MK Dons 1 Ipswich Town 1

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.

Drip, drip, drip on the Begonias

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.

Half-time

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.

Ipswich Town 1 Peterborough United 4

This morning I awoke in Belgium. A couple of days on the windy West Flanders coast have passed in a flurry of sightseeing interspersed with seafood and glasses of excellent Orval, Chimay brun, Westmalle dubbel and advocaat plus rides on the brilliant Kusttram, the world’s longest tramline (68 kilometres).  Tonight KV Oostende have a home game with Sint-Tuiden, which they will win one-nil, and the Albertparkstadion or Versluys Arena as the sponsors would have it known is but a handy dozen stops away on the tram from where I have been staying, but I am loyal to Ipswich Town and courtesy of the E40, A16, le shuttle, M20, M25 and A12 and my trusty Citroën C3 I return home arriving shortly after 11am in plenty of time to catch the train to Ipswich.  I hope I don’t regret all this travelling and effort.

It’s a breezy, almost Spring-like day and some of the hedgerows have been fooled into blooming; yellow gorse almost glows on the bank behind the station platform.  I wait behind four millennials with scrubby, wispy attempts at beards who are struggling to buy tickets from the automatic ticket machine; I thought these ‘youngsters’ knew all about this technology.  The wait seemed longer than it was and the train is not due for another five minutes or it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t thirteen minutes late. I separate myself from the dozen or so people waiting for the train by the metal footbridge and sit further up the platform where a large, lumbering man swigs from a can of Abbott Ale; he looks like Jonathan Meades if Jonathan Meades wore a tracky top and woolly hat and swigged Abbot Ale from a can.  The man leaps into action with a film camera as an inter-city train thunders through the station; he’s a boozy, Jonathan Meades-look-a-like train spotter.  The whispering station announcements are carried away on the wind but heck, the train will either turn up or it won’t. It does.

Ipswich is busy with police, mostly stood in pairs, a policeman and a policewoman, like coppers on dates. The Station Hotel is enjoying the custom of Peterborough United supporters. I proceed in a north westerly direction on my way to St Jude’s Tavern.  In Portman Road a man who may have learning difficulties stands awkwardly as he stuffs his wallet and programme in his coat pockets; unwisely I make eye contact.  “What do you think the score will be today then?” he says as if he’s known me all his life and asks me this every week.  “I’ve absolutely no idea whatsoever” I reply as I walk on.

At St Jude’s I buy a pie (steak & kidney) and a pint (Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde Mild) for a fiver and sit at a table with one of the small group of old gits who are in here every match day.  Two more old gits arrive and then a third.  “If you’re not careful he’ll tell you about his scarf” says one of them about another who is wearing a football scarf. Unfortunately he does tell me about his scarf, which features the names and badges of both Ipswich Town and Fortuna Dusseldorf. The same man later relates how he lost his rucksack in Brussels and got on the wrong train, going to Antwerp instead of Bruges.  My eyes glaze over and the other old gits start to laugh; my honest face reveals the boredom we all share.

After another pint of Oscar Wilde Mild (£3.20) and more conversation, some of it about a big woman called Diane, who they know and I don’t, I make for Portman Road and the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. I don’t really know why but I buy a programme (£3.50), perhaps because it’s not every week we play Peterborough United. I sit down as the teams appear from the hole in the corner of the stadium.  Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, predictably, and today he is accompanied by young Elwood his heir. Pat from Clacton is here too and she knew I’d be here, even though I’ve been in Belgium.  The game begins with Ipswich getting first go with the ball and kicking it mostly towards me, Pat, Phil and Elwood when not going sideways and backwards.  The referee, Mr Andy Woolmer possesses the appearance of a vertically challenged skinhead, but in common with his two assistants he wears a salmon pink shirt T-shirt affair rather than a Ben Sherman.  The salmon pink shirts are possibly the result of Peterborough United’s decision to don a largely black kit, although with burgundy-coloured raglan sleeves and candy pink socks; for a football kit I find it overly camp.

The game begins in a swirl of passing and running about and these opening minutes are entertaining with the promise of a good match.  Peterborough, with their raglan sleeves hugging their muscular shoulders win the game’s first corner and the first shot ensues, a volley from Mark Beevers which Town goalkeeper Will Norris saves.   A tall man with quite long hair arrives late and shuffles along in front of Pat from Clacton and me; he sits next to me and places a large rucksack beneath his seat.   The noise in the ground is what you might expect from a football match although the Sir Bobby Robson stand supporters succeed in bringing the atmosphere down a notch with a typical rendition of the half speed, dirge version of “When the Town go marching in”; it’s as if they are toy bunnies whose Duracell batteries have all run down at once.

Back on the pitch and Town’s Luke Woolfenden appears to have recently visited a barbershop, or bought a little hat; fellow Blue James Wilson wears a matching design.  Behind me two blokes with local accents talk roughly and indistinctly as if they have mouths full of bees and every now and then I get a hint of body spray or eau de cologne, which smells faintly either of herbs or perhaps toilet duck.  Pat from Clacton decides to see if the popular crooner Ed Sheeran is here today and trains her telephoto lens on the executive boxes in whatever the West Stand is called nowadays.  I am impressed and a little worried that Pat knows where to point her camera to find the ginger multi-millionaire.  A man sat in front of Pat and me who has heavily brylcreemed hair suggests that Ed only comes to Cup matches, I make the point that he wouldn’t see many games in that case.  Pat soon shows me a grainy snap which confirms that Ed is ‘in the building’, although apparently he likes to leave early to beat the rush.  We coin the term ‘Patarazzi’ before Kayden Jackson wins a first corner for Town and some of the 1,908 Peterborough supporters in the Cobbold stand begin chanting “Who the fucking hell are you?” and then answer their own enquiry, albeit incorrectly, with “Shit Norwich City, you’re just a shit Norwich City”.  It’s not for nothing that the innate wit and ready repartee of people from Peterborough has never been mentioned before.  Displaying a misplaced and overblown faith in their own sense of superiority and importance which helps to explain the Brexit vote, the Sir Bobby Robson standers respond to the Peterborough-ites with chants of “Here for the Ipswich, you’re only here for the Ipswich”.

Fifteen minutes pass and wing back on-loan Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt has to be replaced by jazz trumpeter Myles Kenlock.  Luke leaves the arena gingerly drawing the top of the right leg of his shorts up to reveal an expanse of what we must guess is injured thigh.  A group of seagulls hover overhead, floating on the wind and getting a free view of the game.   Five minutes later and there is a rainbow above the corner of the Cobbold and Sir Bobby Robson stands, but it’s just reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets and has no bearing on the game although it’s not long before James Wilson fouls Peterborough’s Siriki Dembele in the penalty area and the linesman tells Mr Woolmer that he should award a penalty to the away team;  Ivan Toney scores as he sees Luke Norris feint to his right giving him the opportunity to coolly roll the ball to the goalkeeper’s left before Norris can react and follow the direction of the actual ball.

“It’s no Super Bowl” says one of the blokes behind me oddly, but in a rare moment of intelligibility. After 33 minutes the match is possibly even less like the Super Bowl, whatever that means, as Town goalkeeper Luke Norris attempts to dribble the ball around Peterborough’s Sammie Smozdics, but fails in his attempt thus allowing Sammie to score one of the easiest goals it is possible to score.  Is this the same Norris that used to be in Coronation Street I wonder to myself. Pat and I are disappointed but remain optimistic of a comeback. “If we can just get a quick goal” says Pat and I add fuel to optimism’s flames by expressing my sudden belief that being two goals behind isn’t really that different to being just one down, in fact it’s the same thing. Pat look⁹⁸s at me a little weirdly.  The blokes behind me leave their seats and don’t return before half time.  Four minutes of added time fail to deliver the quick goal that Pat from Clacton had been hoping for.

The toilet, the half-time scores and a koetjes reep (Flemish or Dutch for chocolate bar) await me.  It’s a particularly fine chocolate bar for which some of the proceeds go to fund Mercy Ships a charity which provides free surgery in sub-Saharan Africa for people in need and helps fight poverty and disease.  I flick through the over-priced and overly thick match programme, the front cover of which make me think it’s Christmas still; I think it’s the red lettering with dark background and the little white spots which look like snowflakes or fairy dust.  The featured player today in the programme is Gwion Edwards and for my amusement I read the largely boring, clichéd piece to myself in the voice of uncle Bryn from Gavin and Stacey.  There is still time to have a quick chat with Ray and his grandson Harrison before at six minutes past four the second half begins.

The blokes behind me have returned and unless they are simply calling out random small groups of numbers between two and six are deep in discussion about the formations of the teams.  I’m bored already and Pat from Clacton tells me how she’s having a baked potato for her tea, she always has baked potato for Saturday tea and always starts thinking about her tea when the football gets a bit too much to bear.  It’s not just a baked potato of course, there’s crab sticks too and other stuff I can’t remember; it’s a small feast with a baked potato as the centre piece.  I tell her I will be having sausage and mash, and it’s true, I will.

It’s only ten past four and the diminutive Siriki Dembele scores a third goal for Peterborough, perhaps whilst Ipswich’s defenders are wondering what they’ve got for tea. From the Cobbold stand it sounds as if the Peterborough supporters are singing “Ernie, Ernie, gives us a wave” and the huge white cross girder between the floodlights on the Sir Bobby Robson stand takes on a faint orange glow as it reflects the rays of the slowly sinking sun.  The Peterborough fans are now in cruise control and break into that old favourite “Is this a library”,  possibly because they have genuinely never been in a library and are curious.

Ipswich have been playing alright in that they have played attractively enough, but without really looking like they will score a goal.  It’s twenty-five to five now and Sammie Smozdics scores again for Peterborough as Ipswich’s defenders prove sluggish returning from an impromptu drinks break by the dugouts; getting the opposition out of position with a pitch-side drinks party seems like a useful tactic.  This fourth goal leads to a mass evacuation of the ground and I wonder how I missed hearing the unpleasant “Woo-oo, Woo-oo, Woo-oo” sound that the woman with the strange Irish accent always tells me about every time I visit a Portman Road toilet.   The old dear and old boy who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me get up to go. “We can see you sneaking out” says Pat from Clacton.  “I’m not sneaking, I’m proud to be going” says the old dear twisting logic to try and make a virtue of her despicable fickleness.

With hopes of anything other than misery and defeat receding faster than former Town centre forward Steve Parkin’s hair, Pat from Clacton tells me about a TV programme she will be watching tonight in which celebrities dress up as animals and sing whilst other celebrities have to guess who the disguised celebrities are.  I had thought Belgium was an odd country.

There is time for James Norwood to raise Town supporters’ spirits by a tiny amount by scoring a penalty after being hacked down by the lanky Mark Beevers, but nothing else occurs to ease the pain.  Ten minutes plus five minutes of added on time elapse and all that happens of note is that a shot from Peterborough’s Jack Taylor heads over the cross bar towards me and Pat from Clacton; the ball smacks the seats in front of us and unbeknown to us at the time also hits young Elwood on the back of the head.  Ever-present Phil comforts the lad and a paramedic gives him an ice pack to hold over the bump that he says has formed; it’s sad end to a depressing afternoon, but at least Pat from Clacton’s got a baked potato to look forward to, and I’ve got sausage and mash.

Ipswich Town 1 Rotherham United 0

January is reputedly the most miserable and depressing of months and the closer to the middle of January it gets the more miserable and depressing it becomes. The third Monday in January has been designated ‘Blue Monday’; nothing to do with The Blues of Ipswich Town but rather something to do with the pleasure and happiness of Christmas having worn off completely and the realisation for people that they are now deep in debt; the weather has something to do with it too. Today is only 12th January however, I have no debt and my Christmas was not noticeably any more happy or pleasurable than any other couple of days off work, and although the weather is grey and overcast today, I have an afternoon at Portman Road to look forward to.
My erstwhile colleague and still current friend Roly is waiting for me at the railway station, he is drinking a cup of coffee which I imagine he imagines lends him an air of sophistication. Ignoring this, I tell him how I long for the weekends when I see Town play and how I feel a curious kinship with the many species of Mayfly that live for but a few short hours. It’s a twelve carriage train so we wander down the platform away from everyone else knowing that we won’t have so far to walk to the bridge over the tracks when the train arrive at Ipswich station; every second counts in the all too brief joy of a pre-match drink and then the match. Roly fritters away some of our precious time getting a fresh twenty pound note from a cash machine, but we are soon heading for St Jude’s Tavern where we are going to meet Mick. Portman Road is busy, the ticket enquiry office bleeds out into the road with a queue of late comers taking advantage of the special offer of tickets in any part of the ground for just £12. People with nothing better to do queue for the turnstiles to open. I buy a programme (£3) from one of the portable kiosks, which always make me think of a Tardis piloted by a Dr Who played by Mick Mills, transporting us back to the 1970’s. The programme seller is unsmiling and I wonder if he and his colleagues have been instructed to no longer invite customers to “Enjoy the match”; if programme buyers are anything like many of the nasty, ignorant and rude people who seem to inhabit social media I imagine such words of goodwill are generally met with verbal abuse. How I long to live in a civilised country like France where it is impossible to even make eye contact with club employees on a match day without them wishing you “bon match”.
In St Jude’s Tavern a group of three very young looking lads with Yorkshire accents buy two Coca-Colas and a pint of lager whilst I wait to purchase two pints of the Match Day Special (£2.50 a pint), which today is Cliff Quay Brewery Neptune’s Nip; Mick appears, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn to bump my order up to three pints and the barman for some reason makes an un-necessary association between Neptune’s Nip and Poseidon’s penis. Roly, Mick and I sit at a table next to the young Yorkshiremen. We talk of Ipswich’s new signings and Mick is impressed at Roly’s knowledge, which he imparts with a weightiness of tone as if to say “…these are the facts, think otherwise if you wish, but I will not be held responsible.” I sit and listen and hope he gets to the bar soon because I need to drink as much as possible before the match to dull the pain. Roly buys the next round of Match Day Specials which is now Cliff Quay Brewery’s Tolly Roger (still £2.50 each). Whilst Roly is at the bar I get Mick to show me how he has so neatly tied his blue and white scarf around his neck. “It’s like a cravat” he tells me. I follow his instruction and achieve the desired look of Michael Palin in the episode of Ripping Yarns entitled ‘Golden Gordon’. The Yorkshire lads have left leaving two half glasses of Coca Cola and most of a pint of lager, very strange. I imagine they’ve gone to see if there is a rain gauge at the town hall. Before we leave I feel the solitary need to sink a further half pint of Cliff Quay Brewery Sir Roger’s Porter (£1.70), and then one of the retired gentlemen I drank with before the Millwall game on New Year’s Day comes over to say hello and remarks that I have some friends with me today. I tell him yes and that I therefore don’t need his company.
Glasses drained and returned to the bar, we negotiate the door and descend Portman Road, crossing Handford Road and joining the expanding throng of match-goers. At the turnstiles in Sir Alf Ramsey Way we walk past the end of the queues of the first block of gates to reach the second turnstile block where there are no queues; I smile to myself about how stupid people are who join the first queue they come to and surmise that they probably voted ‘leave’ too. The lady turnstile operator and I smile broadly to one another as I pass through and Mick reveals that she smiled at him too when Roly complains that his turnstile operator was miserable. He cannot understand it he tells us, explaining that he is so much younger and therefore more attractive than Mick and me.
Once inside the East of England Co-op stand bladders are emptied and we head for our seats. Because the tickets are a mere £12 each today I have traded up my usual seat with the groundlings of the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and have taken up a place with Mick in the upper tier of the East of England Co-op Stand. The view of the game is better here, but it is also somehow a little too far removed from it, as if we are watching on TV and I sense that some of the people around me will be just waiting for a convenient break in play to go and put the kettle on. It wouldn’t occur to them to shout or chant in support of the team, they truly are just spectators and nothing more.

Phil and Pat

After group photos for the family album are posed in the centre circle, the game begins with Town kicking-off with their backs towards ever-present Phil who never misses a game and Pat from Clacton, who I can see in their usual seats in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, or Churchman’s as us people who remember the ’good old days’ call it. Town sport their usual blue and white kit despoiled by an ugly advertisement for an organisation of on-line scammers. The usual team colours of today’s opponents Rotherham United are red and white, but eschewing the opportunity to recreate the classic blue and white versus red and white Subbuteo encounter, they wear an un-necessary change kit of yellow shirts with pale blue sleeves, and pale blue shorts and socks.

insipid kit and a yellow card

Sadly Rotherham’s kit is insipid and somewhat effete; it detracts from the spectacle and speaks nothing to me of Yorkshire grit and scrap reclamation for which Rotherham is rightly famed.
The match is fast and furious and lacks finesse but unusually Ipswich have the upper hand. There is an air of expectation as a bevy of debutants (or debutantes if you prefer to see this match as a sort of ‘coming out’ ball) before the home crowd. The transfer window is open and a wind of change is blowing through Portman Road as Paul Lambert gets to choose his own players rather than just make do entirely with what he has inherited from that false Messiah, Paul Hurst.

James Collins

Outstanding in the Ipswich defence is an enormous bald-headed man by the name of James Collins; he is thirty-five years old but looks fifty, he is a colossus and carries the Ipswich rear guard on his back like Atlas, though not literally of course. If for some bizarre reason I were to make a TV adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, I would cast James Collins as Jean Valjean, not Dominic West.
With only twelve minutes gone referee Mr James Linington brandishes his yellow card in the direction of Rotherham’s Zak Vyner, a man whose name is distinguished by having more than its fair share of letters from the back end of the alphabet and is worth a decent score in the brand of imaginary Scrabble in which only footballers names and not proper words are currency. It’s one of the few popular actions Mr Linington makes all afternoon, although I do approve of his choice of all-black kit; it’s what referees should wear.
A half an hour passes and Freddie Sears scampers down the left; he gets beyond the Rotherham defence and crosses the ball low to the near post. No one has control and the ball looks like it is trying to escape, but it only runs as far as new signing Will Keane, who despite the unpleasant associations of his surname and a hairstyle more becoming of the Eastern Counties League strikes a low shot into the goal. The crowd rises as one and all but the 729 Rotherham United fans in the corner of the Cobbold Stand enter a state of joyful delirium. Town lead 1-0.
It’s half-time and the toilet beckons; as I enter the ‘smallest room’ in the stadium I hear Roly giving his friend Andrew from Bury St Edmunds the benefit of his analysis of the first half; he sounds very earnest, like a bearded, Caucasian Garth Crooks; I stand next to him at the urinal and open-zippered tell him I disagree with his analysis, although in truth I hadn’t heard what he had said. I wash my hands and am amused by the words ‘Danger Electricity’ which appear on the top of the hand dryer “ Ah, the old enemy , electricity” says Roly convincingly.
The game begins again and the two blokes behind me discuss refurbishing a kitchen; “ Seriously, if you do it, I can get you a 10% discount at B&Q.” says one “ Does that include stuff already on offer?” says the other, looking a gift horse in the mouth. But I shouldn’t be surprised, these two haven’t a clue who any of the Town players are and are clearly here because the tickets are cheap. Out of the kitchen and back on the pitch the match has changed. Ipswich no longer dominate, quite the opposite in fact. They are incapable of retaining the ball for more than a few seconds and have seemingly abandoned all attempts to pass it to one another. Rotherham produce wave after wave of ineffectual attacks which are repelled by a mighty rear guard action from the Blues. This is good on one level but immensely frustrating, worrying and disappointing on another. We are making Rotherham look like Paris St Germain; lose this and they’ll be wanting to take the Eiffel Tower down for scrap.
Despite Town’s apparent ineptness, brought on in my opinion by a shortage of proper midfield players, the crowd of 20,893 remain firmly behind the team. The lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, galvanised by the Blue Action supporters group and some welcome support from a bunch of fans of Fortuna Dusseldorf, Town’s unofficial ‘twinned club’ are proving inspiring, and every now and then even people in the East of England Co-op Stand are moved to clap their hands rhythmically. The floodlights are on as darkness envelopes the town and we benefit from the atmosphere of a night match, but Town still struggle to do anything but defend. On the touchline Paul Lambert the Town manager is very active, prowling up and down the technical area and swinging his arms directorially. I suggest to Mick that he’s probably just trying to keep warm because as ever he is in black slacks and a v-necked Marks & Spencer jumper and not wearing a coat, but Mick tells me in an authentic sounding Scottish accent that this is T-shirt weather.

Mr Lambert and his 'Marks and Spencer' jumper

Mr Limington the referee awards a catalogue of free-kicks to Rotherham, most, seemingly because a Town player has simply stood too close to one from Rotherham or has given him a funny look. The crowd tell Mr Limington he doesn’t know what he’s doing although I would prefer that they had asked “Who’s the bastard in the black?” Flynn Downes replaces German debutant Collin Quaner for Town as Paul Lambert reacts to that need for a stronger midfield and the bloke behind me with the kitchen asks “Who’s that?” “ Number twenty-one” says the bloke with connections at B&Q.
Finally, after five minutes of added time and a couple of narrow escapes for Town, Mr Limington gets something right and blows the full-time whistle unleashing rapturous scenes. The Sir Bobby Robson Stand finds a bigger voice than at any time during the match and hails the winners. It is a famous victory, as any victory is in this season mostly of defeats. But whilst the win is much needed and keeps hope alive, what this match has really shown is that people still care enough to come to a game, discounted prices or not, and Suffolk is still behind its team. Whether Town escape relegation or not, if managed properly this could be the start of a renaissance for Town and a re-connection with its fan base; I bloody well hope so.

Ipswich Town 1 Leeds United 0

Today sees the fourth game at Portman Road in 26 days, it’s as if Town don’t play away from home anymore and I’m getting a bit fed up with it to be honest and hanker after a change of scenery. The wide open spaces of non-league football are ever more attractive compared to the claustrophobic pall of gloom that hangs around Portman Road and seemingly seeps from the pores of so many home ‘supporters’.
But what’s this? Today Ipswich are playing Leeds United and I shall transport myself back to the 1970’s with a scarf tied round my wrist, double denim, feather cut and platforms. In my mind Leeds United embody the 1970’s, that awful but grimly fascinating and rather marvellous decade, and I love to see a game against Leeds United because of that, and also Leeds are guaranteed to bring a good number of supporters who are equally guaranteed to make a noise and create that rare thing at Portman Road, a bit of atmosphere and the sensation that there is a football match taking place.
It is a dull, grey January day as I head for the railway station past flat, featureless, cold

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fields above which a few seagulls circle. At the station I meet Roly who has travelled from Borley and looks slightly disagreeable as he clutches a paper cup of coffee. He admits to having eaten a bacon butty from the station buffet and says that he only feels marginally happier than if he hadn’t eaten it, which for a greedy man like Roly means it was not a good bacon butty.

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The train is three minutes late due to ‘congestion’ attributed to engineering works.
Once on the train we discuss grandmothers sucking eggs and how the use of powdered egg affected this during World War Two; we also discuss the relative merits of the minute’s silence or applause at the start of football matches. I long to be trusted to be respectfully silent in a dead person’s honour as football fans used to be, but Roly points out that there is now an unwritten etiquette of applauses for individuals who have shuffled off the mortal coil naturally, whilst armistice day and terrorist attacks and the like attract a silence. We agree that an applause in the wake of a terrorist attack might be misconstrued, but it nevertheless makes us laugh.

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Arriving in Ipswich we are greeted by a posse of police on the station forecourt. The Station Hotel opposite looks packed, there is condensation on the windows, bums on the window sills and a crowd of Leeds fans occupy the car park and garden.

 

 

It’s not the prettiest riverside setting, but probably makes these Yorkshiremen feel at home, like they’re down by t’canal. Roly and I stroll on and the Leeds United team bus passes us heading towards Portman Road, which is the scene of a military operation. Police vans partly

block the road whilst policemen are strung across the road restricting the easy flow of people along the street. The Leeds team bus has disappeared into the yard behind the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and a group of people clamour around the gates, presumably seeking a glimpse of Leeds players, or maybe they’re bus spotters. We walk on, a group of late-middle aged men meet beneath the hollow gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s insouciant statue.

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In St Jude’s Tavern we each drink a pint of today’s ‘match day special’ (£2 a go) which is Elgood’s Festive Feelgood; we talk football and in particular of the myriad of players who have appeared for Town in the last twenty years or so. We speak of Kevin Ellis, who made one appearance against Arsenal in the Premier League 1995, remained at the club for two more years before going to King’s Lynn and never playing another game for a League club. We both have another pint of the ‘match day special’ and then I have a half of St Jude’s Hazelnut Stout (£1.80), partly because I feel guilty about only drinking the cheap beer. It’s only 2.30pm, but Roly is eager to leave so that he can buy a pie; he is probably not obese, but he could easily become so. We part in Portman Road because Roly’s seat is in the posh seats in the East of England Co-operative Stand, where by rights he should get divvy on his pie.
In Portman Road the police are hard at work controlling the crowd for whatever reason, which means not allowing passage behind the Cobbold Stand for home fans and sending us all around the ground and back up Princes Street to get access to the Sir Alf Ramsey

stand. I don’t mind; this scenic route, it makes a change. I buy a programme from a girl in a kiosk on the corner of Alderman Road and pass by the main entrance to the club as a massive black Bentley sweeps through the gate.
By the time I’ve enjoyed my walkabout and the street theatre that the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary are providing today it’s nearly time for kick –off and the teams are soon on the pitch when I take up my seat. Before the game today there is a minute’s applause for Ted Phillips, one of the greatest players ever to represent Town, who died this week at the age of eighty-four. Ted was in the teams that won the Third Division South, Second Division and First Division championships and in total scored 181 goals in 295 games. We’ll probably not see his like again, definitely not for the twenty-odd quid a week he got paid. I would happily stand and applaud him all afternoon and am very disappointed that his picture is not on the cover of the programme.
The game kicks off and is closely fought, but this is not a Leeds United I recognise, this team is the anti-thesis of the renowned Lilywhites, this team are wearing an all-black kit,

they could be anyone; a team of referees. Leeds United in all-black, it’s just wrong. But happily the Leeds fans are still the same; loud, raucous, foul-mouthed and very heavily stewarded. There are even police inside the stadium today, although strangely they seem to be watching the home fans. Without the Leeds fans this game would be dull like all the others; they have the whole of the Cobbold Stand today and have displaced Ipswich season ticket holders, but it was the right thing to do, it has made this game special and if Ipswich hasn’t got supporters interested in filling the ground and creating a match atmosphere, then let someone in who has. Nevertheless, there are only 18,638 of us here today and that is despite the addition of visiting supporters of Fortuna Dusseldorf who have adopted Town as their English team; we seem to have lost nearly 20,000 people somewhere since Town met Leeds in the FA Cup sixth round in 1975.
There are a lot of fouls in this game, a nostalgic nod to ‘dirty Leeds’ of the 1970’s perhaps, but the fouls are mostly clumsy rather than cynical, niggly or vicious although both teams’ physios are called upon to treat the wounded. Like most Second Division matches nowadays it’s a bit of a mess, as once again levels of effort and running exceed levels of skill. I nevertheless think I see Town captain Luke Chambers quite artfully control the ball and pass it accurately and then look rather pleased with himself; it may just have been a look of surprise however.
It’s not a bad game, but the presence of the noisy away support is carrying it somewhat. It takes until the 19th minute for the first decent shot on goal and this is followed by the news from the Leeds fans through the medium of “Cwm Rhondda” that “your support is fucking shit”. It’s taken them a while to realise this but they got there in the end. It doesn’t look like either team is particularly likely to score and then in the 37th minute the odds on a goal shift in Town’s favour as Leeds United’s Eunan O’Kane is sent off by referee Robert Jones for an off the ball assault (headbutt)on Town’s Jonas Knudsen.

 

Everyone loves a sending off, if it’s not one of their own players. Kane must walk the full length of the pitch and a Leeds fan set off a fire cracker, the loud crack and the smoke just add to the drama and excitement.

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After four minutes of time added on for injuries and sundry stoppages, during whichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Town’s on-loan Kosovan Bersant Celina hits a post with a shot, the imposing Mr Roberts, who likes to stand with his hands on his hips, blows his whistle for half-time. I head down to the concourse and devour a piece of left-over Christmas cake that I had brought with me in lieu of thebacon butties or pies that others might eat to see them through the afternoon. I gaze up at the TV set delivering the half-time scores and first half stats, which are clearly wrong. I learn that I could buy a hospitality package for £35 plus VAT. I look at the programme and am impressed by the diversity of the Leeds squad with players from fifteen different countries. Ipswich players come from just seven countries, and one of them is Wales. The Leeds squad also has some fine surnames, my favourites being Roofe and Grot although Borthwick-Jackson and Peacock-Farrell also deserve a mention. Inside the programme there is a tribute to Ted Phillips, but if as the tribute says he is a legend, and he is, it should probably run to several pages, not just two. Also in the programme is the usual piece from club captain Luke Chambers. Luke is in philosophical mood today and amongst other nuggets says “I think football stadiums in general have become places where supporters can vent their frustrations over 90 minutes, sometimes that frustration comes from life as much as football. You see it everywhere now ”. It’s a very funny read.
For the second half I decide to sit with Pat from the Clacton-On-sea branch of the supporters club because the people near where Pat sits seem to have a bit more life in them, although they don’t really sing either, and at least when I do they laugh. The players and officials return to the pitch and Mr Roberts crosses himself, which is pure showmanship and not really becoming of a referee, but hey-ho.
The Leeds fans are still in good voice and treat the home crowd to renditions of “We all love Leeds and Leeds and Leeds” to the tune of ‘The Dambusters’ March’. Soon afterwards the chant of choice switches to “ We are Leeds, We are Leeds, We are Leeds” to no particular tune at all and then “When the Whites (sic) Go Marching In”, forgetting that their team is wearing all black, which may be why they previously had to remind themselves that they are Leeds.
Ipswich’s superiority in numbers isn’t making very much difference, although they are having more possession than usual and Leeds are not looking very likely to score. It will take a moment of very inept play or one of special skill to get a goal from this game and surprisingly it’s the latter that comes to pass in the 67th minute. Bursant Celina receives the ball from a throw-in on the left; he drifts in towards the centre of the field running sideways like a stray dog before suddenly unleashing a beautiful, gently dipping, but powerful shot into the corner of the Leeds goal. It truly is a thing of beauty, mostly because it is scored by someone in an Ipswich shirt.
Ipswich should really press home their advantage even more now, but they don’t, although they are the dominant team.

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At the side of the pitch the managers and coaches are animated, the Spanish Leeds manager looking sharp in a smart, tailored coat, Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor looking like a couple of scallies in anoraks and tracky bottoms.

 

A Leeds substitute comes on with his socks turned up over his knees so that he is in black from neck to toe like a mime artist, but for some reason he also reminds me of Papa Lazarou in League of Gentlemen. The Leeds players become frustrated, particularly their Swedish centre-half Pontus Jansson who deserves an award for succeeding in getting the bulk of the North Stand lower tier to sing loudly in unison; to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, they chant, even if it is just to ask “Who the fuck, Who the fuck, Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” and then, after presumably consulting their programmes to answer their own curiosity “Jansson, Jansson, you’re a cunt”. The upshot is that Jansson is booked by Mr Roberts, possibly for having inspired the putting of rude words to a hymn tune, but more probably for persistent fouling.
There is not long left but Town have to hold out against a late Leeds onslaught in which goalkeeper Dean Gerken saves the day with a fine dive to his right to parry away a shot from Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who is German. Finally however, Mr Roberts calls time; it has been an enjoyable afternoon for several reasons; Ipswich have won, the goal was spectacular and the opposition have had a player sent off, but also because of the presence of the Leeds fans who have created an atmosphere usually so sadly lacking at Portman Road. I am look forward to next season’s game already, if I can survive all the dreary ones in between.