Ipswich Town 3 Fleetwood Town 1

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain; words I half expect to hear as the Town team trot out onto the Portman Road turf for the last time in the 2020-21 season, led by their soon to be superannuated captain and stalwart Luke Chambers.   The last match of the season is what we have all been waiting for since the very first match of the season.  It’s the day when everything is resolved, other than those pesky play-offs of course,  and after which we can sit back and wait to go through another  nine and a bit months of purgatory all over again starting in August.  This season Town’s fate was resolved early and the outcome is that we have all wasted our time and money again, but heck we knew the risks; didn’t we?

Today therefore is a  bit of a jaunt, it’s the last day of term,  and unlike the previous two games at Shrewsbury and Swindon, which were simply pointless, meaningless and irrelevant, at least this one draws a solid line under the whole sorry season.    It has been the “worst season of all time” according to Mick Mills in his pre-match ramble to the ifollow commentary.  But Mick as ever has the right idea and tells us that Town will be out to “…end the season on a high”.  I’m all for that, but in the absence of a stash of recreational drugs I slump down on my blue bean bag in front of my Lenovo lap-top, HDMI lead and LG television set with a cup of green tea.  The twelve o’clock kick-off means it’s too early for a pre-match pint , and after yesterday’s intake of Cremant, beer, Champagne and red wine in honour of my wedding anniversary and a very close friend who died a year ago, I’m not sure I would want one.

The game begins before I realise and sixteen unobserved seconds are lost to eternity, but BBC Radio commentator Brenner Woolley tells me that today’s opponents Fleetwood have started brightly.  I catch the name Rossiter from Brenner’s lips and imagine a Reginald Perrin lookalike in the Fleetwood line-up.  Another Fleetwood player, Burns, Brenner tells us, “flies into the netting” at the side of the goal.  I imagine BBC Radio Suffolk listeners without the benefit of the ifollow pictures, suddenly haunted by the image of a Fleetwood player who resembles a huge moth.

“Up the right hand of the Fleetwood right-hand side” says Mick describing where Fleetwood are attacking the Town goal from, and sounding like he’s ending the season on a high too.  Brenner barely has time to refer to Armando Dobra as “The Albanian” before the same player ends his dribble in to the penalty area by delivering a short square pass to the incoming James Norwood , who places the ball into the corner of the Fleetwood  Town goal net; Town, our Town that is,  lead 1-0.  “A lot of things happened with that ; it was quite interesting” says Mick unintentionally sucking the spontaneous joy and celebration out of the goal with his in-depth analysis and detailed description of what just happened.  It doesn’t seem like three minutes have passed, but after Mick’s soliloquy it suddenly does.

It’s the sixth minute; “It’s very, very early doors” says Mick using the sort of language that he can only have picked up from sitting next to Brenner all season long.   Now it’s the ninth minute and Gwion Edwards scores a second for Town, having made a run down the left wing. “A big mistake actually led to that goal” says Mick , once again pouring cold water on my joyful celebrations as he descends into a detailed description of how the goal came to be.  But Mick is actually enjoying the game as much as I am, I think, and as usual he has plenty of sensible things to say; he’s very sensible is Mick.  “Sometimes forget ‘tempo’, just be casual on the ball” Mick advises, evoking memories for me of his former team mate Arnold Muhren.  Mick is definitely enjoying the match, he keeps using the words ‘nice’ and ‘nicely’ about Town’s play;  what finer praise could there be?  I think of ‘Here Come The Nice’ by the Small Faces which was recorded in 1966, about the time that Mick joined Town from Portsmouth and was cultivating a Steve Marriott haircut.

Gwion Edwards is replaced by the oddly-named Keanen Bennetts, having sustained an injury.  “Lovely sunny afternoon” says Brenner, unexpectedly referencing The Kinks song ‘Sunny Afternoon’, also released in 1966.  The mention of the Fleetwood manager Simon Grayson by Brenner then makes me think of the Harry Enfield character Mr Cholmondely-Warner, and also Grayson Perry.  I begin to worry about why I always associate one word with another.

It’s the twenty-ninth minute and Troy Parrott scores a third goal for Town, having been put through with just the Fleetwood keeper between him and glory by James Norwood.  “The reverse ball, a semi-reverse ball by James Norwood” is Mick’s description of the goal-providing pass.  It was a beautiful goal, and the words ‘Carnival Football’ leap into my mind from 35 years ago; it was an expression used by a bloke I used to stand with at the back of Churchman’s who admired the commentary style of John Motson.

Half-time is approaching and after spotting a deliberate trip, the referee Mr Busby, whose name incidentally makes me think of the early days of BT , has a word with Troy Parrott. I amuse myself by imagining that Parrott repeats Mr Busby’s words back to hm. The half ends with my mind dwelling on Fleetwood’s Barry McKay, a name that somehow has me back in the 1970’s.  A minute of time is added to the original forty-five of the first half.  “Not quite sure why just one minute” says Brenner, seemingly and mysteriously ignorant of the fact that a minute is the amount of time most commonly added to first halves. It’s as if forty-five other League games had never happened; although in truth they might as well not have.  The half ends and Mick tells us that “The stats are interesting.”  It seems unlikely. “One corner kick for both teams; not for both teams” begins Mick, realising the absence of logic from his initial statement and quickly correcting himself. Happily Mick is quickly cut-off by the ifollow’s desperation to assail us with the same advertisements that have not influenced us to buy the same boring products promoted on at least twenty-two previous occasions this season.

Physically restored by Town’s astonishingly impressive half-time lead, I pour myself a half-time ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star American IPA (four for £6 from Waitrose) and make a cup of tea for my wife Paulene, who is in our bedroom suffering Portsmouth’s home defeat to Accrington Stanley. Half-time passes quickly as ever, and Brenner is soon telling us that Fleetwood are effectively playing in an Arsenal kit.  For that to be true the shirts would surely need to bear an Arsenal badge, which seem unlikely. Brenner really needs to forget about Premier League teams, they are nothing to do with Town now.

The second-half begins unexceptionally, but after thirteen minutes a marvellous through ball by Andre Dozzell puts Troy Parrott through on goal; he shoots but, Brenner tells us, “Hill was in the way”,  which seems appropriate for a small geographical feature.  I can’t be sure,  but it then sounds as if Mick refers to Armando Dobra as Amanda Dobra. The game continues to entertain despite the commentary or my hearing,  but more likely because of them. The sixty-fifth minute sees a “Great ball from Bennetts” according to Mick. The ball reaches James Norwood but he fluffs his shot.  “May be Norwood didn’t expect it” continues the Town legend not unreasonably implying that great balls from Mr Bennetts are rare, and provoking barely stifled laughter from Brenner in the process. Five minutes later and Teddy Bishop replaces James Norwood, who according to Brenner “goes off in his pink boots”; as if there was a possibility he would change his footwear before leaving the pitch.

The seventy-second minute brings a goal for  Fleetwood as Wes Burns out-runs Mark McGuiness and a mysteriously absent Myles Kenlock  down the left before booting the ball beyond Dai Cornell and inside the far post. “It’s quite windy now at Portman Road” says Brenner,  reminding me of the government and their lackeys diverting our attention away from any real issues  that might cause concern.  Brenner proceeds blandly; “Paul Cook and Gary Roberts just talking about something or other”.

Thirteen minutes of normal time remain and Town indulge in a mass substitution with Josh Harrop replacing Dobra and  Kayden Jackson replacing Parrott, whilst the oddly –named substitute Keanen Bennetts experiences the ultimate ignominy of being the substitute who is substituted; on this occasion by Cole Skuse who is doubtless making his last ever appearance for Town.

The game continues to entertain. Rossiter is booked and Fleetwood make multiple substitutions of their own.   As time runs out on the season, Brenner reflects upon it like commentators and journalists do.  It was embarrassing Brenner tells us to go out in the group stages of the Papa John’s Trophy, although not as embarrassing I would venture as being involved in such a crappy competition in the first place, which is sponsored by a hot-food takeaway and includes the Under 23 teams of Premier League clubs.

Three minutes of additional time are attached to the basic ninety.  Brenner draws our attention to the cardboard cut-outs of supporters in the bottom tier of the Cobbold Stand as play proceeds in front of them; I’m not sure why he does this but it passes the time and soon the game and the season end.  “ It was a game of good quality” concludes Mick not unreasonably, although he tempers this with the equally reasonable opinion that in the second-half of the game Fleetwood had ”the better performers in their team”.  As the players leave the field to the strains of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” the ifollow broadcast abruptly ends and I am left alone until August.

That’s my fifty-first season gone for ever. It ended with neither a bang nor a whimper, but something in between, like popping bubble wrap. I’m going to miss Mick and Brenner, but with a bit of luck will never have to listen to them or watch the ifollow ever again.

Ipswich Town 2 Swindon Town 3

I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was in an Ipswich which had a similar layout to the real place but all the buildings were different and weirdly the buses were like those from the 1970’s; I got on one in a shopping-centre painted chocolate brown and it unexpectedly took me up a fast road to what might have been Chantry; I got off and wandered back towards Portman Road because there was a match on.  I walked through streets of medieval, half-timbered buildings and past a pub I had never been in before where they were calling last orders, it was only two o’clock; I knew I had had a pint already but I couldn’t remember where.  That’s when I woke up.

After a welcome mid-season break which has made me feel even greater kinship with the people of France, and Germany that Brexit has tried to divorce me from, I have spent the last few days in keen anticipation of today and the match versus Swindon Town, even though it’s only on the telly, but this is the new reality to which I have become accustomed.  I even ordered a match programme yesterday (£3.50 including postage and packing), but the waking day gets off to a bad start because when I check my post it hasn’t arrived.  Kick-off today is at 5.30 so after a morning of dull, domestic normalcy and a light lunch of chorizo sausage and salad I take an afternoon walk, slipping, trudging and sliding across frosty, muddy fields, squinting into the low January sunlight and avoiding human contact.

Mud & trees

Back home, with the help of tea and biscuits I watch the FA Cup scores develop on BBC 1 where a man who looks like a bigger version of Pep Guardiola fills the air time once occupied by Grandstand and the seat left vacant by Frank Bough.  Gradually, 5.30 draws near.  I log onto the ifollow in time to catch the last three names of today’s virtual mascots, Georgia, Rory and Albi; I am reminded of Albi the racist dragon, who Bret and Jermaine sang about in episode seven of Flight of the Conchords.  There follows a compilation of the best bits from the commentary the last time Town played Swindon, which was back in January 2000, even before Flight of the Conchords was first on television. In goal for Swindon that day was Frank Talia and I amuse myself by wondering if he had a sister called Jenny.  There’s time to get a pre-match ‘pint’, if not to drink it, before kick-off and I pour a glass of Fuller’s 1845 (on offer before Christmas at £3.00 for two from Waitrose) for me, and a glass of ‘mother’s ruin’ for my wife Paulene, which she takes topped up with fizzy water.

As the players take the knee we are informed that today’s fixture is a ‘memorial match’ for everyone who has died in the last year.  Paulene chuckles and we both roll our eyes.  “What the heck is a memorial match?” asks Paulene.  It’s as if people have never died before.  What a sentimental, maudlin lot we have become.  As the handover is made from the Radio Suffolk studio to the commentary team we learn that today’s commentary will not be from Brenner Woolley, who sadly is unwell, instead Radio Suffolk have enlisted the services of former Northgate school boy Stuart Jarrold, who should by rights be enjoying his retirement; I can remember him on Anglia TV forty years ago; he must be well over seventy.  Happily Stuart’s co-commentator is still the dependable Mick Mills who will hopefully add to his record of 741 games played for Town by co-commentating on a similar number.  It was Mick’s birthday this week; he was seventy-three. With two septuagenarians at the microphone there is an undeniable hint of Last of the Summer Wine pervading the airwaves.

Stuart begins his introduction to the game assuredly and authoritatively, he’s an old pro. But then the game begins; Swindon kick off, play the ball back and Dion Conroy lumps it up field.  It is immediately clear that Stuart doesn’t recognise any of the players; he doesn’t even seem to be familiar with their names. His assuredness has departed quicker than a season ticket holder in the top tier of the Cobbold stand when we’ve just conceded a third goal with twenty minutes to go.  Just to make it clear to anyone who hadn’t picked it up from his commentary, Stuart now admits he hasn’t watched Town at all this season.  Stuart can’t tell Luke Chambers from Luke Woolfenden.  He struggles on.  Usually it’s Brenner that interrupts Mick, but today Mick has to interrupt Stuart to clarify what’s just happened.  “Was that Brett Pitman firing in a shot there?” asks Stuart sounding reasonably confident “No, it was Matt Smith” replies Mick.

The camera lingers on a man in glasses and a black hat with a dark scarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face.  I can’t tell who it is.  It could be Marcus Evans, it could be Paul Lambert.  Either one of them could be forgiven for not wanting to be recognised at Portman Road.  “I can’t see Paul Lambert here” says Stuart, quite coincidentally and no doubt unaware of the picture on the tv screen.  Would Stuart even recognise Paul Lambert if he saw him?

Stuart tells us that three minutes have been played, but the figures in the corner of the tv screen suggest he is living some three minutes in the past. “Can’t see who’s taking the corner from here, can you Mick?” Mick is having to work hard today.  “Cleared by one of the Lukes” says Stuart.  Armando Dobra is fouled by Paul Caddis. “Did Caddis get a yellow card for that?” asks Stuart in the latest in a series of questions “I think he did”.   Mick resorts to saying things which Stuart can re-use in his commentary.   “Luke Chambers knocks it back to err…err… err… Luke Woolfenden” says Stuart. 

I don’t know if it’s wheeziness due to his age or just anxiety, but Stuart’s breathing is audible over the microphone.   Paulene cringes, but she’s feeling sorry for Stuart.  I am too, but I don’t let it stop me from laughing, this is what makes local radio so great. “It’s a bit aimless in the middle there Mick” says Stuart, sounding slightly incredulous that the game is as bad as it is.  Further proof, if proof were needed, that he hasn’t seen Town play previously this season.  Stuart mentions that Swindon’s Diallang Jaiyesimi had been at Norwich City.  Mick asks if he ‘came through the ranks’ there.  Unsurprisingly, Stuart doesn’t know.

It’s the 16th minute, Swindon score.  “Err, yes, it’s a goal, it’s a goal” says Stuart, sounding as unprepared as the Town defence was and as if, like them, he wasn’t really watching when it happened.  Paulene cheers, I think because Brett Pitman played for Pompey, although he didn’t score the goal,  that was our friend from Norwich City.   I look at Paulene coldly.

The game resumes. “I haven’t mentioned Judge yet, I’ve rarely seen him touch the ball” says Stuart optimistically suggesting he would recognise Judge if he did see him touch the ball.  “I’ve got to get used to these players, haven’t I” he adds, more realistically.  He is improving, a little.  “This is Emyr Huws now, tussling with the ball” says Stuart in a moment of clear vision, but also a weird use of language worthy of Brenner Woolley.  “We are beginning to sit back and watch them play” says Mick of the Ipswich players. “That’s not what we should be doing is it Mick?” says Stuart asking a question so stupid it would sound sarcastic if he hadn’t grown so childishly reliant upon Mick’s every word.

A half an hour passes. Andre Dozzell sends a brilliant pass over the top of the Swindon defence, little Alan Judge runs through but incredibly fails to score with just the Swindon ‘keeper Mark Travers to beat.  It’s a unique moment of inspiration coupled to the usual failure and frustration in an otherwise featureless first half. 

Half-time begins to loom like an oasis.  “Luke Chambers…left foots it forward” says Stuart making up a new verb.  “The last six or seven minutes seem to have dragged a bit, without a lot happening” Stuart then adds, clearly beginning to get into the feel and rhythm of Portman Road on match day.  At the end of two minutes of added time Mick provides a concise summary of the half before being cut-off by advertisements which, not being a fan of the consumer-society, I ignore, “You’ve got to say Swindon have been the better side”.

Half-time is a delicious blur of more Fuller’s 1845 and gin.

The second-half arrives all too soon and James Norwood and Flynn Downes replace Aaron Drinan, who Stuart didn’t even mention not having mentioned, and Emyr Huws.  Swindon’s Scott Twine has an early chance to double his team’s lead but doesn’t and Stuart carries on not knowing which Ipswich player is which “…..putting Jackson away, no, that’s not Jackson”.  But Town do look a bit better now, with Norwood seeing more of the ball within a few seconds than Aaron Drinan did in the whole of the first half.  It’s the 51st minute and Stuart and Mick are now honing their double act to perfection.  Little Alan Judge shoots on goal, “I thought it was going to hit the post” exclaims Stuart. “It did hit the post” explains Mick, demonstrating the value of having an expert co-commentator who has played the game at the highest level and is therefore capable of spotting the difference between the ball hitting the post and not hitting the post.

Two minutes later and Flynn Downes shows that he has settled back in to the team and receives his customary booking.  Town continue to look like they have now been given a rough outline of the aim of the game and with just over an hour of our lives wasted Kayden Jackson unexpectedly plays in an early cross which James Norwood reaches just a few metres from goal.  Showing an unimaginable level of skill Norwood slices an attempt to shoot onto a Swindon defender standing the statutory two metres away, the ball rebounds back to him and he strokes it into the goal. “We’ve scored” I utter cautiously, scarcely able to believe my eyes.  Victory must now be ours, surely; how can we not go on to win against the team second from bottom in the league who have lost five of their last six matches conceding fifteen goals in the process?

Confident, I sit back, but unfortunately so does the Town defence and together we watch Scott Twine score from about 35yards.  “It was a stupendous goal” says Stuart almost shouting with excitement and clearly scarcely able to believe that such a goal could be scored amongst what otherwise seems a pretty lamentable standard of football.  Mick is appreciative of the finish, but generally less enthusiastic than wide-eyed Stuart, citing Ipswich’s contribution by virtually “inviting” Twine to shoot.  Mick sensibly adds that it was a somewhat freakish goal too, although I would add not freakish enough to have actually been scored by Ipswich.

James Norwood harvests another booking for a pointless tug at a Swindon player before Brett Pitman appears to score a third goal for Swindon, but sadly it’s not Brett who scored it’s that bloke who played for Norwich instead.   Had it been Pitman’s goal it would have been a good goal, a deft flick no less, but instead it’s a cross that has sneaked in at the far post because everyone else misread it, a bit like the weirdly named Keanen Bennett’s goal against Shrewsbury a few weeks ago.  “It’s almost an embarrassment isn’t it?” says Stuart really getting to grips with the reality of commentating on Ipswich Town in the 21st century.

We’ve watched seventy-eight minutes now, Town trail 3-1 and Jack Lankester replaces Armando Dobra. “Will that make much difference Mick?” asks Stuart , probably having worked out by now that it won’t. But with four minutes remaining of normal time a punt forward is controlled by James Norwood who lays the ball off for little Alan Judge to score simply and unexpectedly for Town. “That came out of nothing” says Stuart,  not having yet realised that this is true of nearly every goal scored in the third division.

In the remaining minutes Mark McGuinness has a shot which might have been an equaliser if hit harder and wider of Travers in the Swindon goal and Swindon make a final substitution to eke out the dying seconds before another home defeat is confirmed.  To misquote Elton John, I guess that’s why they call us the Blues. The players must be so pleased that the supporters are once again safely locked down at home and not in Portman Road, but if any has particularly good hearing they can probably discern the boos emanating from sofas and easy chairs all across the town  as they leave the pitch.

What a disappointing afternoon it has been, but one in which Stuart Jarrold can at least feel reasonably happy that his inability to recognise Town players was matched by the Town players themselves, and that at least he had a really good excuse; unless they have all been in isolation for the past fortnight they didn’t.  For myself, I at least now understand that dream, because I can no longer recognise the Ipswich Town I knew either, but I shall be back again next week to try again.

Ipswich Town 0 Portsmouth 2

This morning I have lost two hours of my life.   Waking up just before five o’clock, nature calls and I answer, but returning to bed I struggle  to sleep as my nose starts to run and I become restless.  I hear the clock strike six and then after fitful sleep I am sure I hear it strike seven.  I’ll get up soon I think to myself.  My wife Paulene is a light sleeper, the other half of the bed is vacant; but she’s often up before six.  I lie there, luxuriating in the warmth of a bed on a winter’s morning.  Time passes; I raise my arm and look at my watch.   It’s twenty-two minutes past nine. Twenty-two minutes past nine!  Confused and befuddled I leap out of bed, shower, dress and head downstairs where Paulene addresses me with a predictable greeting of “ At last!”

Feeling a mixture of guilt and disappointment that the waking moments of my precious weekend have carelessly been shortened, after eating a breakfast of porridge as a tribute to families of bears everywhere, I throw myself into Christmas card writing and present wrapping as I seek redemption.  By one o’clock all cards are written, envelopes addressed and stamped, and I take them to the post box, which I can see from my kitchen window.  The day is cold, damp and grey as December days should be.  I skip over the muddy verge; my footsteps disturb the shallow puddles of the wet pavement; I discover that my old pair of shoes, which I keep in the kitchen for gardening in, leak.   Back in the warmth and dry I surround myself with Christmas gifts, Christmas paper, sellotape and scissors.  By a quarter to three the presents are wrapped; I am redeemed and ready to visit Portman Road through the medium of the ifollow.  I celebrate with a pre-match ‘pint’ (actually only 330ml) of Brewdog Lock Down, described on the tin as a Guava & Grapefruit Pilsner, which I take from my beer-a-day advent calendar.  Served cool on a hot summer’s day it would be refreshing, but it’s hardly a beer for a northern European winter’s day.

In the living room Paulene is aghast at a day-time tv programme in which a morbidly obese woman is fitted for an unsuitable wedding dress whilst frequently breaking down in tears because of unresolved psychological issues.  Car crash tv such as this is horribly compelling and it’s gone five to three by the time we can tear ourselves away from the sight of the not quite as obese but very sweaty and terrified looking groom waiting at the altar.  I access the ifollow just as the pictures from Portman Road switch to an advert for the ifollow, which seems a bit pointless given that I am already watching it. By the end of the commercial break it’s gone three o’clock and the game hasn’t started. Paulene looks at her phone and an app which says that the game is three minutes in.  I check my lap-top and find a red on-screen button displaying the word ‘Live’; I click it and the broadcast miraculously moves forward in time to the fourth minute.  That’s another three minutes of my life I’ve lost today.

I am calmed by the soothing voice of Mick Mills “I think we’re one of the better teams in the division” says Mick.  “What you have to remember is this is not a good division” he adds, like a punchline.  That one-liner aside, Mick is in positive mood and tells us that Town will be confident after last week’s win at Plymouth.  I hope he’s right, but Paulene doesn’t because she supports Portsmouth.  “Light rain tumbling at Portman Road” says Brenner Woolley poetically.  “Headed on by the pony-tailed Marquis” he continues, although I think he means Harness because Pompey’s John Marquis doesn’t have a ponytail, whereas Marcus Harness does, and what’s more his first name and surname rhyme delightfully, but Brenner doesn’t mention that.  “We were slow with the free-kick and very, very slow with the throw-in” says Mick casting early doubt on Town’s confidence.

With nine minutes gone a shot from John Marquis on the turn is very well saved by Town goal keeper David Cornell, who Brenner consistently refers to as Dai.  Pompey win a succession of corners, although quite how many is unclear as the caption on the screen says three but Brenner says four.  “They’re beginning to settle better than Town” says Mick of Pompey, questioning further his opening statement about Town’s confidence.  “Portsmouth the better side at the moment” confirms Brenner, for those who might not have grasped the implication of Mick’s comment.   “Bouncing the ball off each other like a ping pong machine” says Mick inventing a new type of machine in order to illustrate just how Pompey are currently the better side.

Happily the ping pong machine breaks down or is shown to be a figment of Mick’s imagination and Town begin to get into the game themselves.  “The game has become much livelier now Town have entered the contest” says Brenner before repeating the sentiment but in footballspeak by saying that Town are “more into this game than they were early doors”.   Town’s Albanian Armando Dobra “…gives the thumbs-up to his fellow teenager” having failed to catch an over hit pass but then shortly afterwards has Town’s first shot on goal after giving a “little shimmy”.   But both Mick and Brenner agree Dobra should have scored, which is a pity because it will prove to be Town’s only   decent attempt on goal all afternoon.  Despite his miss, Dobra is the man of the moment and Mick waxes lyrical about his willingness to run at the opposition and the impact it has “He just throws them upside down” says Mick, leaving me worried that he’s bound to get booked sooner or later doing that.

With Town playing quite well Brenner relaxes and playfully mentions Toto Nsiala sharing some banter with the fans “… as he walks down the touchline with his black beanie hat”.  Brenner has stopped mentioning what Paul Lambert has been wearing in recent weeks and I find it reassuring to know that Toto has a black beanie hat, even if we don’t know if he had it on and was wearing it at a jaunty angle or like a commando.   It seems safe to say I am quite enjoying the game at the moment and Brenner adds to my enjoyment with his mention of the “man in the luminous kit”, a phrase he uses perhaps because it seems easier than using the Pompey goalkeeper’s name, Craig McGillivray, which looks difficult to pronounce but actually isn’t; it also looks incidentally, like a Scottish version of the planet that Dr Who is from.  Time Lords aside, Brenner is on a roll and follows up with reference to Pompey’s Ryan Williams as “the pony-tailed Australian” , again showing his minor obsession with pony-tails as opposed to all other hairstyles , such as Luke Chambers’ Army conscript look or Stephen Ward’s very neat short back and sides.

Things seem just fine and so on 29 minutes Pompey score, the aforementioned pony-tailed Australian arriving in the penalty area on his own to hit the ball from about eight yards into the roof of the net after a precise passing move.  Mick and Brenner give credit where it’s due, “Outstanding goal” says Mick.  Four minutes later Town’s Jon Nolan is sitting on the turf rubbing his calf and is replaced by Brett McGavin.  Pompey almost score again seven minutes later, but don’t.  Ipswich meanwhile recover enough composure for Mick to be moved to say “It was lovely to watch and there was almost an end product, I didn’t dislike that”.  Two minutes later the same pony-tailed Australian scores again and with three minutes additional time played Portsmouth lead 2-0 at half-time.

 Paulene and I leave our seats for the half-time break; I return to the living room with two mugs of tea and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar;  Paulene returns wearing a Pompey shirt and accompanied by Nelson the Portsmouth mascot, or at least a 30 centimetre high cuddly effigy of him.  I think it’s her subtle way of gloating.  Within three minutes John Marquis should score a third goal for Portsmouth and then seven minutes later he sends a header against the Town cross bar.  Almost an hour of play has passed and we learn that Mick Mills has brought mince pies to the game, it’s a highlight of the afternoon’s commentary, as is the confession from Brenner that he has taken one of Guy Whittingham’s mince pies whilst he was away.  It’s an interlude in the commentary that reveals a lot about the differing characters of generous Town legend Mick Mills and the sly, mince pie stealing BBC Radio Suffolk commentator.  Mick does admit that he likes to be co-commentator because it gives him more time to eat, but no Town fan would be begrudge him that after a record 741 games for the blues.

Pointlessly, little Alan Judge is replaced by the weirdly named Keanan Bennetts and Kayden Jackson is replaced by Aaron Drinan. Pompey’s Ronan Curtis strikes the cross bar with a shot from outside the penalty area.  Mick explains how the third goal in a game is the most important.  “How can you listen to this bloke every week” asked Paulene of Mick.  “He just the states the bleedin’ obvious” she adds in as lady-like manner as possible.  Naturally, I leap to Mick’s defence, mis-quoting the words of Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in the 1964 film musical ‘My fair lady’; “I’ve grown accustomed to his voice” I sing to her.  She doesn’t seem convinced.

Four more minutes pass and “Dai” Cornell makes another brilliant diving save to prevent another Pompey goal.  Ronan Curtis is booked. Oliver Hawkins replaces Jack Lankester but not before Lankester is booked and Brenner continues to pronounce Lankester like the county town of Lancashire, despite the blatantly obvious difference in spelling; damn his short northern vowels, as Henry Higgins might say.  Town are now playing with two strikers despite Paul Lambert’s assertion that his team is ‘hopeless’ playing such a formation.  Lambert is right of course, because two ‘up front’ simply means we are fielding two players who rarely get to touch the ball, not just one.  Mark McGuinness is booked for a foul on Marcus Harness to create a satisfyingly sibilant sentence. Brett McGavin is booked also to complete a bizarre four minutes of ill-discipline amongst Town’s youngsters.  “Bennetts with his pink boots on” says Brenner, as he did last week in Plymouth.  “This game has gone sort of very untidy now” says Mick, cleverly creating a metaphor for the game with his own untidy sentence construction.

With the game into its last ten minutes all seems lost. “Absolutely silent at the moment in Portman Road” Brenner tells us “You certainly wouldn’t know there were 2000 people here”.  But in truth the same can often be said when there are 15,000 people present, so he shouldn’t be too surprised.  A  heavy sigh is audible before Mick says “We just can’t create”, but soon afterwards Town win a corner and Mark McGuinness heads over from a central position. “Just needed to head between the cross bar and the two posts” says Mick, stating the obvious or having possibly recently developed an unexpected streak of sarcasm.  It’s something he repeats a short while later with “A chance to create a chance if ever there was one”.  

“Town fans unable to leave early” gloats Brenner as four minutes of added on time is announced. Brenner sighs, “Really flat here” he says, sounding genuinely sorry, the thrill of an illicit mince pie clearly having passed.  The game is about to end. “The inevitable boos are ten seconds away” says Brenner.  His prediction is sadly correct although some fans applaud the team, as they should; we just happen to have been beaten by a better team, a team not necessarily of greater talent, but one of greater wile, better organisation, more consistency in terms of selection and greater experience.  Paulene is shocked at how some of Town’s alleged ‘supporters’ have so easily turned on their team; I’m not. I’m used to it. “Britain’s most miserable football club” says Brenner of Ipswich Town, most appropriately, as the players leave the field to the strains of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”. 

Often a piece of writing will end with a reference back to the beginning to provide a conclusion and satisfying circularity. If you recall, the opening of this piece was about two hours of my life that I had lost because I had overslept. It would be a bit obvious to say I’d lost another two hours of my life to Ipswich Town and the ifollow, so I won’t; what’s more I haven’t.  Paulene enjoyed it anyway.

Ipswich Town 0 Charlton Athletic 2

Despite my father growing up in Gosport , the only football match I recall him mentioning going to as a boy was when his uncle George, who lived in Plumstead, took him to see Charlton Athletic at The Valley.  This would have been at some time in the late 1930’s when Charlton were one of England’s top teams and having been promoted in consecutive seasons under Jimmy Seed from the Third Division South to the First Division, the ‘addicks finished runners-up, fourth and then third in the three seasons before the outbreak of the Second World War.  Charlton had the largest club ground in the country at the time and in February 1938 a record 75,031 people piled in to watch an FA Cup tie versus Blackburn Rovers, it is reckoned that even then the ground wasn’t full.   If it was that match that my father’s uncle George took him too, and it might have been, it’s little wonder he remembered it.

Now, over eighty years on and nobody can go to the football anymore and the stadiums sit empty as we watch the games on the telly.  Not going to football is better than dying a horrible death from Covid-19 of course, so I’m not complaining, but footie on the telly is losing its appeal and logging into the ifollow each week is becoming a chore.  At least I think that’s the problem, but it might just be that my team Ipswich Town keep losing and against the background noise of social media and the silence of the empty stadium football is no longer as enjoyable as it was back in the good old days of Paul Hurst, Mick McCarthy, Paul Jewell, Roy Keane, John Duncan and Bobby Ferguson.

Although in melancholy mood, I nevertheless log in to my lap-top and the ifollow and make the connection just in time to hear the tail end of a report from Carrow Road on Radio Suffolk, which ends with the words ‘mind the gap’.  I understand these words are meant as a reference to Norwich City being in a higher division than Ipswich Town,  but I find it rather endearing that people from Norwich should find travelling on the London Underground so memorable that they have taken to repeating a station announcement in this way.  I settle into my Ikea Poang chair and as the pictures of Portman Road appear on my tv screen I take the opportunity to drink in sight of the pitch, seeking solace in a bottle of Titanic Plum Porter (two for £3 from Waitrose).

The mellifluous voice of Brenner Woolley introduces Mick Mills who waxes long, but not necessarily lyrically about the failure of Paul Lambert to prevent relegation in 2019 or to achieve promotion in 2020.  The failures of last season seem to be being repeated again; and not achieving promotion again, says Mick, is “what worries local people”.    Micks mention of ‘local people’ immediately has me thinking not of the Football League but of the League of Gentleman, and my mind’s eye puts  Mick in a floral headscarf, thick-framed glasses and poorly applied lipstick repeating ‘local people’ in a high-pitched voice .

The lining up of the players for the start of the game and a minute’s applause for the recently deceased Diego Maradona curtail the disturbing image in my head.  Maradona had, says Brenner “… a pure love of the ball and it loved him back”.  Brenner’s attempt to get all poetic is appropriate given Maradona’s brilliance,  but I can’t help thinking that affording emotions to inanimate objects is just a bit weird.  Nevertheless, when it is eventually Brenner’s turn to shuffle out of his mortal commentary box I like to think that someone somewhere will be moved to say that Brenner loved his microphone and it loved him back, and that the same was true of Mick Mills.

Clearly inspired by the tribute to Maradona, Brenner is quick to get into footballspeak with the phrase “early doors from Pratley” as Charlton’s Darren Pratley does something or other early in the game.  On the pitch David Cornell, with his first touch of the ball in his first league appearance for Town, slips and sends his goal-kick out for a throw-in.  For the first five minutes Brenner can’t mention a Charlton Athletic player’s name without also telling us all the teams he’s ever played for.   It’s as if he has researched all this information and he’ll be damned if he’s not going to use it, and as quickly as possible.    The ball has been booted upfield by both teams several times in the opening minutes and Mick tells us this makes the game quite entertaining.  I’m not convinced, and gain more pleasure from Brenner’s reference to “the pony-tailed Woolfenden”, although in truth, whilst in favour of long-haired footballers, I am not that impressed by the ponytail itself, but give it time.

The weirdly named Keanan Bennetts falls to the ground in the penalty area and Brenner tells us that “ two or three players put their blue-sleeved arms up there”.  Mick however gives those blue-sleeved arms’ owners short-shrift and sounds somewhat disgusted that they should have appealed for what was clearly not a penalty.  ‘Good old Mick,’ I think to myself, ‘you tell these youngsters’.    Mick is having a good early afternoon and after Brenner tells us that Charlton have two ‘makeshift’ centre-halves in Darren Pratley and Chris Gunter, Mick explains his hopes for Town because James Norwood is a “very knowledgeable striker”.  This probably means however that Norwood will be mostly looking to win free-kicks rather than appearing in a future episode of ‘Only Connect’.    In a rich vein of form Mick goes on to explain why he and Brenner say that Town are playing a 4-3-3 formation, even though  Town manager Paul Lambert has denied this and refers to more complicated permutations such as 4-1-2-2-1.  “We’re trying to paint a picture” says Mick, although sadly he omits to mention painting by numbers, Abstract Expressionism or Kayden Jackson Pollock; it’s an opportunity missed by the Town legend.

In the thirteenth minute Luke Chambers wins Town’s first corner through the unexpected means of a shot with the outside of his right foot.  Three minutes later and Brenner says “Town the better side at the moment” and he’s not wrong, although it’s not long before Charlton are passing the ball within the left hand side of Town’s penalty area; it’s a situation “very similar to how McGuinness gave away a penalty ….here……before”  says Mick sounding as if he is struggling to remember that it only happened last Saturday against Shrewsbury.  In the twenty-first minute Charlton score having made easy progress through the left side of Town’s defence once again.

Brenner tells us that Brett McGavin wins a free-kick because of a “high-shoe” from Andrew Shinnie, who we have to hope scores lots of goals with his lower leg.  Dozzell sends a lofted pass “over the top” but “ there’s too much on that from Andre “ says Brenner with cosy familiarity as the ball sails out of play.  From upstairs I hear a shout ,“Oooooooh”.  My wife is in the bedroom with Pompey, King’s Lynn Town and the FA Cup on BBC iplayer.  Not expecting to miss anything much at Portman Road I nip up the stairs in time to witness a replay of some Pompey player or other sweeping the ball into the top corner of the King’s Lynn net from a few metres outside the penalty area. “Is he allowed to do that?” I ask.  Apparently he is.  Pompey will go on to win 6-1, which makes my wife happy and me too  because it’s good to see teams from Norfolk lose.

I return to Portman Road in time to see James Norwood fall to the ground clutching his hamstring.  “That’s gutting for the lad” says Brenner going into footballspeak overdrive and thereby sounding like a public schoolboy straining for ‘street cred’.  “What is the matter with this club? asks Mick more pointedly,  querying why we have a whole team’s worth of players out through injury.   Mick believes someone seriously needs to carry out some research into why we have so many injured players.  Once the game restarts little Alan Judge comes close to scoring but for a fine flying save from Ben Amos in the Charlton goal , and then Judge becomes the only player of the afternoon to be booked.

Asked to sum up the first half by Brenner, Mick says “ It’s been indifferent really”.  Asked his opinion of Charlton, Mick says they have players who have “…been around a long time. They can play. They’re okay”.   What this glowing eulogy says about Town I can’t make out.   After a cup of tea and a Nature Valley chocolate protein bar the second half begins.

Ipswich win a corner, they don’t score. Eleven minutes pass and my eyes are feeling heavy. “We do have to think about changing direction again” says Mick as if Town had struggled with the change of ends at half time.  It’s the 59th minute.  In the 65th minute I open my eyes to see Town’s converted electric milk float ferrying Charlton’s Paul Smyth off the pitch. I’ve been asleep.  The wonderfully named Omar Bogle replaces Smyth and Town’s players don’t notice, allowing him to remain unmarked beyond the far post so that he can easily divert either a cross or a poorly aimed shot from Darren Pratley into the Town net. Charlton lead 2-0.

The remaining twenty-two minutes do little for me, although I do not fall asleep again and am kept entertained by the name of the next Charlton Athletic substitute, Ben Purrington, who replaces Chukwuemek Aneke.  I can’t decide whether  Purrington is having a great game or whether it’ s just that I find his surname so unlikely,  but the word Purrington is now all I can hear from Brenner’s commentary.  Mr Purrington, it sounds like the name someone might give to their pet cat. “Prodded away by an alert Purrington” says Brenner, sounding as if he is enjoying the substitutes surname as much as I am.

Mr Purrington ?

The final ten minutes of normal time arrive.  Little Alan Judge shoots at goal but his shot is straight at Amos the goalkeeper; if he’d shot like that at Amos the old testament prophet,  he would probably have saved it too.   “Charlton up to fourth, and third if they can get another goal” says Brenner optimistically.  Town win their second corner of the half.  Seven minutes of added on time are to be played, some of  it perhaps because the milk-float that carried off Smyth “ran into traffic”, a phrase I don’t remember Brenner using today.  “What do you think Mick Mills?” asks Brenner with a weary sigh.  “We lost to Hull and we deserved to lose this one as well” is Mick’s honest and accurate assessment.

With the game over I watch the players leave the pitch before the ifollow broadcast ends abruptly, a bit like my enjoyment of today’s game, although that didn’t last as long.  Whatever, I’ll be back for the next game.

Ipswich Town 2 Shrewsbury Town 1

I first saw Shrewsbury Town back in February 1982.  I was an unemployed, fresh-faced graduate, Ipswich Town were sitting pretty somewhere near the top of what is now called the Premier League and Margaret Thatcher was vigorously laying the foundations for today’s unpleasant climate of self-centred, “I’m alright Jack” nationalist politics.  With that Shrewsbury match at Gay Meadow I witnessed an Ipswich Town performance over thirty years ahead of its time as Town dropped out of the of the FA Cup to lower league opposition, although to be fair we had made it to the fifth round.  I returned to Gay Meadow two years later for another FA Cup defeat and then in August of 1987 for a goalless League match.  Disillusioned with the poor returns from long trips to Shropshire I didn’t bother to travel the following season and consequently missed our 5-1 victory under the obviously inspirational captaincy of the World’s greatest living Canadian, Frank Yallop.

As I mull over those dark days of the 1980’s I log in to the i-follow on my lap-top and breathe a sigh of relief that it works.  I am just in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots being read out on Radio Suffolk; they are older people today, it’s something to do with highlighting or counter acting loneliness during lockdown. What I take from it is that a lot of the mascots seem to be called John.

The pictures from Portman Road appear on my screen and the dulcet, gently north-eastern tones of Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley tell me that Shrewsbury Town, who are visible doing pre-match warm-ups, are today wearing all-white, although he omits to mention the purple flashes on their shoulders which for me give the kit a much needed je ne sais quoi.  Ipswich are soon taking the field and Brenner refers to captain Luke Chambers “Bursting out from the pack” as the players run from the tunnel, and to Tomas Holy’s all lime green kit.  My mind’s eye momentarily conjures an image of Luke Chambers bursting.

As the on-screen caption advises that today’s referee is Tim Robinson I start to beat out the intro’ to ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ on the arm of my Ikea Poang chair and the game begins.   Shrewsbury are kicking from right to left towards what was called Churchman’s back in the days when Mr Robinson  was on Top of the Pops before everything was converted into money.  I am just beginning to wonder if Brenner has his trusty co-commentator with him today when I hear a stifled chuckle in the back ground and Mick Mills joins in describing with much merriment how Town’s Mark McGuinness has been pole-axed by what Brenner later refers to as a “winding challenge”, (that’s winding as in forcing air from the body rather than turning something).

Mick’s presence is a blessing and he soon adds value to the commentary suggesting that Paul Lambert not only prefers Nsiala and McGuinness as centre-backs but as ‘individuals’.  This immediately makes me wonder what this might mean and whether Nsiala and McGuinness offer not only strength at the back but  also more interesting conversation than Woolfenden and Wilson; do they have better dress sense, better personal hygiene, give better presents at birthdays and Christmas, have broader musical tastes; are they better read and have more cohesive political views?  Which central-defensive partneship would you invite to dinner?

My reverie is cut short as Mark McGuinness betrays a lack of manners and clumsily trips Shaun Whalley to give Shrewsbury a penalty.   As  Oliver Norburn runs up to take the spot-kick Brenner tells me that Shrewsbury haven’t scored at Portman Road in 53 years; presumably Brenner says this just to make sure that Shrewsbury do score now. Brenner’s tempting of fate is successful, although had Tomas Holy not dived before Norburn kicked the ball he might have saved it; Brenner says as much in a roundabout way, asking if Tomas might not be “self-critical there”.

Depressed by Shrewsbury taking the lead and Brenner’s silly commentary (this is only the fifth time in 53 years that Shrewsbury have even played at Portman Road), I console myself with the thought that there is plenty of time to equalise, score a winning goal and apply icing to a metaphorical cake.  As if to celebrate Shrewsbury’s goal Brenner unleashes some of his familiar commentator-speak, referring to little Alan Judge “running-into traffic” as he brings the ball out of defence and Tomas Holy “putting his foot through the ball” as he  boots it up field.  Not satisfied with this, Brenner proceeds to wilfully muddle up his footballs suggesting that Brett McGavin is playing in a “quarter-back” position.

Despite their goal deficit Town show only occasional urgency along with a very limited ability to equalise; they don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t do enough to make Shrewsbury worry that that they might not win despite being a goal ahead.  In the sixteenth minute Shrewsbury make claims for a second penalty as someone in a white shirt with purple trim “goes” in the words of Brenner “to ground”, which makes him sound like a small animal retreating into a burrow instead of a footballer falling over.

Time passes and Jon Nolan is hurt and replaced by Jack Lankester, and Shrewsbury’s Marc Pugh becomes another “Shrew” to fall over in the penalty area, and he gets short shrift from Brenner for doing so. “Crawling along the deck in rather embarrassing fashion” says Brenner of Pugh sounding every bit as witty and cutting as Oscar Wilde might have if he’d been a sports commentator for BBC local radio.

Town earn their first corner.  “A little opportunity for us with the big boys coming up” says Mick.  The opportunity is spurned by the ‘big boys’ and the small ones too.  Little Alan Judge is not having a good game, every time he has the ball he passes to a Shrewsbury player or just loses it.  I notice that the Shrewsbury goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne, who is a vision from head to toe in pink, is also sporting a moustache that any mid-twentieth century European dictator would have been proud of.

There are about seven minutes until half-time;  Kayden Jackson successfully chases a pass into the penalty area, pulls the ball back to set up Jack Lankester for a shot that is blocked and thereby sets up Freddie Sears for a shot that is deflected away for a corner; it’s the most excitement I’ve had all half.  Four minutes of time are added on and pass without incident worthy of mention.  Half-time arrives, the pitch is vacated and I wonder to myself why it is that referees and their assistants always walk off the field together, it surely makes them an easier target for a well-aimed grenade.

Half-time passes in a flurry of tea, half-time scores, stats and an advertisement for the ifollow in which a threatening Scouse voice claims that there is no better way to show your love than the ifollow; by the end of the advert I feel that  if I don’t subscribe I should start avoiding dark alleys .  The players appear for the second half and Brenner tells me that Town are now “attacking the Sir Bobby Robson end”, which seems a little disrespectful.   

The standard of play does not improve, nor does the commentary; a pass is under hit and Brenner tells me “the ball doesn’t have enough steam on it”.   Teddy Bishop is substituted for Emyr Huws, who I have decided to make my favourite player because he sounds like an extra from ‘Ivor the Engine’ and unlike a lot of modern players doesn’t have a haircut that makes him look like a First World War conscript.  

Not very much happens, or at least not enough to result in Town scoring a goal.  Brenner airs his obsession with Tomas Holy’s nationality “The Czech was dependable” he says as Tomas catches a cross.  Mick Mills embarks on a long explanation about something, but is interrupted without apology by Brenner as something happens on the pitch that looks like it could result in one those “goals” that I’ve heard about, perhaps predictably however it doesn’t.  It’s a pattern that is repeated and I can’t quite decide if Brenner is rude to interrupt or if Mick just tends to witter on a bit too long and needs to learn how to be more concise.  It also worries me that Mick doesn’t notice what is happening on the pitch and doesn’t interrupt himself.  Either way, it adds to the fun.

Town’s patient approach isn’t producing very much in the way of excitement although a shimmy and a cross from Freddie Sears almost results in little Alan Judge forcing the ball over the goal line, but his legs were just that bit too short.  The game enters its final 20 minutes; I haven’t fallen asleep yet because in truth it isn’t exactly boring and oddly I’m feeling quite relaxed and not frustrated at all by the absence of an equaliser.  Suddenly, the weirdly named Keanen Bennetts sends a low, not particularly good cross in to the penalty area and without another Town player touching the ball it runs just inside the far post and Town have equalised.   Not quite believing what I’ve seen I cheer, quietly in case it’s a false alarm, but happily it’s not.

The remainder of normal time runs out, much as the other 75 minutes did with nothing overly exciting happening and Town patiently and at times monotonously passing the ball.  Shrewsbury are provoked into trying to regain their lead and more of them fall over in the penalty area when in close proximity to Toto Nsiala, but unusually the tactic fails to influence Mr Robinson.  Substitution follows substitution follows substitution and there is so much added on time that new layers of geology are formed. It is the 97th minute, little Alan Judge pops up on the left , he cuts in , he shoots, the man all in pink with the moustache parries the shot and Jack Lankester hurls himself headlong to propel the ball into the Shrewsbury goal, “… Town have won it,” says Brenner. I cheer in the same manner as before.

Despite a valiant attempt to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory, Luke Chambers clearing a Shrewsbury shot off the goal line in the tiny amount of time left, Town hang on to win as Brenner predicted. “What a huge victory this could be for Ipswich Town” says Brenner excitedly and without explanation.  Town haven’t really deserved to win this game “says Mick more soberly when asked to sum up.

The ifollow broadcast quickly ceases as the players leave the field, disappointingly cutting off Mick and Brenner in their prime.  Despite Brenner’s entreaties to phone in and talk to Mick, I don’t.  Having turned off my lap-top I head for the back garden where I light the fire-pit and celebrate with a bottle of Adnams Old Ale and my wife Paulene. “A win is a win is a win” we chant as we dance around the flickering flames and think of the unfortunate Shrewsbury Town players “truckin on through the night” back to Shropshire, as Tom and possibly Tim Robinson might sing.