Forest Green Rovers 1 Ipswich Town 2

The wonder of Google Maps tells us that from my house it’s a three and a quarter hour, 280 kilometre drive to the Forest Green Rovers park and ride car park at Woodchester, but from my step-son’s house in the silvan suburbs of Basingstoke, the same destination is less than 125 kilometres away and can be reached in under 90 minutes.  With these statistics in mind, I have adopted the excuse of ‘seeing the grandchildren’ in order to get free board and lodging and to break up the journey for what will be the first time I have driven to an away match since Town’s 5-2 win at Rotherham in 2015, back in the heady days of Brett Pitman, Jonathan Douglas and Kevin Bru.

Leaving the house at a civilised 11:30am, the journey down the M4, up the A419 to Cirencester and along the A46 to Woodchester is a breeze, and the good karma continues when the park and ride turns out to be free today because the organisers aren’t sufficiently organised, although as the very nice man at the gate tells me this isn’t good really because the takings would be donated to local schools.  The white bus, reminding me of the 1967 film debut of Anthony Hopkins, is already waiting and after waiting a bit longer to fill up with a full load it lurches off along the valley into Nailsworth before turning right in the town centre and struggling up Spring Hill and Nympsfield Road to the New Lawn, the current home of Forest Green Rovers. “Not very environmental” says the Forest Green fan sat in front of me on the bus “Must use about four ‘undred quid’s worth of fuel getting up ‘ere”.  Ironically, the all-white bus is operated by a company called Cotswold Green.   What they need are trolleybuses.

Thanking the lady bus driver, who to my shame makes me think of Diane the community service supervisor in the BBC tv series The Outlaws, I alight from the bus with the other sixty-odd park and riders. The New Lawn is every inch a typical non-league ground sitting in a field at the side of the road and is mostly all the better for that. I visit the club shop, a portacabin, but the array of souvenir toot is sadly disappointing, although I do meet ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood there; Phil has bought a shirt for his collection; it won’t fit him, but it had been reduced to a tenner. I take a wander and find the Town team bus, a lovely view over some fields, the dressing rooms, which remind me a bit of somewhere like Kirkley & Pakefield or Haverhill in the Eastern Counties League, and a bar called the Green Dragon.  Feeling thirsty after my drive and my bus trip, I decide to go in. “Is it okay to go in?”  I say not verbally, but with my eyebrows and general expression to the steward outside as I reach for the door.  “Home or away?” he asks suspiciously.  Thinking quickly, but not really having to because my seat today is with the home supporters, I feign my best insouciant Gloucestershire accent by rolling my ‘r’s and pursing my lips slightly over the ‘o’ and answer “err, home”.

Inside the Green Dragon, which despite the pub name has the charm and character of a works social club or village hall, I queue a good ten minutes for a pint of Stroud Brewery ‘Budding’ (£4.80), and very tasty and refreshing it is too,  even if the price is exorbitant; presumably however  it would cost even more if there wasn’t just one very pleasant lady serving the drinks and one operating the till.  Beer consumed I decide to enter the stadium, I walk towards turnstile number four only to see the turnstile operator climbing over it; quickly assessing the situation I head for turnstile number three and show my ticket to a lady steward, who becomes the second woman to remind me of tv’s Diane of The Outlaws today. Diane 2 simply ushers me through an open gate into the stand.  I like to think this is my reward for responsibly asking her where I can dispose of my environmentally friendly plastic beer mug; in the bins inside the stand, she tells me without hesitation.

Inside the ground there is a long queue for vegan food at the oddly named “Oh, it’s you again” food outlet; most people seem to favour chips with curry sauce, but there are a few quite tasty-looking Quorn pies in evidence too. If I hadn’t lost time enough from my life already by queuing for beer, I would have tried one.  Instead, I find my seat  (£23.00) and wait for kick-off, absorbing the rustic non-league ambience of this most bucolic and lovely of Football League grounds. The cars parked up on a meadow at the back make it look like there could be a country fair or festival going on.  At the back of the covered terrace off to my left a man in a cage and wearing a flat cap bangs a drum.

The players soon enter the pitch from the dressing room block in the corner and a terrifying, green but otherwise indescribable club mascot marauds towards the stand making a young woman cower in fear. After an unannounced, mystery 15 second ‘minute’ silence and subsequent applause, the game begins with Forest Green Rovers, wearing lurid green shirts with black tiger stripes and lurid green shorts and socks, kicking off in the direction of Stroud, whilst Town model their traditional blue shirts and socks with white shorts, and kick towards nowhere in particular except the Forest Green goal and that drummer in the flat cap. Apart from the Town players I have no idea who anyone is because Forest Green Rovers do not print a programme or even a team sheet and have only a rudimentary scoreboard.   I would expect them to e-mail club members and ticket holders an e-programme as St Etienne in France do, but they don’t, which to coin a phrase that seems popular amongst Town fans on-line, smacks of being  ‘tin-pot’. 

Town soon win a corner. “Come On You Blues” chant a good number of the Ipswichians on the open terrace on the far side of the ground beneath the meadow with the cars on it. Town’s Marcus Harness has a shot, which isn’t very good and so far his touches on the ball have been poor; between the away terrace and the stand at the Stroud end of the ground I notice an ice cream van parked up on the Nympsfield Road, which sports a huge cone on the front.   A couple of blokes are watchng the game for free over the fence. Nine minutes pass and Forest Green have their first shot, which swerves wide and high of the Town goal.   The bloke in the flat cap bangs his drum and those around him sing “Campiones”, because Forest Green Rovers are indeed the reigning fourth division champions, even if it is of England and not Spain or Argentina as their chant implies.

Twelve minutes gone and Marcus Harness attempts a half-volley which is on target, but frustratingly it’s execution can’t match the satisfying rhyming quality of his first name and surname.  “It needs a goal” says the woman sitting next to me. “I’m not coming again if it’s nil-nil.”  Five minutes on and Town win their second corner. “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” chant a good number of Ipswich fans channelling their strange love of Boney M Christmas hits.  Marcus Harness tries his luck on the right-hand side of the pitch but unfortunately his touch is as uncertain as it was on the left.  The woman in the seat next but one from me cheers Town’s corner and I tentatively ask if she might be a Town fan too; she is, in a manner of speaking; she is here because Ipswich is her home town and it turns out she and her brother went to the same schools in Ipswich as my sister and I did; she now lives round the corner from The New Lawn and has simply turned up to support her hometown team, as any person with a soul would.

Twenty minutes of the game have gone and Town captain Sam Morsy has a header well saved by whoever the Forest Green goalkeeper is. The woman next to me expresses her admiration for Morsy. “He’s fiery, that’s what you want” she says, before adding in a thoughtful manner redolent of Pam Ayres with her rolled r’s “In a controlled manner”.  Soon afterwards Freddie Lapado turns and shoots to force a flying save from the home goalkeeper. From the corner Wes Burns misses the ball and then Lee Evans loses it, allowing the Rovers to break away down the right and the resultant cross is hoofed away by George Edmundson for Rovers’ first corner. It is a stark warning to Town that by dominating possession they can be vulnerable to such quick breaks which can happen almost by chance.

In crossing the ball in that breakaway the Rovers’ number twenty-two is injured and is replaced by number three, a player who the woman next to me had commented upon as he warmed up,  due to what she referred to as his “1970’s shorts” which look shorter than those of the other players; she speculates as to whether he has tucked them up into his pants.   Number three enters the field of play and very soon the woman next to me says “He’s annoying me with those shorts”, and she’s right, so much thigh does look a little ridiculous, a bit like Alan Partridge in his running shorts.   I like that according to his shirt this player is called Bernard, I think it suits his 1970’s vibe.  A third of the game is now forever lost in the mists of time, and Conor Chaplin shoots,  but it’s an easy save for the Rovers’ goalkeeper. “Come on Rovers” chant the supporters to my left, the Town fans have fallen silent, sapped perhaps by standing out in the heat of the afternoon sun.

With less than ten minutes until half-time,  Rovers almost score as a low cross from the right  somehow only produces a goal-kick for Town when the defence looked breached. Typically however, a missed opportunity at one end sees a goal soon after at the other,  and in the thirty-sixth minute a ‘rifled’ snap-shot from Marcus Harness hits the top left hand corner of net and Town lead.  After a prolonged period of silence, the Town’s fans can now burst into song again and begin a musical conversation with the Rovers fan which has me thinking of the song ”Anything you can do (I can do better)” from Irving Berlin’s 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun.  “Sing when you’re winning you only sing when you’re winning” chant the observant Rovers’ fans. “1-0 to the Tractor Boys” reply the Town fans as if to prove the point.  “We forgot, we forgot, we forgot that you were here” reply the Rovers’ fans although they are blatantly lying because it was only a minute ago they were chanting about Town fans only singing when they are winning. “Here for the Ipswich, you’re only here for the Ipswich” is the sneering response from the away support,  which they then cap with the withering put down  “No noise from the Vegan boys, no noise from the Vegan boys” to which the Vegan boys either can’t think of anything to sing in response or they no  longer care, and would rather eat some more chips with curry sauce.

Town end the half as much the better team as first another slightly weak Marcus Harness shot is saved by the mystery goalkeeper and then in the four minutes of time added on, a move down the left ends with Sam Morsy placing a perfect arc of a shot into the top right-hand corner of the Rovers’ goal for a 2-0 half-time lead.

Half-time passes talking to the women beside me, discovering that sitting behind the woman originally from Ipswich are two old boys who are also Town supporters and listening to an eclectic and enjoyable mix of music over the PA system including John Barry’s theme from Goldfinger sung by Shirley Bassey and David Bowie’s Starman, songs that somehow seem appropriate at a club where the owner is a New Age traveller turned eco-energy entrepreneur. It makes supporting a club owned by an American pension fund seem very dull indeed, regardless of the cash that has been splashed.

At seven minutes past four the game resumes, this time with Town getting first go with the ball, although it is Rovers who look most effective early on and they soon earn a corner. “Rovers (clap, clap, clap,) Rovers,(clap, clap, clap)” is the steady, traditional sound emanating from the locals and even some in the ‘posh’ twenty-three quid seats around me join in .  The corner comes to nothing and soon Freddie Ladapo is teed up to hit a shot very high and very wide; then Town win a corner and then another courtesy of the energetic Conor Chaplin who looks like he’s enjoying himself.  The Town support is waning however and the chants of “Come On  You Blues”  before the corner are rather feeble, as if all that lunch time drinking outside in the sun is now taking its toll. On the hour there is a drinks break for the players before Forest Green make a double substitution,  and the effects of the Lucozade and fresh legs are almost immediate as on 64 minutes the Rovers’ number 28 knocks the ball into the Ipswich goal from close range in the sort of goal mouth melee which Ipswich are generally incapable of even creating let alone scoring from.

This is the home team’s moment, and for a  good five minutes they effortlessly drift past the Town defenders who  look as if they have been dazzled by the glare from a judiciously angled solar panel.  The 68th minute sees Rovers put the ball in the Town net again via a towering head from a corner, but the lurid day-glo green shirts make it easy for the assistant referee to spot that a couple of  the Rovers players were offside. 

Town need to shore up their defence and Greg Leigh replaces the crocked Lief Davis,  but still Christian Walton is forced to make a save to keep Town’s lead in tact. Twenty minutes of normal time remain and Conor Chaplin and Marcus Harness are replaced by Tyreece John-Jules and Sone Aluko.  Town seem to have weathered the worst of what Forest Green can do and a shot on the turn from Sone Aluko almost seals the result.  Another feeble chant of ‘Come On You Blues’ emanates from the sun struck recovering alcoholics on the far side of the ground.  With time ebbing away tempers fray and Sam Morsy seems to be the target for some winding-up.  He gives as good if not better than he gets but then stays down on ground to eek out some more time. “Wanker” calls out a rustic and slightly inebriated  voice from somewhere behind me, it’s the most impolite thing I ‘ve heard all afternoon.

Six minutes remain and Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace Freddie Lapado and Wes Burns. The woman next to me has only just been convinced that the score isn’t two-all.  The final minute arrives and Town’s Cameron Burgess is extremely lucky not to be sent off as he pulls back an opponent who appeared to have a free run a goal from about 20 metres out. “You don’t know what you’re doin” chant the home fans at the orange shirted referee, and they have a point, but he’s not alone as the fourth official holds up his electronic board showing a staggering nine minutes of added–on time.  It sounds like long enough to lay down another strata of Oolitic Limestone, but it passes surprisingly quickly which is a probably a measure of how much Town are on top.

With the final whistle I bid farewell to the two women and make an unauthorised exit up the steps and through the hospitality area behind  me, leaving the stand via the ‘grand’, carpeted central staircase before dashing off to join the queue for the white bus.  I’ve had a lovely afternoon as I had thought I would. The win helped of course, but for a country lad The New Lawn has lived up to expectations, despite the obvious short comings such as no programmes, no decent,  pointless souvenirs and inadequate staffing in the bar, but there’s more to life than collecting stuff and getting served quickly.  The Football League needs more clubs like Forest Green Rovers.

Further reading:

 ‘How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup (1975) by  J L Carr

 Cider with Rosie (1959)  by Laurie Lee

Ipswich Town 0 Cambridge United 1

When I first started attending Portman Road, almost exactly fifty-two years ago (April 6th1971, a goalless draw versus Everton), Cambridge United were putting the finishing touches to their first ever season in the Football League.  I remember looking out for Cambridge’s results every week and hoping they’d do well; I think I must have been excited by the idea of a new club in the Football League and the fact that they were almost local, being in the next county.  I continued to follow Cambridge’s results throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s and still recall players with memorable names and haircuts such as Brian Greenhalgh, Steve Spriggs, Steve Fallon, Brendon Batson, Alan Biley and Lindsay Smith.   Twenty years later , I had lost my youthful joie de vivre and when Town met Cambridge for the first time in a League fixture, I was much less enthused by the Cambridge United team under the management of John Beck, a man who looked and sounded uncannily like Trigger in the TV sitcom Only Fools and Horses.  That Cambridge team had some talented players (Dublin, Claridge, Kimble, Fensome, Daish) but was horrible; in November they beat Town 2-1 at Portman Road and the following April held us to a draw at the Abbey Stadium; their main tactic as I recall was to keep the ball as far above the ground as possible at all times.

Today, Ipswich are playing Cambridge United in a Football League fixture at Portman Road for only the second time in fifty-two years. It’s a beautifully sunny, but desperately cold afternoon and cotton wool clouds festoon a pale blue sky, like in an imaginary art deco poster advertising day trips by rail to some chilly east coast resort.  Having been delayed by cones surrounding non-existent roadworks on the A12 at Capel St Mary, I hurry across Gippeswyk Park after parking up my trusty Citroen C3.  Two youths walk towards me across the grass.  “Alright mate?” says one, perhaps trying to impress his much taller accomplice with his cheeky enquiry of a random adult. “Yes, I’m alright mate, are you?” I reply, returning his familiarity right back at him with an enquiring raised eyebrow. 

The sound of football chants carries on the bitter north easterly wind from the beer garden of the Station Hotel where Cambridge United supporters fortify themselves against the cold and their inevitable disappointment. In Portman Road, I attempt to buy a programme (£3.50) in the modern, cashless way, but just like last week the technology is not working. Disappointed, but not entirely surprised, I fish for a five-pound note in my wallet and wait for my change.  Five or so minutes later, as I reach the Arboretum pub (currently known, for reasons unknown, as the Arbor House), a large Honda car draws up and out steps Ray who is being dropped off by his wife Roz. After waving to Roz and having a brief conversation with Ray , which I politely curtail as I am already late, I head into the pub and Ray heads into town to complete undisclosed errands.  Service is slow at the bar where one of the staff seems to struggle to remember which drinks he has poured and which he hasn’t; eventually I take a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.90) out into the beer garden where Mick is already some way through his own pint of something similar.   We talk of solar power, dizzy spells, Mick’s son continuing to work whilst suffering from Covid, cycling and Germany’s admirable, open and honest attitude towards its past.  With a little under half an hour until kick-off we leave for Portman Road after first taking our empty glasses back to the bar.

Bidding Mick farewell by the turnstiles to the Magnus Group West Stand, I walk to the Constantine Road entrance and then past the serried ranks of the players’ cars;  mostly black or grey Mercedes and Audi SUVs; they look like hearses . I enter the ground through turnstile 61, which I choose in preference to turnstiles 59 and 60 because Ipswich were Football League Champions in the 1961-62 season. I hope for the day when they open turnstile 62.  I thank the turnstile operator and he thanks me, but he doesn’t wish me ‘bon match’ or that I have a lovely time, and I can’t deny that I’m slightly disappointed by this. 

My first port of call inside the stand is the lavatory where the sound of Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown is echoing round the tiled walls, I think the two men standing either side of me at the urinal are singing along to it, which strikes me as a little odd, but nevertheless I join in.  It’s only when the song gets to the chorus that I’m not sure if the two blokes actually were singing or if it wasn’t an aural ‘illusion’ created by lavatorial acoustics. With flies zipped up and hands washed, the teams are now on the pitch. With hellos said to Pat from Clacton and Mark, who is again in Fiona’s seat because she is on a cruise, and mental notes taken that ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood are both here, it is almost time for the game to begin.  In the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand a banner reads “Something tells me I’m into something good”, revealing an unexpected enthusiasm amongst North Standers for the hits of Peter Noone and Herman’s Hermits.  I like to believe that they perhaps hope Herman of the Hermits and Hermann Hreidarsson are one and the same.

With knees taken and applauded it is a minute past three and Town kick off in their traditional blue and white kit, whilst our opponents display a regrettable lack of imagination by wearing all-black in the manner of antipodean rugby teams, old-style referees and the baddies in cowboy films.  A cloud of smoke drifts across the pitch, evidence of some pyrotechnics, the smell of which makes me think of Apocalypse Now, it must be the smell of victory.  “U’s, U’s” chant the Cambridge supporters between bouts of rhythmic clapping; ”Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, The Norwich ran away” sing the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, seemingly confused about the time of year and who we’re playing, although to be fair it is cold enough to be Christmas. 

Two minutes in and Bersant Celina has a shot on goal, but it’s an easy catch for the Cambridge goalkeeper Dimitri Mitov.  “He might of saved it” sniggers the bloke behind me making the all too common grammatical error of using the word ‘of’  instead of ‘have’.   “Blue Army” bawls the bloke next to me, who is slumped back in his seat as if it’s part of a three-piece suite. “Ally, Ally, Ally-O, I-T-F-C, We’re the Blue Arm-y” continues my neighbour. “No Noise from the Ipswich Boys” chant the Cambridge fans re-purposing Village People’s ‘Go West’; they should be sat where I am. Five minutes later and a cross strikes Cambridge’s James Brophy on the arm; VAR might deem it a penalty if we were in the Evil Premier League, but we’re not, so we have the game’s first corner instead.

We’ve seen 14 minutes go by and Town aren’t yet into their stride, and as if to make the point Cambridge succeed in getting the ball into the Ipswich goal net. Mark and I have resolved ourselves to the crushing disappointment of going a goal behind so soon into the match when the linesman comes to our rescue; it was offside. Two minutes later and Tommy Carroll volleys a shot over the crossbar.  Town are still not dominating in the manner which we have quickly come to expect, and Cambridge have the cheek to win a free-kick from which the ball is laid back to Adam May, whose shot is deflected away for a corner and then Christian Walton athletically tips a George Williams header over the crossbar.

It’s getting on for half-past three and James Norwood successfully chases a ball over the top, but his chipped cross is to no one in particular, and then a Town corner eludes the looming head of Cameron Burgess.  As the promise of a goal subsides Pat from Clacton tells me how the Clacton supporters’ bus was pulled over by the police today near the Holiday Inn hotel, only for the policeman to board and say “Oh, you’re Ipswich”.  I like to think that he probably also mistakenly stopped a couple of coach loads of pensioners on an afternoon excursion and several buses from the Copdock Park and Ride.

With time ticking down inexorably towards half-time, Conor Chaplin’s cross is headed firmly into the arms of Mitov by Bersant Celina and a Dominic Thompson cross is hit low towards the Cambridge goal by Sam Morsy, but not hard enough to get past the goalkeeper.  At the other end of the pitch Luke Woolfenden saves possible embarrassment with a superbly timed tackle on Cambridge’s Joe Ironside as he threatens to break through on goal.  Embarrassment soon follows however as Dominic Thompson is victim of some dubious play acting by George Williams, and inexplicably James Norwood steps into the fray like some sort of deranged avenging angel and along with Sam Smith gets a personal viewing of referee Mr Craig Hicks’ yellow card.

Symptomatic of it having been a frustrating half, Town have another penalty appeal for handball rejected and a woman with a voice like a wailing banshee a couple of rows behind me launches a blistering high pitched verbal assault on the linesman.  It would be amusing if only it didn’t hurt my ears so much.  Her justification for her outburst is apparently that when someone is paid to do a job she hates to see them not do it.  Town are awarded a corner however, which is scant consolation to me, and a Conor Chaplin shot then squirms into Mitov’s arms before another Cambridge corner and three minutes of additional time.

Mark and I hope that half-time will elicit words of wisdom from Town manager Kieron McKenna, and the avalanche of goals into the Cambridge net that we were hoping for will eventually come to pass.  In the stand half-time brings a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar for me along with a chat with Ray who says he can’t see the point of peanuts if not they’re not roasted and salted; I tell him that the magic ingredient is chocolate, but he doesn’t seem convinced.

The match resumes at eight minutes past four and Christian Walton is soon diving low to his right to stop a header from Joe Ironside.  Conor Chaplin then shoots wide and this afternoon’s attendance is announced as 26,515 with 2,009 from Cambridge; the referee Mr Hicks then makes a decent attempt at tackling Sam Morsy, although Sam seems far from impressed.  Town win a corner and Wes Burns shoots wide of the right hand post and then Conor Chaplin shoots wide of the left.  Two minutes later and Ironside is awarded a free-kick for a somewhat pointless and innocuous foul by Luke Woolfenden.  The subsequent free-kick is whipped across the penalty area and rebounds off Dominic Thompson at the far post and into the goal. 

Ten minutes later and things aren’t looking up until Pat from Clacton gets out her bag of sweets. They’ve been sitting around for a week or two she tells us. Mine is one of those chewy ones that look like an extruded strip of sugar cut into bits; I’m not good at identifying flavours, but I think it’s probably raspberry, and it cheers me up as much as much as anything else other than an Ipswich goal probably could right now.  Tommy Carroll and Conor Chaplin are replaced by Sone Aluko and the oddly-named Macauley Bonne.

It’s gone half-past four and James Norwood gets Mitov to make a save and then the oddly named Macauley Bonne drops a header onto the roof of the Cambridge goal.  Matt Penney replaces Dominic Thompson to whom fate has been rather mean today.  Cambridge United win a free-kick with fifteen minutes of normal time remaining and their supporters chant “Cry in a minute, you’re gonna cry in a minute”, which may be a chant unique to them, although I think I might have heard it when a team is about to be relegated or lose a play-off tie.   The free-kick is a waste of time and no one gets tearful as predicted, although ironically the only person who might have done so was the Cambridge number 26, the cutely named Harvey Knibbs ,  who rolled around like a big baby to win the free-kick.  Janoi Doncaien is booked.  Twelve minutes remain and Sam Morsy has a shot saved by Mitov but then a major diplomatic incident breaks out all around me as Pat from Clacton complains to the bloke behind me about his and his associates relentless swearing.  Mark backs her up. The bloke behind me opines that this is an important end of season match and he’s just showing some emotion, but he doesn’t agree to stop swearing, believing it seems that the purchase of his ticket gives him certain rights to express himself by ‘effing and jeffing’ , as Pat calls it.  The screechy woman a couple of rows behind then also becomes involved before stewards are called and the bloke behind me is accused by the man who is with the screechy woman of threatening to strangle him with his own scarf.  Eventually the sweary blokes leave and peace is restored, although rather impressively I think, the bloke behind me later returns with a steward to apologise to Pat.

“Is there a fire drill, Is there a fire drill?” sing the Cambridge fans resorting to opera to serenade the departing Town supporters who have either given up on a Town goal or whose modes of transport will turn back into pumpkins if they’re not home on time.  The game peters out over the five minutes of added on time and almost inevitably Town lose, perpetuating our record of never having beaten Cambridge United in a league match, something also true of mighty Cheltenham Town.   I had expected a Town victory today, but it would not have been deserved; the team performed as if the players had all been given some disturbing news just before kick-off, as if someone had told them perhaps that large German SUVs aren’t cool and are much less environmentally friendly than smaller cars.

Ipswich Town 0 Barrow 0

When I first became interested in football at the tender age of ten, Barrow were in Division Four and had been in the Football League since 1921, when they were elected as original members of Division Three North.  In my Observer’s Book of Football, the one that has a picture of Bobby Charlton on the dust jacket, it states “Honours have always been elusive for Barrow” and it goes on to say that Barrow had just “one season of triumph”, in 1967 when they finished third in Division Four. Sadly for Barrow, by the time I first saw them play, at Layer Road, Colchester in 1990, they had been replaced in the Football League by Hereford United and were not yet half way through a forty-eight year stint in non-league football.  Thirty years on and today, through the wonder of the 2nd round of the FA Cup, Ipswich Town and Barrow meet for the first time ever. I’ve been looking forward to today’s game to some extent since 1971, but more tangibly since the Cup draw was made, and in reality since Idris El Mizouni’s cracking goal ensured Oldham Athletic wouldn’t be making an unexpected run to Wembley.

As befits an FA Cup Day, the sun is shining gloriously, although with little impact on the outdoor temperature as I stroll across Gippeswyk Park and up Portman Road beneath clear azure skies.     Portman Road is notable this afternoon for the atypical absence from the car park behind Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue of some of the usual vendors of chips and other grease-based foods sold inside spongy ‘bread’ products.  There is also a corresponding shortage of human beings in Portman Road today compared to other match days, and whilst you might infer from this that people only come for the grease-based foods, the sadder truth is that the FA Cup simply doesn’t attract football fans like it once did.  I can recall paying full-price to watch Town play fourth division Halifax Town and Hartlepool United in the company of about 24,000 other souls back in the late 1970’s, and now find it hard to understand why with reduced ticket prices the lure of Cup glory against such Northern exotics is no longer an attraction.  In this age of instant gratification and tv reality game shows, Cup football should be more popular than ever with its promise of advancement to the next round and the jeopardy of defeat and expulsion from the competition after just ninety minutes; Death or Glory as The Clash sang just a year after Town lifted the FA Cup. The tyranny of Sky tv and the Premier League is clearly to blame.

Having purchased a match day programme (£2), I head on to what was The Arboretum pub back in the days when 24,000 turned up to see Hartlepool United and Halifax Town at Portman Road,  but is now The Arbor House.  With a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.80) in my cold right hand I sit and wait for Mick in the garden.  Mick soon arrives with a pint of Mauldon’s Molecatcher, a packet of Fairfields Farm cheese and onion crisps and a cup of dry-roasted peanuts.  Mick explains that Molecatcher is brewed to the same recipe as Suffolk Pride but is less alcoholic; I can’t really see the advantage of that at the moment, but our conversation explores various avenues from last night’s Have I Got News For You tv programme to nuns before it is time to walk down the hill past Ipswich Museum to Portman Road.

Today, taking advantage of the reduced flat rate ticket price (£10 for adults and £5 for concessions plus £1.50 each for the pleasure of buying them, which goes to a parasitic organisation called Seatgeek) we are in the top tier of what was the West Stand, but is now the Magnus Group Stand. We are in Block Y where the seats are brown in colour, not because of any sort of unpleasant staining but merely because I imagine brown looked ‘classy’ in 1982 when the top tier was opened; the seats are also padded.  I bought our tickets soon after they went on sale and we benefit from being close to the stairway or vomitorium, and just two seats in from the gangway, so only two old men must rise from their seats for us to access ours.  With everyone in their winter coats it’s a tight squeeze nevertheless.

The teams appear to an introduction from stadium announcer Stephen Foster worthy of the occasion and with knees taken and duly applauded the game begins;  a strong Town team getting first go with the ball and kicking towards the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, formerly plain old Churchman’s.  Town are wearing their traditional blue shirts and socks and white shorts whilst Barrow are in an unexpectedly stylish pale pink shirt and socks with black shorts, vaguely reminiscent of Sicily’s Palermo or the now defunct Evian Thonon Gaillard, briefly of French Ligue 1.   The largely empty stadium is filled with a sense of expectation as the game starts and the murmur of a nascent chant can be detected from the Sir Bobby Robson stand.  Within a minute of kick-off however silence reigns.

From the start Town look as hesitant and short of ideas as their supporters are of rousing supportive chants. It is Barrow who show the first serious attacking intent as several players in pink break forward “They’re all offside, nine of ‘em; except him” says a man with a loud and annoying voice a couple of rows behind me as Barrow’s number eleven Josh Kay bears down on goal beneath the shade of the Magnus Group Stand.  The same voice is all too audible a short while later as Barrow break forward again. “Toto, Toto, leave him alone Toto” he calls as Toto Nsiala tracks a Barrow player into the Town penalty area and makes a tackle before he can fashion a shot on goal.  Had Toto Nsiala followed the spectator’s advice it is likely Barrow would have scored or at least had a shot on target. It’s not a good start by Town or their supporters.  But as a consolation the low winter sun is reflecting a sparkling yellow light back off the windows of the Guardian Royal Exchange office block on Civic Drive, so although the football isn’t, the backdrop is gently inspiring.

Over twenty minutes pass and Barrow earn two free-kicks in quick succession in the Town half and then win the game’s first corner.  Barrow come close to scoring twice as one free header hits a post and then one from Mark Ellis is saved by Christian Walton.  Barrow’s Josh Kay shoots and his shot is tipped over the bar by Christian Walton. “Come on Lambert, sort it out” bawls the ruddy-faced old boy sat in the seat next but one from mine.   Nobody reacts in the seats around me; I fear some of my fellow supporters might have died. I turn to Mick and dare him to shout “Robson Out”.

 It takes Town over half an hour to have a shot on goal worthy of the name as Scott Fraser eventually launches a shot over the cross-bar from outside the penalty box.  I remark to Mick that with the number eleven on the back of his shirt and his short brown hair, from this distance Fraser sometimes makes me think of Mick Lambert.  “I can’t think what Mick Lambert looks like” says Mick. “Well I expect he looks a bit different now” I respond.   Idris El-Mizouni is booked for a foul, a little harshly in my opinion and I wonder to myself whether referee Mr Sam Purkiss is a closet French nationalist in the thrall of Marine Le Pen.  As half-time approaches a rare moment of hope sees Conor Chaplin break away and from a low cross earn a second corner for Town, and then the oddly named Macauley Bonne strides forward to unleash an appallingly bad shot which results in a throw-in to Barrow. “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuckin’ ‘ell was that?” sing the Barrovians up in the Cobbold stand in the time honoured fashion. “Good question” mutters the old boy next to me to himself.

Half-time comes as a welcome relief and whilst Mick gains further relief using the facilities, I remain in the stand alongside the two old boys. The match resumes at three minutes past four as dusk descends to shroud Suffolk’s County town in chilly December darkness.

Half-time has brought change and Joe Pigott has replaced Idris El-Mizouni who hadn’t looked sure where he was meant to be playing, with Sam Morsy seemingly competing with him for the ball in midfield.  Within three minutes Joe Pigott has found space and strikes a post with a firm shot.  Pigott’s presence continues to make a difference as he seeks space behind the Barrow defence and controls and lays the ball off in a manner which the oddly named Macauley Bonne has so far appeared incapable of doing.  Things are looking up and the Sir Bobby Robson stand feels moved to sing a song which has quite a lot of words, few of which I am able to decipher, but then Kay scoops a shot over the bar for Barrow when it was certainly no more difficult to get his shot on target.

This is a much better half for Town and I sense a glimmer of optimism amongst the Town followers in the meagre crowd of 6,425, of whom a respectable 205 are from Barrow.  The mood hasn’t affected the loud man behind me however, who continues to provide a mainly sarcastic commentary, which sounds both smug and moronic in its delivery.  He clearly doesn’t like Toto Nsiala and bewilderingly urges him to chip the ball over Christian Walton as Toto turns it back towards goal, before saying “He was tempted”.  This man has the sort of voice that would make a more violent person than myself want to punch him in the throat.

Town now dominate possession and whilst still a little slow on the ball they are getting players down both flanks to put in crosses, an approach that is helped by bringing on the exciting Sone Aluko.  The Town  support has corresponding moments of enthusiasm and sing another song with plenty of hard to fathom words, but a simple chorus of “Addy, Addy, Addy – O”, which is the sort of thing heard sung by children in one of those black and white films from the early 1960’s such as A Taste Of Honey, and I half want to see Rita Tushingham and Dora Bryan warming up on the touchline.

As the match winds down into its final fifteen minutes the support wanes, and as we enter six minutes of normal time the ground is once again silent.  As ever, there is a late flurry of goal attempts as the realisation dawns on the players that their failure to score a goal can only result in an evening in Barrow-In-Furness.   Corners are won but no booming chants of “Come of You Blues” or  intimidatingly repetitive calls of “ Ipswich, Ipswich, Ipswich” materialise from the stands;  even the score board seems apathetic as each corner kick is met, not with an entreaty to shout support for the team, but instead a message about how the Ipswich Mortgage Centre “corners all your home improvement and mortgage needs”.    The old boys beside me leave with a couple of minutes to go.  Sam Morsy shoots over the cross bar from close range and substitute Cameron Humphreys heads against it , but Town don’t score and the breath saved by not shouting in support of the Town is expended in a chorus of sadly predictable boos and jeers.

Later this evening I will learn that the Town manager has been sacked and briefly I wonder to myself if the old boy sat next but one to me had been right; Paul Lambert had never actually left the club he’d just shaved the top of his head and swopped his Scottish accent for a Scouse one, but after nearly a season’s worth of games he’d finally been found out.   It’s certainly never dull being a Town fan, well except for the actual games that is. Try stopping me going through it all again in a fortnight’s time though. No, please, try.

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 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.

Gillingham 3 Ipswich Town 1

In my admittedly limited experience of the place, Gillingham seems an immensely dull town, despite being pleasantly situated close to the banks of the muddy estuary of the River Medway and the Norman castle and cathedral of Rochester.  Gillingham grew from almost nothing on the back of the expansion of the Chatham Royal Naval dockyard at the end of the nineteenth century as Britain embarked on an arms race with Germany, which ultimately resulted in the carnage of World War One that in turn led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and the Holocaust.  The weight of history therefore hangs heavy on the terraced streets around the Priestfield Stadium.  But I guess it wasn’t Gillingham’s fault, it just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; Kent.

As if Gillingham’s culpability in the horrors of twentieth century history wasn’t enough, Gillingham Football Club and its supporters may have reason to harbour resentment against Ipswich Town.  On 30th May 1938 Ipswich Town were voted into the Football League at Gillingham’s expense.  Gillingham had been in the wrong place at the wrong time again, having finished bottom of the Third Division South just as mighty Ipswich Town were embarking on their unstoppable rise to glory.   Gillingham’s demise was only temporary however, and happily as early as 1950 they were re-elected.  But whilst Ipswich Town were Football League Champions a little more than a decade later, Gillingham simply bobbed about between the two lower divisions until the turn of the twenty-first century when for the first time they made it into the second division. 

Meanwhile, throughout the post-war period, until his retirement in the early 1980’s my father’s brother Ray worked in Chatham dockyard and lived in nearby Rainham;  on a Saturday he would watch Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium with his stepson, I think they may even have had season tickets at one time.   Fast forward nearly forty years  and my uncle Ray is long dead and this afternoon thanks to Covid-19 no one is watching at the Priestfield Stadium as Gillingham meet Ipswich Town in the third division,  but I shall be listening on the radio.

Annoyingly, today’s game kicks off at one o’clock when most civilised people are sitting down to lunch.  The only explanation I have seen for this early kick-off is that the streets of Gillingham are not safe after five pm, but I’m not sure I believe this.  I tune in to BBC Radio Suffolk just in time to hear commentator Brenner Woolley describing Kane Vincent-Young’s goal  against Gillingham last season. “ Kane Vincent -Young scores” says Brenner before continuing in typical commentator style with “He goes off to celebrate, as well he might”.   Ask yourself this, when was the last time you said “As well he might” ?

Today is significant because it is the first game for Town under the management of Paul Cook.  “Yet another new era dawns” says Brenner portentously.  To describe the managerial reigns of Paul Lambert and Paul Hurst as “eras” is in hindsight going a bit far; if we are intent on using geological terminology they were not even periods or epochs, merely ages.  Ipswich Town have had eighteen managers Brenner tells us, and Marcus Evans has appointed a third of them.   It might be appropriate therefore that today Town are playing a club whose manager shares a surname with Mr Evans, the obese and irascible Steve Evans; I like to think that they are perhaps brothers.  According to Brenner’s sidekick for the afternoon, former Town youth player Stuart Ainsley, taking the job as Ipswich Town manager is “A big opportunity for Paul Cook, one he couldn’t turn down”; Stuart makes it sound as if the alternative was being encased in concrete in the foundations of a bridge.  Incidentally, Paul Cook is Town’s first bald manager since Bill McGarry over fifty years ago.

The Ipswich Town team are first out of the changing room, we are told by Brenner, who then takes us through the two teams.  I am struck by the name of Gillingham’s number nineteen.  At first I think Brenner has said the Dane, Oliver, and that Gillingham’s centre forward is from Denmark, but no, I check on my phone and he is called Vadaine Oliver and he’s from Sheffield.  I speculate that Vadaine’s mum was a fan of fantasy novels and a quick Google reveals that although the spelling is not quite the same, Vardaine is the name of a planet in Star Trek.  I wonder to myself if his team mates call him Vado,  Vads or Daino for short.  Personally, I hope they say Vadaine in the way that Boycie said “Marleen” in the BBC tv sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’.

The Town team is unchanged from the last game, but for the inclusion of Josh Harrop in place of little Alan Judge who has suffered a death in his family.  Stuart tells us with regard to the team that “Everybody’s happy with the way things are”.  I am brimming with confidence in the wake of Stuart’s words and the game begins with me humming The Buzzcocks’ 1979 single “Everybody’s happy nowadays” to myself.

Brenner is quickly into his stride “The referee has seen something in the box, and has blown up his whistle” he says, conjuring an image of a referee who carries a small supply of detonators.  “Norwood back with the pink boots on that he changed at half-time on Tuesday” continues Brenner quickly providing his regular update on player footwear.  Six minutes pass and Andre Dozzell gives away a free-kick close to the edge of the Town penalty area, in what Brenner and Stuart agree is a ‘good position’.  “Totally needless” says Brenner of the foul.  The free-kick is taken; Gillingham centre-half Jack Tucker is unmarked at the far post and when the ball drops to him scores. “Tucker, one nil”. The “new era” is for the moment on hold.  Apparently, it’s Gillingham’s first goal against Town in seven games; the dawn of a “new era” for Gillingham.

Stuart launches in to an explanation of Gillingham’s tactics. “Gillingham are going to launch big diags across the pitch” he says, unleashing the previously unknown word “diags” onto the radio listeners of Suffolk.  I write it down, adding it to my list of words and phrases to use when talking about football and trying to impress.  “Town need to wake up” says Brenner honestly.  Stuart concurs, “Ipswich haven’t come out of the blocks very well in the last few minutes” he says , not quite pulling off an athletics-based analogy as he fails to understand that coming out of the blocks happens just once and not over a number of minutes,  unless the runner is glacially slow.   Brenner sums up their shared outlook, “Paul Cook won’t be impressed with what he has seen from his team so far” he says, before triumphantly adding, like the true pro that he is, the football speak coup de grace “Although it’s early doors, it has to be said”. 

Fourteen minutes are up and Stuart feels Town are fortunate not to concede a penalty as a result of a foul by Myles Kenlock.  “Looks like this game is going to be a battle, unless Town can get the ball down on the deck” says Brenner, clearly influenced by Gillingham’s proximity to the former Chatham Royal Naval dockyard.  “Tucker the goalscorer” and “The busy O’Connor” are enjoyable epithets to fall from the mouth of Brenner as Gillingham dominate the play. A Gillingham shot hits Tomas Holy’s right hand goal post. “The players just need to up their game” says Stuart, sounding frustrated.

Twenty-six minutes have passed and Town win their first corner.  With the resultant drop-kick James Norwood lingers behind Gills ‘keeper Jack Bonham, whose name makes me think of deceased Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.  “Bonham has spotted him (Norwood) in his rear view mirror” says Brenner confusingly implying that Bonham is either driving a car or wearing some sort of harness with mirrors attached to it.  For a moment I think Brenner might have forgotten he’s providing a radio commentary.  Realising his faux pas Brenner quickly resorts to ‘painting a picture’ with words in the more traditional manner as he resort to his favoured back-stop of “Dozzell, with his yellow footwear”.

Troy Parrott produces an overhead kick which narrowly misses the Gillingham goal. “One of the most unlucky he’s had so far” says Stuart of Troy’s goal attempt.  “Not seen much of the ball in this match, Josh Parrott” says Brenner, re-christening the bird-named on-loan player and at the same time putting his name at the end of the sentence to keep us in suspense over who he’s talking about.

Seven minutes until half time and Brenner raises my hopes “Clear sight of goal for Norwood” he says expectantly, but Norwood’s shot is deflected away for a corner.   Andre Dozzell takes the corner.  “Really poor, cleared by the first defender” says Brenner of the last significant incident of the half.

With the half-time whistle Brenner asks Stuart for his verdict so far. “It’s not been very good, Brenner” says Stuart; he carries on using the well-worn football phrases that all listeners to football commentary know and love. “Gillingham stamped their authority on the game”; “Big lad up front”; “Not put their foot on the ball” and then in a sudden fit of violent intent, “I’d be tempted to throw a rocket into a few of them”.

Feeling utterly despondent and somewhat confused that it’s only a quarter to two and not a quarter to four I am physically unable to put the kettle on.  A lot has been said about the impact of lockdown on people’s mental health, but no one mentions the impact of football matches not kicking off at 3 o’clock.

Returning to my radio I hear Brenner say “Confident Stuart Ainslie?”  Clearly not sounding so, but refusing to say so Stuart replies “They’ll certainly have to up their game”.  “Dozzell too deep in his own half” he explains, suggesting a way in which their game might be upped.   Play resumes. “Ipswich in a rather washed out away kit” says Brenner, painting that picture again but subliminally describing Town’s performance so far before going on to explain that he and Stuart are not in Gillingham but in the studio “…watching the telly for want of a better phrase”.  I decide that there is nothing wrong with “watching the telly” as a phrase, but it would be better to be at the game if it were possible.

Five minutes into the half and James Wilson prevents a probable second goal for Gillingham with a timely block.  “Town have never lost at Priestfield” says Brenner probably filling in his betting slip and putting £50 on Gillingham to win as he speaks.  We look a lot better team when our foot’s on the ball” says Stuart inventing the concept of a shared foot and making me think of the end of the opening titles of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  “Poor spectacle, it has to be said, the game so far” says Brenner producing one of his best ever back to front sentences.

Sixty five minutes have passed. “Could it be Luke Chambers? Fabulous goal” says Brenner. “It’s a huge goal, a huge goal, with Ipswich’s new tenure” says Stuart, partly repeating himself and trying to use an intelligent sounding word but making no sense. Ipswich have equalised and my hopes are raised. Three minutes later the oddly named Keanan Bennetts is replaced by Gwion Edwards, Freddie Sears replaces Josh Harrop and Flynn Downes replaces Troy Parrott.  “Am I right to fancy Ipswich to go on and win it”? asks Brenner, goading Stuart into making a foolishly optimistic prediction.  “Errr, yes” says Stuart foolishly and optimistically, and giving Brenner the answer he probably thinks he and the listeners at home want to hear.

The seventy second minute and Town win a corner which is headed away.  Freddie Sears loses the ball, Gillingham break down their right, a low cross into the penalty box and ‘Daino’ scores easily. “Poor from Town again” says Stuart. Town are losing 2-1.  Kayden Jackson replaces Andre Dozzell. “Still wouldn’t rule out Town winning this game” says Brenner with uncharacteristic optimism, as if he’s trying to curry favour with the new managerial regime.

Less than fifteen minutes of normal time remain and from a corner a Kayden Jackson header hits the cross bar.  Minutes later Jackson fouls Jack Tucker “More than happy to find himself on all fours” says Brenner slightly weirdly of Tucker and conjuring images that I didn’t want to imagine.  The ball is given away by Town again, “ it could easily have been 3-1” Gillingham still have the ball, “ a shot into the corner of the net” and Gillingham lead 3-1 thanks again to Vads.  “Self-harm from Ipswich here” says Stuart taking his co-commentary to a very dark place.  “A fair few culpable at the back” says Brenner returning the commentary to more familiar territory.  “ A really disappointing afternoon for Ipswich Town so far, it has to be said” says Brenner fulfilling his own prophecy before he’s said it,  before admitting that he had expected a Town win. 

Gillingham cleverly or cynically manage the remaining minutes and time added on, but it doesn’t sound as if Ipswich do very much to make them think the game isn’t already won, and indeed it is. Brenner asks Stuart for his final thoughts.  “Just didn’t turn up today” says Stuart unimaginatively. “One or two players will be looking over their shoulders with regard to their shirts” he adds, implying perhaps that some players don’t know their own names or that before he left, Paul Lambert had written uncomplimentary things in felt tip on the numbers.  Reaching for the radio off switch I hear Stuart say “May be they took this as a given today”, before immediately contradicting himself and adding “I’m sure they didn’t”, as if Brenner was sat opposite him reproachfully shaking his head from side to side.

Like Brenner, I think I had expected Town to win today, but then I expect us to win every game whether it is the beginning, the middle or the end of an era.  Slightly annoyed with myself for feeling so dejected therefore, I put away the radio and wonder what the hell I’m going to do for the rest of the afternoon. At least I don’t live in Gillingham, I think to myself , and in any case I expect we’ll win on Tuesday.