Ipswich Town 1 Barnsley 0

April is well under way and the relief brought by the end of the football season is in sight. Ipswich Town and Barnsley both have just five matches left to play and tonight is the last evening match of the season, the last opportunity for a while to enjoy the thrill and spectacle of a game beneath electric illumination, to see the turf glow green in the drenching beam of the floodlights. Barnsley are struggling to stay in the light away from the gloomy pit that is relegation. Ipswich stand in the blinding, harsh, desert light of mid-table, of nothingness and futility, which is rather how I like it.
It’s been a grey, misty day; the sort to evoke memories of November, of autumn when Town were seventh in the league table just four points off the play-offs and anything seemed possible. But now it’s nearly five o’clock and anticipating the joy of kick-off the sun is out, Spring is back and I leave work in the manner of Fred Flintstone leaping from my desk to slide down the back of an imaginary brontosaurus whilst shouting “Yabba Dabba Doos, Come On You Blues!”. My excitement and anticipation of another Big Match is not reflected however in the scene I find as I pass along Constantine Road; there is no one much about, all is calm. Threatening notices about Ipswich Town’s use of CCTV in this area glare down at me amidst a host of signs about collecting tickets, for scouts and

the suspension of parking. One of those naughty Millwall fans has placed a sticker on the borough crest of the Portman Road street name plate, in the manner that a ‘masseur’ might advertise in a phone box. From the ‘corporation’ bus garage opposite the ground the open top double decker looks out forlornly, wondering if the football club will ever require its services again.

I walk on past a burger van painted grey as if it might once have belonged to the RAF.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Behind the North Stand the 1978 FA Cup Winners ‘mosaic’ looks like someone’s nicked a couple of tiles for their kitchen or bathroom. Some stewards eat chips around a table. I buy a programme (£3.00) in the club shop.

In St Jude’s Tavern my accomplice for the next half an hour or so, Roly, leans back in a tilting chair in the corner of the room behind a pint of unidentified copper coloured beer. Meanly, he doesn’t offer to buy his friend a drink and I reciprocate, but buy a pint of St Jude’s Woody Brew (£3.40) for myself. We talk of football, of football managers and promoting ‘from within the boot room’. We decide Portman Road has a small boot room in which there was only room for Bobby Ferguson and there’s probably nothing in there now except boots and Bobby’s old tracksuit top, memorably and unfortunately adorned with the letters BF. The discussion wanders on until Roly leaves me to ‘dine’ with the father of the mother of his daughter at Sainsbury’s. But Roly doesn’t dine, he scoffs.
I change seats and buy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50)’Edge American Pale’. I talk more football to some of the men in their sixties who are here before every game and I buy a pint of Milestone Crusader (£3.40). The clock on the wall chimes, it’s twelve minutes slow. As one, the patrons of the pub rise and depart for Portman Road, after a visit to the ‘facilities’. The ‘crowd’ outside the stadium is sparse, only slightly more so than the one within it (13, 271). The strains of Clo-Clo’s ‘My Way’ drift off into the floodlit air as I speak with Dave the steward in the undercroft of the Alf Ramsey Stand and I miss the kick-off.
Eventually settling down on a seat a few along from ever-present Phil who never misses a game, my enjoyment of the match begins. Barnsley, whose colours are red and white OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kick-off wearing a needlessly changed kit of white shirts with green sleeves and shorts; Ipswich as ever are in blue and white. “This is the last evening one” I hear the old boy behind me say to is wife or mistress or sister as he reflects nostalgically, as I had done on the last game under floodlights this season. An offside flag is raised “He put that flag up late – I don’t know why they can’t do it beforehand” she says, unknowingly making me imagine the introduction of clairvoyant linesmen. The football is quite poor. Ipswich have two wingers on the pitch but seem incapable of getting the ball to them, preferring to play inaccurate balls ‘over the top’ to no one in particular. In midfield for Town a young player is making his debut; his name is Barry Cotter, which makes me think of the surviving Bee Gee and Rab C Nesbitt. I live in a world of little more than word association sometimes.
The conversation behind me turns to Mick McCarthy and season ticket renewal. “I want to know who the new manager is before I get my ticket, they might bring McCarthy back” she says. I think how I’d like to see a beaky nosed man with obviously dyed, jet black and receding hair introduced to the press by Ian Milne as Town’s new manager Michalis McCatharios, who has been prised away from under the noses of Greek Superleague clubs.
The man in front of me literally stuffs his face with smokey bacon odour crisps, the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

buddleia on the roof of the stand still looks down on us as it did on Easter Monday and the Barnsley fans sing “Come On You Reds!”. Town are making the occasional fitful attack, which breaks down meekly, but my veins are coursing with passion and the feeling of belonging and I embark on some rousing choruses of “Lo-lo, Lo-lo-lo, Lo-lo, Allez les bleus” in the style of a French Ultra. Phil joins in and so do a couple of the joyful young lads in the disabled enclosure in front of me. I get carried away. I stand up, I turn to the crowd behind me and wave my arms about to articulate my song like a manic, Gallic, Ralph Reader. Nothing. I carry on for a bit, but fearing that I could be ejected or sectioned for being too noisy I sit down and sulk instead.
On the pitch I like to think Ipswich respond by almost assembling a passing move resembling flowing football. The crowd murmurs. “Stop it” I shout to the team “You’ll get them excited”.
Half-time and the Barnsley supporters (276 of them) join the esteemed ranks of the few visitors to Portman Road who have not sung anything about libraries or our support being “fucking shit”. I could probably take credit for that, but will instead praise the good folk of Barnsley for being a decent bunch of people more interested in supporting their team than in castigating anyone else for their apparent or perceived shortcomings. I release some more of what I imbibed at St Jude’s Tavern and chat with ever-present Phil and Pat from Clacton. Phil says it’s the thirtieth anniversary of his having not missed a match, but also recommends I sing “Come On You Blues” instead of “Allez Les Bleus” because people don’t know what I’m saying. I am disappointed, not in Phil, but that what he says is no doubt true; he should know, he’s a teacher and so is partly responsible for the nation’s general ignorance I contemplate asking a steward if they could run and get me a step ladder and a megaphone.
The second half is better than the first for us Ipswich supporters as Town begin to play less disjointedly. Egged on by my new found acolytes I chant a bit more and mid-song, at about ten past nine Town’s on-loan Gambian, Mustapha Carayol crosses the ball and Danish Jonas Knudsen sends a stylish glancing header over his right shoulder and past Barnsley’s Welsh guardian Adam Davies and into the goal net. Hurrah! How we cheer. I love a glancing header, it’s a prince among headers; that subtle twist of the neck, that obtuse angle, that flashing beauty.
The rest of the game fails to live up to that brief moment of joy, but it’s not so bad. Town do okay and Barnsley don’t really look as if they can equalise, despite fielding the 6’ 5” Kieffer Moore who, whilst he looks like he might have previously played for Sydney Swans in fact joined Barnsley from Town in January. On tonight’s showing however, it was not a mistake to sell him and he should never have left the AFL. The home crowd allow themselves some enjoyment and from my seat in Churchman’s I can’t hear any of the pointless vitriol that has marred recent matches. It’s not a popular thing to say and I am as irreligious as the next man, but there are a good number of people who would seriously benefit from being introduced to some of the salient points of the Gospels.
Happily the game is not extended unduly and it’s possibly a little before 9:35 when referee Mr James Linington stuffs his little whistle in his mouth and blows for the final time this evening. There are smiley, happy people in Portman Road once again and Phil suggests a chant of “You’re football’s alright, You’re football’s okay, Mick McCarthy, You’re footballs okay”. I catch the early train home with ease.
It is not until I arrive home that I learn that Mick McCarthy has left the club; I’m glad he won his last game for us, for him. I liked his press conferences even if his football very often wasn’t very good, but then a lot of Championship football isn’t very good and he did a decent job for much of what was for a football manager a very long time. Also, he’s just a man.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ipswich Town 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1

I am on the train to Ipswich for the last home match of the season at Portman Road. My fellow passengers are mostly male. Opposite me is a man who looks like he’s about eighty, he has thin blue lips and a white moustache, but it’s nature that’s done that to him, he hasn’t dressed up for the football, he’s not regretting that he didn’t have any face paints. Another man, probably in his seventies shares the hamster like facial features of Kenny Jacket, whilst another has to ask people to excuse him as he passes down the train to and from the lavatory because of his rotund figure; he wears a T-shirt that says “Weekend Offender”, he is probably a Sheffield Wednesday supporter; we know that northerners drink too much beer and are therefore obese. His northern accent is the clincher.
At Ipswich station there are two policemen in the foyer and three over the road outside the Station Hotel and another two guarding the path down to the car park beyond the bridge over the river. Are they expecting trouble or are they just there to tell people the time? The sun is shining warmly on this bright spring day and there aren’t many people about, although several of the ones that are about are wearing football shirts. Portman Road is a tad busier than usual for half past one on a match day as people stand about waiting for the turnstiles to open. A man wrestles wide-eyed and open-mouthed with a tomato sauce smeared sausage in a bun, which looks like it could slither from his grasp at any moment. The burger concessions, programme dealer34344114435_ee4e4ab848_o and souvenir seller aren’t busy and a car park attendant33960112170_38f8438cda_o sits down on the job. Up round the bend in St Jude’s Tavern the usual football Saturday clientele are there, mostly world weary , white haired and balding, one of them shouts “McCarthy Out” as he gets up to go. After two pints of very tasty Earl Soham Victoria Bitter (£3.20 a pint) and a chat with a friend called Mick which covers football, politics, street-drinkers and getting old, I get up and go too. The season finale beckons like a bin bag that must be put out for the morning refuse collection.

In Portman Road a late arriving coach disgorges Wednesdayites onto the pavement as33502410324_5cc2d0c12c_o two policeman look on; I like to think they have individually welcomed everyone on that bus to Ipswich and wished them a pleasant stay. Northern voices chant about going somewhere and not knowing or caring how they are going to get there; the somewhere it transpires is the Premier League. They should be careful what they wish for. Three Star Wars storm troopers walk past.

Inside the ground the atmosphere builds amongst the Sheffielders who are in high spirits anticipating clinching a place in the promotion play-offs; there are 2,003 of them in a reported crowd of 19,000. A mooted boycott of the match by Town fans who don’t like Mick McCarthy doesn’t seem to have happened; or not so as anyone would notice. The Ipswich crowd look on impassively. It’s the fag end of the season, the empty husk that once contained hopes and dreams now dashed on the terraces like the guts and brains of a piece of roadkill. There should be a minute’s silence in its memory or seeing as it’s football where the crowd aren’t trusted to shut-up, a minute’s applause; but that would smack of irony which is a bit sophisticated for us football fans.

The match begins. Sheffield Wednesday are wearing black shirts and day-glo orange shorts which look like they would be useful in case of floodlight failure or to council highway workers in warm weather. The pitch is well watered and some players slip over. After eight minutes in an apparently unrelated incident 33960241910_3e42a3155f_otwo men with buckets and mops walk along the front of the stand towards a sign that says Exit & Toilets. Sheffield press the Ipswich goal in the manner of the wolf in the story of the the Three Little Pigs and cause few problems for the Ipswich defence and fewer for goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski. Ipswich in turn cause even fewer problems for the Wednesday defence and goalkeeper, but aren’t playing too badly in the context of the season as a whole.  A beach ball that looks like an oversized football 33960221220_0b8d2123e7_oalmost makes it onto the pitch, but a steward takes up the challenge of chasing it along the pitchside and then having caught it squeezing it between himself and the perimeter wall to deflate it. It takes 25 minutes for the Ipswich drums in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand to strike up, but they could only have been passing through as they soon stop and are not heard again. The Wednesday fans are enjoying themselves indulging in some schadenfreude as to Joy Division’s tune they sing “Leeds, Leeds are falling apart, again”. At about twenty to four Ipswich’s Cole Skuse, who will be played by George Clooney in the film of the season, is cautioned for some arm grabbing by referee Mr Coote whose surname makes up a fine threesome with his two lugubrious sounding assistants Mr Lugg and Mr Blunden.

Half-time arrives as it always does and I scan the programme (£3.00) in which Chief Executive Ian Milne amusingly dismisses the season 34302972446_d56ce491e9_oin his opening paragraph by saying “I am not going to repeat the reasons or mitigating circumstances for a disappointing season”. Oh go on ‘Milney’, please do. Elsewhere good luck is wished to the club’s PR manager Jade Cole, who is departing Portman Road after ten years. From her picture she looks like she must have been about twelve when she got the job. Did she jump or was she 34344005625_4eca835255_opushed? She didn’t do much of a job with that 500% season ticket price rise for the Under 11’s or the overnight change in the qualifying age for concessions from 60 to 65 did she? But with policies like that may be her position had become untenable? Doing PR for President Assad might be easier.

The second-half begins with renewed vigour from Sheffield Wednesday who barely let Ipswich have the ball at all now. On their right, number 33,the compact Ross Wallace ‘prods and probes’ and from the far end of the pitch he looks like a poor man’s Mathieu Valbuena, the Olympique Lyon player, about whom incidentally, French TV & Radio journo Guy Carlier has written a book called “Qui veut tuer Mathieu Valbuena” (Who wants to kill Mathieu Valbuena”). Wallace hits a post with a shot which deceives Bartosz Bialkowski into thinking he can reach it.

From an Ipswich perspective the second half is absolutely awful, they do nothing of any note or which could be deemed entertaining and are dominated by the council road men from South Yorkshire. Is a lack of spending in the transfer market by owner Marcus Evans to blame? Sheffield Wednesday meanwhile clearly have money to burn as two men with holdalls containing wet sponges, rather than just the usual one run on to the pitch to treat Ross Wallace when he is down injured. There are seventeen minutes left and a muffled “Come On Ipswich” is heard, but it is only fleeting and I ask myself if it was real or just a ghostly memory of better days carried up the steps and across the seats on the cold breeze blowing down Portman Road from the shade behind the Cobbold Stand.

This looks like it is going to be a goalless draw, but then with thirteen minutes to go Sheffield Wednesday number five, Kieran Lee deftly flicks the ball into the Ipswich goal from close range to make the assembled northerners very happy and make the Ipswich public probably do nothing more than roll their eyes, if they react at all. To the tune of ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ the Sheffield Wednesday fans sing “ We are Wednesday, We are Wednesday, Carlos Is our King”, a song first heard on the streets of Madrid in 1975 with the accession to the Spanish throne of Juan Carlos the first in the wake of the Franco regime. It won’t be a goalless draw after all I muse, it will probably be a 1-0 win to the away team, and so it proves.

Between that goal and the final whistle I ponder whether the advert for Greene King IPA34344022375_6f10e1d29f_o beer on one landing on the stairs in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and the instruction that alcoholic drinks are not allowed in view of the pitch34185961352_bcd70e1d81_o on the next is symbolic of the sense of promise followed by disappointment that prevails at Portman Road. Just to compound that, as the match ends and as the half-hearted Suffolk boos are booed the stadium announcer tells us that the Town players will come back out from the dressing room to do an end of season lap of honour around the ground, but then adds that of course it is an offence punishable by death for supporters to enter onto the pitch. Thinking back, he may not have mentioned punishment by death, but nevertheless it’s as if those who run Ipswich Town can’t just concentrate on the positive things, they have to put you in your place as well; miserable bastards, sucking the life and the love from the game.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t wait for that lap of dis-honour and am rewarded by getting the 5.00pm train from which I stare out of the window and watch Ipswich receding into the distance, forgetting a forgettable season and remembering a not-that-faraway place where it is permitted to consume alcohol in view of the pitch, but drunks probably plot to murder Mathieu Valbuena.


Ipswich Town 1 Birmingham City 1

It’s Saturday 1st April and I have been looking forward to this day since at least the afternoon of the previous day. Ipswich Town hasn’t played at home since the dire, dull, dreadful, goalless draw with Wolverhampton on March 7th; that’s a three week drought of football and more. Of course I’ve been to see other teams in the interim, but they were mere floozies, Ipswich Town is my first love, my true love, the only team for whom, ultimately, the results really, really matter. I’ve won twice at Wembley with Ipswich and in Europe and together we won the Texaco Cup and have suffered relegations. Ipswich Town is ‘the wife’, although at times we fall out, we can’t be parted; we have a binding contract.
So, with a spring in my step I head off for the match; a walk to the station, a train ride and a walk to St Jude’s Tavern up Portman Road. It’s 1:30 and the turnstiles are about to open, there are quite a lot of Brummies hanging about wondering where to go and what to do, why can’t Ipswich give away fans their own “fanzone” on Portman Road car park? They do it at Wycombe Wanderers, serving terrible Greene King beer admittedly. But then, I guess a visitor with any nous would do some research and seek out the pubs serving proper beer, so why not leave the lumpen proletariat, the ‘leave’ voters to get on with it.
As I walk by there is a dog outside the away end.33658581591_fbc6a9f087_o He’s black and friendly looking and accompanied by a lady in a day-glo tabard bearing the words “Search Dog”. Apparently the dog is sniffing out things people shouldn’t be taking into a football match, such as flares, the firey things not the trouser. The dog however, looks like it’s sniffing out what’s to be found in the gutter, as dogs do. A little further along the road there are more dogs,33658589351_64c1f608c6_o Labradors or Retrievers with collecting buckets; guide dogs for the blind. The club website says it’s Ladies’ Day at Portman Road today, it didn’t mention dogs.
Eventually, I enjoy three pints of ale with St Jude and talk to a white haired man who admits to not having seen Town in Division Three South, but he’s followed them for 60 years. I want to be like him in a few years time, with young whipper snappers pointing me out as someone who had seen Rod Belfitt play. The pub empties at about a quarter to three and I’m left talking with the friend I came to meet, about why I write this blog. It doesn’t matter, it’s time to get to the match and I head down Portman Road smiling to myself about the joys of beer and football.32944974044_8fd60a352e_z As the ground hoves into view I am struck by the sight of Sir Bobby Robson’s face on the corner of the ground. He looms over the chip van on the adjacent car park, as only England managers’ and knights’ faces should. As I pass Sir Bobby’s statue further on, I meet the white haired man from St Jude’s again, he is touching the statue’s foot for luck. If I was a Catholic I think, I should write to the Pope and ask if we might have a Saint Bobby. At the same time I think with Ipswich’s puritan and non- conformist heritage it’s wrong, very wrong to touch a statue’s foot for luck. No wonder the Town are doing so badly.
The search dog is still outside the away end as I pass by and I ask what his name is. At first I mis-hear what his handler says and think she says he’s called Cecil. The dog’s name is actually Zero. I prefer Cecil; he looks like a Cecil. Having patted the dog I enter the ground and take up my seat in the lower tier of Churchman’s or theì Sir Alf Ramsey stand as it’s now known. I think that may be there should be a huge mural of Sir Alf plastered across the back of this stand too, but with a cigar in hand to reference the popular name of the stand and his success. Sir Alf won the League Championship and a World Cup, two things Sir Bobby didn’t achieve; you were close Sir Bobby, but no cigar, not like Sir Alf.
It’s now that time; 3 o’clock, Saturday afternoon and the game begins. Same old rubbish sadly. Town and Birmingham City are both wading through the sludge that is the bottom third of the Second Division and it’s easy to see why. Birmingham have brought along a decent number of supporters however, 952 of them32974927023_68e5933084_o.jpg and now and then they break into song, the dour, slightly unhappy, resigned “Keep right on to ‘til the end of the road”. It’s a song that was written by Harry Lauder in 1916 in honour of his son who had been killed in the war, it’s meant to be a song of hope but it doesn’t sound like it and you could say that the message of the song is that you’ll only be happy once you’re dead.
Birmingham City is a spectacularly dull club and always has been. From the middle of the country, the Midlands, Birmingham City is geographically average and generally average overall. Apart from Trevor Francis and one League Cup win there’s never been anything to write home about from Birmingham City. It’s telling that the club song is “Keep right on ‘til the end of the road”. Life is a struggle for Birmingham City, because existence is boring or sad, all you can do is keep right on’ til the end. It’s fitting therefore that Ipswich should be playing them now, because that is also how it feels at Portman Road. If we can only make it to the end of the season, may be things will be better next year. Town have been bobbing along in the second division for fifteen years, but Town fans should be proud of such consistency. It is a worthy achievement to avoid the twin scourges that stalk Second Division clubs; the apparent ignominy of relegation to the Third Division and the moral degeneration brought on by the financial crapulence that comes with promotion to the evil Premier League; the league of greed. Nevertheless, carefully treading this middle ground can be a bit dull, particularly as it’s nice to watch good football, and winning and good football usually go together.
Speaking of dull, the first half passes largely without incident, although Ipswich’s Cole Skuse goes off injured at the very end. Interesting name Cole Skuse; the only other Cole I can think of is the fantastic Cole Porter. The surname Skuse has medieval Cornish origins and is to do with living near Elder bushes, which makes me think of the taunting Frenchman in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So it was appropriate that Skuse should be replaced by Kevin Bru, Ipswich’s own Parisian Mauritian. Hopefully, as the two players pass on the touchline Monsieur Bru tells Cole “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”.

The second half begins and within two minutes Birmingham are in the lead; a shot is saved but the re-bound becomes a close range goal. Ipswich don’t respond at all well and carry on not having shots on goal and not passing to one another and not doing all the things associated with playing well.  With an hour gone the Ipswich public in the North Stand react.  They hadn’t got behind their team before now and still they don’t as instead they opt to sing to manager Mick McCarthy that his “football is shit”.  Then, again through their preferred medium of song they tell club chairman Marcus Evans that he is a cunt and chief executive Ian Milne that he is a wanker.  Spleens are vented and the North stand end of Portman Road is awash with bile and rude words; apart from the Birmingham supporters who are shocked and anxious in equal measure due to their team being a goal ahead, the rest of the ground is its usual comatose self. 

The Ipswich players continue not to give value for the entrance money or the huge wages necessary to buy the ridiculously ostentatious cars parked in the club car park.  A slow hand clap is attempted by the West Standers but fortunately fails; beaten by their own apathy. But then when all looks lost in the developing maelstrom of self-loathing and poor football from both sides, Grant Ward finds space wide on the right and crosses the ball. In keeping with the type of game it is, the cross is so poor that it sails straight into the goal to give Ipswich a barely deserved goal to equalise Birmingham’s barely deserved goal. How we cheer, once we’ve got over the shock.
There is still twenty minutes to go and some of us foolishly hope the lucky break will see Ipswich go on to play like a proper football team and score another goal or two. Of course that doesn’t happen and the final whistle is met by a stampede for the exits, or as much of a stampede as a host of over sixties can manage and the usual chorus of boos. Outside in Princes Street there are two police dog units, but I can’t see any dogs;32974895873_c16d6ac493_o only two policeman who are possibly trying to look inscrutable in an attempt to hide the fact that they have lost their dogs. Mind you, one of the dog units is from Norfolk; I thought there were quarantine laws.
On the train home I talk to a chatty man from Witham, well he talks to me really. He’s been watching Town since the 1950’s like the white haired man I met in the pub. He’s disappointed with today’s game like everyone else, but he clearly still loves it all and will be back again on Tuesday for the Wigan Athletic match, as will I. The moral of the story is that real football fans ‘keep right on to the end’ which those Birmingham fans knew all along.