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.