Ipswich Town 1 Barnsley 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ipswich Town 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

The walk from Portman Road to St Jude’s Tavern in Ipswich is gently uphill, enough so to hone your thirst, especially if you’re slightly desperate for a pint anyway. The walk back to Portman Road is happily downhill, which is encouraging. If it was uphill some people might not bother because watching Ipswich Town this season is an ‘uphill’ experience.

This evening St Judes Tavern, which is a very small friendly pub specialising in proper beer, or ‘real ale’ as I believe it is called is ‘rocking’. The first couple of tables inside the door on the right are occupied by ten or so blokes, mostly in their 50’s and 60’s who have London accents. They talk about Wolverhampton Wanderers, loudly, as if they have been drinking. I am a little intrigued and once I have acquainted myself with a pie and a pint of Nethergate Suffolk County bitter (a bargain fiver for the pair) I step over to them. Etiquette in the 1970’s would have been to throw a glass and a bar stool at them, but football has changed and today I opt for polite questions relating to why they sound like Arthur Daly rather than Benny from Crossroads. They are the London branch of the Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters club and seem very happy to explain that they have been Wolves fans since they were nippers. One of them followed Wolves because all the other kids in the playground supported Chelsea, whilst another had seen them on the telly in the 1950’s. I tell them that I admire them for sticking by Wolves through so many turbulent seasons and that I hope they enjoy the match and lose very heavily. It is appropriate that of all the pubs in Ipswich they should patronise, they chose St Jude’s Tavern; St Jude being the patron saint of lost causes. Mind you, it’s equally appropriate that as a Town fan that’s where I should take my pre-match libation.

A couple of pints of mild and another pie later it is time to make that downhill stroll to the match. Descending Portman Road the stadium lights glow like a beacon, portman road stadium drawing me to them. Seriously? Do I want to do this? Return to the scene of so much disappointment and suffering? Of course I do!

Inside the ground I am greeted by a fellow supporter, older than me and keen to appraise last Saturday’s game versus Brentford. Chambers having a terrible game and the wing backs not getting forward was the explanation for yet another drawn game. Buoyed by this tactical insight I take my seat and the game begins, Ipswich kicking towards the end where I am sat. There’s no great roar of excitement or enthusiasm as the ball starts to roll, which is normal for Ipswich, but in a little while a drum beats in the corner of the North stand and there is some muffled chanting; it only lasts into the seventh minute however and the brooding silence is restored.

To be fair to Ipswich’s spectators, the game soon turns out to be the sort of contest that only inspires brooding and quiet contemplation. Very little at all exciting happens. Ipswich earn a corner and Crazee the slightly weird ‘urban’ Suffolk Punch mascot seemingly tries to rouse the crowd by rhythmically drumming, but he gives up after three short bursts as he does every week; Crazee? More like Crapee. Ipswich have a couple of shots, one of which has to be saved by the goalkeeper and Wolves have a couple too. But by and large it’s dull, with players of both teams struggling to convince anyone that they have previously been acquainted with any game that might be called beautiful.

Half-time under the stand and the video screens show clips of last season’s equivalent fixture, a 2-2 draw. Not sure why they do this; to prove that things haven’t always been this bad or to fool you into thinking that’s tonight’s match up there on the screen and you have amnesia? People sip hot drinks and fizzy beer unhappily and the tannoy plays 2-4-6-8 Motorway by the Tom Robinson Band to get the Wolves fans in the mood for the drive home; an odd choice in 2017 nevertheless.

The respite of half-time is brief and the players file out so that the game can begin afresh. The cheery stadium announcer plays the nauseating “Singing the Blues” over the tannoy to try and stir up some life. “I never felt more like killing myself, ‘Cos watching the Town is bad for your health; Oh Ipswich, sweet death will be a relief”. The half begins and now the match is probably even worse than before. It’s as if the ball is made of slippery wet soap and the match proceeds as a random series of loosely connected events. Boot, header, header, tussle, boot, header, throw, boot, barge, whistle, flick, boot, pass, pass, foul, whistle, free-kick, header, throw, boot, boot, etcetera, etcetera….. Wolverhampton gradually begin to establish themselves as the better of the two teams and whilst not exactly launching wave after wave of free flowing attacks they seem to know roughly that the aim of the game has something to do with the big white sticks joined across the top by a bar.

Despite the drudgery of the Town performance, time is passing quite quickly. The crowd are not encouraging the team, they rarely do unless they’re already two or three goals up, but there is a constant thrum of conversation. It’s no wonder they don’t get behind the team, they’re too busy nattering; are they even watching the game? portman road stadium

In the 84th minute Ipswich bring on substitute Keiffer Moore to signal their desperation. Moore is an enormous centre forward signed for £10,000 from non-league Forest Green who will ‘add height up front’, much as the Post Office Tower did in Tottenham Court Road in the 1960’s.  portman road stadiumA late free-kick for Wolverhampton hits the cross-bar and the relief of this for Town fans is matched by the announcement that there will only be two minutes added time.

Looking back I bloody well enjoyed that. I will be able to say I was there when Ipswich’s season ticket holders committed mass suicide. Gloom, despondency, pointlessness, aimless endeavour from a bunch of grossly overpaid blokes who turn up in flash suits and even flashier cars; they must feel confused. They are paid thousands every week and thousands of people come to watch them and the whole sapping event is a hopeless waste of time. You wonder why all footballers aren’t existentialists. Of course, Albert Camus was, but then, he was French.