriars Shopping Centre but the locals ignored it and didn’t go there, and only moaned about it, so a bit like Ipswich Town today really.

And then there were the Leeds supporters; how the Sunday papers loved the stories of smashed up trains and pubs and bovver booted rampages through the streets, but Manchester United and Chelsea and West Ham supporters were no different, they were all a bit lairy back then, that was the fan culture before ‘fan culture’ existed, before it was labelled, sanitised, branded by TV as the theme for betting adverts and the larky back drop to Super Sundays.  Leeds supporters have a bad reputation still, their coaches were parked right outside the away stand today so they could befoul as few as possible of the streets of Ipswich with their short vowels and bile and phlegm.   Because they sing continuously whatever the score, Leeds United fans are an oddity in Ipswich, the locals don’t understand and stare cow-eyed, mouths agape.  Ipswich Town is a football club where most of the crowd have forgotten or have simply never known how to support their team.  In Ipswich people don’t seem to know that showing support by shouting and singing is actually what they should be doing.  They think they should just sit quietly, not cause a fuss.  It makes a difference.  How else are the players going to know if anyone really cares about the result, there’s got to be more to the beautiful  game played well than just a win bonus, especially when your ordinary weekly wage is so bloody vast in the first place.

In Ipswich, the club’s fan base was built up in the 1970’s, probably reaching its zenith in 1975 as Town epically overcame Leeds United in a third replay to reach their first ever FA Cup semi-final.  (None of this penalty shoot-out bollocks back then; it’s like the FA just wants to get the whole thing over and done with now, roll on the close season.) Courtesy of Bobby Robson the team was ridiculously good for a small provincial town.  Ever since Robson departed in 1982 the Town have at best been middling, and when Roy Keane became manager they became virtually unwatchable.  Those fans from the 1970’s have stayed loyal to the Town however, but people don’t age disgracefully in Ipswich and the silent silver-haired majority in Churchman’s now look on impassively, saving themselves in case they have to boo at the end.  The young fans have no role model to follow and like when they see monkeys shagging at the zoo, pre-pubescent boys turn to their dads and ask what the Leeds fans are doing.  “Just watch the game son” is the likely reply.

Misunderstanding their past Leeds United wore white shorts and yellow jerseys today and there was no stylised LU to be seen on the club crest, or garters on their socks.  But to be fair, it is no longer 1973; thank the time space continuum for that, but I imagined how it was and I think the Leeds fans did too.  Pantomime villains they may be, but it would be a crappy pantomime without Leeds United, as it sadly often is at Portman Road when your best days are Behind You!

Footnote : Had Bobby Robson not died in 2009, the day of this Leeds game would have been his 84th birthday.  Consequently, in the 84th minute of the match there was a minute’s applause for Sir Bobby; a sort of birthday greeting sent out by Town fans to beyond the grave; the idea apparently of local radio person Mark Murphy see tweet @MarkGlennMurphy.   An awkwardly sentimental idea, because people don’t really have birthdays once they’re dead, it is also flawed because, as my wife pointed out to me, if it is to be repeated after Saturday 18th February 2023, games will have to routinely start going into extra-time; I’m not sure the Football League would agree to that, but you never know.    If anyone thought Sir Alf Ramsey was deserving of the same sort of post mortem birthday greeting then I regret to tell you that  that particular funeral barge has already sailed because he was born in 1920 and so would already require at best Manchester United style time added-on but more probably, that hard-to-sanction extra time.

Oh, and finally, if you are at all intrigued by the Leeds United of the 1970’s and haven’t already read it then be sure to buy, borrow or steal (depending on lifestyle choice) a copy of ‘The Damned Utd’ by David Peace, it is an excellent novel and one of the very best books about football.