Ipswich Town 0 Visitors 0

When I saw who Town’s opponents were today, I did think about having a week off from writing this blog as a futile protest against the theft of Wimbledon Football Club’s status, identity and history and its translocation 70 kilometres away from its indigenous supporters.  But such a gesture, so long after the crime was committed would achieve nothing other than my having not to think of something to write about Town’s latest fruitless attempt to score a goal.  The time for protest and action was back in 2004; that was when supporters of all clubs should have stormed the offices of the Football Association, kidnapped the then England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and dumped truckloads of horse manure on the pitches of St George’s Park.  But revolution has never been a strong suit with the English; most of us are too self-centred to support the oppressed and act collectively for the common good, which is why we get so many Tory governments.

Politics aside, it is oddly appropriate that today Town should be playing what is effectively a sports franchise in the week that our club has been sold to a bunch of Americans.  Let’s hope our new owners don’t decide a in a few years’ time that their interests would be better served if our club was somewhere else where the local inhabitants are wealthier or more plentiful.

Not believing that today’s opponents are, as a club, worthy of their place in the Football League I am not particularly looking forward to this afternoon’s match,  and  I take a walk across the fields near my house to feel the blustery wind in my face and commune with nature in an attempt to purge myself of the ill-will I am harbouring for the visiting team and the club’s straggly-haired, short-arsed, pudgy-faced chairman, Pete Winkelman; but at least he has a surname we can all laugh at; unless that is your surname is Winkelman too.

Back indoors and with a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Adnams Broadside (two for £3 from Ocado) there are ten minutes to go before kick-off and I turn on my Lenovo lap-top and log-on to the ifollow.  It’s just a short while before I hear the familiar voices of Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills coming at me through the airwaves; my mind greets them like the old friends that they have become over the course of this season in lockdown. Brenner invites Mick to comment on the American takeover. “It’s something that’s happened that pretty much we all thought would happen, although when it went quiet I though it wouldn’t happen” says Mick , as clearly as he can before admitting that he is in “the Marcus Evans’ camp” and is thankful to the outgoing owner for the continued existence of our club.  As ever, Mick is right, but also, as ever, he doesn’t stop there.  Mick goes on and ends by telling us that the players are the most important part of any football club, but that lately at Ipswich “We haven’t seen the desire from the players”.  Of course, Mick is right, again.

The game is due to begin but cannot do so until we have had a silence for the very recently deceased Duke of Edinburgh.  Unlike dead footballers, who used to get a minute’s silence but now get a minute’s applause because the sort of people who watch football can’t be trusted not to shout profanities during a silence, the Duke, or Phil the Greek as he was known, gets a stonking two-minutes silence.   The silence ends and a brief self-congratulatory applause bursts out then quickly dies; it’s weird how nowadays people feel moved to applaud a successful silence; although it would have been weirder if one of the assembled players or officials had de-spoiled the silence by blurting out some anti-royalist sentiment.

The game begins and the visitors, appropriately attired all in black like the baddies that they are,  get first go with the ball,  kicking towards the Sir Alf Ramsey stand.  “How big to have Flynn Downes back, Mick Mills” says or asks Brenner making strange use of the word ‘big’ and using one of his typically unusual sentence constructions. “I like Flynn Downes” replies Mick, being atypically concise.

Just two minutes in and Armando Dobra clatters into a visiting player. “The referee belatedly wants a word with the Albanian youth international” says Brenner indulging his passion for telling us the nationalities of anyone who’s not English.  Dobra is shown the yellow card by referee Mr Tom Nield.

Play resumes and I think I hear Brenner refer to a player on the visiting team whose name is Harbey.  I pray silently that I didn’t miss-hear him and that perhaps there is an heir to the John Duncan era number three, who is one of the few Town players ever to be called Graham.  As I begin to wonder to myself if the blond-haired, gap-toothed full-back would have got into today’s team my reverie is punctured by the realisation that the visiting player’s surname is not Harbey, but Harvie.  Like the 1970’s, it was fun while it lasted.

Armando Dobra lobs the ball wide of the visitors’ goal following a decent pass from Flynn Downes to Aaron Drinan, before the ball returns to the other end of the field.  “Holy, clearly first choice under Paul Cook, the Czech” says Brenner, being Brenner but confusingly implying that Paul Cook is Czech like Tomas Holy before deciding to tempt fate by announcing that the visitors have never beaten Town during the course of normal time.  Clearly feeling compelled to qualify his statement however, he then adds “…they’ve only played us six times, it has to be said.”

Ten minutes gone and the game is not very exciting, although there is much passing of the ball. “ I’m not sure the players have got the capabilities to play this way” muses Mick quickly pointing out the truth behind Town’s season.  Gwion Edwards wins a corner for Town and the visiting players fall over a lot when Town players touch them, winning undeserved free-kicks.   The visitors attack down Town’s right and, says Brenner revealing his confusion over what footballers wear on their feet “…the ball goes fizzing across the Town area from McEachran’s shoe”.

Seventeen minutes pass. “There hasn’t been a whole heap of goalmouth action so far “says Brenner.  The visitors win a corner. A shot is fired straight at Tomas Holy.  Five minutes later Stephen Ward overlaps down the left and sends in a low cross but there are no Town players in the six yard box, only Gwion Edwards, who collapses pathetically between two defenders.  “There should have been a cluster of Town players there” says Mick, putting emphasis on the word ‘cluster’.  Mick is right yet again, cluster is a good word.

The game remains on the boring side of dull.  “Still very little in the way of a goal threat from Ipswich Town, from both teams in fact” admits Brenner with the honesty expected of a public service broadcaster.  “It’s windy at Portman Road this afternoon” Brenner continues,  “Paul Cook with beanie hat and gloves and hooded coat as well”  he adds, unintentionally giving advice on what to wear for anyone intending to commit any criminal acts in the Portman Road area in the next couple of hours.

In my kitchen I am suddenly bathed in pale sunlight as the grey clouds outside momentarily part.  All of a sudden I realise how Brenner must be feeling when he tells us about the weather at a match; how his heart must be lifted that he can tell us about something vaguely interesting and beautiful.  A half an hour has passed since the game began and Teddy Bishop commits a foul; previously I hadn’t realised that he was on the pitch.   Brenner tells us again that the visitors have never won at Portman Road and Mick assures us that this won’t change,  “ They don’t look like they’re going anywhere” he says, but balances this optimism with “ …and we haven’t got our game going at all”.

The visitors win another corner but mostly just pass the ball about a bit, prompting Mick to suggest that “At this level you can’t play that type of football”.  I’m thinking what type of football can you play ‘at this level’.  Brenner livens things up with some of his own special brand of football speak as he tells us that the visitors’ goalkeeper “…hasn’t been asked too many questions in terms of his glove-work unfortunately.”  The only question I have is what is glove-work?  Is it really just Brenner’s way of saying ‘making saves and catches’, or is there more to it?  Hand movements in the style of Alvin Stardust perhaps? Jabs and punches a la Muhammad Ali or donning the Marigolds to do the washing up?

Despite the efforts of Brenner and Mick I’m not enjoying the match.  Brenner suggests that the Town manager is also not happy.  “Paul Cook frustrated; by his body language down below”.  It’s an odd and somewhat unfortunate sentence from the BBC commentator which implies that something unpleasant is happening in Paul Cook’s nether regions. I do hope not.  As if worried by these developments also, the Town team ends the half with, an albeit tiny, flourish. Andre Dozzell has a corner kick “plucked out of the sky” by the visiting goalkeeper before a low Gwion Edwards cross is diverted wide of the visitor’s left-hand goal post by Dobra.   According to Mick “It’s the best opening we’ve had in the first half” and of course he’s right.  Half-time arrives, the score is blank and Mick says that the visitors “…are the better side”.

Half-time is the usual excitement of putting the kettle on and choosing a snack; today I return to the familiar comfort of the Nature Valley brand peanut and chocolate protein bar.  In the living room my wife Paulene has been watching her team Portsmouth trail to Burton Albion.  Uninspired by the efforts of the brothers Cowley and their team, Paulene decides to forego the second half and watch Racing Club Strasbourg Alsace versus Paris St Germain in French Ligue 1.  Wanting to extract every last penny from the £10 that has no doubt been debited from what I paid for my season ticket, I persist with Brenner and Mick.

The game resumes and the visitors are soon awarded a free-kick just outside the Town penalty area after a ludicrous dive that fools the referee.  A player who Brenner tells us played for Norwich shoots and Tomas Holy makes what Mick describes as a “brilliant save”.  “A save early doors in the second half by the big Czech” says  Brenner stupidly,  but apparently edging his way a little further to winning his bet that he can say “early doors” in every commentary for a whole season, or possibly a whole commentating career.

As time moves on towards the completion of an hour of the game, Town win three corners.  “More intensity about Ipswich Town, momentarily” says Brenner, knowing not to get carried away by the site of a Town player running.  Mick meanwhile is concentrating on his adopted theme for today which is the visitors’ propensity to pass the ball about at the back.  The visitors “…losing possession in the defensive half, that’s how we’re going to capitalise I’m pretty sure” says Mick sounding strangely convinced that Town will win.  Town earn a fourth corner inside six minutes courtesy of Aaron Drinan but typically Andre Dozzell fails to lift the ball above the first defender and the ball is cleared.

An hour has passed and little Alan Judge, Tristan Nydam and Freddie Sears replace Armando Dobra, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop.   The public address system sounds very loud as if it is being played for the benefit of those of us watching at home.  Tomas Holy makes an impressive double save and then Freddie Sears falls over when he should have got a shot in and I am suddenly struck by how very pale and white Flynn Downes’ skin looks; “I hope he’s not sickening for something” is what a concerned mother might say.

In the sixty-ninth minute Troy Parrott replaces Gwion Edwards whom Brenner had earlier referred to as the “Welsh wing-back”, showing his appreciation of alliteration.  The visitors meanwhile replace their lone striker Will Griggs with a former Town youth player who rejoices under the name of Charlie Brown. What were his parents thinking? Did they buy him a pet dog and call it Snoopy too?  But to be fair to mum and dad Brown however, he does have a big round head, very short legs and a long body.    

It’s the seventieth minute and Freddie Sears hits a “fabulous strike” according to Mick , although of course he doesn’t score,  whilst according to Brenner, Paul Cook is “being rather loud down below us”; it’s something that raises the prospect of Paul Cook replacing  the public address system and announcing his substitutions in person.  The second half is better than the first but ultimately remains annoying.  One of the few joys is Darling, the comedy surname of the visitors’ number six.  “Darling, I’m not sure what that was meant to be” says Brenner as if talking to the love of his life but in fact describing a wayward pass.  Eight minutes further on and the visitors’ lose possession “in the defensive half” as Mick predicted, and Freddie Sears only has to lob the onrushing goalkeeper to score; Sears lobs the goalkeeper, he must score, but no, the ball travels past the post on the outside of the goal.  It’s the sort of chance that you cannot miss and still expect to win. 

The final ten minutes of normal time turn up on cue and Flynn Downes is booked for a hopelessly late challenge.  Two minutes later and Brenner repeats his usual faux pas about players’ footwear and tells us that “Tristan Nydam lost his shoe in that challenge”. Only three minutes remain and Ollie Hawkins replaces Aaron Drinan for what a lot of commentators would probably describe as a “cameo appearance”, thankfully Brenner doesn’t, although that’s not to say he wouldn’t.

Four minutes of added on time are added on during which the visitors win a corner. Town defend this final assault comfortably which moves Mick to compare this to Town’s performance at the other end of the field.  “In attack it’s absolutely woeful” is Mick’s parting shot.  “The referee can’t take any more of this” says Brenner, only half in jest, and finally and Mr Nield calls time.   Feeling like another Saturday afternoon has been stolen from me I turn off the tv and log out of the ifollow.

I sit for a moment to reflect on what I have witnessed this afternoon, but give up concluding that it’s only football although in years to come when Ipswich Town are once again the best team in Europe, we can tell our grandchildren about the days when Town were so poor that we rarely scored and some weeks we were lucky to get nil.

Ipswich Town 1 Plymouth Argyle 0

Ipswich Town ended a sequence of defeats and general under achievement with victory at Home Park, Plymouth on 6th December last year, just three months and a week ago.  It doesn’t seem a quarter of a year ago, let alone a third of a football season since that victory, but oddly it seems that time has simultaneously both speeded up and slowed down since the start of the pandemic and the lockdowns.  The experience finds me in reflective mood this morning and I dull the pain by steam cleaning the shower, ‘hoovering’ the kitchen and filling a  five year old hole in the kitchen ceiling, which was created when a new light fitting was installed. 

Yesterday evening I signed up to witness the third game of the Paul Cook era at Portman Road on the ifollow, and without crossing the threshold of my semi-detached suburban home, my Saturday afternoon is consequently mapped out for me, as every Saturday afternoon has been since some time back in August.  Not being a particular fan of television since the demise of Quiz Ball in December of 1972, I was surprised to find that at first I quite enjoyed the novelty of seeing the Town courtesy of the cathode ray tube in the corner of the living room, or it’s flattened, somewhat swollen, wall-mounted, modern equivalent.  Town had never been regular performers on the telly, even back when we was fab in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, but now all of a sudden we are; it’s just a shame we are no longer worth watching as entertainment but only as an exercise in eternal optimism, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.    Today therefore it now feels like mere habit that makes me log on to my lap top as three o’clock approaches.

By way of a change today I shall be watching the match against Plymouth in the kitchen.  It has been agreed that the living room is the room in the house that is most like Wembley Stadium, and therefore best suited to my wife Paulene watching her team Portsmouth play Salford City in last season’s final of what used to be the Associate Members Cup, but is now merely an occasional playground for the youth of the Premier League clubs and a vehicle for the peddling of takeaway pizza.  By Paulene’s own admission it is a particularly pointless fixture because whoever wins the enormous slice of tin-plated pizza or whatever the trophy now is, will get to keep it for just twenty-four hours because this season’s final between Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers is to be played the very next day.

As the ifollow transports me to Portman Road, the quality of the transmission is at first poor and creates the impression that the sound engineer, if there is one, is a devotee of the late Norman Collier. Happily the technical fault is only temporary and the airwaves are crystal clear as I hear BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley ask Mick Mills how he assesses Ipswich Town’s play-off ambitions.  Reassuringly Mick presents the argument that it’s best to finish sixth in the league table.   “If you hit sixth spot anything can happen from that position” says Mick raising the possibility that sixth position in League One is some sort of portal to another world where Luke Chambers captains England to the third-place play-off in the World Cup, Paul Cook has a head of hair to rival that of Carlos Valderrama, Marcus Evans offers Lionel Messi whatever he wants to see out his playing career at Portman Road and the Football Association is run by a race of highly intelligent squirrels.

The game begins and in making a minor adjustment to the position of my lap top I accidentally press the off button.  Quickly turning the lap-top back on the picture returns sans commentary just as an Alan Judge free-kick whistles over the Plymouth cross bar.  The resultant corner kick is cleared and sound is restored just as Brenner speaks poetically of a throw-in being awarded against a Plymouth player as the “ ..ball skims over the laces of his right shoe”.   Brenner has many quirks which make his commentary satisfyingly unique and his insistence that the players are wearing shoes and not football boots is just one of them.   Down on the touchline meanwhile, we are told that Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe is “…barking out instructions”, although there is no word from Brenner about his footwear, but we can guess he’s not wearing Hush Puppies.

It is only the fourth minute of the game and Town score courtesy of an ill-advised back pass by Adam Lewis. “Troy Parrott couldn’t believe his good fortune” says Brenner, obviously not really having any idea what Mr Parrott does or doesn’t believe but making something up which he thinks sounds plausible. “That is a dream start” says Mick, giving us an insight into how retired professional footballers still think about the game even in their sleep.

Without warning ,the ifollow pictures stutter and I imagine living rooms and kitchens across Suffolk in which Tractor Boys and Girls point at their lap-tops and TV screens as one and chant “ You’re not very good, you’re not very good, you’re not very, you’re not very, you’re not very good”  to the tune of Knees Up Mother Brown.  Back at Portman Road, Plymouth’s Panutche Camara does something to inspire Brenner to say “Camara, a bit of a live wire customer”.  Unusually for a player not from Britain, Brenner makes no reference to Camara’s nationality ; Camara  is from Guinea-Bissau; I can only guess that he can’t decide whether someone from Guinea-Bissau is a Guinean or a Guinea-Bissauan.

Plymouth Argyle are poor, their play consisting mostly of mistakes and passing to Ipswich players.  Sympathetically, Myles Kenlock makes a couple of mistakes of his own, which is thoughtful of him. Andre Dozzell is “…trying to pull the strings in midfield” Brenner tells us just as Dozzell turns attack into defence with an incisive 20 yard pass back across the half-way line to  centre-half James Wilson .  It’s the tenth minute and Kayden Jackson is clean through on goal, he must score!  He doesn’t.  “That was a real chance for Kayden Jackson” says Brenner “Was it” says Mick using a little heard affirming intonation   “Totally dominant, Ipswich Town – can’t remember the last time I said that in a game” says Brenner, and no one else can remember either, although if they can they should send their answer on a postcard to BBC Radio Suffolk or text 81333 and as Brenner would tell you, start the message with the letters SFK.

In an idle moment Brenner tells us of when Plymouth last won at Portman Road; it was eleven years ago and Paul Mariner was their manager and he gave his coat to someone in the crowd as a memento but left his glasses in the pocket and had to contact the club to get them back.  Remembering the story too, Mick tells it again but with more words and added superfluous detail.  When Mick has finished the story Brenner tells us that he remembers it too, almost as if he wasn’t the one to tell us about it in the first place and that we wouldn’t remember that.    A short while later Brenner once again tells us again that Andre Dozzell is trying to pull the strings in midfield.

The match is unusually enjoyable and Town’s attacking play gives Brenner the opportunity to try out some football-speak seldom heard in his recent commentaries.  “Trying to get Jackson on his bike” says Brenner as a long ball up the wing drops off the end of the pitch.  Another similar attempted pass on the opposite side of the pitch has little Alan Judge not getting to the ball either , “ …his legs weren’t going to get him there” says Brenner, perhaps implying that he should have borrowed Kayden Jackson’s bike.

A quarter of the way through the game and with Town still “…by far the better side, completely on top” Brenner looks ahead to the forthcoming Town games at Portsmouth and Wigan, which he rather weirdly refers to as “Paul Cook derbies” on the basis that Paul Cook previously managed both clubs; it’s a disturbing insight into how the mind of a football commentator works.  Mick Mills meanwhile keeps his commentating firmly based in reality and rather than indulging in such nonsense he tells us how twice Myles Kenlock has saved Town by dealing with crosses in central positions that a mysteriously absent   James Wilson should really have cleared.  “Myles Kenlock has dealt with them really, really well” says Mick delivering praise which would smack of nothing more than solidarity amongst left-backs if spoken by any lesser man.

Almost a third of the game has passed and Plymouth win their first corner, which is played deep to what Brenner rather indelicately and peculiarly describes as “the backside of the box” .  The sun comes out in Ipswich and it sounds like Brenner refers to Troy Parrott as Troy Carrot, but it might be my hearing or the poor quality speakers on my Sharp Aquos television set,  which is connected to my Lenovo lap-top by an HDMI lead – or so I’m told.

After a flowing Ipswich move almost results in a second goal, Flynn Downes goes down injured. In the ensuing hiatus in play Brenner asks Mick what are his thoughts on Ipswich Town’s season.  “Ipswich?  This season?  Says Mick,  sounding somewhat incredulous.  Mick is about to take us on a footballing journey back to last August, but it quickly It transpires that Brenner hadn’t meant to ask about the whole season, only about this game.  “Oh goodness” says Brenner with a note of panic in his voice “Don’t start re-capping this season”.  It’s a moment that perhaps reveals that Brenner thinks Mick could have talked for England as well as playing football for them.  Flynn Downes goes off to be replaced by Teddy Bishop. “Downes looks really down” says Brenner  possibly but probably not making a mildly tasteless pun.

Three minutes of added on time are to be played, Brenner tells us that Plymouth are in white; it seems a bit late to be  telling his BBC Radio listeners that; without Brenner’s guidance they have probably all been imagining Plymouth in a range of materials, colours and designs from puce-coloured chintz to flesh-toned gingham taffeta.  It seems that Plymouth have also worked out which colour shirts they  are wearing and according to Brenner “ You wouldn’t rule out an equaliser”.  But they’ve left it too late and Mick’s half-time verdict is that “Yes” Town deserve their lead because of the length of time that they dominated the game.

Half-time tea and ginger Christmas tree biscuits follow.  Paulene appears looking sad and dejected; the Portsmouth versus Salford game is absolutely awful and she has had to turn the sound down to avoid the terrible commentary with its constant hackneyed, fawning references to the former Manchester United players who are bankrolling Salford City. For Paulene the weekend will only get worse with Pompey destined to lose a penalty shoot-out and their hamster-like manager Kenny Jackett resigning in a fit of self-loathing.

After scrutinising the half-time match statistics and enduring an advertisement for the ifollow which, if it were true, would make you wonder why anyone ever went to a real game because watching football on a lap-top or tv screen is clearly far, far superior, the game begins anew.  Kayden Jackson is soon hurt and is according to Brenner, “ on all fours”, it’s a pose that he seems to like to report whenever he can.  Mick then embarks on an extremely lengthy description of a cross-cum-shot from Myles Kenlock; Mick’s eventual conclusion is that Myles didn’t know what he was trying to do.

After seven minutes of the second half Town should be 2-0 up, but Kayden Jackson’s pass from the by-line is met with a simply awful attempt at a shot from little Alan Judge who is about 10 metres from the goal.  Six minutes later and completely out of character Brenner refers to a Plymouth player (Conor Grant) as wearing a boot, not a shoe.  Plymouth’s Niall Ennis is replaced by Luke Jephcott . “ Strong boy,  he knows where the back of the net is” says Brenner, now heavily into  ‘Ron Manager’ mode.

Amazingly, neither Mick, nor Brenner says it but the match gives every impression of being a game of two halves.  “Plymouth….are in charge of this game” says Mick.  Substitutions are made.  Hardie for Lewis for Plymouth; Skuse and Drinan for Parrott and Jackson for Ipswich.  “ Positive move by Plymouth, sensible move by Ipswich” is Mick’s well considered opinion.  Brenner asks Mick what he thinks of Cole Skuse.  “ I like Cole Skuse, I like Cole Skuse” says Mick repeating himself for emphasis and possibly because all he could think of to say was the same thing twice; but no one will notice, he’s on BBC Radio Suffolk, not Radio 4’s Today programme.  Mick speaks of the criticism that Cole Skuse receives from some sections of Suffolk’s football watching public.  “ I don’t understand; I do understand it”  he says, succinctly summing up the mind boggling complexities of the situation.

As Mick takes a rest Brenner tells us what Paul Cook is wearing, “ a hooded coat zipped up to just below his chin”, he’s also wearing a beanie hat . I feel reassured to know that our new manager is suitably dressed for a windy March afternoon  in which there have been occasional heavy showers.

Plymouth are dominating possession. “ Watts along the deck” says Brenner describing a pass along the ground in a manner appropriate to a team from the city that contains Western Europe’s largest naval dockyard.  Plymouth’s McCloud hits a half volley from 20 odd metres having received a pass form Town’s Luke Chambers; it’s an easy catch for Tomas Holy.  “ Wind and hail” says Brenner as the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Town win a corner after a passing move started by Cole Skuse.  “ Skuse read it lovely” says Mick like a true footballer as he describes Cole’s interception which pre-empted the passing move.  “ I do worry about Plymouth getting themselves level in this game” says Brenner showing uncharacteristic bias to the home team.  Plymouth still dominate possession but Ipswich are winning corners on the break.  Camara is unmarked and heads wide of the far post for Plymouth.  “That was a let off for Ipswich Town” says Brenner ,not telling a word of a lie.  The oddly named Keanan Bennetts replaces little Alan Judge and Jack Lankester replaces Gwion Edwards.  Reeves and Lowe replace McCloud and grant for Plymouth. Twelve minutes of normal time remain.

Town win a further corner which is played short. “Strange corner” says Mick as the ball is passed around the box and crossed in from the opposite side.   Town continue to play ‘on the break’. “It’s a strange way for a home team to play “ says Mick, sounding a little baffled.   The game enters the four minutes of time added on for assorted stoppages and the substitution of nine of the twenty out field players. The oddly named Keanan Bennetts gets the chance to run at the Plymouth defence but concludes what is not much more than a gentle trot with a limp cross to no one in particular.  “ He just completely wasted it for me” says Mick sounding a little hurt.  “ Town in the top six as things stand” says Brenner triumphantly, before revealing a previously unknown interest in and implied knowledge of the larynx  “Paul Cook shouting, not doing his voice any good at whatsoever”.

With Town in possession of the ball the game ends and victory is confirmed. “It’s been a fabulous day for Ipswich “ says Brenner getting a completely carried away.  A more cautious Mick Mills is “Happy with the result, but not the performance” and questions why Teddy Bishop “doesn’t do things in the game”.    It’s a good question and one which might be asked of nearly all Town’s midfield players and forwards.   We haven’t finished sixth yet.

Ipswich Town 1 Stoke City 1


After a week of beautiful winter sunshine today is grey.  As I am about to walk to the railway station I receive a text message from Roly to tell me that there are rail replacement buses between Colchester and Ipswich.  The gloom of the day deepens.  I leave the house forgetting to say goodbye to my wife Paulene.

At the railway station I see Roly over the tracks on Platform Two, he is eating a muffin and holds a paper cup of coffee.  Roly is a conspicuous consumer, of food. Our train journey is brief and we soon find ourselves boarding a sleek grey coach belonging to Tendring Travel, the front of the vehicle sports a Union flag, which no doubt goes down well in that land of hope and glory that leads to Jaywick.  Already on board there are people sporting the blue and white favours of Ipswich Town and it feels like we’re setting off on an away trip, but equally I feel like an extra in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, such is the magic of boarding a bus or coach.  A ‘steward’ in a day-glo coat quietly counts us on to the coach, she’s Tendring’s Wendy Winters, but predictably less glamourous. I cast a fat bloke over the aisle as Ringo’s auntie Jessie; the partly-vacant seat next to him is predictably the last to be occupied.  The unhappy looking driver is very anxious that his vehicle is not over-filled “I can’t have anyone standing” he says, twice in quick succession.  Someone has to alight but then we depart.  The bus is swelteringly hot.

We arrive in Ipswich twenty five minutes later than if we’d arrived by rail, but of course we have been charged the same price for this slower, less comfortable service.  If I’d wanted to save money by travelling by bus on Ipswich Buses service 93 from Colchester to Ipswich or by National Express coach I could have done so.  Instead I thought I would pay a bit more and travel by….oh dear, bus.

Reeling from our experience Roly and I hot foot it up Portman Road to St Jude’s Tavern, barely registering that the programme kiosks have been painted dark blue and therefore making me imagine even more vividly that each one is a Tardis piloted by Mick Mills  capable of time travel back to the 1970’s, that distant time when Ipswich Town first seduced me.  St Jude’s is busy with drinkers, but Roly and I claim a table where we sup our pints of today’s Match Day Special, Goblin’s Piss (£2.50) which I am relieved to discover tastes much, much, much better than it sounds.  Our conversation is of football and more precisely Ipswich Town and we conclude that playing Collin Quaner and Will Keane up front together is like having two Mich D’Avrays; a concept which we like very much.  We drink quickly, probably due to de-hydration from our coach trip and I soon return to the bar to buy a further pint and a half of the Match Day Special, which has now changed to St Jude’s Hoppy Jude (still £2.50).  Roly only has a half because he is nothing if not responsible and he will be driving his car later this evening (it’s a Vauxhall Astra). I suspect Roly also wants to leave space for something to eat once he gets to the ground; I sometimes wonder how he is not the size of Ringo’s auntie Jessie.

Under the insouciant gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey we part, Roly heads to the ‘posh’ seats of the East of England Co-op Stand and its gourmet offerings whilst I slum it in the cheap seats of Churchman’s, now the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  There is no queue at the turnstile where I thank the operator cheerily for his pedal-work and proceed to my seat via the toilet.  Unusually I get to my seat before the match ball has been plucked from its plinth. Pat from Clacton is here but ever-present Phil who never misses a game is not, he’s being wined and dined with supporters club supremos and is watching from a ‘posh’ seat somewhere.

Ipswich begin the game playing towards me and Pat from Clacton, as ever they wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves  and shorts and display the deeply tacky logo of an organisation of on-line scammers across their chests.  Today’s opponents are Stoke City and to their everlasting credit they have eschewed the wearing of any unnecessary change kit and instead wear their traditional kit of red and white stripes with white shorts and socks. They look a bit like Signal toothpaste, and coincidentally this chimes with the novels of Arnold Bennett set in the Potteries in which the fictional local paper is called The Signal, although I do not recall any reference to toothpaste in any of the novels I have read. I can very much recommend ‘The Card’, which even weaves football into the story near the end.

The ‘Stokies’ assembled in the corner of  the Cobbold Stand (we will later be informed that there are 1,138 of them in the total crowd of 15,924) immediately burst into a chorus of Tom Jones’ Delilah for which they are rightly famous amongst people who pay any attention to these sorts of things.  Ipswich supporters seem to have given up already on inexplicably singing “Sweet Caroline” as our attempt at being quirky and interesting, possibly because it will now forever harbour painful, dark memories of the destructive Paul Hurst era, brief though it was.  Moving forward, as people now say instead of ‘looking ahead’ in these thrusting modern times, spectators in the Cobbold Stand, East of England Co-op Stand and Sir Alf Ramsey Stand could be given song sheets for Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’.  Make it performance art and the song sheets could be blank.

The heavy grey cloud and hint of damp in the air lend the afternoon a sombre atmosphere but the floodlights are on and once again, as on Wednesday night versus Derby, this feels like a proper football match; the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, or more accurately the corner of it occupied by the Blue Action supporters group is audible.  From the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand however, the Stokies are more audible and soon sing “One Gordon Banks, there’s only one Gordon Banks”.  Many Town supporters in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand begin to applaud and frankly I’m confused as to whether this is a one minute’s applause for the deceased goalkeeper or just applause directed at the Stoke fans singing “One Gordon Banks”.  Modern football with its sentimentality is complicated.

Stoke are dominating possession but not in an exciting way; they don’t look much like scoring and their fans are hopefully being ironic when they sing “We’ve got the best team in the land”; having been to Stoke On Trent I think it likely that Stoke supporters are capable of irony.  For Town, little Alan Judge (Judgie) looks our best player by some way and when he picks himself up off the turf after being fouled the spectators around me applaud him warmly, showing far more enthusiasm for this ‘resurrection’ than they do for supporting and getting behind the team the rest of the time.  “Shoot!” bellows someone from behind as Town players circle in front of the Stoke penalty area. “They don’t know where the goal is anyway” mumbles the old boy behind me, clearly hankering for the latter days of Mick McCarthy’s reign when we only came to games to be miserable.

It’s twenty-five past three and as little Judgey crosses the ball with speed and purpose a chant of “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” comes out of the blue from the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand; a spontaneous, instinctive, momentary burst of enthusiasm in a dull first half. Less than ten minutes later and Alan Judge is floored again as he is fouled by Stoke’s James McClean who becomes the first and only player to be booked by the small, balding referee, Mr Scott Duncan.  Hilariously McClean tries to make out that it is he who has been fouled by then diving outrageously; he is fully deserving of the chorus sung just for him by the Sir Bobby Robson Stand of “Wanker, Wanker…”  It makes me wonder why so many professional footballers are such bare-faced cheats and why the normally po-faced Football Association puts up with it.

Four minutes to go until half-time and the game is hardly thrilling.  “That’s gettin’ misty” says the old girl behind me, understandably more engaged by the weather than the match.  Stoke have had better chances to score than Ipswich, but fortunately seem to believe that the cross-bar is much higher than it actually is. A minute before half-time however, Town’s Jonas Knudsen loses all sense of where he is in relation to the rest of the planet and heads a harmless looking cross away from rather than to Bartosz Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal, allowing the cheating James McClean to run on and score from less than a yard into an empty goal; even he couldn’t miss that or fall over. Once again justice doesn’t play to the whistle and has gone early for a half-time cuppa. 

Half-time follows and after a chat with Ray I let out some more of the Goblins Piss and Hoppy Jude.  I take a look at the half-time scores and search for a Panda brand liquorice stick that I thought I had in the inside pocket of my coat.  I will eventually find it later this evening in the coat lining, I should probably buy a new coat, this one has to be twenty-five years old at least.  The new half begin at five past four and Ipswich improve a little and the crowd remain with them, politely applauding an over-hit pass which last season would have drawn scorn and bile from the stands.

Teddy Bishop begins to run with the ball. He does it once; he does it again and is brought down to win a free-kick. “I knew that would happen” says the old boy behind sounding annoyed as if to say he shouldn’t have bothered.  “But he’s won a free-kick” says the old girl displaying a more measured tactical approach to the game.  Alan Judge draws a spectacular flying save from the Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland when the kick is taken.

Collin Quaner goes down injured and the game is stopped with Stoke in possession. Sportingly, the Stoke fans boo, revealing their proud Premier League heritage.  When I was at university I knew a Stoke City supporter; his name was Tony and he was a lovely, friendly bloke, fun to have a drink with. He lived in Wolverhampton but went to watch Stoke he told us, because of the violence.  He was very proud of his sexual conquest of the daughter of a local Chief Constable and he once defecated in a milk bottle; I didn’t see him do this, but I saw the milk bottle, which was enough.

Fifty seven minutes have been played and the Stokies sing “Is this a library?” It’s a mark of how things have improved at Portman Road that they have had to wait this long to sing it; they do so only once; it’s almost as if it’s a condition of sale on the tickets.  Stoke press forward and earn a corner, the ball runs back to the edge of the box and one of their number, I have no real idea who, but it could have been Oghenekaro Etebo , wellies the ball nominally goalwards; travelling like a comet the ball drifts left in a graceful curve under the influence of an unseen gravitational force and heads at speed directly towards me.  I remain seated but raise my arms, succeeding only in getting a finger-tip touch which barely alters its trajectory.  “Why didn’t you catch it?” shouts Ray “I would have if I could be bothered to stand up” I tell him “I’m just very lazy, it’s why I’m not in the team”.

The game drifts away, meandering towards time added on as the evening chill sets in. I sense disappointment and frustration behind me. “Come on! You can beat this lot. They’re nearly as bad as you are” calls the old girl cruelly. “That’s all very pretty…” says the old boy as the Town pass the ball across the pitch and back “…but does absolutely nothing”.  He sounds bitter and his attitude illustrates why English football will always be inferior to French or Spanish or Italian, because we can’t abide all that soppy passing.

Time added-on arrives and Town are pressing, but not looking likely to score; they win a corner and in a stroke of good fortune Paul Lambert, still wearing his black Marks & Spencer v-neck jumper and black slacks still has one substitute left.  On to the field comes Suffolk’s favourite 1.93m high Congolese centre back Aristote (Toto) N’Siala.  I can almost hear the Stoke players thinking “Who the feck is going to pick him up?” Possibly several players go to mark Toto and as the corner is taken I see the ball and the number fourteen on the shirt of Will Keane converging.  “Goal!” I shout and a fraction of a second later Keane’s head sends the ball into the net and Town have equalised.     It is a moment I may not forget, like when Mich D’Avray scored from Kevin O’Callaghan’s cross against Liverpool in February 1986.  

There’s barely time left for either side to score again and a little predictably they don’t.  The game ends and for the second match in a row Town have not lost and we are deliriously happy.  This is truly one of the weirdest season’s I have ever known at Portman Road.  We are still bottom of the league and we never get appreciably closer to the teams above us, but for some reason it feels good and a good number of people are enjoying it.   Are the Russians putting something in the water or the Match Day Special?

Wivenhoe Town 0 Harwich & Parkeston 2

I first went to watch Wivenhoe Town in December 1990, it was a match against Bognor Regis; the Dragons, as Wivenhoe are known lost 2-1 but were flying high back then, in the Vauxhall sponsored Isthmian League or such like, but that’s not the case anymore. Today Wivenhoe Town are in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League First Division South (there is no Second Division) and are at home to Harwich & Parkeston, a club with an equal or even more illustrious past, who are recovering from a recent spell of self-imposed ignominy in the Essex and Suffolk Border League, but are now on a run of eleven consecutive victories. Wivenhoe are on a similar run of eleven consecutive games, albeit one of consecutive defeats.
It’s a beautifully still, bright but cold mid-January afternoon as I coax my Citroën C3 over the ruts and potholes of the car park at the Broad Lane Sports Ground, Wivenhoe. Whilst I could get to Wivenhoe Town’s home by No 62 bus from Colchester, or by train to Wivenhoe and a 30 minute walk past four pubs out to Broad Lane, today I am glad to be accompanied by my wife Paulene and therefore, as a result of her unpredictable asthma we have travelled by car. The crunch of gravel beneath the wheels of the Citroën is pleasing even if the bouncing sensation over the potholes is less so and our French car makes us feel like Inspector Maigret might have done if on a day off he’d driven down to Wivenhoe to watch a match. There are only a few remaining spaces in the car park, and it’s still not much after half past two.

Getting out of the Citroën we walk across the car park to the strains of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” blaring tinnily from the PA system inside the ground; this unexpected soundtrack to this moment in our lives is a somewhat surreal experience and it’s hard to imagine finding any sort of ‘uptown girl’ in or around this non-league football club car park. I would of course like to say that Paulene could be that uptown girl, but she’s from Portsmouth.

The white painted breeze-blocks of the turnstile hut are almost blinding in the pale winter sun, but we manage to feel our way there past the bright blue and red refuse bins. At the turnstile I hand over a fresh ten pound note from which I receive no change for one adult admission (£6), one retired person’s admission (£3) and a programme (£1) . We stop at the turnstile at talk to Rich’ who has been operating this turnstile for at least the past five years now. Just inside the gate, hanging around on the forecourt in front of the clubhouse and the tea bar we find Bob, and then Steve walks over, about to pack a large burger-filled bun into his mouth. He tells us he’s dining out today. We are soon joined by ‘the Mole’ (real name Mark) and Biff (real name Ian) , all of them stalwart, long-term supporters who have been watching The Dragons through thin, thinner and thinner still. Bob tells us about his gammy knee, which needs replacing with a plastic one. Mole, who apparently acquired his nickname because people where he worked at the Post Office sorting office in Colchester thought he was a Trotskyite agitator, tells us of how there are plans afoot for the Football Association to acquire Broad Lane from the Council and the trust who currently administer it.

We are all still stood about chatting sociably as the two teams line up in the tunnel, a sliding, cream painted, metal structure that looks like it might have been made from an old bedstead. Fat Boy Slim’s swirly, anticipation-raising “Right Here, Right Now” so beloved by the people who choose the music at football grounds has usurped Billy Joel, and the teams emerge side by side behind the two men and one lady in black, Messrs Jarvis and Laider and Ms Withams. I’m disappointed not to see any sign of Wivvy the Wivenhoe dragon mascot; no scorch marks, no droppings , nothing. Multiple handshakes over with, the two teams retreat to their own halves on the pitch, to huddle in the case of Harwich whilst Wivenhoe just line-up. Harwich kick-off the game in the direction of the car park, clubhouse and the black towers of the University of Essex beyond in Wivenhoe Park; they sport an un-necessary change kit of all-red whilst Wivenhoe wear all-blue creating the classic football scene of reds versus blues on a background of green.
Harwich begin the game in a hurry and in the first couple of minutes, as we make our way down to the sunny end of the ground, they pin Wivenhoe back, winning a couple of corners and a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Harwich’s number four Shaun Kroussis sweeps the ball over the Wivenhoe defensive wall but it doesn’t get past the goalkeeper. “Gotta be fuckin’ stronger in the wall” bawls the Wivenhoe manager, although it’s hard to see how they could have stopped the ball going over the wall without perhaps also being a foot taller. By the time we reach the sunshine of the tennis court end of the ground Harwich’s period of dominance has abated and the game settles down into a terrible mess of misplaced, over-hit and failed passes punctuated by hoofs and shouts and trips and falls; it’s awful. Wivenhoe’s forwards are regularly flagged offside. “ Piss-off linesman” shouts Steve encouragingly as the flag is raised again. An advert at the side of the ground says nothing more than “Need a cab? 01206 543210” as if predicting that there are times when the game can be so bad that all you might want to do is leave.

In a rare moment of football Harwich have a shot on target. A brief chorus of “Ha-rwich, Ha-rwich” rings out from the fifty or so visiting supporters behind the goal. The quick riposte from the three Wivenhoe fans stood in the sunshine at the opposite end of the ground is one of “We thought you were dead, we were right, we were right”. Things don’t get any better on the pitch but looking for something positive to say Steve reflects that “At least we’ve brought them down to our level”. Seeking solace where we can we appreciate just how very pleasant it is stood here in the low winter sunshine; it must be a good degree warmer than in the shade by the main stand where there’s even chill breeze. No doubt feeling blessed, Steve asks “Where do we keep finding all these colour blind players?”

It’s a surprise when Bob says it’s nearly half-time, we must have been enjoying ourselves really, it just hasn’t felt like it, and the time has flown by. I join the queue by the clubhouse and am soon picking up two polystyrene cups of tea (£2) from Janet in the tea bar. Through the window I can see the Harwich & Parkeston club officials eagerly munching their way through the sandwiches and cake that Wivenhoe has had to provide as hospitality under league rules. I take a look at the team sheet and am at first a little confused as to the player’s names because they have all been written out surname first. I hadn’t really noticed this until I read the name of Harwich’s number eleven, Rose Tyler. The Harwich number seventeen Joseph Joseph makes me think of Major Major in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 as well the Beatles’ Get Back.
We stroll back towards the terrace pausing by the perimeter wall to speak with Michael the assistant Harwich manager who apologises for the first half and tells us that there was no jug of half-time squash provided for the Harwich players, which seems a bit stingy. As I wander back along the terrace I spill a bit of my tea down the front of my coat and Paulene berates me to the general amusement of a bunch of men who no doubt secretly recognise their own plight in witnessing my moment of misery. To make matters worse I feel guilty for spilling that tea when I know there are Harwich players who went thirsty at half-time.
The second half begins and pleasingly it is much better than the first and some football breaks out. Long evening shadows now extend right across the pitch and as the sun sets over the car park leaving a red smudge across the clear sky, the moon rises over in the direction of Harwich and the floodlights turn on one by one; it’s a beautiful sight.

Harwich are looking a better team now, but so are Wivenhoe and both seem to have remembered the purpose of the game. At about twenty past four we come as close to seeing a goal as perhaps you can without actually seeing one. Harwich cause confusion in the Wivenhoe defence and the ball runs to Elliott Johnson who with time to accurately direct his shot effects masterful precision to strike the ball against the Wivenhoe keeper’s left hand post. Sometimes seeing the ball hit the post is almost as good as an actual goal; I’d be surprised if the late Jimmy Hill in one of his many attempts to ‘improve’ the game hadn’t at some time suggested that hitting the post should count as at least half a goal.
The Wivenhoe supporters don’t seem to have an over-abundance of confidence in their team’s goalkeeper Aaron Reid, but contrary to their expectations he is making some very good saves. Someone asks the question whether this could be a man of the match performance from Aaron. “ To be fair, he’s overdue one” says Steve supportively. But, for the goalkeeper to be man of the match usually means that the opposing team is better and so it proves. Harwich have another attack, time stands still in the Wivenhoe penalty area and so do their defenders and Harwich number sixteen, or possibly fourteen, I can’t quite make it out under the energy saving floodlight bulbs, sends a low shot in to the net. It’s about twenty-five to five. At twenty to five much the same thing happens again and what looks like it might have been the same player moves in slow motion before scoring with another low shot. I later learn that the goalscorers are Callum Griffths (No16) and Jordan Heath (No9). I have a new glasses prescription, perhaps I should use it.

There is much joy at the tennis courts end of the ground and the Shrimpers fans are in good voice singing “Ohhh, Harwich & Parkeston” to the tune of the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ and “Bus stop near Asda, we’re just a bus stop near Asda” to the tune of Joseito Fernandez’s Guantanamera. At the car park end the Wivenhoe support, which was boosted at half-time by the arrival of Rich’ from the turnstile resigns itself to yet another defeat, but still seems to be having fun, finding amusement in mimicking the whining of some of the players “R-ef, r-ef, r-e-e-ef” and by carefully and politely not mentioning how stout the lines-lady is when querying her offside decisions. Having female officials would seem to improve everyone’s behaviour, so all power to them.
With ninety minutes and not much more played referee Mr Jarvis calls time. As much as I hate to say it, it has been a game of two halves, neither of them much good for Wivenhoe but it’s been good to see one previously well regarded club seemingly back on the road to recovery. The handful of Wivenhoe fans who remain are still clearly enjoying themselves too, even if the entertainment is largely of their own making. But as an Ipswich Town supporter I know all about that and personally I think winning is over-rated.

Ipswich Town 0 Sheffield United 1

The ‘hectic Christmas schedule’ is over and today is the first Saturday of the new year and is therefore the day of the FA Cup third round, once one of the most auspicious dates in the English football calendar. The evil Premier League and the Football Association itself have together destroyed the glory of the FA Cup, but those of us who remember it as it was can stir our memories and pretend, shutting out the horrid reality to enjoy what should be a season highlight. Forty-four years ago I recall, Ipswich played Sheffield United in the FA Cup third round, it was the first FA Cup tie I ever saw and we won 3-2 having been 2-1 down. The wonderfully named Geoff Salmons and the brilliant Tony Currie scored for Sheffield United; ‘magic’ Kevin Beattie won the game with two goals in two minutes just before half-time and super Brian Hamilton got the other one for Town; marvellous. We went on to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next round.
The draw has in one way been good to Ipswich, giving us a home tie, but sadly it is against a team in the same Division as us, so there is no chance of a ‘Cup upset’ and no road-trip to some far off exotic, provincial town like Fleetwood or Rochdale that Town have never graced.
It is nevertheless with a spring in my step that I set off for the railway station under a pale winter sun, wrapped up against the bitter cold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The train is three minutes late and I board it along with a bearded man in a khaki hat and camouflage jacket and a teenage boy and girl who are carrying skateboards. In the far corner of the carriage a bearded hippy in a leather jacket drinks from a tin one of those peculiar ‘ciders’ that contain fruit other than apples. The man in the camouflage jacket huddles into another corner as if trying not to be seen, but he clashes horribly with the blue moquette of the train seats.
At Colchester all these passengers leave the train except for the hippy, who once the train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAleaves the station inexplicably moves to the other end of the carriage leaving me alone with my winter clothing and enthusiasm for the FA Cup. Arriving in Ipswich the afternoon is not as bright, there is a pall of grey cloud. Football supporters spill out of the station and across the bridge opposite, there are three swans swimming in the river below; the tide is high and all is quiet, almost serene.

 

As usual Portman Road is a curious, greasy street cafe peopled with stewards in shapeless coats policing nothing in particular. The search dog looks happy and a man searches amongst the sauce bottles by one of the hot food stands. Programmes are only £2 today, so I buy one and a man on a bike weaves past me.


In St Jude’s Tavern the usual bunch of ageing Town fans sit and discuss football whilst I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (Yeovil Brewery Company’s Star Gazer – £2) and very good it is. I am soon joined by Mick who will be accompanying me to the game. We talk about travelling through Italy, Welsh counties, Donald Trump, Andrew Graham-Dixon and football. Mick gives me the £10 he owes me for the match ticket. After another pint of Star Gazer we head down Portman Road at about twenty minutes to three and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way. There is a short queue at the turnstile for the stand formerly known as the West Stand and once inside Mick remarks on the picturesque coffee stand, painted somewhat bizarrely to look like it’s built of stone.
In the stand we use the facilities and are both amused by the sign on the hand dryers which reads ‘Danger Electricity’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFearless as we are, and confident in our general familiarity with modern electrical appliances we use the dryers nevertheless, despite the jolting, tingling sensation it gives us. It is two minutes to three by the scoreboard clock as we take our seats, but the teams are already lined up and ready to kick-off. Town are of course wearing their traditional blue shirts and white shorts with blue socks, but I am bitterly disappointed, mortified even to see that Sheffield United are not wearing their distinctive red and white stripes with black shorts. Instead, the visiting team sport plain white shirts with black shorts, like some sort of pathetic imitation of Port Vale or Germany. What is wrong with these people? They just keep finding new ways to ruin the game.
The game begins and Ipswich, fielding a more or less full strength team, given that most of the first choice midfield is injured, start quite well. They pass the ball to one another and approach the opposition penalty area. Sadly Sheffield begin to play a little as well and after about ten minutes and it becomes apparent that Town won’t be able to just dismissively swat away their challenge, which is a pity. The game evens up and Ipswich’s early bravado dissipates a little, but it’s okay, we’re playing better than usual because we have the ball as much as the opposition do. Then, at about twenty five past three a bloke called Nathan Thomas shoots from way out into the top corner of the Ipswich net and we’re losing. Crap.
The 1,100 odd Sheffield supporters who have been shouting and singing support for theirOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA team during the preceding minutes now do so with added joy and vigour. The 10,957 odd home supporters haven’t made much noise up until now and still don’t, although their team really needs some encouragement right now. The game dribbles on to half-time as depression sets in with the majority of those in attendance. Mick and I are sat in Block Y which is in the centre of the top tier of the West Stand; normally these are the most expensive seats in the ground, they are padded and they’re brown, not blue. But the people who sit in them are as quiet and miserable as the people I usually sit with in the more modestly appointed Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, they just look better fed and sound more pleased with themselves. A Sheffield player goes down injured and requires treatment, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. I remark to Mick how back in 1974 the North Stand would have been braying “Dig a hole and fuckin’ bury him”, but now they just grumble a bit to each other. People knew how to make their own entertainment back then.
The top tiers of both the North Stand (Sir Bobby Robson Stand) and Churchman’s (Sir Alf Ramsey Stand) are closed to supporters today because of the reduced crowd due to it not

being another bloody boring League match, but an exciting FA Cup game. The club has nevertheless placed stewards amongst the rows of empty North Stand seats, and all around the ground there seem to be a lot of stewards in parts of the ground where they are the only people there. It all helps add to Portman Road’s unique atmosphere.
At half-time I use a different toilet where the hand dryers don’t carry health warnings,

before Mick and I gaze out across the practice pitch beyond a red Citroen H van towards the former municipal power station and tram shed. We marvel that local authorities once built and provided these fabulous things, but don’t comment on the Citroen. The sun is steadily setting behind the cloud and when we return to our seats the pitch is glowing gloriously from the illumination of the floodlights.
The second half begins with some rare vocal encouragement for Town from the North Stand and I realise that the Sheffield United fans must be the first away supporters this season to have witnessed a whole first half without singing “Is this a library?” I can only think they don’t have opera in Sheffield or if they do they don’t much care for Verdi. Perhaps it is a hangover from the Thatcher era when Sheffield was the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire and opera is just too patrician. But full marks to these Blades fans for being more interested in supporting their own team than berating the opposition.
The heady early minutes of the second half fade away like the taste of the half-time beers, snacks and hot beverages and the game descends into dullness. Ipswich don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t create any attempts on goal, which suggests they have misunderstood the point of the game. Sheffield on the other hand do fashion some chances but spurn them. Ipswich captain and centre-half Luke Chambers and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski seemingly attempt to settle the result with the sorts of misjudgements that one would only expect from the most inept of youths in full-time education, but the Blades are not sharp enough to take advantage.
Apart from the noise from the Sheffielders the game is conducted in near silence, with swathes of seats completely empty it feels like a reserve game. As the contest spirals down towards its miserable conclusion the North Stand at last find a song in their dark hearts, “ We want a shot”, they chant. Having inspired themselves with their own wit they proceed to trawl through their back catalogue of scatological old favourites: “ We’re fucking shit, we’re fucking shit; we’re fucking shit” and “You’re football is shit, you’re football is shit, Mick McCarthy you’re football is shit”. It doesn’t help lighten the mood or motivate the players to do better, I can’t think why.
Oddly, the announcement of four minutes of added on time is greeted with a rare growl of enthusiasm from the crowd, but it makes no difference and there is a sense that people are just clearing their throats for the inevitable booing that greets the final whistle. Ipswich Town are once again out of the FA Cup and after the long descent from the top of the stand Mick and I bid each other farewell. Mick thanks me for getting him a ticket and he means it; he doesn’t see Town play often and although it was a poor game he has enjoyed it. Mick is a very rational man. We go our separate ways and I depart through the club car park and its array of obscenely expensive Ferraris, Mercedes Benz, Audis and Range Rovers. Humming the Buzzcocks’ ‘Fast cars’ I look back on the stadium, the dark shapes of the stands silhouetted in the beams of the floodlights; such beautiful sadness.