Ipswich Town 2 Accrington Stanley 0

It’s Saturday again.  It’s football again.  The week has been worthwhile after all. Today sees a return to Portman Road for Ipswich Town, after a very successful excursion to Blackpool, and a return to the ifollow for me after the football of imagination through the commentary of Radio Suffolk.  Today has been a good day already, the postwoman having delivered a brown cardboard sleeve containing a pristine copy of ‘Snapshot’ – Scenes and stories from the heartlands of Scottish football.  I’m hi on the stink of glossy ink after burying my head in this wonderful book intermittently throughout the morning.  I’ve only ever been to one football match in Scotland (Hibernian v Raith Rovers, a one-all draw in January 2015), but leaving aside the boring duopoly of Celtic and Rangers I perceive the same humanity and lack of pretence in Scottish football that pervades much of English non-league football, with an added bleakness courtesy of its latitude.  The reverent prose of Daniel Gray and photographs of Alan McCredie bring it to life and are an absolute joy; recommended (£12.99 from Blackwell’s with free postage).

Clearing my head with a walk over the fields near my house I return for a lunch of last night’s leftover home-made curry and a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star Revelation (£1.50 a bottle from Waitrose). Agreeing to let my wife Paulene enjoy the comfort and warmth of the living room to watch the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly, I consign myself to the kitchen where I log on to my lap-top and connect it to the kitchen telly in time to catch the announcement of the names of today’s virtual mascots; kids lucky enough to have parents with 25 quid to ‘spaff’ on a video message and signed letter from a favourite player, a choice of drawstring bag, gym bag, pencil case or beanie hat all costing a tenner in Planet Blue, a programme with their name in, a certificate and that ‘shout out’ on the Radio Suffolk ifollow commentary.  The fact that I am firmly into the second half of my lifespan is brought home to me as I smile at what I perceive to be the weird first names of today’s under tens; they sound to me like place names, surnames, occupations and the names of random objects not the names of people, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills snap me from my ageist reverie as Brenner asks Mick to provide some sort of summary of the state of the team, which he does, but stutteringly at first as he punctuates his monologue with frequent  ‘you knows’ until he gets into his stride, when he begins to talk quite normally.  It’s as if Brenner had asked him when he wasn’t quite ready.  In the background the teams appear and the Portman Road tannoy is blaring out the recently deceased Eddie Van Halen’s “Jump”, a tune I had hoped, vainly it turns out, would die with the sixty-five year old Dutch born rocker.  Brenner comments on how the Accrington manager John Colman and Town’s Toto Nsiala embrace, describing them as the “two Merseysiders”, which I like to think was the working title for the 1970’s BBC tv situation comedy the Liver Birds.  Clearly Brenner has still not caught up with the fact that Toto was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The game begins. “A throw in for Accrington inside 90 seconds” says Brenner as if that is significant and thereby suggesting that he is perhaps commentating for the benefit of some sort of spread betting syndicate.  Meanwhile on screen, views of the interior of the stand roof and empty seats suggest that Luis Bunuel, Yoko Ono and Marcel Duchamp are taking it in turns to direct the camera. Town are looking timid and Accrington have the ascendency. “Trying to play football, Accrington Stanley” says Brenner trying to construct a sentence in the right order whilst simultaneously being patronising and stating the obvious.

“Accrington goalkeeper, young goalkeeper, very alert” says Brenner still struggling with his sentences and possibly implying that he would expect a young goalkeeper to be a bit sleepy.  Out on the left Miles Kenlock and Andre Dozzell pass the ball between each other four or five times without moving as if saying to each other “No, you have it, I don’t want it”.  It’s a cameo from the two Town starlets that sums up the team’s apparent absence of a plan. “Sears scythed down by Sykes” says Brenner offering some satisfying alliteration in the absence of exciting action. But then out of very little Freddie Sears is as good as through on goal, only for the Accrington ‘keeper, Toby Savin, who is sporting a shirt and shorts ensemble the same colours as the Ipswich Buses livery, to make a good save.  Quickly Toto Nsiala is making a weak, headed back pass and Stanley’s Matt Butcher,  appropriately wearing the number six shirt, has his shot saved by Tomas Holy.  The goalkeepers are the best players on the field and Brenner tells us that we “…don’t see many 20 year old goalkeepers at this level” implying that Savin is very young but clearly forgetting that Town’s last opponents at Portman Road, Rochdale, had a ‘keeper who is just 18  years old.

The camera work is moving from avant garde to a hint of inebriation in the cameraman and I wonder if James Norwood has arrived by taxi to join Luis, Yoko and Marcel up on the gantry.  Hopefully the ineptness is not a symptom of Covid-19, but it seems to have become contagious as a goal kick from Savin carries all the way through to Tomas Holy who boots it straight at Andre Dozzell; the ball falls to Stanley’s Colby Bishop who instinctively shoots wide of the open goal.  In midfield, Gwion Edwards keeps pushing the ball past opponents and forgetting to run after it, whilst the camera work evolves further to a state where it seems to be predicting where the ball is going to go, thereby showing an empty patch of grass whilst unseen Savin takes a goal kick.

Mick Mills’ first meaningful contribution to the afternoon is to remark that Stanley’s Ross Sykes, who incidentally is a towering 1.96m tall, reminds him of Allan Hunter or Jack Charlton, players who had retired almost 20 years before Sykes was born.  Brenner suggests that Sykes would be flattered, but I think Mick was merely implying that Sykes main ability is to kick people up in the air.  Accrington are looking more likely to score than Town and Tomas Holy saves a free-kick with a smart dive to his right .“ Well done by the Czech” says Brenner reducing our goalkeeper to a mere nationality.

Town win a corner and the camera zooms in on the corner flag before travelling up into the Cobbold stand for a close up of the rows of blue seats.  I expect Brenner and Mick to quote lines from a poem by Andre Breton.  The corner comes to nothing and my frustration grows.  I am happy to get to half time with the score still goalless.

I enjoy my fifteen minute respite from the combined hopelessness of Town’s performance and that of the ifollow cameraman through the medium of tea and a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  Adverts for products and services I do not fully understand are interspersed with the half-time scores from League One and match statistics, which reveal Ipswich have had three shots on goal to Accrington’s ten.  Ipswich however have had about 10% more possession and a slightly better passing accuracy; a paltry 73% for Town against a miserable 69% for Accrington.  But it is generally easier to pass the ball accurately if you don’t pass it forwards.

The games resumes and Brenner enlightens his radio listeners that it is blues versus reds with Town kicking off from right to left.  I of course already know this thanks to my possession of a colour television and having witnessed the previous 45 minutes.  Mick soon adds to the new found clarity advising that Sears and Edwards are now playing in their preferred positions (the middle and the left respectively). Accrington however have the first half-chance of the half as a through ball outpaces their number eight Jonathan Russell, who Mick tells us “…didn’t look like he could get away from the defenders” with something Mick calls “ a turn of foot”; I’m not surprised. 

Fifty-two minutes have passed and Teddy Bishop shoots past the post, “Better from Ipswich Town, a lot perkier” says Brenner. Two minutes later and Town lead after Gwion Edwards finishes a fine passing move. “Really incisive football from Ipswich Town” is Brenner’s wholly accurate assessment.  I cheer loudly out of sheer relief. The lifting of spirits caused by the goal is palpable and Mick introduces some jocularity into his co-commentary as he refers to the former Allan Hunter and Jack Charlton imitator Ross Sykes as “Big Sykesie”, an epithet Brenner considers “Brilliant” for its “familiarity”, something which is in itself brilliant. 

The goal has worked wonders and Mick is now clearly smitten with Ross Sykes.  Gwion Edwards runs in to the penalty area again. “Edwards absolutely ghosted past Big Syksie” says Mick now unable to stop saying “Big Syksie”.   This is the ingredient Mick’s co-commentary has been missing all season, a catch phrase character to liven it up like a few well-placed jokes in a best man’s speech.  I’m feeling a lot happier now and am still confident when Tomas Holy is forced into making another low diving save with about twenty-five minutes still to go.  My confidence is well placed and four minutes later a poor pass out of the Accrington defence is seized upon by Town and Freddie Sears is released in to the penalty area to ‘dink’ the ball over Sivon and make the score two-nil.  I cheer loudly because I think Freddie deserves it.

Nolan replaces Huws. Town play the ball around at the back like they’re in Ligue 1 not League One. Accrington’s Cameron Burgess becomes the first and only player to be booked as he fouls Luke Chambers.  The oddly named Keanen Bennetts replaces little Alan Judge.  Bennett has a shot on goal but “ It’s a trundle straight at Savin” says Brenner, unintentionally reminding me of Lee Trundle, the former Neath, Haverfordwest County, Llanelli Town, Rhyl, Swansea City and Wrexham striker.

An Accrington corner is cleared and an Accrington player is left in a heap on the ground.  The game carries on but is eventually stopped by referee Mr Lewis.  “He let play go on too early, he should’ve stopped it” says Mick confusingly, seemingly muddling up not stopping play soon enough with the abstract and illogical concept of letting it carry on too soon.  The game enters time added on, “Long kick from Holy and Sears is on his bike” says Brenner, attempting not to be outdone by Mick’s efforts to rival the weirdness of the earlier camera work.   Sears and his bike are quickly substituted before the referee notices, with Tyreece Simpson coming on in their stead.

Ninety four minutes have passed and a bit more and Mr Lewis the referee confirms Town’s third consecutive two-nil home win.  Despite entreaties from Brenner during the game to phone 0800 212121 after the game to speak to Mick or to comment by text I decide that like all the people who will phone and text I have nothing worth saying and nothing to say that anyone should want to hear. Anyway, I’d rather return to the heady smell of the pages of Snapshot – Scenes and stories from the heartland of Scottish football.

Ipswich Town 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Sunday bloody, Sunday, a classic angst ridden film drama from 1971 directed by John Schlesinger starring Glenda Jackson, Murray Head and Peter Finch and featuring a doomed dog called Kenyatta, but also how I describe the Christian Sabbath when Town have to play on it.  I like my football on a Saturday and at 3 pm to boot.  Noon on a Sunday should be when the pubs open and nothing else.  To make matters worse today’s is the first match of the league season, a fixture which for the sake of symmetry if nothing else should kick off at the same time as every other club’s first game of the season.  As if Boris ‘Bozo’ Johnson being Prime Minister wasn’t enough to cope with.  Why do things only ever get worse?

Waking from my slumbers a little before 8 o’clock I draw the blinds and am bathed in bright early autumn sunlight. I shower and dress, donning my button neck, blue, Ipswich Town branded T-shirt purchased over the summer from the Planet Blue website, where my review of the garment has never appeared despite having been submitted three times (see previous blog post “Consumer City 1 Lockdown Town 0”); I’m not bitter, but the truth must be told. After a breakfast with my wife Paulene of bacon, egg, toast, tomatoes and mushrooms with tea and an espresso coffee, all prepared by me, I look for things to fill the time until shortly before noon when I will switch on my lap top, log on to the ifollow and hope that it lets me watch the match.  I have heard that yesterday Portsmouth supporters were unable to watch their game versus Shrewsbury Town on the ifollow and ended up listening to local radio.  I am soon in my garage breaking up cardboard boxes to put out for the refuse collection on Wednesday; it’s been a busy week of deliveries with two new toilet seats and thirty-two bottles of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer pale ale all arriving courtesy of men driving white vans.  Boxes crushed, I potter about and fold away the blue and white bunting that bedecks my garden each summer to celebrate the season the sun and the Town.

Time passes quickly and Paulene is soon telling me that she has logged me onto to the ifollow and  it’s working.  I pour myself a pint of water, which I liven up with a squirt of lime juice, and lie on my back on  the orange canvas bean bag that normally sits in the corner of the room, but which I have re-positioned centrally in front of the smart tv.   I have today’s match programme by my side; impressively it arrived in yesterday’s post in time for the match.  It’s not the best programme I’ve ever seen, it’s front cover, which appears to be an homage to the programmes of the 1980-81 season is a little speckled at the edges, like a poor photocopy, which is possibly the source of the design, but at least the cover price is a £1 cheaper than if this was a normal game.  I don’t mind if there are fewer pages and less to read, I just want a few folded sheets of paper that are specific to this match and which lists the teams or at least the names from which the teams will be selected.  Who actually reads all the other drivel that’s printed in the massive programmes we pay the price of a paperback book for anyway? Less is more in the world of football match programmes and I pine for those of the 1960’s and 70’s.  In France, the clubs that produce a programme do not charge for it.

I am now comfortably slumped and as the broadcast begins I am surprised, but pleased, to hear the familiar, nearly Geordie tones (he’s from Berwick-Upon-Tweed) of Brenner Woolley and the flat, steady delivery of Mick Mills.  Mick sets out on a lengthy monologue in which he immediately tempts fate by explaining that this is a good time to play Wigan.  He goes on to explain in a manner which suggest he thinks we should be surprised, that he has been doing a bit of research and had logged on to the Wigan website to see who is in their squad.  But he tells us that they have shipped out sixteen players and only brought in two so it was a waste of time; presumably he didn’t recognise any of the names. 

The players are now walking onto the pitch to the accompaniment of the crap-rock strains of Van Halen’s “Jump”, this despite the absence of a crowd.  I wonder to myself if the ‘entrance music’ is meant to inspire the players, and feel glad I am not a professional footballer.  Sadly the opportunity has not been taken to have some fun with the entrance music by playing something like Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” or something by Roger Whittaker.  I’m pleased to see the players ‘take the knee’ and hope that all the people that it annoys, and sadly there are some,  are so annoyed that they slam their heads repeatedly against the nearest wall and pour boiling water over their own genitals.  Today’s referee and assistants are wearing purple tops which make them look like sporting Anglican bishops, which is appropriate for a Sunday game.  Meanwhile , Brenner Woolley tries to trump Mick Mills efforts to tempt fate by telling us that Wigan Athletic as a club are “in free fall”, which is probably not quite true.   At 12:02 little Alan Judge literally gets the ball rolling for Town who are resplendent in their new kit of all blue with Adidas decorations and the yellow  and blue badge that the team wore back in the days when it won Cups and was one of the very best in Europe, if not the World.  Wigan in contrast are today’s ‘baddies’, wearing all-black, although the gift of the tv close-up reveals that the shirt features a grim machine-like pattern of various shades of grey hexagon.

The game begins like a tennis match with the ball being knocked back and forward pointlessly between the two teams, but this disappointment is tempered by the realisation that Brenner Woolley’s radio commentary is actually much better than the usual tv commentary because he makes the effort to say who has the ball, and that is all we really need to know. On a tv screen the numbers and names on the backs of the players’ shirts are too small to read and most of the players look the same with their conscripts’ haircuts.

Eight minutes pass and Wigan should be ahead as 19 year old Nigerian Emeka Obi is left all alone to head Gary Roberts’ corner powerfully but clumsily past the post; the Ipswich defence seemingly need to learn the lesson that black lives especially matter when they’re in your own penalty area.  At about this time Paulene comes into the room and by some sorcery manages to make the screen bigger.  This naturally adds to my enjoyment but not as much as Teddy Bishop does in the eleventh minute as he heads into the goal an attempted clearance of a Freddie Sears’ left-wing cross.  It’s a goal that in its construction has something in common with Roger Osborne’s FA Cup winning goal in 1978, with the Wigan defender playing the role of the hapless Willie Young and with Freddie Sears as David Geddes.

As well as putting Town ahead, the goal highlights the fact that the commentary is fractionally ahead of the pictures on the screen as Brenner tells me that Teddy has scored a moment before the ball strikes the net.  As the game continues it’s a lack of synchronisation that ultimately proves reassuring as Emeka Obi is twice more left free to score, but Brenner promptly tells me that he fails to do so at the very moment when my heart is about to enter my mouth.  Brenner spoils it a bit though when he confirms that Wigan should be ahead, but adds, sounding slightly disappointed “…as it is , it’s 1-0 to Town”.  From wrongly placed bias Brenner then veers towards surrealism with the phrase “Ipswich Town’s ball, in the shape of Stephen Ward”.   The picture in the programme of Stephen only adds to my worries because I hadn’t realised he had a nose bigger than mine and hair neat enough to suggest he might follow a career as a referee once his playing days are over.

Whilst Brenner Woolley’s commentary adds things to the commentary not visible to the human eye, Mick Mills is I think having a very good day, providing some convincing and totally plausible tactical analysis about the full-backs and how the two teams’ respective line-ups and formations cancel each other out.  On days like this it’s as if Mick is wearing the number 4 shirt again in Frans Thijssen’s absence and is running the midfield.

Wigan had looked quite good for a spell but Town are looking better, and a passage of absolutely marvellous play ends with Teddy Bishop having a shot tipped away on to the post by Wigan goalkeeper Jamie Jones, whose name instantly has me breaking into the opening song on the Clash’s eponymous first album.  It’s easily the highlight of the match so far, but soon Brenner is competing with more weirdness as he tells how “Naismith scoops Sears’ cross away with his left shoe”.  His left shoe! No wonder we’re winning if Wigan are playing in their shoes; but presumably for these Lancastrians it’s better than playing in clogs.

With a half hour gone there is a drinks break and the camera lingers on Wigan manager John Sheridan and his coach gesticulating and pointing enthusiastically as if relaying the latest odds on another relegation to the club’s former owners.  Meanwhile Town manager Paul Lambert is wearing a rather unpleasant shiny grey Adidas training top and a blue Ipswich Town branded baseball cap.  I’m not a fan of baseball caps, to me they just say “Sir Francis Chichester”, and whilst I have nothing against the sadly deceased circumnavigator, he wasn’t a Town fan.  What have you done with your v-neck black jumper Paul? That looked much more classy.

As the end of the half draws nigh Joe Garner hits the Town cross bar with an overhead kick and my attention is grabbed by his nascent ginger beard, but also his skinhead haircut, which makes him look like he could be a member of the BNP, although I’m certain he isn’t.  The half ends with Mick Mills telling us that “A second goal would be handy to say you’re in a good position” before the sound from Radio Suffolk takes on a weirdness to match Brenner’s commentary making the co-commentators sound like a cross between the Daleks and Peter Frampton. Oddly it’s an aural effect that suits Mick more than Brenner.

Half-time brings adverts like on the real telly and I am being encouraged to purchase the services of Screwfix, something called Utilita, some sort of video game and to watch the EFL on Quest, and then it happens all over again as if I might need reminding.  Not really interested in this commercially driven filling of the football broadcast sandwich I head to the fridge and pour myself a glass of Faro Foudroyante lambic beer.  Paulene is watching the Tour de France on the telly in the kitchen and expresses her surprise that Town are winning.  My beer tastes a bit like cider and is very refreshing on a warm day like today.

The joys of the ifollow broadcast return with Norwood replacing Drinan for Town and Perry replacing a Wigan player; like Mick Mills, I don’t know who.  At 13:07 the fun begins again and soon Brenner is saying “Norwood takes the ball on his shoe”. What is it with these northerners playing in shoes? Are Church’s and Clark’s suddenly offering better sponsorship deals than Nike and Adidas?  This doesn’t bode well I’m thinking; thank goodness we’ve already scored one goal because I can’t see Norwood scoring  if he’s not wearing boots.  Idiot.  I’m surprised Paul Lambert allows it.

The second half is interesting enough to begin with; but Wigan are doing better and Brenner suggests that Town let Gary Roberts go too soon, although he is now thirty-six years old; but it’s an opinion I support. In recent years Town and English football in general have valued athleticism and endurance above skill far too much. I want to watch football not long distance running.  Brenner now adds incontrovertible facts to set alongside his opinions and lets us know that Town have won only four of their last sixteen home games before Mick Mills advises that someone else should have a go at the free-kicks after Freddie Sears sends  a second hopelessly over the cross bar; I couldn’t quite understand why he took them when Bishop and Dozzell are both playing, but perhaps  I am wrong to see them as the heirs to Peter Morris, Arnold Muhren, Mark Brennan, Ian Redford and Jimmy Juan.

An hour has passed and Luke Chambers is the first player booked, but the match is becoming a bit boring; Mick Mills euphemistically describes it as ‘mundane’ and asks if Wigan aren’t beginning to be the better team.  If I didn’t have beer to hand I’d be hoping for Pat from Clacton to appear with a bag of sweets now; hopefully the sugar would help me feel less queasy at the sight of Joe Garner’s completely tattooed left arm, which makes him look as if he has a nasty skin condition, all his veins and capillaries are a little too close to the surface  or he hasn’t washed his arm for a year.  But more to do with the game I am currently unimpressed with Norwood who seems to be wrongly playing beyond the defender who is marking him (Naismith), which means the ball is always intercepted before it reaches him, whereas Drinan played in front of the defender, received the ball, controlled it and laid it off bringing Dozzell and Bishop, the attacking midfield players, into the game.  I like to think that Mick Mills would be impressed with my tactical evaluation.

 Seventy-three minutes pass and Edwards replaces Sears, and three minutes later Huws replaces Bishop and the game swings back in Town’s favour.  Just four minutes after Huws comes on Edwards doubles Town’s lead after a second excellent passing moving from Town, again down the left, and our record of sixteen successive games televised by Sky tv without a win looks set to end.  The game is as good as won and the remaining highlights are reduced to seeing Wigan substitute Oliver Crankshaw massaging his right buttock, although he does have reassuringly long hair.  Town attempt to end the game with panache, playing ‘keep ball’ until it reaches Luke Chambers and it’s good to see Emyr Huws then kick Joe Garner in the stomach. But there’s nothing more to this and at four minutes to two referee Mr Thomas Bramall calls time. 

It’s been an afternoon of mixed and fluid emotions just as should be the case with proper football matches.  The game has been won, but the result was often in doubt and credit to Messrs Woolley and Mills, today they have reflected and explained the turmoil, the trouble and the ultimate satisfaction, a much better performance than last Saturday.  The ifollow has also done its job and I feel more confident about watching future broadcasts, even if I am paying over the odds just to watch the telly.

Ipswich Town 0 Oxford United 1

Another Saturday and another football match;  having witnessed last Saturday’s victory over Burton Albion, as encouraging as it was, and having been to the mid-week game before that at Wimbledon and the Saturday match before that versus Peterborough I am feeling somewhat blasé about going to yet another game.  Today Ipswich will play Oxford United and therefore to set the mood it is with the sort of thoughtless, arrogant, complacent, condescending and contemptuous attitude associated with the most privileged people who go to the top schools and universities and end up as members of the government that I set out for the railway station. A warm, gusting wind blows me along and conifers waft and billow as I pass by.  The train is on time and I board it alone.

On the train I sit by a window, a man on the opposite side of the train slumps with his feet on the seats opposite, I give his shoes a stare worthy of Paddington bear.  “How do you think we’ll do today?” he says as he sits up and takes his feet down off the seat.  Oh crap, I think to myself, he’s seen my blue and white scarf and wants to talk about football.  As much as I like football, I hate talking football, the conversations are always the same.  This fella is one of “we need more investment” brigade.  I tell him the owner puts in 5 or 6 million quid each season and that most Championship clubs are technically insolvent, but he clearly finds facts too difficult.  I am saved when his phone goes off and he has a conversation about how he won’t be drinking much today as he was in the pub until 3 am, drinking Coronas, “I had about twelve” he says to the person on the other end of the phone “and I feel a bit fucked”.

The piazza in front of the railway station is deserted but there is a steady trickle of people sporting yellow and blue knitwear wandering up Princes Street towards the Station Hotel.  Portman Road is positively busy with people, many decked in yellow and blue. I follow a short woman and her two much shorter young children who each carry a yellow and blue back pack sporting a cartoon bull.  Disappointed that I fail to spot anyone who looks even vaguely academic, although the back-pack could be construed as school satchels, I continue on my way to St Jude’s Tavern.

In St Jude’s I find Mick looking up at the day’s beer list; together we choose Mad Dog brewery’s ‘Now in a minute’ (£3.60) of which Mick kindly buys a pint for each of us.  As he sits down Mick tells me that the barman let him have a taster because many customers thought it had an unusual taste.  It is slightly sweet, but it’s pleasant enough and reminds me a little of some of my own homebrew, on a good day.  St Jude’s Tavern is well populated today and we sit in a cramped corner of which the building seems to have several.  Our conversation includes the failings of Ipswich Town’s on-line ticket selling, the films of Sam Peckinpah, the new film of David Copperfield, not burning damp wood, avoiding air travel and Susan George, whose name I struggle to remember until Mick gives me a clue with reference to her surname being a common English regnal name, which is a bit ‘University Challenge’.  After I consume another pint of ‘Now in a minute’ and Mick has a Jameson’s whisky (£3.00) and the licensee reminds us of the time, we head off round the corner into Portman Road.

It’s about ten to three now and outside the stadium Portman Road is active with people scurrying to the turnstiles like charged particles.  “I can’t see any mortar boards or gowns” says Mick with genuine disappointment as if he really had expected Oxford fans to be a bunch of academics.  We enter the ground separately through turnstiles number five and six and after visiting the facilities beneath the stand clamber over our seats so as not disturb Pat from Clacton on the end of the row.  I wave to Ray down the front in his red kagoul and spot ever present Phil who never misses a game, who today has his young son Elwood with him, albeit an Elwood hidden beneath an anorak hood and obscured from my view slightly by the man with the heavily brylcreemed hair who sits in front of me.  With little further ado the teams emerge from the blue plastic concertina in the corner of the ground to the strains of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, a mystifying 1980’s rock anthem.  I hate rock anthems.  The PA announces that the team is being led out by the club’s community chaplain. Mick says he didn’t know we had a community chaplain; the thought seems to amuse him and he wonders if the club also has a community Imam, which is a fair question, although I thought that professional football served only mammon.

The game begins a minute late at 15:01 with Ipswich playing in the direction of Mick, me, Pat from Clacton, Elwood, ever-present Phil, Ray, his grandson Harrison and the man with the brylcreem. Today, for a reason to which I am not party, Oxford United are wearing an unnecessary change kit of white shirts with a blue and yellow diagonal stripe or sash across the chest in place of their customary yellow shirts.  Their bottom halves are covered by Oxford blue shorts and socks.  The Oxford shirts advertise the name of Singha beer from Thailand, which seems a little exotic.  I imagine a multi-lingual Oxford don having incidentally arranged the deal with the Boon Rawd Brewery whilst on a short holiday to find a Thai bride.  Ipswich wear the usual blue and white advertisement for on-line gambling and, as they so often do, begin the game sparklingly well, running down the flanks under the bright blue sky and sending in low crosses which only the Oxford defenders ever reach.   “Yellows, Yellows” bellow the 1,365 Oxonians in the Cobbold Stand who are either colour blind or are simply ignoring the pointlessly white shirts of their team.

The match is entertaining and it can only be a matter of time before Ipswich score as the ball continues either to be just out of reach Town players shaping up to shoot or to be blocked by the ubiquitous Oxford defenders.  The flags on the back of the Cobbold stand are blowing in the strong wind and seagulls hover like drones.  The visiting fans have brought an array of flags with them which are not flying but are draped over the front few rows of seats in the Cobbold Stand.  One flag, a cross of St George appears to have the words “We all live in a Oxford wonderland” printed on it; I am shocked by the poor grammar, which might not be so surprising in some backwater like Swindon or Norwich, but Oxford?

I am still enjoying the match and the football is good to watch but for the absence of shots that the Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood is required to save.  The bloke behind me sounds confident and says he wouldn’t mind Town “…meeting these in the play-offs”.  In the Sir Bobby Robson stand the normally more vocal supporters in the corner (Action 1878) seem quiet today and are not displaying their banners and flags.  In the corner of the Cobbold Stand a group of Oxford fans are standing and goading Ipswich supporters in the bottom tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand.  Pat from Clacton wonders how they managed to get the seats closest to the Ipswich supporters and we decide that the Oxford ticket office must ask supporters if they are would-be hooligans who want to goad the opposition and allocate them seats accordingly.  With the price of tickets nowadays this seems fair enough.

Despite Ipswich’s dominance it’s not until nearly half past three that they win a corner and then win another as Luke Chambers’ header is deflected over the cross bar.  The corner affords a close-up of Oxford number three Josh Ruffles who seems to have quite a large head which, with his muscular upper chest gives him the look of a very big clasp nail or tack as his body tapers down to a point around his ankles.  More minutes pass and an unexpected chorus of “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” lives then dies around the ground.  Pat from Clacton offers Mick and me sweets; I have one of those green metallic looking ones which fizz with sherbet. “We’ll score now I’ve got the sweets out” says Pat “Well, that’s what used to happen”.  Town don’t score.  Pat eats a “nice piece of fudge” left over from Christmas.   “They can’t pick a pass this lot” moans the bloke behind me as Town’s Gwion Edwards misplaces a pass for the first time in the game.  Paul Lambert runs up and down his technical area excitedly in what look like deck shoes.

Town still haven’t scored and it’s nearly half-time, so Oxford string a few passes together, the Ipswich defence melts away and Oxford’s number 9 the diminutive Matty Taylor scores instead.   Paul Lambert waves his arms around as if winding a huge key, which he sort of is metaphorically speaking.  Seizing their opportunity to either indulge in some half-time swatting in the event of an affirmative answer or turn up the goading quotient whilst utilising their knowledge of opera, the Oxonians sing “Is this a library?” to the tune of La donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto.  “What are they singing?” asks Mick. “Is this the Bodleian?” I tell him. The game begins again but not for long as it’s time for another visit to the facilities beneath the stand and a chat with Ray.

The second half begins, the blue skies have been replaced by grey cloud.  The match proves to be one of those that has two distinct halves.  Oxford United continue to thwart Ipswich’s attempts on goal which become ever more inaccurate, but also start breaking away and threatening to score again themselves, which seems a bit cheeky. Oxford win a corner and their number fourteen Anthony Forde holds up a hand to indicate where he intends to kick it, which would seem to be onto the head of Ipswich’s nearest defender and a good yard or two from the nearest Oxford player.

It’s nearly twenty five past four and the Oxford supporters spell out the name of their club to show the benefit of a university education but on the pitch the play descends to the level of the kindergarten.   Josh Earl and Matty Taylor  push each other around and salmon pink clad referee Mr Scott Oldham, who most unusually appears to be the tallest man on the field and sports a GI haircut, has to tell them to grow up, particularly Matty Taylor who is only 176cm ( 5’9”) tall.

Seventy two minutes have passed and Pat from Clacton admits to me that she might soon start to think about the jacket potato she’ll be having for her tea.  Oxford have adopted a more spoiling approach to the game this half although only their  Marcus Browne and Town’s Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt have seen Mr Oldham’s yellow card, and  Ipswich  now begin to vent their frustration with some pointless fouls.  Pat and I look forward to the announcement of today’s attendance which we will soon learn is 19,367; the nearest in the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton coach is Calum with 19,476.  Pat is disappointed again that no one’s pet cat or fish has won the prize.

The old dears who now sit in front of me but used to sit behind me leave early; I tell them I will let them know all about the goals they are going to miss. The bloke behind me leaves.  Ipswich’s Kayden Jackson leaves at the request of Mr Oldham after he is apparently spotted stamping on an Oxford player and is shown Mr Oldham’s red card.  There is a melee down by the corner flag in front of the Oxford supporters which could have been avoided if Mr Oldham had acted more decisively and given a free-kick to Ipswich instead of Oxford and  Town’s Luke Woolfenden is booked before the game stutters to a halt and the final whistle sounds. 

 I’d like to say that Luke Chambers either accidentally or ironically produces his trademark fist pump, but he doesn’t and instead the crowd dejectedly melts away into the night, apart that is from those who stay to boo.  Ipswich drop to eighth in the third division table which means they will be happy to meet any club at all  in the play-offs.