This week I have thought very little about football. Until Friday night, when I checked, I wasn’t totally certain even who Town would be playing today. I am not sure why this was; an unusual and very uncharacteristic fixation with work perhaps? Lockdown fatigue? Disappointment with recent results? Or may be a suppressed subconscious knowledge that we will be playing Peterborough United and are therefore likely to lose.
It is not until Saturday morning therefore that I log onto the Ipswich Town website, copy my code down and then type that code into the ifollow. Relieved that I have organised what I consider to be my foreseeable future I leave my wife Paulene at the piano and take a walk out into the cold and gloomy streets, because it is important that we exercise if we are not to become ugly and obese. About half an hour later I return to find Paulene no longer at the piano and about to finish a twenty minute stint on her exercise cycle before tuning into the BEIN Sports tv channel, courtesy of the Amazon Firestick, to watch Clermont Foot 63 versus AJ Auxerre in French Ligue 2, a fixture which reminds me incidentally that Town’s own Sylvain Legwinski was born in Clermont Ferrand. I witness Clermont ,who are playing with just Mohammed Bayo ‘up front’, create numerous chances and then take a 13th minute lead through Jodel Dossou who is playing a sort of Gwion Edwards role wide on the right. With a little over twenty minutes gone of the match I head to the kitchen to prepare a light salad lunch with Comte cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham.
Half-time or ‘mi-temps’ arrives at the Stade Gabriel-Montpied in Clermont-Ferrand with the home team still ahead by a single goal. I leave Paulene in the small part of the Auvergne that has become our living room and head to Portman Road, which is back in the kitchen with the dirty plates and cutlery from lunch. I put the kettle on for Paulene and sensing that I might be in need of an alcoholic crutch, pour myself a pre-match ‘pint’ (330ml) of Westmalle Dubbel Trappist beer (£2.20 from Waitrose). I enjoy the thought that a Trappist beer should be the beer of choice for the notoriously quiet Portman Road crowd – if there ever is one again.
The ifollow broadcast begins, with commentary as ever from BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley, and his side-kick Mick Mills, who is straight into his lengthy pre-match soliloquy. Mick believes that there is no longer a home advantage and that “…it levels off under the Covid situation”. It’s easy to see why Mick would believe this given Town’s collection of four defeats from their last five home games. Brenner takes up the mike from Mick and I can’t help laughing when he reveals that Town’s new loan signing from Preston North End, Josh Harrop has tested positive for Covid before he’s even kicked a ball for us. If Marcus Evans sold our club, with our luck it would be to Donald Trump.
Town kick-off towards what used to be called Churchman’s and Brenner tells us he is trying to work out if Paul Lambert is on the bench today; apparently it’s difficult to make him out amongst a dark mass of big black coats and beanie hats down by the touchline. Sartorially obsessed, Brenner describes what colour kits the teams are wearing and it sounds like he enjoys the alliteration of the Peterborough goalkeeper Pym, being dressed in purple. The kettle boils and I make a cup of tea for Paulene. Town win an early corner. “It’s a good start” according to Mick “We’ve forced two or three throw-ins”. Brenner follows up with “Pressure, early doors” unable to resist the temptation to break open his locker of football-ese expressions at the earliest opportunity, although ‘early doors’ is inevitably at the top of the pile.
The ball is mostly in the Peterborough half of the pitch, but seldom in their penalty area. “Again not good distribution from Chambers” says Brenner as the Town captain lumps the ball forward inaccurately. “He berates himself in the aftermath” continues Brenner, which doesn’t really atone for Chambers’ failings but produces a welcome mental image of the Town stalwart schizophrenically shouting and pointing his fingers at himself. Town’s positive start has evaporated a little. “Nobody really taking advantage of the game at the moment” says Mick, not quite using all the right words to convey what he wants to say. Feeling a soft blanket of disinterest creeping over me I glance out of the kitchen window at the two plastic shopping bags that I hung on the washing line yesterday evening. Mesmerisingly, the shopping bags waft back and forth on the faintest breeze.
Back on the ifollow and BBC Radio Suffolk, Brenner breaks my concentration. “He’s not done well at all so far, the captain” says Brenner as Luke Chambers makes a two-metre pass to an ungrateful opposition player on the edge of the Peterborough penalty box. It’s not unusual for Brenner to make a statement and then only tell us who it’s about at the end of the sentence; I suppose it provides a little suspense when the football doesn’t. Pleasingly Brenner soon has better news and reports that he has evidently spotted Paul Lambert who is wearing a snood, big coat and beanie hat. I tick it off my list of things I need to know about this afternoon’s match. Having tuned into the theme of winter clothing Brenner then announces “Brown, another player with gloves on in the Peterborough side”.
The game has entered a mildly engaging phase as the two teams appear well matched, but no one is creating goal scoring chances. “Cat and mouse” says Mick. “Even Stevens” says Brenner, not to be outdone by the expert. “They’ve done well so far, Ipswich Town” adds Brenner using his back to front sentence construction again. Gwion Edwards is awarded a free-kick on the left of the Peterborough penalty area after a foul by Frankie Kent. After a lengthy description of the event Mick concludes that he’s not sure if it was a free-kick at all. Unperturbed, presumably because he’s not listening to BBC Radio Suffolk , referee Mr Coggins doesn’t change his mind. The ball is played to little Alan Judge who shoots and misses.
Flynn Downes commits a couple of his trademark, pointless, petulant fouls but escapes a booking. “Chambers on the left, Chambers on the right” says Brenner probably correcting himself, but possibly showing that he is confused about where Luke Chambers is, or about which is his left and which is his right. Nearly a third of the game has passed and Peterborough win their first corner and then a second before Siriki Dembele gets the “first sight of the goal for Peterborough United” according to Brenner; Dembele misses and Mick launches into a long monologue about why the game is even.
Out of the blue Siriki Dembele has a run into the penalty area in the company of Aristote Nsiala. Nsiala makes a tackle, Dembele falls to the ground and after initially giving a corner referee Mr Coggins, who shares a surname with the amusingly named American TV evangelist Pastor Randy Coggins the second, awards a penalty to Peterborough. Peterborough’s top scorer, Jonson Clarke-Harris, who greedily has three surnames, steps up to blast the ball into next week and over the cross-bar. “Brilliant!” says Mick enthusiastically as I simultaneously guffaw loudly. “If you go that high, there’s a risk you can hit it over the bar” says Mick sagely, but apparently not realising that if you put it that high it will always go over the bar, because the bar is set at 2.44metres above ground and doesn’t move.
In my back garden it’s snowing, and at Portman Road Mick advises that Peterborough are “starting to loosen up a little”, although I don’t think the two things are related. Mick is having a good afternoon at the microphone and cheekily rivals Brenner with some superior football-speak as he pleasingly refers to Town’s new Covid-infected signing as “The boy Harrop”. Sadly Mick goes on to state the obvious as he explains about footballers that “You can almost say they’re successful by stats”, proposing that the players who score most goals and make most decisive passes are the better players.
Back on the pitch Luke Chambers spectacularly slices the ball away and it travels high up into what I still call the Pioneer stand. Evidently the ball lands near the commentary position and Mick is moved to boast that had it landed just a little bit closer to him, he would have played it back to Luke Chambers’ feet, he probably would have too; he certainly wouldn’t have sliced it. A minute of added on time is played once the first forty-five have elapsed and it’s half-time.
Grasping the moment I put the kettle on and grab a half-time snack consisting of a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar. Back in the Auvergne, in the living room, Clermont still lead Auxerre 1-0; they almost double their lead in the dying moments of the game but don’t, but nevertheless climb to second in the Ligue 2 table above Toulouse, who don’t play until Monday. On BEIN Sports tv attention moves north and east to Hauts de France and the Stade Felix Bolleart-Delis where RC Lens are playing Olympique Marseille in Ligue 1.
Helplessly I return to Portman Road where I pour the tea into my TSV 1860, mug which my friend Mick (not ‘Millsy’ sadly) kindly brought me back from Munich in 2019. I still imagine Mick descending the steps from the aeroplane and announcing not “Peace in our time” but “Tea in this mug”. One of the things I like best about the mug is the word spulmaschinebestandig printed on the bottom, which is German for dishwasher-safe.
On the ifollow the action resumes, it is four minutes past four. Within seconds Peterborough win a corner but it comes to nothing. “Lots of huff and puff” says Mick misquoting the wolf in the story of the three little pigs. “No real quality at either end of the pitch” he adds a little unnecessarily for anyone who’s watched Ipswich previously this season. Brenner then refers to Mark McGuinness as “the teenage defender” and I think what a good title that would be for a super-hero, before Andre Dozzell makes a raking diagonal pass to no one in particular, apparently because that’s what he does. The ifollow has become staccato with frequent buffering and for a short while the broadcast becomes almost unwatchable. Weirdly for someone doing a live commentary Brenner seems to have the same experience “Time seemed to stop there for a second” he says as Teddy Bishop loses the ball, then pushes his opponent over rather than try and get it back.
“The passing isn’t very good” says Mick, confirming for the BBC Radio Suffolk listeners what the ifollow watchers have probably already noticed. Over an hour has been played and a caption appears on the screen to tells us that the proportion of possession is 51% to 50% in Peterborough’s favour, which is mind blowing and proves that anything, even the impossible, is possible in the EFL.
The sixty-ninth minute arrives, the ball is crossed into the Ipswich penalty area and with the grace of a giraffe that’s been stung by a bee, Mark McGuinness the “teenage defender” slices the ball into the Town goal to give Peterborough what will prove to be a winning lead. “Oh bugger” I say, sensing that the game is probably lost even with twenty minutes to play; and I’d had such high hopes.
Little Alan Judge, the sadly anonymous Aaron Drinan and Teddy Bishop are soon replaced by Luke Thomas, on loan from Barnsley, Freddie Sears and Jon Nolan. Nolan quickly hits a shot over the cross bar from 25 metres. “ Town have really come to life since that triple substitution from the bench” Brenner tells us, suggesting, but providing no evidence, that substitutions from other places are possible too. Gwion Edwards has a shot which is apparently deflected away from goal by a Peterborough player but no corner is given by the tv evangelist’s namesake. It is now snowing. A close-up of the electronic scoreboard at Portman Road shows that the ifollow on-screen clock is twenty seconds ahead of the actual game, which implies Brenner was right and time really did stand still. If only time had stood still a bit more and it was still 1981. There are just ten minutes left of normal time and Brenner is clutching at straws on behalf of Town supporters as he speculates that there won’t be enough snow to have the game called off now. More sensibly Brenner then plays with words saying “Up goes Downes”.
With time running out Brenner gets to use his “..runs into traffic” phrase as Jon Nolan runs into two opponents at once; five minutes of added on time are announced. Tomas Holy goes up for a corner but the ball is carefully directed away from him, and although Toto Nsiala gets to volley it spectacularly in to the Peterborough net, it had gone out before it was played back to him. Coggins calls time, Ipswich lose at home, again. “A better performance than a week ago at Burton” concludes Brenner. “A fair result would have been a draw” says Mick.
I turn off the ifollow and draw down the blinds to shut out the gloom. I think I shall pretend this never happened. There’s another game on Tuesday, perhaps we’ll win that.