Ipswich Town 0 Colchester United 1

It took me several days to get around to buying a ticket for this season’s annual August Tuesday evening embarrassment, otherwise known as the League Cup first round, but when I finished work on Monday afternoon I logged onto the ITFC website and characteristically, due to the difficulties I have with technology, printed myself off four tickets, fortunately all for the same seat. Fifteen quid is a lot to watch Col U, especially when twelve months ago it only cost a tenner to see the 1981 European Cup Winners Cup quarter-finalists Newport County, but sixty quid would have been beyond the pale, whatever that means.

I recall being quite excited at the prospect of Newport last year, but despite it being a much more local derby than our recognised derby versus Norfolk’s finest, this game tonight is not doing a lot for me.  My enthusiasm had been further sapped during the afternoon by being serenaded as I sat in my office by the raucous and vacuous chants of Colchester United supporters.   If my productivity took a tumble this afternoon, I’m not surprised.  “How do you think, we’ll do tonight” says the bloke in the club shop as I buy my programme (£2.00).  “I have no idea” I tell him honestly, “We don’t seem to do very well in the cups”.  Well call me Nostradamus; or on a Friday night Cassandra.

Regardless of my lack of enthusiasm and optimism I am compelled to follow the usual pre-match ritual at what was once known as the Arboretum. Parking up my trusty Citroen C3 just around the corner, because it’s gone 6pm, I step in off the dusty street to order a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.90). Tonight, with time to kill and the need for sustenance I also have a Scotch Egg (£4.50) and a portion of hand-cut chips (£4.00), and after a respectable interval, a pint of the appropriately named Lacon’s Encore (£3.80). An hour later, stuffed and bloated I head for Portman Road.

It’s a beautiful warm evening and my senses are treated amongst other delights to dappled sunlight dancing through the trees in Great Gipping Street, screeching seagulls, the smell of frying onions and the warm glow of the brickwork at the back of the Magnus Group stand.  I’m almost glad I made the effort to get a ticket after all. My seat tonight is up high in the shady interior of block N but on arrival I find somebody already sat there, I have to explain to him that his seat is actually in Block Y, a few seats away to our left; with his three chums he shifts along. I tell them I’ve done them a good deed because Block Y are the better seats.  I hope in vain that the seats next to me will now remain empty, but it’s not long before another three blokes, all nursing meat pies and plastic cutlery arrive.  “Excuse me” says the youngest brushing past.  I should have blocked his way and asked for the password – “Please”.

In the blink of an eye, or perhaps a little longer, the teams are on the pitch, knees are taken and applauded and Col. U, in rather boring red shirts and black shorts have kicked off defending the goal in front of what was Churchman’s cigarette factory the last time Col U won at Portman Road, which was on 13th October 1951; although in truth they have rarely had the opportunity since then. The noise inside the stadium is possibly the most I think I have ever heard made by 11,654 people at Portman Road. The Col U fans are giving it their all and the Town fans in the Sir Bobby Robson stand (lower tier) are answering back.  For now at least, I am at last glad I printed that ticket, albeit four times.

On the pitch, the Town are soon on the attack and the blokes beside me, who are possibly from the ‘professional classes’ are concentrating deeply.  Behind me a couple of young women seem less enraptured and are having a bit of a ‘catch-up’, although of course women are known for their ability to multi-task.  Seven minutes pass and Col U’s  magnificently monikered number 17, Ossama Ashley dives spectacularly to head a cross away for Town’s first corner. A minute later and Town’s Greg Leigh runs on to a fine Luke Woolfenden pass and shoots across goal, but his shot is saved.  Up in the Cobbold stand the Col U fans are reduced to cheering when they get a goal-kick or throw, before coming over all sullen and spiteful by chanting “Your support is fucking shit” in the time-honoured manner of visiting away fans.  Ten minutes have passed.  Fifteen minutes have now passed and the Col U fans are still singing the same Welsh hymn, pronouncing “fuckin’” with a passion and feeling that only an Essex accent can produce.

Eighteen minutes have passed, Town are dominating but getting nowhere much and I’m ashamed to say I am getting a little bored. I notice the bright new concrete between the Cobbold and Sir Alf Ramsey stands beneath the new scoreboard;  I notice Kieron McKenna’s bright white jacket, which looks like it might be made of Nylon; I notice the fat bloke in front of me whose shoulders are moulding themselves around my knees and I notice a faint fusty smell and can’t decide if it’s the middle-aged woman sat next to me or the fat bloke.

The twentieth minute shakes me from my reverie as a fine move down the right tees up Cameron Humphreys with time and space for a shot on goal from 12 metres or so; he must score. Humphreys blazes the ball so high and wide of the goal I find it hard not to jeer along with the Col U fans. “Bloody Hell” I say to myself as those around me groan despairingly. Five minutes later and Humphreys does the same thing again.  Soon Col U’s Frank Nouble (pronounced Noublay as in Michael Buble) conveniently stays down after a challenge so everyone can have a drinks break. 

In a rare foray into the Town half by Col U, Town fans mystifyingly chant “Who are ya?” at some Col U player or other;  I can’t work out why they would be interested unless he has never previously played for Ipswich.  The ball stays down the Ipswich end for a short while and it looks just a matter of time before  Ipswich are on the attack again. But Rakeem Harper decides to pass the ball onto the penalty area to Col U’s Luke Hannant who is simply unable to miss the enormous target he has been given, and Col U lead 1-0.   There have been some terrible goals given away by Town players in recent seasons and this is up there with the very worst.  I don’t want to cry, so I laugh a stifled, sad laugh, a sort of “Ha!”

In the last third of the half Col U win a corner and then Town do. The bloke beside me says in exasperated tones “We could, should be three-nil up by now”. Kane Vincent-Young heads over the Col U cross-bar and Humphreys completes his hat-trick. “His confidence is just going to go” says the bloke beside me worriedly.  On the opposite side of the ground the Col U fans have at last got round to asking “ Is this a library?” I can only think they had been wracking their brains trying to remember the tune, most of them presumably not being ‘into’ Italian opera.

Half-time brings the reward of a somewhat soft Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and little else; even Norwich are winning at half-time.  The one enjoyable thing is the glowing reflection of the setting sun on the strip glazing of St Clare House and the AXA building; twentieth century office buildings rule.

At nine minutes to nine play resumes and having remembered La donna e mobile the Col U fans just can’t get it out of their heads.   The match resumes the pattern of the first half, although Town never again produce the sort of chances that Cameron Humphreys so capably fluffed in the first half.  Tyreece John-Jules launches a shot into a low orbit and falls over quite a bit.  Around me, increasingly frustrated Town supporters try to encourage their team with some clapping that gently peters out, but they can never quite summon the courage to shout and holler, chant or sing.

Fifty-six minutes have gone never to return and Col U replace the player with the most controversial first name, Ossama Ashley, with the player who has what I adjudge to be tonight’s best surname, Ryan Clampin.   In a magnificent display of time wasting Ossama is booked as he dawdles from the pitch pausing first to turn and applaud the away supporters,  and then to remove his shin-pads.  If some of the people around me in the stand had guns and stealth helicopters, Ossama would have suffered the same alleged fate as his near namesake.  One of the blokes behind me is so apoplectic with rage he can no longer form sentences that do not have the word ‘fucking’ in them.

The excitement subsides as Town revert to their relentless, patient, unrewarding pressure.  Former Town hero Cole Skuse is substituted by Col U to general applause from Town fans, although he looks a little confused by it, which perhaps as a member of one of Town’s most derided teams is understandable. With twenty minutes left, Town substitute a third of the team with Harness, Chaplin, Burns and Evans replacing Vincent-Young, Jackson, Aluko and Harper.  The game does not change, Town are no more incisive,  although Conor Chaplin does produce a spectacular overhead kick which goes wide of the goal.  Idris El-Mizouni usurps Cameron Humphreys with five minutes to go until the calling of five minutes of time added on.  In that time added on Lee Evans unleashes a powerful drive, but straight at the Col U goalkeeper and Luke Woolfenden is booked for fractiousness.

When full-time is called, the inevitable boos resound through the stand but if people aren’t used to Town being beaten by lower league opposition in cup competitions by now they never will be.  I now believe it is simply our fate to provide early season joy for the ‘little teams’, in the same way that people donate tins of beans for the needy at harvest festival; and then in November or December we hand out early Christmas presents.  No doubt somewhere it is being said, given our 78% possession and our tally of shots on goal that ‘on another day we would have won’.  Sadly, at the moment it feels like that day will either be a cold day in hell or 30th February.  Good luck in the next round Col U.

Ipswich Town 1 Bolton Wanderers 1

Here we go again, and it’s still July.  I will admit to not looking forward to the start of the football season because as a person who seeks fulfilment in being idle I enjoy summer Saturdays with nothing much to do, and summer is still in its prime, it won’t begin to flop into autumn for another three weeks at least, that’s when the football season should begin again. But hey, how else are we going to fit in 46 league games, at least three games trying to win a pizza pan and probably no more than two or three games trying to win two cups that are inevitably destined to end up on the sideboard of one or two of the same four clubs from London and the north-west?

 Today, it is ordained that we shall play Bolton Wanderers, last season’s nemesis who along with Rotherham United were the only team to beat us both home and away, which in the week of the last episode of Neighbours I will admit, whilst in confessorial mood, was my Australian ‘soap’ of choice.   The last time Town played Bolton Wanderers on the first day of the season was in 1961, albeit at Burnden Park, and Town of course went on to win the Premier League that season, although it wasn’t called that then.  By way of yet another private confession, last night I dreamt about today’s game and how Town drew two-all after twice going ahead with the opposition equalising twice from spectacular long range shots into the top right hand corner of our goal.  I say opposition because oddly Town were playing West Ham United in my dream although they also seemed to be called Bolton Wanderers.  Even odder is that I then dreamt that I woke up and realised I had been dreaming because all I could remember of the game were the two Bolton/West Ham goals and an empty ground.  Then I really did wake up and felt a bit disorientated.

Having happily reined in my subconscious mind I have negotiated the crawling traffic of the A12 and walked across Gippeswyk Park.  At the junction of Ancaster Road and Ranelagh Road I must decide whether to turn left towards the Bobby Robson Bridge or right towards the station hotel where I will not doubt be serenaded by boozing Lancastrians in the pub garden singing the praises of barm cakes, back to back housing and cotton mills.  Seeking the quiet life as ever, I opt for the former. In Alf Ramsey Way I purchase a match day programme in the modern cashless manner which seems to take several minutes, before heading off over Civic Drive, past the enchanted Spiral car park which used to just be known as ‘the underground car park’ and up St George’s Street to the Arbour House (formerly The Arboretum) to meet Mick and discuss life over a pint of  a beer (£3.90) from the Burnt Mill brewery which the pump clip said was Japanese, I ask the  barman where it was from, “Stowmarket” he replies.  Mick’s and my conversation rambles between spotty liver disease, the quality of television pictures, Ipswich Town’s latest signings and funerals before I buy a pint of Lacon’s Encore and a packet of Fairfield’s cheese and onion crisps (£1.00) and we discuss VHS videos of Ipswich Town’s greatest moments in history and retirement.

We leave earlier than usual for Portman Road because I have a bag of six Ipswich Town VHS videos to give to a bloke called Ash from Swaffham; I have arranged to meet Ash at twenty to three by the Sir Alf Ramsey statue, but he doesn’t turn up. I ask several people stood about if they are called Ash, but none are and two people think I have asked them if they’ve got any hash.  Disappointed but not surprised, because the world is an increasingly unreliable place, I head for turnstile number 60 to begin yet another season full of hope and likely disappointment; but you never know (that’s the hope again).

Out in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand Pat from Clacton, Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and his son Elwood are already here looking fresh and revived in their summer clothes, it reminds me of what the first day back at school used to feel like.  On the pitch, be-suited stadium announcer and former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster reads out the teams looking as if he is the best man at a wedding.  Banners festoon the front of the Sir Bobby Robson stand telling us “The future is bright, the future is blue and white”; it rhymes, it must be true.  To our right is the new scoreboard, beaming messages to us like something out of Orwell’s 1984. The stadium is alive with the sound of nigh on 27,000 people and as the game begins those in the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand break inexplicably into a chorus of Mary’s Boy Child, with lyrics altered to tell of eternal fighting and Norwich running away, because it’s Boxing Day.  Off to my right in the Cobbold Stand, in an equally surreal vein, it sounds as if the Bolton supporters are singing “Oh wanky wanky, Wanky wanky wanky wanky Northerners.”  But my hearing isn’t what it was and Boltonians do have thick accents.

The opening minutes of the match are messy with lots of physical effort, but little discernible entertainment.  All the Bolton team appear to be about 2metres tall and there’s not a Frank Worthington amongst them. “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” chant the Bolton fans.  As nice as that might be, no one takes them up on their kind offer and in a fit of pique they impolitely tell the Ipswich fans “Your support is fucking shit”, before peevishly announcing like thwarted adolescents that the large crowd is because “You’ve only come to see The Wanderers”.   Only six minutes have passed and it’s like last season never ended; clearly supporters have wasted the whole close-season and not come up with a single original new chant between the lot of them.

A frisson of excitement shoots through the home support as a punt forward forces the Bolton ‘keeper James Trafford to play sweeper for a moment. Up in the Cobbold Stand the brief roar of excitement from the home support is an excuse to unleash what passes for wit with a chant to say they had forgotten we were here. How droll.  It’s the eleventh minute and Town win a corner as a Bolton defender heads the ball out of his goalkeeper’s hands.  Lee Evans’ exotic curling corner-kick curls too much and goes disappointingly straight into touch like a metaphor for last season. It is a quarter past three and Bolton win a corner leading to Wes Burns breaking away down the right  and putting in a low cross which is blocked. Burns is looking neater and slimmer than last season suggesting to me that his call-up to the Welsh squad and access to the bright lights of Cardiff might have turned his head.

“They love a ball up the middle don’t they?” says the bloke behind me to the bloke beside him as Bolton launch an attack like a Russian missile strike.  Fortunately for Town, Bolton’s attacks are producing few goal-attempts, but they are dominating play and look generally quicker and stronger than Town for whom debutants Marcus Harness and Leif Davis are doing little other than entertain me with the thoughts that Marcus Harness sort of rhymes and that Leif is a great first name.

The first half is more than half over and all of a sudden Bolton have a penalty from which Aaron Morley scores.  Leif Davis is adjudged to have tripped some Bolton play or other who predictably makes full use of the opportunity to fall headlong to the turf whilst simultaneously looking up pleadingly at referee Mr Samuel Barrett, who is not to be confused with Samuel Beckett.  Disappointment reigns. But unusually the goal against proves a turning point in Town’s favour and for the rest of the match Ipswich are the better team.  Corners are traded as the half hour approaches and in the Town penalty area some male posturing ensues.  “Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” chant the inhabitants of the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and the Bolton supporters sing the same thing.  Nobody seems to know who anybody is.  It could be the result of dementia but it’s probably because third division footballers are generally not household names, with the exception of course of Town’s number 17, Ed Sheeran.   Bolton’s number three Declan John becomes the first player to be booked in a possibly not unrelated incident.

The 37th minute has arrived and another of the day’s debutants, Freddie Ladapo, has a shot deflected away for a corner which Conor Chaplin passes into the penalty area for Lee Evans to side foot into the goal net in a moment of combined thought and invention that was two steps ahead of the entire Bolton team and probably a good 27,000 other people too.  The sadness and shame of having gone behind in the first game of the season is instantly forgotten.  “ You’re not singing any more” chant the home fans to the Boltonians delving delightedly into bottomless wells of Schadenfreude.   More is to come almost, as a beautiful interchange of passes down the right between Janoi Doncaien,  Conor Chaplin, Wes Burns and Sam Morsy ends with Freddie Ladapo having a shot blocked almost as soon as it leaves his boot.

Two minutes of the half remain and having already given away a penalty on his debut, Leif Davis then makes a bid for immortality as he also becomes the first Town player of the 2022-23 season to be booked; it’s a good effort from him but no one will ever rival the appalling Town debut of Mark Fish, who funnily enough also played for Bolton Wanderers.   Three minutes of time added on are played and then it’s half-time.  I consume a Panda brand liquorice stick and talk to Ray, who tells me that his son Michael and his grandson Harrison are missing today’s game because they are respectively in Greece and Scotland.  We share our doubts over the validity of the penalty and the efficacy so far  of the left land side of the Town team. 

The game resumes at eight minutes past four with the mystifying partial rendition by the Bolton fans of Manfred Mann’s 1964 Number One hit record ‘Do-wah-diddy diddy’ (although it was originally recorded the year before by American band The Exciters).  On the field of play, things are more mundane with the usual procession of corners and stuff that you get in football matches.  It’s a little bit after a quarter past four and Trafford spectacularly tips a Lee Evans header over the cross bar; five minutes later and the first of a host of substitutions materialise with the luckless Lief and ineffective Harness being replaced by Greg Leigh (not to be confused by Prog-Rockers with Greg Lake) and Tyreece John-Jules (impossible to confuse with anyone).   An hour has gone Freddie Ladapo shoots tamely at Trafford before Leigh gets back to acrobatically head away a Bolton cross.

As the final third of the game progresses the sky begins to cloud over a little, there are flying ants taking to the air and landing on the shirt of the bloke in front of me;  seagulls circle over the Portman Road car park; it’s stiflingly warm.  It’s a dog day afternoon; I think of Al Pacino.

Ending a sequence of three ever worsening fouls, Bolton’s Conor Bradley chops down Tyreece John-Jules particularly dirtily and is booked. “You dirty Northern bastard” chant the Sir Bobby Robson standers reciting possibly football’s greatest chant. “Small Town in Norwich, You’re just a small Town in Norwich” is the Boltonian’s weak response, which does little to dispel the rumours that Bradley hasn’t washed, is Northern and was conceived outside wedlock.

Both teams continue to make substitutions like they’re going out of fashion, making four each with Sone Aluko and Kayden Jackson replacing  Conor Chaplin and Freddie Ladapo for Town.  Ipswich dominate, pinning back Bolton and making them play sardines in their own penalty area.  It’s a niggly game as both teams display their frustration at being unable to beat the other.  The crowd is announced as 26,688, and it seems wakes week has come early with 1,392 pale and pasty-faced folk from the mills and the mines making up the numbers in the Cobbold Stand.  Pat from Clacton wins the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus with a prediction of 26,679; she seems a little shocked but I can tell she’s excited by her win, it’s been a long time coming.

Back on the pitch Luke Woolfenden is the second Town player to be booked.  A Wes Burns header brings another corner, Sone Aluko shoots past the post and so does Tyreece John-Jules, who also has a shot saved and then in the best opportunity of the whole game Wes Burns runs deep into the penalty area before placing one of those crosses usually labelled ‘inviting’ in front of Sam Morsy.  Morsy sends Trafford the wrong way with his shot but the ball strikes the fortunate keeper’s legs and is cleared.

After six minutes of time added on the game ends.  It’s a shame not to start the season with a win, yet again, but it was a tough match against a strong team and Town did recover from going a goal behind, and on balance these are all good things.  One swallow does not make a summer seems an appropriate homily for the occasion, because every occasion needs a homily; although in this case it’s not so much a lovely, swooping, screaming swallow as a scrounging, step-sibling murdering cuckoo.

Ipswich Town 0 Rotherham United 2

After lock down, 20 months of working at home, following on directly from six months off work due to illness, I have adapted to a centrally heated life spent mostly indoors.  The thought therefore of venturing out on a cold late November evening to sit and watch a football match that your team is probably odds-on to lose isn’t that appealing.  But I have a season ticket, so I’ve already paid to go, and I can’t bear to miss out, added to which I consider myself to be the heir to Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown; I’m a football supporter of Ipswich Town.  My drive into town is nevertheless made without enthusiasm, but by the time I’ve walked from my car to The Arboretum (now the Arbor House) pub, the still night air, the glow of the streetlights and the promise of a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.80) have altered my mood, and after a light dinner of Scotch egg (£4.50) with chips (£4.00) in the company of Mick, who incidentally has falafel Scotch egg (£4.00) with halloumi chips (£4 .00), I am once again ready to do or die for the Town.

The walk through the streets of Ipswich to Portman Road is always one of the best parts of any match day, it’s when the glorious sense of anticipation is all there is, and nothing has yet gone wrong to ruin the day.  Today the sensation is heightened because it’s an evening game and the floodlights shine a bright halo into the night sky and the crowd seems drawn to it like moths to flame.  In over an hour Mick and I have not talked about the match but crossing Civic Drive I ask if he thinks we’ll win. Mick is as ever hopeful, but not optimistic, the same as me.  Rotherham United are the form team in the division; a win will put them top of the league and Town have failed to score in three of three of our last four games, and just to trowel on the portents of doom a little more Town have beaten Rotherham United just once in our last seven attempts.

Resigned to our fate, Mick and I part in Sir Alf Ramsey Way; Mick to the decent seats in what used to be the West Stand, whilst I head via turnstile number 60 to join the groundlings in the bottom tier of what was Churchman’s, purchasing a programme (£3.50) along the way.  I shuffle to my seat past Pat from Clacton and Fiona before the teams are even on the pitch, I’m early.  Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here and so are Ray, his grandson Harrison and Harrison’s dad.  Also here, sat behind Ray and his progeny, are four or five blokes of various ages all sat in a row; three of them wear dark-framed glasses and sport matching haircuts which are short at the back and sides with a tangled mop above; they look like the same bloke seen four or five years apart, but appearing all at once, as if the BBC tv’s documentary Child of Our Time had been presented by Dr Who not Robert Winston.

With the teams on the pitch and knees taken and applauded the game begins with Rotherham all in black, like the baddies always are, aiming the ball towards the goal at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end of the ground.   The cheerful man who sits to my left remarks on how cold it is, “Feels like someone’s left the fridge door open” he says.  I wonder how big his fridge must be.  From the beginning the crowd is quiet, as it often is at Portman Road; the home support huffily adopting the attitude of “well, we’re not going to shout until you give us something to shout about”.  Rotherham are solid and their supporters shout and sing as if to celebrate that, as if it’s the essence of life itself, maybe it is in Rotherham.    Rotherham have a shot blocked, and Christian Walton makes a fine flying save from Rotherham’s Jamie Lindsay, but the game is even, in a cagey, no one is taking any chances kind of a way.  Scott Fraser shoots from outside the penalty area but misses the goal.

Twenty-three minutes pass and then the Rotherham number eight, Ben Wiles, decides to run at the centre of the Ipswich defence.  I don’t know if it’s the effect of the cold night air, but what we had thought was beginning to gel, shatters and Wiles runs on unmolested to the edge of the penalty area before launching an impressive shot into the top right corner of the Town goal, with the predictable outcome that Rotherham take the lead.  I’d just been thinking to myself that we’d not conceded an early goal so perhaps we might now have the confidence to impose a little of our will onto the game. C’est la vie, as they don’t often have cause to say at Paris St Germain.

The blokes a few rows in front of me are lairy, shouting and showing off to one another in the manner of people who have had too much to drink, or are what they would probably call “wankers”.  Rotherham have more shots blocked, Ipswich don’t but Bersant Celina gets caught offside, which sort of shows willing.  Rotherham have shots on goal, which miss the target; with the exception of a blocked attempt by Scott Fraser, Ipswich don’t have any shots. “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” chant a few hundred Town fans for a few seconds before trailing off in a manner that sounds like they’re embarrassed at the sound of their own voices, or their mum has given them a stern look.   Rotherham United’s Jamie Lindsay and Michael Ihiekwe make their mark on the game by being booked by referee Mr Gavin Ward, not that anyone else is going to book them, they wouldn’t attract many to the Ipswich Regent.  In time added on Town win a corner courtesy of the extravagantly monikered Ramani Edmonds-Green. “Come On You Blues, Come On You Blues” I chant, sounding in my head like a lonely, ghostly echo of Churchman’s forty years ago.

Half-time arrives and I make the short journey to the very front of the stand to talk to Ray.  “I think they should bring Celina on” says Ray ironically; he’s not a fan of the Dijonnaise loanee.  Nor is Ray a fan of the blokes behind him, the lairy ones with the identical haircuts and glasses; they’re getting on his nerves a bit.  Our conversation lurches from the disappointment and annoyance of tonight to our extreme dissatisfaction with the current Prime Minister and the sitting Member of Parliament for Ipswich, Tom Hunt, who we concur is a both a lackey and a twit.  Unhappy in a political and footballing context, but happy to have spoken to Ray, I return to my seat for the second half.  Before play resumes, I have time for a brief look at my programme, the cover of which features Christian Walton glaring out suspiciously at us; page 66 refers to next week’s FA Cup tie with Barrow FC, who it describes, amusingly to my mind, as “the Cumbrian outfit”.  If you enter “Cumbrian outfit” in the search engine on your phone or personal computer it will tell you where best to go for fancy dress costumes in Workington.

Both teams take it in turns to foul one another when the game re-starts, and Scott Fraser sends a free-kick over the Rotherham cross bar. Almost an hour has passed since the match began and  Rotherham’s ‘tricky’ Frederik Ladapo combines with their most prosaically-named player, Michael Smith, to outwit the entire Town defence and run the ball across the face of the Town goal and beyond the far post where Shane (I imagine his parents were fans of Westerns or Alan Ladd) Ferguson clogs the ball into the roof of the net to remove all doubt that Rotherham United might not ascend to the top of the third division  tonight.

The remainder of the match dissolves into a mess of forlorn hope and disappointment for Ipswich.  The lairy blokes in glasses in front of me who had annoyed Ray in the first half show their true colours and become abusive towards the Town players.  “You’re all shit” shouts one of them, confirming his unsuitability as a summariser on Match of the Day.  But it’s an outburst that amuses the blokes behind me. “Ha ha” one of them chuckles, “Look at old Harry Potter down there”. 

Desperately, Town replace Bailey Clements and Lee Evans with Matthew Penney and Kyle Edwards and Joe Pigott makes a rare appearance in place of Conor Chaplin, but nothing changes. Michael Smith has a chance to make the score 3-0, but heads over the crossbar.  The Portman Road crowd occasionally remember that they should try to encourage their team but mostly they don’t bother, apparently content to watch the game as they would just another episode of a box set on Netflix.

Rotherham United are just too good for Town, their solidity and organisation more than enough to suppress any flair we think we might possess. The last ten minutes are run down by Rotherham as they make three substitutions of their own; my curiosity and attention only being pricked and grabbed by the unusual surname of Daniel Barlaser, who is booked by Mr Ward the referee, and the name of substitute Mickel Miller, whose surname matches the nickname of Rotherham United, The Millers, and whose first name suggests his parents or the registrar couldn’t spell Michael; I once had a girlfriend whose middle name was Jannette because her father couldn’t spell Jeanette.

In common with everyone else in the ground I am prepared for the boos that accompany the final whistle, although happily tonight they don’t convey the vitriol that some results provoked in previous seasons.  Sadly, after two consecutive defeats and a run of league games in which the Town haven’t scored, the optimism and bullishness of a few weeks ago has all too quickly evaporated for some people.  Whatever, it’s only a game, and so far on balance I’m enjoying this season; the frustration, the disappointment, the strangled hope are, after everything, what football is all about, most of the time.

Ipswich Town 1 Oldham Athletic 1

One of the many wonderful things about supporting a football team that is in the third division is that the FA Cup begins at the beginning of November.  None of this inexorable waiting about for Advent, Christmas and then New Year to come and go. No siree, the joy of knockout football comes early to the meek who do more than just inherit the Earth, they get to chase the glory that is knockout competition football.  Of course, we have already missed out on six rounds of extra-preliminary, preliminary, and qualifying rounds, but we can’t have everything and being meek we wouldn’t want it.

Today, the transparent plastic tub that serves as the 21st century’s replacement for the Football Association’s velvet bag has paired Ipswich Town with fourth division Oldham Athletic.  This is a pairing to rival some of the worst failures ever, like a race between a Ford Edsel and a Sinclair C5, or a competition between the Enron bank and ITV digital.   Ipswich Town and Oldham Athletic, I have been told, are the least successful clubs in English professional football in the past twenty years, being the only two who have either not been promoted or not made it to any sort of match at the new Wembley Stadium.  The good thing is that this has saved us supporters a considerable amount of money on grossly over-priced tickets, match day programmes and catering, for which we should be grateful.

It’s a blustery, cloudy day and fallen leaves scuttle along the footpath as I make my way through Gippeswyk Park; the autumnal scene reminds me of some of the opening sequences of the film The Exorcist. Portman Road is very quiet, stewards in huge fluorescent orange coats, and sniffer dogs easily out number supporters outside the away fans’ entrance.  The display on the windows at the back of the Cobbold Stand tell of former FA Cup glories and the day in March 1975 when a record crowd of 38,010 filled Portman Road to see the sixth-round tie versus Leeds United. I look at my watch, it’s a quarter to two; I had already been inside the ground nearly twenty minutes by now on that day forty-six and a half years ago. I buy a programme for a knockdown price (£2.00), and  confirm to myself that I prefer this 32 page programme to the usual 68 page one, even though it costs more per page; I live in hope of an eight or twelve page edition for less than a pound.

At the Arboretum pub (currently known as the Arbour House), I choose a pint of Nethergate Augustinian Amber Ale (£3.80).  The bar is unusually full, so my pint and I decant to the safety of the beer garden, which is reassuringly more like a backyard with tables and chairs. I text Mick to tell him “Je suis dans le jardin”.  It’s not long before he joins me with a pint of beer and a cup of dry roasted peanuts.  We talk of Ipswich Town, of property development and pension funds, catching the TGV to Marseille, the buildings of Le Corbusier, the colour theory of Wassily Kandinsky and the Bauhaus, and electric cars.  A little after twenty-five to three we leave for Portman Road, bidding the barmaid goodbye as Mick places our empty glasses and the cup that no longer contains peanuts on the bar.

Our tickets today (£10 for me, £5 for Mick plus £1.50 each unavoidable donation to some parasitic organisation called Seatgeek) are for Block Y of what is now known as the Magnus Group Stand, but used to be the plain old West Stand, named simply after the compass point rather than a commercial concern called West that had paid for the privilege.  Flight upon flight of stairs take us to the dimly lit upper tier of the stand where we edge past a line of sour-faced males of indeterminate age, but over fifty, to our seats.  My guess is there won’t be much banging of drums, lighting of flares or even vocal encouragement from these people, who look more like Jesuit priests than football supporters.

Although Remembrance Sunday isn’t until next week, and there will be a minute’s silence before the game versus Oxford United next Saturday, bizarrely we have another pre-match minute’s silence today.  Stadium announcer Stephen Foster tells us it is because we are in the ‘Remembrance period’ but it feels like football just likes minutes silences.  As ever the silence is strangely followed by applause, and then the game begins.  For the first forty-five minutes Town will be mostly trying to send the ball in the direction of the goal in front of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand (previously known as Churchman’s end) where in the lower tier I can make out ever-present Phil who never misses a game and Pat from Clacton.  Later, Mick will ask me if “the lady from Essex” still comes to the games, and I will point her out to him, locating her using gangways and rows of seats like co-ordinates in a game of Battleships.   Mick spots her and Pat from Clacton is sunk. Oldham Athletic are wearing a fetching ensemble of orange shirts and black shorts with orange socks; it’s a kit that stirs memories of Town’s fifth round tie away at Bristol Rovers in the snow of February 1978; or it would if, as is the modern fashion, Oldham’s shirts didn’t look like they’d had something spilled down the front of them.

Town start the game well with Oldham’s interestingly named Dylan Fage conceding a corner within the first minute before the oddly named Macauley Bonne heads a cross directly at goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler.  Within eight minutes Town lead as the oddly named Macauley Bonne’s cross sees Wes Burns do an impression of the shopkeeper in Mr Benn as suddenly, as if by magic he appears to score from very close range.  This is just the start we need; we will now surely go on to win by three or four goals to nil because Oldham Athletic are third from bottom of the fourth division and Town won 4-1 at Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday, what more convincing evidence predicting our inevitable victory could there be?  Indeed, Town continue to look the better team as the oddly named Macauley Bonne and Wes Burns both have shots blocked, but then the shots become fewer to be replaced by scores of passes back and forwards across the pitch.

Bersant Celina tries a little flick pass with the outside of his right foot, which doesn’t succeed. “You’ve got to earn the right to do that sort of thing” announces the joyless sounding man beside me to the World, presumably unaware that he is talking rubbish; you just need to get it right.  Oldham break forward and are a pass away from a shot on goal on a couple of occasions. “We’re leaving the door open” continues the joyless man, seemingly happy to be miserable.

Despite the 1-0 lead, the Portman Road crowd, which will later be announced as consisting of 437 Oldham supporters within a paltry total of 8,845, is quiet.  Where are the other 29,165 who were here in 1975?  A good number are probably no longer alive, I guess.  “Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit”  chant the Oldham supporters in the Cobbold stand with predictable coarseness.  I feel like telling them that’s because some of us are dead.  Despite high hopes the FA Cup seems to have lost a little of its sparkle and it’s only twenty -five past three.  I realise that over the Cobbold Stand and across the roof tops beyond I can see the top of the Buttermarket shopping centre.  It’s the twenty seventh minute and Oldham’s number nine, the optimistic sounding Hallam Hope heads the ball just wide of the Town goal. 

Seven more unremarkable minutes pass and the sometimes not very controlled Sam Morsy is booked by referee Mr Hair, who it is to be hoped will one day referee in the Bundesliga.  Stupidly, having dropped to the ground under a challenge, Morsy grabs hold of the ball as if to award himself a free-kick.  Rightfully, Herr Hair books him for hand ball and the pointlessness of the incident mirrors the drifting aimlessness of the Town performance and its quiet backdrop; this isn’t what Cup football is meant to be like. 

After a couple of further failed goal attempts from Oldham, with four minutes left until half-time they score. Latics’ number ten, Davis Keillor-Dunn, who sounds like he could have been friends with Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf, sends a fine shot into the corner of the Town goal from about 20 metres after Toto Nsiala initially fails to deal with a ball that had been booted forward.  “How shit must you be we’re drawing 1-1” sing the Oldham supporters to the tune of Sloop John B, coincidentally showing the majestic timelessness of the Beach Boys’ 1966 album, Pet Sounds.

With half-time fast approaching Kane Vincent-Young tugs an Oldham shirt to concede a free-kick. “Stupid boy” says a man who sounds even more joyless than the man next to me but nothing like Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.  I suggest to Mick that players should have their hands bound with tape to prevent them from pulling each other’s shirts; ever reasonable and practical Mick suggests they simply wear mittens.  Following a corner to Oldham, the half ends and with the exception of one man, the occupants of Row J rise and then descend the stairs to use the toilets and the catering,  or to just stand about.

As Mick and I wait for the queue to the toilet to shorten we talk of exorcism, the disappointment of the first half, the architectural splendour of the Corporation tram shed and power station in Constantine Road, and how my wife Paulene has a degree in theology.  I decide I can wait until after the game for a pee and whilst Mick joins the queue and disappears into the toilet, I am impressed by the long hair of a man standing a few metres away from me,  but die a little inside when I read in the programme that when he grows up one of today’s mascots wants to be a policeman.  More happily, the other two mascots want to be a footballer and a superhero.

Back in our seats the second half begins with the unusual replacement of both Ipswich full-backs as Janoi Donacien and Steve Penney replace Kane Vincent-Young and Cameron Burgess.  It’s a change that brings almost immediate results as a mittenless Janoi Donacien tugs an orange shirt and Herr Hair awards a penalty to Oldham.  The otherwise impressive Dylan Bahamboula steps up for Oldham to see his penalty kick saved by Christian Walton and a sudden roar fills Portman Road which belies the small number of people present.  For a few minutes the home crowd is energised and it physically feels as if we care as much we think do.  Wes Burns dashes down the wing, urged on by the crowd, but the sudden excitement is evidently too much and he propels his cross way beyond the far post and away for a goal kick.   “How much more waking up do we need?” asks the joyless soul next to me.

To an extent Town’s performance in the second half is better than that of the first.  The full-backs now on the pitch are an improvement on those they replaced and Oldham produce fewer decent chances to score.   When Connor Chaplin replaces the ineffective Kyle Edwards the link between Morsy and the front players is strengthened and another dimension is added to our attacking play, but somehow it’s still not enough.  As I tell Mick, all our players look like they got home at four o’clock this morning.

As Town’s failure to score grows roots and blossoms, the Oldham supporters gain in confidence. “Come on Oldham, Come on Oldham” they chant, giving a clue to the home fans as to what they might be doing, but we don’t twig.  The upshot with ten minutes to go is a reprise of that old favourite “Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit” and who can argue, it’s no longer 1975.  Despite Oldham encouraging Town with a misplaced pass out of defence, we are unable to capitalise and the Oldham supporters are the only ones singing as they ask “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” Predictably no one dares break our vow of silence to answer their question.

As the game enters its final minutes Sone Aluko replaces our best player, Wes Burns, and Rekeem Harper replaces Lee Evans.  Encouragingly Oldham replace their best player, Dylan Bahamboula with Harry Vaughan, but nothing works and five minutes of added on time only raises hopes, but does not fulfil them.

The final whistle is blown by Herr Hair and the crowd get up from their seats showing the same level of emotion that they might if they were all on a bus and it had just reached their stop, turning away from the pitch and averting their gaze like you would if trying to avoid eye contact with a drunk.  It has been a very disappointing afternoon of FA Cup football,  and has failed on every level to live up to what the competition is supposed to be about. 

On the bright side, at least we are still in the draw for the Second Round and until we lose, the promise of glory still remains.  It’s not every year we do as well as this.

Ipswich Town 2 Fleetwood Town 1

It’s a cool, almost cold, still, grey autumn day.  As I walk down through Gippeswyk Park a leaden pillow of cloud hangs over the town and Portman Road.  I march on through the gathering crowds, past people perched on car park railings folding foamy bread, heavy with sauce-laden sausage into their gaping mouths.  I stop only briefly to buy a programme (£3.50) and to put a coin in a collection box for an NHS charity, although I thought that’s what we paid our taxes for; I guess we’re being asked to make up the shortfall for the very wealthy and those companies like Amazon who could pay more, but choose not to because how else is their owner expected to be the richest man in the world and launch ageing actors who once played fictional astronauts into space.

At the Arbor House (formerly the Arboretum), Mick is already sat at a table enjoying a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride. I toy with the thought of copying him but opt for a pint of Mauldon’s Phantom (£3.90), it occurs to me that the beer seems to increase in price by 10 pence every time I come here.  I join Mick to discuss how we’ve passed our respective weeks and other assorted issues of our times, including driving a hearse on the M25, cycling in Belgium, the Kray twins and East Suffolk County Council police houses. At twenty minutes to three we depart for Portman Road, as do the three people sat at an adjacent table, we follow them down High Street.

Mick and I bid our adieus near the turnstiles close to the corner of Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Constantine Road, Mick’s seat is in the upper tier of what is now called the Magnus Group stand; I’m in the cheap seats at the bottom of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  Having vouched for my being double-jabbed I enter the ground through turnstile sixty-one, which I select over turnstiles fifty-nine and sixty because 1961 was when we won the Second Division for the first time.  I make my way through the undercroft of the stand having put on my face mask, although few others have the decency to do likewise, and Ipswich has the country’s highest Covid infection rates.

The teams are walking out on to the pitch as I shuffle past Pat from Clacton and Fiona to my seat.  “We were getting worried about you” says Pat as I sit down, and in dipping my head my glasses fly off.  “You’ve every reason to be” I reply.  The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ plays and people join in with the na-na-nas. The floodlights are already on and with knees taken and applauded, at a minute past three the game begins. Town are attempting to put the ball in the goal just in front of me, Pat from Clacton, Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood.  In their red shirts with white sleeves Fleetwood look like a bargain basement Arsenal, and it’s good to see a team not change their kit unnecessarily just because they’re playing away from home; both teams are even wearing white shorts!

Just a minute of the game has passed and already the Sir Bobby Robson stand are singing “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away, and we will fight for evermore because of Boxing Day” as if to reiterate the often made point that Christmas seems to get earlier every year.  Town win a corner. “Come on you Blues” I bellow hopefully. “Is that Martin?” says Phil, turning round to Pat to ask a question to which he already knows the answer.

It’s early, the game is still settling down and the crowd are getting accustomed to what they are seeing before them. The referee Sam Allison is black; a voice behind me says “Uriah Rennie, innit”, a comment which unfortunately is unthinkingly racist, although I have no doubt it was not intended as such, but at least it does highlight the scarcity of black football referees despite there being a lot of black footballers.

Ten minutes pass and it looks as if Fleetwood almost score; Gerard Garner appearing from my low down, distant view to beat three players before having a shot blocked.  Four minutes later and Town have a goal disallowed as the oddly named Macauley Bonne heads in a free-kick, but is considered by the assistant referee to be have been offside. Another five minutes later and Bonne directs a free header at the Fleetwood goalkeeper Alex Cairns, a large man who has made the double fashion faux-pas of wearing dark pants beneath his yellow shorts and displaying a distinct VPL.  Cairns is however one of the few footballers to share a surname with the name of a northern Australian city.  

The game has settled into a somewhat disappointing pattern of Town passing the ball about quite a bit, but not having any decent attempts at scoring a goal.  It’s nearly half past three and Paul Cook is gesticulating wildly from the touch line like someone directing traffic having dropped a few amphetamines.  Janoi Donacien wins Town a corner.  “Come On You Blues! Come On You Blues!” tumbles from the Sir Bobby Robson stand and a handful of people in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand join in, including me. Toto Nsiala heads the corner kick over the cross bar from a position so close to the goal that it looked easier to score. 

 It’s gone half-past three and after Fleetwood’s James Hill fouls Conor Chaplin, his name becomes the first to enter Mr Allison’s notebook.  I like to think of Mr Allison amusing himself childishly by stroking his chin as if in deep thought and then writing down Hill’s first name as Jimmy.  Ten minutes until half-time and Sone Aluko has Town’s first decent shot at goal, but it goes past the post. Finally, as the half peters out Sam Morsy becomes embroiled in a contretemps with Fleetwood’s Jay Matete, as they literally wrestle each other for the ball; Morsy is clearly at fault and Matete is awarded a free-kick.  A bit like the weather, the half has been rather dull.

My half-time snack of a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar is the highlight of the afternoon since leaving the pub and Ray offers the opinion that Town haven’t done very much so far as he stops by to chat on his way to use the facilities beneath the stand.

The game resumes at four minutes past four and the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson are soon singing “You’re fucking shit, You’re fucking shit, You’re fucking shit you’re fucking shit, You’re fucking shit,” which strikes me as being not very polite.  From the comments of the man next to me I think their “song” is directed at the Fleetwood goalkeeper Alex Cairns, and I can only think that they too have spotted that you can see his pants through his yellow shorts, although I think it would probably have been more helpful to sing “Don’t wear dark pants, Don’t wear dark pants,  Don’t wear dark pants with yellow shorts, Don’t wear dark pants.”  

Cairns’ misdemeanor is soon punished however and with just four minutes played of the new half, Conor Chaplin turns outside the penalty area and sends a firm shot into the corner of the goal with, as the man next to me says, the goalkeeper “stranded”.  Clearly getting nostalgic for former glories, the Sir Bobby Robson stand erupt into a chorus of “1-0 to the Tractor Boys” to the tune of Village People’s 1979 hit ‘Go West’.  Feeling elated by taking the lead I risk sensory overload as I breathe in the smell of the damp turf. This afternoon’s attendance is announced as 20,099 with 133 of that number being from Fleetwood.  Pat from Clacton thinks she might have won the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ coach and passes me the sheet containing everyone’s guesses.  Sadly, I have to break the news that her guess of 20,069 is not closer than someone else’s guess of 20,103, although to be fair to Pat her number looks a lot more like 20,099 than 20,103 does and she got five of the digits right; there has to be a field of experimental maths where what the numbers look like matters.

Back on the pitch and Wes Burns replaces Sone Aluko who is wiping his nose and has presumably either suddenly developed a heavy cold or has a nosebleed.    Meanwhile, back in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand Pat from Clacton tells us that she will be having a Marks & Spencer prawn salad for tea. 

It’s nearly half past four and Christian Walton makes a save from Ged Garner who had been allowed to dribble far too close to the goal.  From the resultant corner the ball is hit into the crowd where a man over the other side of the gangway from me calmly stands up and heads it back onto the pitch.  The last time I did that I tell Fiona and Pat from Clacton, my glasses flew off (Woodbridge Town, September 2018, FA Cup extra-preliminary round v Clapton).

Fleetwood’s Jay Matete is booked for a foul on Sam Morsy and meanwhile I count twenty-one seagulls on the cross girder above the roof of the Sir Bobby Robson stand. Fifteen minutes of normal time remain and Town miss two chances in quick succession as first the oddly named Macauley Bonne has a shot saved by the bloke in the dark underpants and then Conor Chaplin sends a shot above the crossbar.  Attempting to create a diversion, Fleetwood replace Ged Garner with someone called Paddy Lane; it’s Penny’s brother I tell Fiona, although of course I do know that Penny Lane is really a street in Liverpool, and Paddy Lane is round the back of the Roman Catholic cathedral.

Town miss another opportunity as Wes Burns billows the net with a shot to make half the ground think he had scored, only to realise the ball had gone behind the post. Sam Morsy is eventually booked for persistent fouling with Mr Allison offering a fine mime, pointing in different directions to indicate that Morsy had committed fouls here, there, and everywhere.  Whilst Morsy receives his punishment from Mr Allison I am struck by the long shins of Fleetwood’s number nine, Callum Morton, a youth who the app on my phone says is English, although his stroppy demeanour, ginger hair and surname shared with a Greenock football club imply he is Scottish.  I have a premonition that he will score, which is based on the fact that he looks like he has the capacity to annoy.

Something happens across the other side of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and from up in the Cobbold stand comes a chorus of “We forgot, We forgot, We forgot that you were here” and I think to myself “Who said that?”.  Back on the grass and Fleetwood’s Johnson fouls Celina and is booked before Fleetwood string together an alarming number of passes prior to Town eventually clearing the ball. Less than ten minutes of normal time remain, and Lee Evans concedes a free-kick.  The Liverpudlian back street crosses the ball and the annoying youth with long shins heads the ball into the Town goal from unfeasibly close range.  What had felt like a comfortable one-nil lead isn’t any longer,j but as I said to Fiona, we hadn’t conceded a goal for almost two whole games, so it was unlikely we’d hold on much longer.  We would probably have conceded sooner or later even if we had to score it ourselves.

To the credit of the Town supporters, we don’t become over-anxious and we even raise a few chants of “Come on Ipswich, Come On Ipswich” and indulge in some rhythmic clapping.  On the pitch, Town remain patient, passing the ball back and forth waiting to prise an opening rather than just hitting and hoping or ‘getting it in the mixer’.  In the eighty-eighth minute a deep cross from Lee Evans is headed across the goal by the oddly named Macauley Bonne, it’s a decent chance; and then the game enters five minutes of added on time.  A draw wouldn’t be unexpected, but hope remains that we can win; this is a team that has scored twenty-eight times in thirteen games, an average of more than two goals a game, so we’re due another one.

It’s the ninety third minute; Fiona has had to leave early to catch a train because she’s going out this evening.  The excellent Janoi Donacien runs all the way to the goal line to knock back a deep, cross field ball; his flicked pass falls to Bersant Celina who sweeps it imperiously past the man in the dark underpants to give Town victory.  It’s the best ending to a match at Portman Road in years, possibly since Pablo Counago scored almost directly from the kick-off after Coventry had equalised in 2010.  Town did manage a near last minute win against Shrewsbury last November, but that doesn’t count because last season only happened on ifollow.

What started as a grey, dull, cold day has ended in a blaze of glory, the embers of which will glow all week long and at least until we lose again, which hopefully won’t be for ages; and just to add a barely needed coat of varnish, Norwich have lost 7-0 too.  Some days are definitely better than others.