Ipswich Town 2 AFC Wimbledon 2

Back in 2004 as Ipswich Town were yet again failing to win yet another play-off tie (we have won just two out of nine ties), AFC Wimbledon were winning the Combined Counties Premier Division title.  Since then, Wimbledon have continued to collect promotions and Ipswich Town haven’t, and so today we find ourselves playing the 2004 Combined Counties Premier Division Champions for a third consecutive season.  Town and the original Wimbledon, the one that famously beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final, had of course met in both the Premier League and the Championship and my wife Paulene is the proud owner of a cuddly Womble in Wimbledon kit that dated from when the original club was being eaten alive; apparently when she bought it, it was the last one in the shop.

Shamefully, playing fast and loose with the future of our planet, I have again driven to the match today, still fearful of using public transport as Covid cases spiral upwards in number and the government gambles the lives of the clinically vulnerable so that money can change hands, as it does most of the time to be fair, but usually more obliquely. Parking my trusty Citroen C3 up on Chantry I stroll down through Gippeswyk Park beneath a sky of picturesquely heaped up clouds, the afternoon is warm but dull, as English summers often are.

Rocking up in Sir Alf Ramsey Way (formerly Portman Walk) at about twenty past two, I join a short queue for the Fanzone just as the steward checking tickets and Covid credential announces that the bar in the Fanzone is now closed.  Brimming with disappointment and thwarted thirst I leave the queue and hang about aimlessly for a few minutes watching the crowds and counting the number of people wearing face masks, I see four.  It really is as if most people are convinced the pandemic is over.  Quickly bored with my own company I trudge off between the supporters’ coaches artfully arranged outside the old Corporation tram depot and head for the Constantine Road gate to the ground, where I join a very short queue to show off my Covid credentials.  “Thank you Martin” says the female steward as I flash my NHS vaccination card; it seems a bit familiar of her and I wonder if we know each other; she’s one of the few people wearing a mask so I can’t properly see her face. 

On the walk from the gate to the turnstile I purchase a programme (£3.50) and join a queue for turnstile fifty-nine because of the four turnstiles on this corner of the ground (numbers 59 to 62) it’s the only one that’s open. My favourite turnstile is number 62 because when using it I feel I am paying homage to Town’s Football League winning team of 1962.  Behind me in the queue a bunch of blokes chatter like excited youths, making weak jokes and commenting on there being only one turnstile open. “Cutting costs” suggests one.  “A bit naughty if it’s nearly kick-off” says another, weirdly imagining a scenario in which he hasn’t arrived twenty minutes before the game is due to start.  Another reads out loud the sign explaining what items are prohibited from the ground. “No tools” he chuckles, prompting his accomplices to each name a tool they would have liked to bring with them starting with a blow torch.

In the stand, ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with his son Elwood, but Pat from Clacton is on holiday in Ireland and Fiona, Ray and his son and his grandson Harrison are yet to arrive.  I speak with Phil who, in the course of our conversation explains that the bar in the Fanzone closes early because people hadn’t been drinking up in time to comply with the licence.  It starts to rain.

It’s still raining when the teams come on to the pitch and after a very brief ‘taking the knee’ which is so brief it looks a bit like a curtsy, the game begins beneath a battleship grey sky. Wimbledon get first go with the ball, lumping it towards the Sir Bobby Robson stand.  For the third consecutive home league match Town’s opponents are wearing a kit of all-red; I think back to when most club’s away kit was yellow shirts and blue shorts,  except of course for Oxford United and Mansfield Town, but we never played them in the 1970’s.

Continuing the 1970’s theme the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson are quickly into a rendition of Boney M’s 1978 Christmas number one ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, but with lyrics altered to celebrate Ipswich singing, Norwich running away, and eternal fighting because of Boxing Day rather than the birth of the Messiah.  Just four minutes pass and Town’s Scott Fraser has the first shot on goal.  After seven minutes the weather seems to be brightening up a bit and the Wimbledon fans chant “The animals went in two by two”, which seems a bit odd given that it looks like it is about to stop raining and any plans to build an ark will have been put on hold, particularly since no one is allowed to bring tools into the ground.

With about a quarter of an hour played Wimbledon’s Alexander Woodyard is the first player to get sight of referee Mr Rock’s yellow card after he fouls Joe Piggott.  “Your support is fucking shit” chant the Wimbledon supporters somewhat coarsely and unimaginatively and then Town’s Rekeem Harper takes a shot from 18 metres or so which is easily gathered by Wimbledon goalkeeper Nik Tzanev.  The clouds are parting to reveal blue sky and as if attempting to create some sort of allegory, Town breach the Wimbledon defence and make several forays down the right flank, with Kane Vincent-Young and Wes Burns getting in a number of crosses, although none of them is met by a Town player and when one is the shot is weak.  The first half is almost half over, and Town win the game’s first corner.  “Come on you Blues” I chant, to the apparent bafflement of those around me.

Town are playing some exciting football but have little presence in the penalty area.  “Chase it, put him under pressure” shouts a voice a few rows behind me as Joe Piggott pursues a punt up field.  Another corner comes to nothing after thirty-seven minutes and the linesman with the red and yellow quartered flag minces back to the half-way line as Tzanev takes the goal kick.  As the half draws to a close a man with a loud, penetrating, and annoying voice is sharing a conversation with all those around him, although I doubt any of us want him to.  We learn that he was ‘the editor’, of what we don’t know or care, but he was “furious with himself”.  I’m not too pleased with him either, he needs to find his volume control, or just shut up.  Happily, only a minute of added time is to be played so respite soon arrives.  It’s been a pretty good half, although I can’t help feeling that although Town look good enough to be winning, somehow we haven’t really created good enough chances; perhaps it’s because we still have not ‘gelled’ yet.

Half-time involves consumption of a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and then a cupcake, which is one of a whole tray-full that Ray shares with those around him to mark the occasion of his retirement, something that is also recorded on page 55 of today’s programme.   The happy events of real-life retreat again into the shadows as the second half begins at two minutes past four and like last week there is a mysterious hush around the ground in the opening minutes, almost as if people are disappointed that the players have returned.  Within seven minutes however, Wimbledon’s William Nightingale fails to live up to the high ideals of his namesake Florence and comes closer to wounding Wes Burns rather than offering succour and from the resultant penalty kick, Joe Piggott gives Town the lead, placing his penalty in the right-hand corner of the goal as Tzanev stupidly dives to the left.  The Sir Bobby Robson stand reprises “Mary’s Boy Child” in a state of heightened ecstasy whilst the Wimbledon supporters chant “Sing when you’re winning, you only sing when you’re winning” to the tune of Guantanamera, thereby introducing a welcome Cuban folk vibe to the afternoon, something which is often conspicuously absent from Portman Road.  William Nightingale’s name is recorded in Mr Rock’s notebook to punish him further for being so unlike Florence.

With Town ahead Portman Road rocks to Boney M and thoughts of victory, and within two minutes Wes Burns doubles Town’s lead collecting a crucial pass from Kane Vincent-Young and smacking a fine shot across Tzanev into the far top left-hand corner of the goal.  Town will surely win now after four fruitless matches; on the basis of what has happened in the previous fifty-four minutes our lead is unassailable.  Four minutes later Wimbledon win a free kick, the ball skids off the top of Luke Woolfenden’s head and is set up ideally at the far post for Wimbledon’s Ben Heneghan, whose name makes me think of Feyenoord’s Wim Van Hanegem, to head down past Vaclav Hladky and make the score 2-1.  It must be Wimbledon’s first goal attempt on target.  “Bloody hell”, I think to myself.

“I don’t rate him” says a voice sitting behind me blaming Hladky for the goal “No, I don’t” says a neighbouring, voice “I don’t see how there’s any difference between him and Holy”.  It’s a point which I will hear no lesser expert than Mick Mills echo over the airwaves of Radio Suffolk as I drive home from the match in an hour’s time.  The discussion behind me continues as Hladky launches the ball up field; “He just boots the fuckin’ ball, he don’t look for no one do ‘e?

Dissatisfaction with the goalkeeper is however balanced by satisfaction with Wes Burns, “He’s superb, he is, he’s a helluva player” and it’s true, he is playing very well today and is linking up to goal scoring effect with Kane Vincent-Young down the right.   Within ten minutes Wimbledon have made their permitted three substitutions bringing on the more exotically and lengthily named Nesta Guinness-Walker and Dapo Awokoya-Mebude for plain old Luke McCormick and Aaron Pressley and swapping the fifty percent exotic Cheye Alexander for equally exotic Jack Rudoni, both of whom sound like they may possess an Equity card.

Seventy-four minutes of the game have got up and gone and Hladky has to save a shot from Ollie Palmer giving Wimbledon a corner.  Four minutes later and a hobbling Wes Burns is replaced by Janoi Donacien and less understandably Kane Vincent-Young is replaced by Sone Aluko.   The excellent Hayden Coulson also appears to be injured and is replaced by Matthew Penney.  Vaclav Hladky is booked for time-wasting, although it looked as if he merely didn’t understand Mr Rock’s wafting hand gestures about where a free kick should be taken from.  “I can’t help falling in love with you” sing the Wimbledon supporters enigmatically.  What is it with football supporters and naff “adult orientated” popular music?

“The momentum has gone” says one of the voices behind me and then repeats the phrase, perhaps for added emphasis, but possibly because it’s true.  Wimbledon now press as they have never done before in the game, it’s as if the two teams have swapped shirts.  The Wimbledon players seem to want to score a goal whilst the Ipswich players just want to get indoors and have a shower before driving home in their sickeningly ostentatious cars.  Time added on arrives and there are six minutes of it, Fiona and I roll our eyes.   Five minutes into the additional six minutes and what we have come to think of as the inevitable happens; a Wimbledon corner is headed goalwards by Ben Heneghan, Hladky saves but doesn’t catch the ball and Jack Rudoni boots the ball over the goal line, unable to miss, even if by some freakish desire to see Ipswich win, he had wanted to.

The final whistle follows soon afterwards and predictably a number of attention seekers in the crowd of 19,051 and people who were perhaps spoiled as children boo because their team hasn’t won.  Maybe someone will buy them an ice cream on the way home to appease their bawling and moaning.  I stay to applaud the Town players from the field and see them hang their heads in disappointment.  I’m disappointed, we’re all disappointed, but football is that sort of a game and when I get home I shall flush that cuddly Womble down the toilet.

Ipswich Town 2 Visitors 2

Today is one of the lowlights of my football season; one of Ipswich Town’s two fixtures against the nation’s most odious club, the club that stole the identity of the original Wimbledon Football Club.  If the EFL had even the merest shred of decency they could still own up to their mistake in allowing the theft and expel the thieves from the Football League, but of course they won’t do that.

Boycotting today’s fixture is unlikely to provoke some sort of Damascene moment for the EFL and with my winless team in desperate need of my hope, support and will that they should win, I know that I must make the journey to Portman Road.  On the bright side, two years ago today I was undergoing open heart surgery to replace two heart valves eaten up by Endocarditis and I survived. The saintly people of Basildon hospital pulled me through and I’m here today to take my chances with the pandemic in a mostly un-masked crowd of 18,622, so I have a lot to be grateful for.

Regrettably still not confident of the safety of public transport, I drive to the match thereby hurtling us all towards climatic oblivion that little bit faster. I park my trusty Citroen C3 on Chantry estate and stroll down through Gippeswyk Park (bequeathed to the town by Felix Cobbold), as very occasional raindrops fall upon me, and on other people as well I imagine.  In Ancaster Road a man walks by on the opposite pavement eating crisps from a ‘family size’ bag. I cross the Sir Bobby Robson bridge, from the middle of which all views of the football ground are hidden behind the offices of Suffolk County Council.  I arrive in Constantine Road to a busy scene of coaches and buses arriving from the countryside, and queues of supporters snaking from the turnstiles across Sir Alf Ramsey Way; it might just be the humidity but there is an air of expectation and excitement which I haven’t sensed for years.  A woman in leggings and a droopy cardigan holds aloft a clutch of ‘Turnstile Blue’ fanzines. “0nly a pound” she calls, so I hand her a two-pound coin. “I’ll just get your change” she says. “I should hope so” I reply as she delves into the depths of her cardigan. Unsure of what to do next with a half an hour or more of continued breathing to waste before kick-off, I queue to get into the Fanzone. It’s warm and I fancy a drink.  Arriving at the marquee where I believe beer is being served, I am in time to be turned away with several other thirsty people willing to part with their money, by a woman in a day-glo tabard, whose defence presumably is that she is only obeying orders. Apparently, the policy is no more drinks after two-thirty, which seems rather mean-spirited and pointless.  Feeling like I’m losing one-nil already without the game having even started, I leave the Fanzone and head for turnstile number 59, having first shown my vaccination credentials and, because I have more money than I know what to do with, purchased a programme (£3.50).

Inside the Sir Alf Ramsey stand ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, but minus his son Elwood, and Fiona, Pat from Clacton, Ray and his son and grandson Harrison all arrive in time for kick-off too. The old dears who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me aren’t here again, but Pat from Clacton has been in touch with her and they’re okay, although they’d been to Lowestoft and he’d had a fall; Pat tells me he’s over ninety.

The knee is taken, proudly we applaud, and the game begins. The visiting team, who sport a suitably anonymous all-red kit get first go with the ball, which they boot in the direction of the Sir Bobby Robson stand.  Behind me blokes with Ipswich accents discuss the team. “We int had a decent centre-half since Berra, have we” says one truthfully.  Three-minutes in and visiting number five Warren O’Hora, whose name makes me think of Star Trek and unfeasibly short skirts, is booked by referee Joshua Smith for a foul on Town’s Kyle Edwards, a player whose dribbling ability might earn him the description ‘slippery’.  Unusually, the visiting goalkeeper gets the opportunity to dribble too today, taking the ball around two Ipswich players in quick succession in his own penalty area.   A lovely smell of pervading damp rises up from the pitch into the stand.  “Your support is fucking shit” sing the visiting fans to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, and they have a point , even if poorly made; but then we are probably complacent, lacking the nervous energy borne of guilt from following a club that is ‘stolen goods’.

The visiting team are dominating possession and their number nine Scott Twine, who scored twice against us last season for Swindon Town is particularly industrious.  Fourteen minutes have passed and Macauley Bonne heads a Wes Burns cross over the bar, in a manner which he perfected in the previous game versus Newport County, although curiously this time he wins a corner.  Two minutes later Bonne atones spectacularly, driving the ball high into the goal net past Fisher from 15 metres on the half-volley, having collected a punt forward from Kane Vincent-Young. Bonne proceeds to create a template for all future goal celebrations, running behind the goal with his arm aloft blowing kisses to the crowd before being consumed by a ball of hugging team-mates in the corner of the pitch.   This is surely where the season starts and as if to mark its birth the Boney M fans in the Sir Bobby Robson stand break out into a chorus of Mary’s Boy Child, albeit with somewhat altered lyrics. 

The goal has lifted the Town players and the crowd. When Lee Evans fails to control a carefully placed kick from goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky, a collective sigh of disappointment is exhaled from the stands as if we’re watching the dissolving, falling embers of a slowly dying firework.   Watching Town being a goal ahead is a giddying experience and it feels like we’re winning by more than a goal to nil. When the visitor’s Ethan Robson strikes the cross bar with a shot the reality of our fragile lead returns, particularly given that it happens at the end of a two man move which began seconds beforehand with a corner to Town.   Over in the West Stand in the seats behind the dugouts I notice a figure in a bright red cagoule; I think of the 1973 Nicolas Roeg film Don’t Look Now.

 It’s nearly half-time. The blokes behind me leave their seats. To my left someone rises from their seat and shuffles along towards the gangway, they will want me to stand to let them past; I want to tell them to sit back down wait for the half-time whistle, but I don’t.

Half-time arrives. It’s been a satisfactory half inasmuch as we’re winning, which is unusual, but it is doubtful that the score will remain 1-0.  I both celebrate our lead and console myself about what the second half may bring by eating a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar, before going to speak with Ray.  We discuss full-backs and the replacement today of Matt Penney with Hayden Coulson. “The opposition don’t get much change out of Penney” says Ray.  “The same couldn’t be said of Adam Tanner” I reply.  

The second half begins very quietly indeed, with the crowd seemingly observing a hushed, embarrassed silence as if someone had said or done something during the interval that was in bad taste and everyone knows about it.  Four minutes into the half, Kane Vincent-Young is booked for a foul on Mo Eisa as he surges towards the penalty area.  The amusingly named Harry Darling sends a free header into the arms of Vaclav Hladky. I imagine a scenario in which Darling is booked. “Name?” asks the referee. “Darling” says Darling.  “You won’t get round me that way” replies the referee.  My childish reverie is broken as Wes Burns strikes a shot which hits the far post and defies physics, as for a moment the angle of incidence does not equal the angle of refraction and the ball deflects out into the penalty area instead of into the net.  It’s the sort of thing to be expected when playing the devil’s club however.

Today’s attendance is announced as 18,622 with 501 from the town whose advertising slogan suggested that it would be nice if all towns were like it, proving again that advertising is mostly about lying convincingly.  “No noise from the Tractor Boys” chant the visiting new town neurotics.  Town’s Luke Woolfenden stretches to tackle Scott Twine and Twine goes down. Woolfenden is booked. “You’re a fucking wanker” bawls a voice behind me at the referee, perhaps because he knows him and does not hold him in high esteem, but more probably because he just disagrees with his decision.  The free kick is some 25 metres from goal in a fairly central position. Twine strikes the ball over the defensive wall and whilst Vaclav Hladky gets both hands to it he fails to stop it squirming into the net; the scores are level, Woolfenden is culpable. 

Matt Penney replaces Hayden Coulson and then Wes Burns is replaced by Tommy Carroll almost fifty years to the day since Tommy Carroll last played for Town (23rd August 1971 versus West Ham United). Although Town have seized a degree of control of the game, still the visiting team dominate possession. “How are we letting them control the fuckin’ tempo” says an exasperated voice behind me, unexpectedly introducing an Italian word after a rude one. His concern is premature however, and soon afterwards Scott Fraser breaks into the penalty box down the left, crosses and Macauley Bonne sweeps the ball past Fisher at the far post.  Ecstasy ensues once again. Eighteen minutes remain and surely Town will win.

Three minutes later Lee Evans is facing his own goal some 30 metres away from it; then, in the style of someone dropping off to sleep he allows Matt O’Riley to rob him of the ball and enjoy a free run at goal, which ends with a simple equaliser as O’Riley wrong foots Vaclav Hladky and rolls the ball into the net.    “Mr Grimsdale!” shouts Evans, although he denies he was ever influenced by Norman Wisdom.

As if to make some sort of unwanted point about lovable losers, the visitors bring on a player with the unlikely name of Charlie Brown, whilst Town replace Scott Fraser with Armando Dobra.  The visitors continue to keep the ball mostly to themselves although Town threaten when they occasionally have it.  But the optimism has evaporated. “Is this a library?” chant the visiting supporters trying to convince us that they’d know what one was like and that they know Italian opera.  Five minutes of additional time are to be played, which gives a visiting player time to hit the town cross bar with a shot, but nothing more happens of note.  The final whistle blows to the sound of boos from those Ipswich “supporters” most likely to make interesting subjects for psychological case studies.  The sweary man behind me is moved to admonish those who boo, so he’s not all bad, even if his swearing is now worse than ever.

I applaud a few players for their efforts as they leave the field, but don’t hang about. It has been a very good game, and we haven’t lost against a team who, it pains me to say it are pretty good too.   I don’t feel I can ask for much more given that two years ago I was undergoing major heart surgery, I’m just glad I was here to see it.

Ipswich Town 2 Morecambe 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0

In 1978 when Ipswich Town were winning the FA Cup, Wigan Athletic finished second in the Northern Premier League behind Boston United and were elected to the Football League in place of Southport. Today, as ever-present Phil who never misses a game will later joke, Wigan are Town’s peers and today we meet. That’s a good joke Phil, you are wasted teaching IT to the youth of Northampton. Wigan bobbed about in the ‘lower divisions’ for several years, I remember seeing them lose frequently at Layer Road in the 1990’s, but eventually the club had the good fortune to be adopted by millionaire Dave Whelan who built them a stadium and paid their way in to the Premier League (spit). I met Dave Whelan once in a professional capacity; he flew down to Ipswich by helicopter just to meet me, and my colleague (boss). As we talked informally to break the ice my colleague, let’s call him Steve because that is his name, offered him a million pounds for Titus Bramble (then a Wigan Athletic player) and he accepted. I’m still not sure what we would have done with Titus Bramble in our office.

Today is a gloriously grey mid-December day. The sky is dull, the wind is gusty and the cold is very cold; so cold it cuts against my skin like a knife as I walk to the railway station. There are plenty of people waiting for the 12:57 train; Christmas shoppers mostly, heading for the bright, twinkling lights of Colchester. The train is late. A freight train seems to be to blame; it crawls through the station belching thick, dark diesel fumes. “Bloody hell” says a youth out to his impress his mates before he breaks into a bout of ostentatious coughing. More mature people cover their noses with their scarves or hold their breath. I wander down the platform and wait near a man who has hair like a young Sid James. The train is nine minutes late, but arrives in due course. As it draws into the platform two men in their late sixties manoeuvre themselves towards the sliding doors. “Ooh, it’s one of the refurbished ones, have you been on one of these?” says one of the men who has an unfortunate squint to one eye. The other man doesn’t answer. I imagine he’s thinking “Twat”.

The Christmas shoppers and Sid James desert the train at Colchester and I  am left to contemplate a sign inviting me to recharge my lap-top, tablet or phone, but only my lap-top, tablet or phone, from a sealed up power point. It’s as if Greater Anglia railways had considered being generous, but then thought better of it.

Ipswich is as grey and cloudy as the station where I began my journey and the streets are cold and quiet. I stride over the Princes Street bridge purposefully in my overcoat and blue and white scarf, probably smiling slightly to myself because I’m looking forward to the match; surely we can win today, I’m thinking. A woman in a car waiting at the traffic lights catches my eye and gives me the thumbs up. Yes, we will surely win today. I see the banners on the lamp posts advertising the Rodin exhibition at the gallery in Christchurch Park and am further inspired; I really must go and see ‘The Kiss’. We’ve got it all in Ipswich. Seriously.

Portman Road is quiet for a match day but perhaps that is because the turnstiles are already open and the people usually here at 1.30 are all inside doing whatever people who arrive an hour and a half before kick-off do. I head for the Fanzone to deliver a bag of groceries to the FIND foodbank charity; I’m not going into the Fanzone but a steward tries to stop me nevertheless because I haven’t shown that I have a match ticket, I tell them not to fret, I’m only going ‘over here’. Hopefully FIND will have had a successful day and will make further collections on future match days.

I head on to St Jude’s Tavern past a steward walking a car along Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I call to him that he needs a red flag. St Jude’s is very busy but I quickly avail myself of a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is St Jude’s Thaddeus. I perch on a bar stool in a dark corner; it’s the only vacant seat left. I’m not quite half way through my pint when Mick appears at the door, the large fur-trimmed hood of his coat casts a deep shadow over his face and beard making him look a little like a slightly sinister polar explorer. Mick quickly acquires a pint of the Thaddeus too and we talk of car insurance, my recent weekend in Amiens, of Trappist beers (Orval and Chimay), Jules Verne, ethical candles, gilets jaunes and Emmanuel Macron. Finishing my first pint, I buy a pint of Mr Bee’s Black Bee (£3.40) and Mick has a half of the Match Day Special. Time flies by and it’s almost ten to three, I have to dash.

 I seem to be the last person to be making his way down Portman Road towards the glowing floodlights, in the nearing distance supporters scurry across from the car park and hurry through the turnstiles like people getting in, out of the rain. At the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand I greet the turnstile operator with cheery smile and proceed to the seats where as ever I will find ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and Pat from Clacton.

Phil hands me a Christmas card, which is nice  and after the referee Mr Scott Duncan poses for photos with the team captains and mascots the match is soon underway. Town get first go with the ball and are trying to send it in the direction of me, Phil and Pat. Town as ever wear blue and white shirts despoiled by the ugly advert for on-line betting whilst Wigan are obviously the away team because they are all in yellow.

The game is a bit of a mess. Town start slightly better than Wigan and mill around their goal for a bit, but without threatening to score. Not really making the best of the Latin rhythms of Guantanamera, the 310 Wigan supporters in the Cobbold Stand sing “Down with the Wanderers, You’re going down with the Wanderers”. Presumably they are addressing their song to Ipswich and not to their own team, but you never know. At the North Stand end of the ground the ambience is less Cuban and South American and more Spanish, although the chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” are swept away on the icy wind above the muffled sound of drums. Wigan begin to have more of the ball, but are as ineffective close to Ipswich’s goal as we are to theirs.
The game settles down into scruffy mediocrity but the hope that everyone is drawing from the realisation that Wigan are as bad as we are is palpable; at times that hope congeals into belief and the vestiges of long lost vocal support ripple through the stands. “We’re going to see Tina Turner the musical on Friday, in London” I hear Pat say. “I’m not” says Phil.

There are several free-kicks and the Wigan players seem keen to hold proceedings up whenever they can by feigning mortal injury and clutching various limbs before skipping off to kick or shove someone in blue and white. Frustrated by another delay the old dear behind shouts “Keep it goin’, we gotta get home tonight. It’s obviously not cold enough for ‘em.”

With a half an hour gone a tuneless, droning chant of “Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan” makes a succinct commentary on the type of game it is and makes me think of the Buzzcocks’ “Boredom” and I mourn the death of Pete Shelley quietly to myself whilst waiting for something good to happen. A page from a copy of the East Anglian Daily Times dances its way across the pitch, blown and buffeted by the wind. Then another page floats by and another. “ It’s coming across a page at a time” says the elderly voice behind me and she chuckles ,enjoying the sight of paper blowing about more than the match it seems. A serious looking steward with a head wrapped in earphones steps forward to grab a piece of the newspaper and dispose of it. “Underground, overground, Wombling free” I sing. It’s twenty-five to four and Freddie Sears breaks free of the Wigan defence, he bears down on goal, he shoots over the cross bar. Five minutes later Wigan’s, or more accurately Everton’s Callum Connolly misses the goal too after a corner, “Crikey, you’re worse than us” is the verdict from behind me.
Half-time is a blessed opportunity to thaw my hands beneath the warm air blowers in the gents’ toilet; it’s a cold day and I’ve drunk two pints of beer so I take the chance to use the other facilities too. Outside on the concourse I eat a Panda brand liquorice stick and then, back in the stand chat with Ray, who also hands me a Christmas card. It is starting to rain and it’s getting dark.
The second half of the match begins and the break has made me more conscious of the cold easterly wind; even Paul Lambert has a coat on this afternoon, even if he has left it not done up. For now, despite slowly numbing fingers due to fingerless gloves, I feel warm. My woolly socks, cosily fitting boxer shorts bought in an Amiens supermarket (Auchan), a T-shirt bearing the words “Allez-les bleus”, long-sleeve cotton 1950’s Ipswich football shirt, chunky woolly jumper, beneath a heavy overcoat, and a woolly ITFC badged hat and scarf seem to be doing the trick. I was worried about the boxer shorts because they have the word ‘Athletic’ all around the waist band, but have decided that like sticking pins in a wax effigy having a part of the name of our opponents printed on my pants will put a hex on them.

The standard of football doesn’t improve. “It’s probably better on the radio” says the old girl behind me. The cold intensifies with the rain and my feet start to feel like blocks of ice. Dean Gerken the Ipswich goalkeeper draws disapproving moans and groans from the crowd as he hurries a clearance, which screws away into touch. He glowers back at the crowd. Perhaps he senses and even resents the loyalty in the crowd to Bartosz Bialkowski. The wind and rain are making it difficult for players who like to hoof the ball, but I think we are right to expect better on this occasion. I begin to wonder if this game might not become the win we are waiting for, but despite that minor ‘altercation’ with “Gerks” there is still a prevailing atmosphere of hope and support. We know we aren’t here to be entertained, we are here to see a win and people are sensing that they have some part in making that happen because perhaps the team might not be able to do it alone. Every now and then a string of on-field events will cause an eruption of supportive sounds from the stands and belief is restored. Even when a shot from Wigan’s Reece James strikes the Ipswich cross bar it seems to galvanise the support, not make them depressed and scornful as would have happened last season. It’s gone twenty past four and an Ipswich ‘attack’ takes ‘shape’ in a random manner on the right. The ball is hit hither and thither and into the box where there is more bagatelle until Freddie Sears half volleys the ball into the ground and towards the goal, it strikes Everton’s Callum Connolly and, as Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton looks over his shoulder, the back of the goal net. Ipswich Town are winning.
The remaining twenty four minutes are both awful and utterly enjoyable. The referee Mr Scott Duncan, despite having the name of a former Town manager whom the supporters respect, unlike the last four managers, makes a catalogue of dubious decisions many involving granting Wigan free-kicks around the edge of the penalty area. But this only draws everyone together, if we have to beat both Wigan Athletic and the referee so be it. Town manager Paul Lambert is equally gung-ho and has now discarded his coat like some sort of footballing King Lear challenging the wind and freezing rain to do its worst.  Wigan’s last chance is the ludicrous addition of seven minutes of time added on, it’s as if Wigan have benefitted from their own time wasting earlier in the match. But thankfully Wigan are not good enough to make anything of it. If it was a Friday in the 1960’s it would be time for Crackerjack by now, but at last Mr Duncan’s whistle draws its last and Town have won at home for the first time in just over six months and for just the third time this year.
This has  been the worst brilliant match I have ever seen and certainly the best terrible one too. The foul, freezing weather has just made it more marvellous, more memorable. This is what being a football supporter is all about, days like this. I have learned again the joy of a single win. The wait has been worth it. I feel sorry for those supporters of clubs who have never been bottom of the league in mid-December without a home win, they don’t know what they’ve missed. Today our souls have been enriched.
Tonight my wife and I shall drink champagne.

Ipswich Town 1 Norwich City 1

I received a text at a quarter past six this morning from my friend Mick who was at work but, in what was presumably an idle moment, had decided to let me know that he was watching assorted vehicles setting off from Suffolk Police headquarters heading, he assumed, for the match at Portman Road today. He asked me to give Town a shout on his behalf and predicted a draw. I tried to sleep on for another hour or so after reading the text but with only partial success. Thanks Mick.
Today should be one of the highlights of the football season, one of the most exciting games, the game with the biggest crowd and the best atmosphere; the one most like a professional football match should be. But the portents are not good; there are no trains from Colchester direction, only replacement buses. Far worse than that it’s Sunday and kick-off is at twelve o’clock, noon. The relevant authorities and ‘stakeholders’ have made a ‘risk assessment’ and decreed that there is a risk of football supporters enjoying the event too much if it takes place on a Saturday afternoon at 3 pm when football matches should be played and so Sunday lunchtime has been chosen as the time when the game should take place. That last time Ipswich played Norwich on a Saturday afternoon was probably in the last century; I tried to look it up on the interweb, but gave up and may be the records have been deleted to deter dissenters and give the impression things have always been like this; but I remember the 1970’s so they won’t silence me!
Moving on, I drive to Ipswich because life is too short to consider rail replacement bus services an option and I park up on Chantry, that spaciously laid out estate of public housing from the time when it wasn’t seditious to place need above profit. It’s a pleasant walk down through Gippeswyk Park beneath a blue sky as I strive to find pleasure in otherwise desperate circumstances. In Ranelagh Road I pass two drunken Norwich City supporters.


I cross the Sir Bobby Robson bridge for which the planners of Ipswich Borough Council must be congratulated, for it was they who got it built by the developers of the old Reavell’s factory site, which incidentally provided some of the locations for the 1960 film the Angry Silence starring Richard Attenborough. From the bridge I can see four cormorants which are basking on the concrete weir. I imagine them as the lucky four cormorants of Ipswich, harbingers of doom to those from north of the River Waveney. In Constantine Road I find evidence of horses having littered the road and wonder why dog owners have to clear up their animal’s excrement but horse owners don’t. I have never seen a police dog defecate in the street but wonder if their handlers nevertheless carry little plastic bags, just in case.


Perturbed I turn into the Fanzone just for something to fill the time until it is time for the game to begin. There is a band playing out of the side of a shipping container in the Fanzone, they are playing some decent tunes including an ITFC version of the Ramones’ Blitzkreig Bop. People may be listening but they are not moving to the music, which is a shame. I feel an urge to show them what to do, but heck I’m fifty-eight and wouldn’t want to listen to the game on the radio in the back of an ambulance.

In the Fanzone I meet ‘Mac’ a woman who will not thank me for saying she is really called Maxine. She played for Ipswich Town Women’s Football Club back in the 1990’s, in the days before Ipswich Town took much of an interest in women’s football. Mac, who incidentally is a triplet, lives in Needham Market; she loves football and Ipswich Town, she is a lifelong fan and she tells me how the club told her she had to give a week’s notice if she wanted to watch the team train and then when she wrote and asked they said no. I often don’t like Ipswich Town Football Club much.
It’s beautifully warm, even hot lounging on the plastic turf of the Fanzone, but I resist any temptation to buy a drink because all that is on offer is Greene King East Coast IPA, which whilst fashionably hoppy will be fizzy, chilled and will make me belch like a dyspeptic Sperm whale. At length I leave the Fanzone thinking “Hey ho, let’s go” to myself and so that I can avoid seeing any more Norwich supporters until inside the stadium I head for the turnstiles at the west end of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, where appropriately I find OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAturnstiles 59 and 60 as well as turnstiles 61 and 62, recalling the seasons in which Sir Alf managed Town to consecutive Division Two and League Championship titles. I enter through turnstile 62. By the Constantine Road gates I meet Ray and his wife Ros who are waiting for their son and grandson, who are held up in traffic.
Inside, the ground looks close to full with the only vacant seats largely being to the back of the stands, mostly those from which the view is partly obscured by steel stanchions. As usual, this ‘derby’ match is not a sell-out; I expect all those Ipswich puritans have had to go to church. It is nevertheless strange to find the seats all around mine to be occupied and I wonder what these people usually do on Saturdays when Town are at home; I’m sure they’re not all watching local non-league games; perhaps they are Jewish.
At last the teams trail on to the pitch to much rousing applause, cheering and infantile posturing and I once again realise why I simultaneously love and loathe this fixture. Town kick off towards me, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Pat from Clacton and the many unfamiliar faces all around us. Norwich City, the Canaries are wearing their usual unsightly yellow shirts and green shorts, but this season their shoulders are flecked with what from a distance looks, most appropriately like guano. Very quickly Town win a free-kick just outside the Norwich penalty area; it’s an opportunity for a direct shot at goal if anyone has the requisite skills; they don’t and new loan signing Jordan Graham, whose name makes me think of breakfast cereal (Jordan’s Country Crisp and Nestlés Golden Grahams) blazes the ball high over the Norwich cross-bar, dashing the hopes of 20,000 Town fans in a split second. “Oh Christ” says the old boy next to me with sad resignation.
Five minutes pass and the away fans break into a chorus of “On The Ball City”, the sort of archaic football song that could only survive in a remote corner of the country whereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA incest is rife. On the touchline, young, “hungry” Ipswich manager Paul Hurst looks the part in his small size tracksuit. Beyond ‘Hursty’, Norwich manager Daniel Farke looks like a groundhopper, dressed as he is in a sort of grey anorak. It may be a heresy to say so, but I can’t help liking Daniel Farke, I think it’s because he’s German, but I’d also like to know where he bought that anorak.
On the pitch Town’s early effort on goal is a fading memory as Norwich start to look the stronger team, both physically and in terms of skill. It’s a bit before twelve-thirty and Town captain Luke Chambers is booked by referee Robert Jones. With three debutants in the side, Town at times look as if they don’t know whether they’re at a football match or a coming-out ball. Norwich hit a post with a shot and Ipswich do the same, but better. Town’s Jordan Graham is booked for cheating by falling over in the penalty area unassisted, although I like to think a small part of the booking was also for his hopeless free-kick at the start of the match. It’s a scrappy and overly physical match punctuated by several injuries to players of both teams and six minutes of injury time are to be added at the end of the half,

or they will be once Town’s Cole Skuse is scraped off the pitch and loaded onto the electric truck and carted away. As ever-present Phil points out, it’s not often the first half hasn’t ended by the time the second half is due to start. Today’s attendance is announced as 25,690 and the Norwich congregation, appropriately on a Sunday spontaneously break into a rendition of the hymn Cwm Rhondda, but cast doubt on their faith by singing “You’re support is fucking shit” rather than the more traditional “Be though still my strength and shield”, but each to his own.
Half-time arrives eventually at close on one o’clock and it’s time for lunch. Only a few hours ago I ate a vast breakfast of bacon, toast, tomatoes, poached eggs and croissants with honey to stave off hunger, but all around me tin foil and Tupperware are opened up to reveal all manner of packed meals; OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit’s like the teddy bear’s picnic, but without the teddy bears. Ros has cooked sausage rolls, and kind and generous man that he is Ray delivers one to me on his way to the toilet. People are lovely, I don’t deserve this, but I eat OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit all the same. I had been looking forward to a Pawelek Advocaat and fondant ‘filled’ plain chocolate bar (reduced to 30p in the Sainsbury’s World Foods aisle) as a half-time treat, but it has melted somewhat in my pocket, soOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA disappointed I leave it unwrapped and uneaten. To raise my spirits I look at the match programme (£3) and seek amusement in the names of the Norwich City squad; at number four they have Mr Godfrey (“Do you think I may be excused?”) and number six Zimmerman reminds me that the Clapton FC have a player called Dylan, but I wouldn’t say it made me laugh.
Fortunately, the footballers return, although Daniel Farke’s anorak doesn’t, and play resumes but not before the old dear next but one from me says to the old boy next to me “Mmmm, smell the grass”. She is so right, you sometimes just have to simply smell the grass. Returning from my moment of quiet contemplation it’s evident Trevoh Chalobah has replaced Cole Skuse and he soon smacks a half volley over the Norwich cross bar as Ipswich start to dominate in a frantic fifteen minute spell of excitement and increasing volume of support from the Town fans. Nine minutes into the half and Kayden Jackson has what I reckon is Town’s first goal attempt on target as he accurately re-directs a Jon Walters’ cross. Three minutes later Jon Walters heads back to Gwion Edwards and his shot deflects off a guano-dappled shirt and into the far corner of the Norwich goal and a roar erupts from the Portman Road crowd the like of which I have not heard in a very long time. Apparently it is the first occasion on which Town have opened the scoring in a match versus Norwich at Portman Road since 1998, when incidentally, Town won by five, yes five goals to nil, which again incidentally Town also did in 1977 and also in 1946.
I begin to dare to believe Ipswich might win this game, but our dominance doesn’t last and Norwich grow stronger again as Town are unable to maintain the righteous onslaught. Norwich have a spell of pressure similar to the one Ipswich had and a nasty habit of letting the ball run to Norwich players at the edge of the penalty area culminates in Moritz Leitner striking a firm low shot just inside Dean Gerken’s left hand post; it is a shot I have a disturbingly perfect in-line view of, all the way from the German’s boot to the net. Bugger.
The Town support falls silent having previously made the sort of noise normally only heard in places like Portsmouth or Marseille. The Norwich support are right to ask if this is a library. The belief in a win has evaporated in a flash. When Jordan Graham is substituted the old boy next to me asks “Who’s coming on?” When he‘s told it’s Grant Ward he glumly remarks “Well, he’s not bad” as if to leave unspoken the fact that he’s not going to win the game though. The last minutes are eked out, Norwich come close, Gerken makes a couple of good saves, Town break up field and a corner and free-kick raise hopes and voices, but all too briefly before Mr Roberts calls time.
It’s not been much of a game really, but it has been bloody exciting nonetheless. If the crowd is passionate enough, even relatively poor quality football matches can be enjoyable, because as we were told by Mary Poppins “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”; although it was the 1960’s when she sang that and some sugar was known to be laced with LSD and some with the polio vaccine.

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