Ipswich Town 1 Stoke City 1


After a week of beautiful winter sunshine today is grey.  As I am about to walk to the railway station I receive a text message from Roly to tell me that there are rail replacement buses between Colchester and Ipswich.  The gloom of the day deepens.  I leave the house forgetting to say goodbye to my wife Paulene.

At the railway station I see Roly over the tracks on Platform Two, he is eating a muffin and holds a paper cup of coffee.  Roly is a conspicuous consumer, of food. Our train journey is brief and we soon find ourselves boarding a sleek grey coach belonging to Tendring Travel, the front of the vehicle sports a Union flag, which no doubt goes down well in that land of hope and glory that leads to Jaywick.  Already on board there are people sporting the blue and white favours of Ipswich Town and it feels like we’re setting off on an away trip, but equally I feel like an extra in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, such is the magic of boarding a bus or coach.  A ‘steward’ in a day-glo coat quietly counts us on to the coach, she’s Tendring’s Wendy Winters, but predictably less glamourous. I cast a fat bloke over the aisle as Ringo’s auntie Jessie; the partly-vacant seat next to him is predictably the last to be occupied.  The unhappy looking driver is very anxious that his vehicle is not over-filled “I can’t have anyone standing” he says, twice in quick succession.  Someone has to alight but then we depart.  The bus is swelteringly hot.

We arrive in Ipswich twenty five minutes later than if we’d arrived by rail, but of course we have been charged the same price for this slower, less comfortable service.  If I’d wanted to save money by travelling by bus on Ipswich Buses service 93 from Colchester to Ipswich or by National Express coach I could have done so.  Instead I thought I would pay a bit more and travel by….oh dear, bus.

Reeling from our experience Roly and I hot foot it up Portman Road to St Jude’s Tavern, barely registering that the programme kiosks have been painted dark blue and therefore making me imagine even more vividly that each one is a Tardis piloted by Mick Mills  capable of time travel back to the 1970’s, that distant time when Ipswich Town first seduced me.  St Jude’s is busy with drinkers, but Roly and I claim a table where we sup our pints of today’s Match Day Special, Goblin’s Piss (£2.50) which I am relieved to discover tastes much, much, much better than it sounds.  Our conversation is of football and more precisely Ipswich Town and we conclude that playing Collin Quaner and Will Keane up front together is like having two Mich D’Avrays; a concept which we like very much.  We drink quickly, probably due to de-hydration from our coach trip and I soon return to the bar to buy a further pint and a half of the Match Day Special, which has now changed to St Jude’s Hoppy Jude (still £2.50).  Roly only has a half because he is nothing if not responsible and he will be driving his car later this evening (it’s a Vauxhall Astra). I suspect Roly also wants to leave space for something to eat once he gets to the ground; I sometimes wonder how he is not the size of Ringo’s auntie Jessie.

Under the insouciant gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey we part, Roly heads to the ‘posh’ seats of the East of England Co-op Stand and its gourmet offerings whilst I slum it in the cheap seats of Churchman’s, now the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  There is no queue at the turnstile where I thank the operator cheerily for his pedal-work and proceed to my seat via the toilet.  Unusually I get to my seat before the match ball has been plucked from its plinth. Pat from Clacton is here but ever-present Phil who never misses a game is not, he’s being wined and dined with supporters club supremos and is watching from a ‘posh’ seat somewhere.

Ipswich begin the game playing towards me and Pat from Clacton, as ever they wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves  and shorts and display the deeply tacky logo of an organisation of on-line scammers across their chests.  Today’s opponents are Stoke City and to their everlasting credit they have eschewed the wearing of any unnecessary change kit and instead wear their traditional kit of red and white stripes with white shorts and socks. They look a bit like Signal toothpaste, and coincidentally this chimes with the novels of Arnold Bennett set in the Potteries in which the fictional local paper is called The Signal, although I do not recall any reference to toothpaste in any of the novels I have read. I can very much recommend ‘The Card’, which even weaves football into the story near the end.

The ‘Stokies’ assembled in the corner of  the Cobbold Stand (we will later be informed that there are 1,138 of them in the total crowd of 15,924) immediately burst into a chorus of Tom Jones’ Delilah for which they are rightly famous amongst people who pay any attention to these sorts of things.  Ipswich supporters seem to have given up already on inexplicably singing “Sweet Caroline” as our attempt at being quirky and interesting, possibly because it will now forever harbour painful, dark memories of the destructive Paul Hurst era, brief though it was.  Moving forward, as people now say instead of ‘looking ahead’ in these thrusting modern times, spectators in the Cobbold Stand, East of England Co-op Stand and Sir Alf Ramsey Stand could be given song sheets for Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’.  Make it performance art and the song sheets could be blank.

The heavy grey cloud and hint of damp in the air lend the afternoon a sombre atmosphere but the floodlights are on and once again, as on Wednesday night versus Derby, this feels like a proper football match; the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, or more accurately the corner of it occupied by the Blue Action supporters group is audible.  From the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand however, the Stokies are more audible and soon sing “One Gordon Banks, there’s only one Gordon Banks”.  Many Town supporters in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand begin to applaud and frankly I’m confused as to whether this is a one minute’s applause for the deceased goalkeeper or just applause directed at the Stoke fans singing “One Gordon Banks”.  Modern football with its sentimentality is complicated.

Stoke are dominating possession but not in an exciting way; they don’t look much like scoring and their fans are hopefully being ironic when they sing “We’ve got the best team in the land”; having been to Stoke On Trent I think it likely that Stoke supporters are capable of irony.  For Town, little Alan Judge (Judgie) looks our best player by some way and when he picks himself up off the turf after being fouled the spectators around me applaud him warmly, showing far more enthusiasm for this ‘resurrection’ than they do for supporting and getting behind the team the rest of the time.  “Shoot!” bellows someone from behind as Town players circle in front of the Stoke penalty area. “They don’t know where the goal is anyway” mumbles the old boy behind me, clearly hankering for the latter days of Mick McCarthy’s reign when we only came to games to be miserable.

It’s twenty-five past three and as little Judgey crosses the ball with speed and purpose a chant of “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” comes out of the blue from the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand; a spontaneous, instinctive, momentary burst of enthusiasm in a dull first half. Less than ten minutes later and Alan Judge is floored again as he is fouled by Stoke’s James McClean who becomes the first and only player to be booked by the small, balding referee, Mr Scott Duncan.  Hilariously McClean tries to make out that it is he who has been fouled by then diving outrageously; he is fully deserving of the chorus sung just for him by the Sir Bobby Robson Stand of “Wanker, Wanker…”  It makes me wonder why so many professional footballers are such bare-faced cheats and why the normally po-faced Football Association puts up with it.

Four minutes to go until half-time and the game is hardly thrilling.  “That’s gettin’ misty” says the old girl behind me, understandably more engaged by the weather than the match.  Stoke have had better chances to score than Ipswich, but fortunately seem to believe that the cross-bar is much higher than it actually is. A minute before half-time however, Town’s Jonas Knudsen loses all sense of where he is in relation to the rest of the planet and heads a harmless looking cross away from rather than to Bartosz Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal, allowing the cheating James McClean to run on and score from less than a yard into an empty goal; even he couldn’t miss that or fall over. Once again justice doesn’t play to the whistle and has gone early for a half-time cuppa. 

Half-time follows and after a chat with Ray I let out some more of the Goblins Piss and Hoppy Jude.  I take a look at the half-time scores and search for a Panda brand liquorice stick that I thought I had in the inside pocket of my coat.  I will eventually find it later this evening in the coat lining, I should probably buy a new coat, this one has to be twenty-five years old at least.  The new half begin at five past four and Ipswich improve a little and the crowd remain with them, politely applauding an over-hit pass which last season would have drawn scorn and bile from the stands.

Teddy Bishop begins to run with the ball. He does it once; he does it again and is brought down to win a free-kick. “I knew that would happen” says the old boy behind sounding annoyed as if to say he shouldn’t have bothered.  “But he’s won a free-kick” says the old girl displaying a more measured tactical approach to the game.  Alan Judge draws a spectacular flying save from the Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland when the kick is taken.

Collin Quaner goes down injured and the game is stopped with Stoke in possession. Sportingly, the Stoke fans boo, revealing their proud Premier League heritage.  When I was at university I knew a Stoke City supporter; his name was Tony and he was a lovely, friendly bloke, fun to have a drink with. He lived in Wolverhampton but went to watch Stoke he told us, because of the violence.  He was very proud of his sexual conquest of the daughter of a local Chief Constable and he once defecated in a milk bottle; I didn’t see him do this, but I saw the milk bottle, which was enough.

Fifty seven minutes have been played and the Stokies sing “Is this a library?” It’s a mark of how things have improved at Portman Road that they have had to wait this long to sing it; they do so only once; it’s almost as if it’s a condition of sale on the tickets.  Stoke press forward and earn a corner, the ball runs back to the edge of the box and one of their number, I have no real idea who, but it could have been Oghenekaro Etebo , wellies the ball nominally goalwards; travelling like a comet the ball drifts left in a graceful curve under the influence of an unseen gravitational force and heads at speed directly towards me.  I remain seated but raise my arms, succeeding only in getting a finger-tip touch which barely alters its trajectory.  “Why didn’t you catch it?” shouts Ray “I would have if I could be bothered to stand up” I tell him “I’m just very lazy, it’s why I’m not in the team”.

The game drifts away, meandering towards time added on as the evening chill sets in. I sense disappointment and frustration behind me. “Come on! You can beat this lot. They’re nearly as bad as you are” calls the old girl cruelly. “That’s all very pretty…” says the old boy as the Town pass the ball across the pitch and back “…but does absolutely nothing”.  He sounds bitter and his attitude illustrates why English football will always be inferior to French or Spanish or Italian, because we can’t abide all that soppy passing.

Time added-on arrives and Town are pressing, but not looking likely to score; they win a corner and in a stroke of good fortune Paul Lambert, still wearing his black Marks & Spencer v-neck jumper and black slacks still has one substitute left.  On to the field comes Suffolk’s favourite 1.93m high Congolese centre back Aristote (Toto) N’Siala.  I can almost hear the Stoke players thinking “Who the feck is going to pick him up?” Possibly several players go to mark Toto and as the corner is taken I see the ball and the number fourteen on the shirt of Will Keane converging.  “Goal!” I shout and a fraction of a second later Keane’s head sends the ball into the net and Town have equalised.     It is a moment I may not forget, like when Mich D’Avray scored from Kevin O’Callaghan’s cross against Liverpool in February 1986.  

There’s barely time left for either side to score again and a little predictably they don’t.  The game ends and for the second match in a row Town have not lost and we are deliriously happy.  This is truly one of the weirdest season’s I have ever known at Portman Road.  We are still bottom of the league and we never get appreciably closer to the teams above us, but for some reason it feels good and a good number of people are enjoying it.   Are the Russians putting something in the water or the Match Day Special?

IpswichTown 1 Aston Villa 1

 

It’s a sombre August afternoon beneath overcast, grey skies; I walk to the railway station.  The heat and bright sunshine that greeted the first match of the football season have gone and with three games played Ipswich have still not won.  But it’s warm.20180818_125516_44115116991_o

On the platform at the railway station a poster entreats me not to get on the train if I feel unwell, but I’m okay, it’s too early in the season to feel ill at the thought of another match.   The train arrives and is a minute later than it was a fortnight ago; the timetable seems to have changed.  On the other side of the carriage sits a young woman with a flourish of wild blond hair and dark eyebrows. She checks her make-up using her mobile phone.  I look out of the window.

In Ipswich a group of Aston Villa fans look over the bridge parapet opposite the railway station; perhaps they will jump into the river below if their team loses, or maybe it’s just their way of joining in with Maritime Ipswich. Portman Road is busy with people indulging in pre-match hanging about; two lads, one in an Ipswich shirt, one in a Villa shirt create a pleasing tableau of inter-club friendliness beneath the statue of Sir Alf Ramsey.

I buy a programme (£3.00) and  walk on to St Jude’s Tavern where Mick has arrived, seconds before; he buys me a pint of Colchester Brewery Metropolis (£3.00), which I choose because of Fritz Lang’s 1926 film of the same name. Mick has a pint of peach flavoured beer, which he discovers he doesn’t really like (£3.00).   We sit at a small table, the only one that is free; the pub is busy.  We talk of football, of what my wife and I might do on a forthcoming trip to Paris, of how we perceive our lives and the reality of them, of what Mick will do now he has split with his partner of the past fourteen years and what he really does in his shed.  I buy a second pint of beer, Colchester Brewery Sweeney Todd (£3.00), whilst Mick has a half of Earl Soham Victoria Bitter (£1.50).

An hour gone and glasses drained we leave with a host of others bound for the match.  Mick and I part at the corner of Portman Road and St Matthews Street, he will be going to 20180818_153709_30246974478_oSainsbury’s.  Down in Portman Road there are queues for the turnstiles, which is surprising.  I assess which queue is shortest and join it, it is very short and I am soon inside the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. I thank the turnstile operator, drain off some excess liquid and head for my seat near Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and who today has his son Elwood with him.  The teams appear to the strains of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, I don’t know why, but apparently people voted for it, like Brexit.

The game begins; Ipswich kicking off and playing towards me and Phil, Elwood and Pat.  20180818_161256_44065987012_oIpswich sport their new kit for this season; blue shirts with white sleeves evoking a memory of the shirts of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but with added Addidas branded stripes in red to make sure we don’t miss them.  Ipswich’s Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski looks like a huge ‘Mivvi’ in all-orange.  Aston Villa wear white shirts and maroon shorts and socks. Boots come in many colours, a rainbow of feet.

Inside Portman Road it is quite noisy today, mostly thanks to the 2,027 Aston Villa supporters but the Town fans are doing their best to contribute in a week when a new group of supporters ‘Blue Action’ has launched itself on social media with its stated aim to “…ignite and unite the support”.  Its name might sound like a washing powder but the aim of the group seems laudable provided nothing gets burnt.  The Villa fans sing a song about empty seats, which is hard to decipher and then their star player Jack Grealish falls to the ground, the first of many, many times which he will do this this afternoon; for someone with such big legs, he seems incredibly frail.  “He’s dead again” says the old fella behind me “Get up you creep” – well it sounded like creep.  Town’s Trevoh Chalobah then receives treatment after he is fouled and I have time to check on the buddleia on the roof of the stand; it’s still there.  In the first ten minutes ten free-kicks are awarded by referee Mr Tim Robinson for fouls.  Town manager Paul Hurst watches on, arms folded across his chest.  “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” sing the Aston Villa fans.  It’s lovely of them to offer to do requests like that I think to myself, but then disappointingly they don’t bother; something from Bizet’s Carmen would have been nice.

It’s not 3.15 yet and Town’s Gwion Edwards hits the Aston Villa cross bar at the end of a flowing move across the pitch from one side to the other and back, which started with him dribbling the ball away from the Town penalty area.  This is the stuff.  Town fans sing and clap a bit, but not for long and within minutes Villa fans are chanting “No noise from the Tractor Boys”.  Then town have another shot, which bobbles past a post but then Aston Villa score; Ivorian Jonathon Kodjia being left to head in a cross.  The old couple behind me are amused by his surname which they pronounce ‘Codger’ as in ‘old codger’.  Very droll.

The game continues with free-kicks a-plenty as Aston Villa players seem keen to lay about on the turf whilst Mr Robinson seems keen to blame Ipswich players for this.  Town’s Tayo Edun does nothing more than collide with Villa’s Ahmed El Mohamady and is cautioned by the increasingly officious Mr Robinson.  Kodjia hits the Town cross bar with a header from the resultant free-kick.  When Gwion Edwards is then fouled and a free-kick awarded, the decision is greeted with a hail of ironic cheers from Town fans; it’s what we do best, sarcasm.   It’s about twenty five to four and a long throw falls to the feet of Trevoh Chalobah who turns and bounces a low shot just inside the goalpost and a little unexpectedly Town have equalised.

Things are looking up, but only temporarily as just two minutes later Tayo Edun is booked again by Mr Robinson for a foul and is therefore sent off.  Despite the scores being level, Aston Villa have looked the better team in the first half and with just ten players I feel that defeat for Town looks inevitable.  The Town supporters are not happy, but they seem to like it like that.  “You don’t know what you’re doing” they chant to Mr Robinson and “You’re not fit to referee”.  Kodjia goes down again under a challenge and receives treatment; “Get up ya pansy” shouts the old boy behind me, following it up with “What a bunch of pansies”.  The half ends in acrimony, which is always a good thing for the atmosphere at a football match.

Mr Robinson leaves the field guarded by stewards who happily can do nothing to protect him from the hail of vitriol and verbal abuse which is directed at him.  If he has any sort20180818_120714_42299377040_o of a heart he will hopefully sit in his little room and weep over his half-time tea whilst his two assistants ignore him and whisper between themselves.  I eat a Panda brand liquorice bar and chat to Ray who is not impressed and foresees defeat, although he considers the sending off to have been unjust.  I visit the latrines and beneath the stand people stare up at the TV screens replaying highlights of the first half.

With everyone refreshed the game begins anew.  The old girl behind me offers up her insight playing the part of the half-time TV pundit “Sometimes it’s harder to play ten men” she says sounding unconvinced by her own words. Following a pause she adds “Cos you don’t know where they’re going”.  As qualifying statements go it’s a poor one, but at least she realised one was needed.

Aston Villa begin the new half with even more resolve to fall over at every opportunity and Town’s St Lucian Janoi Donacien is soon cautioned by Mr Robinson, who shows no sign of having reflected upon his rank first half performance. Aside from ‘rank Robbo’ the villain of the piece this afternoon  is Jack Grealish who despite showing ample skill and poise on the ball mostly falls down  Bambi-like attempting to win free-kicks, which is a sad indictment of modern football and the reliance on set-pieces.  In ‘rank Robbo’ Villa have discovered a referee who loves to award free-kicks as much as they love to win them and he evidently has no understanding of the concept of players falling over on purpose to win free-kicks.

But despite the efforts of ‘rank Robbo’ and Jack ‘Bambi’ Grealish the game is overall an entertaining one and Ipswich overcome the handicap of having only ten players admirably.   Sunshine is breaking through the clouds and the crowd is engrossed in the game, but not so much that they don’t every now and then cheer and clap and behave like a football crowd should.  With about fifteen minutes to play Villa’s Irish substitute Conor Hourihane falls screaming to the ground in the Ipswich penalty area as if haunted by wailing banshees and he rightly incurs the displeasure of both Luke Chambers and Jonas Knudsen; his is the afternoon’s most blatant attempt at cheating.  Aston Villa then bring on the player with the most exotic name of the day, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy whose surname conjures up images of a triste between a sophisticated looking lady in a little black dress and a jobbing builder.

Jack ‘Bambi’ Grealish looks purposeful with the ball at his feet but with his slicked back hair and confident air he possibly believes he is better than he is and with time running out and Villa encamped around the Town penalty area he carefully picks out the perfect pass to the only Villa player in an offside position.   Grealish should really have worn a dark cape, black hat and grown a twirly waxed moustache for today’s game, although he might have had to fight ‘rank Robbo’ for it, which would have been an entertainment in itself.

With the final whistle a great cheer goes up, which is not really commensurate with a home draw, but today it feels like Town have won because it has been achieved in adversity against a club which is expected to be challenging for promotion and is still profiting from Premier League ‘parachute’ payments.  As befits a team managed by 5’5” Paul Hurst, today Town have played the ‘little guy’ and have come through.  I stay to applaud and although Town have now gone four games without winning, this game was well worth being at.  Perhaps our first win will be against Norwich City in a fortnight’s time.

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Ipswich Town 1 Barnsley 0

April is well under way and the relief brought by the end of the football season is in sight. Ipswich Town and Barnsley both have just five matches left to play and tonight is the last evening match of the season, the last opportunity for a while to enjoy the thrill and spectacle of a game beneath electric illumination, to see the turf glow green in the drenching beam of the floodlights. Barnsley are struggling to stay in the light away from the gloomy pit that is relegation. Ipswich stand in the blinding, harsh, desert light of mid-table, of nothingness and futility, which is rather how I like it.
It’s been a grey, misty day; the sort to evoke memories of November, of autumn when Town were seventh in the league table just four points off the play-offs and anything seemed possible. But now it’s nearly five o’clock and anticipating the joy of kick-off the sun is out, Spring is back and I leave work in the manner of Fred Flintstone leaping from my desk to slide down the back of an imaginary brontosaurus whilst shouting “Yabba Dabba Doos, Come On You Blues!”. My excitement and anticipation of another Big Match is not reflected however in the scene I find as I pass along Constantine Road; there is no one much about, all is calm. Threatening notices about Ipswich Town’s use of CCTV in this area glare down at me amidst a host of signs about collecting tickets, for scouts and

the suspension of parking. One of those naughty Millwall fans has placed a sticker on the borough crest of the Portman Road street name plate, in the manner that a ‘masseur’ might advertise in a phone box. From the ‘corporation’ bus garage opposite the ground the open top double decker looks out forlornly, wondering if the football club will ever require its services again.

I walk on past a burger van painted grey as if it might once have belonged to the RAF.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Behind the North Stand the 1978 FA Cup Winners ‘mosaic’ looks like someone’s nicked a couple of tiles for their kitchen or bathroom. Some stewards eat chips around a table. I buy a programme (£3.00) in the club shop.

In St Jude’s Tavern my accomplice for the next half an hour or so, Roly, leans back in a tilting chair in the corner of the room behind a pint of unidentified copper coloured beer. Meanly, he doesn’t offer to buy his friend a drink and I reciprocate, but buy a pint of St Jude’s Woody Brew (£3.40) for myself. We talk of football, of football managers and promoting ‘from within the boot room’. We decide Portman Road has a small boot room in which there was only room for Bobby Ferguson and there’s probably nothing in there now except boots and Bobby’s old tracksuit top, memorably and unfortunately adorned with the letters BF. The discussion wanders on until Roly leaves me to ‘dine’ with the father of the mother of his daughter at Sainsbury’s. But Roly doesn’t dine, he scoffs.
I change seats and buy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50)’Edge American Pale’. I talk more football to some of the men in their sixties who are here before every game and I buy a pint of Milestone Crusader (£3.40). The clock on the wall chimes, it’s twelve minutes slow. As one, the patrons of the pub rise and depart for Portman Road, after a visit to the ‘facilities’. The ‘crowd’ outside the stadium is sparse, only slightly more so than the one within it (13, 271). The strains of Clo-Clo’s ‘My Way’ drift off into the floodlit air as I speak with Dave the steward in the undercroft of the Alf Ramsey Stand and I miss the kick-off.
Eventually settling down on a seat a few along from ever-present Phil who never misses a game, my enjoyment of the match begins. Barnsley, whose colours are red and white OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kick-off wearing a needlessly changed kit of white shirts with green sleeves and shorts; Ipswich as ever are in blue and white. “This is the last evening one” I hear the old boy behind me say to is wife or mistress or sister as he reflects nostalgically, as I had done on the last game under floodlights this season. An offside flag is raised “He put that flag up late – I don’t know why they can’t do it beforehand” she says, unknowingly making me imagine the introduction of clairvoyant linesmen. The football is quite poor. Ipswich have two wingers on the pitch but seem incapable of getting the ball to them, preferring to play inaccurate balls ‘over the top’ to no one in particular. In midfield for Town a young player is making his debut; his name is Barry Cotter, which makes me think of the surviving Bee Gee and Rab C Nesbitt. I live in a world of little more than word association sometimes.
The conversation behind me turns to Mick McCarthy and season ticket renewal. “I want to know who the new manager is before I get my ticket, they might bring McCarthy back” she says. I think how I’d like to see a beaky nosed man with obviously dyed, jet black and receding hair introduced to the press by Ian Milne as Town’s new manager Michalis McCatharios, who has been prised away from under the noses of Greek Superleague clubs.
The man in front of me literally stuffs his face with smokey bacon odour crisps, the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

buddleia on the roof of the stand still looks down on us as it did on Easter Monday and the Barnsley fans sing “Come On You Reds!”. Town are making the occasional fitful attack, which breaks down meekly, but my veins are coursing with passion and the feeling of belonging and I embark on some rousing choruses of “Lo-lo, Lo-lo-lo, Lo-lo, Allez les bleus” in the style of a French Ultra. Phil joins in and so do a couple of the joyful young lads in the disabled enclosure in front of me. I get carried away. I stand up, I turn to the crowd behind me and wave my arms about to articulate my song like a manic, Gallic, Ralph Reader. Nothing. I carry on for a bit, but fearing that I could be ejected or sectioned for being too noisy I sit down and sulk instead.
On the pitch I like to think Ipswich respond by almost assembling a passing move resembling flowing football. The crowd murmurs. “Stop it” I shout to the team “You’ll get them excited”.
Half-time and the Barnsley supporters (276 of them) join the esteemed ranks of the few visitors to Portman Road who have not sung anything about libraries or our support being “fucking shit”. I could probably take credit for that, but will instead praise the good folk of Barnsley for being a decent bunch of people more interested in supporting their team than in castigating anyone else for their apparent or perceived shortcomings. I release some more of what I imbibed at St Jude’s Tavern and chat with ever-present Phil and Pat from Clacton. Phil says it’s the thirtieth anniversary of his having not missed a match, but also recommends I sing “Come On You Blues” instead of “Allez Les Bleus” because people don’t know what I’m saying. I am disappointed, not in Phil, but that what he says is no doubt true; he should know, he’s a teacher and so is partly responsible for the nation’s general ignorance I contemplate asking a steward if they could run and get me a step ladder and a megaphone.
The second half is better than the first for us Ipswich supporters as Town begin to play less disjointedly. Egged on by my new found acolytes I chant a bit more and mid-song, at about ten past nine Town’s on-loan Gambian, Mustapha Carayol crosses the ball and Danish Jonas Knudsen sends a stylish glancing header over his right shoulder and past Barnsley’s Welsh guardian Adam Davies and into the goal net. Hurrah! How we cheer. I love a glancing header, it’s a prince among headers; that subtle twist of the neck, that obtuse angle, that flashing beauty.
The rest of the game fails to live up to that brief moment of joy, but it’s not so bad. Town do okay and Barnsley don’t really look as if they can equalise, despite fielding the 6’ 5” Kieffer Moore who, whilst he looks like he might have previously played for Sydney Swans in fact joined Barnsley from Town in January. On tonight’s showing however, it was not a mistake to sell him and he should never have left the AFL. The home crowd allow themselves some enjoyment and from my seat in Churchman’s I can’t hear any of the pointless vitriol that has marred recent matches. It’s not a popular thing to say and I am as irreligious as the next man, but there are a good number of people who would seriously benefit from being introduced to some of the salient points of the Gospels.
Happily the game is not extended unduly and it’s possibly a little before 9:35 when referee Mr James Linington stuffs his little whistle in his mouth and blows for the final time this evening. There are smiley, happy people in Portman Road once again and Phil suggests a chant of “You’re football’s alright, You’re football’s okay, Mick McCarthy, You’re footballs okay”. I catch the early train home with ease.
It is not until I arrive home that I learn that Mick McCarthy has left the club; I’m glad he won his last game for us, for him. I liked his press conferences even if his football very often wasn’t very good, but then a lot of Championship football isn’t very good and he did a decent job for much of what was for a football manager a very long time. Also, he’s just a man.

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Brentford 1 Ipswich Town 0

My train is seven minutes late, which means that changing at Stratford to catch the 12:12 Jubilee Line service to Waterloo will require speed and alacrity. This is a shame and adds to my existing disappointment from when I bought my train ticket and the cheerless young woman at the station first tried to charge me a couple of quid more than the price I’d been quoted on the National Rail website. It turns out that there are two fares for the same journey, but apparently I didn’t want a ‘day return’ (£23.50) I wanted a ‘day travelcard’(£20.65 with a Goldcard). In reality I just wanted to go to Brentford and back as cheaply as possible, not caring what the ticket is called. Two companies, two prices it seems. The joyless woman’s excuse for not quoting me the lower price is that she doesn’t know where Brentford is. What idiot decided it was a good idea to split up a national rail network into separate private companies anyway?
When the train arrives it is busy and one of the few vacant seats is next to a grandmother, her daughter and two young grandchildren, not a choice of seat I would usually make. One of the children announces the names of all the stations, the other is fractious and often close to tears. The adults make more noise than she does however as they shush her and try to divert her attention from whatever upsets her. More passengers get on at Chelmsford, I feel the warm breath of a woolly looking dog on my hand as it is led down the aisle, my look of surprise makes the woman opposite me laugh. Another woman provides interest with her golden finger and toe nails, they’re a work of art worthy of Gustav Klimt.
The journey is tortuous; making the connection at Stratford I have to wait half an hour OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor the next connection from Waterloo. But Waterloo Station provides entertainment, I stand beneath its famous clock and a dishevelled, smelly man who holds a red lead at the end of which is a small, contented looking black cat, talks, but no one listens. From Waterloo to Brentford takes another half an hour, but provides glimpses of the gothic Palace of Westminster, the neo-classical Tate Gallery and Art Deco Battersea power station; later the train crosses the River Thames at Barnes Bridge, so it’s a lot of sight-seeing fun. Brentford station is dull, like the weather, but just outside a way finder sign announcesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘New map coming soon’ as if it’s been decided to replace the old map of Brentford with one of somewhere more exotic like Montmartre. The buses in this part of London are run by RATP, the company that runs Paris metro; another two-fingers to bloody Brexit.
Griffin Park is a proper football ground, surrounded by neat streets of terraced houses, like the one in which Mr Benn of Watch with Mother fame lived; I half expect to see him emerge from one, waving stiffly and sporting a red and white striped scarf and disproportionately large rosette. Walking down Clifden Road from the station all four metal floodlight pylons hove into view; it’s a sight to gladden the heart of any football supporter. I buy a programme (£3.50) and jokingly complain to the seller about extortionate metropolitan OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAprices. Someone sells Chilli Con Carne from beneath a gazebo in their front garden. The Griffin pub is on a corner near the away supporters’ entrance and it and the terrace of bay-windowed houses opposite are built of the warm, yellow stock brick that defines so much of London. Football supporters spill out from the pub and into the streets which crawl with fans of both clubs. There is a good feel about this place. Despite its Twickenham postcode, nominally Brentford is a London club, but its supporters don’t have the obnoxious conceit of most London fans. I stroll up Braemar Road past the main entrance to the ground, beyond which is the club shop; it looks like a 1920’s suburbanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA bungalow with its red and white painted gable. Naturally I take a look inside; if Chelsea has a ‘megastore’, this is more of a corner shop.
At the end of Braemar Road chalkboards on the wall of the Princess Royal pub welcome fans of both clubs before and after the game. Walking past the New Inn on the next corner of the ground I am welcomed and ushered in, but perhaps rudely I don’t stay because the beer is Greene King. I carry on down New Road and pass the Royal Oak pub and can still see the Griffin Park floodlights above the roof top along with a passing jet airliner, one of the hundreds that roar over about every two minutes during the day as they leave or arrive at Heathrow.
I return to The Griffin because it serves the local Fullers beers and despite the heaving throng at the bar I get served quite quickly with a 500 ml plastic cup of Fuller’s London Pride (£4.10); the name of the beer and its presentation sadly don’t really match up, but it says a lot about modern Britain. I go outside and lean on someone’s front wall to watch the pre-match activity unfold before me as I consume my beer. Before heading into the stadium I use the toilet inside the pub. There is an orderly and good-spirited queue at the three urinals. Somebody jokes as he pees that this will probably be the highlight of his afternoon, whilst someone else queues with a pint of lager in hand, as if he might just tip it straight into the urinal and cut out the middle man.
Today I am meeting Tim who I have known since 1965 and who is travelling up from Weymouth with a friend of his. The news is that due to engineering works Tim has had to travel via Westbury (Wiltshire) and due to an incident on a level crossing in Cornwall his train is delayed. He will arrive at Paddington not much before 3 o’clock and will have to get a taxi from there, missing the kick-off. I have his ticket. It’s a bit of a pickle, but I am hoping that I can leave the tickets for collection so that I don’t have to hang around outside and miss anything of the match myself. I speak with the steward at the away supporters entrance who is stood by a red flag which announces “Here to help”. Assuming it’s not the flag that’s the helpful one I ask the steward nearby if it would be possible to leave the tickets for collection; he refers me to the Stand Manager, a lady just a few metres away, who is extremely helpful and immediately says it will be no problem at all and I should leave the tickets with the steward who I just spoke to and let Tim know his ID number, number 277. I am deeply thankful and impressed by their straightforward efficiency; seems like it’s 1-0 to Brentford already.
In the small Brook Road stand, known by home fans as the ‘Wendy House’, most IpswichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA supporters are gathered in the centre of the terrace directly behind the goal, I find a mostly pleasant, uncrowded spot towards the New Road stand. The only drawback is a youth stood staring at the Brentford fans making a masturbatory gesture; if only he knew how silly he looks. The roof is low, which gives the small terrace a good atmosphere and there is some singing from the Ipswich supporters as the teams appear amidst a posse of photographers and assorted hangers-on including the club mascots. Brentford, known as the Bees, have two mascots named Buzzbee and Buzzette, not surprisingly both are bees, but Buzzette looks worryingly like a Golliwog.
After a minute’s applause for former England international Ray Wilkins who died this week, Ipswich kick off the game wearing all blue although their usual white shorts would not have clashed with Brentford’s red and white striped shirts and black shorts. It’s a colourful scene against the back drop of the plain stands and lush green turf. Brentford are kicking towards the Brook Road stand. Town defend the Ealig Road end with its impressive backdrop of grey Brutalist tower blocks off in the distance. The early exchanges are symptomatic of the usual rubbish served up in what is nowadays known as The Championship, as players whose levels of fitness and strength far exceed their levels of skill cancel each other out and the ball flies between them like a pin ball. Ipswich’s Jordan Spence is the first player to be booked by referee Mr Robert Jones and it is only a quarter past three.
Tim and his friend arrive about five minutes later, but the game doesn’t improve; why should it? Two blokes beside me seem to be discussing whether someone’s hair is permed or not. An Airbus 380 flies over. There is little vocal support for the team from the Ipswich fans but plenty of singing of “Mick McCarthy, Get out of our club” to the usual tune of Sloop John B. Haven’t they heard? He’s going at the end of the season. It doesn’t seem likely that he will suddenly bugger off in the first half of a match, does it? These people need to get over this and just get behind the team. But many Ipswich fans love to accentuate the negative.
As a Brentford ball beyond the Ipswich defence reaches the penalty area Town ‘keeper Bartosz Bialkowski and Town captain Luke Chambers collide and it looks like Chambers has ’done his shoulder’ as a result. Chambers is replaced by substitute Myles Kenlock; in terms of spectacle the collision is the highlight of the first half although it inevitably prolongs proceedings. It’s been an even first half with both teams as bad as one another, so it seems that it’s not only Mick McCarthy’s football that is, in the words of the song, ‘shit’.
The second half is much the same as the first, although Brentford improve and are having much more of the ball with Ipswich rarely venturing towards their own fans; but who can blame them. The negativity in the Brook Road stand turns up a notch with a new song. At first I think they’re singing “We’re the arseholes, we’re the arseholes, we’re the arseholes over here” but then it becomes clear that the words is numbskulls, not arseholes, a reference to Mick McCarthy labelling some supporters numbskulls in a recent interview. Numbskulls is a word that seems to resonate with these supporters for some reason, as if they have found their true identity and along with chants of “We hate Mick McCarthy” they sing “Mick McCarthy’s blue and white numbskulls”. But their negativity isn’t confined to Mick McCarthy as they also very unjustly dust off Sloop John B once again to sing “I wanna go home, I wanna go home, Brentford’s a shithole, I wanna go home” . Only a numbskull could label a football ground with a pub on each corner a “shithole”.
A bald-headed bloke stood next to me, who has been joining in with the numbskull chants remarks that it looks like being a goalless draw “Yeah, if we’re lucky” I reply, tuning in to the pervading negativity. We’re not lucky. To our left in the New Road stand, a simple pitched roof structure with a line of thirteen bright red metal stanchions that line the pitchside, there are about twenty middle aged blokes all in identical grey flatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA caps, all sat together in a couple of rows. At about twenty to five most of them get up and file out through the back of the stand. Shortly afterwards Town’s Jonas Knudsen naively bumps Brentford’s Sergi Canos who falls to the ground. Referee Roberts who seconds earlier ignored a similar incident in which Town’s Luke Hyam appeared to be pushed over, awards Brentford a penalty. As a huge Ginsters pasty rolls into view on the pitchside electronic advertisement hoardings, Brentford’s French former St Etienne forward Neal Maupay steps up to score, sending the ball gently into the right hand side of the goal as Bartosz Bialakowski dives obligingly to the left.
With Ipswich losing, the Town ‘supporters’ that bother to sing now give free reign to their unpleasant feelings and unleash Sloop John B yet again to proffer the standard complaint that Mick McCarthy’s football belongs in the toilet. No criticism of Knudsen is made, obviously Mick coaches him to give away penalties when he can. As the game rattles along towards its conclusion Ipswich finally get forward a little more and muscular Martyn Waghorn gets through a couple of times. Kenlock the substitute is in turn substituted as the need for more effective attacking players builds, and Town play with two wingers. The sun is now shining and on the bench, well off it really, because he always stands up, Mick has taken off his coat as if to confirm that he’s not going anywhere soon and to stick it to the numbskulls.
A final flurry from Town isn’t enough and despite four minutes of added on time the game is lost. We make a swift exit to the railway station. It hasn’t been a good game, the result doesn’t help and the Ipswich supporters and their obsession with moaning at Mick McCarthy has made it worse. But Brentford has been grand, it’s a lovely ground to visit, so I don’t begrudge them the win even though the penalty that secured it owed more to the referee than any foul. I shall keep my programme and match ticket to help me remember Griffin Park, just like Mr Benn would have.

 

 

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Ipswich Town 0 Hull City 3

A surfeit of snow last Saturday week resulted in a rare postponement at Portman Road and now the joy that emanated from the relief of not having to go out on a grey, cold, icy afternoon is re-doubled as we reap the benefit of the inevitable mid-week match under floodlights.
On the basis that yes, it is possible to go to the pub too soon, I play the unaccustomed role of thrusting career man by working until five o’clock, but then walk directly to St Jude’s Tavern along with my accomplice for the first part of the evening, Roly. It feels odd that it’s still light, but that’s the wonder of the Earth’s rotation on its tilted access around the sun for you. In Sir Alf Ramsey Way a white van disgorges its load of transparent, polythene, East Anglian Daily Times ‘goodie-bags’ onto the pavement behind the North 40813963291_4cdf1f5084_o(Sir Bobby Robson) Stand and a few stewards stand about and chat before entering the ground. I wave to a moustachioed man called Michael who is hanging about in a blue Ipswich Town jacket by one of the burger vans on the Portman Road car park.
At St Jude’s Roly and I quickly decide to enjoy a pint on its own before moving onto a pie and a pint. We each choose the Match Day Special (£2.50) and before we have finished our pints Phil the ever present fan who never misses a game walks in carrying a bag of chips. Phil asks me to hold his chips while he asks at the bar if they feel comfortable with him consuming food purchased off the premises; they do and thanks to this grown-up, relaxed and progressive attitude he is able to join us with a half a pint of something about which I don’t know the detail. We talk football but also, in an homage to ‘What’s My Line’, of our respective employment and Phil reveals that he once worked at a music venue where he ‘roadied’ for Iggy Pop. He did the same for other recording artists apparently but having heard him mention Iggy Pop, I wasn’t paying attention after that. I soon return to the bar to arrange pies and pints (£5 for one of each); the last Steak & Kidney pie in the fridge for Roly and Chicken and Mushroom for me. I choose Elgood’s Cambridge for my pint whilst Roly remains faithful to the Match Day Special.
St Jude’s is filling up with bands of middle aged blokes heading for the match, but determined to at least get some enjoyment from the evening by drinking some good beer first. Chips, pies and pints savoured, Phil and Roly then each imbibe a half of Nethergate Priory Mild whilst I enjoy a full pint (£3.20) because I am going home by public transport and can drink as much beer as I like. Phil leaves for the game before Roly and I and before we in turn leave I speak to a cap-wearing, bearded man called Kevin, who I know from our shared experience of Wivenhoe Town. Kevin has come to St Jude’s after reading about it in this blog. Roly and I are leaving earlier than I would wish because he wants a ‘goodie bag’, or at least the packet of crisps it contains.
The walk to the match is as ever brisk and full of anticipation as the glow of the floodlights draws us down Portman Road like moths to a flame. As we pass the end of Great Gipping street I catch a glimpse of an upright lady gliding past on her black, Dutch, Azor bicycle, her dark curls buffeted by the breeze. “Gail!” I call and she stops. It’s my friend and former colleague who I have correctly identified as Gail, riding home from work. She’s late because her train was. I admire her red leather gloves and am impressed that she has negotiated the Portman Road crowds on her splendid black bicycle. We kiss one another on the cheek like the sophisticated Europeans that we are, no Brexit for us, and exchange all too brief words before carrying on our respective ways. Under the far-off gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue Roly and I part company as he heads for the East of England Co-operative stand to take up his ‘posh’ seat, which is more suited to Waitrose than the Co-op.


I breathe in the smells of bacon, chips and onions and move on down gently-lit Portman Road to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, which is forever Churchmans. It seems the club has not opened all the turnstiles tonight and so I join a queue and remember what it was to go to a ’big match’ in the days of terraces. Inside the ground the strains of ‘My Way’ are reaching their conclusion; played in honour of Sir Bobby Robson whose favourite song it was, but poignantly and probably unknowingly tonight in honour of the man who wrote it. Cabaret singer Claude Francois or ‘Clo-Clo’ as he was popularly known in his native France, died forty years ago this weekend just gone. A nasty little man by many accounts, but beloved by thousands of middle-aged French women, he died in mysterious circumstances when he stood up in a hotel bath to correct a flickering light bulb. In France the fortieth anniversary of his death is front page news.
The game begins with tonight’s opponents Hull City, in their customary tiger suits of amber and black striped shirts with black shorts kicking towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) Stand, but Ipswich get first go with the ball and start the game quite well. Within the first ten minutes Town win a corner and a header from Jordan Spence strikes a post. But Hull respond with shots at goal of their own and Bartosz Bialkowski makes a couple of neat saves. A drum is drummed in the North Stand and a chant chanted. Hull supporters make equivalent sounds. The man in the aged couple behind me says “That’s three shots their had”. “Yes” says his partner. “We never have one do we”. His partner doesn’t respond, hopefully she remembers the header against the post, although strictly speaking I suppose that wasn’t a shot.
I dare to think things aren’t that bad, but then a free-kick is passed to a Norwegian man called Markus Henriksen, who like the villain in some Scandi-noir stabs Town fans’ hearts with a right footed shot past big Bart’. I look to the bench expecting to see Mick McCarthy holding his head like the isolated figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I’d been hoping for a third consecutive goalless draw, and now this. I rally and chant on my own whilst every other Town fan recedes into their customary introspective gloom. Twenty-three minutes have passed and the visiting supporters, of whom there are 290, advise the home supporters that “Your support is fucking shit” as the familiar Welsh hymn goes. They are of course right and I imagine Mick McCarthy would respect their bluntness; no pussyfooting about asking if this is a library. But they know all about libraries in Hull, or Philip Larkin did.
Freddie Sears and Grant Ward dash down the right and cross the ball to an invisible force, which fails to score. Meanwhile down the left not so much happens; Town’s nicely named left-back Jonas Knudsen may be in the Danish international squad, but I can’t be optimistic about a player nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’; less marauding Viking and more appreciation of Soren Kierkegaard and hygge is what’s needed.
Forty minutes pass; referee Mr Jeremy Simpson, the least amusing of Matt Groening’s characters, fails to spot the ball ricochet off a Hull player for a corner to Ipswich and instead play heads north at the feet of the Tigers and a low cross is turned into Ipswich goal net by a young lad by the name of Harry Wilson. Wilson is a player crying out to be managed by the late, great Brian Clough who would doubtless have referred to him as Harold Wilson. The 0-2 score line is enough for some in the North Stand to brush off their copies of The Beachboys’ Pet Sounds and sing along to Track 7 letting Mick McCarthy know that his “…football is shit”. Half-time comes and the expected booing ensues.
In common with the theme for the whole evening, there is no entertainment at half-time. I flick through the glossy but dull programme. Scanning club captain Luke Chamber’s column I see a headline “There is not enough communication and people approaching you to discuss your options. There is no help with planning going forward”. That’s an unusually frank and honest assessment I think, imagining he’s talking about playing for Town; it turns out however that he’s writing about the lack of help and advice the Professional Footballers Association gives to players towards the ends of their careers. Or so he says.


The game begins again and within two minutes Hull City are winning 3-0 as someone called Jarrod Bowen kicks the ball between Bialkowski and his near post. Once again the North Stand let Mick McCarthy know about his stinky football, which seems a bit harsh because I doubt he told the players to just let anyone in a stripey shirt run past them and score, which is what they actually did. But at least the Hull supporters are happy and they ask if they can play us every week; which is nice.
The game is effectively over now and Hull are happy to allow Ipswich to endlessly pass the ball about between themselves, as long as they don’t kick it at their goal, and that is largely what happens. As the ball nears the Hull penalty area someone shouts “Shoot”. The old boy behind me responds “They don’t know the meanin’ of the word” whilst his partner reflects “I reckon that’s all they do up Humber Doucy Lane, keep passing the ball to one another”. Some spectators make their own entertainment, cheering sarcastically with each pass but largely the atmosphere is morose. The chill night air further deadens all feeling and for a few moments I lose myself in the heady smell of the damp turf. Two of the Hull players sport pony tails, which is a bit dated, another is balding and with his bushy beard looks like a member of the Russian royal family or King George V. The Buddleia still grows in the roof of the stand. The attendance is announced as a palindromic 13,031. Just after a quarter past nine Freddie Sears manages a shot, which isn’t very far wide of the goal and draws some applause. When Hull’s Will Keane runs largely unopposed through the defence and forces Bialkowski into a save a ripple of unrest passes through the East of England Co-op stand like a shiver. The old folks behind me leave and there are still eight minutes left of normal time; he says something about watching paint dry.
The final minutes have a slightly new soundtrack as the North Stand sing “Get out of our club, Get out of club, Mick McCarthy, Get out of our club” naturally to that tune for all occasions, Sloop John B. I don’t fully understand why, but in my head I’m singing “If you want a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our Club”.
Jeremy Simpson is a kind man, irrespective of his poor eyesight and only three minutes of added time are joined on to the usual ninety; once these have expired I am quick to turn and leave, closing my ears to the boos and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s only a game after all and I’m pleased for Hull; any city that can boast an association with William Wilberforce, Phillip Larkin and Mick Ronson deserves the odd 3-0 away win.