Ipswich Town 3 Bristol Rovers 0

It’s the first Saturday in September and the weather has broken, although to be truthful it’s been looking a bit cracked for a while now.  Autumn approaches.  It rained overnight and whilst there are glimpses of sunshine it is straining to penetrate through the clouds and worst of all it feels cold.   But on the bright side, today sees the start of the football season and mighty Ipswich Town, the vessel in which the hopes and dreams of a good many of the people of Suffolk are invested will be playing Bristol Rovers in what I refer to as the League Cup, but the football club, media and those who don’t know any better call the Carabao Cup.  I didn’t used to know what Carabao was, I erroneously thought it was a wrongly spelt American name for a reindeer, but because of the League Cup, and thanks to Wikipedia,  I now know that it is a domestic water buffalo from the Philippines and also a drink; not a proper drink mind, like Adnams Broadside, tea, Noilly Prat, milk, red wine, Fuller’s 1845, espresso coffee, Crémant, pineapple juice, Champagne, lime cordial, Belgian Trappist beer , hot chocolate or malt whisky but something called an ‘energy drink’.   The sponsorship of football competitions is a curious thing and only adds to the feelings I have that I live as an outsider on the fringes of society, with the Milk Marketing Board being the only sponsor whose product I can honestly admit to ever having set out to purchase.

Kick-off is at three o’clock, but of course due to the Covid-19 pandemic it is not safe for a large crowd to gather and therefore no one is going to Portman Road today. Sadly, I shall be denied the joys of travelling on the trains of Greater Anglia, the pre-match pints, the quickening anticipation-filled walk down Portman Road and the click of the turnstile.  Today I will not hear the moans of the home supporters nor the witless abuse of the away supporters; I will not receive the suspicious glances of luminous stewards nor feel the soft artificial fur of Bluey and Crazee as they brush past me with their out-sized heads and weird hoof-hands; I will not become engrossed in conversation nor share see-sawing emotions with Mick, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, the old dears, Ray and his grandson Harrison, or Pat from Clacton with her bag of sweets and lucky charm, the masturbating monkey.

Not thinking of what I am missing, I enjoy a light lunch of home-made spicy carrot soup with my wife Paulene whilst resisting the temptation of a beer, despite a choice of Adnams Ghostship, Adnams Ease Up IPA, Fuller’s Bengal Lancer, Chimay, Chimay Brun, Orval, Westmalle and Faro Foudroyante from my ‘beer cupboard’.  We watch the Tour de France on the television, losing ourselves in the French countryside as an escape from the memory of lockdown. We talk and reminisce about holidays and trips to France.  It’s a quarter past three.  Flippin’ eck! The game has started and I hadn’t realised, this is what life is like without the discipline of the railway timetable to get me to the match.   I leave Paulene somewhere in the Haute Garonne and find my radio, which is already tuned to BBC Radio Suffolk, because I like a laugh.  I decided long ago that watching Town on the ifollow is not worth £10, particularly when I’ve already spent over £300 on a season ticket, so I settle down in an Ikea Poang chair in the back bedroom with Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills. Elvis Costello was right ” Radio is a sound salvation”.

Very quickly I learn that Aaron Drinan is pronounced Dry-nen and doesn’t rhyme with ‘linen’ as I previously thought it did, which I think is a useful start and then Mick Mills tells me that a half-chance for Bristol Rovers is the first time they have threatened Town’s goal so at least I can now be confident that we’re not losing.   Brenner and Mick witter on and Brenner tells me that Tomas Holy “puts his foot through the ball”; I wait for the referee to stop the game to extricate Holy’s foot, but rather confusingly the commentary carries on with Brenner describing the ball as being passed “along the deck “and I now wonder if the game has been moved from Portman Road to an oil tanker; it’s common after all for the size of such ships to be measured in terms of football pitches.   I’m still not sure of the up to date score but Brenner is hoping for a result in normal time, which implies the scores are still level and that he’s got better things to do after five o’clock than commentate on this.  The absence of any crowd noise then strikes me for the first time and I am conscious of the shouts of the players echoing through the stands left cavernous and empty.  Fittingly in all this blankness, Brenner at last reprises the score, it’s still nil-nil; I haven’t missed anything then. Phew.

Mick Mills is not a man to ever sound at all excited, but he feels moved to say that our left hand side has ‘come to life’ and produced two or three ‘moments’.  That’s what the game is all about I think to myself and am heartened to hear Mick provide balance by wishing that the right hand side of the team could do the same.  Brenner takes back control of the commentary and I learn that today Paul Lambert is wearing a big over coat, which is most unusual; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not in a black v-neck sweater; perhaps the added security of his five year contract has led him to invest in a more extensive wardrobe, but I do worry that it’s a bit early in the year for an overcoat and surely this can only provoke more abuse from his critics on social media. 

As I drift off into reverie about what is an appropriate coat for a football manager on a cool early September Saturday, Brenner announces that “Sears was not going to miss” and Town are 1-0 up.  It’s twenty-eight minutes past three, I clench my left fist and softly whisper a sibilant ‘Yes’ to myself. “It was easy to get the ball down the corridor to Sears” says Mick Mills and once again I’m a bit lost trying to imagine where I’d seen any corridors at Portman Road, except beneath the stands, and worrying that if the ball was in a corridor surely it should have been a throw-in.  I thank our lucky stars that our level of football is not subject to VAR.

With Town a goal up the game soon sounds like it has become a tad dull, or it could just be the commentary.  Mick Mills increasingly seems like a comfortably retired man in his seventies, but the I remember that he is.  Brenner meanwhile goes off piste and begins to talk about Town’s next game at home to the Arsenal Under-23 team in the now despicably compromised, credibility-lacking EFL Trophy, expressing his interest in seeing “…how good the latest crop of kids at the Emirates are”.  If he’s so interested in bleedin’ Arsenal perhaps he should clear off to BBC London.   Hopefully as annoyed as I am by Brenner’s concern about a club that isn’t Ipswich Town, Mick tries to break the mould by injecting a hint of excitement into the commentary and announces “That was a super pass from Dozzell” but he spoils it rather by pausing and then adding   “so that was good”, as if his use of the adjective “super” was in retrospect going a bit far.

I look at my watch and find that it’s approaching half time and I think I discern from the commentary that Town have a corner.  They do, and now it’s 2-0 courtesy of what Mick Mills dubs a ‘fabulous goal’ from Luke Chambers. “Luke Chambers is pretty deadly in the opposition box” says Mick leaving me to fill in the blanks that he can, on occasions, be quite deadly in his own box too.  Half-time arrives and unlike at Portman Road I don’t make an undignified dash to the khasi but stay in my seat. This is no doubt in part due to not having a bladder full of the remnants of two or more pints of beer and partly because at Portman Road I am not pleasantly paralysed through sitting on a comfortable chair.  For remaining seated I am rewarded by hearing Mick Mills refer to Aaron Drinan as Aaron Dry-nan although he instantly corrects himself to make Aaron’s surname rhyme with linen a la Brenner Woolley.  Mick goes on to tempt fate horribly by saying that he “…cannot see Bristol Rovers coming back in to this”.  I admire Mick’s forthrightness, but recent experience nevertheless leads me to offer a small prayer for him, and his opinion, despite my probable atheism.  I take a brief trip downstairs to France to bring the gospel to my Christian wife that Town are winning 2-0.  She asks if I am sure I have tuned into the right radio station.

The second half begins at the ridiculously late time of 4:06pm, and it’s not long before Mick Mills is telling me that the game has become a “…little but drab, a little bit boring”; if anyone should know about that it’s monotone Mick.  Personally, I am finding the experience of sitting in my back bedroom listening to the wireless quite exciting and probably more interesting than if I had had to fork out a tenner or so for a match ticket plus as much again for the train fare, beer and perhaps a pie, all requirements if I was to attend in person.  I am further enthralled when Brenner advises me as the ball is booted off the pitch that “…the ball is dipped in some sort of sterilizing solution when it goes in the seats over there”.  I can’t help wondering why this is necessary; who normally sits in that part of the ground? What sort of unpleasant residue have they left? Why hasn’t that corner of the ground be cleaned since last March?

Moving on, Mick Mills is providing the most enjoyable moments of the commentary and, as he did in the first half, he gives praise but then tempers it.  “That was a wonderful corner by Judge” he says before qualifying his statement by explaining “It was…………good”, once again suggesting that given time to think about it perhaps his initial assessment was a little too enthusiastic.   It’s either that or he just doesn’t know that many adjectives.  But there is no doubt that lurking beneath Mick’s inherent reticence and quietude there is a passion and he soon lets it out with the statement “There’s a lot of football in the team”.  As for Brenner he can’t help but betray a certain cynicism, no doubt borne of over fifteen years commentating on the mighty Blues; “Good play from the Blues” says Brenner, before adding with perfect timing “At the moment”.

The second half is clearly not totally thrilling, but the impression received is thankfully that Town are playing within themselves and have the measure of these “Pirates”.  The game plays on and I am guilty of paying more attention to Twitter than to Brenner and Mick as I seek to discover how the likes of Whitton United, Long Melford, Ipswich Wanderers, Stowmarket Town and Framlingham Town are getting on.  I admit I haven’t really been paying close attention to the commentary but am nevertheless surprised at four thirty-three to hear Brenner say that Town are now 3-0 up, and although I will admit to reading Twitter I wonder how I could have missed hearing the goal go in. I am left to suppose Mick’s less than excited general delivery and Brenner’s overriding interest in the Arsenal’s “kids” could explain why neither commentator had succeeded in grabbing my attention.   Fortunately, Twitter can also tell me that it was Freddie Sears who scored the third goal, in the 68th minute as well as actually showing me the first two goals and then the third as well.

Time moves on inexorably and it’s now four forty-nine, and Brenner confirms that it’s been “all over really” since Freddie Sears scored Town’s third goal, as he stifles a yawn.  Fittingly the commentary peters out a little with periods of silence punctuated with commentator clichés letting the eager listeners know that Bristol Rovers don’t have “enough left in the tank” to change the result and that Town have been “good value” for their lead.  “Three-nil, Ipswich Town” says Brenner, saving up his allocation of useful verbs and adjectives for another day, perhaps when Arsenal’s “kids” might be playing.  “Town, winding the clock down” says Mick.  “According to my watch we’re just about there” are Brenner’s final words, as if prompting the referee to blow his whistle, which miraculously he then does.

Pleased that Town have won and pleased that I can leave Brenner and Mick alone together and return downstairs to my wife, I turn off my radio.  I haven’t really had a clue what’s been going on all afternoon but I do know that Town have won a cup tie, scoring three times in the process and not conceding, even if I only noticed two of the goals and it feels as if it all happened in a far off universe, but being divorced from the proceedings the result is all that matters.  Back to reality, if not normality; a glass of beer and fish and chips for tea.  As Ray Davies of the Kinks told us in Autumn Almanac, “I like my football on a Saturday”.

“Radio, it’s a sound salvation”

Ipswich Town 1 West Bromwich Albion 2

It has been a grey November day, but this afternoon there have been glimpses of blue sky, small windows of hope amongst the otherwise perpetual gloom, proof perhaps that life is not all bad. Further proof, if further proof is needed lies in the existence of flexi-time. It is the end of the ‘flexi-month’ and I have worked so many hours these past four weeks that if I don’t leave at four o’clock today, I shall be working for free and that would be contrary to my strictly held religious beliefs. “Thou shalt not be a mug” is my credo.

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Tonight I’m a latter day Arthur Seaton and I’m out for a good  time so from work I head, with my accomplice Roly, for the Briarbank Brewery. The bar above the Briarbank Brewery is by far the best decorated bar I know, the walls festooned with black and white photos of closed Ipswich pubs, the sort Arthur Seaton would have drunk in had ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ been set in Ipswich, not Nottingham. I have a pint of Samuel Harvey VC (£3.50) a beer named after one of two men from Ipswich who were awarded the Victoria Cross medal. As well as a beer, Samuel (who was born in Nottingham) has a bus in the Ipswich Buses fleet that bears his name. My conversation with Roly covers a wide range of subjects including Noel Edmonds, Ciiff Richard and Sue Barker, Shake n’Vac and Billy Joel.
From the Briarbank Brewery, Roly and I make the short walk up Fore Street to TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Spread Eagle, a Grade 2 listed building that dates back to the 17th century, where I drink Grain Brewery Best Bitter (£3.50 a pint). The leather aprons of the bar staff remind me of Fred Gee, the pot-man at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, but I don’t suppose he’s still in it, particularly since Fred Feast, the actor who played him died in 1999. Roly and I continue not to talk about football, not from any previous agreement, but just because there doesn’t seem anything to say. From the Spread Eagle it is a bit more of a walk along Orwell Place and Tacket Street, up Brook Street and Buttermarket, over Giles Circus and Cornhill, along Westgate Street to St Jude’s Tavern in St Matthew’s Street. They may not all be looking at their best, but Ipswich’s medieval or even Saxon pattern of streets remains and is brim-full of fine buildings; if only the locals appreciated it.
St Jude’s Tavern is busy with Friday night drinkers and football supporters when we arrive a bit before six o’clock. After a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which tonight is St Jude’s Thaddeus (Thaddeus is another name for Jude in case you didn’t know), we have a beef and onion pie each, mine is accompanied by a pint of something the name of which I can’t recall (pie and a pint £5.00). I garnish my pie with red sauce, Roly prefers brown. After we’ve eaten, a drunk staggers into the pub and sits at a table of regulars; he tries to cadge a drink but the bar man is quickly wise to his presence and succeeds in throwing him out before apologising to his patrons; but we all re-assure him that we enjoyed the show, it beats open-mike night.
Beer glasses drained, Roly is keen to get to Portman Road because he is meeting his friend Andrew and because not satiated by a beef and onion pie, he has it in mind to eat a burger. Rolling down Portman Road the glow of the floodlights draws us like moths to a flame or in Roly’s case a glutton to a fast-food joint. The streets are unusually busy and due to the football club having made tickets being made available for the realistic price of ten pounds each a crowd of 22,995 will watch the game tonight. Roly meets Andrew, and I visit the club shop because at short notice I have been informed that ever -present Phil’s son Elwood is eight years old today! How I love the club shop and its fabulous array of blue and white toot. Today my eye is drawn to a gnome and the club’s ‘retro’ range which I imagine outsells everything else given that our best days are all in the past. Although at least we have won major trophies, something many of our rivals and other clubs from towns and cities bigger than Ipswich cannot claim with real conviction (League Cups pffft!).

 

 

It’s twenty-five past seven and a coach disgorges tardy West Bromwich supporters into Portman Road. An Ipswich fan points at a West Bromwichians yellow and green away shirt. “ You can’t wear that here mate”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The visitor looks somewhat bemused and blurts some exasperated expletives in the direction of one of his fellow supporters; his thick Midland’s accent rendering them incomprehensible and unpleasantly nasal. I pass the grinning statue of Bobby Robson; his best playing days were arguably with the ‘Baggies’ of West Bromwich, but thankfully he never picked up the accent.
At the Alf Ramsey Stand (Churchmans) all the turnstiles are open but the queues are of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunequal lengths.; with a self-satisfied air of streetwise, intellectual superiority I join one of shorter ones and am inside the ground whilst others still queue. On nights like this it’s fun to laugh and sneer at those people who aren’t regular supporters and are only here because the tickets are cheap. I head for the betting shop bit beneath the stand where the handy shelf gives me somewhere to write the greeting on Elwood’s birthday card. I stop to talk to a steward I know called Dave, but at the very moment I arrive at his side so does another acquaintance of his who begins a personal monologue. I wait for the other man to pause so that I might speak to Dave, but the other man breathes through his ears and doesn’t draw breath for a second; so I screw my eyes up at Dave and nod sympathetically; I imagine my face might look a bit like the one Gary Lineker pulled in the 1990 World Cup semi-final after Paul Gascoigne was booked and became tearful. But tonight I’m not indicating that Gazza is upset, I’m signalling to Dave that I’m going to bugger off, and that’s what I do.
Up in the stand Bluey is playing the part of ‘greeter’ and gives me the thumbs up, which is nice, even though I do know he’s not a real Suffolk Punch. Ever-present Phil who never OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmisses a game and son Elwood are already here and I settle down a couple of seats along before giving Elwood his birthday card and a few ITFC ‘goodies’. Phil tells me that earlier in the club shop Elwood had handed in an ITFC badge that he found on the floor to the staff serving behind the counter. One of the things I have given Elwood is such a badge; it seems like Elwood has been rewarded for his honesty and whilst we all know that’s not true, in an ideal world it would be.
Between each seat is a folded up piece of printed card which makes a clapping noise when hit against another surface; I saw that people were cynical about this on social media but I think it should be lauded; something needs to be done to shake Ipswich and Suffolk people out of their puritan misery and to “make some noise for the Tractor Boys”, as I believe the saying goes.

 


The teams appear; the match ball is plucked from its plinth and once multiple hands are shaken the game begins with Ipswich literally getting the ball rolling in the direction of me, Elwood, Phil and Pat from Clacton who has arrived a bit late due to the traffic. Town wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves and shorts; West Bromwich cause offence to many by wearing yellow and green striped shirts with green shorts and socks. The Baggies win an early corner and Jay Rodriguez (that’s his ‘Equity’ name surely) heads the ball over the cross bar. There is noise in the ground tonight and it’s not all from the 1,000OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA odd West Bromwich Albion supporters cooped up in the corner of the Cobbold Stand. In the corner, in the bottom of the North Stand blue and white flags are being waved and drums drummed and voices voiced; for a little while anyway. But West Bromwich Albion are better at football than Town and as they start to dominate, some of the enthusiasm ebbs away, which is the opposite of what should happen of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcourse because it obvious that a struggling team needs most support. But then logic is not always a strong point in ‘Leave’ voting Ipswich. The West Bromwich fans soon sense our weakness and after first chanting something stupid about being a “…shit Norwich City”, which is a bit rich from people supporting a team wearing yellow and green, they go for the jugular with the reliable old “ Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit”. Cut to the quick I try some chants of my own but the cowering reticence of the Suffolk public means I’m beaten before I begin, even with my cardboard clapper, which is a little too lightweight and disintegrates as I bash it relentlessly on the back of the seat in front of me. Only ten minutes have gone and Town’s Matthew Pennington is booked by referee Mr Keith Stroud who is possibly theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA smallest referee I have ever seen; he doesn’t even rival Paul Hurst in stature.
On the touchline Paul Lambert prowls like a black panther in his trademark black Marks & Spencer jumper and black slacks, kicking every ball and seemingly feeling the self-same emotions as the fans in the stands, but with added Celtic menace. It’s a chilly evening and he should really get himself a coat, even if that jumper is pure new lambs’ wool. Perhaps Marcus Evans should put his hand in his pocket for a coat for our Paul.
Sadly, Town are second best to West Bromwich, who despite having been ‘a bit rubbish’ in the context of the evil Premier League last season are evidently still too good for us tonight. But we are trying and what we’re watching is recognisable as football, which wasn’t always true last season. Perhaps we can hold on and then sneak a goal I think to myself. A paper plane engineered from a re-purposed cardboard clapper lands next to the West Bromwich goal keeper Sam Johnstone. The fact that it disappoints the home crowd by not hitting Johnstone is a portent for the evening. Within minutes Town’s defence watch the ball cross from one side of the pitch to the other and back into the middle where Jay Rodriguez scores from very close to the goal. Oh well. How I was hoping that wouldn’t happen, and now it has. The West Bromwichians are happy though, their high spirits expressed by making good use of Chicory Tip’s 1972 chart topping single “Son of my father” with a chorus of “Woah wanky-wanky, wanky-wanky, wank-wanky Wanderers”, in honour of their own version of Norwich City, the neatly alliterative Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The clock moves on and behind me a man explains to his child that there are another five minutes until half-time and then another forty-five minutes after that before they can go home. A minute of the half left and Ipswich win a corner from which West Brom’ come closer to scoring than the home team as they breakaway courtesy of a failed tackle from Jordan Spence. One minute’s added time passes and then it’s half-time. I wander down to the front row of seats to have a chat with Ray and generously he offers me one of his wife Roz’s sausage rolls, I accept the offer. Behind us dancing girls with Lycra bottoms, bare mid-riffs and sparkly tops gyrate; a human manifestation of the popular retro-range.

 

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The second Act begins amidst shouts of “Come On Ipswich”, but the man behind me feels compelled to admit that West Brom’ are stronger than us “…in every department”; I think of Debenhams and John Inman. But Town are playing better than in the first half; they have more possession of the ball and in more locations across the pitch and Matthew Pennington even has a decent looking shot on goal. But then West Brom’ also have a decent shot, which causes a sharp intake of breath as it hits a post; a lad called Harvey Barnes is the perpetrator, it’s a name that sounds like it was copied from a 1914-18 War Memorial.
Town must be doing alright though, people aren’t moaning but still most of them aren’t really supporting either, at least not vocally. The club should have said “We’ll let you in for a tenner, but you have to make a noise or we’ll chuck you out”. The ‘Blue Action’ group in the North Stand do their best, but there aren’t really enough of them, Ultra Culture hasn’t yet made its mark in Ipswich. I remain hopeful however that the Rodin exhibition in the gallery behind Christchurch Mansion, which opens this weekend, will stir people’s inner passions. Rodin is to sculpture what Arnold Muhren was to midfield artistry.
We’re only losing 1-0, a draw is still a possibility, a win even. But the seventy sixth minutes arrives and that Harvey Barnes is in the penalty area, he shuffles about a bit and shoots; he scores. The shot somehow avoids at least four legs and Bartosz Bialkowski’s left hand. It couldn’t hurt more if he’d missed and the ball had hit me in the ‘groin area’.
Substitutions ensue and the West Brom’ supporters sing “Lambert, Lambert, what’s the score?” seemingly labouring under the mis-apprehension that he is still manager of Aston Villa. They compound their mistake with a rendition of “Shit on the Villa, shit on the Villa tonight” to the tune of ‘Roll out the barrel’. Ipswich supporters may not sing much, but at least when they do the songs are relevant.
Both teams have shots on goal which are blocked as the game heads towards its finale, Ipswich are looking as likely to score as concede, which on balance with only ten minutes left is a good thing. With six minutes of normal time left to play substitute Kayden Jackson scores for Town and there is belief that may be, just may- be, Town could get a draw. Clearly West Brom’ think so too and they resort to foul or generally unsporting play with Matthew Phillips, Kieran Gibbs and Sam Johnstone all getting their own personal viewings of Mr Stroud’s yellow card. Town have no luck however and when Jack Lankester’s shot hits a post and deflects away rather than hitting a heel or a divot and deflecting in to the goal, we get confirmation that Portman Road will remain joyless for another week.
The skies today were grey and despite glimpses of blue, they remain so. But at least there have been glimpses. I retain the faith and like Arthur Seaton I won’t let the bastards grind me down.

 

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Ipswich Town 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

The relief brought on through the carefree joy of watching non-league football at Coggeshall last night was brief and within twenty-four hours I am back to watching “Championship” football by which I mean Football League Division Two football at the theatre of the un-dead that is Portman Road.
But today’s game is against top of the league Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club that as much as Leeds United reeks of 1974, smells of the 1950’s and the scent of the Beverley sister who married Billy Wright. The Wolves have done very little of note in the last sixty years, but for a couple of League Cup wins in the 1970’s and even Norwich have won the League Cup; but they still have a certain je ne sais quoi, as well as old gold shirts and black shorts.
It is a dull, grey January day as I walk to the railway station; there are spits of moisture in the air, the portents of more to come. I arrive at the station about a minute before the

train, which is on time, I board a freshly refurbished carriage which has a faint smell of new car given off by its grey upholstery; the theme is grey, with a white ceiling; it’s bright but dull, but heck, it’s not my living room, just a train. On the opposite side of the carriage sits a man with a beer belly, he is slumped with his head resting against the window, a blue cable leads from his trouser pocket to the electrical socket beneath the window; it’s as if his loins are on a life support machine. He has hair like the late Reg Varney. Opposite him an unnaturally blond woman of a similar age is engrossed with a mobile phone. They both cough and get off the train together at Colchester. As the train pulls into a Manningtree a man is sat on a bench on the platform for London, he is wearing a large set of earphones and is eating a sandwich from a tin foil package spread open on his lap. Five people get onto the train, one is a man with a bald head and three rings through his left ear lobe that look like he could hang a curtain from them.


In Ipswich the weather is the same. As I cross the road a group of blokes smoke cigarettes outside the front door of the Station Hotel, which is where Wolves supporters and only Wolves supporters have been directed to drink. On the back of a traffic light there is reminder of Town’s last home fixture against Leeds, a sticker that saysOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“McCallister,Strachan, Batty, Speed, Last Proper Champions”. It is a view I subscribe to because the Premier League is an abomination, but I worry about the omission of the other seven players in the Leeds team of 1992, particularly Lee Chapman.

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Portman Road is being blocked off whilst supporters stand about waiting for the turnstiles to open. I follow a man up Portman Road who is wearing a grey tracksuit with a hood, he looks like an enormous toddler in a romper suit, the seat of his tracky bottoms is baggy like he’s forgotten to put on his nappy. I open the door St Jude’s Tavern; bloody hell, the place is heaving. Most of the clientele are Wolves fans with a love of real ale. Having worked my way to the bar I order a pint of St Jude’s St Mary Stout (£3.60) and then work my way back to sit at a table where three blokes in their sixties are sat; they seem to be together but they’re not talking and even seem to be avoiding eye contact. I turn to one and say “Are you all Wolves fans then, or are you just here for a quiet drink?” . They’re Wolves fans and they’re up from London, they go to every game. They tell me that there are branches of Wolves fans from London, Daventry and Cheltenham in the pub. I remark that they are all men of a ‘certain age’ and they laugh agreeing that if you haven’t got a bus pass you probably don’t follow Wolves.
A friend of mine, Mick, soon arrives and we talk of blood pressure, the Hairy Bikers, tielles, sciatica, this blog, holidaying in Corsica and Marseille and the difficulty of choosing where to visit from so many wonderful places across Europe. I drink a pint of Irvin Ruby (£3.60) and we both have a half of St Jude’s Darkest Blessings (£3.80 a pint), which is very strong (9.5%) but smooth and delicious with a hint of hazelnuts and vanilla.
All the Wolves fans have already left when we leave the pub at about a quarter to three, Mick heads home and I head for the match. It’s raining properly now. Whilst I may tire of the present incarnation of Football League Division Two, I never tire of the sight of

Portman Road with its proper floodlights at each corner and all the activity outside on match day as kick-off approaches, it’s what being is all about, especially when it’s raining. Martin Heidegger would have understood, although by all accounts he was a bit of a nob.
I pass through the turnstile and am approached by a steward who asks me about the photos I have taken out in Portman Road, I explain that they are for a blog and flick through a few of them for him. He seems happy with that, but I can’t imagine he knows what to say; what did he expect to see other than photos of Portman Road? I suppose my camera might have really been a water pistol, not a camera, I had one like that when I was about eight years old.
The teams are walking on to the pitch and in the stand I am surprised to find a man and a woman occupying my seat and the one next to it. They’re not doing anything rude, just sitting. I go and sit in the next seat along, I don’t care. One of them says something about not being able to see from their allocated seats and a steward had told them to sit anywhere where there was a space.
The game begins and it’s okay, a fairly even contest to start with and Town’s Callum Connolly has a shot after about 11 minutes. It only takes the Wolves fans eight minutes however to announce that “You’re support is fucking shit” and no one is arguing; no one even cares except perhaps for John Hughes who wrote the tune Cwm Rhondda; but that was in 1907, so he must be past caring by now. In the fifteenth minute it’s not only the support that is so scatalogically poor as the Town defence dissolves into the rain, the ball is crossed and a bloke called Matt Doherty heads it unchallenged into the Town net; Wolverhampton Wanderers have, it turns out, won the match…and it had all started so well.
The Ipswich crowd do not react at all and make no effort to help raise their team’s game through vocal encouragement; I do though and throw myself into a few rounds of “Lo, lololo lolo, Allez les bleus” as Town win a couple of corners. There is not the slightest hint that anyone wants to join in with my efforts on behalf of the team and in a fit of pique I get up and leave my seat. I go to sit with Phil the ever-present supporter at the other end of the stand, who at least understands and will sometimes even join in with me, a bit.
The game carries on and Town play reasonably well in an unspectacular sort of a way, but Wolverhampton are good, they’re several points clear at the top of the league table and we are seeing why. A little short of 1,900 Wulfrunians are following their team today, but I’m a little disappointed by them. For a team who wear such a distinctive kit there is very little of the lovely old gold and black on display and they’re singing is mostly of a negative nature. But when I think I hear them sing “Wanky wanky, wanky wanky Southerners” to the tune of Chicory Tip’s ‘Son of my father’ it raises a smile, even though Ipswich is not in the South, it’s in the East. Bloody Brummies.
At half-time I stay where I am and enjoy the occasional drip of rain through the leaking roof on which I can see buddleia growing; I’m not sure that makes it a ‘green’ roof, but it’s a start. I have no half-time snack and don’t visit the toilet, but Phil does and I guard his bag whilst he’s gone. Town stalwart Tommy Smith appears on the pitch in a smart overcoat to say farewell to the crowd before he heads off to play for Colorado Rapids in Denver; he waves, I wave back.

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I then muse upon the names of the Wolverhampton team and feel strongly that Ivan Cavaleiro should be wearing a wide brimmed hat and a cape, or he should at least walk out onto the pitch in such attire, even if he doesn’t play in it. Wolverhampton Wanderers are owned by Guo Guangchang, one of China’s wealthiest people and in Helder Costa and Ruben Neves have the two most expensive players in League Division Two; midfielder Neves cost a colossal £15.8m and both players are clients of football agent Jorge Mendes who is an advisor to the club. Read more about Wolves’ attempt to buy success in the editorial to the February edition of the always excellent When Saturday Comes magazine.
The teams return, Phil returns and play resumes. Ipswich aren’t so good this half, I reckon Wolves have sussed us out and they control the game completely, because they have much better players, some of whom, as you now know have cost obscene amounts of money. They also have a manager called Nuno Espirito Santo who, with a name like that, you would always back against plain old Mick McCarthy. I have a theory that people voted to leave the EU mainly because they feel inferior to all these clever, stylish Europeans and they are. Town have two new players in their team today, a free transfer called Gleeson and a thick-set monster of a man on-loan from Tottenham Hotspur, who rejoices under the seven syllables of the name Cameron Carter-Vickers. They do okay, but Bartosz Bialkowski is the star for Town as he makes a succession of essential saves to stop Wolverhampton scoring more goals. The Wulfrunians in the Cobbold Stand again sing coarsely of the execrable Ipswich support and look for the geography section of the library. Meanwhile, I continue to sing ‘Allez les Bleus’ very loudly and have a most enjoyable time. Singing is proven to be good for you and even though Town lose I am as happy as I can be given the pointlessness of it all. Watching Ipswich Town is what you make it.
The three minutes of added on time offer hope, but that’s all and soon the final chirrups sound from beneath the shiny and completely naked pate of referee Mr Simon Hooper. Unusually, I stand and applaud the teams today; all my singing has made me high as a kite.

Coggeshall Town 5 Stanway Rovers 1

It’s the first day of August and with indecent haste the football season has started again. But in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division it needs to because the league has now been expanded to twenty four clubs and somehow between now and next May the teams have to fit in forty-six league fixtures, the FA Cup, FA Vase, League Cup and County Senior Cup and in some cases some other pointless trophy or other awarded in memory of a long dead official of the league or county FA. But it’ll be okay, as long as they take one game at a time.
It is about 7.15 and the car park is filling up steadily as I turn into Coggeshall’s West Street ground. But it is to be expected, for tonight is the first home League game of the season and it’s a local derby against Stanway Rovers. Walking from my car with my step son’s wife’s stepfather (what a tangled web we weave) to the turnstiles I sneer disapprovingly at how poorly some people have parked; you could get a bus in the space that Peugeot 205 is taking up. I pay my £6 entry fee or rather my fellow step-father does; it’s his treat because I drove and spent £1.50 on a programme, which is a bit steep, but it’s very thick paper. Inside the ground I pause to admire the view and the big sign which leaves no doubt about the direction to go for refreshments.36291481676_eb3fb0a23a_z We follow the arrow and I enjoy a pounds worth of pre-match tea; black because the milk is UHT.
The first game of the season is apparently, eagerly anticipated and I suppose I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be. There is a certain thrill at seeing the pitch in pristine condition, glowing green beneath the brightening flood lights. “It’s the greenest I’ve ever seen it” I hear a bloke behind say slightly incredulously to his friend. Meanwhile a pair of middle-aged blokes carefully copy the team line-ups down into note books; I delude myself that I make them feel antediluvian by taking a photo of the team sheet on my phone.36199259661_651e29bc89_o
Minutes later we’ve chosen our seats in the low, black tin-roofed stand and the teams are lined up on the steps that lead down from the changing rooms to the pitch. We wait, and wait a bit more, I get the feeling they are making a bit too much out of this eager anticipation of the first game of the season, but eventually the teams stream on. Coggeshall look groovy in their customary red and black stripes with black shorts whilst Stanway wear all blue with a white shoulder and hoop around one leg of their shorts; asymmetry agogo. As the crocodiles of players cross the halfway line the Coggeshall captain gets a bit motivational and hunches his back and claps his hands, bawling something about getting going and getting there as if crossing the half way line is what they’re all about. His team mates either don’t hear him or are wrapped up in their own pre-match thoughts, they remain impassive.36335636925_095215e6c7_o

With sporting handshakes out of the way, Stanway kick off the match towards the rough car park behind the goal to my left and Coggeshall town itself. A nerdy sounding man sat at the back of the stands says how he can’t have been here since the 1980’s, adding “Goodness me” at the end of his sentence as if he has surprised himself; another obvious groundhopper tells how he caught the train to Kelvedon and walked across the fields to get here. The nerd says how he hadn’t thought of doing that. Saving us from the boredom of this overheard, statement-rich conversation Coggeshall’s number 11 scores a rather good goal. Barely 10 minutes have passed.
Stanway Rovers have a barrel chested centre forward who, according to Wikipedia “…enjoyed a six-year career with Colchester United..” Coggeshall’s number ten has a crowning hank of obviously dyed blond hair, which makes him look like a wannabe League footballer, but he has no reason to envy the Stanway man tonight, as dyed hair or not the number ten scores a second goal for the Seedgrowers after Stanway fail to clear a corner. We haven’t even been here for twenty five minutes yet.
The ball is pumped forward a bit too far for a Coggeshall forward to get a shot on the goal and someone shouts “Recycle”, which is good advice for everyone. Nearly a half hour has passed and a nifty little shimmy on the edge of the penalty area earns the space for Coggeshall’s number 9 to score his team’s third goal. Blimey. The crowd applaud politely but sadly don’t seem overly thrilled by the unfolding spectacle before them although the Stanway contingent are probably squirming, particularly the committee members in their blazers and club ties. Coggeshall’s dominance doesn’t convince the un-smiling nerd at the rear of the stand though, who two or three times speaks of Coggeshall being “unconvincing at the back” or some such “footballese” phrase. “A goal for Stanway now would put a very different complexion on the game” he opines whinily like someone wanting to be confused with John Motson. Stanway do “come on strong” towards the end of the half and have a shot that hits a goal post, but the colour and texture of the game’s skin remains unaltered.
Half-time brings applause and a stroll to the club house to buy a coffee for my accomplice and a bottle of a beer I wouldn’t normally drink (Greene King IPA) for me; £4.50 for the pair. My accomplice is very complimentary about the coffee which he thinks might not be instant but made with real coffee. For my part I wonder if the club shouldn’t source some locally brewed beer (Red Fox or Nethergate or Colchester Brewery perhaps?). 36199208221_d1a402470a_oThere is a summer fete feel to the refreshments tonight with the clubhouse shut, but drinks served from behind a table in the doorway and burgers dished up from inside a stripy gazebo.
The flood lights are now fully on as daylight recedes and shadows envelop the surrounding fields. A combine harvester that had flashed a yellow revolving light and thrown up dust away behind the Stanway goal in the first half has gone home to the farmyard. I flick through the programme. The title “Our History in Brief” heads a densely packed page of print; the next page in equally dense print is headed “Our History in Brief Continued”. This theme of failed brevity is repeated a page or two further on as the title “Our Club Honours at A Glance” sits above a list of 38 entries dating back to 1898. I find the programme’s half-time quiz easy; question two is “In what year was the first World Cup held?” whilst question five asks “ Which is the only club to have played in every World Cup since it started in 1930?. All ten answers are laid out in a 3-3-1-3 formation at the foot of the page with a front line of 8. Kilmarnock 9. Stanley Matthews in 1965 10. Inverness and 7. Juventus playing “in the hole” behind the strikers.
Having sated my thirst for historical facts I watch the second half, occasionally pausing to sip beer. This is the life. Ten minutes of football later Stanway concede a fourth goal as Coggeshall’s number nine turns a low cross into the Stanway goal net. Within not very long at all the Seedgrowers “go knap” as the number ten with the blond coiffure treats another low cross in the same manner. Eventually, and oddly within just a minute of scoring their fifth goal Coggeshall revert to type and show their famed inability to defend as a free-kick is met with a looping header from the barrel chested man who enjoyed a six year career at Colchester.
The remainder of the match passes in a blur of red, black, blue and green with white bits. We discuss why there no great works of art about football; I don’t think Lowry’s “Going to the match” or Peter Terson’s play “Zigger Zagger” really cut the mustard. Meanwhile the floodlights reflect off the bald head of the linesman who late on in the game makes no attempt to stifle a yawn. 36199206801_514070f9c6_oMay be it was through fatigue, or perhaps he too has overheard the nerdy groundhopper’s tale of congestion on the A312. It’s academic however as at about twenty five to ten the referee Mr Andrew Gray, who the programme entreats us to respect, and we do, calls time through the medium of his whistle.
It’s been a grand evening of fine football from all the Coggeshall Town team who are worthy winners. The addition of tea, beer and coffee have just added to the fun and I will be back another day for more of the same. The season has just begun!

Ipswich Town 1 Birmingham City 1

It’s Saturday 1st April and I have been looking forward to this day since at least the afternoon of the previous day. Ipswich Town hasn’t played at home since the dire, dull, dreadful, goalless draw with Wolverhampton on March 7th; that’s a three week drought of football and more. Of course I’ve been to see other teams in the interim, but they were mere floozies, Ipswich Town is my first love, my true love, the only team for whom, ultimately, the results really, really matter. I’ve won twice at Wembley with Ipswich and in Europe and together we won the Texaco Cup and have suffered relegations. Ipswich Town is ‘the wife’, although at times we fall out, we can’t be parted; we have a binding contract.
So, with a spring in my step I head off for the match; a walk to the station, a train ride and a walk to St Jude’s Tavern up Portman Road. It’s 1:30 and the turnstiles are about to open, there are quite a lot of Brummies hanging about wondering where to go and what to do, why can’t Ipswich give away fans their own “fanzone” on Portman Road car park? They do it at Wycombe Wanderers, serving terrible Greene King beer admittedly. But then, I guess a visitor with any nous would do some research and seek out the pubs serving proper beer, so why not leave the lumpen proletariat, the ‘leave’ voters to get on with it.
As I walk by there is a dog outside the away end.33658581591_fbc6a9f087_o He’s black and friendly looking and accompanied by a lady in a day-glo tabard bearing the words “Search Dog”. Apparently the dog is sniffing out things people shouldn’t be taking into a football match, such as flares, the firey things not the trouser. The dog however, looks like it’s sniffing out what’s to be found in the gutter, as dogs do. A little further along the road there are more dogs,33658589351_64c1f608c6_o Labradors or Retrievers with collecting buckets; guide dogs for the blind. The club website says it’s Ladies’ Day at Portman Road today, it didn’t mention dogs.
Eventually, I enjoy three pints of ale with St Jude and talk to a white haired man who admits to not having seen Town in Division Three South, but he’s followed them for 60 years. I want to be like him in a few years time, with young whipper snappers pointing me out as someone who had seen Rod Belfitt play. The pub empties at about a quarter to three and I’m left talking with the friend I came to meet, about why I write this blog. It doesn’t matter, it’s time to get to the match and I head down Portman Road smiling to myself about the joys of beer and football.32944974044_8fd60a352e_z As the ground hoves into view I am struck by the sight of Sir Bobby Robson’s face on the corner of the ground. He looms over the chip van on the adjacent car park, as only England managers’ and knights’ faces should. As I pass Sir Bobby’s statue further on, I meet the white haired man from St Jude’s again, he is touching the statue’s foot for luck. If I was a Catholic I think, I should write to the Pope and ask if we might have a Saint Bobby. At the same time I think with Ipswich’s puritan and non- conformist heritage it’s wrong, very wrong to touch a statue’s foot for luck. No wonder the Town are doing so badly.
The search dog is still outside the away end as I pass by and I ask what his name is. At first I mis-hear what his handler says and think she says he’s called Cecil. The dog’s name is actually Zero. I prefer Cecil; he looks like a Cecil. Having patted the dog I enter the ground and take up my seat in the lower tier of Churchman’s or theì Sir Alf Ramsey stand as it’s now known. I think that may be there should be a huge mural of Sir Alf plastered across the back of this stand too, but with a cigar in hand to reference the popular name of the stand and his success. Sir Alf won the League Championship and a World Cup, two things Sir Bobby didn’t achieve; you were close Sir Bobby, but no cigar, not like Sir Alf.
It’s now that time; 3 o’clock, Saturday afternoon and the game begins. Same old rubbish sadly. Town and Birmingham City are both wading through the sludge that is the bottom third of the Second Division and it’s easy to see why. Birmingham have brought along a decent number of supporters however, 952 of them32974927023_68e5933084_o.jpg and now and then they break into song, the dour, slightly unhappy, resigned “Keep right on to ‘til the end of the road”. It’s a song that was written by Harry Lauder in 1916 in honour of his son who had been killed in the war, it’s meant to be a song of hope but it doesn’t sound like it and you could say that the message of the song is that you’ll only be happy once you’re dead.
Birmingham City is a spectacularly dull club and always has been. From the middle of the country, the Midlands, Birmingham City is geographically average and generally average overall. Apart from Trevor Francis and one League Cup win there’s never been anything to write home about from Birmingham City. It’s telling that the club song is “Keep right on ‘til the end of the road”. Life is a struggle for Birmingham City, because existence is boring or sad, all you can do is keep right on’ til the end. It’s fitting therefore that Ipswich should be playing them now, because that is also how it feels at Portman Road. If we can only make it to the end of the season, may be things will be better next year. Town have been bobbing along in the second division for fifteen years, but Town fans should be proud of such consistency. It is a worthy achievement to avoid the twin scourges that stalk Second Division clubs; the apparent ignominy of relegation to the Third Division and the moral degeneration brought on by the financial crapulence that comes with promotion to the evil Premier League; the league of greed. Nevertheless, carefully treading this middle ground can be a bit dull, particularly as it’s nice to watch good football, and winning and good football usually go together.
Speaking of dull, the first half passes largely without incident, although Ipswich’s Cole Skuse goes off injured at the very end. Interesting name Cole Skuse; the only other Cole I can think of is the fantastic Cole Porter. The surname Skuse has medieval Cornish origins and is to do with living near Elder bushes, which makes me think of the taunting Frenchman in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So it was appropriate that Skuse should be replaced by Kevin Bru, Ipswich’s own Parisian Mauritian. Hopefully, as the two players pass on the touchline Monsieur Bru tells Cole “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”.

The second half begins and within two minutes Birmingham are in the lead; a shot is saved but the re-bound becomes a close range goal. Ipswich don’t respond at all well and carry on not having shots on goal and not passing to one another and not doing all the things associated with playing well.  With an hour gone the Ipswich public in the North Stand react.  They hadn’t got behind their team before now and still they don’t as instead they opt to sing to manager Mick McCarthy that his “football is shit”.  Then, again through their preferred medium of song they tell club chairman Marcus Evans that he is a cunt and chief executive Ian Milne that he is a wanker.  Spleens are vented and the North stand end of Portman Road is awash with bile and rude words; apart from the Birmingham supporters who are shocked and anxious in equal measure due to their team being a goal ahead, the rest of the ground is its usual comatose self. 

The Ipswich players continue not to give value for the entrance money or the huge wages necessary to buy the ridiculously ostentatious cars parked in the club car park.  A slow hand clap is attempted by the West Standers but fortunately fails; beaten by their own apathy. But then when all looks lost in the developing maelstrom of self-loathing and poor football from both sides, Grant Ward finds space wide on the right and crosses the ball. In keeping with the type of game it is, the cross is so poor that it sails straight into the goal to give Ipswich a barely deserved goal to equalise Birmingham’s barely deserved goal. How we cheer, once we’ve got over the shock.
There is still twenty minutes to go and some of us foolishly hope the lucky break will see Ipswich go on to play like a proper football team and score another goal or two. Of course that doesn’t happen and the final whistle is met by a stampede for the exits, or as much of a stampede as a host of over sixties can manage and the usual chorus of boos. Outside in Princes Street there are two police dog units, but I can’t see any dogs;32974895873_c16d6ac493_o only two policeman who are possibly trying to look inscrutable in an attempt to hide the fact that they have lost their dogs. Mind you, one of the dog units is from Norfolk; I thought there were quarantine laws.
On the train home I talk to a chatty man from Witham, well he talks to me really. He’s been watching Town since the 1950’s like the white haired man I met in the pub. He’s disappointed with today’s game like everyone else, but he clearly still loves it all and will be back again on Tuesday for the Wigan Athletic match, as will I. The moral of the story is that real football fans ‘keep right on to the end’ which those Birmingham fans knew all along.