Ipswich Town 4 Morecambe 0

One of the many potentially good things about the FA Cup for supporters of third division clubs, is that if your team gets to the third round or beyond, then Saturday fixtures get postponed and are magically transformed into midweek games under floodlight.  This is a good thing if your re-arranged games are at home, not so good if you feel the need to travel to every away game.   Those good people of Morecambe for whom supporting their football team is a kind of religious devotion must wonder what they have done wrong. Not only is it a particularly cold and damp month, but they live in an out of season seaside resort somewhere up North and now the Football League are telling them that to support their team they must travel the best part of five hours on English motorways  to the far end of the country on a grey Tuesday afternoon in January.  At lunchtime today I was told that the Morecambe FC coach was already in the West End Road car park. When I walked past later I took a look, it had a parking ticket on the windscreen.

I have suffered too today,  I have been to work in the office instead of staying in the comfort of my own home.  But now, at a quarter past four, after almost eight hours of ceaseless toil I am meeting Roly and we are heading for the pub.  By way of a change we are in the Three Wise Monkeys where we drink coffee like the sophisticated metrosexuals that we are, I have an Americano and Roly has some frothy milky looking thing.  We settle in two large arm chairs beneath the stairs and discuss the late Cyril Fletcher, the ridiculousness of BBC tv’s That’s Life,  and football.  I detect a level of pessimism in Roly that I attribute to his long Suffolk heritage.  Coffee can only take a man so far along the path to enlightenment however, and we eventually move on to The Arb to drink beer and eat:  a pint of Lacon’s Encore (£3.90?) and Cajun Chicken Burger (£13) for Roly and a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride(£4?)  and a Scotch Egg with thick cut chips (£9) for me.  Unusually, we sit inside the pub and not outside, probably because we have arrived early enough for there to be a vacant table.  After a while Mick arrives, walks through the bar and out towards the garden, returns, presumably because we aren’t there, and finally buys us both very low alcohol beers brewed by the Big Drop Brewing Company and has a pint of Suffolk Pride for himself. The conversation continues mostly courtesy of Roly who occasionally interrupts if someone else speaks, apologises for interrupting and then carries on, before apologising for interrupting again.  It sounds worse than it is because I don’t have much to say anyway, which is just as well.

When Roly finally draws breath, I take the opportunity to suggest it’s time to leave for Portman Road and that’s what we do. We part in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, Roly strangely and quickly joining a queue for a turnstile into the West stand, whilst Mick walks further on to a turnstile where there is no queue; I make my way to turnstile 60 and the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, which perhaps ought to be in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, but isn’t.  Inside the ground, Fiona is here and so is ever present Phil who never misses a game and the man from Stowmarket, but Elwood and Pat from Clacton are not.  Pat had sent me a message at twelve minutes past three to say she wouldn’t be coming tonight on account of her not fancying sitting in the cold with her arthritic pains; I guess sitting in the cold without her arthritic pains was not an option; like a faithful dog, wherever she goes they go too.

I’ve missed the start of Stephen Foster reading out the Town team, which is a shame, but I join in just as soon as I can, shouting out the surnames of the players as he announces them.  No one has started joining in with me yet,  but I  live in hope.    The game begins, Town get first go with the ball, we win a corner and the ball drops kindly; Freddie Ladapo is more alert than anyone else and scores from close range.  We’re winning and I’ve not really had time yet to notice that Morecambe are in red shirts and shorts with white socks, which I am a little surprised to find is a pretty good combination, and shows just how important socks are.

 Of course we scored in the first minute against Fleetwood a few weeks back and that didn’t end as well as we’d  hoped, so no one’s getting too excited and after a brief bit of shouting and cheering and  even a brief chant,  which fades out like no one knows the words after the first line, the crowd becomes quiet. “ I missed the first goal didn’t I?” says a voice from somewhere  behind me.

Leif Davis breaks down the left flank at high speed and weirdly the referee, Mr Rock, appears to be chasing him.  Mr Rock , what an example he is to all football officials, cut him in half and you’ll find the word ‘referee’ is written all the way through him.  Lee Evans steps forward and from nothing unleashes a shot against the Morecambe goalkeeper’s righthand goalpost. I probably say “Phwoarr!” or something similar.  Meanwhile, the bloke behind me sounds impressed with new signing Harry Clarke.  “That Clarke likes to take the ball forward” he says, before adding “He likes travelling with the ball”  making me imagine him on the bus with a ball on the seat next to him.  Harry Clarke will go on to have one of the best home debuts I’ve seen since Finidi George dazzled us over twenty years ago.

It really is very quiet in Portman Road tonight. There aren’t many Morecambe supporters here but I can hear them singing “Oh when the reds going marching in” . A Morecambe player, Jensen Weir, is down injured after a foul by Wes Burns and silence reigns as if everyone is holding their breath to see if he’s going to be alright; he is. Within seconds of the game resuming another new Town signing, Nathan Broadhead, plays the ball forward, Freddie Ladapo runs around his marker, gets sight of goal and shoots against the foot of the far post.  Normally the ball would defy the laws of physics and bounce out to be cleared by a fortuitously placed defender,  but the alignment of the  planets and stars must be on the huh tonight and the ball spins across behind the goal line and against the net on the far side as if it’s doing a little celebratory dance,  and Town lead 2-0.

Town win another corner, the Sir Bobby Robson stand sing “We’ve got Super Kieran McKenna he knows exactly what we need…” and the floodlights seem to be producing a lot of glare in the lenses of my glasses tonight, it could be because it’s a damp evening or may be my glasses are just a bit grubby.  Town treat us to some quick and attractive passing, running and movement; the working man’s ballet as Alf Garnett called it. “Champagne football” says the bloke behind me to his neighbour, as you would if you were watching Stade de Reims versus Troyes in Ligue 1.  The crowd is very quiet again, almost as if they are in awe of what they’re seeing on the pitch, or are concentrating very hard to understand it.  In the Sir Bobby Robson stand the lights keep turning off and on as if someone is leaning on the switch.  “Ladapo’s got the touch of Messi tonight” says the bloke behind me in an unrelated incident.

In their defence tonight Morecambe have the exotically named Farrend Rawson, a tall player made more conspicuous by his totally bald head and goatee beard. It makes me think how different Flash Gordon could have been if Emperor Ming had also turned out for a third division football team.  “Come On You Blues” is an unexpected if faint chant from the bottom tier of the Cobbold Stand. Another corner to Town, a header from Richard Keogh and a flying save from the talented Conor Ripley in the Morecambe goal , who is probably the chunkiest goal keeper  at Portman Road so far this season.

Thirty-seven minutes are up and Wes Burns escapes down the right wing, crosses the ball and Conor Chaplin shoots low inside the far post to make the score 3-0 to Town. “Ole, Ole, Ole” sings the crowd for all of five seconds before returning to quiet contemplation. There are six minutes of additional time to be played and it’s enough for Chaplin to score again, this time with a typical snap shot inside the near post and the score is 4-0.

As ever I take a half-time stroll to the front of the stand to say hello to Ray, his son Michael and grandson Harrison.   Michael and Harrison have a new van, Harrison has tickets to see Noel Gallagher  and The Zutons and has discovered that ‘psychedelic folk’ artist Robyn Hitchcock is some thirty years older than his wife Emma Swift.  Otherwise, talk is of how many more goals can Town get in the second half.

The game resumes at six minutes to nine and Morecambe bring on three substitutes in one fell swoop, which includes the replacement of Curly Watts with Aleister Crowley, something which the writers of Coronation Street were never brave enough to do.  Also entering the fray is Michael Mellon, one of the few players in league football whose surname is a mis-spelt fruit.

Four minutes in to the half and Mr Rock displays his yellow card for the first time after the sophisticated sounding Jacob Bedeau assaults Nathan Broadhead.  Morecambe’s Crowley is a tiny man who one might think was a child if it wasn’t for his five o’clock shadow.   Nathan Broadhead produces a superb shot which is heading for the inside of the goal net until the huge flying frame of Ripley hoves into view and a Ripley arm extends and pushes it away beyond the post.  Ripley is having a fine game and five minutes later performs a sort of break dance after he slips when making a hasty  clearance from in front of the looming Freddie Ladapo. A little while later he does it again after taking a goal kick.

Almost an hour of the game has receded into history and Morecambe have their first attempt on the Town goal, a speculative near post header than arcs slowly beyond the far post.  Two minutes later and after some fabulous skill from Conor Chaplin, Kayden Jackson sprints away down the right and lays the ball back for Nathan Broadhead to place a firm shot in Ripley’s midriff.  It’s now Town’s turn to get in on the multiple substitution act as the unlikely firm of solicitors Morsy, Broadhead and Ladapo leave to be replaced by Cameron Humphreys, Kyle Edwards and George Hirst.  Fiona reveals that she once had a cat called George.

Just under twenty minutes of normal time remain and Morecambe earn their first corner and  appreciation of their travelling supporters who get their kicks where they can and celebrate disproportionately.  Marcus Harness replaces the excellent Conor Chaplin and Stephen Foster tells us that tonight’s attendance is 21,948 with one-hundred and two from Morcambe, although I have a quick count and can only spot sixty-four.

After such a goal laden first half, the second half has been less thrilling, but it has nevertheless passed quickly.  Apart from already being four-nil up, the crowd has had not very much to sing about in the second half, but the quiet at Portman Road has at times been almost oppressive, as if some people had turned up for a bit of a moan after Saturday’s defeat at Oxford and are now sulking.  As the final minutes roll by and just three more are added, the Sir Bobby Robson stand at last break into song with some celebratory Ole, Ole Oles and a drum can be heard too.  Perhaps the Rio de Janeiro branch of the supporters club were late getting here tonight.

With the final whistle I swiftly depart, erroneously thinking that I will quickly be able to get out of the Portman Road car park and away into the night.  It seems that far too many people had already left and have clogged up the streets.  But I didn’t turn up tonight just so I could get away early, that would be daft.  I came for the football and that’s been excellent, it’s been a night to remember for Town and I doubt Morecambe will forget it either.

Ipswich Town 4 Rotherham United 1

The year of our Lord 2023 has not started well. I have been suffering with diarrhoea all week and on Friday evening the teams I was rooting for in their respective ties in the ‘round of thirty-two’ in the Coupe de France (Montpellier HSC, Nimes Olympique, RC Strasbourg and LB de Chateauroux) all lost.  Today began as dull and grey and has progressed to become both wet and miserable, but my gloom and despondency have lifted as today is also the third round of the FA Cup and mighty Ipswich Town have a home tie against mighty Rotherham United. 

When I saw my first FA Cup third round tie back on 5th January 1974 (Town v Sheffield United) it would have been inconceivable to think of first division Town beating fourth division Rotherham as ever being a giant killing, but forty-nine years on the tables have turned a bit.  With Rotherham now in the second division and Town in the third, if Town win today I shall be claiming this as a ‘giant killing’, albeit one akin to a school child who is rather big for their age thumping one who is small for theirs but in the year above.

Ipswich is grey, Gippeswyk Park is wet underfoot and traffic is queuing to get over the bridge opposite the railway station, but Portman Road is quiet as I step up to the first booth I come to to purchase a copy of today’s programme. “Let me guess, £2.00 today” I say to the young woman in the booth.  She smiles perhaps through pity but I like to think she almost appears impressed as I hand her a single coin and tell her it wasn’t that big a deal, I’ve been to Cup matches before. 

By and by I cross the threshold of ‘The Arb’ and at the bar tell the barman that I ought to have something non-alcoholic; he directs me to the third shelf from the bottom of a tall fridge with a glass door which is packed with cans of ‘craft’ beer.  I pick a can of Big Drop Galactic Milk Stout and returning to the bar the I hear the voice of Mick saying “I’ll get that” which is characteristically good of him.  Mick has a glass of an anonymous amber bitter and packet of Fairfield’s Farms cheese and onion flavour crisps.  We repair to the garden where we meet Gary coming in the opposite direction who texted me early this morning, but I didn’t reply because I hadn’t noticed.  Gary is on his way to buy himself a beer and returns with a pint of unidentified lager; Gary is from Essex.

The three of us talk a little of football, the tv series ‘detectorists’, but also of death, as ever.  Mick’s daughter’s neighbour died this week from cardiac arrest and Gary tells of a man whose birthday coincided with his wife being admitted to hospital and her father dying. Aside from the big things like wars, famine and climate change life can be pretty miserable on a micro-level, which puts football into perfect perspective, so we really should try and enjoy it whatever the result.

Not much after twenty-five to three we head for Portman Road, returning our glasses to the bar on the way and noting that ‘The Arb’ now has a menu for dogs; I make a silly comment about restaurants in Malaysia. Sir Alf Ramsey Way is thick with people queuing to get into Sir Alf’s eponymous stand and the Magnus west stand, but we carry on towards the Corporation bus depot and find no queue at all at the end turnstile, where for the first time in my life I gain entry by my wife having downloaded my ticket on my mobile phone and having it scanned.  Mick and I were both nervous that this would work but it did.  I find myself marvelling at the wonder of modern technology in the manner of uncle Bryn in tv’s ‘Gavin and Stacey’.

Having syphoned off some beer, Mick and I find our way to the ‘posh’ padded seats in Block Y from where will be watching this afternoon’s game.  Gary only bought his ticket last night and so is away in the humbler surroundings of F Block.  Courtesy of his season ticket, Gary normally sits in J Block which Mick tells me is also the name of an Ipswich drugs gang from the mean streets between Bramford Road and London Road.  In the oppressive dim light of the upper tier of the Magnus west stand, we edge ourselves past an unsmiling man and his unsmiling wife, although she could be his floozie, and we find our seats.  A little weirdly to my cold, unfeeling mind, today’s game is, according to page 23 of the programme, the Club’s annual Memorial Matchday in which members of the Blue Army who died in 2022, or ‘passed away’ as the programme calls it, can be remembered.   Before the game can begin the names of the deceased appear on the scoreboard and they receive a minute’s applause. “There are an awful lot of names” says Mick, who for a moment thinks these are all former players.  I’m not sentimental and find this Memorial Match idea a bit odd, but I am reminded nevertheless of former manager John Duncan and the excellent, original David Johnson,  John Jackson and, although I saw none of his thirty-four games for Town, Aled Owen. I recall seeing Jackson’s only game for Town, a 2-1 win over Manchester United and that Aled Owen played a single league game in the Championship winning season of 1961/62.  I think of fellow fan Andi Button with whom I saw many an away game in the 1980’s and 1990’s and even travelled with him by car to see Doncaster Rovers v Colchester United for what was the last game at Belle Vue before Doncaster were relegated from the Football League in 1998.

With applauses clapped and knees taken the game begins, Rotherham having first go with the ball, hoping to kick mostly towards the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and looking like Derby County or Germany in white shirts with black shorts, despite their proper kit of red shirts with white sleeves and white shorts not clashing at all with Town’s blue and white ensemble.  Perhaps the absence of the red kit is a sign that Rotherham haven’t turned up as themselves today and aren’t much interested in the Cup, but in fact their team shows just one change from that which lost in the league at Millwall last weekend.

The crowd is loud with a good noise from the Sir Bobby Robson stand where the most vocal support, Blue Action, has re-located itself from stuck up the corner to the central section. Despite the impressive support, the game starts slowly, very slowly, with Richard Keogh and George Edmundson frequently standing still with the ball at their feet before merely passing the ball between one another. As I remark to Mick, it’s not exactly a ‘blood and thunder’ cup tie. I spend my time getting used to the unfamiliar surroundings of Block Y with its tight legroom and padded seats and the man behind me with a loud voice who likes to explain things to his children, although to be fair they are asking questions, as children do.  Slowly, Town venture forward and a couple of forays on the flanks nearly produce moves worth applauding and some people do. Both Conor Chaplin and Kayden Jackson have shots on goal, but both are poor efforts.  Then twice the ball is given away cheaply in the Town half and luckily Rotherham fail to take full advantage, Jamie Lindsay trying and failing to pass when he should have shot and then most luckily of all the ball is sent from close range into the Town net only for the ‘scorer’ to be flagged offside.  The home crowd is in good voice with the lower tiers of both the Sir Alf and Sir Bobby stands looking full.

Freddie Ladapo chases a through ball. “Way offside” calls a bloke behind me in a tone of voice that implies that Ladapo being offside is a given.  “Way offside” he says again scornfully and then once more for luck when the assistant referee finally raises his flag.  This bloke behind me would seem to have turned up simply to let the world, or at least an unfortunate part of Block Y know that he doesn’t rate Freddie Ladapo.  The larger part of the first half is marred by such carping “Here we go, what are you gonna do with it? Do something with it” says another know-it-all as the opportunity for a match winning pass once again fails to materialise.   Much more enjoyably, when Kayden Jackson is fouled but gets no free-kick, a high-pitched, pre-pubescent voice from behind calls “Get your bloody glasses out”.

A half an hour has gone and whilst Ipswich have dominated, they have not been incisive, and shooting has been snatched at and inaccurate.  The children behind are eating savoury snacks that smell like a dog has farted.  In the corner between the Cobbold Stand and the Sir Alf Ramsey stand I can see a patch of blue sky above what must be Holywells Park.  A fine rain has started to fall and it’s nearly half-time. Kayden Jackson breaks down the right wing, as the Rotherham defence back pedal, Jackson sends a low cross towards the back of the penalty area, Conor Chaplin can’t reach it, but Cameron Humphreys is running in and strikes the ball smoothly inside the left hand post beyond the diving Viktor Johansson, and Town lead 1-0, it’s a fine, fine  goal.

Half-time follows on quickly and the crowd seems happy, a goal always works wonders. Mick had departed early to siphon more used beer and I meet him in the bar where we watch the half-time results on the tv and play spot the ‘giant-killing’ which leads to a discussion about which league clubs are in and how it was easier when it was divisions one to four. I admit to Mick that I still refer to divisions one to four bloody-mindedly to show my dislike of ‘modern ways’ in the same way that I call the internet the interweb.  Mick says he does the same when he still calls Ipswich’s ‘waterfront’ the docks.

The game resumes at five past four and it’s still raining, just a bit harder.  We’ve barely got comfortable again before Keogh and Leif Davis get in a muddle and allow Conor Washington to slip between them and get beyond Keogh who stretches out a leg or two giving Washington the opportunity to fall over him and win a penalty, which being unfamiliar with the Corinthian Spirit he naturally takes. Washington recovers sufficiently from his ordeal to score the penalty and the hard work of the first half is laid to waste.  Keogh hasn’t had a great match today, he could be the new Luke Chambers although happily he’s no Mark Fish or Ivar Ingimarsson.

The match resumes again and despite no doubt the worst fears of the crowd, Town continue to be the better team and Rotherham don’t look like scoring again.  The rain continues, swirling and drifting through the beams of the floodlights as natural daylight fades from the streets around the ground. Over an hour has passed and Marcus Harness replaces Sone Aluko, Rotherham bring on the only player from their last league match who didn’t begin the game today, Dan Barlaser, who sounds like a character from a sci-fi novel.

Town play a patient game, which is just as well because there are twenty-six minutes to wait until Freddie Ladapo, with his back to goal is wrestled to the ground by Rotherham’s Wes Harding.  Conor Chaplin scores the resulting penalty and the Sir Bobby Robson stand channel the spirit of Doris Day with an essential but tentative chorus of “Que Sera, Que Sera”.  “It wasn’t even a great penalty” says the know-it-all behind me.  Four minutes later Town make mass substitutions, which as often seems to happen bring quick relief to our pain and Freddie Ladapo gets a free run at goal; he rounds the goalkeeper and shoots low and hard to put Town 3-1 up, much to the chagrin no doubt of the know-it-all.

Today’s attendance is announced by the dangerously up-beat Stephen Foster as being 15,728 with 215 of that number being Rotherhamites. It has to be the biggest crowd for an FA Cup match at Portman Road in at least ten years, probably more.  Rotherham continue to flounder.  “Ha-ha” says the child behind me sounding like Nelson Munce from the Simpsons as a rare Rotherham foray forward squirms away over the line for a goal-kick.  All around, except up in the Cobbold stand there is a sense of joy.  Cup fever has broken out at Portman Road and is spreading fast through a crowd previously thought to have been vaccinated against it. The until now totally reserved man beside me begins to mutter “Ole, Ole, Ole” to himself following the lead of the Sir Bobby Robson stand, only they’re not muttering.

Eight minutes of normal time remain and a Kyle Edwards shot hits a post. Gassan Yahyi replaces Freddie Ladapo and then Kane Vincent-Young takes advantage of a shove by Hakeem Odoffin and Wes Burns adds a fourth goal from the penalty spot as a result.  “Championship you’re ‘avin’ a laugh” chant the Sir Bobby Robson standers safe in the knowledge that we can’t possibly lose now, and after three minutes of added on time Town’s ball books its place in the velvet bag for the fourth-round draw.

As we descend the stairs and head out into the drizzly darkness Mick and I reflect on our afternoon of FA Cup giant-killing .  I venture that it was pretty good. “After a very slow start” says Mick, tempering my enthusiasm, but I’m sure he’s only trying to keep my feet on the ground.   Wemberlee!

Ipswich Town 1 Cheltenham Town 1

In the final scenes of Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film ‘If’, the central character Mick Travis, played by Malcolm McDowell, and his nameless girlfriend launch a machine gun attack on the parents, teachers and governors at a school speech day.  The scene was filmed at Cheltenham College and it’s one of my favourite scenes in one of my favourite films; Wikipedia tells us that ‘If’ won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1969 and in 1999 the British Film Institute ranked it as the 12th greatest British film of all time.  As if that association with such a great film is not enough kudos for Cheltenham, it also has a football team that has never lost to Ipswich Town. Today Ipswich Town and Cheltenham Town meet at Portman Road for only the second time in recorded history.  I don’t know it yet, but later today I’m going to feel like Mick Travis.

In north Essex it has been a stupendously dull morning, both still and depressingly grey, like November days should be. It’s only when I approach Ipswich that a diffuse yellow light begins to filter through the grimness and then bright sunshine bursts from a clear blue sky like a metaphor for the end of the working week and the arrival of Saturday, heralding a match at Portman Road.  Before the game I visit my mother and we reminisce about all manner of things from years ago and she tells me how her grandfather, Sam Scarff, an agricultural labourer from Needham Market, enrolled with a friend for evening classes, joined the police and rose to the rank of inspector in the Met’ before retiring to become a game-keeper in Shotley; his friend became a police commissioner, and I thought social mobility was a 1960’s thing.

Leaving my mother with her memories, I drive across town and park up on Chantry. The streets are busy with people in football-supporting attire. I walk across the wet grass of Gippeswyk Park and marvel at how lush and green the turf now is compared to how dried up, brown and withered it was on the first day of the football season three months ago.  In Sir Alf Ramsey way I attempt to buy a programme (£3.50) in the modern cashless manner, but the technology isn’t working today.  I laugh and hand over a five pound note to the somewhat miserable and overweight looking youth in the programme booth.  The Arbor House, formerly known as The Arboretum, is busy with pre-match drinkers, but I am served quite quickly and order a pint of Nethergate Complete Howler (£4.00). I head for the garden where Mick is already sat at a table with a pint of a dark beer from the Grain brewery which he’s not very keen on, I take a sip and agree that it’s not exactly moreish, but then the Grain brewery is located in Norfolk, albeit with an IP postcode.  Before long Roly joins us and proceeds to dominate the conversation, mainly because he seems to have the ability to talk without drawing breath, which means a polite person like me can’t get a word in edgeways, not that I have much to say.  We, by which I mean mostly Roly, talk of local council chief executives, Roly’s five-year-old daughter Lottie, primary schools on the Essex Suffolk border and the performances of Town player Dom Ball.  Between twenty-five and twenty to three we leave via the back gate of the beer garden and head for Portman Road.  I bid Mick and Roly farewell by the turnstiles to the Magnus Stand, formerly known as the West Stand.  We speak briefly of when we will next meet; it will be for the five o’clock kick off v Buxton in the FA Cup on Sunday 26th November.   I won’t be going to the mid-week game versus Portsmouth as I am boycotting the Papa John’s EFL Trophy, not because I have anything against oily, takeaway pizza, but because I think the competition has been debased by the inclusion of Evil Premier League under-21 teams.  I am particularly looking forward to not going to Wembley should Town make it to the final, when I will blow a metaphorical raspberry to all those people who believe that anyone boycotting the competition will automatically abandon their principles if Town get to the final.  Such beliefs help explain why we have a Tory government.

Most unusually, today there is a queue at the turnstiles for the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand which are accessed from Constantine Road, but quite soon an extra turnstile opens up (No61) and a cheerful man presents bar codes to a screen and I pass through the portal to another world.  That pint of beer has already found its way to the exit and from the gents beneath the stand I hear stadium announcer Stephen Foster reading the team line-ups from the scoreboard in his best local radio DJ voice.  I arrive at my seat just as a minute’s silence begins for Armistice day, although that was actually yesterday.  Oddly, the Football Association have decided not to cancel the fixtures today as they did when they felt they couldn’t trust football crowds to observe a minute’s silence for the death of Queen Elizabeth back in September.  The minute’s silence is of course observed perfectly. Stephen Foster reads from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem ‘For the Fallen’ and the last post is played exquisitely, even if it does slightly spoil the solemnity and dignity of the moment to then be told by Stephen Foster that Jon Holden who played it is a member of the Co-op East of England Brass Band.  It’s probably just me, but I can’t help sniggering a little at any mention of the Co-op.

After a fly-past by a couple of Army helicopters, and a brief burst of ‘Hey Jude’, the game begins with Town getting first go with the ball and kicking towards me , Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Fiona and the man from Stowmarket.  Town are thankfully back to wearing their blue shirts and white shorts after the all-black aberration against Derby, whilst Cheltenham Town are wearing red shirts and shorts with their ruddiness off-set by white socks and a white pin-stripe on their shirt fronts.  Quickly, Portman Road sounds in good voice as the altered version of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ in which she eternally fights Norwich on Boxing Day rings around the ground.  On the touchline, Town manager Kieran McKenna is looking stylish, if a little drab in a black jacket and trousers with a plain jumper, which I at first think is beige but then think is grey; perhaps it’s taupe?

From the start Ipswich dominate and it feels as if everyone, from the supporters to the players really wants to win this match. We all remember the life-denying, spirit crushing goalless draw against Cheltenham from last season and that’s our inspiration to see Town give these upstarts, better known for their poncey Regency spa a sound thrashing.   Crosses rain into the Cheltenham penalty area and although one from Conor Chaplin goes a bit off course and strikes Wes Burns in the throat Sam Morsy soon has the first shot on goal and then from a corner Luke Woolfenden hooks the ball into the goal from close range and Town lead 1-0.  Woolfenden runs off sucking his thumb with the ball up his jumper and ever-present Phil mentions something about the birth of wolf cubs; I suggest he has simply discovered the joy of sucking his thumb. 

More corners and crosses follow and I chant “Come On You Blues” and so does Phil, but no one else does.  “Two of you singing, there’s only two of you singing” announces Pat from Clacton, sort of singing herself, which is ironic.  Janoi Donacien strides forward into a rare bit of space and pulls the ball back to Marcus Harness; the Cheltenham defence is rent open like a tin of corned beef on which the key has broken half-way round and it’s been necessary to open both ends with a tin-opener to get the meat out. Harness must score, but somehow the ball strikes the under-side of the cross bar as if deflected away from the goal net by some invisible force…either that or Harness made a hash of it.

There are more corners to Ipswich, loads of them, and Phil and I keep chanting “Come On You Blues” vainly hoping someone will join in with us. We change to the simpler “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” but the occupants of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand aren’t moved.  I think to myself that I might as well be singing in French and so I do “Allez les Bleus, Allez les Bleus” I chant; Fiona says I’ve gone too far. On the pitch Janoi Donacien is hurt and is replaced by Kane Vincent-Young and the ball skims of the top of Cheltenham number six Lewis Freestone’s head as if he was a man who had applied too much brylcreem to his hair.  Another cross and Leif Davis precisely places a carefully controlled header over the Cheltenham cross bar.  Within a minute Cheltenham equalise as Ryan Broom sweeps forward and shoots at Christian Walton who somehow cannot stop the ball squirming around or under or through him onto the goal.  It might have been the brylcreem on the ball.  It will prove to be Cheltenham’s only real shot of the game and up in the Cobbold stand a knot of about twenty excited youths jump around and wave their arms about like bookies on a race course or idiots trying to fly.

Disappointing as that equaliser is, Town press on, although not quite as well as before.  When the Cheltenham goalkeeper parries a low Marcus Harness cross out to Cameron Humphreys, somehow the ball comes straight back to him.  Two minutes of added on time are announced very noisily by Stephen Foster, as if he’d turned the PA system up to eleven. “Speak Up” says Pat from Clacton.   I applaud Town off the field with the half-time whistle and go and talk with Ray, his son Michael and grandson Harrison.  I ask Harrison if he has got the new Robyn Hitchcock album ‘Shufflemania’ yet, he says he may get it for Christmas as he looks at his dad.

The match resumes at six minutes past four and a chorus of ‘Blue and White Army’ briefly rolls around the stands, not exactly like thunder. On the stroke of the 53rd minute the crowd rises for a minute’s applause in memory of Supporters’ Club Chairman Martin Swallow who died at the end of October.  A lone seagull floats above the pitch; no doubt someone would think it poignant. 

With Cheltenham confined to their half of the pitch due to constant Ipswich possession, this is the sort of game where every moment lost through a Cheltenham player sitting on the grass or receiving treatment is going to be attributed to time-wasting, and so it proves. Referee Mr Eltringham, a man with ‘ten to two’ feet, books the Cheltenham goalkeeper as a warning shot to his team-mates in this regard and in all fairness, they do not break the game up as much as they did in the goalless game last season, but it’s not enough to stop the bloke behind me from saying “He’s gotta be one of the worst fuckin’ refs we’ve ‘ad down here”.   When Cheltenham players do receive treatment their physio runs on with a huge bag and what looks like a small surf board; with a blonde wig and high cut one piece swim suit he could have doubled for Pamela Anderson in Baywatch. 

“Over and in” says Pat from Clacton in the time-honoured fashion, but it never happens. Marcus Harness heads carefully past the post in the same way Leif Davis headed over the bar in the first half, Wes Burns and Marcus Harness are replaced by Kayden Jackson and Kyle Edwards, but it makes little difference.  Chances come and inevitably go as if there is no possible way to get a ball across the line between the two goalposts.  The crowd is announced as 25,400 including 175 from Cheltenham; it’s the smallest away following at any Ipswich match this season; so more credit to those who did bother.  “Here for Cheltenham, you’re only here for the Cheltenham” they sing which I guess they are, and on the Clacton supporters coach Chris wins the prize with his guess of 25,444; Pat is disappointed that so few pet animals have been attributed guesses this week.

With time slipping away, the gloom of the late autumn evening descends along with a seasonal mist which softly shrouds the floodlights. “There’s nothing wrong with, there’s nothing wrong with you” chant the North Stand appropriating some Verdi opera as another Cheltenham player takes a breather by sitting on the turf.  The final minute arrives and Panutche Camara replaces Conor Chaplin. There will be at least seven minutes of additional time which is time enough for Camara to strike a shot against the inside of a goal post; again, the ball of course stays out of the goal rather than deflecting into it. All too soon the final whistle is blown and for a second time this year Cheltenham Town have clung on to a point at Portman Road with resolute defending and huge dollops of luck.  With defending like this and the ball having such an aversion to crossing their goal line, it seems odd that Cheltenham Town have ever lost a match.

“Frustrating” says the man from Stowmarket as he edges past me to the exit “Yes, but we’ve seen it all before, just a few weeks ago” I reply, re-living the pain of the match versus Lincoln.  But my comment hides my disappointment and beneath my reasonable exterior irrational thoughts and questions swirl in a maelstrom of post-match angst and anger; how can Ipswich Town be so much better than the opposition but still not beat them? Is Ipswich Town somehow cursed?  Where is there a high roof from which a sniper could shoot freely and indiscriminately?

Vannes OC 1 Chambly-Oise 2

Ligue National 2 is the fourth tier of French league football; it consists of amateur clubs and the reserve teams of the clubs in Ligue 1 and 2 and is divided up into four regional groups each containing sixteen teams.  There are nevertheless many clubs at this level that have previously been in the two professional leagues, and both Vannes and Chambly fall into this category, with Chambly having had just a single season in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020; neither club has ever scaled the heights of Ligue 1 but Vannes were in Ligue 2 from 2008 to 2011 and reached the final of the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup) at the Stade de France in 2008, although they lost 0-4 to Bordeaux.

Vannes is a coastal town and former port, which in some ways might be said to be comparable to my hometown of Ipswich due to its physical geography and former dockside and having a history dating back well over a thousand years, although based on how busy it is today Vannes seems to be thriving a little more than Ipswich at the present time, but then France is in the EU and the French realise in the spirit of egalite and fraternite that taxation and public spending allow money to be spent for the greater good.

After a lazy afternoon in Vannes spent mostly sat at a pavement café, in the gardens beneath the town walls and by the old port which is now filled with yachts, my wife Paulene and I stroll across the road from the port to the guichets where we buy two tickets (8 euros each) for this evening’s match which kicks-off at six-thirty.  Entry to the Stade de la Rabine is just up the road and round the corner from the guichets and at the gate our tickets are checked, and the stubs torn off by two redoubtable looking middle-aged women.  Entry takes us directly into the under croft of the steel framed south stand; walking along beneath the upper tier it feels like we are in a lofty cloister.  The main stand is a plain concrete and steel structure typical of many French municipal stadiums but a little newer than most.

Getting into the feel of what is effectively the French equivalent of ‘non-league’ football, I have to have a beer. An un-identified blonde beer in a re-usable plastic cup adorned with the club crest costs just 2 euros. Paulene has a coffee and bottle of water which are a euro each, but first I must exchange my cash for the Jetons (tokens) that are the only means of paying for food and drink in the ground.  I am happy to see there is also a club shop where for just three euros I add another petit fanion (pennant) to the collection that hangs above the cistern in my upstairs toilet back home. I wander about a bit and snap a few photos and then we find our seats as the PA system plays some rather strange bland electro-pop music, as it has done since we first walked in.

The main stand eventually fills up with the usual collection of old blokes, actual and would-be wives and girlfriends of players, young boys in club tracksuits who probably play for the under 13s team, and other sundry supporters of the local team.  The stand to our left is completely empty; there is one lonely man in the stand to our right and the far side of the ground is a building site on which the concrete frame that has so far been erected could be compared to a sort of modern-day Stonehenge, but only if the light was very, very bad.  The teams process onto the pitch and line up in a single row before two banners proclaiming the name of league National 2.  Three-minutes late, at twenty-seven minutes to seven after a ‘ceremonial’ kick-off involving two older men in smart but casual clothing, Chambly Oise kick off, aiming towards the goal in front of the two-tiered stand occupied by the lone supporter.

Before three minutes have passed, Chambly win the games’ first corner.  A minute later and a cross from the left is diverted into the Vannes goal by the foot on the end of the outstretched leg of Chambly’s number 19, which he has dangled beyond the defender who is alongside him.  The goal catches me by surprise a bit, as it did that defender, and I clap, drawing a look of mild disapproval from the very tall, elderly man who is folded up on the seat next but one to me.  To be honest I had thought Chambly were Vannes because Chambly are wearing an all-white kit whilst Vannes are wearing all-black and I couldn’t imagine that any club’s first choice kit would be all-black; I had therefore assumed that they were the away team.   The French Wikipedia page on Vannes OC later tells me that Vannes OC did formerly play in black and white but changed to all-black a few seasons ago; personally, as someone who still can’t get used to seeing teams of referees, I think it was a bad decision.

The quality of the football so far is not high and the crowd is quiet, particularly the lone man behind the goal, but Chambly look the better team.  In the absence of anything more interesting I note that the Chambly players do not have their names on the back of their shirts, but the Vannes players do with the exception of number 33.  Also, number 9 for Vannes, whose name is Ebrard, has one leg of his shorts hanging down, but the other one rolled up.  Paulene and I speculate as to why this is.  Is it perhaps to remind him to kick the ball now and then with his weaker foot or, in the absence of a knot in his hankie, is it something more prosaic such as a reminder to put the cat out when he gets home.

In the eighteenth minute a cross from the right by Chambly’s number 8, a short, stocky and industrious player, is headed in unchallenged by the towering number 23.  The Vannes goalkeeper Pettiogenet (number 40) gets a hand or two to the ball but cannot prevent it from hitting the net.  The goal seems to further prove the point so far made that Chambly are the better team. But slowly Vannes are improving, as if they needed at least twenty minutes to warm up, and they win a couple of corners. Ebrard looks keen and almost threatens on a couple of occasions before, as the game is about to enter its second third, he dribbles into the penalty area and tumbles to the ground as a result of a probable trip.  Ebrard gets up and strikes the ball to the anonymous goalkeeper’s right and with his right foot, the one beneath the long leg of his shorts.  The goalkeeper gets a hand to the shot but cannot keep it out, merely pushing it into the corner of the net. 

A couple of minutes after the goal the eager Ebrard concedes a free-kick as he dives in a little too keenly on a Chambly defender.  The defender doesn’t seem too bothered but the goalkeeper comes running out of his goal to remonstrate with Ebrard as if he now harbours a grudge against him for having beaten him with that penalty kick.  Vannes are now up and running and pressing for an equaliser and Kimbembe and Nzuzi link up well down the right and Nzuzi’s low cross travels to the far side of the penalty area where Ebrard has the time and space to sweep the ball majestically into the top left-hand corner of the stand behind the goal.  His attempt was a bold one as the outcome showed.

The last ten minutes of the first half are notable for Paulene spotting that a lean-to projection from the side of the building opposite looks like it has two eyes and pouting mouth.  A minute of additional time is played and I go and purchase a tray of chips (2 euros) with mayonnaise with my remaining jetons.  I return to the stand to eat my chips whilst a pair of black-headed gulls swoop into the stand on the look out for any stray deep fried food that might come their way; I guard my chips jealously and give the gulls a discouraging glare.

The match resumes at twenty-four minutes to eight. In the box like building next door to the lean-to building that looks like a face, a man is watching the game, presumably free of charge, from an upstairs window.  A short while later the windows are shut and we assume he decided it was either getting too cold to have the window wide open or he just got bored.  The second half sees substitutions for Chambly first as number twenty-seven replaces number eleven, and then for Vannes with Mvogo replacing Duclovel.  In a departure from how I have previously seen substitutions made, a woman in ‘late middle-age’ wearing a Breton jumper holds up the electronic board displaying the numbers of the incoming and outgoing players.  Paulene and I assume she is the club secretary , but alongside the referee’s assistant, the coaches and the delegue principal (an overseeing official) in his rather crumpled looking blue suit, she complements an interesting tableau of touchline figures.

The second half witnesses the first concerted outbreak of support from the crowd but in the form of the treble voices of the under 13’s who chant “Allez les Noires” over and over again, until they get bored, which thankfully doesn’t take too long.  More substitutions happen and Nzuzi is replaced by another anonymous player, the mysterious number thirty-four whilst anonymous thirty-three is replaced by equally anonymous thirty-two.  In due course the final minutes approach and there is a discernible effort from Vannes to finally equalise.  The ninetieth minute sees Vannes win a corner and in what seems like a final push both legs of Ebrard’s shorts miraculously appear to be the same length as he surges forward.  But it seems like his last hurrah and having lost the ball he stands bent over with his hands on his knees, a spent force.  Five minutes of time additionelle are announced, but Vannes can’t do enough to score and the initial judgement from the first twenty minutes that Chambly are the better team holds good.

With the full-time whistle we exit the ground the way we came in and head back to our car, where we will learn we have to pay a stonking 9 euros 80.  If you come to Vannes for more than an hour or so try not to park at Republique.  It’s not been the greatest evening’s football in truth, but Vannes OC is a decent little club with an excellent stadium and lovely people selling the tickets, the food and the drink.  I sincerely hope they get back to Ligue National and possibly Ligue 2 soon. As the Under13’s told us “Allez les Noires”.

Forest Green Rovers 1 Ipswich Town 2

The wonder of Google Maps tells us that from my house it’s a three and a quarter hour, 280 kilometre drive to the Forest Green Rovers park and ride car park at Woodchester, but from my step-son’s house in the silvan suburbs of Basingstoke, the same destination is less than 125 kilometres away and can be reached in under 90 minutes.  With these statistics in mind, I have adopted the excuse of ‘seeing the grandchildren’ in order to get free board and lodging and to break up the journey for what will be the first time I have driven to an away match since Town’s 5-2 win at Rotherham in 2015, back in the heady days of Brett Pitman, Jonathan Douglas and Kevin Bru.

Leaving the house at a civilised 11:30am, the journey down the M4, up the A419 to Cirencester and along the A46 to Woodchester is a breeze, and the good karma continues when the park and ride turns out to be free today because the organisers aren’t sufficiently organised, although as the very nice man at the gate tells me this isn’t good really because the takings would be donated to local schools.  The white bus, reminding me of the 1967 film debut of Anthony Hopkins, is already waiting and after waiting a bit longer to fill up with a full load it lurches off along the valley into Nailsworth before turning right in the town centre and struggling up Spring Hill and Nympsfield Road to the New Lawn, the current home of Forest Green Rovers. “Not very environmental” says the Forest Green fan sat in front of me on the bus “Must use about four ‘undred quid’s worth of fuel getting up ‘ere”.  Ironically, the all-white bus is operated by a company called Cotswold Green.   What they need are trolleybuses.

Thanking the lady bus driver, who to my shame makes me think of Diane the community service supervisor in the BBC tv series The Outlaws, I alight from the bus with the other sixty-odd park and riders. The New Lawn is every inch a typical non-league ground sitting in a field at the side of the road and is mostly all the better for that. I visit the club shop, a portacabin, but the array of souvenir toot is sadly disappointing, although I do meet ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood there; Phil has bought a shirt for his collection; it won’t fit him, but it had been reduced to a tenner. I take a wander and find the Town team bus, a lovely view over some fields, the dressing rooms, which remind me a bit of somewhere like Kirkley & Pakefield or Haverhill in the Eastern Counties League, and a bar called the Green Dragon.  Feeling thirsty after my drive and my bus trip, I decide to go in. “Is it okay to go in?”  I say not verbally, but with my eyebrows and general expression to the steward outside as I reach for the door.  “Home or away?” he asks suspiciously.  Thinking quickly, but not really having to because my seat today is with the home supporters, I feign my best insouciant Gloucestershire accent by rolling my ‘r’s and pursing my lips slightly over the ‘o’ and answer “err, home”.

Inside the Green Dragon, which despite the pub name has the charm and character of a works social club or village hall, I queue a good ten minutes for a pint of Stroud Brewery ‘Budding’ (£4.80), and very tasty and refreshing it is too,  even if the price is exorbitant; presumably however  it would cost even more if there wasn’t just one very pleasant lady serving the drinks and one operating the till.  Beer consumed I decide to enter the stadium, I walk towards turnstile number four only to see the turnstile operator climbing over it; quickly assessing the situation I head for turnstile number three and show my ticket to a lady steward, who becomes the second woman to remind me of tv’s Diane of The Outlaws today. Diane 2 simply ushers me through an open gate into the stand.  I like to think this is my reward for responsibly asking her where I can dispose of my environmentally friendly plastic beer mug; in the bins inside the stand, she tells me without hesitation.

Inside the ground there is a long queue for vegan food at the oddly named “Oh, it’s you again” food outlet; most people seem to favour chips with curry sauce, but there are a few quite tasty-looking Quorn pies in evidence too. If I hadn’t lost time enough from my life already by queuing for beer, I would have tried one.  Instead, I find my seat  (£23.00) and wait for kick-off, absorbing the rustic non-league ambience of this most bucolic and lovely of Football League grounds. The cars parked up on a meadow at the back make it look like there could be a country fair or festival going on.  At the back of the covered terrace off to my left a man in a cage and wearing a flat cap bangs a drum.

The players soon enter the pitch from the dressing room block in the corner and a terrifying, green but otherwise indescribable club mascot marauds towards the stand making a young woman cower in fear. After an unannounced, mystery 15 second ‘minute’ silence and subsequent applause, the game begins with Forest Green Rovers, wearing lurid green shirts with black tiger stripes and lurid green shorts and socks, kicking off in the direction of Stroud, whilst Town model their traditional blue shirts and socks with white shorts, and kick towards nowhere in particular except the Forest Green goal and that drummer in the flat cap. Apart from the Town players I have no idea who anyone is because Forest Green Rovers do not print a programme or even a team sheet and have only a rudimentary scoreboard.   I would expect them to e-mail club members and ticket holders an e-programme as St Etienne in France do, but they don’t, which to coin a phrase that seems popular amongst Town fans on-line, smacks of being  ‘tin-pot’. 

Town soon win a corner. “Come On You Blues” chant a good number of the Ipswichians on the open terrace on the far side of the ground beneath the meadow with the cars on it. Town’s Marcus Harness has a shot, which isn’t very good and so far his touches on the ball have been poor; between the away terrace and the stand at the Stroud end of the ground I notice an ice cream van parked up on the Nympsfield Road, which sports a huge cone on the front.   A couple of blokes are watchng the game for free over the fence. Nine minutes pass and Forest Green have their first shot, which swerves wide and high of the Town goal.   The bloke in the flat cap bangs his drum and those around him sing “Campiones”, because Forest Green Rovers are indeed the reigning fourth division champions, even if it is of England and not Spain or Argentina as their chant implies.

Twelve minutes gone and Marcus Harness attempts a half-volley which is on target, but frustratingly it’s execution can’t match the satisfying rhyming quality of his first name and surname.  “It needs a goal” says the woman sitting next to me. “I’m not coming again if it’s nil-nil.”  Five minutes on and Town win their second corner. “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” chant a good number of Ipswich fans channelling their strange love of Boney M Christmas hits.  Marcus Harness tries his luck on the right-hand side of the pitch but unfortunately his touch is as uncertain as it was on the left.  The woman in the seat next but one from me cheers Town’s corner and I tentatively ask if she might be a Town fan too; she is, in a manner of speaking; she is here because Ipswich is her home town and it turns out she and her brother went to the same schools in Ipswich as my sister and I did; she now lives round the corner from The New Lawn and has simply turned up to support her hometown team, as any person with a soul would.

Twenty minutes of the game have gone and Town captain Sam Morsy has a header well saved by whoever the Forest Green goalkeeper is. The woman next to me expresses her admiration for Morsy. “He’s fiery, that’s what you want” she says, before adding in a thoughtful manner redolent of Pam Ayres with her rolled r’s “In a controlled manner”.  Soon afterwards Freddie Lapado turns and shoots to force a flying save from the home goalkeeper. From the corner Wes Burns misses the ball and then Lee Evans loses it, allowing the Rovers to break away down the right and the resultant cross is hoofed away by George Edmundson for Rovers’ first corner. It is a stark warning to Town that by dominating possession they can be vulnerable to such quick breaks which can happen almost by chance.

In crossing the ball in that breakaway the Rovers’ number twenty-two is injured and is replaced by number three, a player who the woman next to me had commented upon as he warmed up,  due to what she referred to as his “1970’s shorts” which look shorter than those of the other players; she speculates as to whether he has tucked them up into his pants.   Number three enters the field of play and very soon the woman next to me says “He’s annoying me with those shorts”, and she’s right, so much thigh does look a little ridiculous, a bit like Alan Partridge in his running shorts.   I like that according to his shirt this player is called Bernard, I think it suits his 1970’s vibe.  A third of the game is now forever lost in the mists of time, and Conor Chaplin shoots,  but it’s an easy save for the Rovers’ goalkeeper. “Come on Rovers” chant the supporters to my left, the Town fans have fallen silent, sapped perhaps by standing out in the heat of the afternoon sun.

With less than ten minutes until half-time,  Rovers almost score as a low cross from the right  somehow only produces a goal-kick for Town when the defence looked breached. Typically however, a missed opportunity at one end sees a goal soon after at the other,  and in the thirty-sixth minute a ‘rifled’ snap-shot from Marcus Harness hits the top left hand corner of net and Town lead.  After a prolonged period of silence, the Town’s fans can now burst into song again and begin a musical conversation with the Rovers fan which has me thinking of the song ”Anything you can do (I can do better)” from Irving Berlin’s 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun.  “Sing when you’re winning you only sing when you’re winning” chant the observant Rovers’ fans. “1-0 to the Tractor Boys” reply the Town fans as if to prove the point.  “We forgot, we forgot, we forgot that you were here” reply the Rovers’ fans although they are blatantly lying because it was only a minute ago they were chanting about Town fans only singing when they are winning. “Here for the Ipswich, you’re only here for the Ipswich” is the sneering response from the away support,  which they then cap with the withering put down  “No noise from the Vegan boys, no noise from the Vegan boys” to which the Vegan boys either can’t think of anything to sing in response or they no  longer care, and would rather eat some more chips with curry sauce.

Town end the half as much the better team as first another slightly weak Marcus Harness shot is saved by the mystery goalkeeper and then in the four minutes of time added on, a move down the left ends with Sam Morsy placing a perfect arc of a shot into the top right-hand corner of the Rovers’ goal for a 2-0 half-time lead.

Half-time passes talking to the women beside me, discovering that sitting behind the woman originally from Ipswich are two old boys who are also Town supporters and listening to an eclectic and enjoyable mix of music over the PA system including John Barry’s theme from Goldfinger sung by Shirley Bassey and David Bowie’s Starman, songs that somehow seem appropriate at a club where the owner is a New Age traveller turned eco-energy entrepreneur. It makes supporting a club owned by an American pension fund seem very dull indeed, regardless of the cash that has been splashed.

At seven minutes past four the game resumes, this time with Town getting first go with the ball, although it is Rovers who look most effective early on and they soon earn a corner. “Rovers (clap, clap, clap,) Rovers,(clap, clap, clap)” is the steady, traditional sound emanating from the locals and even some in the ‘posh’ twenty-three quid seats around me join in .  The corner comes to nothing and soon Freddie Ladapo is teed up to hit a shot very high and very wide; then Town win a corner and then another courtesy of the energetic Conor Chaplin who looks like he’s enjoying himself.  The Town support is waning however and the chants of “Come On  You Blues”  before the corner are rather feeble, as if all that lunch time drinking outside in the sun is now taking its toll. On the hour there is a drinks break for the players before Forest Green make a double substitution,  and the effects of the Lucozade and fresh legs are almost immediate as on 64 minutes the Rovers’ number 28 knocks the ball into the Ipswich goal from close range in the sort of goal mouth melee which Ipswich are generally incapable of even creating let alone scoring from.

This is the home team’s moment, and for a  good five minutes they effortlessly drift past the Town defenders who  look as if they have been dazzled by the glare from a judiciously angled solar panel.  The 68th minute sees Rovers put the ball in the Town net again via a towering head from a corner, but the lurid day-glo green shirts make it easy for the assistant referee to spot that a couple of  the Rovers players were offside. 

Town need to shore up their defence and Greg Leigh replaces the crocked Lief Davis,  but still Christian Walton is forced to make a save to keep Town’s lead in tact. Twenty minutes of normal time remain and Conor Chaplin and Marcus Harness are replaced by Tyreece John-Jules and Sone Aluko.  Town seem to have weathered the worst of what Forest Green can do and a shot on the turn from Sone Aluko almost seals the result.  Another feeble chant of ‘Come On You Blues’ emanates from the sun struck recovering alcoholics on the far side of the ground.  With time ebbing away tempers fray and Sam Morsy seems to be the target for some winding-up.  He gives as good if not better than he gets but then stays down on ground to eek out some more time. “Wanker” calls out a rustic and slightly inebriated  voice from somewhere behind me, it’s the most impolite thing I ‘ve heard all afternoon.

Six minutes remain and Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace Freddie Lapado and Wes Burns. The woman next to me has only just been convinced that the score isn’t two-all.  The final minute arrives and Town’s Cameron Burgess is extremely lucky not to be sent off as he pulls back an opponent who appeared to have a free run a goal from about 20 metres out. “You don’t know what you’re doin” chant the home fans at the orange shirted referee, and they have a point, but he’s not alone as the fourth official holds up his electronic board showing a staggering nine minutes of added–on time.  It sounds like long enough to lay down another strata of Oolitic Limestone, but it passes surprisingly quickly which is a probably a measure of how much Town are on top.

With the final whistle I bid farewell to the two women and make an unauthorised exit up the steps and through the hospitality area behind  me, leaving the stand via the ‘grand’, carpeted central staircase before dashing off to join the queue for the white bus.  I’ve had a lovely afternoon as I had thought I would. The win helped of course, but for a country lad The New Lawn has lived up to expectations, despite the obvious short comings such as no programmes, no decent,  pointless souvenirs and inadequate staffing in the bar, but there’s more to life than collecting stuff and getting served quickly.  The Football League needs more clubs like Forest Green Rovers.

Further reading:

 ‘How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup (1975) by  J L Carr

 Cider with Rosie (1959)  by Laurie Lee