Portsmouth 2 Ipswich Town 1

Today is the United Nations International Day of Happiness.  Looking out of my kitchen window I see that the International Day of Happiness is dull; the sky is grey and overcast; worse still, this afternoon’s match between Ipswich Town and Portsmouth at Fratton Park kicks off at one o’clock, when I should happily be enjoying lunch or a pre-match pint.   More pleasingly, because my wife Paulene supports Portsmouth, we shall therefore be watching the game together.  Over a cup of coffee at breakfast I ask her if she is excited about today’s game.  She confesses that she is not.  Portsmouth’s recent form has been as poor, even worse than Ipswich Town’s.  The appointment of a new manager has not inspired her, Paulene cannot get excited about an appointment known as “The Cowleys”, and the fact that they managed Braintree Town seems to trouble her.

The early kick-off will probably spoil my whole day,  it did when Town played at Gillingham a fortnight ago,  although the final score played a part in that.   Football needs to be at 3 o’clock, so at least I get a decent few hours to enjoy in the morning.  Sensing that my negative feeling towards today’s fixture mean that I’m not really entering into the spirit of United Nations International Day of Happiness I try to spread some joy and write a birthday card for my step-son’s mother-in-law’s partner Larry,  who is eighty years old today.  Happy Birthday Larry.  Larry is not really much of a football fan, he’s more into Far Eastern philosophy, although we did once go and watch Coggeshall Town play Witham Town in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.

With the Portsmouth v Ipswich fixture being our household ‘derby’ I am tuning into the ifollow to watch an away game for the first time.  This means that I shall not be able to listen to my usual source of knowledge and insight, the commentary of Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills from BBC Radio Suffolk, but will instead be relying upon Brenner’s equivalent at BBC Radio Solent, a radio station that I like to think broadcasts from the sea bed and therefore has presenters who look like the cast of Gerry Anderson’s Stingray.  We log-in just in time to hear the puppet presenters giving their predictions for this afternoon’s final score.  “Ipswich are terrified of the ball” announces someone, I don’t know who, as they justify why Pompey will win.  The predictions are 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0 to Pompey. 

Brenner’s underwater equivalent announces that this afternoon’s match sees the start of “… a new era against a team that will provide memories of an old one”.  Different club, different radio station, same old cliché-ridden, hackneyed drivel I think to myself.   The commentator’s side-kick is introduced as former Pompey striker Guy Whittingham, “Danny Cowley is an experienced man” says Guy, “so is Nicky” he adds as an obvious afterthought.  Any bloke over forty who isn’t a man because of recent gender re-assignment could probably be said to be “an experienced man” though.

The game begins and I learn that the aquatic version of Brenner is called Andrew Moon; he is soon describing Ipswich’s third choice shirt. “It’s what I am going to call maroon shirts with dark red stripes” says Moon, revealing straightaway that he is either colour blind or has no words in his vocabulary for dark blue.  Much like Brenner would, he soon proceeds to tell us that “Paul Cook is watching the game very casually, with a mug of coffee in his hand”.  Very quickly it is apparent that Moon has the same book of commentator’s words and phrases as Brenner.  “Naylor goes to ground” he says as the Pompey number four scurries into a burrow.  Minutes later Town earn a free-kick close to where the touchline meets the by-line; it’s“ a glorified corner” according to Moon; it’s not a phrase I’ve yet heard trip from the mouth of Brenner,  but it would be worthy of him.

Fourteen minutes pass.  “No significant opportunities at either end as yet” says Moon.  Four minutes later Jack Whatmough fouls the oddly named Keanan Bennetts. “Surely, has to be a booking” says Moon showing admirable impartiality and honesty worthy of the BBC and its Reithian values.   Craig McGillivray makes a decent flying save from little Alan Judges resultant free-kick.  Moon emulates Brenner by mentioning the weather, “Spring not quite here yet” he adds, giving closure to the subject.

Nearly half an hour has gone and the oddly named Keanan Bennetts wins the game’s first corner, excluding ‘glorified corners’ that is.  Four minutes later a fine passing move ends with an exquisite through ball from Gwion Edwards, which sends James Norwood into the Pompey penalty area where slightly unexpectedly he lashes the ball into the far corner of the net past a motionless McGillivray. Town lead 1-0, “… probably deservedly so, on play” says Guy Whittingham grudgingly and weirdly implying that there is another means to assess who deserves to be winning other than ‘play’.  I suspect the ‘Whittingham method’ may be based on which team is wearing shirts with a crescent moon and star badge or contains players with the surnames Harness, Cannon and Raggett.

As I boldly begin to enjoy the game and imagine the name of Ipswich Town proudly ensconced in fifth place in the third division table Pompey win a corner.  The ball narrowly avoids the head of Toto Nsiala at the near post before Pompey’s Tom Naylor heads the ball onto the far post which in turn diverts it into the goal.  “Naylor scores the first goal of the Danny Cowley era” says Moon moronically in the style of some hack reporter.  “Portsmouth have a leveller they probably don’t quite deserve” he adds more intelligently.  Half-time arrives shortly after Pompey’s Ronan Curtis shoots wide with Luke Chambers struggling to get back and defend.

Half-time is busy.  A parcel is delivered by Hermes, or as I childishly call them Herpes.  It reminds me of an aircraft carrier-related joke which seems appropriate on a day when we are playing Portsmouth.  A man tells his friend he has Hermes. “You mean Herpes” says the friend. “No, Hermes” says the man “I’m a carrier”.   I pour myself a glass of Westmalle Dubbel Trappist beer, in part to celebrate James Norwood’s excellent goal and in part to blot out the disappointment of Pompey’s equaliser. I make Paulene a mug of hot chocolate.

Ipswich get first go with the ball when the game re-starts and are attacking the Milton End, where in normal times their followers would be sat, glumly supporting their team.  Town have two shots on goal within the first couple of minutes.  Five minutes into the half Pompey earn another corner, which Town fail to deal with comfortably as a Pompey player wins the initial header. The ball is eventually claimed by Tomas Holy.  Ronan Curtis becomes the second Pompey player to be booked, following a foul on Teddy Bishop.  “Probably the correct call” says Moon again showing the sort of fair, honest commentary you’d expect of the BBC, but for which Brenner Woolley would be criticised for being biased in favour of the opposition.  After the delay for the booking, little Alan Judge prepares to take the free-kick.  “The referee says off you go” is Moon’s slightly weird, imagined rendition of the conversation that precedes it.  

The second half is not as good as the first from an Ipswich perspective. We are no longer the better team as Pompey dominate down their left, and I am now beginning to miss the wise and plentiful words of Mick Mills who would have explained where Town are going wrong if this were a home game.  Guy Whittingham is no more a fitting substitute co-commentator for Mick than John Stirk was a fitting substitute full-back.  Andrew Moon however, is showing that he has all the peculiar commentating skills of our own Brenner Woolley as he speaks of a Pompey player “rubbing his face in frustration” (as you do) and “Portsmouth picking up the pieces in the shape of Naylor” which has my mind’s eye working overtime and imagining what a football match painted by Pablo Picasso would look like.  Moon then goes for his hat-trick of facile references to the perceived ‘new era’ with “The first substitution of the Cowley era” as Ben Close replaces Andy Cannon, moments after the referee creates his own hat-trick of Pompey bookings  with Andy Cannon’s name.

For Town Armando Dobra replaces the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts. James Norwood and Ronan Curtis argue like schoolgirls,  but according to Moon “Neither of them is stupid enough to be lulled in to doing something”.    It’s an odd bit of commentary that barely makes sense in relation to the on-screen pictures and there is every possibility that Moon means provoked instead of lulled, unless perhaps what looks like an exchange of verbal abuse is in fact the two players singing softly to one another .

More than once Moon refers to Tomas Holy as the “big Czech”, as if his nationality mattered,  and then with 20 minutes gone Town win their first corner of the second half.  Presumably having found a free page in his notebook, Mr Young turns his attention to Ipswich and books Gwion Edwards and Luke Chambers in quick succession.  Moon tells us that “A loud, gruff, Scouse accent shouts for the touchline”, which is quite reassuring for Town fans as long as Paul Cook is coaching the Town players and not just giving us his version of “Twist and Shout”.

Seventy one minutes have passed and Teddy Bishop becomes the equaliser in Mr Young’s private booking competition before we hear Moon excitedly say “…and Marcus Harness has turned it around for Portsmouth” and my heart sinks as  I watch Harness get two shots on goal, the second one of which tickles the net.  “Cowley’s certainly injected something into this team” continues Moon raising hopes that Town will be awarded the points when the Pompey players fail the post-match drugs test.  

Town are never in the game again.  “Step up” shouts a Cowley from the touchline; Pompey do, Town don’t.   Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace little Alan Judge and James Wilson, but to no avail.  Pompey’s Michael Jacobs edges the booking competition in Pompey’s favour.  With less than two minutes of normal time remaining Troy Parrott replaces Teddy Bishop.  Paulene answers the front door because Town have a free-kick and I refuse to leave the sofa; it’s my step -son calling to collect Larry’s birthday card.  The free-kick produces nothing.   Tomas Holy saves a header from James Bolton as another Pompey corner troubles the Town defence.  Five minutes of added on time raise my hopes “Five minutes!” exclaims Paulene “where did they get that from?”

It doesn’t matter where the five minutes came from, because it goes and the game ends. Ipswich lose, Pompey win. There is no mention of any Pompey players failing the drugs test.  Paulene apologises for my disappointment.  We are told that this is the first time Pompey have come back to win after going a goal behind in nearly two years.  Frankly, the United Nations International day of Happiness has not lived up to expectations, but at least I can look forward to the company of Brenner again next week.

Ipswich Town 0 Portsmouth 2

This morning I have lost two hours of my life.   Waking up just before five o’clock, nature calls and I answer, but returning to bed I struggle  to sleep as my nose starts to run and I become restless.  I hear the clock strike six and then after fitful sleep I am sure I hear it strike seven.  I’ll get up soon I think to myself.  My wife Paulene is a light sleeper, the other half of the bed is vacant; but she’s often up before six.  I lie there, luxuriating in the warmth of a bed on a winter’s morning.  Time passes; I raise my arm and look at my watch.   It’s twenty-two minutes past nine. Twenty-two minutes past nine!  Confused and befuddled I leap out of bed, shower, dress and head downstairs where Paulene addresses me with a predictable greeting of “ At last!”

Feeling a mixture of guilt and disappointment that the waking moments of my precious weekend have carelessly been shortened, after eating a breakfast of porridge as a tribute to families of bears everywhere, I throw myself into Christmas card writing and present wrapping as I seek redemption.  By one o’clock all cards are written, envelopes addressed and stamped, and I take them to the post box, which I can see from my kitchen window.  The day is cold, damp and grey as December days should be.  I skip over the muddy verge; my footsteps disturb the shallow puddles of the wet pavement; I discover that my old pair of shoes, which I keep in the kitchen for gardening in, leak.   Back in the warmth and dry I surround myself with Christmas gifts, Christmas paper, sellotape and scissors.  By a quarter to three the presents are wrapped; I am redeemed and ready to visit Portman Road through the medium of the ifollow.  I celebrate with a pre-match ‘pint’ (actually only 330ml) of Brewdog Lock Down, described on the tin as a Guava & Grapefruit Pilsner, which I take from my beer-a-day advent calendar.  Served cool on a hot summer’s day it would be refreshing, but it’s hardly a beer for a northern European winter’s day.

In the living room Paulene is aghast at a day-time tv programme in which a morbidly obese woman is fitted for an unsuitable wedding dress whilst frequently breaking down in tears because of unresolved psychological issues.  Car crash tv such as this is horribly compelling and it’s gone five to three by the time we can tear ourselves away from the sight of the not quite as obese but very sweaty and terrified looking groom waiting at the altar.  I access the ifollow just as the pictures from Portman Road switch to an advert for the ifollow, which seems a bit pointless given that I am already watching it. By the end of the commercial break it’s gone three o’clock and the game hasn’t started. Paulene looks at her phone and an app which says that the game is three minutes in.  I check my lap-top and find a red on-screen button displaying the word ‘Live’; I click it and the broadcast miraculously moves forward in time to the fourth minute.  That’s another three minutes of my life I’ve lost today.

I am calmed by the soothing voice of Mick Mills “I think we’re one of the better teams in the division” says Mick.  “What you have to remember is this is not a good division” he adds, like a punchline.  That one-liner aside, Mick is in positive mood and tells us that Town will be confident after last week’s win at Plymouth.  I hope he’s right, but Paulene doesn’t because she supports Portsmouth.  “Light rain tumbling at Portman Road” says Brenner Woolley poetically.  “Headed on by the pony-tailed Marquis” he continues, although I think he means Harness because Pompey’s John Marquis doesn’t have a ponytail, whereas Marcus Harness does, and what’s more his first name and surname rhyme delightfully, but Brenner doesn’t mention that.  “We were slow with the free-kick and very, very slow with the throw-in” says Mick casting early doubt on Town’s confidence.

With nine minutes gone a shot from John Marquis on the turn is very well saved by Town goal keeper David Cornell, who Brenner consistently refers to as Dai.  Pompey win a succession of corners, although quite how many is unclear as the caption on the screen says three but Brenner says four.  “They’re beginning to settle better than Town” says Mick of Pompey, questioning further his opening statement about Town’s confidence.  “Portsmouth the better side at the moment” confirms Brenner, for those who might not have grasped the implication of Mick’s comment.   “Bouncing the ball off each other like a ping pong machine” says Mick inventing a new type of machine in order to illustrate just how Pompey are currently the better side.

Happily the ping pong machine breaks down or is shown to be a figment of Mick’s imagination and Town begin to get into the game themselves.  “The game has become much livelier now Town have entered the contest” says Brenner before repeating the sentiment but in footballspeak by saying that Town are “more into this game than they were early doors”.   Town’s Albanian Armando Dobra “…gives the thumbs-up to his fellow teenager” having failed to catch an over hit pass but then shortly afterwards has Town’s first shot on goal after giving a “little shimmy”.   But both Mick and Brenner agree Dobra should have scored, which is a pity because it will prove to be Town’s only   decent attempt on goal all afternoon.  Despite his miss, Dobra is the man of the moment and Mick waxes lyrical about his willingness to run at the opposition and the impact it has “He just throws them upside down” says Mick, leaving me worried that he’s bound to get booked sooner or later doing that.

With Town playing quite well Brenner relaxes and playfully mentions Toto Nsiala sharing some banter with the fans “… as he walks down the touchline with his black beanie hat”.  Brenner has stopped mentioning what Paul Lambert has been wearing in recent weeks and I find it reassuring to know that Toto has a black beanie hat, even if we don’t know if he had it on and was wearing it at a jaunty angle or like a commando.   It seems safe to say I am quite enjoying the game at the moment and Brenner adds to my enjoyment with his mention of the “man in the luminous kit”, a phrase he uses perhaps because it seems easier than using the Pompey goalkeeper’s name, Craig McGillivray, which looks difficult to pronounce but actually isn’t; it also looks incidentally, like a Scottish version of the planet that Dr Who is from.  Time Lords aside, Brenner is on a roll and follows up with reference to Pompey’s Ryan Williams as “the pony-tailed Australian” , again showing his minor obsession with pony-tails as opposed to all other hairstyles , such as Luke Chambers’ Army conscript look or Stephen Ward’s very neat short back and sides.

Things seem just fine and so on 29 minutes Pompey score, the aforementioned pony-tailed Australian arriving in the penalty area on his own to hit the ball from about eight yards into the roof of the net after a precise passing move.  Mick and Brenner give credit where it’s due, “Outstanding goal” says Mick.  Four minutes later Town’s Jon Nolan is sitting on the turf rubbing his calf and is replaced by Brett McGavin.  Pompey almost score again seven minutes later, but don’t.  Ipswich meanwhile recover enough composure for Mick to be moved to say “It was lovely to watch and there was almost an end product, I didn’t dislike that”.  Two minutes later the same pony-tailed Australian scores again and with three minutes additional time played Portsmouth lead 2-0 at half-time.

 Paulene and I leave our seats for the half-time break; I return to the living room with two mugs of tea and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar;  Paulene returns wearing a Pompey shirt and accompanied by Nelson the Portsmouth mascot, or at least a 30 centimetre high cuddly effigy of him.  I think it’s her subtle way of gloating.  Within three minutes John Marquis should score a third goal for Portsmouth and then seven minutes later he sends a header against the Town cross bar.  Almost an hour of play has passed and we learn that Mick Mills has brought mince pies to the game, it’s a highlight of the afternoon’s commentary, as is the confession from Brenner that he has taken one of Guy Whittingham’s mince pies whilst he was away.  It’s an interlude in the commentary that reveals a lot about the differing characters of generous Town legend Mick Mills and the sly, mince pie stealing BBC Radio Suffolk commentator.  Mick does admit that he likes to be co-commentator because it gives him more time to eat, but no Town fan would be begrudge him that after a record 741 games for the blues.

Pointlessly, little Alan Judge is replaced by the weirdly named Keanan Bennetts and Kayden Jackson is replaced by Aaron Drinan. Pompey’s Ronan Curtis strikes the cross bar with a shot from outside the penalty area.  Mick explains how the third goal in a game is the most important.  “How can you listen to this bloke every week” asked Paulene of Mick.  “He just the states the bleedin’ obvious” she adds in as lady-like manner as possible.  Naturally, I leap to Mick’s defence, mis-quoting the words of Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in the 1964 film musical ‘My fair lady’; “I’ve grown accustomed to his voice” I sing to her.  She doesn’t seem convinced.

Four more minutes pass and “Dai” Cornell makes another brilliant diving save to prevent another Pompey goal.  Ronan Curtis is booked. Oliver Hawkins replaces Jack Lankester but not before Lankester is booked and Brenner continues to pronounce Lankester like the county town of Lancashire, despite the blatantly obvious difference in spelling; damn his short northern vowels, as Henry Higgins might say.  Town are now playing with two strikers despite Paul Lambert’s assertion that his team is ‘hopeless’ playing such a formation.  Lambert is right of course, because two ‘up front’ simply means we are fielding two players who rarely get to touch the ball, not just one.  Mark McGuinness is booked for a foul on Marcus Harness to create a satisfyingly sibilant sentence. Brett McGavin is booked also to complete a bizarre four minutes of ill-discipline amongst Town’s youngsters.  “Bennetts with his pink boots on” says Brenner, as he did last week in Plymouth.  “This game has gone sort of very untidy now” says Mick, cleverly creating a metaphor for the game with his own untidy sentence construction.

With the game into its last ten minutes all seems lost. “Absolutely silent at the moment in Portman Road” Brenner tells us “You certainly wouldn’t know there were 2000 people here”.  But in truth the same can often be said when there are 15,000 people present, so he shouldn’t be too surprised.  A  heavy sigh is audible before Mick says “We just can’t create”, but soon afterwards Town win a corner and Mark McGuinness heads over from a central position. “Just needed to head between the cross bar and the two posts” says Mick, stating the obvious or having possibly recently developed an unexpected streak of sarcasm.  It’s something he repeats a short while later with “A chance to create a chance if ever there was one”.  

“Town fans unable to leave early” gloats Brenner as four minutes of added on time is announced. Brenner sighs, “Really flat here” he says, sounding genuinely sorry, the thrill of an illicit mince pie clearly having passed.  The game is about to end. “The inevitable boos are ten seconds away” says Brenner.  His prediction is sadly correct although some fans applaud the team, as they should; we just happen to have been beaten by a better team, a team not necessarily of greater talent, but one of greater wile, better organisation, more consistency in terms of selection and greater experience.  Paulene is shocked at how some of Town’s alleged ‘supporters’ have so easily turned on their team; I’m not. I’m used to it. “Britain’s most miserable football club” says Brenner of Ipswich Town, most appropriately, as the players leave the field to the strains of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”. 

Often a piece of writing will end with a reference back to the beginning to provide a conclusion and satisfying circularity. If you recall, the opening of this piece was about two hours of my life that I had lost because I had overslept. It would be a bit obvious to say I’d lost another two hours of my life to Ipswich Town and the ifollow, so I won’t; what’s more I haven’t.  Paulene enjoyed it anyway.