Leaden clouds, gusting wind, rain. I spend my Saturday morning mesmerised by the steady drip of water from the leaves of the fig tree outside my living room window, and the drip, drip, drip from the underside of the gutter onto the window sill and the Begonia in the adjacent window box. It’s all so beautiful but so sad, like the thought of Ipswich Town playing MK Dons. Football is allegedly the beautiful game, but the presence of MK Dons in the Football League is a source of sadness and not a little anger to me. It was to be expected that the gutless, ineffective Football League, an administrative body that doesn’t understand the sport it administers, would allow the original Wimbledon football club to be hollowed out and the empty husk replanted in a new town over sixty miles away to the north, and although seventeen years have passed since then, it remains as something that was and still is fundamentally wrong, like mullets, racism, the ‘quartic’ steering wheel of the original Austin Allegro, Chris Sutton and slavery.
My usual enthusiasm for Town’s game today is therefore tempered and I’m not ‘quite myself’. Unsure of exactly who I am I have allowed the morning to drift away in aimless reverie, although I did have a lucid half an hour in which I experienced brief happiness in finding a wing nut that fitted the bottom of a metal bird feeder on which the original nut had rusted away. My back garden now is mobbed with a feeding frenzy of sparrows and starlings but such is my listlessness it is two-thirty and I am only just sitting down with my wife Paulene to eat lunch; a salad featuring the unusual combination of tuna and sliced sausage; the joy of leftovers. Worst of all I have not had, and have little desire to have a pre-match ‘pint’, despite a well-stocked beer cupboard which contains five cases of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer in addition to bottles of Westmalle Dubbel, Orval, Dark Star Revelation, Titanic Plum Porter, Chimay and Chimay Brun. My heart is not in this.
It is gone ten to three as I find myself retiring to one of two spare bedrooms in my boring late 1970’s semi-detached house, getting comfortable in an Ikea Poang chair and switching on the wireless. Shockingly my ears are assaulted by the faintly estuarine tones of a young woman talking authoritatively about today’s Braintree Town line-up, quickly I move the dial the necessary couple of degrees to reach the safety of Radio Suffolk where an intense sounding young man is being interviewed and makes reference to ‘affleets’ and being ‘affletic’; apparently he played for Lowestoft Town but is now at Wycombe Wanderers. His name it transpires is Malachi Lynton and if he is as serious about his football career as he sounds he should do well, although I hope he gets to laugh a bit as well.
Three o’clock approaches and I am joined by Brenner Woolley against a background of loud rock music which bleeds into ‘Hey Jude’ as he introduces the legendary Alex Mathie, a man who earns that ‘legendary’ epithet courtesy of his hat-trick in the most recent of our three 5-0 thrashings of the yellow-feathered peril from up the A140. Brenner tells me that the team is the same as last week and Alex adds how he is looking forward to seeing Town ‘live’ for the first time this season.
The game begins; I don’t catch which team kicks off, which direction they are kicking relative to Brenner and Alex’s seats or what the two teams are wearing. I am pleased to quickly learn from Brenner however that Paul Lambert has on his black overcoat. “Fabulous stuff from the home team” says Brenner. “That should’ve been 1-0” says Alex. Oh crikey.
MK Dons have won none of their opening four matches this season but as is often the case they seem to be one of those teams who have been saving themselves for the game against Ipswich. But little good it does them as in the seventh minute Brenner tells me “Nolan shoots….he scores”. It doesn’t sound like it was goal of the season however, and Brenner advises that it was against the run of play, although I’m not altogether sure how valid the expression ‘against the run of play’ is when the game is only seven minutes old.
Relaxing a little now that Town are in what has become their customary winning position, I pick up my mobile phone to catch up on my Twitter feed where I enjoy some pictures of the fabulous Stade Bolleart in Lens tweeted by AS St Etienne, who play there at four o’clock today and are blissfully unaware that they are destined to lose 2-0. St Etienne were of course probably the best of the six teams that Town beat on our way to winning the UEFA Cup in 1981 (well, they had the best players) and Racing Club de Lens are geographically the nearest ‘top-team’ to Ipswich’s twin-town of Arras. Town really should try and have closer links to these two French clubs as much as to Fortuna Dusseldorf with whom Town have nothing in common. My dreams of matches in France are interrupted by an injury to Stephen Ward and the ‘will he/won’t he be substituted’ drama that ensues. Ward stays on. “Great recovery from the Irishman” says Brenner, as if the player’s nationality had a bearing on his being able to continue. Relieved, I return to Twitter where at Maes Tegid it is 0-0 between Bala Town and Haverfordwest in the Welsh Premier League, but getting more up to date I learn that Chris Venables has put Bala ahead with a penalty. At least Town are still winning and it sounds as if a Franz Beckenbauer-like surging run from James Wilson will make it 2-0, but Brenner pushes me back from the edge of my seat with the words “Sears shoots wide”.
I don’t know if the game is not that good, or Town aren’t playing very well, but Brenner goes off on an irrelevant tangent relaying every imaginable fact about Town’s previous runs of consecutive clean-sheets. I seek solace in Twitter again where Haverfordwest have equalised and I find confirmation of Nolan’s goal. With twenty minutes having passed Brenner succeeds in recapturing my attention with one of his moments of surrealist commentary as he refers to “Lewington with is captain’s armband on his left instep”. To protect my mental well-being I don’t think about it beyond briefly imagining team photos by Picasso.
Surrealism is replaced by tragedy as Stephen Ward leaves the pitch to be replaced by Miles Kenlock, Ward’s Irishness only being sufficient to beat the injury for no more than ten minutes. Meanwhile I have caught up with the Twitter feed to the extent that I have just seen Jon Nolan’s goal which someone has recorded off the ifollow on the telly. The goal was a mess but at least I have learnt that Town are playing in all blue and their opponents in all white, like a knock-off Leeds United. Twitter continues to be a source of joy as I discover that it is full time at match in Carrow Road and the away team have won, although more importantly the home team have lost.
A third of the match has passed and Brenner evidently thinks it is time to use some of his own brand of football-ese as the ball is crossed by one of the Dons and “…is plucked out of the sky by Holy”. It cannot be denied that Tomas Holy is very, or even very very tall, but it is open to debate whether he is capable of plucking something from the sky or indeed whether the cross was so high that the ball was ‘in the sky’ as opposed to just being ‘in the air’. Perhaps Brenner is very short, it’s hard to tell on the radio.
As half-time beckons I finally catch up to the very latest Tweets and Brenner and Alex provide a brief resume of the half, admitting that it’s “ all gone a bit flat”. MK Dons apparently look a “decent side” according to Brenner but he can’t help tempting fate by saying that they haven’t really looked “like troubling Holy” before again messing with the English language as he tells us that “Harvie plants one over the top”. In the final minute of the half Alex Mathie treats us to the sound of a stifled sneeze, for which he apologises, but I enjoyed it and was pleased that it revealed that despite having scored a hat-trick against Norwich, Alex is a mere mortal susceptible to the common cold or nasal irritation like me or Brenner.
Forty-five minutes are almost gone and Brenner sounds a trifle miffed that there will be five minutes of added time, as if he has to be off sharpish after the match, but he is more enthusiastic as he tells us that “…may be there is a chance for MK Dons to equalise before half-time”. They don’t equalise but it seems that the chance came courtesy of the Ipswich defence. “Bad defending” says Alex channelling Alan Hansen as only a fellow Scot could. The half-time whistle is blown and Alex concludes that Town “…just shaded it”, but he doesn’t sound convinced by his own words. Alex and Brenner both go on to list the Town players who have done okay, these are Freddie Sears, Toto Nsiala, Tomas Holy and Jon Nolan; I head downstairs to put the kettle on and avail myself of a Nature Valley Peanut and Chocolate protein bar by way of a half time snack.
The second half has already started by the time I return to the comfort of my Ikea Poang chair and I am thankful to my wife Paulene for telling me that Pompey had already scored at Burton which gave me the clue that play had probably resumed in Milton Keynes too. I am not reassured to hear Alex say that “We haven’t started the second half yet” and it becomes clear that the game has started but Ipswich Town haven’t. With nine minutes of the half gone Brenner repeats his description of the Town goal, substituting Nolan for Harvie. MK Dons have equalised. Unable to put my mobile phone down I switch from Twitter to Facebook where I see that ever-present Phil who never misses a game has issued a post, “Bugger” it says, and for a moment I think how wonderful it would be if that had been the radio commentary from Brenner or Alex.
Paul Lambert responds quickly to the goal for some reason, replacing Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop with little Alan Judge and Flynn Downes, which seems a bit hasty given that we have already had to make one enforced substitution due to Ward’s injury. Paul Lambert moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform however, and so too it seems does Miles Kenlock. “Kenlock’s gone to sleep” claims Brenner as Town’s opponents threaten to score again. Whether Kenlock suddenly woke up Brenner doesn’t say, but he does reveal that it was Town captain Luke Chambers who ultimately saved the day. There is a half hour left and it is made clear by Brenner that the Dons are definitely the best side at the moment.
As comfortable as I am in my Ikea Poang chair in a physical sense, my listening is not such a comfortable experience and things go from not ideal to worse as a Flynn Downes tackle injures Flynn himself instead of the opposition player and he has to leave the field of play; there is of course no remaining substitute to replace him. “It’s not particularly pleasant watching at the moment” says Brenner, and he prepares his listeners back in Suffolk for the worst by adding that “It looks like a matter of time before MK Dons score”.
Outside, the clouds have lifted slightly and a watery sunshine is leaking through the blinds of the spare bedroom. On Twitter, Racing Club de Lens have started to beat St Etienne courtesy of Gael Kakuta, who incidentally is Congolese like our very own Toto Nsiala. Barely able to listen to the tale of shattered hopes unfolding in Buckinghamshire I catch up with more latest scores on Twitter and take another look at Facebook, where it is apparent that on one of the Ipswich Town supporters’ groups someone has been streaming the game from the ifollow. This has ended in verbal abuse if not tears, as most things on social media do, and the stream has stopped, for which the streamer has somewhat predictably received a fresh dose of abuse. It pains me that Ipswich Town supporters can’t all be nice to one another, but sadly intolerance seems to be quite the fashion nowadays.
It’s almost ten to five and despite Alex’s wishful commentating with “Wouldn’t it be lovely if Town could nick one” in fact it sounds like Town are mostly struggling to hold on to the draw. “An awful moment of comedy there” says Brenner as if reviewing an episode of ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’, but actually telling us about Town’s defence. Happily however, Town survive and whilst Alex’s hopes are not realised Brenner’s prediction of MK Dons goals is not either, and at four minutes to five full- time is called. We may have missed the start of Crackerjack but at least we haven’t lost.
Not feeling as relieved as I should that we didn’t lose I remain slumped in my Ikea Poang chair. Brenner and Alex each provide their brief summary of the match. “It was 1-0 to Town in the first half, and 1-0 to MK Dons in the second half” says Brenner. “Ipswich won the first half and MK Dons won the second” says Alex. Feeling enlightened beyond my wildest dreams I head for my beer cupboard, where I intend to stay until the next proper game on Saturday week.