Vannes OC 1 Chambly-Oise 2

Ligue National 2 is the fourth tier of French league football; it consists of amateur clubs and the reserve teams of the clubs in Ligue 1 and 2 and is divided up into four regional groups each containing sixteen teams.  There are nevertheless many clubs at this level that have previously been in the two professional leagues, and both Vannes and Chambly fall into this category, with Chambly having had just a single season in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020; neither club has ever scaled the heights of Ligue 1 but Vannes were in Ligue 2 from 2008 to 2011 and reached the final of the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup) at the Stade de France in 2008, although they lost 0-4 to Bordeaux.

Vannes is a coastal town and former port, which in some ways might be said to be comparable to my hometown of Ipswich due to its physical geography and former dockside and having a history dating back well over a thousand years, although based on how busy it is today Vannes seems to be thriving a little more than Ipswich at the present time, but then France is in the EU and the French realise in the spirit of egalite and fraternite that taxation and public spending allow money to be spent for the greater good.

After a lazy afternoon in Vannes spent mostly sat at a pavement café, in the gardens beneath the town walls and by the old port which is now filled with yachts, my wife Paulene and I stroll across the road from the port to the guichets where we buy two tickets (8 euros each) for this evening’s match which kicks-off at six-thirty.  Entry to the Stade de la Rabine is just up the road and round the corner from the guichets and at the gate our tickets are checked, and the stubs torn off by two redoubtable looking middle-aged women.  Entry takes us directly into the under croft of the steel framed south stand; walking along beneath the upper tier it feels like we are in a lofty cloister.  The main stand is a plain concrete and steel structure typical of many French municipal stadiums but a little newer than most.

Getting into the feel of what is effectively the French equivalent of ‘non-league’ football, I have to have a beer. An un-identified blonde beer in a re-usable plastic cup adorned with the club crest costs just 2 euros. Paulene has a coffee and bottle of water which are a euro each, but first I must exchange my cash for the Jetons (tokens) that are the only means of paying for food and drink in the ground.  I am happy to see there is also a club shop where for just three euros I add another petit fanion (pennant) to the collection that hangs above the cistern in my upstairs toilet back home. I wander about a bit and snap a few photos and then we find our seats as the PA system plays some rather strange bland electro-pop music, as it has done since we first walked in.

The main stand eventually fills up with the usual collection of old blokes, actual and would-be wives and girlfriends of players, young boys in club tracksuits who probably play for the under 13s team, and other sundry supporters of the local team.  The stand to our left is completely empty; there is one lonely man in the stand to our right and the far side of the ground is a building site on which the concrete frame that has so far been erected could be compared to a sort of modern-day Stonehenge, but only if the light was very, very bad.  The teams process onto the pitch and line up in a single row before two banners proclaiming the name of league National 2.  Three-minutes late, at twenty-seven minutes to seven after a ‘ceremonial’ kick-off involving two older men in smart but casual clothing, Chambly Oise kick off, aiming towards the goal in front of the two-tiered stand occupied by the lone supporter.

Before three minutes have passed, Chambly win the games’ first corner.  A minute later and a cross from the left is diverted into the Vannes goal by the foot on the end of the outstretched leg of Chambly’s number 19, which he has dangled beyond the defender who is alongside him.  The goal catches me by surprise a bit, as it did that defender, and I clap, drawing a look of mild disapproval from the very tall, elderly man who is folded up on the seat next but one to me.  To be honest I had thought Chambly were Vannes because Chambly are wearing an all-white kit whilst Vannes are wearing all-black and I couldn’t imagine that any club’s first choice kit would be all-black; I had therefore assumed that they were the away team.   The French Wikipedia page on Vannes OC later tells me that Vannes OC did formerly play in black and white but changed to all-black a few seasons ago; personally, as someone who still can’t get used to seeing teams of referees, I think it was a bad decision.

The quality of the football so far is not high and the crowd is quiet, particularly the lone man behind the goal, but Chambly look the better team.  In the absence of anything more interesting I note that the Chambly players do not have their names on the back of their shirts, but the Vannes players do with the exception of number 33.  Also, number 9 for Vannes, whose name is Ebrard, has one leg of his shorts hanging down, but the other one rolled up.  Paulene and I speculate as to why this is.  Is it perhaps to remind him to kick the ball now and then with his weaker foot or, in the absence of a knot in his hankie, is it something more prosaic such as a reminder to put the cat out when he gets home.

In the eighteenth minute a cross from the right by Chambly’s number 8, a short, stocky and industrious player, is headed in unchallenged by the towering number 23.  The Vannes goalkeeper Pettiogenet (number 40) gets a hand or two to the ball but cannot prevent it from hitting the net.  The goal seems to further prove the point so far made that Chambly are the better team. But slowly Vannes are improving, as if they needed at least twenty minutes to warm up, and they win a couple of corners. Ebrard looks keen and almost threatens on a couple of occasions before, as the game is about to enter its second third, he dribbles into the penalty area and tumbles to the ground as a result of a probable trip.  Ebrard gets up and strikes the ball to the anonymous goalkeeper’s right and with his right foot, the one beneath the long leg of his shorts.  The goalkeeper gets a hand to the shot but cannot keep it out, merely pushing it into the corner of the net. 

A couple of minutes after the goal the eager Ebrard concedes a free-kick as he dives in a little too keenly on a Chambly defender.  The defender doesn’t seem too bothered but the goalkeeper comes running out of his goal to remonstrate with Ebrard as if he now harbours a grudge against him for having beaten him with that penalty kick.  Vannes are now up and running and pressing for an equaliser and Kimbembe and Nzuzi link up well down the right and Nzuzi’s low cross travels to the far side of the penalty area where Ebrard has the time and space to sweep the ball majestically into the top left-hand corner of the stand behind the goal.  His attempt was a bold one as the outcome showed.

The last ten minutes of the first half are notable for Paulene spotting that a lean-to projection from the side of the building opposite looks like it has two eyes and pouting mouth.  A minute of additional time is played and I go and purchase a tray of chips (2 euros) with mayonnaise with my remaining jetons.  I return to the stand to eat my chips whilst a pair of black-headed gulls swoop into the stand on the look out for any stray deep fried food that might come their way; I guard my chips jealously and give the gulls a discouraging glare.

The match resumes at twenty-four minutes to eight. In the box like building next door to the lean-to building that looks like a face, a man is watching the game, presumably free of charge, from an upstairs window.  A short while later the windows are shut and we assume he decided it was either getting too cold to have the window wide open or he just got bored.  The second half sees substitutions for Chambly first as number twenty-seven replaces number eleven, and then for Vannes with Mvogo replacing Duclovel.  In a departure from how I have previously seen substitutions made, a woman in ‘late middle-age’ wearing a Breton jumper holds up the electronic board displaying the numbers of the incoming and outgoing players.  Paulene and I assume she is the club secretary , but alongside the referee’s assistant, the coaches and the delegue principal (an overseeing official) in his rather crumpled looking blue suit, she complements an interesting tableau of touchline figures.

The second half witnesses the first concerted outbreak of support from the crowd but in the form of the treble voices of the under 13’s who chant “Allez les Noires” over and over again, until they get bored, which thankfully doesn’t take too long.  More substitutions happen and Nzuzi is replaced by another anonymous player, the mysterious number thirty-four whilst anonymous thirty-three is replaced by equally anonymous thirty-two.  In due course the final minutes approach and there is a discernible effort from Vannes to finally equalise.  The ninetieth minute sees Vannes win a corner and in what seems like a final push both legs of Ebrard’s shorts miraculously appear to be the same length as he surges forward.  But it seems like his last hurrah and having lost the ball he stands bent over with his hands on his knees, a spent force.  Five minutes of time additionelle are announced, but Vannes can’t do enough to score and the initial judgement from the first twenty minutes that Chambly are the better team holds good.

With the full-time whistle we exit the ground the way we came in and head back to our car, where we will learn we have to pay a stonking 9 euros 80.  If you come to Vannes for more than an hour or so try not to park at Republique.  It’s not been the greatest evening’s football in truth, but Vannes OC is a decent little club with an excellent stadium and lovely people selling the tickets, the food and the drink.  I sincerely hope they get back to Ligue National and possibly Ligue 2 soon. As the Under13’s told us “Allez les Noires”.

US Concarneau 1 AS Nancy 2

The Breton coastal town of Concarneau is apparently best known as a successful fishing port and for its walled Ville Close, a quaint and historic medieval fortified town transformed into an appalling tourist trap full of the sort of shops or pristine buildings you find in places like Lavenham or Bourton-On-The-Water in England. In its favour however, Concarneau is also home of the Brasserie de Bretagne (Britanny Brewery) and Union Sportive Concarnoise, its local football club, which plays in the third division of French football known as Ligue National.

US Concarneau, as they are commonly called, are relatively recent arrivals in Ligue National and have aspirations to reach Ligue 2; tonight, they face Association Sportive Nancy-Lorraine, more usually known as AS Nancy, a club which has twice won the French FA Cup and spent twenty-five seasons in Ligue 2 and thirty in Ligue 1.  Today however, Concarneau are second from top of Ligue National and Nancy seventeenth, albeit after just three games.

The Stade Guy Piriou where USC play their home games is at the edge of town in that nether world of retail parks, Zones Industrielles and feeder roads inaccessible to pedestrians. I had asked in the Tourist Information Office where is a good place to park and the pretty young woman there had rolled her eyes with a look that told of chaos, but then said we could park in the car park of the LeClerc supermarket which is about 100m from the ground through a tunnel beneath the main road.  After getting a bit of shopping and an evening picnic, which my wife Paulene and I eat in the car, we make for the ground.

Having had difficulty trying to buy tickets on-line we had visited the ground earlier in the afternoon on arrival at Concarneau.  Although there are guichets open at the entrance to the ground selling tickets, these were shut when we arrived earlier and I had gone directly into the club office where I had selected our seats on someone’s lap-top and stood by his desk as he printed out two tickets for the main stand (12 euros each).  The stadium sits on the top of a small hill and the main entrance delivers us up a slope through an inflatable arch to the corner of the stadium; I don’t know if I’m in a football ground or a bouncy castle, but there is a main stand in front of us and to our left.  Pleasingly there is a club shop where for 5 euros I add to the collection of petit fanions (pennants) that adorn my upstairs toilet at home, and also purchase a mug (9 euros) and acquire a match day programme which, like at every French club that produces a programme, is free.  The ground has three excellent buvettes which remind me of stalls at a fairground; they serve huge sausages piled on top of massive heaps of chips, and the very tasty local ‘Britt’ beer. After visiting what is possibly the smartest and sweetest smelling toilet I have ever encountered in a football ground; it’s all stainless steel and shiny coloured tiles, I change euros into tokens worth a euro each and buy a beer for me (3 euros) and a cola (2 euros) for Paulene, which surprisingly and disappointingly is not Breizh Cola. I then join Paulene in the main stand for the pre-match entertainment of observing everyone else arrive, search for their seats or eat sausage and chips, before watching a fastidious man organise three pairs of youths into holding banners displaying the Ligue National logo and the two club crests.  Off to our left the match ball sits above a plinth in front of the players’ tunnel and appears to be hovering in mid-air.

At half past seven the match kicks off, with Nancy in their all-red kit getting first go with the ball.  Concarneau are in blue shirts and socks with white shorts and the first chant of the evening surprisingly emanates from the main stand; “Allez les bleus, Allez les bleus” confirms that I am not suddenly colour blind. On the far side of the ground, in the long, low, basic but well maintained partly seated, partly terraced stand a knot of supporters sing “Allez, Allez, Allez” to the tune of The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’.  

Perhaps because of the backing of the home crowd, USC quickly settle into the game and their number 24 Ambroise Gboho soon threads an excellent diagonal through ball into the path of Antoine Rabillard, who has made an overlapping run, but Rabillard hits his shot straight into the body of Nancy’s goalkeeper. USC’s Amine Boutrah then wins the games’ first corner and Tom Lebeau wins the second. “Allez les bleus, Allez les bleus” sings the home crowd again.  Lebeau crosses the ball and Rabillard heads over the bar. Low, evening sunlight falls across the pitch illuminating the grass vividly where it doesn’t cast a lengthening shadow of the main stand. The sky is gun metal grey in the distance; there have been heavy showers inland throughout the day and a rainbow extends up then fades away beyond the opposite stand.  Behind the left-hand goal, on the steep concrete terrace below the hospitality area people appear to be putting their coats on; it doesn’t seem to be raining but briefly there is a faint rattle on the metal roof of the stand.

Back on the pitch, Nancy’s defending is effective but becoming more desperate and Lucas Pellegrini is the first player to see the carton jaune (yellow card) of the referee after he knocks over USC’s Amine Boutrah, who I am not surprised to read in the programme is the player of the month for August.  Within sixty-seconds Nancy’s number eight, Lenny Nangis follows the bad example that has been set and is booked for a foul on USC’s Georges Gope Fenepes.  If Lenny Nangis has any defence, it is that he has a great name.  The resultant free-kick is deflected over the cross bar for another corner to Concarneau.  A third Nancy player is booked five minutes later when Baptiste Mouaza fouls Ambroise Gboho. The supporters on the far side of the ground sing the na-na-nas from The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and then Mouaza provokes a sharp intake of breath as he trips USC’s Gaoussa Traore and we await the consequences. Like a not very good magician the referee holds up his yellow card and then with a distinct absence of sleight of hand replaces it with a red one.  Mouaza hangs around for a bit, seemingly discussing his misfortune with anyone who’ll listen as most of the other players crowd around the referee and the prostrate Gaussa Traore. When the melee clears and Traore has risen from the dead, Mouaza seeks clarification from the referee that he is no longer required on the pitch and his worst fears are confirmed with a wave of the referee’s arm.

  A minute of the first half remains, and USC win another corner; the ball is crossed from the left and having evaded everyone else, falls in front of captain Thibault Sinquin who appears to do little more than absent-mindedly stick out a leg, and thereby scores.  After two minutes of added on time, the teams retreat to the dressing rooms for mi-temps (half-time) with Concarneau in possession of a well-deserved lead, although having failed to score for the first forty-four minutes the eventual goal came as a bit of a surprise. Half-time sees a flood of people towards the buvettes and I get up from my seat to stretch my legs and peer down on them through the scratched Perspex screen at the end of the stand.

The game resumes at 8:32 and although Nancy have some early forays down the flanks it is USC’s Ambroise Gnoho who comes closest to scoring but for an offside flag and Lebeau shoots past the post from all of 30 metres.  With just ten minutes gone of the new half Georges Gape Fenepes,  who might be the first player from New Caledonia I have ever seen, is substituted by Faisal Mannai.  I don’t think it’s Mannai’s fault but within a minute of his appearance a passing move down the left for Nancy ends with the sort of cross commonly known as ‘inviting’, and Lenny Nangis  accepts the invitation, heading firmly into the Concarneau net to unexpectedly equalise.

Despite having lost their lead, Concarneau will surely still go onto win having a man advantage and they continue to press forward with Robillard, Traore and Boutrah always looking the most likely to conjure up a decent chance.  With a third of the match remaining USC win another corner after a flurry of activity around the Nancy goal.  A low cross from the right is just too far ahead of everyone to allow anyone to touch it into the net.  “Merde” says the bloke behind me through gritted teeth as a pass by substitute Faisal Mannai is intercepted by a Nancy player who breaks forward into the Concarneau half.  Nothing comes of it however and Thibault Sinquin in turn breaks forward for USC from his centre half position, but his low cross from inside the penalty area is cleared.

The game is into its last fifteen minutes or normal time and Gaoussa Traore lashes a shot somewhat desperately, which travels high and wide of the Nancy goal.  Nancy substitute Lamine Cisse for Isaak Umbdenstock, but not before Cisse looks confused as to which direction he must run to leave the pitch; after initially running away from the benches he checks and runs back and Umbdenstock runs on.  Concarneau replace Adrien Jouliex with Alec Georgen but are coming no closer to scoring a second goal.

Ten minutes remain of normal time and Nancy win a rare corner;  Diafra Sakho meets the ball on his forehead and Nancy are suddenly winning as the ball bulges the net with the Concarneau goalkeeper and defenders static.  Even now I can’t bring myself to believe that Concarneau won’t equalise,  but as Tom Lebeau is replaced by Pierre Jouan there are just seven minutes left and Nancy are taking every opportunity, and creating more to eke out that time by winning free kicks and staying down on the ground.  When a player goes down ‘injured’ on the far side of the field the slow-moving physio who looks about seventy-five can only trundle across the pitch.  Nancy make use of their penultimate substitution before six minutes of added on time are announced and then make the final one as they control the end of the game, not in terms of active football but in terms of frustrating Concarneau by fragmenting the remaining time into useless moments of nothingness.

Full-time arrives too soon for Concarneau and Nancy will make the 920 kilometre journey back to Alsace with an unexpected win, which in the context of modern football they deserve, but it wasn’t always much fun to watch and many would say they had ‘stolen’ the points.  Nevertheless, Concarneau is a great place to come to watch a match and is reminiscent of an English fourth division ground but with better beer, better food and cheaper admission prices; Paulene and I therefore have had a splendid time.

Ipswich Town 2 Blackpool 0

I am a little ashamed to admit it, but my record of seeing Ipswich play Blackpool is rather poor and weirdly, of the nine occasions on which I have seen Blackpool play away from home, six of them have been at Layer Road, Elm Park, Griffin Park or Fratton Park, not Portman Road.  Of course I have excuses.  Ipswich’s first nine fixtures against the Tangerines in the 1960’s and early 1970’s occurred before I attended my first game in April 1971. Town then didn’t play Blackpool at all throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s which were the years when I had the time, the money and inclination to rarely miss a game. When Town’s and Blackpool’s paths next crossed again, in the 2007/08 season, I am pleased to say I did make it to both Portman Road and Bloomfield Road; but one visit to the coastal town they forgot to close down was enough for me, and I haven’t been back since, despite the lovely trams.

In 2009 the home fixture versus Blackpool coincided rather inconveniently with my father’s funeral; I guess I could have sneaked away after the interment; he wouldn’t have minded I don’t suppose, particularly given that he was dead beneath a couple of metres of Suffolk sod, but some of the relatives and other folk left breathing might have thought it was a bit off.  Since then, due to disillusionment inspired by the appointment of Roy Keane, a four year spell on the committee of an Eastern Counties League club and then a sudden illness I have  made it to just two of the seven subsequent Portman Road fixtures.  Today therefore I am rather chuffed to even be ‘virtually’ at the game, courtesy of the ifollow and I have even ordered a programme, which I am pleased to say has arrived in this post this morning; well played Royal Mail.

The post isn’t the only good thing about today I find. It’s a beautifully grey, dank winter’s day and a pall of dull cloud hangs over the horizon as I take a walk along puddle strewn roads between sodden fields and beneath the gaunt, dripping trees.  It’s a lovely day for football.  Back in the warmth of my centrally heated home I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ of fennel tea; I awoke in the small hours with a terrible stomach ache and it feels like it might still have a grievance.  My wife Paulene is watching Troyes v Toulouse on BEINSports tv and I join her on the sofa for the top of the table Ligue 2 clash; Paulene kindly says she will forgo the second half so that I can watch the ifollow in the comfort of the living room; she’ll just sit and read.

Having left the Stade de l’Aube with second placed Toulouse enjoying a 1-0 half-time lead over first placed Troyes, I log into the ifollow in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots, Sheeran, Adolf and Brenner, being announced, or rather given their “Shout Out”, although thankfully no one actually shouts them out.  The mascots’ names may really have been Sebastien, Brodie and Zak, but I couldn’t say for sure and I like to think either set of names is equally plausible.  A brief excerpt of commentary follows from 2013 when a goal from the underrated but foolish Michael Chopra gave Town our last but one victory over Blackpool at Portman Road.  Finally the main event arrives, and the BBC Radio Suffolk studio hands over to “Mick Mills alongside Brenner Woolley.”

Brenner’s opening gambit is that defeat for Town this afternoon is “something that simply cannot be allowed to happen” although he doesn’t raise our hopes much as he refers to Town being “stuck in this malaise”, and I imagine a world in which Morrissey is a BBC local radio football commentator.  Brenner asks Mick what he makes of Luke Chambers being dropped from the team for today’s game.  Mick is not surprised but clearly feeling solidarity with another Town captain he admits to feeling “shameful” about it, which he shouldn’t because unless he’s not telling us something it wasnt his decision.  Mick explains how Chambers has been a “fabulous servant” and whilst he’s not a “10” each week, he’s never a “3” either, and is “…right in the middle of those”; which makes him a six and a half which is almost  on the sunny side of  solidly average.  Mick carries on with his monologue and I drift off before I am eventually shaken from my reverie by Brenner’s joyful sounding reference to a possible “Sears, Parrott partnership”.  I don’t suppose for a minute such a thing will happen and suspect Brenner simply liked the sound of those three words together, I know I did. Blackpool kick off towards Churchman’s in their “all tangerine” kit and Brenner ignores the white band across their shoulders.

It takes Brenner less than 47 seconds to use the phrase “early doors”, which is a new record; the doors are clearly getting earlier, very much Light My Fire rather than Riders on the Storm.  Brenner quickly ploughs on through his regular obsessions, telling us that Luke Woolfenden has had his haircut ; “ gone is the alice band” he says, before revealing that the ball has been given away by the  “Australian Dougal”, who sounds like a character in an antipodean version of the Magic Roundabout.

Town have started well. “A lot to like about that attack” says Mick as Myles Kenlock and the fabulously monikered and on-loan Troy Parrott link up.  Nine minutes pass. “Very little in the way of goalmouth action so far” says Brenner bringing us back down to earth.   Another Town attack flounders before getting inside the Blackpool penalty area. “Parrott lost his footing “ says Mick and childishly I laugh imagining a tropical bird falling off its perch.

“Corner kick in the rain” says Brenner coming up with what sounds like a song title as he combines commentary with a weather report.   The corner comes to nothing, but it keeps on raining.  “We’re quite strange to each other, this line-up” adds Mick having difficulty finding the right words to tell us that the Town players won’t be very familiar with each other as team mates.  As if to prove Mick’s point the play immediately becomes a little messy, “Harum scarum” is how Brenner describes it, delving into his supply of slightly archaic expressions that most people no longer use.  Myles Kenlock is booked for what Mick rightly labels an “unnecessary challenge” on Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel; Freddie Sears was covering but it was as if Kenlock had just wanted to kick Lawrence-Gabriel anyway, perhaps because of his unnecessarily extravagant surname.

The nearside of the pitch beneath the shadow of the West Stand is very wet and the ball doesn’t run freely here. “Held up in the brown ground” says Brenner finding a of saying mud without mentioning awful 1970’s pop bands.  Blackpool are now having a bit more possession and have had a couple of decent opportunities from free kicks wide on their left. As another passing move breaks down Mick resorts to helpful homily, “They often say in football the simple ball is the most difficult one” he says, but taking care not to quote his sources.

Luke Thomas shoots wide for Town after another decent passage of play.  “Blackpool have never ever won here” says Brenner, acknowledging that he is tempting fate but suggesting it’s okay if he says it very quickly, although I’m not sure that makes a difference unless fate is a bit hard of hearing.  But Mick raises our spirits with what doesn’t sound too much like faint praise “We’re close, we’re close to playing some good stuff here”.

Thirty-eight minutes have gone since kick-off; Freddie Sears has a ‘goal’ disallowed for offside after some excellent play by Troy Parrott who is living up to his name and playing like a Trojan; “Really like Parrott” says Brenner, understandably.  Mick’s only quibble with Town’s first half performance is the centre halves, of whom he says “They’re a bit easy-ozy”; it’s an expression that not even Brenner would use.  Half-time is looming, it’s the 43rd minute and Brenner gets the opportunity to say “Town get a rare first half goal” as little Alan Judge strikes the ball with the outside of his right boot from at least 20 metres out.  “Wa hey!” I shout, a little disbelievingly. But it’s true, and when half-time arrives Town are in the lead, although the ifollow half-time scoreboard still says the score is nil-nil, but I don’t expect any better of the EFL.

In the half-time break I drink another cup of fennel tea and eat a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar. I muse about how Blackpool were a top club in the late 1930’s through to the mid 1950’s and how back then their fans probably never imagined that they’d one day be playing a league fixture against Ipswich, certainly not one in the third division. Coincidentally, Town fans no doubt thought the same in about 1981.  At 16:07 the game resumes and Brenner is soon saying “That would’ve been a fabulous goal from the home team” as Freddie Sears’ shot is saved by Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal. From the corner it‘s a matter of “…nodded down by Woolfenden and in” from Brenner after a Blackpool player obligingly heads the ball on at the near post.  Town lead 2-0 and I’m cheering again, releasing that inner cheer which has been welling inside me in recent weeks with nowhere to go. Mick is so excited he can barely explain anything anymore “He just dinked it in to the, err empty sort of, not an empty net, but into the net, you know” he says incoherently.

Town look very good for the lead and are plainly the better team with the best players.  Brenner starts getting clever. “Here’s Parrott, dropping off the front line” he says, clearly winning a bet to get the words ‘parrot dropping’ into his commentary.  Mick meanwhile revisits his favourite lesson about the third goal being important; today he explains it succinctly and with crystal clarity, as if he’s been practicing.  Town win a corner from an errant Blackpool pass “Corner from 40 yards, love it” says Mick, revelling in Town’s dominance and almost collapsing into laughter at Blackpool’s  mistake.  Within seconds he’s as giddy as Brenner and is talking about “gymnasium football” once again, the sort of football everyone else knows as 5-a-side.

Nearly an hour has been played. Troy Parrott is fouled by Chris Maxwell, who charged out of his goal to get him, Maxwell is booked and, Brenner tells us, is wearing a “washed out light green kit”, he’s the tangerine that hasn’t ripened. From an Andre Dozzell free-kick Mark McGuinness misses the goal with a header when he should score. “Definitely, the better side, Ipswich” says Brenner, once again using his trademark sentence construction of placing the subject at the end.  Gwion Edwards replaces Luke Thomas.  “The final 27 minutes” says Brenner, adding unexpected gravity to a random, and still quite lengthy amount of remaining time.  Josh Harrop replaces Andre Dozzell and Oliver Norwood replaces Troy Parrott, whose name I will miss in Brenner’s commentary.

Twenty minutes remain. Oliver Norwood wins a corner from a low cross.   Flynn Downes has a long conversation with the referee “… as he’s entitled to do” says Brenner in an oddly defensive way.  “All very mannerly” continues Brenner, as if he would normally expect Downes to have head-butted him.  The game resumes with a “corner-kick to Ipswich in the rain” as if somehow it’s not raining on all parts of the pitch, or it’s optional whether it is taken in the rain or not.   In a slightly bizarre turn of events the referee then finds that the goal net at the North Stand end is not properly attached to the goal post; “He needs help from a handyman” explains Brenner.

Former Town player Grant Ward replaces Kenneth Dougall, who sounds like a composite of 1960’s and 70’s BBC newsreaders and Luke Garbutt, who also played for Town (on loan), replaces James Husband who was called Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s and played for Everton and Luton Town.  These are Blackpool’s fourth and fifth substitutions of the game and it’s all too much for Mick “It’s hard to keep up with all this” he says playing the old duffer card, which Brenner might tell us he is entitled to do.

With seven minutes of normal time remaining Freddie Sears has a glorious chance for a third goal deflected away for a corner and then Mr Busby the referee has to be substituted because of  what looks like a pulled hamstring. “I think all the substitutions have been made” quips Mick, sharp as a tack.   The upshot is seven minutes of added on time, which passes without incident as Town continue to exercise control over the game.  Asked by Brenner for his verdict at the final whistle Mick is clearly not getting carried away, as good a performance as this was, “A result that almost keeps us in touch” he says.   Personally, I think this has been the first time we’ve played like a proper, half-decent football team all season, with everyone playing in a position that suits them. I don’t expect us to lose another game.

Burton Albion 0 Ipswich Town 1

This morning I awoke, along with everyone else in eastern England who hadn’t died in their sleep, to the sight of streets and gardens, trees and roof tops covered in a reasonable, but not thick layer of snow.  I’ve seen plenty of snow before of course and it had been forecast so it was not a surprise, but I couldn’t help but stop and stare at it out of the bedroom window.  Snow is always beautiful, a bit like sunsets.

I have been looking forward to the match today having suppressed the memory of last week’s game and crushed it into a tightly knotted, dense ball of pain and suffering which is now buried deep within my psyche. That covering of snow has added to the sense of joy and hope that I now feel as it has made me thankful that despite Town playing in Burton-On-Trent, normally the kind of town I would be first on the bus for, I don’t have to leave the house today.

This morning my wife Paulene has finished a jigsaw that has occupied a table in front of our French windows for at least the past four months, possibly longer.  I have listened to The Byrds’ ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ album, because that’s how I feel, and I have also taped up the ill-fitting kitchen window to keep the draft out, hung out four fatballs in the garden for the birds, put the coffee dregs and vegetable peelings in the compost tip and washed up one of three Lapins Cretins (Rabid Rabbits in the UK) glasses which don’t go in the dishwasher and which were acquired in France as part of a special offer at the Intermarche supermarket chain.  Enthused in the wake of that completed jigsaw Paulene and I have also completed a 3D ‘jigsaw’ of the Eiffel Tower which Paulene’s brother gave us for Christmas. Time has flown by carried on the wings of our industry and it’s now thirteen minutes to three.  I have not even thought about a pre-match pint today and strangely it feels like the middle of the afternoon, which, if the evening begins at six o’clock I guess it is.

Leaving Paulene to watch Toulouse versus Grenoble Foot 38 in Ligue 2 on Serbian television courtesy of the wonders of the Amazon Firestick, I skulk off to the cool of the back bedroom and its Ikea Poang chair, where I fire up Radio Suffolk on the trustee Bush TR82/79 in time to hear unwanted word of Norwich City and their visit today to Cardiff.  As unpleasant as that is it soon passes, but I then discover that the clicky bit on the top of the ITFC branded ballpoint pen with which I intend to jot down a few notes for this blog has fallen off somewhere and now the pen is unusable.  The portents for this afternoon are so far not good, but finding a replacement Montpellier HSC branded pen I get comfy in the Poang and am aurally transferred to Studio 2 at Radio Suffolk from where Brenner Woolley is providing the commentary.   Brenner speaks of remote commentary positions at the San Siro and Bernabeu stadiums and how today’s commentary tops those because he is 160 miles away (256 kilometres) from the Pirelli Stadium, the location for today’s fixture.  Although it sounds like it’s in Turin, the Pirelli Stadium is of course in Burton On Trent.  At no time does Brenner let on that he will be watching the match on a tv screen, it’s as if he wants us to believe he has a superhero’s eyesight.

As the game begins I learn from Brenner that Town are in all blue and line-up against yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks; if we’re just playing a kit with no one in it this game should be easy. In the studio with Brenner is someone called Stuart, but I don’t catch his surname at first hearing and I don’t recognise his voice.  Brenner may have missed last week’s game through illness but is soon into his stride quickly telling us that James Norwood is wearing pink boots, and using new synonyms for kicking as the ball is “…clouted forward by O’Toole”.  There are several changes to the Town team today including Tomas Holy replacing Dai Cornell. “It’s an easy change to make” says Brenner’s accomplice who I learn is former Town FA Youth Cup winner and Felixstowe & Walton United captain, Stuart Ainsley.  “It’s a new voice at the back” says Stuart obliquely; a comment that has me imagining Tomas Holy shouting “Keeper’s!” as a cross comes over and the centre-backs turning to each other enquiringly and mouthing “Who said that?”.

Stuart has a light Suffolk accent, but it’s not a voice made for broadcasting, even on Radio Suffolk.   Brenner compensates however, with his command of football speak and unusual use of words to describe the movement of the ball.  “The ball rumbles into touch nearside” says Brenner and then, as Burton’s John-Joe O’Toole is substituted, he tells us that “ …it’s a setback for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink early doors”.  “Not a great deal of quality to report in this game so far is there Stuart?” Adds Brenner telling us more in one sentence than all of his other commentary has so far.  “Chambers; an early ball in, not the worst in the world” says Brenner, from which I infer that it was a better cross than Brenner expected.

It’s nearly twenty-five past three, the game does not sound entertaining.  “A little bit of football broke out there, Stuart” says Brenner sounding surprised.  Stuart chips in now and then but he’s not very interesting.  It’s left to Brenner to make up for Stuart’s inexperience in front of the microphone with startling commentary like “Bishop opens his legs and crosses the half-way line”.  Just before half past three Luke Chambers is booked by referee Mr Hare, who if he was German would be known as Herr Hare,  which is what the people in the posh seats at Carrow Road say when they agree with what someone has just said.

Brenner’s commentary is sounding more positive as half-time approaches and Town enjoy more possession of the ball. “Chambers seeing an awful lot of the ball, here he is with his left peg” says Brenner again using curious colloquialisms and making it sound as if Chambers doesn’t always have his ‘left peg’ with him.  Brenner continues in positive vein telling us that it’s great to see three academy players in the midfield today.  Stuart agrees but further explains also that it’s “…difficult for them out there with the pitch looking like it does”, making it sound as if they are all sensitive aesthetes.  Otherwise, Stuart sounds bored and nearly everything he says is punctuated with sighs.   It’s now twenty to three and we are told there hasn’t been a shot on goal, but Brenner remains up-beat. “Town turning the screw” he says, suggesting perhaps that Town are hoping to torture Burton into submission. 

There are minutes to go until half-time, “Town have always scored when they’ve been at the Pirelli Stadium” says Brenner, and almost immediately Burton hit the top of the cross bar and Brenner is saying “this has to be a tap-in”, but fortunately Luke Chambers blocks the shot. Three minutes of added on time are played and half-time arrives.  I put the kettle on, check with Paulene on the final score at the Stade Municipal in Toulouse (the home team won 2-0, Allez les Violets!) and eat a couple of Waitrose Stollen bites as a half-time snack.  At four o’clock Serbian tv moves its attention to Olympique Marseille v Nimes Olympique in Ligue 1 and I leave Paulene at the Velodrome as I climb the stairs back to the Pirelli Stadium, where the ‘action’ has already re-started and Town have conceded a corner. 

Burton Albion are “…sharper out of the blocks early doors in this second half” says Brenner mixing metaphor from an unrelated sport with football-speak; but nevertheless the view of Stuart is that Burton pose no threat except from set pieces.  Stuart is concerned however, that Town players are not chasing back when they lose the ball, but stops short of calling them lazy and overpaid, which is probably what many listeners are thinking.  But tuning into the need for honest assessment Brenner adds “…the game is really boring at the moment, it has to be said”, before telling us that , as he keeps emphasising, the Burton Albion goalkeeper is yet to make a save.

The sense of gloom builds and Brenner begins to speculate that “Burton will see this as a chance to build on their away win at Gillingham” before adding after a pause, having seemingly completed some swift mental arithmetic “Six points out of six”.   Stuart’s confidence has grown in the shadow of Brenner’s pessimism and he tells us that Town have “…no belief in what they’re trying to do, whatever tactics they’re trying to play”.  Stuart’s reference to “whatever tactics” makes it plain that he hasn’t been able to spot any.

James Norwood is replaced by Aaron Drinan with thirty minutes left to play and Tomas Holy concedes a corner. “Was that a shot we just saw there Brenner?”  asks Stuart as Burton’s Lucas Akins’ kick at goal is saved. Now Ipswich win two corners in quick succession and Aaron Drinan hits the Burton cross bar with a header.  “Drinan done well” says Stuart like a true footballer.  Town win another corner and then Mark McGuinness wins a free-kick. Oliver Hawkins replaces Teddy Bishop and the possibility arises that Town will play with two forwards who are actually playing up-front.   Little Alan Judge has a shot blocked before crossing the ball following a short free-kick. “Headed in by McGuinness” says Brenner, “His first professional goal”.   It’s the seventy-third minute of the match and Town lead 1-0. “Town had been on top for 15 minutes” says Stuart a little uncertainly, “Playing the right football in the right places”.

Brenner tells us that Town quickly come close to scoring a second goal with a header by Aaron Drinan that is well saved.  We learn that Paul Lambert is wearing a black beanie hat and snood before Gwion Edwards is replaced by Freddie Sears.   It doesn’t sound as if Burton are likely to score, but all of a sudden, out of the blue “ Oh, a slice by Nsiala” and Tomas Holy makes his best save of the afternoon from one his own centre halves.  Stuart has been impressed by Toto Nsiala this afternoon and generously blames the ‘dodgy pitch’ for his mis-kick.  Burton have a couple of shots which don’t trouble Tomas Holy and Brenner introduces yet another word to describe the ball being kicked as it is “…clattered up to half-way by Gallacher.”

Hopes for a second consecutive away win are now high. “Town upwardly mobile in terms of the table” says Brenner using lots of words to describe Town climbing the league table without saying in what position they will be.  It’s six minutes five.  Mr Hare blows the final whistle and Town win.  “Big victory this” says Brenner, as he usually does when Town win.  As nice as it is to be told that we have  ‘big victories’ I can’t help thinking that they wouldn’t be so big if it wasn’t for all the big defeats that come between them.  “Was that deserved overall, Stuart Ainsley? asks Brenner. “I think so, yeah” says Stuart, as convincingly as he can.

Personally, I’m glad the game is over; it’s not that I was nervous and on the edge of my seat, wondering if Town would hold on, more that I was bored.  Unfairly, I decide to blame Stuart Ainsley, he’s no Mick Mills, but who is?  Relieved and happy however, I turn off the radio and return downstairs to watch the second half of Marseille v Nimes where Paulene is happy too because her team Portsmouth has also won 1-0 away from home.   Like the snow and sunsets, away wins are always beautiful.

Plymouth Argyle 1 Ipswich Town 2

I am a little ashamed to admit it, but I have only ever been to Home Park, the sensibly named home of Plymouth Argyle, twice.  The first occasion was in August 1987 for an evening fixture, when after a seemingly interminable coach journey from Portman Road I witnessed a goalless draw.   Then, at the start of 2005 I returned, this time by car, to enjoy a 2-1 victory courtesy of Darren Currie as Town went top of the league but, as ever, ultimately failed to achieve promotion.  My memories of Plymouth therefore are on the whole not disagreeable, although if the city has memories of me they might not all be as positive. My very first visit to the city of Plymouth was in the summer of 1966 when on a family holiday. My father was in the Royal Navy and serving on HMS Tiger at the time and the ship happened to be in Plymouth dockyard; he took us aboard and I vomited on the wardroom carpet.  Given that the eleven thousand ton cruiser was in harbour I can’t blame sea sickness, it was more a surfeit of free peanuts from what I remember.

Today, I have not eaten any peanuts but for a pre-match snack enjoy a handful of Nairn’s ‘naturally nutritious’ rough oatcakes with some Cheddar and Port Salut cheese. My pre-match ‘pint’ is a 440 ml can of Brewdog Double Punk, today’s offering from my beer advent calendar; a different beer every day until Christmas.  Feeling sociable, perhaps because the beer has alcohol by volume of 8.2%, and having half an eye on Troyes v Paris FC in French Ligue 2, which my wife Paulene is watching on tv using an Amazon Firestick, I settle down on the two-seater blue leather sofa in the living room.  With a plastic earpiece in place I tune into Radio Suffolk on my Sony 310 transistor radio in time to hear the tail end of a pre-match summary of this afternoon’s encounter between Stowmarket Town and Eynesbury in the FA Vase.  My attention is grabbed by the fact that former Ipswich Town starlet and Bermudan international Reggie Lambe is appearing for Stowmarket.  Reggie Lambe has always retained a high profile in my football memory, possibly not because of his on-field exploits so much as the fact that he sounds like he could also be a cuddly character from an undiscovered episode of Watch with Mother.

The reportage from Home Park begins with a replay of commentary from 2008 in which commentator Brenner Woolley became very excited about two goals from Owen Garvan and one from Kevin Lisbie; as well he might.  After reference to the 976 kilometre round trip from Ipswich, although Brenner archaically quotes the distance in miles, we are introduced to the glorious West Country burr of this afternoon’s co-commentator Marcus Stewart; in the week that David Prowse died it seems a fitting tribute.  Brenner sarcastically speaks of the receding sound of the ‘loudest PA system in the country’ as Town’s goalkeeper, who he refers to as “Dai” Cornell, leads the Town team on to the pitch.  Marcus Stewart meanwhile says that it is time for everyone to “get onside and support the club and get behind the club”.  I will admit that I did not know that as well as being closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, it is also possible to be offside by not being behind the club.

Very quickly Marcus tells us that he is going to put his “head on the block” as he predicts that there will be goals in this game.  I can’t help feeling that he is sounding hopeful when he suggests that if he is wrong it might be the last time he is asked to ‘appear’ on Radio Suffolk.  The opening minutes of the game sound entertaining as Brenner relays to us that there is “Good play from Town”, that Home Park is “sunny but blowy” and that “Woolfenden seems to have had a haircut”.   “Wrong decision” says Marcus in the assertive style of tv’s Kirtan Mucklowe as an Argyle player picks the wrong pass.  The commentary briefly takes the form of a conversation “Very open, Marcus” says Brenner. “End to end” replies Marcus, who a short while later provides some interesting tactical analysis about full-backs having more time on the ball when playing against a 4-3-3 formation, and being able to push forward.    Brenner meanwhile talks up the promise of goals for Town against Plymouth. “Only Swindon and Burton have conceded more goals” he says.  It’s a fact that shows Brenner has been assiduous in his research again, but personally I just love to hear the names of un-related English provincial towns in the same sentence; it makes me think of railway lines and town halls, local papers and building societies.

The thirteenth minute passes and seemingly out of not very much Plymouth score through Luke Jephcott.  “Good finish in terms of build-up play” says Marcus a little confusingly “ Plymouth again pinging the ball around” he adds.  Disappointed that what had sounded like a reasonable start to the game has taken the familiar wrong turn I take a mouthful of my beer, which because of its alcoholic strength has lived beyond it’s original ‘pre-match pint’ billing.  “Mmmm” I say to Paulene “This is a very fruity beer”.  What sort of fruit?” she asks.  Caught off guard by this question I make up something   “Oh, just a generic sort of fruit” I say, but she demands more detail. “Pineapple, banana?” She asks. “Yes” I reply “and apple, pear, mango, raspberry, kiwi fruit, lychee”.  “What about grapes, cherries and star fruit?” asks Paulene. “Yes”, I say “and strawberry, tomato, orange”.  “Melon, plum, papaya?” asks Paulene, “Yeah, and cranberry, blackberry, damson, even a hint of brazil nut.” 

Our listing of the world’s fruits is interrupted as I hear Brenner say “any fixture at the moment seems to be tricky for Ipswich” before mentioning “mitigating factors”.   Then all of a sudden Kayden Jackson is through on goal. “No excuses, should be 1-1” says Brenner as Kayden is tackled “We’ll be looking back on that through very painful eyes” continues Brenner, all too easily imagining the scenario in which Town fail to score and adding un-diagnosed medical problems to the mix for good measure.  “Just as he cocked his leg to take the shot – good defending” adds Marcus trying to describe what happened, but making Jackson sound a bit like a dog beneath a lamp post.

Despite the current score line I remain optimistic.  “Ward invited to come forward” says Brenner of Town’s left-back , creating an image in my head of Plymouth players ushering Ward along or handing him little cards with RSVP on the bottom.   Brenner soon engages Marcus in conversation again, “Jephcott’s a strong boy isn’t he Marcus?”  “Like a little bulldog” replies Marcus clearly still trying to develop his canine analogies.  Despite a lull in play around half past three which forces Brenner into telling us that there is very little happening, the consensus between the two commentators seems to be that it’s an entertaining game.  “ Town don’t look like a team short on confidence” says Brenner before unleashing a combination of stats upon the listeners about how many wins Town have had in the past five games (one) and how many points they’ve taken from the past ten games (nine).   The criticism remains implied, but Brenner is careful to explain that this is a “…very young Ipswich Town side” and “needs must at the moment”.

Half-time arrives at fourteen minutes to four and Marcus repeats that “There is goals in this game” which he has found “thoroughly entertaining”.  It’s left to Brenner to encourage me to return for the second half, “This game could be anything.  There could be a comeback for Ipswich Town, or it could be 3-0 to Plymouth”.  As insightful summaries go it fits well into either of the “Hedging one’s bets” or the “Why the hell are you asking me?” categories.

I enjoy a half-time of putting the kettle on, shutting and locking the garage door, drawing the blinds and closing the curtains.  Troyes have beaten Paris FC 2-1 with Paris having a spectacular volleyed ‘goal’ in the seventh minute of time added-on disallowed for dangerous play (jeu dangereux).  Troyes replace Paris FC at the top of Ligue 2 on goal difference and Paulene re-tunes the Amazon Firestick for the Ligue 1 game at Parc Roazhon between Stade Rennais and Racing Club de Lens.  I reflect that Home Park is only 402 kilometres from Rennes by sea and road, which is almost 90 kilometres closer than it is to Portman Road. 

Carelessly, I miss the re-start at Home Park and re-join the game just as little Alan Judge makes a “suicidal pass”, which almost gives Luke Jephcott a second goal.  Brenner moves on to speak of Newport County, Cheltenham Town and Exeter City all doing well in the fourth division this season and the prospect of further trips west next season,  clearly suggesting he has already given up on hopes of Town being promoted. “Cambridge would be a nice short trip” he adds, adopting the outlook of the Radio Suffolk accountant.

It doesn’t sound like Town are having many shots on goal ,but the game remains open and Brenner is moved to tell us that “ There is still no way of knowing what the full-time score will be”, which is frankly somewhat obvious unless he has access to some sort of Old Mother Woolley figure who has a crystal ball.  “Strong young lads” says Brenner of Jephcott and McGuinness, introducing an unexpected frisson of homo-eroticism as the game enters its final 25 minutes.  Jack Lankester and Brett McGavin are replaced by the weirdly named Keanan Bennetts,  and Oliver Hawkins.

It’s the seventieth minute and I am told that Plymouth’s Danny Mayor has “kicked the feet away” from Town’s Armando Dobra, a player who is Albanian and whose name incidentally rhymes with Enver Hoxha the former Communist leader of Albania.  Mayor is booked for a second time in the match and is therefore sent off.  Quickly following on, former Town player Frank Nouble is booked also, but only for the first time; “Getting a yellow card for verbals” says Brenner , incorrectly using the word ‘verbals’, which actually refers to different forms of verbs rather than bad language; we should expect the BBC’s broadcasters to know this sort of thing.  Marcus or Brenner, I’m not sure which, now tells us that against ten men we are going to have a lot of the ball, we just have to do something with it.   Seconds later, Paulene cheers as over in France Lens take the lead through eighteen year old Arnaud Kalimuendo Muinga and then in what is turning out to be a very busy three minutes Town take those words about doing something with the ball to heart and equalise. “Nolan shoots, he scores says Brenner succinctly.  “A great volley” confirms Marcus.  Within a minute I am hearing Brenner say “Hawkins chests it down and Jackson scores” and Town lead 2-1.  “Yay” I shout from my reclining position on the blue leather sofa.  This is the most fun I’ve had since last February.

To add to my enjoyment Brenner tells me that the 1800 Plymouth fans who have been allowed into the ground are “really aggravated” and in the background I hear them bawling and moaning in a real life version of people in supporters groups on the interweb.  The final fifteen minutes and injury time pass in a parade of observations from Brenner and Marcus.  “ … keep playing forward like they ‘ave been doing” is Marcus’s recipe for success as he turns up his West Countryness a notch . “ Ill-discipline from Watts” says Brenner revelling in another booking for a Plymouth player. “Fans getting disgruntled” adds Marcus picking up Brenner’s theme before sounding a note of caution with “Dangerous times now”.   Marcus’s voice is becoming increasingly gravelly, as if he’s been chain smoking Woodbines and slugging whisky all afternoon; he sounds like a Somerset Jimmy Durante.

It is evident that Plymouth are succeeding in getting back into the game. “Decent effort on goal from Hardy” says Brenner before ramping up the tension and pessimism with “This‘ll be a massive disappointment if Town draw this one”.   He carries on in similar vein by validating those listeners surprised that Town aren’t losing with “Town ahead; if you lost faith earlier in the game and thought here we go again”.   It doesn’t get any better; “Plymouth close – over the bar” and “Not pleasant viewing at the moment” before Brenner perhaps tries to lighten the mood with “Two players with similar pinkie-orange footwear on the far side” as full-time approaches.  The pretty-much statutory four minutes of additional time will be added.  The four minutes pass and Town win.

I am elated. After foolishly depressing myself by reading the ‘opinions’ of people on social media in the wake of two recent defeats and a draw, I am now ecstatic that Town have won and this afternoon I feel like I have travelled to Plymouth and back, played the match and wilfully thrown up on the wardroom carpet of every warship in Plymouth harbour.

Perhaps Town will lose again next Saturday, perhaps they won’t, but that’s what football teams do, they win, they lose and they draw and the margins between those three outcomes are small.  This season Ipswich Town have won more than we have lost, today we won, life is sweet.