Ipswich Town 1 Reading 2


In 1974 the BBC broadcast one of the first ever fly-on–the-wall documentary series; a precursor of modern ‘reality television’ it was called The Family and followed the lives of the Wilkins.  I remember the series had a haunting, wistful theme tune played mostly on a flute (I think) over family photos and stills of a murky urban landscape; at the end of the tune a voice seemed to sing “Ha,ha,ha” very slowly, which was quite appropriate because sat watching the programme with my own family, I found it very funny, we all did.  I recall that Mrs Wilkins was quite a domineering woman, Mr Wilkins was a bus driver with brylcreemed hair, they had four children and a grandchild and all lived together in a house in Reading.  I don’t recall Reading Football Club featuring in the programme.

Back in 1974 Reading FC was a top-six team in Football League Division Four and Ipswich Town qualified for the UEFA Cup.  Today, forty-five years on and Ipswich Town and Reading meet in Division Two, both with the longer term aim of avoiding relegation to the third division.  As I walk to the railway station I speculate on whether any descendants of the now deceased Terry and Margaret Wilkins will also be travelling to the game.  I always think of The Family when Town play Reading.

It’s been a grey, dank morning; dull, leaden cloud hanging in the air sullenly.  It was a perfect day for football but as I leave the railway station I am disappointed to see that it appears to be brightening up.  I proceed nevertheless, past the Station Hotel with its multiple signs in the window advising that it is a pub for away supporters only. I hear strains of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline emanating from the bar; another set of provincial football supporters striving to be ‘interesting’. I overhear two Reading fans as I cross the bridge over the river “It was dead boring in there”, “Yeah, but they’ve started singing now”. 

I walk on up Portman Road with its burgers, poor quality bread rolls and more than the usual number of people seemingly desperate to get into the stadium as early as possible. I don’t buy a programme because £3 is a lot to pay for something which will spoil the line of my overcoat and from which I will probably derive very little if any pleasure, except to deride it in all its glossy vacuity.  By the time I reach St Jude’s Tavern I am feeling warm and curse my jumper and overcoat, I feel over dressed for what seems to have become a Spring day.  In St Jude’s Tavern I ask the barmaid what the Match Day Special is. “Goblin’s Piss” she replies.   Understanding that this is not her way of telling me I am not welcome in this hostelry but is the name of the beer I ask for a pint; after all, it only costs £2.50.   I find a seat next to the usual bunch of grey-haired Town supporters who frequent this pub and Portman Road out of sheer habit.  After five or ten minutes Mick arrives; I am pleased to see that he is wearing a well-insulated looking parka and so I will not sweat alone; Mick has a pint of Hoppy Jude’s (£3.20), largely I think because the name “Goblins’ Piss” does not appeal and it does smack of a brewery asking a thirteen year old boy to come up with names for its beers.

Mick and I talk of the expressiveness and eloquence of the French, of funerals and the weird names that people give their children ‘nowadays’, and the even weirder spellings.  Mick tells how his daughter had wanted to call her child Maverick if it was a boy.  Mick considered it was his duty to dissuade her with the argument that Maverick is a crap name; fortunately Mick now has grand-daughter.   I like to think however that had the baby been a boy he would have grown up to become an accountant.

First drinks drunk, Mick buys me a pint of Hoppy Jude’s, although I had asked him to get me a pint of Nethergate Old Growler, and he has a Speyside Malt Whisky, because there was no Glenmorangie.  Imperfection seems to be the theme of the day.  The pub clears early, probably because a large crowd is expected and a little after twenty five to three we make our way too.  Outside, the gloom of the morning has completely gone and we comment on how Spring-like it is.  As we descend Portman Road a police van and car pass us with blue lights flashing; we speculate as to whether there’s “trouble”, which would be unexpected from Reading, a club like Ipswich with no reputation for it.  “You might see some gore” says Mick optimistically.  We catch up with the blue lights which have parked near Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue but there is nothing to see here, just one policeman talking into his radio and looking slightly puzzled.

By way of a change, today I have seats in the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand, our tickets giving entry through turnstiles 19 and 20.  We join the queue for turnstile 19 because although the two queues are directly side by side, it is much the shorter of the two.  I suggest this is because some people have an inherent fear of prime numbers.   I like the area beneath the Cobbold Stand with its unfathomable layout of cramped passages and 1970’s painted concrete and there are even pictures on the walls, albeit ones painted by primary school children;  it’s very different to the cavernous, drafty, emptiness that I am used to beneath the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand where I have my season ticket.

Today the two teams are led onto the pitch by a dog called Bowza.  Every month Ipswich Town nominates a Community Champion and this month Bowza is that champion after he helped save the life of a sick woman by keeping her warm whilst she waited for medical help.   There should be more dogs at football matches, but I don’t suppose they can afford the ticket prices. However, the @nonleaguedogs twitter account suggests this isn’t necessarily so outside the Football League or ‘EFL’ as it is now dubbed because TV or the interweb has made people’s attention spans too short to deal with whole words anymore.

Bowza’s appearance will prove to be a highlight of the afternoon.  Ipswich kick-off playing towards Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, who I can just make out in their usual seats in the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  Town are as ever in blue and white with a nasty logo across their chests entreating on-line fools to part with their money.  Reading, whose hooped blue and white home kit is likeable wear an awful all-black affair which fades to grey over their stomachs; it’s hideous and looks nothing like a football kit.

 Soon, with Bowza just a fading memory Town and Reading begin to show why they are both haunted by relegation.  This is not to say that I am not entertained however, although I am not a big fan of pantomime.  Everyone loves to hate a pantomime villain however and in Nelson Oliviera Reading have one of the best ever seen at Portman Road.  Not only is Oliviera on-loan to Reading from Norwich City but just to make it clear that he is the embodiment of evil today he is also wearing a black mask. All he is missing is a tall black hat.  Oliviera quickly gets into his stride with an audacious and obvious dive in the penalty area as Bartosz Bialkowski comes to collect a typically over-hit forward pass.  But referee Mr Geoff Eltringham is wise to him, it would be difficult not to be, and lets him have a personal viewing of his yellow card.  “Wanker, Wanker” shout the Sir Bobby Robson Stand at Oliviera to everyone’s approval.  Evil genius Oliviera ain’t.

Ipswich look particularly clueless in much of the first half of this game and this may be because they have unexpectedly switched to a complicated looking 3-5-1-1 formation which no one comprehends.  With eighteen minutes having passed all three players in Ipswich’s defence run towards Reading‘s weirdly spelt Garath McCleary as he runs to the left edge of the penalty area.  With no defenders in the middle of the penalty area, even a forward not good enough to play for Norwich City understands that it is a good place to be and Oliviera moves in, receives the inevitable pass from McCleary and has the time to light a cigar and feed his cat before choosing whereabouts in the goal to put the ball.  He shoots, he scores and heads off on a slightly bandy legged run to taunt the Ipswich supporters in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.   Had Geoff the ref not already booked him once his offensive gloating would surely have led to a caution from a referee who will eventually show his yellow card to seven players during the course of the afternoon, some of them for some hilariously bad and extremely entertaining attempts at tackles.

The remainder of the half passes with Ipswich often looking not as good as Reading; which is a worry.  Town create one very good opportunity to score with Jon Nolan appearing unmarked much as Oliviera did, but he shoots where the Reading goalkeeper Damian Martinez, who sounds as evil as Oliviera is, can save it instead of where he can’t.With the half-time whistle Mick and I descend beneath the stand to the gents and then to the crowded bar to catch up on the half-time scores.  Like some sort of conceptual art installation the TV set is showing the view from the stand of the empty pitch.  Mick heads back to the stairs to ask the steward if there is another TV, there isn’t but the steward says he can come and change the channel for us, “Yes please” says Mick and he does and we catch up on the half-time scores, which aren’t as interesting as we’d hoped. I don’t think we realised who was playing who and had hoped to see a score somewhere where Ipswich were winning.   We return to our seats which are roughly level with the penalty area at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end of the ground.  “At least we’ll get a good view of all the goals this half” I say to Mick “Yes” he replies, throwing back his head slightly as if to laugh loudly, but then not doing so.

The second half begins.  The bald man in front of me smells unpleasantly ‘pine fresh’; it must be his aftershave or body spray, either that or he’s been cleaning out toilets all morning.  If my wife Paulene were here she would surely have an asthma attack.  Ipswich now have all three substitutes on the field, an admission perhaps that the 3-5-1-1 formation was not a success, although the injury to central defender James Collins before half-time had doubtless messed it up further.  Collins is joining that long line of much vaunted crocks from Kevin Beattie, through Tony Humes to Johnny Williams and David McGoldrick who have, due to injury, seemingly missed as many games as they’ve played.

Ipswich improve, but not sufficiently; that will sadly prove beyond them.   The crowd get behind the team, a bit; there is a will even if there isn’t a way.  But not everyone is supportive.

“Get off Quaner” shouts a bloke behind me at the gangly German.  He shouts it again, but happily Quaner can’t hear him and to voluntarily go down to ten men seems like bad advice.  “He’s fucking, shit” moans the bloke behind me refusing to let up, but I’ve already decided he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and block out his whining with  higher thoughts; it’s not difficult.

Disappointingly Oliviera is substituted in the second-half but not before he makes one final scene as clutching the back of his leg he then throws himself down flat on his back having undergone a miraculous transition from evil nemesis to flouncy drama queen in just under an hour.  He’s been a lot of fun but if asked I would say that a post-playing career in Hollywood does not await the bandy Portuguese.   

As Jon Nolan is booked for one of those hilarious attempted tackles, players of both teams square up to one another childishly and completely ignore the crumpled Reading player writhing about to show how hurt he is. Meanwhile I contemplate how Geoff the ref is the most barrel-like of all referees I have seen this season; he is so wide he appears to have a leg at each corner.  I am biased but Ipswich are worth a goal and there is mounting excitement as the clock counts down towards ten to five.  ‘Pine-fresh’ man in front of me keeps jumping up from his seat whenever the ball nears the Reading goal, which is rather annoying, but with full-time approaching it is all quite exciting even if the Reading goalkeeper’s best save ends up being from one of his own players; but it’s that sort of a game, no one is fully in control of their faculties.  Then, with 83 minutes having passed into history Gwion Edwards scores, lashing the ball in at the far post; at first I think he must have missed, but he hasn’t.  Town will surely go onto win now, although being happy with a draw is the story of the season.  Instead, as injury time approaches Reading break away and although Town’s goal looks defendable with three defenders and Bartosz Bialkowski against two strikers, it doesn’t prove so and Gambian Modou Barrow rolls the ball past Bartosz to win the game for Reading.  In my head I hear a  plaintiff voice sing “Ha-ha-haaaaa”.

Ipswich Town 0 Queens Park Rangers 2

I haven’t seen Ipswich Town play since the 1-1 draw with Norwich City in early September. Three weeks house-sitting in Paris and watching the other-worldly football of Paris Saint Germain (see previous posts) and I am pining for the prosaic drudgery of Championship football with its ceaseless reliance on running about and winning free-kicks to play set–pieces because no one has the vision or skill to have confidence enough to score goals through open play. It’s probably why managers, including our own Paul Hurst sadly, play ‘one-up front’. Why waste a player trying to score in open play when you can have extra insurance against unexpectedly conceding a goal. Well, that’s what it looks like to me.
But Ipswich Town have been my team since 1971 and I have missed them these last few

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

weeks. With gladness in my heart therefore, I set off for the train to Ipswich. My joy is doubled today because I am sharing the experience with my wife Paulene, courtesy of the generosity of Ipswich Town who have allowed me as a season ticket holder to buy four additional tickets for just ten pounds each, although if truth be told that’s only a fair price, not a cheap one.
We board the train through the first set of sliding doors and after Colchester share the carriage with just one other fellow traveller. It’s a pleasant journey as the lowering autumn sun streaks through the trees on the embankments to lay dappled, diffused sunlight on the carriage window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unusually it’s a twelve carriage train and our arrival in Ipswich feels like we are halfway to Needham with a lengthy walk down Platform 3. There are police on the platform, two dodgy looking blokes with stubble and tattoos, not very Dixon of Dock Green at all, even though we think they are with the Met’ because today Town are playing a London team, Queen’s Park Rangers.

Outside the station the Queens Park Rangers supporters are enjoying the beer garden of the Station Hotel, which no doubt equally enjoys their custom. Behind the pub the River Orwell is glassy and still, a beautiful mirror to reflect the ugly metal sheds and wasteland that squat on its northern bank waiting to be re-devloped. Further on in the car park of what was once Churchman’s factory a lady sells coffee from the back of a van.

Paulene has an espresso (£1.80). Like Paulene the lady visits Portman Road once a year with her husband, just to humour him. In Portman Road, it’s gone half past one, but the turnstiles are not open yet and weirdly keen people are standing, waiting for them to do so. People with buckets collect money for the RNLI whilst others look at the statue of Bobby Robson, which has been adorned with scarves and flowers in response to the recent death of the man generally considered to be Town’s best ever player, Kevin Beattie. The scarves around Sir Bobby’s legs make it look as though if he tried to take a step forward, he might fall over.


We head for St Jude’s Tavern as is my tradition; I have a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which today is Black Hole Bitter from the Black Hole Brewery in Burton-On-Trent; Paulene has a glass of Rose (£2.50). I speak with the man at the table next to us about the recent games I have missed and share news of the team with him and the other blokes at his table when it appears on my mobile phone; there is general consternation that there will again be a right-back (Janoi Donacien) at left back and just one player ‘up front’ (Freddie Sears). The mood is not one of joy, but we should be able to do okay against Queens Park Rangers, shouldn’t we? They have fourteen points, we have just nine but we’ve scored more goals and conceded fewer.
I have another pint of Black Hole Bitter before we head back down Portman Road. At the junction with Sir Alf Ramsey Way I buy a copy of Turnstile Blue fanzine from a young boy who takes my money but needs a parent to prompt him to hand over the fanzine in exchange, kids today eh? We pass through the turnstiles and take up our seats to a soundtrack from the PA system of Queen‘s “Don’t stop me now”. Indeed, I am having such a good time. Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with his young son Elwood; Paulene is very pleased to see them, I think it’s why she agreed to come today. Pat from Clacton is absent today however. Next to me sits a young man with learning difficulties, he says hello and I introduce myself; we shake hands, his name is Matthew and he thinks Town will win 1-0.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The teams line up to some mournful music (I think it’s from a film) before hurrying off into huddles and the music gets more upbeat thanks to Neil Diamond and then the game begins; QPR get first go with the ball and are aiming in the direction of Matthew, me, Paulene, Elwood and Phil. Ipswich wear their blue shirts with white sleeves, blue socks and white shorts; it could be a smart kit but sadly the red adidas stripes and trim and hideous ‘Magical Vegas’ logo make the ensemble look a terrible mess. QPR wear vigorously pink shirts and socks with black shorts, very metrosexual. The scene is a Fauvist riot of colour beneath a clear pale blue sky. As the game starts Matthew is quick to encourage, “Come on Ipswich, Come on!” he shouts.


The first foul, within two minutes of the kick-off, is on Town’s Gwion Edwards by QPR’s Jake Bidwell and the first few minutes are messy and inconclusive as the players seem to try and work out what to do with this strange plastic-coated spherical object at their feet. The QPR supporters (we will later be informed that there are 1,338 of them) are in good  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvoice, fuelled by liquids from the Station Hotel no doubt. They sing something about being the pride of somewhere, possibly west London; but either their diction isn’t very good or my hearing is letting me down. But I manage to make sense of “ Come on you R’s!” . “ Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Seven minutes pass and QPR win the game’s first corner; there is a scrum of players on the goal line. This isn’t football, it’s like children jostling one another to be first onto the school bus, but referee Mr Geoff Eltringham doesn’t seem too bothered about it. His laissez-faire attitude seems to say “It’s your own game you’re ruining”. QPR win another corner, which Israeli Tomer Hemed heads over the bar from close to the goal. “Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Ipswich aren’t doing much, but QPR win another corner as Luke Chambers heads the ball back limply and forces Dean Gerken to save a shot from Pawel Wszolek. From the corner the ball arcs into the top far corner of the goal off the flailing glove of Dean

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gerken and Ipswich are losing. “Come On Ipswich!” shouts Matthew, this time with a hint of frustration. In the Cobbold Stand and North or Sir Bobby Robson Stand spectators shield their eyes from the lowering sun, or it could be from what they are seeing on the pitch.
Shamelessly stealing the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B, the celebrating QPR fans now sing “We’re winning away, We’re winning away, How shit must you be? We’re winning away.” They have a point. Ipswich supporters offer little in return by way of encouragement for their team, although there is some occasional half-hearted banging of a drum in the North Stand and the odd brief chant drifts off up into the afternoon sky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Providing an accurate musical commentary for the afternoon, the QPR fans sing “No noise from the Tractor Boys” to the tune of the Village People’s Go West. “Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Ipswich are displaying a worrying lack of both skill and tactics and it takes until gone three-thirty for Gwion Edwards to provide the first action of any interest as he makes a darting run forward and crosses the ball. This is the start of what in the context of what they have done so far is a good spell for Town. Trevoh Chalobah makes a run down the right and crosses to Grant Ward who is unmarked inside the penalty area. With consummate ease Ward slices the ball wide of the goal as he languidly strikes it ‘first time’. People groan. A couple of minutes later Gwion Edwards draws warm applause from a crowd clearly still harbouring optimism deep down as he has a cross blocked just a fraction of a second after the ball leaves his boot. “Come On Town!” shouts Matthew, still optimistic too.
Half time is near and QPR win what is their sixth or seventh corner of the half and then win another. The ensuing mess in the penalty area sees QPR’s Eberechi Eze stretch for the ball but not control it, but then the straining leg of Aristote N’Siala makes contact with him and although the contact was unintentional and had no bearing on what Eze did or would do next, it’s a penalty. Geoff Eltringham seems to point almost apologetically to the penalty spot. As the penalty is taken Dean Gerken moves to his right and then stops to look back over his shoulder and see where Tomer Hemed has actually kicked the ball.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s 2-0 to QPR and it’s time for a welcome break.

To keep my strength and spirits up for what will no doubt be a testing second half I eat a Panda brand stick of liquorice before visiting the toilet facilities and speaking with Ray, who like Paulene is wearing a parka today, because although it’s bright there is a nip in the air and we are sat in the shade. Paulene is pleased to meet Ray, because she’s heard a lot about him. I look about to see what I can see and notice a tambourine in the window

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

of the crowd control box above the players’ tunnel. I can only surmise that it was confiscated from someone trying to support the team; as I know to my cost (see Ipswich Town v Wigan Athletic post) such plans can only end badly, but I brought it on myself I was told. Above me on the stand roof I am amazed to see that the buddleia which I had admired for so long during so many dull moments has gone! I am slightly saddened by what seems like the passing of an old friend. But this is the strongest indication yet that the “New Era” under Paul Hurst is for real.
Town begin the second half and quickly hoof the ball into touch, losing possession. When Town do win the ball back it’s not for long and the old girl behind me vents her frustration “They can’t even kick it to one of their own” she says dismissively. QPR add to their corner count and then claim the afternoon’s first booking after Joel Lynch poleaxes Freddie Sears, who is Elwood’s favourite player. Whilst foul play is a ‘bad thing’, usually a team chasing a game like Ipswich are, would collect a couple of bookings, just through over-enthusiasm. Today however, Town seem not only too sluggish to win a tackle, but too sluggish to even make a late tackle, the unfortunate exception being N’Siala’s in the penalty area. Town are playing so poorly it feels like they’ve achieved something when the QPR goalkeeper is the player with the ball; his name incidentally is Joe Lumley which makes Paulene and me think of Patsy Stone and Purdey and Matthew shouts “Come On Town”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An hour of the game has gone and a Chalobah cross leaves Edwards with a free header which he directs straight at Lumley, but it’s probably Town’s first effort on target. The shadows are lengthening inexorably and most of the pitch is now in shade, the drop in temperature brings the damp out of the heavily watered pitch and the smell of the turf greets my nostrils arguing the case against 3G pitches. Almost as inevitably as the creeping shade, QPR win more corners and Matthew shouts “Come on Town”.
Town make a couple of unpopular substitutions and it feels like Mick McCarthy never left; Gwion Edwards and Grant Ward, the two ‘wingers’ are replaced by two forwards, Kayden Jackson and Jack Lankester who is in the Under 18s team. The crowd are losing patience. “That black bloke is crap” Matthew tells me. “What Toto?” I ask unnecessarily, because all afternoon Toto has been noticeably poor at passing the ball and giving away penalties, well, a penalty, but one is too many. The new blood helps a little for a minute or two and Town briefly show some more urgency and win some free-kicks in what would be threatening positions if Neymar was in the team. But Town waste them, failing to even get a shot in on goal. Matthew and his carer leave before the final whistle.
Pretty much any Town player you can name will have justifiably had his detractors this afternoon. “Look at the state of him!” says the old girl behind me with conviction. “That flippin’ Chalobah is completely useless”. Nevertheless, a cross he makes, which goes behind the goal, draws applause; odd. Shamefully, there are even a couple of thankfully shy sounding choruses of “What a load of rubbish” from the North Stand. As QPR seemingly achieve a new world record number of corners I shout “McCarthy Out!”, but I don’t think anyone gets the joke.
The final whistle is a relief for everyone, but a good number of people cannot resist booing. The capacity of Ipswich supporters to stay silent through the ninety minutes of a match, never uttering a word of encouragement, only to find the breath to boo at the end never, ever ceases to disappoint. Fortunately, I was sat next to Matthew who showed himself to be a true supporter, even if he did think Toto N’Siala was crap and leaving before the end wasn’t his decision. But, as a man called Tim said to me as we left the stand “That wasn’t good enough”. At first I thought that was something of an understatement, but on reflection it’s all that needs to be said. We haven’t been relegated yet and there is time still to improve, even if there have been few if any signs of recovery today. But in true football-manager fashion I travel home ‘taking away the positives’ from today’s game. These were that I enjoyed two pints of fine beer and good conversation, it was a beautiful autumn day, I met Matthew and I shared the whole experience with my wife….except the beer that is, because she has a grain intolerance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ipswich Town 0 Sheffield United 1

The ‘hectic Christmas schedule’ is over and today is the first Saturday of the new year and is therefore the day of the FA Cup third round, once one of the most auspicious dates in the English football calendar. The evil Premier League and the Football Association itself have together destroyed the glory of the FA Cup, but those of us who remember it as it was can stir our memories and pretend, shutting out the horrid reality to enjoy what should be a season highlight. Forty-four years ago I recall, Ipswich played Sheffield United in the FA Cup third round, it was the first FA Cup tie I ever saw and we won 3-2 having been 2-1 down. The wonderfully named Geoff Salmons and the brilliant Tony Currie scored for Sheffield United; ‘magic’ Kevin Beattie won the game with two goals in two minutes just before half-time and super Brian Hamilton got the other one for Town; marvellous. We went on to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next round.
The draw has in one way been good to Ipswich, giving us a home tie, but sadly it is against a team in the same Division as us, so there is no chance of a ‘Cup upset’ and no road-trip to some far off exotic, provincial town like Fleetwood or Rochdale that Town have never graced.
It is nevertheless with a spring in my step that I set off for the railway station under a pale winter sun, wrapped up against the bitter cold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The train is three minutes late and I board it along with a bearded man in a khaki hat and camouflage jacket and a teenage boy and girl who are carrying skateboards. In the far corner of the carriage a bearded hippy in a leather jacket drinks from a tin one of those peculiar ‘ciders’ that contain fruit other than apples. The man in the camouflage jacket huddles into another corner as if trying not to be seen, but he clashes horribly with the blue moquette of the train seats.
At Colchester all these passengers leave the train except for the hippy, who once the train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAleaves the station inexplicably moves to the other end of the carriage leaving me alone with my winter clothing and enthusiasm for the FA Cup. Arriving in Ipswich the afternoon is not as bright, there is a pall of grey cloud. Football supporters spill out of the station and across the bridge opposite, there are three swans swimming in the river below; the tide is high and all is quiet, almost serene.

 

As usual Portman Road is a curious, greasy street cafe peopled with stewards in shapeless coats policing nothing in particular. The search dog looks happy and a man searches amongst the sauce bottles by one of the hot food stands. Programmes are only £2 today, so I buy one and a man on a bike weaves past me.


In St Jude’s Tavern the usual bunch of ageing Town fans sit and discuss football whilst I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (Yeovil Brewery Company’s Star Gazer – £2) and very good it is. I am soon joined by Mick who will be accompanying me to the game. We talk about travelling through Italy, Welsh counties, Donald Trump, Andrew Graham-Dixon and football. Mick gives me the £10 he owes me for the match ticket. After another pint of Star Gazer we head down Portman Road at about twenty minutes to three and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way. There is a short queue at the turnstile for the stand formerly known as the West Stand and once inside Mick remarks on the picturesque coffee stand, painted somewhat bizarrely to look like it’s built of stone.
In the stand we use the facilities and are both amused by the sign on the hand dryers which reads ‘Danger Electricity’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFearless as we are, and confident in our general familiarity with modern electrical appliances we use the dryers nevertheless, despite the jolting, tingling sensation it gives us. It is two minutes to three by the scoreboard clock as we take our seats, but the teams are already lined up and ready to kick-off. Town are of course wearing their traditional blue shirts and white shorts with blue socks, but I am bitterly disappointed, mortified even to see that Sheffield United are not wearing their distinctive red and white stripes with black shorts. Instead, the visiting team sport plain white shirts with black shorts, like some sort of pathetic imitation of Port Vale or Germany. What is wrong with these people? They just keep finding new ways to ruin the game.
The game begins and Ipswich, fielding a more or less full strength team, given that most of the first choice midfield is injured, start quite well. They pass the ball to one another and approach the opposition penalty area. Sadly Sheffield begin to play a little as well and after about ten minutes and it becomes apparent that Town won’t be able to just dismissively swat away their challenge, which is a pity. The game evens up and Ipswich’s early bravado dissipates a little, but it’s okay, we’re playing better than usual because we have the ball as much as the opposition do. Then, at about twenty five past three a bloke called Nathan Thomas shoots from way out into the top corner of the Ipswich net and we’re losing. Crap.
The 1,100 odd Sheffield supporters who have been shouting and singing support for theirOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA team during the preceding minutes now do so with added joy and vigour. The 10,957 odd home supporters haven’t made much noise up until now and still don’t, although their team really needs some encouragement right now. The game dribbles on to half-time as depression sets in with the majority of those in attendance. Mick and I are sat in Block Y which is in the centre of the top tier of the West Stand; normally these are the most expensive seats in the ground, they are padded and they’re brown, not blue. But the people who sit in them are as quiet and miserable as the people I usually sit with in the more modestly appointed Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, they just look better fed and sound more pleased with themselves. A Sheffield player goes down injured and requires treatment, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. I remark to Mick how back in 1974 the North Stand would have been braying “Dig a hole and fuckin’ bury him”, but now they just grumble a bit to each other. People knew how to make their own entertainment back then.
The top tiers of both the North Stand (Sir Bobby Robson Stand) and Churchman’s (Sir Alf Ramsey Stand) are closed to supporters today because of the reduced crowd due to it not

being another bloody boring League match, but an exciting FA Cup game. The club has nevertheless placed stewards amongst the rows of empty North Stand seats, and all around the ground there seem to be a lot of stewards in parts of the ground where they are the only people there. It all helps add to Portman Road’s unique atmosphere.
At half-time I use a different toilet where the hand dryers don’t carry health warnings,

before Mick and I gaze out across the practice pitch beyond a red Citroen H van towards the former municipal power station and tram shed. We marvel that local authorities once built and provided these fabulous things, but don’t comment on the Citroen. The sun is steadily setting behind the cloud and when we return to our seats the pitch is glowing gloriously from the illumination of the floodlights.
The second half begins with some rare vocal encouragement for Town from the North Stand and I realise that the Sheffield United fans must be the first away supporters this season to have witnessed a whole first half without singing “Is this a library?” I can only think they don’t have opera in Sheffield or if they do they don’t much care for Verdi. Perhaps it is a hangover from the Thatcher era when Sheffield was the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire and opera is just too patrician. But full marks to these Blades fans for being more interested in supporting their own team than berating the opposition.
The heady early minutes of the second half fade away like the taste of the half-time beers, snacks and hot beverages and the game descends into dullness. Ipswich don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t create any attempts on goal, which suggests they have misunderstood the point of the game. Sheffield on the other hand do fashion some chances but spurn them. Ipswich captain and centre-half Luke Chambers and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski seemingly attempt to settle the result with the sorts of misjudgements that one would only expect from the most inept of youths in full-time education, but the Blades are not sharp enough to take advantage.
Apart from the noise from the Sheffielders the game is conducted in near silence, with swathes of seats completely empty it feels like a reserve game. As the contest spirals down towards its miserable conclusion the North Stand at last find a song in their dark hearts, “ We want a shot”, they chant. Having inspired themselves with their own wit they proceed to trawl through their back catalogue of scatological old favourites: “ We’re fucking shit, we’re fucking shit; we’re fucking shit” and “You’re football is shit, you’re football is shit, Mick McCarthy you’re football is shit”. It doesn’t help lighten the mood or motivate the players to do better, I can’t think why.
Oddly, the announcement of four minutes of added on time is greeted with a rare growl of enthusiasm from the crowd, but it makes no difference and there is a sense that people are just clearing their throats for the inevitable booing that greets the final whistle. Ipswich Town are once again out of the FA Cup and after the long descent from the top of the stand Mick and I bid each other farewell. Mick thanks me for getting him a ticket and he means it; he doesn’t see Town play often and although it was a poor game he has enjoyed it. Mick is a very rational man. We go our separate ways and I depart through the club car park and its array of obscenely expensive Ferraris, Mercedes Benz, Audis and Range Rovers. Humming the Buzzcocks’ ‘Fast cars’ I look back on the stadium, the dark shapes of the stands silhouetted in the beams of the floodlights; such beautiful sadness.

 

Lowestoft Town 2 Kingstonian 1

It’s a one and a half hour journey by rail from Ipswich to Lowestoft on a chugging two-carriage diesel. Leaving at 12:17 the train arcs around the north of Ipswich giving a fine view across the town as it crosses Norwich Road and Bramford Road; the cluster of tower blocks in the town centre and on the waterfront look impressive and the floodlights mark out Portman Road as a football ground that still looks like football grounds should do, with lights at each corner, even if on steel sticks not pylons.
Leaving Ipswich, the train, which smells of cheese, possibly parmesan, which means it probably smells of sick, trundles on to Woodbridge23852564398_4a7a82ae49_o and Melton past Westerfield and through disused Bealings station. On into the Suffolk countryside the ride becomes more and more rural. It’s a journey for geographers, biologists and historians as we pass through sands and boulder clays, marshes and broads, passing cows and horses, pigs and sheep, an albino pheasant, partridges, ash and oak, gorse and broom, flint churches, a World War 2 pill box and thatched cottages. Football fans who know what they’re looking for can spot the floodlights of Woodbridge Town Football Club, and further up the line  College Meadow, where Beccles Town are destined to lose 0-3 at home to Debenham in the Suffolk Senior Cup later this afternoon, is right next to the station.
The train stops at Woodbridge, Melton, Campsea Ashe for Wickham Market, Saxmundham, Darsham, Halesworth, Brampton (request stop only), Beccles and Oulton Broad South; as if taking an inventory of rustic place names. Large stretches of the line still produce the old-fashioned clickety-clack of the railway track; near Brampton two people stood in a field wave and I wave back imagining they are Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett; a child at the table in front bawls, a mother accuses and a whining sibling pleads innocence; it was a game that went wrong. A John Deere tractor tills a massive field, the train passes37448300030_dc11d0db12_o under towering pylons marching two by two from Sizewell nuclear power station whose dome is visible in the distance over the tops of trees; there’s a windmill and wind turbines. This is a wonderful journey on a beautiful, bright autumn day.
Leaving Oulton Broad South the approaches to Lowestoft soon follow; a bleak landscape of seemingly disused dock on one side,

a huge Aldi and retail park on the other. Lowestoft station is at the centre of the town, at37656994766_a846c3409e_o the bottom of the High Street. It’s the end of the line and it looks it, a handsome Victorian building that’s too big for the two lines that host the buses on rails that rattle in through wonderful East Anglian landscapes from both Ipswich and Norwich. It’s a town that has undoubtedly seen better days, it expanded in the late nineteenth century on the back of industrial scale fishing, an unsustainable activity like coal mining and as that industry declined so the town lost its raison d’etre. It had other industries such as bus body building (Eastern Coachworks) but with the de-nationalisation of bus travel that closed too.
It’s just a ten minute walk from Lowestoft railway station to Lowestoft Town’s stadium via Katwijk Way, onto Raglan Street and then left into the charmingly named Love Road.36995695774_414a0e9c77_o The streets are of terraced houses and even a couple of back street boozers, an alleyway runs down the back of the main stand; this is a proper football ground with a vista of chimney pots and residential roof tops. You can see where the supporters live here, not where they buy their weekly groceries, or go bowling and to the cinema. Lowestoft Town have been at Crown Meadow since 1894.

However, before getting to the ground I take a diversion to the excellent Triangle Tavern on the Triangle Market at the top of the High Street. It’s not far from the stadium and serves beers brewed by Lowestoft’s own Green Jack Brewery. I have a pint of Lurcher Stout (£3.30) and a little while later a pint of Bramble Bitter (£3.00); both good, but the Lurcher was easily my favourite. There are twelve other drinkers in the bar where I sit and I think eleven of them are older than me. Four are sat around a table, all drinking halves. Three sit in a row,37705881601_7f80655d17_o talking occasionally but also reading and another three, one of whom sports a Kingstonian shirt, sit at a table by the door. One of the Kingstonian group looks at least 70 and surprises me by suddenly mentioning Depeche Mode, although he seems to think David Sylvian was lead singer and is quickly corrected by the wearer of the shirt. I bemoan to myself that the conversation between the sort of blokes who frequent real-ale pubs often sounds like they are just waiting for the pub-quiz to start.

In Love Road, the away team bus, which is called Elaine Mary, is bumped on the kerb opposite the stadium;

I approach the smart blue turnstile block beneath a sign that says “Welcome to the 37673670372_c6fe6fed60_oAmber Dew Events Stadium”; it should say that it’s real and lasting name is Crown Meadow but it doesn’t. “What is it? A tenner?” I ask of the lady turnstile operator. “Eleven” she says, adding “If you’re an adult, are you?” I laugh, “Nooo, I’m not an adult” I say perhaps a little too sarcastically, but later I think maybe she thought I’m a pensioner. I reckon £11 to watch non-league, part-time football is a bit steep, and although it’s no more than other clubs charge at this level, in France it cost less (9 Euros) to watch a fully professional match (Nimes v Auxerre)  in Ligue 2. C’est la vie. Just inside the turnstile programmes are sold from a table for £2, I buy one.
Whilst I’m not thirsty anymore, I am hungry and after exploring the earthly delights of the club shop I head to the far end of the ground to the food kiosk.37657008196_83b263619d_o Inside the kiosk a middle aged man attends the deep fat fryer and a young woman takes the money, whilst surreally a second older man is asleep on a chair.37657008666_744983181f_o From the usual football food menu I opt for the ‘hot dog’ (£3.50), which consists of two very ordinary sausages with onions (optional), in what turns out to be a very crumbly

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

finger roll; I can’t recommend it. It takes a while to cook the sausages and the teams have come on to the pitch, been through all that hand shaking ‘respect’ stuff and kicked off before I take my first bite. Kingstonian are in red and white hooped shirts with black shorts and socks whilst Lowestoft, who kick-off the game towards Love Road and the dock, are in all-blue. Lowestoft Town are nowadays known as the Trawlerboys, but their shirts are sadly not sponsored by Fisherman’s Friend cough sweets, but by ‘Africa Alive’, which I believe was once more prosaically known as the Kessingland Wildlife Park.
The game is evenly contested early on, to the extent that neither team looks likely to go on and win. Although Lowestoft do hit the cross bar, not much else is happening near the goals, but it holds my attention in bursts. The Kingstonian number five Michell Gough stands out, mostly because of his hair, which might be described as pirate-like or a bitOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA girlie depending on your point of view, but also because he is very involved in the game and hits a decent long pass. It is probably a good thing that men are once again comfortable wearing a pony tail, but I’m glad that a rubber band or scrunchy did not deny me the sight of the flowing locks of Mario Kempes, Kevin Beattie and Gunter Netzer back in the 1970’s. For Lowestoft, their number eleven Cruise Nyadzyo seems keen to get the ball forward, but too often his crosses pick out no one in particular. I multi-task by walking around the ground and watching the match at the same time. A steward eyes me suspiciously. There is a country bus shelter type structure behind the far goal which sports on its back wall a trawler-shaped memorial plaque to one Ted Lightfoot.

Three Kingstonian fans occupy the shelter and muse upon whether they comprise the smallest group of Kingstonian fans ever assembled behind a goal for a Kingstonian first team match. Along the long side of the pitch opposite the mainstand are the dug-outs; the Lowestoft manager, bald headed and in a black tracksuit is very mobile, swearing violently to himself when one of his players fails to live up to his expectations.

Above the dug-outs a camera loft looks like it could double up as a hide for birdwatchers on the nearby Broads. I linger for as long as it takes me to get bored with hearing the word ‘fuckin’. Moving on I can see the blades of a wind-turbine over the top of the stand opposite. I pass behind the goal at the Love Road end, squeezing between a wall and the row of mostly younger Lowestoft Town supporters pressed up against the rail.

It’s approaching half-time and I settle in a gap between spectators stood against the wall in front of the main stand. “Hello Peter, how are ya?” says a cheery Suffolk-accented voice. “I int sin ya for ages” he continues. “Well, I sin your boy” says Peter, adding a further layer of mystery to the conversation. It turns out Peter and his friend who hasn’t seen him in a while are also Ipswich Town fans. Peter’s friend has been taking the train to Ipswich to watch matches and keeps Tuesdays free for midweek games, which is why he is annoyed that the Sheffield Wednesday match has been moved to a Wednesday night. “Bloody Sky tv” he says “they’re ruining the game” and he voices the thoughts of football supporters everywhere.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There will be two minutes of added on time at the end of the first half which is time enough for Kingstonian’s number four Paul Rogers to clear the ball and in so doing raise a boot too close to the face of the Trawlerboys’ number five and captain Travis Cole, who makes me think of Malcolm McDowell in Lindsey Anderson’s marvellous film “If”. Travis keeps touching his face and looking for blood, clearly suffering from the weird form of hypochondria that affects all footballers when anything brushes by their pretty faces. The consequence is that referee Mr Quick wastes no time in booking the slightly unfortunate Rogers and awarding a penalty to the home team, which is scored by number nine Jake Reed. Emboldened by the goal, there are a few shouts of “Come on you Blues” from the home supporters, one of whom has a bass drum. But half-time swiftly follows and I return to the scene of the crumbling hot dog to obtain a pounds worth of tea, which comes in a much larger cup than at other grounds I’ve been to, but it doesn’t taste particularly nice; I think it’s the fault of the slightly waxy paper cups. Back in front of the main stand ‘Woody’, a large bear dressed like Uncle Sam, patrols with his minder encouraging people to visit Pleasurewood Hills, a local theme park.  As things stand Woody is a viable United States president.   I look through the match programme and am a little disturbed that the advert for the stadium sponsor, Amber Dew Events, features a picture of a partially squashed ant, albeit a partially squashed ant inside a piece of amber. 37733059866_c1ac726a82_o
For the start of the second half I choose to sit in the main stand, just in front of the area reserved for the club officials; the only people in the ground wearing suits and club ties.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I want to tell them to relax, grow their hair, wear shades and a beret; they surely only dress like they do so people know that they are the club officials. I smile to myself. The main stand is a lovely, low, gloomy structure with a deep, grey fascia beneath the roof and glass screens at either end. Inside the stand there are no plastic seats like those found at most grounds; here they have the original cast iron frames with beautifully mellowed, curved wooden backs and wooden tip up seats. The stand has no stanchions to block your view suggesting it might be of  a cantilever design, in which case it was an early one.  Despite lashings of blue paint, it’s dull and utilitarian; but it’s beautiful and a candidate for local listing by Waveney District Council. Club officials in de-mob suits, brogues and fedoras, and smoking pipes would not look out of place in this stand.
The second half begins and from my newly elevated position I finish my tea and enjoy37448276580_f8acd4d810_o the burst of sunlight that breaks through the mass of cloud that started to hang low over Lowestoft this afternoon whilst I was in the Triangle Tavern. For all its beauty, this stand is on the wrong side of the pitch and a hundred or more people squint in unison. There are more shouts of “Come On You Blues” as people sense victory is possible, but this seems to make some older supporters sat behind me a bit tetchy too. Mr Quick the referee receives some mild abuse for one or two of his decisions and there is clearly a belief that the world and in particular Mr Quick is against Lowestoft. But according to Wikipedia, this is a town with three UKIP councillors, so fear and a lack of logic are common currency.
The folks behind me are full of advice for the team; “Pass to Smudger”, “Too Late”, “ You shudda passed to Smudger”, “ Get a grip Blues”, “ What did you give it away for Blues?”, “Give it to someone who can put their foot on the ball”. It’s odd, but I must have seen more than two thousand football matches in my time and I’ve never seen anyone gain any advantage by just putting their foot on the ball, but there are still people who seem convinced that it is an effective tactic. I did see Arnold Muhren put his foot on the ball, drag it back and then release a thirty metre pass of pinpoint accuracy, but I don’t think that is quite the same thing.
The game rolls on and way off to the right I can see the copper spire of Lowestoft’s parish church, the Grade One listed St Margaret’s. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOblivious of medieval flintwork the  commentary continues from from behind me, particularly when Cruise Nyadzyo is substituted; it’s not a popular decision. The view seems to be that he was the best player on the pitch. Things don’t get any better in the eyes of the mainstanders as Kingstonian’s Thomas Derry strikes the cross-bar with a header from a corner. But taking the best player off seems to have no lasting effect, perhaps it makes the other players work harder, and soon afterwards a low right-wing cross from Lowestoft’s number eight Sam Borrer is easily kicked into the Kingstonian net from close range by Jake Reed and Lowestoft lead 2-0. Going further behind seems to be just what Kingstonian needed to do however, in order to raise their game and they eventually score a goal too, from a free-kick off the head of number five Michell Gough. The remainder of the game involves Kingstonian trying to equalise and Lowestoft trying not to concede. I leave my seat to stand closer to the exit because when the final whistle blows it won’t leave long to get to the railway station for the 17:07 train. Eventually at 16:58 Mr Quick calls time and I sprint off down Love Road leaving the victorious Trawlerboys behind me; I make it onto the train with nearly three minutes to spare.
It has been a good day out, a day of many pleasures; a scenic train ride, fine local beers, blue skies, sunshine and clouds, a football ground set amongst terraced houses and back alleys, an old-fashioned grandstand and a half decent football match, which isn’t bad for a depressed town with the highest unemployment rates in Suffolk. Visit Lowestoft, it needs you.