And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain; words I half expect to hear as the Town team trot out onto the Portman Road turf for the last time in the 2020-21 season, led by their soon to be superannuated captain and stalwart Luke Chambers. The last match of the season is what we have all been waiting for since the very first match of the season. It’s the day when everything is resolved, other than those pesky play-offs of course, and after which we can sit back and wait to go through another nine and a bit months of purgatory all over again starting in August. This season Town’s fate was resolved early and the outcome is that we have all wasted our time and money again, but heck we knew the risks; didn’t we?
Today therefore is a bit of a jaunt, it’s the last day of term, and unlike the previous two games at Shrewsbury and Swindon, which were simply pointless, meaningless and irrelevant, at least this one draws a solid line under the whole sorry season. It has been the “worst season of all time” according to Mick Mills in his pre-match ramble to the ifollow commentary. But Mick as ever has the right idea and tells us that Town will be out to “…end the season on a high”. I’m all for that, but in the absence of a stash of recreational drugs I slump down on my blue bean bag in front of my Lenovo lap-top, HDMI lead and LG television set with a cup of green tea. The twelve o’clock kick-off means it’s too early for a pre-match pint , and after yesterday’s intake of Cremant, beer, Champagne and red wine in honour of my wedding anniversary and a very close friend who died a year ago, I’m not sure I would want one.
The game begins before I realise and sixteen unobserved seconds are lost to eternity, but BBC Radio commentator Brenner Woolley tells me that today’s opponents Fleetwood have started brightly. I catch the name Rossiter from Brenner’s lips and imagine a Reginald Perrin lookalike in the Fleetwood line-up. Another Fleetwood player, Burns, Brenner tells us, “flies into the netting” at the side of the goal. I imagine BBC Radio Suffolk listeners without the benefit of the ifollow pictures, suddenly haunted by the image of a Fleetwood player who resembles a huge moth.
“Up the right hand of the Fleetwood right-hand side” says Mick describing where Fleetwood are attacking the Town goal from, and sounding like he’s ending the season on a high too. Brenner barely has time to refer to Armando Dobra as “The Albanian” before the same player ends his dribble in to the penalty area by delivering a short square pass to the incoming James Norwood , who places the ball into the corner of the Fleetwood Town goal net; Town, our Town that is, lead 1-0. “A lot of things happened with that ; it was quite interesting” says Mick unintentionally sucking the spontaneous joy and celebration out of the goal with his in-depth analysis and detailed description of what just happened. It doesn’t seem like three minutes have passed, but after Mick’s soliloquy it suddenly does.
It’s the sixth minute; “It’s very, very early doors” says Mick using the sort of language that he can only have picked up from sitting next to Brenner all season long. Now it’s the ninth minute and Gwion Edwards scores a second for Town, having made a run down the left wing. “A big mistake actually led to that goal” says Mick , once again pouring cold water on my joyful celebrations as he descends into a detailed description of how the goal came to be. But Mick is actually enjoying the game as much as I am, I think, and as usual he has plenty of sensible things to say; he’s very sensible is Mick. “Sometimes forget ‘tempo’, just be casual on the ball” Mick advises, evoking memories for me of his former team mate Arnold Muhren. Mick is definitely enjoying the match, he keeps using the words ‘nice’ and ‘nicely’ about Town’s play; what finer praise could there be? I think of ‘Here Come The Nice’ by the Small Faces which was recorded in 1966, about the time that Mick joined Town from Portsmouth and was cultivating a Steve Marriott haircut.
Gwion Edwards is replaced by the oddly-named Keanen Bennetts, having sustained an injury. “Lovely sunny afternoon” says Brenner, unexpectedly referencing The Kinks song ‘Sunny Afternoon’, also released in 1966. The mention of the Fleetwood manager Simon Grayson by Brenner then makes me think of the Harry Enfield character Mr Cholmondely-Warner, and also Grayson Perry. I begin to worry about why I always associate one word with another.
It’s the twenty-ninth minute and Troy Parrott scores a third goal for Town, having been put through with just the Fleetwood keeper between him and glory by James Norwood. “The reverse ball, a semi-reverse ball by James Norwood” is Mick’s description of the goal-providing pass. It was a beautiful goal, and the words ‘Carnival Football’ leap into my mind from 35 years ago; it was an expression used by a bloke I used to stand with at the back of Churchman’s who admired the commentary style of John Motson.
Half-time is approaching and after spotting a deliberate trip, the referee Mr Busby, whose name incidentally makes me think of the early days of BT , has a word with Troy Parrott. I amuse myself by imagining that Parrott repeats Mr Busby’s words back to hm. The half ends with my mind dwelling on Fleetwood’s Barry McKay, a name that somehow has me back in the 1970’s. A minute of time is added to the original forty-five of the first half. “Not quite sure why just one minute” says Brenner, seemingly and mysteriously ignorant of the fact that a minute is the amount of time most commonly added to first halves. It’s as if forty-five other League games had never happened; although in truth they might as well not have. The half ends and Mick tells us that “The stats are interesting.” It seems unlikely. “One corner kick for both teams; not for both teams” begins Mick, realising the absence of logic from his initial statement and quickly correcting himself. Happily Mick is quickly cut-off by the ifollow’s desperation to assail us with the same advertisements that have not influenced us to buy the same boring products promoted on at least twenty-two previous occasions this season.
Physically restored by Town’s astonishingly impressive half-time lead, I pour myself a half-time ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star American IPA (four for £6 from Waitrose) and make a cup of tea for my wife Paulene, who is in our bedroom suffering Portsmouth’s home defeat to Accrington Stanley. Half-time passes quickly as ever, and Brenner is soon telling us that Fleetwood are effectively playing in an Arsenal kit. For that to be true the shirts would surely need to bear an Arsenal badge, which seem unlikely. Brenner really needs to forget about Premier League teams, they are nothing to do with Town now.
The second-half begins unexceptionally, but after thirteen minutes a marvellous through ball by Andre Dozzell puts Troy Parrott through on goal; he shoots but, Brenner tells us, “Hill was in the way”, which seems appropriate for a small geographical feature. I can’t be sure, but it then sounds as if Mick refers to Armando Dobra as Amanda Dobra. The game continues to entertain despite the commentary or my hearing, but more likely because of them. The sixty-fifth minute sees a “Great ball from Bennetts” according to Mick. The ball reaches James Norwood but he fluffs his shot. “May be Norwood didn’t expect it” continues the Town legend not unreasonably implying that great balls from Mr Bennetts are rare, and provoking barely stifled laughter from Brenner in the process. Five minutes later and Teddy Bishop replaces James Norwood, who according to Brenner “goes off in his pink boots”; as if there was a possibility he would change his footwear before leaving the pitch.
The seventy-second minute brings a goal for Fleetwood as Wes Burns out-runs Mark McGuiness and a mysteriously absent Myles Kenlock down the left before booting the ball beyond Dai Cornell and inside the far post. “It’s quite windy now at Portman Road” says Brenner, reminding me of the government and their lackeys diverting our attention away from any real issues that might cause concern. Brenner proceeds blandly; “Paul Cook and Gary Roberts just talking about something or other”.
Thirteen minutes of normal time remain and Town indulge in a mass substitution with Josh Harrop replacing Dobra and Kayden Jackson replacing Parrott, whilst the oddly –named substitute Keanen Bennetts experiences the ultimate ignominy of being the substitute who is substituted; on this occasion by Cole Skuse who is doubtless making his last ever appearance for Town.
The game continues to entertain. Rossiter is booked and Fleetwood make multiple substitutions of their own. As time runs out on the season, Brenner reflects upon it like commentators and journalists do. It was embarrassing Brenner tells us to go out in the group stages of the Papa John’s Trophy, although not as embarrassing I would venture as being involved in such a crappy competition in the first place, which is sponsored by a hot-food takeaway and includes the Under 23 teams of Premier League clubs.
Three minutes of additional time are attached to the basic ninety. Brenner draws our attention to the cardboard cut-outs of supporters in the bottom tier of the Cobbold Stand as play proceeds in front of them; I’m not sure why he does this but it passes the time and soon the game and the season end. “ It was a game of good quality” concludes Mick not unreasonably, although he tempers this with the equally reasonable opinion that in the second-half of the game Fleetwood had ”the better performers in their team”. As the players leave the field to the strains of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” the ifollow broadcast abruptly ends and I am left alone until August.
That’s my fifty-first season gone for ever. It ended with neither a bang nor a whimper, but something in between, like popping bubble wrap. I’m going to miss Mick and Brenner, but with a bit of luck will never have to listen to them or watch the ifollow ever again.