Ipswich Town 2 Bristol Rovers 1

Bristol Rovers, The Pirates, The Gas; I first saw them at Portman Road on a cold Wednseday evening in February 1978.  Although the 29,090 souls gathered there that night couldn’t have been certain of it at the time, it was an auspicious occasion that would forever be significant in the history of Ipswich Town as the one replay on the route to FA Cup glory.  I remember Bristol in their anaemic yellow shirts and black shirts and how we thrashed them by three goals to nil (Mills, Mariner and Woods). At the time, I thought it was an exotic fixture; Ipswich an established, top First Division club, albeit having an iffy season in the league, and Bristol Rovers the underdogs, perennial under achievers from one of England’s biggest cities and a club Town hadn’t played at Portman Road  since before I was born.  A little more than a decade after that cup tie and Town v Rovers was a Second Division fixture and now thirty years further on we meet in the third division again as we did in the 1950’s.  Time is round, there doesn’t seem much doubt.

I switch on my Lenovo lap-top, connect it to the tv set in the kitchen and log on to the ifollow.  “Sex or nothing for me” I think I hear Mick Mills say.  It’s not what I expected, even though with his fulsome moustache and mahogany tan, back in the 1970’s Mick would not have looked out of place in a porn flick.  I soon adjust my perception however and realise that Mick had said ‘six’ not ‘sex’ and was talking about the number of points Ipswich would take from their next two fixtures, which are against the two teams currently bottom and second from bottom of the third division table, Bristol Rovers and Rochdale.  Deciding that despite my admiration for Mick, what he thinks about how many points Town will amass over Easter isn’t very interesting I mentally tune out and don’t tune back in until the game begins and I hear Brenner Woolley explaining that Bristol Rovers are wearing their away kit of black with yellow pinstripes and flashing down the sides of their shorts.  I find Brenner’s attention to detail admirable and hope that the listeners to BBC Radio Suffolk who don’t have access to the pictures from the ifollow appreciate the picture he paints for them.

After about 50 seconds Town score; “A most bizarre goal” is Brenner’s description. “Well explain that one” says Mick in a challenge to Brenner, before admitting “I haven’t a clue what happened”.   It’s a goal that if it were a painting would be in the Tate Gallery or Pompidou Centre alongside the works of the abstract expressionists.  Marvelling at the thought of a goal that it is impossible to describe I can only attribute it to some sort of early Easter miracle.  The metaphorical stone that usually blocks the opposition goal has rolled away and let the ball in the net, and it’s still only Good Friday.  The caption on the ifollow screen attributes the goal to Rovers’ Luke Leahy, whose surname I imagine is pronounced ‘leaky’.  In my world I award the goal to Jackson Pollock.

“What you want now is a real response from Ipswich” says Mick, living in hope of seeing the current team live up to the benchmark he helped set forty-three years ago.  “This is the time of all times you want to get on your front foot” he continues, clearly believing that the current team has a front foot. As part of his usual rendering of mini-biographies of opposition players in the opening minutes, Brenner mentions Ed Upson, a former FA Youth Cup winner with Town who is today playing for Bristol Rovers. Meanwhile Mick doesn’t seem able to get over that goal. “A strange sort of opening to the game…we’re winning one-nil” he says, sounding bemused.

Ed Upson fouls little Alan Judge; “Upson, no stranger to the yellow card” says Brenner, introducing a turn of phrase I haven’t heard him use before.  Referee Steve Martin meanwhile is not swayed by the fact that Upson has ‘previous’ and doesn’t book him.  It’s the eleventh minute; Andre Dozzell shoots weakly, the Bristol goalkeeper Anssi Jaakola saves and according to Brenner, Alan Judge “finishes off at the second time of asking”.  It’s two-nil to Town.  “Andre’s shot was awful” says Mick tempering our excitement with a reminder of the reality, but the reality is also that Town have now scored twice. Simply unable to resist the pun, Brenner tells us that it’s “…a good Friday for Town”.  I sigh deeply with resignation but am shaken from my torpor as I hear Mick say “Inevitably going to be a win for Town”.  I can only think that Mick has adopted the attitude of Donald Trump and that if he says something, then he thinks it’s true. 

Egged on by Mick’s optimism I begin to dream of Town scoring five or six.  Brenner meanwhile returns to the world of using his words to paint a picture for the BBC Radio Suffolk listeners.  But figurative art isn’t wholly Brenner’s style and he likes to add a dash of surrealism’ “Paul Cook being rather noisy…he’s got his beanie hat and gloves on”.  Back on the field of play the Rovers’ goalkeeper receives the ball; “The Finn plays it out quickly” says Brenner, as ever ensuring that the ‘leave’ voting BBC Radio Suffolk listeners can single out the foreigners if they need to.  “I can’t quite decide what Bristol Rovers are doing” admits Mick suddenly, but perhaps still thinking about the opening goal.

It’s the eighteenth minute. “That was shocking from Dozzell” says Brenner. “Awful play from Andre Dozzell” says Mick as Rovers’ Luke McCormick robs the dawdling midfielder of the ball, advances and chips the ball over Tomas Holy and into the Town goal.  “First goal of the season for Bristol Rovers against Ipswich Town” announces Brenner weirdly.  My dreams of a crushing victory evaporate and Bristol Rovers instantly and miraculously become the better side.  Five minutes later Tomas Holy collides with a Bristol player outside the penalty area and is booked by referee Steve Martin, although Brenner implies that Rovers’ manager Joey Barton is advocating a sending off.  “Joey Barton not happy” he says of the vengeful Scouser.  “It’s an awful mistake by Luke Chambers” says Mick, pinpointing where the blame really lies.  “Paul Cook’s head in his hands” continues Brenner, adding a layer to his aural picture which now resembles something by Hieronymous Bosch.  Happily, Rovers fail to score from the ensuing free-kick.

Thirty-four minutes pass and Town win a corner. “This hasn’t been a great performance” says Mick. “Both teams very untidy” he adds in explanation.  Mick is on good form; “Just taking his time there Andre, like he does”.   Bristol Rovers are dominating possession, making Town play on the break.  There are seven minutes until half-time. Suddenly Luke McCormick swings a leg at the ball in the town penalty area; “He should’ve made that two-two” says Brenner as the snap shot bounces past Tomas Holy’s left hand post. “Possibly” replies Mick, providing the voice of reason to quell Brenner’s hysterical panic.  “I thought it was in, and so did Tomas Holy, he was rooted to the spot” opines Brenner unconvincingly. 

Town fail to improve, “It’s not good viewing at the moment; Bristol Rovers the better side” confirms Brenner before adding a dollop of symbolism to his aural picture with “They’re really knocking on the door at the moment Bristol Rovers”.  Two minutes of additional time are added in which Town win another corner which produces nothing to excite.  It’s half-time and Mick’s assessment is that “It’s been a very average performance”.  I put the kettle on.

The second half begins with Aaron Drinan replacing James Norwood.  The assumption would usually be that if not a tactical change Norwood is injured, after all, as Brenner himself might say “Norwood is no stranger to the treatment table”.  But today Brenner speaks obliquely about Norwood’s “health” as if he hasn’t been substituted because of an injury but something more sinister like an affliction with Tourette’s, Dysentery or Cholera.

The game begins anew. “Free-kick to Bristol Rovers early doors” says Brenner, using his favourite football commentary expression before it’s too late.   Quickly, Mick and Brenner establish for us that the portents for the second half are not good. “Everything seems to be coming from mistakes” says Mick, as if he’s never seen a third division match before. “This could be a horrible forty-two minutes to watch” adds Brenner with a mixture of fear and ghoulish optimism.

Seven minutes into the half and in a rare moment of actively trying to influence the result, Teddy Bishop has a shot on goal, but it’s very weak and straight at Jaakola.  Seemingly already losing interest in today’s match Brenner is looking ahead; “Three successive away games in a row for Town” he says, exhibiting a disappointingly poor understanding of tautology and how to avoid it.  Returning to the present, Gwion Edwards has a shot cleared; “off the goal line” according to Brenner, although in truth it hadn’t got that far.  In the aftermath Luke Chambers goes down clutching some or other piece of his anatomy and whilst he receives treatment Brenner asks Mick to summarise things so far this half.  Rather than comment on the use of colour and poetic licence in Brenner’s commentary, Mick answers with another question “Why aren’t we much better than these teams rooted down the bottom?”

Chambers recovers and play resumes. An hour has passed. “Still not comfortable viewing” says Brenner moments before Teddy Bishop breaks down the right to the by-line. “That was a terrific Teddy Bishop burst on the ball, he just went past people as if they weren’t there” declares Mick incredulously.  Sadly Teddy’s low cross is easily blocked.  Twenty five minutes of normal time remain, “A long way to go” remarks Brenner before telling us of “Parrott stretching his hamstrings” as the pssitacine-named player warms up on the touchline.  It makes me wonder to myself if parrots actually have hamstrings.   Back on the pitch Aaron Drinan is booked for colliding with an opposition player.  Troy Parrott replaces Kayden Jackson.  “How did they do?” asks Brenner of Mick referring to the Norwood and Jackson striking partnership.  “They didn’t do very well” is Mick’s considered response, although he does go on to describe the mitigating circumstances of an absence of any helpful passes from our midfield.

The sixty-seventh minute and Gwion Edwards wins a corner for Town; nothing comes of it.  “Still for the most part a very poor football team to watch, Ipswich Town” says Brenner trying to keep us in suspense until the end of his sentence to find out which team he is talking about.  A little over fifteen minutes remain of normal time. “I can’t believe how cold it is at Portman Road, there hasn’t been much to warm the cockles it has to be said”  says Brenner, possibly  hinting at some contractual obligation to mention either the weather or Town’s inability to make people feel good.  The seventy-fourth minute and Rovers’ Brandon Hanlon runs past Luke Chambers and strikes the ball across the face of the goal; it’s either a poor shot or a poor cross, but probably both. “Not the first time the Ipswich Town captain has been caught out for pace in this game, it has to be said” says Brenner telling us once again that there are just some things that he has to say, although presumably as a radio commentator if he didn’t say anything he wouldn’t get paid.

Thirteen minutes remain. Rover’s substitute Oztumer, whose surname sounds horribly like an Australian cancer, is booked for a foul on Stephen Ward.  “Three goals in eighteen minutes, a mad period really” says Mick reminiscing about happier times.  Six minutes later and Brenner tells us that Town have won “their fourth corner of this second half”.  Unusually, Luke Chambers makes it to the ball first and sends a near post header onto the roof of the net. “Decent effort” says Mick, “Not the best corner I would have said” he adds making Luke’s achievement sound all the more impressive.  A fifth corner soon follows, cleverly won by Aaron Drinan.   It’s just a shame Town are not very good at corners.  “My goodness it’s really been very poor” fires off Mick, “I don’t think Ipswich have performed at all…just so messy…nothing to excite you at all”,

Normal time has almost expired and for no apparent reason other than to use up time, Teddy Bishop and little Alan Judge are replaced by Josh Harrop and Armando Dobra.  Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers replace David Ayunga with Josh Barrett who, Brenner tells us “is very stocky”.  Four minutes of added time are played, and twenty-two seconds into the ninety-fifth minute, through the medium of his referee’s whistle ,  Mr Martin says enough is enough and Town win.  Mick was right.

Mick’s closing words before the ifollow broadcast rudely cuts him off are “Everything seemed to be messy and untidy; the performance again, it’s miles away from what you want.”  Of course Mick’s not wrong, how could he be?  But heck, on the bright side we have won.  During the week I watched a programme about Trappist monks in Leicestershire who set up a brewery; one of them said that people are happiest when living life in the moment not thinking of what’s gone or what the future holds.  Tonight Town have won, be happy, the future will look after itself, like it did in 1978.

Ipswich Town 0 Fleetwood Town 1

In spite of my enigmatic mix of eternal optimism and a passion for existential misery, and never having seen Fleetwood Town before, I am not overly looking forward to tonight.  It’s a bit cold and damp and there is a sad inevitability that a good number of the Portman Road crowd will be quick to moan now that Ipswich Town have embarked on a solid run of defeats made more impressive by how easily the winning goals could have been prevented.  It is without any sense of excitement or anticipation therefore that I leave work and step out into the late afternoon and its quickening rain drops.

In an effort to make a clean break from the past weeks and stop myself looking like a slimmer but greying version of Brian Wilson circa 1965, I am going to get my haircut.  As usual I take my custom to Francesco’s of St Matthew’s St, an establishment which was formerly by appointment to Sir Bobby Robson. The pleasant woman who cuts my hair tells me of a current Town player who always wore his Town tracksuit top when he came to get his haircut, but is seemingly no longer so keen to be recognised and now turns up in ‘mufti’, not that she uses that expression.  Lighter of wallet (£15.50) and head but enlivened up by a very welcome, complimentary espresso coffee I leave Francesco’s and step into a Beatles song as I start to roam, and then I’m in town.  The damp streets of down town Ipswich are largely deserted, there’s nothing doing, everything is closing, it’s like a ruin.  I’m killing time until, by way of another change to the usual pre-match ritual, I will meet Mick at the Arbor House, where we will both drink a pint of Young’s London Special (£3.80), Mick will eat Chicken Risotto whilst I eat a Scotch Egg, Halloumi Chips and Sweet Potato Fries (£10), and we will conclude our meal with a pint of Lacon’s Encore (£3.60) for me and a half of Shipyard American Pale Ale (£2.50) for Mick.

At about 7:15 Mick and I leave the convivial surroundings of the Arbor House and head down the hill towards Portman Road, where I stop off at one of the blue booths to buy a programme (£3.50).  I’m not sure if I get disorientated by the thought of paying £3.50 for a programme, or whether it’s just the dim, evening light but it takes me two goes to work out which window I need to go to, but at least it makes the programme seller laugh, and I laugh too ,just to make sure that he’s laughing with me and not at me.

Wishing the operator of turnstile number four a cheery thanks for letting me into the ground I make for the facilities with Mick before we take up our seats in the cheap seats between the goal and the players’ tunnel.  In front of us a crew of sailors in their ‘number ones’ hang about waiting to form an unexpected and unexplained guard of honour as the two teams enter the field.  If we were playing Portsmouth it might make some sense but Fleetwood’s seafarers are more likely to wear sou’westers, waders and thick jumpers smelling of fish than naval uniforms.

Tonight’s crowd is a bit sparse compared to recent weeks; ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, obviously, and so is Pat from Clacton, but the old dears who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me are absent , as is the bloke with the brylcreemed hair.   Ray walks past with a pie, and when I ask what sort of pie it is he points to what  appears to be a  letter ‘C’ written on top in pastry; my guess and Ray’s is ‘C’ for chicken or perhaps, as tonight’s game is against Fleetwood, Cod,  but Pat from Clacton says she thought the ‘C’ was for something else; she doesn’t say what.  Ray looks aghast and tells me he’s glad he doesn’t have to sit next to her, I know what he means.

The match begins, Ipswich in classic blue and white trying to get the ball inside the white, wooden frame just in front of us to our right.  It is Fleetwood Town who get first go with the ball however, although visually they are disappointing wearing an insipid all pale yellow kit rather than their first kit which is red with white sleeves ,like Arsenal’s. Ipswich’s sartorial superiority sadly doesn’t seem to count for much however, and they struggle to do the things that usually help us to distinguish football from other sports such as Eton Fives, Discus and Dominoes.  The likes of Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt, Andre Dozzell and Janoi Donacien all try to cross the ball to a centre forward who I can only guess we haven’t actually signed yet, but Fleetwood’s gigantic number six Harry Souttar simply bats everything away with his head or an extended leg; if Harry Souttar was a fish he’d be a whale shark, which in case you didn’t know is the world’s largest cartilaginous fish.

There is some excitement after a quarter of an hour when Fleetwood have to make an early substitution with Ched Evans, whose name makes me think of Shed Seven, replacing Callum Connolly.  Meanwhile Mick is staring into the Cobbold stand trying to count the Fleetwood supporters, but the back of the stand is too shadowy to make it possible to tell the difference between people and seats and people who look like seats. We console ourselves with the knowledge that the attendance, including the size of the ‘Cod Army’, as Fleetwood supporters are known, will be announced later.   Soon the Sir Bobby Robson stand are chanting “ Evans, Evans, you’re a cunt” but Pat from Clacton and I can’t decide if they are singing to Ched or Marcus; we eventually settle on it being a catch all for anyone called Evans, tough as this is on choirmaster Evan Evans (known as Evans the Song) in ‘Ivor The Engine’.

Twenty eight minutes pass and Fleetwood win a corner.  It’s about now that I notice that the Fleetwood Town players bear the message ‘BES Utilities’ on the fronts of their shirts and I allow myself to ignore the difference in spelling and wonder if the former ‘Happy Monday’ has diversified into gas, water and sewerage.  Neither team has really had a shot on goal worthy of the name and whilst Ipswich are playing pretty atrociously, Fleetwood are doing their bit too  to ensure that value for money is kept to a minimum; credit where credit is due.  Whereas in many football matches what is usually described as ‘the deadlock’ is ‘broken’ by a flamboyant, audacious, cheeky, or simply consummate piece of skill ,  Ipswich have now almost perfected the complete opposite.  With forty minutes gone Ched Evans plays a one-two with someone or other not far from the half way line, which allows the spritely 31 year old to trundle past Luke Chambers, take the ball a bit too wide for a shot and then surprise us all by kicking the ball against and over the out-stretched leg of Tomas Holy and into the Ipswich goal.  As Town fans shake their heads the ecstatic Cod Army joyously leap about like salmon in the Cobbold Stand.  “You’re not famous anymore” they chant, as if that goal was responsible, whilst also challenging the song’s validity by the very fact that they’re singing it.  All fame is everlasting – discuss.

As often happens, half time soon follows an opponent’s goal to allow us to reflect, seethe or just spend a penny depending on our individual needs.  I begin my well-earned break with a look at the programme, which leads me to regret the absence from the Fleetwood team tonight of Harrison Biggins and Barry Baggley, although Billy Crellin is on the bench and though I don’t know it yet, we are destined to see him and hear his name.  I also enjoy two photos of Fleetwood manager Joey Barton, one in which he looks as if he may have just lobbed a brick at someone and another in which his chin juts out menacingly from beneath a baseball cap as he gives the evil eye to a person or persons safely out of shot. 

Having spoken again with Ray as we passed one another heading from and to the toilet, the digital clock display on the Sir Bobby Robson stand strikes 2049 and the second half begins.  Town’s losing position gives rise to the usual unwelcome commentary and advice from assorted coaches in the stands “Look at all that fuckin’space”, “ We’ve got no one at the back”, “Second ball!”.  When Janoi Donacien misses the ball a legion of half-wits jeer because I assume they all have World Cup winning medals or at least play for Brazil and are perfect in every way and always have been.  Pat from Clacton is rightfully annoyed, “You shouldn’t boo your own players” she tells me and I agree and tell her that’s what the opposition are for.

Town are better this half although they still can’t get past Harry Souttar and when they do Ched Evans clears off the line or goalkeeper Alex Cairns makes a fine save; I try to think of another player whose surname is the same as the name of an Australian city, but I can’t; Derek Darwin sounds plausible but is pure fiction.  The crowd is announced as 15,678 of whom 88 are from Fleetwood and many of the home crowd turn and applaud them for their effort including me, Mick looks on slightly bemused. He has a point, such applause is a bit patronising; plucky little Fleetwood etcetera, but it might just be people trying to be nice in a world tainted by Donald Trump and Priti Patel .

Nearly half an hour remains and a chorus of “Come of You Blues” rings around the ground and then dwindles away.  “Yellows, Yellows” shout the Fleetwood eighty-eight and I am impressed by their volume, which I can only attribute to a diet of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges for coughs and sore throats, which are manufactured by Lofthouse of Fleetwood and taste disgusting.  My father was seemingly addicted to the things, although regrettably they couldn’t stop him spending the last ten years of his life mostly hitched up to an oxygen machine.

As the game descends into the final twenty minutes Pat from Clacton shows me her purse full of ‘lucky’ charms, which she has collected from around the world, but it seems none of them works anymore although apparently some of them used to. She’s particularly fond of one from Vietnam , which is in the form of a masturbating monkey.  Pat seemed surprised she hadn’t shown me him before, but I tell her I think I would have remembered.

I am more or less resigned to another defeat now and Pat from Clacton is too, but unlike on a Saturday she doesn’t even have a jacket potato to look forward to when she gets home, but, she tells me, she will have a Nespresso latte.  The unhappiness of sections of the crowd is growing, chants of “We want Evans Out” can be heard and this time I think it is Marcus they mean and not Ched or ‘Evans the Song’. In the corner of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand five banners appear all bearing a word beginning with the letter U and then N.  At first I wonder if Antonio Guterres is in the house but the banners read “ Unambitious”, “Underfunded”, “Underpants”, “Underachieving” and “Unacceptable” although the middle one is a bit twisted so I might have got that wrong. 

Somewhat inevitably, Ipswich do not score an equaliser and the game ends amongst much rancour and general displeasure.  The atmosphere will later be described rather predictably as ‘toxic’, a word which used to be reserved for clouds of gas, but is now applied almost exclusively to the air we breathe at Portman Road.   Mick and I stay to applaud the teams off, because, although I can’t speak for Mick , I didn’t not enjoy the game any more than I usually do when we lose, and I also have some time to kill before the next train home.