Ipswich Town 2 AFC Wimbledon 2

Back in 2004 as Ipswich Town were yet again failing to win yet another play-off tie (we have won just two out of nine ties), AFC Wimbledon were winning the Combined Counties Premier Division title.  Since then, Wimbledon have continued to collect promotions and Ipswich Town haven’t, and so today we find ourselves playing the 2004 Combined Counties Premier Division Champions for a third consecutive season.  Town and the original Wimbledon, the one that famously beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final, had of course met in both the Premier League and the Championship and my wife Paulene is the proud owner of a cuddly Womble in Wimbledon kit that dated from when the original club was being eaten alive; apparently when she bought it, it was the last one in the shop.

Shamefully, playing fast and loose with the future of our planet, I have again driven to the match today, still fearful of using public transport as Covid cases spiral upwards in number and the government gambles the lives of the clinically vulnerable so that money can change hands, as it does most of the time to be fair, but usually more obliquely. Parking my trusty Citroen C3 up on Chantry I stroll down through Gippeswyk Park beneath a sky of picturesquely heaped up clouds, the afternoon is warm but dull, as English summers often are.

Rocking up in Sir Alf Ramsey Way (formerly Portman Walk) at about twenty past two, I join a short queue for the Fanzone just as the steward checking tickets and Covid credential announces that the bar in the Fanzone is now closed.  Brimming with disappointment and thwarted thirst I leave the queue and hang about aimlessly for a few minutes watching the crowds and counting the number of people wearing face masks, I see four.  It really is as if most people are convinced the pandemic is over.  Quickly bored with my own company I trudge off between the supporters’ coaches artfully arranged outside the old Corporation tram depot and head for the Constantine Road gate to the ground, where I join a very short queue to show off my Covid credentials.  “Thank you Martin” says the female steward as I flash my NHS vaccination card; it seems a bit familiar of her and I wonder if we know each other; she’s one of the few people wearing a mask so I can’t properly see her face. 

On the walk from the gate to the turnstile I purchase a programme (£3.50) and join a queue for turnstile fifty-nine because of the four turnstiles on this corner of the ground (numbers 59 to 62) it’s the only one that’s open. My favourite turnstile is number 62 because when using it I feel I am paying homage to Town’s Football League winning team of 1962.  Behind me in the queue a bunch of blokes chatter like excited youths, making weak jokes and commenting on there being only one turnstile open. “Cutting costs” suggests one.  “A bit naughty if it’s nearly kick-off” says another, weirdly imagining a scenario in which he hasn’t arrived twenty minutes before the game is due to start.  Another reads out loud the sign explaining what items are prohibited from the ground. “No tools” he chuckles, prompting his accomplices to each name a tool they would have liked to bring with them starting with a blow torch.

In the stand, ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with his son Elwood, but Pat from Clacton is on holiday in Ireland and Fiona, Ray and his son and his grandson Harrison are yet to arrive.  I speak with Phil who, in the course of our conversation explains that the bar in the Fanzone closes early because people hadn’t been drinking up in time to comply with the licence.  It starts to rain.

It’s still raining when the teams come on to the pitch and after a very brief ‘taking the knee’ which is so brief it looks a bit like a curtsy, the game begins beneath a battleship grey sky. Wimbledon get first go with the ball, lumping it towards the Sir Bobby Robson stand.  For the third consecutive home league match Town’s opponents are wearing a kit of all-red; I think back to when most club’s away kit was yellow shirts and blue shorts,  except of course for Oxford United and Mansfield Town, but we never played them in the 1970’s.

Continuing the 1970’s theme the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson are quickly into a rendition of Boney M’s 1978 Christmas number one ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, but with lyrics altered to celebrate Ipswich singing, Norwich running away, and eternal fighting because of Boxing Day rather than the birth of the Messiah.  Just four minutes pass and Town’s Scott Fraser has the first shot on goal.  After seven minutes the weather seems to be brightening up a bit and the Wimbledon fans chant “The animals went in two by two”, which seems a bit odd given that it looks like it is about to stop raining and any plans to build an ark will have been put on hold, particularly since no one is allowed to bring tools into the ground.

With about a quarter of an hour played Wimbledon’s Alexander Woodyard is the first player to get sight of referee Mr Rock’s yellow card after he fouls Joe Piggott.  “Your support is fucking shit” chant the Wimbledon supporters somewhat coarsely and unimaginatively and then Town’s Rekeem Harper takes a shot from 18 metres or so which is easily gathered by Wimbledon goalkeeper Nik Tzanev.  The clouds are parting to reveal blue sky and as if attempting to create some sort of allegory, Town breach the Wimbledon defence and make several forays down the right flank, with Kane Vincent-Young and Wes Burns getting in a number of crosses, although none of them is met by a Town player and when one is the shot is weak.  The first half is almost half over, and Town win the game’s first corner.  “Come on you Blues” I chant, to the apparent bafflement of those around me.

Town are playing some exciting football but have little presence in the penalty area.  “Chase it, put him under pressure” shouts a voice a few rows behind me as Joe Piggott pursues a punt up field.  Another corner comes to nothing after thirty-seven minutes and the linesman with the red and yellow quartered flag minces back to the half-way line as Tzanev takes the goal kick.  As the half draws to a close a man with a loud, penetrating, and annoying voice is sharing a conversation with all those around him, although I doubt any of us want him to.  We learn that he was ‘the editor’, of what we don’t know or care, but he was “furious with himself”.  I’m not too pleased with him either, he needs to find his volume control, or just shut up.  Happily, only a minute of added time is to be played so respite soon arrives.  It’s been a pretty good half, although I can’t help feeling that although Town look good enough to be winning, somehow we haven’t really created good enough chances; perhaps it’s because we still have not ‘gelled’ yet.

Half-time involves consumption of a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and then a cupcake, which is one of a whole tray-full that Ray shares with those around him to mark the occasion of his retirement, something that is also recorded on page 55 of today’s programme.   The happy events of real-life retreat again into the shadows as the second half begins at two minutes past four and like last week there is a mysterious hush around the ground in the opening minutes, almost as if people are disappointed that the players have returned.  Within seven minutes however, Wimbledon’s William Nightingale fails to live up to the high ideals of his namesake Florence and comes closer to wounding Wes Burns rather than offering succour and from the resultant penalty kick, Joe Piggott gives Town the lead, placing his penalty in the right-hand corner of the goal as Tzanev stupidly dives to the left.  The Sir Bobby Robson stand reprises “Mary’s Boy Child” in a state of heightened ecstasy whilst the Wimbledon supporters chant “Sing when you’re winning, you only sing when you’re winning” to the tune of Guantanamera, thereby introducing a welcome Cuban folk vibe to the afternoon, something which is often conspicuously absent from Portman Road.  William Nightingale’s name is recorded in Mr Rock’s notebook to punish him further for being so unlike Florence.

With Town ahead Portman Road rocks to Boney M and thoughts of victory, and within two minutes Wes Burns doubles Town’s lead collecting a crucial pass from Kane Vincent-Young and smacking a fine shot across Tzanev into the far top left-hand corner of the goal.  Town will surely win now after four fruitless matches; on the basis of what has happened in the previous fifty-four minutes our lead is unassailable.  Four minutes later Wimbledon win a free kick, the ball skids off the top of Luke Woolfenden’s head and is set up ideally at the far post for Wimbledon’s Ben Heneghan, whose name makes me think of Feyenoord’s Wim Van Hanegem, to head down past Vaclav Hladky and make the score 2-1.  It must be Wimbledon’s first goal attempt on target.  “Bloody hell”, I think to myself.

“I don’t rate him” says a voice sitting behind me blaming Hladky for the goal “No, I don’t” says a neighbouring, voice “I don’t see how there’s any difference between him and Holy”.  It’s a point which I will hear no lesser expert than Mick Mills echo over the airwaves of Radio Suffolk as I drive home from the match in an hour’s time.  The discussion behind me continues as Hladky launches the ball up field; “He just boots the fuckin’ ball, he don’t look for no one do ‘e?

Dissatisfaction with the goalkeeper is however balanced by satisfaction with Wes Burns, “He’s superb, he is, he’s a helluva player” and it’s true, he is playing very well today and is linking up to goal scoring effect with Kane Vincent-Young down the right.   Within ten minutes Wimbledon have made their permitted three substitutions bringing on the more exotically and lengthily named Nesta Guinness-Walker and Dapo Awokoya-Mebude for plain old Luke McCormick and Aaron Pressley and swapping the fifty percent exotic Cheye Alexander for equally exotic Jack Rudoni, both of whom sound like they may possess an Equity card.

Seventy-four minutes of the game have got up and gone and Hladky has to save a shot from Ollie Palmer giving Wimbledon a corner.  Four minutes later and a hobbling Wes Burns is replaced by Janoi Donacien and less understandably Kane Vincent-Young is replaced by Sone Aluko.   The excellent Hayden Coulson also appears to be injured and is replaced by Matthew Penney.  Vaclav Hladky is booked for time-wasting, although it looked as if he merely didn’t understand Mr Rock’s wafting hand gestures about where a free kick should be taken from.  “I can’t help falling in love with you” sing the Wimbledon supporters enigmatically.  What is it with football supporters and naff “adult orientated” popular music?

“The momentum has gone” says one of the voices behind me and then repeats the phrase, perhaps for added emphasis, but possibly because it’s true.  Wimbledon now press as they have never done before in the game, it’s as if the two teams have swapped shirts.  The Wimbledon players seem to want to score a goal whilst the Ipswich players just want to get indoors and have a shower before driving home in their sickeningly ostentatious cars.  Time added on arrives and there are six minutes of it, Fiona and I roll our eyes.   Five minutes into the additional six minutes and what we have come to think of as the inevitable happens; a Wimbledon corner is headed goalwards by Ben Heneghan, Hladky saves but doesn’t catch the ball and Jack Rudoni boots the ball over the goal line, unable to miss, even if by some freakish desire to see Ipswich win, he had wanted to.

The final whistle follows soon afterwards and predictably a number of attention seekers in the crowd of 19,051 and people who were perhaps spoiled as children boo because their team hasn’t won.  Maybe someone will buy them an ice cream on the way home to appease their bawling and moaning.  I stay to applaud the Town players from the field and see them hang their heads in disappointment.  I’m disappointed, we’re all disappointed, but football is that sort of a game and when I get home I shall flush that cuddly Womble down the toilet.

Ipswich Town 2 Bristol Rovers 1

Bristol Rovers, The Pirates, The Gas; I first saw them at Portman Road on a cold Wednseday evening in February 1978.  Although the 29,090 souls gathered there that night couldn’t have been certain of it at the time, it was an auspicious occasion that would forever be significant in the history of Ipswich Town as the one replay on the route to FA Cup glory.  I remember Bristol in their anaemic yellow shirts and black shorts and how we thrashed them by three goals to nil (Mills, Mariner and Woods). At the time, I thought it was an exotic fixture; Ipswich an established, top First Division club, albeit having an iffy season in the league, and Bristol Rovers the underdogs, perennial under achievers from one of England’s biggest cities and a club Town hadn’t played at Portman Road  since before I was born.  A little more than a decade after that cup tie and Town v Rovers was a Second Division fixture and now thirty years further on we meet in the third division again as we did in the 1950’s.  Time is round, there doesn’t seem much doubt.

I switch on my Lenovo lap-top, connect it to the tv set in the kitchen and log on to the ifollow.  “Sex or nothing for me” I think I hear Mick Mills say.  It’s not what I expected, even though with his fulsome moustache and mahogany tan, back in the 1970’s Mick would not have looked out of place in a porn flick.  I soon adjust my perception however and realise that Mick had said ‘six’ not ‘sex’ and was talking about the number of points Ipswich would take from their next two fixtures, which are against the two teams currently bottom and second from bottom of the third division table, Bristol Rovers and Rochdale.  Deciding that despite my admiration for Mick, what he thinks about how many points Town will amass over Easter isn’t very interesting I mentally tune out and don’t tune back in until the game begins and I hear Brenner Woolley explaining that Bristol Rovers are wearing their away kit of black with yellow pinstripes and flashing down the sides of their shorts.  I find Brenner’s attention to detail admirable and hope that the listeners to BBC Radio Suffolk who don’t have access to the pictures from the ifollow appreciate the picture he paints for them.

After about 50 seconds Town score; “A most bizarre goal” is Brenner’s description. “Well explain that one” says Mick in a challenge to Brenner, before admitting “I haven’t a clue what happened”.   It’s a goal that if it were a painting would be in the Tate Gallery or Pompidou Centre alongside the works of the abstract expressionists.  Marvelling at the thought of a goal that it is impossible to describe I can only attribute it to some sort of early Easter miracle.  The metaphorical stone that usually blocks the opposition goal has rolled away and let the ball in the net, and it’s still only Good Friday.  The caption on the ifollow screen attributes the goal to Rovers’ Luke Leahy, whose surname I imagine is pronounced ‘leaky’.  In my world I award the goal to Jackson Pollock.

“What you want now is a real response from Ipswich” says Mick, living in hope of seeing the current team live up to the benchmark he helped set forty-three years ago.  “This is the time of all times you want to get on your front foot” he continues, clearly believing that the current team has a front foot. As part of his usual rendering of mini-biographies of opposition players in the opening minutes, Brenner mentions Ed Upson, a former FA Youth Cup winner with Town who is today playing for Bristol Rovers. Meanwhile Mick doesn’t seem able to get over that goal. “A strange sort of opening to the game…we’re winning one-nil” he says, sounding bemused.

Ed Upson fouls little Alan Judge; “Upson, no stranger to the yellow card” says Brenner, introducing a turn of phrase I haven’t heard him use before.  Referee Steve Martin meanwhile is not swayed by the fact that Upson has ‘previous’ and doesn’t book him.  It’s the eleventh minute; Andre Dozzell shoots weakly, the Bristol goalkeeper Anssi Jaakola saves and according to Brenner, Alan Judge “finishes off at the second time of asking”.  It’s two-nil to Town.  “Andre’s shot was awful” says Mick tempering our excitement with a reminder of the reality, but the reality is also that Town have now scored twice. Simply unable to resist the pun, Brenner tells us that it’s “…a good Friday for Town”.  I sigh deeply with resignation but am shaken from my torpor as I hear Mick say “Inevitably going to be a win for Town”.  I can only think that Mick has adopted the attitude of Donald Trump and that if he says something, then he thinks it’s true. 

Egged on by Mick’s optimism I begin to dream of Town scoring five or six.  Brenner meanwhile returns to the world of using his words to paint a picture for the BBC Radio Suffolk listeners.  But figurative art isn’t wholly Brenner’s style and he likes to add a dash of surrealism’ “Paul Cook being rather noisy…he’s got his beanie hat and gloves on”.  Back on the field of play the Rovers’ goalkeeper receives the ball; “The Finn plays it out quickly” says Brenner, as ever ensuring that the ‘leave’ voting BBC Radio Suffolk listeners can single out the foreigners if they need to.  “I can’t quite decide what Bristol Rovers are doing” admits Mick suddenly, but perhaps still thinking about the opening goal.

It’s the eighteenth minute. “That was shocking from Dozzell” says Brenner. “Awful play from Andre Dozzell” says Mick as Rovers’ Luke McCormick robs the dawdling midfielder of the ball, advances and chips the ball over Tomas Holy and into the Town goal.  “First goal of the season for Bristol Rovers against Ipswich Town” announces Brenner weirdly.  My dreams of a crushing victory evaporate and Bristol Rovers instantly and miraculously become the better side.  Five minutes later Tomas Holy collides with a Bristol player outside the penalty area and is booked by referee Steve Martin, although Brenner implies that Rovers’ manager Joey Barton is advocating a sending off.  “Joey Barton not happy” he says of the vengeful Scouser.  “It’s an awful mistake by Luke Chambers” says Mick, pinpointing where the blame really lies.  “Paul Cook’s head in his hands” continues Brenner, adding a layer to his aural picture which now resembles something by Hieronymous Bosch.  Happily, Rovers fail to score from the ensuing free-kick.

Thirty-four minutes pass and Town win a corner. “This hasn’t been a great performance” says Mick. “Both teams very untidy” he adds in explanation.  Mick is on good form; “Just taking his time there Andre, like he does”.   Bristol Rovers are dominating possession, making Town play on the break.  There are seven minutes until half-time. Suddenly Luke McCormick swings a leg at the ball in the town penalty area; “He should’ve made that two-two” says Brenner as the snap shot bounces past Tomas Holy’s left hand post. “Possibly” replies Mick, providing the voice of reason to quell Brenner’s hysterical panic.  “I thought it was in, and so did Tomas Holy, he was rooted to the spot” opines Brenner unconvincingly. 

Town fail to improve, “It’s not good viewing at the moment; Bristol Rovers the better side” confirms Brenner before adding a dollop of symbolism to his aural picture with “They’re really knocking on the door at the moment Bristol Rovers”.  Two minutes of additional time are added in which Town win another corner which produces nothing to excite.  It’s half-time and Mick’s assessment is that “It’s been a very average performance”.  I put the kettle on.

The second half begins with Aaron Drinan replacing James Norwood.  The assumption would usually be that if not a tactical change Norwood is injured, after all, as Brenner himself might say “Norwood is no stranger to the treatment table”.  But today Brenner speaks obliquely about Norwood’s “health” as if he hasn’t been substituted because of an injury but something more sinister like an affliction with Tourette’s, Dysentery or Cholera.

The game begins anew. “Free-kick to Bristol Rovers early doors” says Brenner, using his favourite football commentary expression before it’s too late.   Quickly, Mick and Brenner establish for us that the portents for the second half are not good. “Everything seems to be coming from mistakes” says Mick, as if he’s never seen a third division match before. “This could be a horrible forty-two minutes to watch” adds Brenner with a mixture of fear and ghoulish optimism.

Seven minutes into the half and in a rare moment of actively trying to influence the result, Teddy Bishop has a shot on goal, but it’s very weak and straight at Jaakola.  Seemingly already losing interest in today’s match Brenner is looking ahead; “Three successive away games in a row for Town” he says, exhibiting a disappointingly poor understanding of tautology and how to avoid it.  Returning to the present, Gwion Edwards has a shot cleared; “off the goal line” according to Brenner, although in truth it hadn’t got that far.  In the aftermath Luke Chambers goes down clutching some or other piece of his anatomy and whilst he receives treatment Brenner asks Mick to summarise things so far this half.  Rather than comment on the use of colour and poetic licence in Brenner’s commentary, Mick answers with another question “Why aren’t we much better than these teams rooted down the bottom?”

Chambers recovers and play resumes. An hour has passed. “Still not comfortable viewing” says Brenner moments before Teddy Bishop breaks down the right to the by-line. “That was a terrific Teddy Bishop burst on the ball, he just went past people as if they weren’t there” declares Mick incredulously.  Sadly Teddy’s low cross is easily blocked.  Twenty five minutes of normal time remain, “A long way to go” remarks Brenner before telling us of “Parrott stretching his hamstrings” as the pssitacine-named player warms up on the touchline.  It makes me wonder to myself if parrots actually have hamstrings.   Back on the pitch Aaron Drinan is booked for colliding with an opposition player.  Troy Parrott replaces Kayden Jackson.  “How did they do?” asks Brenner of Mick referring to the Norwood and Jackson striking partnership.  “They didn’t do very well” is Mick’s considered response, although he does go on to describe the mitigating circumstances of an absence of any helpful passes from our midfield.

The sixty-seventh minute and Gwion Edwards wins a corner for Town; nothing comes of it.  “Still for the most part a very poor football team to watch, Ipswich Town” says Brenner trying to keep us in suspense until the end of his sentence to find out which team he is talking about.  A little over fifteen minutes remain of normal time. “I can’t believe how cold it is at Portman Road, there hasn’t been much to warm the cockles it has to be said”  says Brenner, possibly  hinting at some contractual obligation to mention either the weather or Town’s inability to make people feel good.  The seventy-fourth minute and Rovers’ Brandon Hanlon runs past Luke Chambers and strikes the ball across the face of the goal; it’s either a poor shot or a poor cross, but probably both. “Not the first time the Ipswich Town captain has been caught out for pace in this game, it has to be said” says Brenner telling us once again that there are just some things that he has to say, although presumably as a radio commentator if he didn’t say anything he wouldn’t get paid.

Thirteen minutes remain. Rover’s substitute Oztumer, whose surname sounds horribly like an Australian cancer, is booked for a foul on Stephen Ward.  “Three goals in eighteen minutes, a mad period really” says Mick reminiscing about happier times.  Six minutes later and Brenner tells us that Town have won “their fourth corner of this second half”.  Unusually, Luke Chambers makes it to the ball first and sends a near post header onto the roof of the net. “Decent effort” says Mick, “Not the best corner I would have said” he adds making Luke’s achievement sound all the more impressive.  A fifth corner soon follows, cleverly won by Aaron Drinan.   It’s just a shame Town are not very good at corners.  “My goodness it’s really been very poor” fires off Mick, “I don’t think Ipswich have performed at all…just so messy…nothing to excite you at all”,

Normal time has almost expired and for no apparent reason other than to use up time, Teddy Bishop and little Alan Judge are replaced by Josh Harrop and Armando Dobra.  Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers replace David Ayunga with Josh Barrett who, Brenner tells us “is very stocky”.  Four minutes of added time are played, and twenty-two seconds into the ninety-fifth minute, through the medium of his referee’s whistle ,  Mr Martin says enough is enough and Town win.  Mick was right.

Mick’s closing words before the ifollow broadcast rudely cuts him off are “Everything seemed to be messy and untidy; the performance again, it’s miles away from what you want.”  Of course Mick’s not wrong, how could he be?  But heck, on the bright side we have won.  During the week I watched a programme about Trappist monks in Leicestershire who set up a brewery; one of them said that people are happiest when living life in the moment not thinking of what’s gone or what the future holds.  Tonight Town have won, be happy, the future will look after itself, like it did in 1978.