Bristol Rovers 0 Ipswich Town 2

The infection rate for Covid-19 is on the rise again and I am staying home, even though it’s Saturday and the prospect of either AFC Sudbury v Coggeshall Town in the Isthmian League or Ipswich Wanderers v Brantham Athletic in the qualifying round of the FA Vase is deeply enticing.  But my wife Paulene is in the extremely vulnerable category due to chronic asthma and given many people’s apparent inability to comprehend social distancing or the wearing of a mask I’m not taking any chances.  

After six months I have got used to this and my reality now is that football is a game witnessed on the television or followed on the radio, which sadly means non-league games are just results and all the footballers I get to watch are overpaid professionals.  But I can still follow the mighty Ipswich Town home and away, and because I would resent being charged ten quid for watching an hour and a half’s telly, I shall be listening to today’s match on the wireless, as I like to call it.

Today the ritual of the pre-match pint is partly a reward for a morning of productive pottering in the garden, although it’s actually a pre-match 440 millilitres in the form of a can of Adnams Ghostship (four for £5.25 from Waitrose). It’s such a beautiful afternoon that I decide to take advantage of the weather and listen to the game outside whilst bathed in soft September sunlight. Tuning into Radio Suffolk doesn’t prove as easy as I had expected and by the time I have made fine adjustments to the dial and the physical position of the radio itself in order to shut out brash, ill-mannered Radio Essex and its impending commentary on Colchester United v Bolton Wanderers, the game is about to begin.  I feel like I am twelve years old again, trying to find Radio Caroline and Radio North Sea International on my tiny Vesta V70 transistor radio (about £2 from Woolworth’s) in the early 1970’s.

As ever, Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley is the man (it’s never been a woman) to relay his commentary to an eager county of football fans.  But by way of a change Brenner is assisted today, not by the regular, dependable, steady Mick Mills, but by one of Town’s few 21st century heroes, Marcus Stewart, a man almost as famous for his goals as his gloves, a replica pair of which I am proud to still own, despite their being pretty much unwearable.  I first take notice of the commentary as an early Gwion Edwards header is easily saved by Bristol Rovers’ Finnish ‘keeper Anssi Jaakola. “What about that chance Marcus?” asks Brenner; he receives no response, it’s as if Marcus just isn’t listening or has drifted off into a world of his own; perhaps he’s bored already.  “He should have done better shouldn’t he, Marcus?” adds Brenner sounding a tiny bit anxious.  Fortunately for Brenner, Marcus returns from wherever he’s been and gives some answer or other; I have drifted off a bit myself now and am listening to the chimes of a passing ice cream van, “Boys and girls come out to play” is the jangly, distorted tune that the loudspeakers are blaring out.  I love ice cream van chimes, they make me think of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Something wicked this way comes”.

In the absence of any decent football to commentate on, Brenner tells us that the Town have had to change for the match today in the supporters’ club bar, which is something that would have been far too risky to have allowed back in the seventies or eighties if the reputations of some former players are to be believed.  Brenner continues by commenting on Paul Lambert having adopted what he calls a “Tony Pulis look”, by which he means his blue baseball cap, not a sour facial expression, although he can do that as well.

Some football happens and Brenner describes the player with the ball as “running into traffic”, which sounds a little bizarre and suggests Bristol Rovers need a new stadium more than most.  It’s now just after half past three and there is a drinks break which sounds as exciting as the game.  With everyone refreshed nothing seems to improve however, but Marcus raises his game making reference to “big Devon White”, the towering centre forward who scored twice for Bristol Rovers in a 3-3 draw with Town back in August 1991.  On his debut, Marcus scored the other goal for Rovers in that match, but seems reassuringly modest about his career, allowing the modern players credit and telling us how difficult many skills are to perfect, and it sounds like the two teams are demonstrating the proof of that today.

Half-time looms and Marcus tells us that “Both teams are not fluid”.  “They’re not, are they” says Brenner as if he really means “No, they’re crap aren’t they”.

I use the half-time break to talk to my wife Paulene who is watching the Tour de France on the telly in the kitchen, it beats flitting down the steps to the gents underneath the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and staring up at the half-time scores on the screens in the under croft of the stand.  The respite from the game is all too brief and I’m soon sat at the garden table once again and Brenner reveals that Thomas Holy is “off to our right”.  In the first half I had drawn a little sketch plan of the pitch which I tried to use to keep track of where the ball was, but my plan was scuppered because I realised I didn’t know towards which end Town were kicking.  Interestingly, (perhaps) the very first BBC radio commentary for a match (Arsenal v Sheffield United in Division One on 22nd January 1927) used a system whereby the pitch was divided up into eight squares and the commentator Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam described the game whilst a co-commentator said which square the ball was in; a diagram showing the football pitch divided up into squares was printed in that week’s Radio Times.  I think Mick Mills has the perfect delivery for telling us what square the ball is in.

It’s five minutes past four and Brenner carefully describes the two teams’ kits as the second half gets underway; it’s a job well done and all Ipswich Town nerds will quickly realise that the red and blue ‘third kit’ has now been used three seasons running.  Nine minutes later and Brenner is perhaps more excited than he should be as he reveals that Norwood should have scored, although it would have been disallowed.  Marcus by contrast remains calm, I can only think he spotted the offside flag before Brenner.

Town seem to be on top now and at four- twenty two Brenner’s voice suddenly becomes louder and his words get closer together. “Edwards with a great chance!” he says, followed by silence.  I guess that he didn’t score.  Freddie Sears is replaced by Jack Lankester and a procession of Town players’ names follows over the airwaves as they take it in turns to get caught offside.

Time has moved on to half-past four and Brenner’s voice rises again in pitch and in volume. Nolan has a shot we are told and for a moment I think it’s a goal, it sounded like it must be, but no, it’s a corner.  A minute later and “Edwards goes round the goalkeeper!”, again I think we’ve scored, but no, it’s blocked on the line and Paulene sits down next to me to eat some crisps and Parma ham because she hasn’t eaten any lunch. 

Time is moving on apace; this is a good half for Town and Brenner’s voice is up and down in tempo and volume as he tries to convey what would be the waves of excitement if there was a crowd watching this game. It’s nearly twenty to five and Gwion Edwards shoots for goal again and then a minute later there’s a cross from Jack Lankester; a moment’s doubt from Brenner “It might be an own goal?” and indeed it transpires that Rovers’ German centre-half Max Ehmer has scored in his own team’s net, which is nice.   Marcus Stewart immediately starts a philosophical argument in my mind as he relates that the goal had been coming for the past twenty minutes.  I muse that had he been watching the game or listening on the wireless like me, the sixteenth century French theologian John Calvin might well have argued that it had been coming since the dawn of time, with all our fates being pre-ordained by God.  It’s not something Marcus picks up on and Brenner merely adds that after some earlier ‘last ditch defending’ from Bristol Rovers, this time it’s a goal.

There’s an interlude of sorts as Marcus Stewart expounds a theory that Jack Lankester should be awarded the goal if his cross was heading into the goal before Ehmer headed it; it’s not a wholly unreasonable proposition except that no one suggested Lankester’s cross was going towards the goal and the whole incident implies that once again Marcus may not have been paying full attention.  It’s a quarter to five and thirty years ago the game would have been over by now, but today there’s still time for the boy Dozzell to elicit the words “Lovely ball”  from the mouth of Brenner, and for Town substitute Ollie Hawkins to miss the goal, before quite suddenly I hear “ Here come Town;  Nolan, shoots, and finds the corner of the net”.  It sounds like it’s 2-0 to Town.  Brenner sounds less excited than he did when all those shots went wide earlier in the game, but eventually confirms that Town have “…strung together back to back victories”.

The referee Mr Hicks who thankfully has barely featured in Brenner and Marcus’s commentary calls time and the game is over.  I quickly turn off the radio to avoid being subjected to the stupidity of the post-match phone-in.  I have enjoyed my afternoon in my back garden in the sunshine and feel a curious ‘simpatico’ with my dead father, who would listen to cricket test matches on the radio on similar sunny afternoons.  Thinking back over the past hour and fifty minutes or so of radio commentary I have been consumed by the thoughts and descriptions from Brenner Woolley and Marcus Stewart, my one reservation being the illogical and groundless worry that every time Brenner Woolley said the name Marcus he was addressing Marcus Evans.

Ipswich Town 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Sunday bloody, Sunday, a classic angst ridden film drama from 1971 directed by John Schlesinger starring Glenda Jackson, Murray Head and Peter Finch and featuring a doomed dog called Kenyatta, but also how I describe the Christian Sabbath when Town have to play on it.  I like my football on a Saturday and at 3 pm to boot.  Noon on a Sunday should be when the pubs open and nothing else.  To make matters worse today’s is the first match of the league season, a fixture which for the sake of symmetry if nothing else should kick off at the same time as every other club’s first game of the season.  As if Boris ‘Bozo’ Johnson being Prime Minister wasn’t enough to cope with.  Why do things only ever get worse?

Waking from my slumbers a little before 8 o’clock I draw the blinds and am bathed in bright early autumn sunlight. I shower and dress, donning my button neck, blue, Ipswich Town branded T-shirt purchased over the summer from the Planet Blue website, where my review of the garment has never appeared despite having been submitted three times (see previous blog post “Consumer City 1 Lockdown Town 0”); I’m not bitter, but the truth must be told. After a breakfast with my wife Paulene of bacon, egg, toast, tomatoes and mushrooms with tea and an espresso coffee, all prepared by me, I look for things to fill the time until shortly before noon when I will switch on my lap top, log on to the ifollow and hope that it lets me watch the match.  I have heard that yesterday Portsmouth supporters were unable to watch their game versus Shrewsbury Town on the ifollow and ended up listening to local radio.  I am soon in my garage breaking up cardboard boxes to put out for the refuse collection on Wednesday; it’s been a busy week of deliveries with two new toilet seats and thirty-two bottles of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer pale ale all arriving courtesy of men driving white vans.  Boxes crushed, I potter about and fold away the blue and white bunting that bedecks my garden each summer to celebrate the season the sun and the Town.

Time passes quickly and Paulene is soon telling me that she has logged me onto to the ifollow and  it’s working.  I pour myself a pint of water, which I liven up with a squirt of lime juice, and lie on my back on  the orange canvas bean bag that normally sits in the corner of the room, but which I have re-positioned centrally in front of the smart tv.   I have today’s match programme by my side; impressively it arrived in yesterday’s post in time for the match.  It’s not the best programme I’ve ever seen, it’s front cover, which appears to be an homage to the programmes of the 1980-81 season is a little speckled at the edges, like a poor photocopy, which is possibly the source of the design, but at least the cover price is a £1 cheaper than if this was a normal game.  I don’t mind if there are fewer pages and less to read, I just want a few folded sheets of paper that are specific to this match and which lists the teams or at least the names from which the teams will be selected.  Who actually reads all the other drivel that’s printed in the massive programmes we pay the price of a paperback book for anyway? Less is more in the world of football match programmes and I pine for those of the 1960’s and 70’s.  In France, the clubs that produce a programme do not charge for it.

I am now comfortably slumped and as the broadcast begins I am surprised, but pleased, to hear the familiar, nearly Geordie tones (he’s from Berwick-Upon-Tweed) of Brenner Woolley and the flat, steady delivery of Mick Mills.  Mick sets out on a lengthy monologue in which he immediately tempts fate by explaining that this is a good time to play Wigan.  He goes on to explain in a manner which suggest he thinks we should be surprised, that he has been doing a bit of research and had logged on to the Wigan website to see who is in their squad.  But he tells us that they have shipped out sixteen players and only brought in two so it was a waste of time; presumably he didn’t recognise any of the names. 

The players are now walking onto the pitch to the accompaniment of the crap-rock strains of Van Halen’s “Jump”, this despite the absence of a crowd.  I wonder to myself if the ‘entrance music’ is meant to inspire the players, and feel glad I am not a professional footballer.  Sadly the opportunity has not been taken to have some fun with the entrance music by playing something like Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” or something by Roger Whittaker.  I’m pleased to see the players ‘take the knee’ and hope that all the people that it annoys, and sadly there are some,  are so annoyed that they slam their heads repeatedly against the nearest wall and pour boiling water over their own genitals.  Today’s referee and assistants are wearing purple tops which make them look like sporting Anglican bishops, which is appropriate for a Sunday game.  Meanwhile , Brenner Woolley tries to trump Mick Mills efforts to tempt fate by telling us that Wigan Athletic as a club are “in free fall”, which is probably not quite true.   At 12:02 little Alan Judge literally gets the ball rolling for Town who are resplendent in their new kit of all blue with Adidas decorations and the yellow  and blue badge that the team wore back in the days when it won Cups and was one of the very best in Europe, if not the World.  Wigan in contrast are today’s ‘baddies’, wearing all-black, although the gift of the tv close-up reveals that the shirt features a grim machine-like pattern of various shades of grey hexagon.

The game begins like a tennis match with the ball being knocked back and forward pointlessly between the two teams, but this disappointment is tempered by the realisation that Brenner Woolley’s radio commentary is actually much better than the usual tv commentary because he makes the effort to say who has the ball, and that is all we really need to know. On a tv screen the numbers and names on the backs of the players’ shirts are too small to read and most of the players look the same with their conscripts’ haircuts.

Eight minutes pass and Wigan should be ahead as 19 year old Nigerian Emeka Obi is left all alone to head Gary Roberts’ corner powerfully but clumsily past the post; the Ipswich defence seemingly need to learn the lesson that black lives especially matter when they’re in your own penalty area.  At about this time Paulene comes into the room and by some sorcery manages to make the screen bigger.  This naturally adds to my enjoyment but not as much as Teddy Bishop does in the eleventh minute as he heads into the goal an attempted clearance of a Freddie Sears’ left-wing cross.  It’s a goal that in its construction has something in common with Roger Osborne’s FA Cup winning goal in 1978, with the Wigan defender playing the role of the hapless Willie Young and with Freddie Sears as David Geddes.

As well as putting Town ahead, the goal highlights the fact that the commentary is fractionally ahead of the pictures on the screen as Brenner tells me that Teddy has scored a moment before the ball strikes the net.  As the game continues it’s a lack of synchronisation that ultimately proves reassuring as Emeka Obi is twice more left free to score, but Brenner promptly tells me that he fails to do so at the very moment when my heart is about to enter my mouth.  Brenner spoils it a bit though when he confirms that Wigan should be ahead, but adds, sounding slightly disappointed “…as it is , it’s 1-0 to Town”.  From wrongly placed bias Brenner then veers towards surrealism with the phrase “Ipswich Town’s ball, in the shape of Stephen Ward”.   The picture in the programme of Stephen only adds to my worries because I hadn’t realised he had a nose bigger than mine and hair neat enough to suggest he might follow a career as a referee once his playing days are over.

Whilst Brenner Woolley’s commentary adds things to the commentary not visible to the human eye, Mick Mills is I think having a very good day, providing some convincing and totally plausible tactical analysis about the full-backs and how the two teams’ respective line-ups and formations cancel each other out.  On days like this it’s as if Mick is wearing the number 4 shirt again in Frans Thijssen’s absence and is running the midfield.

Wigan had looked quite good for a spell but Town are looking better, and a passage of absolutely marvellous play ends with Teddy Bishop having a shot tipped away on to the post by Wigan goalkeeper Jamie Jones, whose name instantly has me breaking into the opening song on the Clash’s eponymous first album.  It’s easily the highlight of the match so far, but soon Brenner is competing with more weirdness as he tells how “Naismith scoops Sears’ cross away with his left shoe”.  His left shoe! No wonder we’re winning if Wigan are playing in their shoes; but presumably for these Lancastrians it’s better than playing in clogs.

With a half hour gone there is a drinks break and the camera lingers on Wigan manager John Sheridan and his coach gesticulating and pointing enthusiastically as if relaying the latest odds on another relegation to the club’s former owners.  Meanwhile Town manager Paul Lambert is wearing a rather unpleasant shiny grey Adidas training top and a blue Ipswich Town branded baseball cap.  I’m not a fan of baseball caps, to me they just say “Sir Francis Chichester”, and whilst I have nothing against the sadly deceased circumnavigator, he wasn’t a Town fan.  What have you done with your v-neck black jumper Paul? That looked much more classy.

As the end of the half draws nigh Joe Garner hits the Town cross bar with an overhead kick and my attention is grabbed by his nascent ginger beard, but also his skinhead haircut, which makes him look like he could be a member of the BNP, although I’m certain he isn’t.  The half ends with Mick Mills telling us that “A second goal would be handy to say you’re in a good position” before the sound from Radio Suffolk takes on a weirdness to match Brenner’s commentary making the co-commentators sound like a cross between the Daleks and Peter Frampton. Oddly it’s an aural effect that suits Mick more than Brenner.

Half-time brings adverts like on the real telly and I am being encouraged to purchase the services of Screwfix, something called Utilita, some sort of video game and to watch the EFL on Quest, and then it happens all over again as if I might need reminding.  Not really interested in this commercially driven filling of the football broadcast sandwich I head to the fridge and pour myself a glass of Faro Foudroyante lambic beer.  Paulene is watching the Tour de France on the telly in the kitchen and expresses her surprise that Town are winning.  My beer tastes a bit like cider and is very refreshing on a warm day like today.

The joys of the ifollow broadcast return with Norwood replacing Drinan for Town and Perry replacing a Wigan player; like Mick Mills, I don’t know who.  At 13:07 the fun begins again and soon Brenner is saying “Norwood takes the ball on his shoe”. What is it with these northerners playing in shoes? Are Church’s and Clark’s suddenly offering better sponsorship deals than Nike and Adidas?  This doesn’t bode well I’m thinking; thank goodness we’ve already scored one goal because I can’t see Norwood scoring  if he’s not wearing boots.  Idiot.  I’m surprised Paul Lambert allows it.

The second half is interesting enough to begin with; but Wigan are doing better and Brenner suggests that Town let Gary Roberts go too soon, although he is now thirty-six years old; but it’s an opinion I support. In recent years Town and English football in general have valued athleticism and endurance above skill far too much. I want to watch football not long distance running.  Brenner now adds incontrovertible facts to set alongside his opinions and lets us know that Town have won only four of their last sixteen home games before Mick Mills advises that someone else should have a go at the free-kicks after Freddie Sears sends  a second hopelessly over the cross bar; I couldn’t quite understand why he took them when Bishop and Dozzell are both playing, but perhaps  I am wrong to see them as the heirs to Peter Morris, Arnold Muhren, Mark Brennan, Ian Redford and Jimmy Juan.

An hour has passed and Luke Chambers is the first player booked, but the match is becoming a bit boring; Mick Mills euphemistically describes it as ‘mundane’ and asks if Wigan aren’t beginning to be the better team.  If I didn’t have beer to hand I’d be hoping for Pat from Clacton to appear with a bag of sweets now; hopefully the sugar would help me feel less queasy at the sight of Joe Garner’s completely tattooed left arm, which makes him look as if he has a nasty skin condition, all his veins and capillaries are a little too close to the surface  or he hasn’t washed his arm for a year.  But more to do with the game I am currently unimpressed with Norwood who seems to be wrongly playing beyond the defender who is marking him (Naismith), which means the ball is always intercepted before it reaches him, whereas Drinan played in front of the defender, received the ball, controlled it and laid it off bringing Dozzell and Bishop, the attacking midfield players, into the game.  I like to think that Mick Mills would be impressed with my tactical evaluation.

 Seventy-three minutes pass and Edwards replaces Sears, and three minutes later Huws replaces Bishop and the game swings back in Town’s favour.  Just four minutes after Huws comes on Edwards doubles Town’s lead after a second excellent passing moving from Town, again down the left, and our record of sixteen successive games televised by Sky tv without a win looks set to end.  The game is as good as won and the remaining highlights are reduced to seeing Wigan substitute Oliver Crankshaw massaging his right buttock, although he does have reassuringly long hair.  Town attempt to end the game with panache, playing ‘keep ball’ until it reaches Luke Chambers and it’s good to see Emyr Huws then kick Joe Garner in the stomach. But there’s nothing more to this and at four minutes to two referee Mr Thomas Bramall calls time. 

It’s been an afternoon of mixed and fluid emotions just as should be the case with proper football matches.  The game has been won, but the result was often in doubt and credit to Messrs Woolley and Mills, today they have reflected and explained the turmoil, the trouble and the ultimate satisfaction, a much better performance than last Saturday.  The ifollow has also done its job and I feel more confident about watching future broadcasts, even if I am paying over the odds just to watch the telly.

Consumer City 1 Lockdown Town 0

Despite the absence of football since early March, Ipswich Town Football Club has not been absent from my e-mail in-box, far from it in fact.  Every week, it seems,   I receive some electronic advertising missive from Portman Road in addition to the usual boring, banal weekly newsletter.  Whilst the club has been slow to contact me about refunding the money I paid for that portion of the season that never has and never will happen, Bluey, Crazee and their chums are clearly chomping at the bit to try and sell me some football club related merchandise, or ‘merch’ as the hip people call it.

We live in a world of conspicuous consumption, and gift shops wherever they are, be it the Taj Mahal, le palais de Versailles or Ipswich Museum are a magnet to many.  I know at least one person who I am told enjoys the ‘exit through gift shop’ element of his visits to art galleries, museums and historic monuments as much if not more than the visit to the attraction itself.   I can honestly say my own life would not be as fulfilled and culturally enriched without my jigsaw of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People, bought at the Louvre in Paris or my postcard of George Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières purchased at the Tate Gallery in London.  In the same way, football club shops are one of the secret joys of going to football, I have never been able to resist seeking out the messy, sparsely stocked retail outlet round the back of the main stand  when on an away trip; if you’re lucky it’ll be a ‘portakabin’, if not so lucky a megastore.  In his utterly brilliant book ‘Saturday 3pm, 50 eternal delights of modern football’, Daniel Gray refers to club shops as “…old curiosity shops, eccentric and other worldly.” He goes on to say “Let us salute the club-crested pencil case”.   For such reasons a variety of F.C. fridge magnets decorate a metal board in my study, club pennants dangle over one’s head when sat in my upstairs toilet and my wife has a cupboard full of beanie bears and miniature mascots in replica kit.  It’s not that club shops tempt me with fabulous objects of desire so much as they amaze and amuse me by peddling what I can only describe as ridiculous crap.

Having not been able to browse through the assorted collection of polyester training wear, replica kit, pointless souvenirs and dubious fashion in person since ‘lockdown’, I eventually came to welcome the ceaseless trickle of Ipswich Town e-mails urging me to buy, buy, buy and the easy access it promised to the club shop website.   “On-line shopping;  you know you want to” the e-mail didn’t say enticingly in the voice of Nigella Lawson, but it might as well have.  Further cajoled and teased by the ‘something for nothing’ bait of free postage I let my right index finger open the e-mail with a single, fateful click of the mouse. 

For all Ipswich Town’s apparent inability to connect with its fan base, Marcus Evans knows his market and he knows by now that a  lot of people in Suffolk are nothing if not a bit stingy and so it’s sale goods that  are being pushed here, the real garbage that nobody at all wanted.  Here is where you can pay homage to the consumer-society on the cheap, filling up on the season before last’s home kit, the much sought after ‘relegation special’.  Only my intense dislike of tacky, itchy, nasty polyester stops me reaching for the credit card.  Perhaps I will be more tempted by the ‘ITFC Stamp Tee’, a shirt reduced from £16 to a tenner; or perhaps not, having seen the bizarre blob of white on the chest in the form of a postmark.  Why a postmark? What are we, a team of chuffin’ posties?

On the same page as the ‘Stamp Tee’ the Paul Lambert poster is reduced from a fiver to £ 2.50,  a fair summation of the fall in the level of his stock in the eyes of many Town fans after an eleventh place finish in the Third Division.  Most damning though is the 90% discount on postcards of James Norwood and Kaydon Jackson which are reduced from a modest, yet still vastly over-priced £1 to a somewhat insulting 10 pence.  It’s a scale of reduction so impressive that that it is used to headline the e-mail but without telling you that it only applies to two poxy postcards that no one wants anyway, hence their appearance in the sale.  If these two players’ agents had succeeded in negotiating image rights in their contracts, then this is Marcus Evans’s revenge.  It did however set me wondering who buys a postcard of Kaydon Jackson.  A visitor to Ipswich wanting to relay its glory to a friend or relative ‘back home’ would surely pick one of our splendid Victorian town hall or may be the remarkably pargetted Ancient House, or perhaps the Grade I Listed Unitarian Chapel, glassy, curvy Willis building or even the soaring Orwell Bridge.  The only sort of friend who could possibly send you a postcard of Kaydon Jackson or James Norwood would surely be an art student trying to impress by being so ‘post-modern’.    

Nothing much was grabbing my attention as something I would want to buy;  Cuddly T-Rex? No; Retro colouring book? No; Piggy bank? No.  I thought of who I knew who might have a birthday soon that I could palm off cheap sale goods on.  The cheapest of the cheap, the least wanted of the unwanted were presumably the items marked ‘clearance’.  But I couldn’t think of a friend for whom a giant Bluey the mascot badge (£3.99 down to £.200) or ITFC bunting (£3.99 down to £3.00) would define our friendship.  An ITFC birthday card was out of the question being un-reduced at £3.50.  One ITFC birthday card incidentally features a picture of a battered looking trophy cup engraved with the words ‘Happy Birthday’.  I can only think that as Ipswich are one of just three clubs out of the one hundred and fifteen in steps one to five of the English football league pyramid not to have won a trophy or been promoted in the past 20 years (the other two are Oldham Athletic and Everton), this ‘Happy Birthday’ trophy card was inspired by a desire to show younger Town supporters what a cup even looked like.

Eventually, the seemingly limitless cornucopia of blue and white Ipswich Town branded goods before me was too much and I gave in to the pressure of consumerism, as we all do.  Rationalising my decision by agreeing with myself to dispose of two grotty looking but much loved un-branded T-shirts that are probably 20 years old, I bought something described as a Button Neck Tee for £10, reduced from £16.   After receiving the shirt in the post a little over a week after ordering it I went back to the website to post a review of my purchase, which under the heading of ‘Cheap’ & Cheerful went something like this: I bought this garment in the sale, reduced from £16 to £10.  It arrived after just over a week.  I was a little disappointed with the quality and was glad I hadn’t paid full price.  The material is very thin and the finish around the collar quite poor, with an unsightly lumpy seam where the collar meets the neck.  Otherwise however, I like the design and the colour, it’s a good fit and the club badge is nicely embroidered.  It’ll do for hanging about in at home but I wouldn’t wear it out.   Naturally enough, and not unreasonably, the club reserves the right to moderate the reviews it receives, but despite my review not including any rude words or grammatical errors it has not appeared on the website.  I submitted a similar review again a week or two later and that has never appeared either.  I have now posted the review for a third time and am waiting to see if Ipswich Town publish it.  Very little of the merchandise on the Ipswich Town website seems to have been reviewed; apart from Ipswich Town supporters being an apathetic lot, which is true, it seems there could be another reason.

With ‘lockdown’ now being loosened, Ipswich Town are withdrawing the offer of free postage and the club shop will re-open its doors on Friday 3rd July.  I am going to miss those e-mails from Planet Blue tempting me to buy club branded doormats, duvets, rubber ducks and shoe laces, but I will keep trying to post my review of the cheap and cheerful ‘Button Neck Tee’ until the shirts are all sold and they disappear from the website altogether.  With no football still to go to I need something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Weather /Covid – 19 1 US Boulogne/ Lyon Duchere 0

In April 2019 in a moment of brilliant optimism my wife and I bought ten crossings on Le Shuttle; they had to be used within twelve months but it was worth ‘buying in bulk’ for the discount ,and why wouldn’t we want to commit ourselves to getting away to continental Europe at least five times in the next year?  We say “Bugger Brexit”.  In April 2019 we went to Dijon, in July ,in the midst of the heatwave, we drove to Paris to spend a week looking after some friends’ dog and in September we were due to spend three weeks looking after a cat in Strasbourg.  Disappointingly, we never made it to Strasbourg; in a personalised prototype of the current global shut-down, my life was put on hold as I spent five weeks in hospital and the best part of six months recuperating.  But now I am at last repaired, and there’s a rush to use up our six remaining crossings.  At the end of January we  spent a few days in Belgium, foolishly departing early on the Saturday morning to catch Ipswich Town v Oxford United instead of staying to join the 4,423 who enjoyed KV Oostende v Sint-Truiden, and then a couple of weeks ago we arranged a long weekend in Boulogne and Calais, planned to coincide with US Boulogne’s Friday night fixture in Ligue National (the French third division) against Lyon Duchere.

Life is sweet we thought and with US Boulogne in third place it promised to be a lot of fun; but on the morning of our departure the game at the Stade de la Liberation in Boulogne is called off, supposedly because of windy weather; but all twenty games in the Ligue 1 and 2 programmes are already postponed because of Coronavirus and within a few hours the whole of the Ligue National programme is cancelled too.  To add to our disappointment we had thought we were blessed by having succeeded in booking into a hotel with free parking opposite, which is a mere 300m walk from the stadium, and this had had us fantasising about being able to comfortably stagger back from the match hi on frites and Kronenburg, fine wine and third division football.

Friday is a beautiful sunny day with Boulogne-sur-Mer looking at its best, aided perhaps by no one much being about as schools and colleges begin to close and people stay at home due to Covid-19.  We enjoy the street art on the gable ends of the town houses and telecom equipment boxes, I drink Chimay trappist ale at a street café whilst my wife drinks pastis, we walk the town ramparts and visit the cathedral crypt, I buy a postcard and we sit in the sun.  Our day ends with a pleasant meal in a small restaurant in the centre of the fortified old town.  I forget about the football but for a brief glimpse of a single floodlight pylon at the end of the road as we step from the hotel and cross into the old town. I sleep well and dream sweet dreams.

On Saturday morning the puddle of standing water on the flat roof outside our hotel room window ripples with falling rain drops.  After breakfast we will depart for Calais, but first I must give my regards to the Stade de la Liberation and head out into fine drizzle that is coming directly off the English Channel and dropping on Boulogne-sur Mer.  Not wishing to provoke her asthma my wife remains in our room watching the drama of the Corona virus unfold on French TV when not looking for Les Lapins Cretins on the cartoon channel.  But I have to get a measure of what I missed last night and imagine what I might have witnessed under the beams of those four floodlights. 

The floodlights of the Stade de la Liberation peak over the roof tops around the ground, appearing between high gables and block of flats or hiding behind the spreading canopies of leafless grey trees.  A sign with an arrow says “Ribery” and points the way to a stand at the side of the pitch named after Boulogne’s famous son Franck, one of those players not greatly celebrated in England because like Zidane, Trezeguet and Thuram he was always just a bit too classy for the Premier League.

The man entrance to Stade de la Liberation is on Boulevard Eurvin where I peer through the railings across the pitch past the statue of a naked woman clutching a shell and standing on a fish.  How many clubs I wonder can boast such erotic statuary combined with references to seafood, not many I’ll wager.   Smiling to myself about what they’d make of such things in Grimsby and Fleetwood I turn into Rue de Dringhen and then Rue Leo Lagrange, which run behind ‘Ribery’ whilst tantalisingly offering no views of it at all.  Another right turn takes me in to Rue du Vieil-Atre and more sitings of the floodlights and the entrances to both the ‘Kop’ and the away supporters enclosure. Stickers adorn the signage outside indicating that at least one supporter from Creteil, a south eastern suburb or banlieu of Paris, has been here and that he, or she, was well supplied with Creteil related stickers. If the ultras from other clubs have stickers it would seem that Creteil are the only visiting supporters to have ventured this far north and they either went nowhere else or had stickers to spare.

An uncovered mass of seating above a scaffolding frame looms above me as I approach the turn into Rue Hector Berlioz , another residential street that backs onto the stadium.  I like that every  French town has streets named after the same great French composers and writers and wonder why England is so different and why we choose not to remember Britten or Williams or Holst but to honour local councillors and dignitaries who no one has ever heard of and even less gives a toss about.  Between the buildings there are glimpses of the cream painted render of the art deco style Tribune ‘Honneur’ where the posh people sit; but in truth the ground is now largely hidden but for the occasional lamp of a floodlight poking over  or between the rooftops.   A few more steps up the slope between parked cars and my tour of the Stade de la Liberation is over and I find myself back on the Boulevard Eurvin.

To be honest, in my ten minute walk I’ve not seen a lot of the Stade de la Liberation ,but what I have seen has been a series of snatched, tantalising half views of bits of stands and floodlights and signs and traces of those who’ve been here before, added to which my coat, my trousers and my shoes are all a little wet.  I will now be sure to remember for posterity my visit to US Boulogne during the great pandemic of 2020, and I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I got wet watching a game that never happened, having not even got into the stadium.   But it’s of such tales of pointless folly that football legend is made and such suffering and stupidity is what following football is all about.

Ipswich Town 0 Coventry City 1

Last night I went to a ‘gig’ in a very small music venue in Chelmsford called the Hot Box.  My friend Pete, who has never really got over being eighteen, invited me to see a ‘Psyche Rock’ band from Glasgow called Helicon, he thought I’d like them because some of their songs feature a sitar and I’m a sucker for a sitar, so he thought right.  It was when sitting in the bar chatting and listening to the trains rumble overhead (Hot Box is inside two railway viaduct arches) that we couldn’t help but notice all the reproductions of classic album covers of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that plaster the walls, and Pete spotted that for the Only Ones’ eponymous album released in 1978, my favourite year. Today I have realised how the lyrics to the Only Ones’ Another Girl, Another Planet describe my relationship with Ipswich Town “You get under my skin, I don’t find it irritating”.

Today the sky is blue with a hint of wispy cloud.  I stepped out of my back door a bit earlier and it felt flippin’ freezing; so, it is cloaked in a thick woolly jumper, overcoat and muffler that I set off for the railway station having flagrantly ignored the threat of COVID-19 and kissed my wife goodbye. The train arrives on time and the twelve minute walk has left me hot and a bit sweaty; life is not always what you expect. Naturally, the sun is shining in Ipswich and behind the Station Hotel in its beer garden the scarves and shirts of Coventry City fans mimic the colour of the sky; surreally the Eton Boating Song drifts up over the pub car park and the murky waters of the River Orwell, I half expect to see Boris Johnson and his cronies burning £50 notes in front of the rough sleepers who doss down at the front of the railway station.

In Portman Road the six-wheel, slate grey Coventry City team bus arrives at the same time as me, but the bus reverses into Portman Road, turns round and is re-directed to the Constantine Road entrance. Unlike the coach driver I know exactly where I’m going and walk on through, past a man who appears to have a metal bollard stuck up his anus, and the usual pre-match panorama of people munching low-grade meat product between slabs of low grade bread product.  The flags on the Cobbold Stand fly strongly in the breeze and I walk on towards St Matthews Street and St Jude’s Tavern where Mick is already a good way through a pint of Iceni Brewery Partridge Walk (£2.50).  I buy a pint of the same and once sat down we discuss the end of my phased return to work after illness, our weight , today’s team selection and, after Mick reveals how he can’t stand people going on and on about their dogs, dogs. Neither of us owns a dog but I used to have two Lurchers called Alfie and Larry, until they were put down.  I drink another pint of Partridge Walk whilst Mick sinks a Jamieson’s whisky and with fifteen minutes or so until kick-off we depart with the licensee wishing us luck as we don our coats.

Turnstile 5 is my portal into another world today and as usual I smile and thank the operator for letting me through. With bladders drained and hands washed Mick and I take our seats, stepping over them from the row behind so as not to inconvenience Pat from Clacton who is already ensconced at the end of the row.  Of course ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here too, along with his young son Elwood and there’s a welcome return of the old dears (Doug and Sheila) who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me; the only absentee is once again the man with the Brylcreemed hair; that’s two games on the trot he’s not been here, I fear we may have ‘lost’ him and Pat from Clacton says as much.  I won’t miss him, I found his thick hair furrowed with Brylcreem somewhat distracting.

The two teams soon emerge from the shiny, blue, plastic tunnel and Crazee the mascot waves his flag like Liberty leading the people in Eugene Delacroix’s painting. “L’étendard sanglant est levé” I sing to myself, in my head, whilst wishing this game was in Ligue 1 and not League One.  The sky is no longer blue, but grey and cloudy.  The game begins and Ipswich are wearing their customary lovely royal blue shirts and socks with white shorts whilst our guests Coventry are in a somewhat avant garde ensemble of white shirts with a black and white chequered band across the chest, black shorts and white socks; they look as though they are either the 2-Tone Records works’ team or the Metropolitan Police, but it’s quite smart in a un-football-kit-like sort of way. The 2-Tone connection is in fact used to market the kit and in my mind I take things a step further imagining the players on the team bus all in dark suits, pencil ties and pork-pie hats before stepping off the bus in a line like Madness or skanking to The Selecta.  If Ipswich Town was to go for a dress style based on that of a famous, local, popular music artist the players would have to have haircuts like a 1980’s Nik Kershaw, and indeed Frank Yallop did.

Five minutes pass and Town’s Jon Nolan falls theatrically in the penalty area, it’s a blatant dive and I express my disgust with outspread arms and disbelieving expression whilst those around me bay for a penalty.  Town looked okay for a short while, but Coventry are now dominating possession and seem like they have a plan. Up in the Cobbold Stand the Coventry supporters sing Tom Hark (originally a Ska song by Elias and his Zig-Zag Ji-flutes, but not on 2-Tone) and something about ‘going up’, which my ears won’t let me decipher.  The away following today is impressive, even if their annunciation is poor; we will later learn that there are 1,740 of them and in forty-nine years of coming to Portman Road I have never seen so many Coventry City supporters, but then this is the first time in forty-nine years that a Coventry team has come to Portman Road that is at the top of or even anywhere near the top of a league.  These people have been very patient, their team having previously only ever been models of mediocrity, although most Town fans would kill for a bit of mediocrity right now.

As seagulls soar overhead and perch on the cross girder of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand roof, Coventry win the game’s first corner, but the ball is sent directly behind the goal line. The match looks like being one of attrition, but then Coventry score; the uninspiringly named Matt Godden turning very cleverly and shooting inside the far post. No one saw that coming, least of all Luke Chambers and his chums in the Ipswich back-four. Fifteen minutes have passed. “Super, Super Matt” sing the Coventry fans as if advertising a local launderette, but then clarifying the matter by adding “Super Matty Godden”, all to the tune of Skip to My Lou.

The Sir Bobby Robson stand, who had been in reasonable voice fall quiet and the pall of gloom that had seemingly been blown out to sea after the defeat to Fleetwood on Tuesday returns.  “Fucking dog shit this” opines the roughly spoken gentleman behind me.  “Fuckin’ sums it all up” he continues, as a Town player is out-jumped for the ball, “How was he beaten in the air? He’s not even trying to win the fuckin’ ball”.  Pat from Clacton rolls her eyes at the coarseness of the language whilst owning up to me that she sometimes says “shit”.

On 28 minutes a ball drops over the top of the Coventry defence and Town’s Jon Nolan is on to it with just Coventry’s Slovakian goalkeeper Marko Marosi between him and glory. Nolan opts for abuse as he tamely heads the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands. “We’re gonna win the League” sing the Coventry supporters, sounding a little unsure of the words, having never sung them before this season.   Half an hour has passed and the wonderfully named referee, Trevor Kettle, whistles for a foul on Town’s Teddy Bishop and then gives his yellow card its first airing of the afternoon, brandishing it in the direction of the perpetrator Liam Walsh.  Town win their first corner five minutes later and Luke Woolfenden’s shot is sent wide of the goal.  It’s nearly half-time and seizing their opportunity to deliver ironic humour as Town supporters head for the toilets, the Coventry fans sing “Is this a library?” Time enough remains for Nolan to be through on goal again and send his shot over the cross bar and a few rows behind me some unusually posh sounding people talk to one another very loudly ,as posh people often do, about something completely unrelated to football.

Half -time brings boos for Trevor ‘The Whistle’ Kettle as he leaves the pitch with his two side-kicks in their unpleasant yellowy-green tops and the air is one of despondency.  Mick asks if I thought we should have had a penalty near the beginning when Nolan went down; I tell him I can’t remember the incident. “Well, you were very animated at the time” says Mick, and then I remember and have to explain that actually I was annoyed that Nolan had dived.  I speak with Ray who bemoans the absence of decent full-backs at the club and the fact that once again the goal Town conceded came down the left hand side of the pitch.

At 16:04 the second half begins, but the blokes behind don’t return for a good few minutes; they don’t miss much and we don’t miss them.  As time passes inexorably it becomes apparent that the second half is better than the first from a Town supporting perspective, we have more of the ball anyway, which makes it feel like we’re doing okay.  Godden misses a good opportunity to confirm the win for Coventry, but otherwise his team doesn’t look that much better than ours, just a bit more confident due to a fortunate habit of winning rather than an unfortunate one of losing.  Pat from Clacton tells me that she’s going to Yarmouth next weekend for a week of playing whist, but she’ll be back on the Friday, the day before the Portsmouth game.   She won £28 last year.

An hour of football has passed and as he turns towards goal Town’s Freddie Sears is hacked down by Coventry’s Kyle Macfadzean who is consequently booked by Mr Kettle, who I imagine must have asked “Would you spell that please” as he reached for his pencil and his notebook. With the help of her compact Sony camera and its zoom lens Pat confirms that Ed Sheeran’s is here again today and she snaps him. I tell her that I saw on Twitter that Rick Wakeman is here too, and she gets a really good picture of him in the directors’ box, in which he’s looking right down the camera.   Watch out for the Patarazzi.  Pat’s sister Jill wins the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus.  “Oh please let them score” entreats Pat as another cross is sent into the Coventry penalty area, but the team is in need of some luck and Pat gets out the masturbating monkey charm who introduced himself at the Fleetwood game; she rubs his head but nothing happens.  I learn that the monkey actually came from Cambodia, not Vietnam as I said before.

Neither Mick nor Pat from Clacton, nor I notice how many minutes of added time there are, so engrossed are we in the match and so strongly are we willing Town to score, but at 16:53 Mr Kettle whistles for the last time and it’s all over bar the booing, of which, thankfully, there isn’t as much as there was on Tuesday.  Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil and who never misses a game and Elwood make a sharp exit for their respective coach and car but Mick and I stay to applaud the team.  They haven’t all played well, but we don’t doubt that they tried to, who doesn’t want to do their best except nihilists and they probably want to be good at being nihilists.  If we don’t applaud them that can only make them feel worse; we’re Supporters, it’s what we do.  Something tells me the masturbating monkey would say it’s just fate.