Ipswich Town 2 Morecambe 2

 A year ago, the 2020/21 football season began for me in my back bedroom as Town met Bristol Rovers in the League Cup via the airwaves of Radio Suffolk and the descriptive powers of Brenner Woolley and his esteemed sidekick and expert summariser Mick Mills.  But fate, as fickle as it is, has taken an apparent turn for the better and today as the 2021/22 season begins I am returning to Portman Road along with 21,000 or so other souls who have so far survived the pandemic.  With luck I shall never have to endure another ninety-minutes of radio commentary ever again.

As a naturally lazy person, going out again on a Saturday afternoon is something of an effort, but as ever I surprise myself with what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.  At two o’clock I rock up in my trustee Citroen C3 on Chantry estate where I park before taking a brisk walk through Gippeswyk Park, beneath the London  to Stowmarket main rail line, through what was once the site of Reavell’s factory and over the Sir Bobby Robson bridge to Constantine Road where I meet my friend Mick, who has made it easy for me to find him amongst the crowds by  telling me through the medium of the mobile phone that he would be standing next to a pink ice-cream van. Mick, an ethical man, is true to his word; someone less like Boris Johnson I have yet to meet. Mick and I haven’t seen each other in eighteen months but our conversation is oddly brief. Neither of us seems overly keen on entering the fanzone for a beer or to experience whatever other joys it has to offer, and what with the queues to get in we decide within ten minutes to leave further socialising for another day and go our separate ways.  I head off to purchase a programme (£3.50) from the nearest convenient kiosk before weaving my way between the buses and coaches of Beeston’s and Whincop as they disgorge rustic supporters from Hadleigh and Peasenhall.  A programme is an essential purchase today in order to have any clue  about the identity of the team.  Having safely weaved my way I join a queue to have Covid credentials checked before entering the ground in Constantine Road. In the queue behind me a “well-spoken” young man seems oblivious to the pandemic and is turned away, having no proof of vaccination or negative lateral flow test.  Did he really think he would be able to just turn up and get in? Apparently, he did.  I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile number 60 and cheerily thank the operator for letting me in.  For the gatekeepers to a world of dreams and possibilities turnstile operators are much underrated and somewhat taken for granted; their replacement with automatic scanning equipment that beeps in lieu of hoping I enjoy the match is a sad loss.

Out on the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand I re-acquaint myself with Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game (except when games are played behind closed doors), Phil’s son Elwood and Ray.  There is change however, and next to Pat from Clacton is sat Fiona, and the old dears who used to sit behind me but then sat in front of me are conspicuously absent; I do hope they’re okay.  It is good to be back nevertheless, even if hardly anyone except the stewards is wearing a facemask.

From the players’ tunnel a white t-shirted and trackie-bottomed Paul Cook appears to take the crowd’s applause, he’s not a sophisticated looking man sartorially, as I guess his scouse accent foretells. The teams follow soon afterwards and before the game begins a picture of the recently deceased Paul Mariner appears on the scoreboard and we are told that there will be a minute’s applause in his memory, but before the announcer can finish his sentence or the referee can blow his whistle the applause begins; it’s a case of premature appreciation.

Applause over, the Beatles’ Hey Jude strikes up like a metaphorical post-coital cigarette; no one joins in and today’s visitors Morecambe kick-off their first ever game in the third division with a hoof up-field. For those who combine a love of decimal anniversaries and symmetry it is vaguely appropriate that Morecambe are playing Town, who sixty years ago this month began their first ever season in what I believe people now call the Premier League; Town were at Bolton, they drew 0-0.  This season is also the sixtieth anniversary of Morecambe winning the Lancashire Combination league for the second time.

Not much happens to begin with. Morecambe are the first to win a corner. I enjoy the sight of a Town player with a headband, Wes Burns; historically many of the greatest footballers have had plenty of hair, Netzer, Best, Kempes, Pirlo are good examples.  Less enjoyable is Morecambe’s kit, a boring all red creation with white bits at the sides of the shirts and a diagonal white band which would have been okay if it didn’t fade out like a peculiar chalky skid mark.   My attention is also claimed by the Morecambe goalkeeper, Letheren, which is a suitably violent sounding surname for a man with the build of a night club bouncer.

Oddly, given the absence of anyone Spanish in either team or anyone even dressed as a matador, the North Stand break into a chorus of Ole, Ole, Ole.  Perhaps I’m wrong however, and they are singing Allez. Allez, Allez to Frenchman Toumani Diagouraga who played for Town under Mick McCarthy but today is appearing for Morecambe: I guess I’ll never know.  At ten past three Town are awarded a free-kick when Scott Fraser is knocked over; it’s the ninth minute of the game and some supporters attempt a half-arsed attempt at another minute’s applause for Paul Mariner, it’s an effort doomed to failure so soon after that first over eager applause. The free-kick flashes past Letheren’s right hand goal post to gasps of smothered hope from those around me.

At fourteen minutes past three Kane Vincent-Young is victim of the game’s most blatant and spectacular foul as he pushes the ball past Liam Gibson and the antediluvian looking full-back takes him down at waist height.  Referee Mr Craig Hicks, who will later go all out to set himself up as an early contender for the worst referee of the season barely speaks to him.  “It’s going to take quite a few games to gel” I hear Pat say to Fiona as the free-kick comes to nought.  The concept of ‘gelling’ is being discussed everywhere in Ipswich right now, my only hope that when it happens it does so in the ‘coming together’ sense of the word rather than any sort of unpleasant stiffening or solidifying.

Joe Piggott stoops to head a glancing header onto the roof of the net and I wonder if he is known by his team-mates as Piggy.  “Stand up if you hate the scum” chant the North Stand for no apparent reason, particularly given that they are all standing up already. Then Morecambe score through Cole Stockton but courtesy of the Ipswich defence suffering collective amnesia with regard to why they are all wearing football kit and boots.  “I’m Morecambe ‘til I die” chant the 356 Lancastrians in the corner of the Cobbold Stand perhaps putting into song what they imagine the budding comic partner of Ernie Wise , John Bartholomew said when he changed his name to Eric.

Despite being behind, I’m not worried, but I quite can’t decide if it’s because I think our new team will ultimately overcome or if I no longer care.  Toto Nsiala goes off injured to be replaced by Janoi Donacien and I’m struck by how unnaturally neat the hair of the linesman with the red and yellow flag is; and how he somehow reminds me of Neymar, as if Neymar had a really dull older cousin or uncle.  I am shaken from my reverie by a shout of “Do ‘im, ee’s shit” from somewhere behind as Kane Vincent-Young again comes faces to face with Liam Gibson.  The first half drags on past a quarter to four. “Come on Ipswich, come on Ipswich” chant what sounds like a most of the crowd, but soon both Town and Morecambe go off because it’s half time, and we still trail.

Half-time passes in a blur of conversation and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar, just like it always did. The game resumes at the ridiculously late time of nine minutes past four.  Piggy soon has a shot saved and then Morecambe’s Anthony O’Connor is the first player to be booked as he sends Chaplin’s hat and cane flying.  It starts to rain and I catch the lovely scent of damp air on a summer’s afternoon as the North Stand shout “Wanker, wanker, wanker” at the ever more inept Mr Hicks.  Town’s left back Matthew Penney is felled by an outstretched leg but no free-kick is given provoking chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”, which I decide is also probably true of whoever cut Luke Woolfenden’s hair.

An hour has passed and then we score, Scott Fraser leathering the ball past Letheren after a one-two with Chaplin.  We’ll win now won’t we?  We’ve been looking by far the better team, and Morecambe have hardly been in our half.  Parity lasts eleven minutes and then Luke Woolfenden, possibly momentarily paralysed by a flashback to a recent experience in a barber’s shop gives the ball away to Cole Stockton who merely has to run unopposed at the goal, drop a shoulder or two to fox Town’s latest east European goalkeeper, Vaclav Hladky, and roll the ball into the goal net. Bugger.

Pat from Clacton was right, it will take time to gel.  But then we don’t panic, we just carry on as we were, showing faith in ourselves and putting in plenty of effort despite the best efforts of Mr Hicks, who proceeds in the space of six minutes to book Lee Evans, Matthew Penney and then James Norwood who replaces Piggy.  The oddly named Macauley Bonne also enters the field in place of Conor “Charlie” Chaplin.  But time has drifted by and we are already into the four minutes of added-on time. I admit I have given up hope and have accepted defeat; good luck to plucky little Morecambe I’m thinking in as patronising a manner as I can muster. But then James Norwood heads the ball on, the oddly named Macauley Bonne collects its and sends a fine right-footed shot beneath the sprawling Kyle Letheren and into the goal. We are probably not going to lose after all I think, and I’m right, we don’t.

It’s been a funny afternoon but an entertaining one nevertheless, an afternoon of Lee Evans, C Chaplin, Morecambe and wise words from Pat from Clacton about taking time to gel. 

Ipswich Town 2 Wigan Athletic 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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