I am a little ashamed to admit it, but my record of seeing Ipswich play Blackpool is rather poor and weirdly, of the nine occasions on which I have seen Blackpool play away from home, six of them have been at Layer Road, Elm Park, Griffin Park or Fratton Park, not Portman Road. Of course I have excuses. Ipswich’s first nine fixtures against the Tangerines in the 1960’s and early 1970’s occurred before I attended my first game in April 1971. Town then didn’t play Blackpool at all throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s which were the years when I had the time, the money and inclination to rarely miss a game. When Town’s and Blackpool’s paths next crossed again, in the 2007/08 season, I am pleased to say I did make it to both Portman Road and Bloomfield Road; but one visit to the coastal town they forgot to close down was enough for me, and I haven’t been back since, despite the lovely trams.
In 2009 the home fixture versus Blackpool coincided rather inconveniently with my father’s funeral; I guess I could have sneaked away after the interment; he wouldn’t have minded I don’t suppose, particularly given that he was dead beneath a couple of metres of Suffolk sod, but some of the relatives and other folk left breathing might have thought it was a bit off. Since then, due to disillusionment inspired by the appointment of Roy Keane, a four year spell on the committee of an Eastern Counties League club and then a sudden illness I have made it to just two of the seven subsequent Portman Road fixtures. Today therefore I am rather chuffed to even be ‘virtually’ at the game, courtesy of the ifollow and I have even ordered a programme, which I am pleased to say has arrived in this post this morning; well played Royal Mail.
The post isn’t the only good thing about today I find. It’s a beautifully grey, dank winter’s day and a pall of dull cloud hangs over the horizon as I take a walk along puddle strewn roads between sodden fields and beneath the gaunt, dripping trees. It’s a lovely day for football. Back in the warmth of my centrally heated home I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ of fennel tea; I awoke in the small hours with a terrible stomach ache and it feels like it might still have a grievance. My wife Paulene is watching Troyes v Toulouse on BEINSports tv and I join her on the sofa for the top of the table Ligue 2 clash; Paulene kindly says she will forgo the second half so that I can watch the ifollow in the comfort of the living room; she’ll just sit and read.
Having left the Stade de l’Aube with second placed Toulouse enjoying a 1-0 half-time lead over first placed Troyes, I log into the ifollow in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots, Sheeran, Adolf and Brenner, being announced, or rather given their “Shout Out”, although thankfully no one actually shouts them out. The mascots’ names may really have been Sebastien, Brodie and Zak, but I couldn’t say for sure and I like to think either set of names is equally plausible. A brief excerpt of commentary follows from 2013 when a goal from the underrated but foolish Michael Chopra gave Town our last but one victory over Blackpool at Portman Road. Finally the main event arrives, and the BBC Radio Suffolk studio hands over to “Mick Mills alongside Brenner Woolley.”
Brenner’s opening gambit is that defeat for Town this afternoon is “something that simply cannot be allowed to happen” although he doesn’t raise our hopes much as he refers to Town being “stuck in this malaise”, and I imagine a world in which Morrissey is a BBC local radio football commentator. Brenner asks Mick what he makes of Luke Chambers being dropped from the team for today’s game. Mick is not surprised but clearly feeling solidarity with another Town captain he admits to feeling “shameful” about it, which he shouldn’t because unless he’s not telling us something it wasnt his decision. Mick explains how Chambers has been a “fabulous servant” and whilst he’s not a “10” each week, he’s never a “3” either, and is “…right in the middle of those”; which makes him a six and a half which is almost on the sunny side of solidly average. Mick carries on with his monologue and I drift off before I am eventually shaken from my reverie by Brenner’s joyful sounding reference to a possible “Sears, Parrott partnership”. I don’t suppose for a minute such a thing will happen and suspect Brenner simply liked the sound of those three words together, I know I did. Blackpool kick off towards Churchman’s in their “all tangerine” kit and Brenner ignores the white band across their shoulders.
It takes Brenner less than 47 seconds to use the phrase “early doors”, which is a new record; the doors are clearly getting earlier, very much Light My Fire rather than Riders on the Storm. Brenner quickly ploughs on through his regular obsessions, telling us that Luke Woolfenden has had his haircut ; “ gone is the alice band” he says, before revealing that the ball has been given away by the “Australian Dougal”, who sounds like a character in an antipodean version of the Magic Roundabout.
Town have started well. “A lot to like about that attack” says Mick as Myles Kenlock and the fabulously monikered and on-loan Troy Parrott link up. Nine minutes pass. “Very little in the way of goalmouth action so far” says Brenner bringing us back down to earth. Another Town attack flounders before getting inside the Blackpool penalty area. “Parrott lost his footing “ says Mick and childishly I laugh imagining a tropical bird falling off its perch.
“Corner kick in the rain” says Brenner coming up with what sounds like a song title as he combines commentary with a weather report. The corner comes to nothing, but it keeps on raining. “We’re quite strange to each other, this line-up” adds Mick having difficulty finding the right words to tell us that the Town players won’t be very familiar with each other as team mates. As if to prove Mick’s point the play immediately becomes a little messy, “Harum scarum” is how Brenner describes it, delving into his supply of slightly archaic expressions that most people no longer use. Myles Kenlock is booked for what Mick rightly labels an “unnecessary challenge” on Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel; Freddie Sears was covering but it was as if Kenlock had just wanted to kick Lawrence-Gabriel anyway, perhaps because of his unnecessarily extravagant surname.
The nearside of the pitch beneath the shadow of the West Stand is very wet and the ball doesn’t run freely here. “Held up in the brown ground” says Brenner finding a of saying mud without mentioning awful 1970’s pop bands. Blackpool are now having a bit more possession and have had a couple of decent opportunities from free kicks wide on their left. As another passing move breaks down Mick resorts to helpful homily, “They often say in football the simple ball is the most difficult one” he says, but taking care not to quote his sources.
Luke Thomas shoots wide for Town after another decent passage of play. “Blackpool have never ever won here” says Brenner, acknowledging that he is tempting fate but suggesting it’s okay if he says it very quickly, although I’m not sure that makes a difference unless fate is a bit hard of hearing. But Mick raises our spirits with what doesn’t sound too much like faint praise “We’re close, we’re close to playing some good stuff here”.
Thirty-eight minutes have gone since kick-off; Freddie Sears has a ‘goal’ disallowed for offside after some excellent play by Troy Parrott who is living up to his name and playing like a Trojan; “Really like Parrott” says Brenner, understandably. Mick’s only quibble with Town’s first half performance is the centre halves, of whom he says “They’re a bit easy-ozy”; it’s an expression that not even Brenner would use. Half-time is looming, it’s the 43rd minute and Brenner gets the opportunity to say “Town get a rare first half goal” as little Alan Judge strikes the ball with the outside of his right boot from at least 20 metres out. “Wa hey!” I shout, a little disbelievingly. But it’s true, and when half-time arrives Town are in the lead, although the ifollow half-time scoreboard still says the score is nil-nil, but I don’t expect any better of the EFL.
In the half-time break I drink another cup of fennel tea and eat a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar. I muse about how Blackpool were a top club in the late 1930’s through to the mid 1950’s and how back then their fans probably never imagined that they’d one day be playing a league fixture against Ipswich, certainly not one in the third division. Coincidentally, Town fans no doubt thought the same in about 1981. At 16:07 the game resumes and Brenner is soon saying “That would’ve been a fabulous goal from the home team” as Freddie Sears’ shot is saved by Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal. From the corner it‘s a matter of “…nodded down by Woolfenden and in” from Brenner after a Blackpool player obligingly heads the ball on at the near post. Town lead 2-0 and I’m cheering again, releasing that inner cheer which has been welling inside me in recent weeks with nowhere to go. Mick is so excited he can barely explain anything anymore “He just dinked it in to the, err empty sort of, not an empty net, but into the net, you know” he says incoherently.
Town look very good for the lead and are plainly the better team with the best players. Brenner starts getting clever. “Here’s Parrott, dropping off the front line” he says, clearly winning a bet to get the words ‘parrot dropping’ into his commentary. Mick meanwhile revisits his favourite lesson about the third goal being important; today he explains it succinctly and with crystal clarity, as if he’s been practicing. Town win a corner from an errant Blackpool pass “Corner from 40 yards, love it” says Mick, revelling in Town’s dominance and almost collapsing into laughter at Blackpool’s mistake. Within seconds he’s as giddy as Brenner and is talking about “gymnasium football” once again, the sort of football everyone else knows as 5-a-side.
Nearly an hour has been played. Troy Parrott is fouled by Chris Maxwell, who charged out of his goal to get him, Maxwell is booked and, Brenner tells us, is wearing a “washed out light green kit”, he’s the tangerine that hasn’t ripened. From an Andre Dozzell free-kick Mark McGuinness misses the goal with a header when he should score. “Definitely, the better side, Ipswich” says Brenner, once again using his trademark sentence construction of placing the subject at the end. Gwion Edwards replaces Luke Thomas. “The final 27 minutes” says Brenner, adding unexpected gravity to a random, and still quite lengthy amount of remaining time. Josh Harrop replaces Andre Dozzell and Oliver Norwood replaces Troy Parrott, whose name I will miss in Brenner’s commentary.
Twenty minutes remain. Oliver Norwood wins a corner from a low cross. Flynn Downes has a long conversation with the referee “… as he’s entitled to do” says Brenner in an oddly defensive way. “All very mannerly” continues Brenner, as if he would normally expect Downes to have head-butted him. The game resumes with a “corner-kick to Ipswich in the rain” as if somehow it’s not raining on all parts of the pitch, or it’s optional whether it is taken in the rain or not. In a slightly bizarre turn of events the referee then finds that the goal net at the North Stand end is not properly attached to the goal post; “He needs help from a handyman” explains Brenner.
Former Town player Grant Ward replaces Kenneth Dougall, who sounds like a composite of 1960’s and 70’s BBC newsreaders and Luke Garbutt, who also played for Town (on loan), replaces James Husband who was called Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s and played for Everton and Luton Town. These are Blackpool’s fourth and fifth substitutions of the game and it’s all too much for Mick “It’s hard to keep up with all this” he says playing the old duffer card, which Brenner might tell us he is entitled to do.
With seven minutes of normal time remaining Freddie Sears has a glorious chance for a third goal deflected away for a corner and then Mr Busby the referee has to be substituted because of what looks like a pulled hamstring. “I think all the substitutions have been made” quips Mick, sharp as a tack. The upshot is seven minutes of added on time, which passes without incident as Town continue to exercise control over the game. Asked by Brenner for his verdict at the final whistle Mick is clearly not getting carried away, as good a performance as this was, “A result that almost keeps us in touch” he says. Personally, I think this has been the first time we’ve played like a proper, half-decent football team all season, with everyone playing in a position that suits them. I don’t expect us to lose another game.