This morning I awoke, along with everyone else in eastern England who hadn’t died in their sleep, to the sight of streets and gardens, trees and roof tops covered in a reasonable, but not thick layer of snow. I’ve seen plenty of snow before of course and it had been forecast so it was not a surprise, but I couldn’t help but stop and stare at it out of the bedroom window. Snow is always beautiful, a bit like sunsets.
I have been looking forward to the match today having suppressed the memory of last week’s game and crushed it into a tightly knotted, dense ball of pain and suffering which is now buried deep within my psyche. That covering of snow has added to the sense of joy and hope that I now feel as it has made me thankful that despite Town playing in Burton-On-Trent, normally the kind of town I would be first on the bus for, I don’t have to leave the house today.
This morning my wife Paulene has finished a jigsaw that has occupied a table in front of our French windows for at least the past four months, possibly longer. I have listened to The Byrds’ ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ album, because that’s how I feel, and I have also taped up the ill-fitting kitchen window to keep the draft out, hung out four fatballs in the garden for the birds, put the coffee dregs and vegetable peelings in the compost tip and washed up one of three Lapins Cretins (Rabid Rabbits in the UK) glasses which don’t go in the dishwasher and which were acquired in France as part of a special offer at the Intermarche supermarket chain. Enthused in the wake of that completed jigsaw Paulene and I have also completed a 3D ‘jigsaw’ of the Eiffel Tower which Paulene’s brother gave us for Christmas. Time has flown by carried on the wings of our industry and it’s now thirteen minutes to three. I have not even thought about a pre-match pint today and strangely it feels like the middle of the afternoon, which, if the evening begins at six o’clock I guess it is.
Leaving Paulene to watch Toulouse versus Grenoble Foot 38 in Ligue 2 on Serbian television courtesy of the wonders of the Amazon Firestick, I skulk off to the cool of the back bedroom and its Ikea Poang chair, where I fire up Radio Suffolk on the trustee Bush TR82/79 in time to hear unwanted word of Norwich City and their visit today to Cardiff. As unpleasant as that is it soon passes, but I then discover that the clicky bit on the top of the ITFC branded ballpoint pen with which I intend to jot down a few notes for this blog has fallen off somewhere and now the pen is unusable. The portents for this afternoon are so far not good, but finding a replacement Montpellier HSC branded pen I get comfy in the Poang and am aurally transferred to Studio 2 at Radio Suffolk from where Brenner Woolley is providing the commentary. Brenner speaks of remote commentary positions at the San Siro and Bernabeu stadiums and how today’s commentary tops those because he is 160 miles away (256 kilometres) from the Pirelli Stadium, the location for today’s fixture. Although it sounds like it’s in Turin, the Pirelli Stadium is of course in Burton On Trent. At no time does Brenner let on that he will be watching the match on a tv screen, it’s as if he wants us to believe he has a superhero’s eyesight.
As the game begins I learn from Brenner that Town are in all blue and line-up against yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks; if we’re just playing a kit with no one in it this game should be easy. In the studio with Brenner is someone called Stuart, but I don’t catch his surname at first hearing and I don’t recognise his voice. Brenner may have missed last week’s game through illness but is soon into his stride quickly telling us that James Norwood is wearing pink boots, and using new synonyms for kicking as the ball is “…clouted forward by O’Toole”. There are several changes to the Town team today including Tomas Holy replacing Dai Cornell. “It’s an easy change to make” says Brenner’s accomplice who I learn is former Town FA Youth Cup winner and Felixstowe & Walton United captain, Stuart Ainsley. “It’s a new voice at the back” says Stuart obliquely; a comment that has me imagining Tomas Holy shouting “Keeper’s!” as a cross comes over and the centre-backs turning to each other enquiringly and mouthing “Who said that?”.
Stuart has a light Suffolk accent, but it’s not a voice made for broadcasting, even on Radio Suffolk. Brenner compensates however, with his command of football speak and unusual use of words to describe the movement of the ball. “The ball rumbles into touch nearside” says Brenner and then, as Burton’s John-Joe O’Toole is substituted, he tells us that “ …it’s a setback for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink early doors”. “Not a great deal of quality to report in this game so far is there Stuart?” Adds Brenner telling us more in one sentence than all of his other commentary has so far. “Chambers; an early ball in, not the worst in the world” says Brenner, from which I infer that it was a better cross than Brenner expected.
It’s nearly twenty-five past three, the game does not sound entertaining. “A little bit of football broke out there, Stuart” says Brenner sounding surprised. Stuart chips in now and then but he’s not very interesting. It’s left to Brenner to make up for Stuart’s inexperience in front of the microphone with startling commentary like “Bishop opens his legs and crosses the half-way line”. Just before half past three Luke Chambers is booked by referee Mr Hare, who if he was German would be known as Herr Hare, which is what the people in the posh seats at Carrow Road say when they agree with what someone has just said.
Brenner’s commentary is sounding more positive as half-time approaches and Town enjoy more possession of the ball. “Chambers seeing an awful lot of the ball, here he is with his left peg” says Brenner again using curious colloquialisms and making it sound as if Chambers doesn’t always have his ‘left peg’ with him. Brenner continues in positive vein telling us that it’s great to see three academy players in the midfield today. Stuart agrees but further explains also that it’s “…difficult for them out there with the pitch looking like it does”, making it sound as if they are all sensitive aesthetes. Otherwise, Stuart sounds bored and nearly everything he says is punctuated with sighs. It’s now twenty to three and we are told there hasn’t been a shot on goal, but Brenner remains up-beat. “Town turning the screw” he says, suggesting perhaps that Town are hoping to torture Burton into submission.
There are minutes to go until half-time, “Town have always scored when they’ve been at the Pirelli Stadium” says Brenner, and almost immediately Burton hit the top of the cross bar and Brenner is saying “this has to be a tap-in”, but fortunately Luke Chambers blocks the shot. Three minutes of added on time are played and half-time arrives. I put the kettle on, check with Paulene on the final score at the Stade Municipal in Toulouse (the home team won 2-0, Allez les Violets!) and eat a couple of Waitrose Stollen bites as a half-time snack. At four o’clock Serbian tv moves its attention to Olympique Marseille v Nimes Olympique in Ligue 1 and I leave Paulene at the Velodrome as I climb the stairs back to the Pirelli Stadium, where the ‘action’ has already re-started and Town have conceded a corner.
Burton Albion are “…sharper out of the blocks early doors in this second half” says Brenner mixing metaphor from an unrelated sport with football-speak; but nevertheless the view of Stuart is that Burton pose no threat except from set pieces. Stuart is concerned however, that Town players are not chasing back when they lose the ball, but stops short of calling them lazy and overpaid, which is probably what many listeners are thinking. But tuning into the need for honest assessment Brenner adds “…the game is really boring at the moment, it has to be said”, before telling us that , as he keeps emphasising, the Burton Albion goalkeeper is yet to make a save.
The sense of gloom builds and Brenner begins to speculate that “Burton will see this as a chance to build on their away win at Gillingham” before adding after a pause, having seemingly completed some swift mental arithmetic “Six points out of six”. Stuart’s confidence has grown in the shadow of Brenner’s pessimism and he tells us that Town have “…no belief in what they’re trying to do, whatever tactics they’re trying to play”. Stuart’s reference to “whatever tactics” makes it plain that he hasn’t been able to spot any.
James Norwood is replaced by Aaron Drinan with thirty minutes left to play and Tomas Holy concedes a corner. “Was that a shot we just saw there Brenner?” asks Stuart as Burton’s Lucas Akins’ kick at goal is saved. Now Ipswich win two corners in quick succession and Aaron Drinan hits the Burton cross bar with a header. “Drinan done well” says Stuart like a true footballer. Town win another corner and then Mark McGuinness wins a free-kick. Oliver Hawkins replaces Teddy Bishop and the possibility arises that Town will play with two forwards who are actually playing up-front. Little Alan Judge has a shot blocked before crossing the ball following a short free-kick. “Headed in by McGuinness” says Brenner, “His first professional goal”. It’s the seventy-third minute of the match and Town lead 1-0. “Town had been on top for 15 minutes” says Stuart a little uncertainly, “Playing the right football in the right places”.
Brenner tells us that Town quickly come close to scoring a second goal with a header by Aaron Drinan that is well saved. We learn that Paul Lambert is wearing a black beanie hat and snood before Gwion Edwards is replaced by Freddie Sears. It doesn’t sound as if Burton are likely to score, but all of a sudden, out of the blue “ Oh, a slice by Nsiala” and Tomas Holy makes his best save of the afternoon from one his own centre halves. Stuart has been impressed by Toto Nsiala this afternoon and generously blames the ‘dodgy pitch’ for his mis-kick. Burton have a couple of shots which don’t trouble Tomas Holy and Brenner introduces yet another word to describe the ball being kicked as it is “…clattered up to half-way by Gallacher.”
Hopes for a second consecutive away win are now high. “Town upwardly mobile in terms of the table” says Brenner using lots of words to describe Town climbing the league table without saying in what position they will be. It’s six minutes five. Mr Hare blows the final whistle and Town win. “Big victory this” says Brenner, as he usually does when Town win. As nice as it is to be told that we have ‘big victories’ I can’t help thinking that they wouldn’t be so big if it wasn’t for all the big defeats that come between them. “Was that deserved overall, Stuart Ainsley? asks Brenner. “I think so, yeah” says Stuart, as convincingly as he can.
Personally, I’m glad the game is over; it’s not that I was nervous and on the edge of my seat, wondering if Town would hold on, more that I was bored. Unfairly, I decide to blame Stuart Ainsley, he’s no Mick Mills, but who is? Relieved and happy however, I turn off the radio and return downstairs to watch the second half of Marseille v Nimes where Paulene is happy too because her team Portsmouth has also won 1-0 away from home. Like the snow and sunsets, away wins are always beautiful.