Ipswich Town 3 MK Dons 0

The hot, late summer sun beats down on the parched grass of Gippeswyk Park as I amble towards Portman Road beneath a cloudless azure sky.  When not ambling, I stroll along, enjoying the brief shade beneath Ancaster Road bridge and making as little effort as possible to place one foot in front of the other. There is something about walking slowly on hot days that feels cool, my wide-brimmed hat and sandals no doubt help add to the impression I must give that I feel like a dude.

In Sir Alf Ramsey Way an ice cream van looks a better proposition than the Butcher’s Grill, but I opt for a programme (£3.50), which I pay for in the modern cashless way. By the time I reach the Arbor House (formerly The Arboretum) sweat from my brow is stinging my eyes. I order a pint of Lacon’s Encore (£3.80) preferring a lighter beer today to my usual Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride, it’s good to have the choice. In the beer garden Mick is texting me in French to tell me he is “dans le Jardin”.  It seems a long time since we were last here, but it’s just a fortnight ago.  The conversation seems to be all about me as I regale Mick with tales of my road trip to Forest Green last week and how after getting home from the match versus Bolton my wife and I booked a holiday in Brittany.  We go on to talk of the Nazi submarine docks of St Nazaire and Lorient, the giant mechanical elephants of Nantes and the neolithic stone alignments of Carnac.

It’s almost twenty to three when we leave for Portman Road and in the course of our walk Mick expresses despair at the state of the world and politics, and how the hope of the immediate post-war era and the desire for peace and co-operation forged by the likes of Robert Schumann and Jean Monnet, has all but evaporated.  Mick also regrets that he will probably not live to see how the climate crisis ends; not wanting to suffer a lingering death from de-hydration or starvation, or a sudden violent death due to a cataclysmic weather event, I think this may be a good thing, but then I can be a bit of a pessimist at times.

In sombre mood, it is almost five to three as I enter the ground through turnstile number 59 by way of a change from my usual turnstile 60. I thank the turnstile operator and he calls me ‘mate’.  By the time I take my seat the teams are on the pitch and limbering up. Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here with his son Elwood and so is Fiona and the man who I think is from Stowmarket, but Pat from Clacton is absent, she is visiting a friend she met on holiday who lives in Kent and is having a ninetieth birthday party.

The noise inside Portman Road today is fulsome, the heat and the sun seem to have invigorated the home supporters. Over the PA we get to hear just a few bars of The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ before the game is ready to begin.  I don’t mind too much, as my favourite Beatles’ songs are probably Rain and Strawberry Fields Forever, but much as I want to, I can’t ever imagine the Sir Alf Ramsey stand singing “Let me take you down, cos I’m going to, Po-ortman Road, nothing is real and there’s nothing to get hung about, Po-ortman Road for ever”.  Knees are taken and applauded and Town kick-off towards me and Phil, Elwood and Fiona and the man who might be from Stowmarket.  The opposition today are wearing a frighteningly unimaginative kit of all red.

Town begin the game in an attacking frame of mind and within two minutes Freddie Ladapo shoots to the near post necessitating a save from the visiting goalkeeper Jamie Cumming, who unfortunately sounds like he could have a side line in pornographic films.  “Sit down if you’re standing up” is the bizarre but original Village People themed first chant from the visiting supporters. In the Sir Bobby Robson Stand Town supporters respond with an old religious number– “Care-free wherever we may be, We are the Ipswich Town FC, and we don’t give a fuck wherever we may be, cos we are the Ipswich Town FC”.  How pleased the nineteenth century American Shakers would have been to have heard that.

It’s the fifth minute and Janoi Donacien advances down the Town right, then advances a bit more, before sensibly stopping at the by-line to pull the ball back to Wes Burns, who sweeps it majestically into the visitors’ goal net. Town lead 1-0 and joy abounds, with chants of either Ole, Ole, Ole or Allez, Allez , Allez  spilling from the stands  depending on where you take your holidays.  Oh my, it’s so good to score an early goal.

Town are dominant; Sam Morsy wins a free-kick and his deflected shot is cleared off the goal line and a follow up shot saved.  In a moment of madness, the visitors win a corner but can only summon a rally of head tennis before losing possession entirely to a goal-kick.  About 12 minutes have elapsed and having gone behind, the visitors are having what we will look back on as their best spell of the game as their number 30 has the temerity to direct a header over the cross-bar after a good passing move down the Town right; alarmingly, he possibly should have scored. Normal service is soon resumed however, as Freddie Ladapo chases a punt forward and has his shot blocked to win a corner, which leads directly to another from which George Edmundson heads past the far post.

With the visitors’ goal kick I notice that their number 4 is called Tucker; I think of the characters in tv’s Citizen Smith and Grange Hill, and imagine his team mates saying “flippin’ eck Tucker” as he makes a catastrophic defensive error, sadly it doesn’t happen.

Town just attack and then attack again. Marcus Harness and Conor Chaplin play beautifully down the right and win another corner. Sam Morsy shoots wide.  The visitors’ number thirty collapses to the ground when challenged from behind as if suddenly and miraculously crippled by polio, admirably referee Mr Carl Brook just gestures to him to get up. The half is half over as stadium announcer Stephen Foster reads an obviously pre-prepared statement “The players and officials will now take the first drinks break of the afternoon”.  “How many are there going to be?” I ask Fiona a little incredulously.

The effect of the refreshment and re-hydration is almost immediate as Town win another corner and then Wes Burns runs down the right again and towards goal;  he shoots for the far corner  and his low shot is parried, but Marcus Harness is on hand to strike the rebound with just enough force and direction that it  dribbles over the  goal line and Town lead 2-0.  That was in the 27th minute and with a half an hour gone, Ipswich fans are singing “And it’s Ipswich Town, Ipswich Town FC, By far the greatest team the World has ever seen” and of course they’re not exaggerating. “Champagne football” says the bloke behind me. “It is” says the bloke next to him. I don’t tell them that true Champagne football can only be played in Reims and Troyes.

The final fifteen minutes of the half sees Conor Chaplin shoot over the cross-bar and Sam Morsy’s shot steaming for the top right hand corner of the visitors’ goal before the goal keeper tips it away for yet another corner.   Christian Walton has to make a rare save with ten minutes to go until half time, but the visitors’ goalkeeper is soon working again as another Wes Burns break leads to a deep cross which is headed back for another Sam Morsy shot which is again saved.   With time ticking down to the half-time break the game quietens down a little, perhaps because the more depressive souls amongst the Sir Bobby Robson standers begin one of their funereally-paced versions of “Oh, when the Town go marching in”.  Yet another Town corner ensues however, and three minutes of time are added on,  presumably to compensate for that very formally announced drinks break.

Today there is no sign of Ray, or his son, or his grandson Harrison and so I merely stand to eat a Nature Valley Maple Syrup and Nuts Crunchy bar and flick though the programme.  Nothing really grabs my attention, although I do now know that Conor Chaplin prefers pens to pencils, Apple to both Orange and Samsung and, although I don’t know what it means or who they are, Phineas to Ferb.  It is not recorded whether he voted Remain or Leave, is in favour of the right to abortion or not, or favours nationalisation or privatisation.  Next week I shall perhaps ask if there is an alternative match programme for us grown-ups.

At 16:07 the game resumes.  The heat has been building and ever-present Phil drapes a white shirt over Elwood’s head beneath his cap.  The bloke behind me is talking about the half-time scores in the context of his fantasy football team; it sounds like his fantasy football team is Manchester City. It’s a while since I played Fantasy Football, but maybe nowadays you can opt to have your team taken over by a wealthy country with a poor human rights record which is keen to launder its global image.

On the pitch, Town produce a sweeping move that travels the length of the pitch and more corners are won before the visitors’ number eight sees Mr Brook’s yellow card for tugging desperately at Sam Morsy’s shorts.  “ We’re just too good for you, we’re just too good for you” sing the Sir Bobby Robson stand lower tier channelling Guiseppe Verdi.  On the right Janoi Donacien proceeds down the wing, lays the ball back and Conor Chaplin sweeps it into the net in a majestic style reminiscent of Wes Burns, and Town lead 3-0. “Ee-I, ee-I, ee-I-o, Up the Football league we go” chant the home fans boldly predicting the situation next Spring, before reprising their version of “No nay never” which has Ipswich Town being the finest football team the world has ever seen.  As if to prove the point, another fine move follows, and whilst it ends with Freddie Lapado missing quite badly, at least he was offside, so it didn’t really matter.  “Champagne football” says the bloke behind me again, clearly not having read up on the rules surrounding protected designation of origin during the half-time break.

Evidently now in party mood,  the Sir Bobby Robson Stand lower tier break into a chorus of “Stand up if you ‘ate the scum” before Stephen Foster’s voice is heard again announcing “The players and officials are now taking the second half drinks break” just in case anyone was wondering why the players were all of sudden drinking at the side of the pitch instead of playing football.  The refreshment has apparently reached the people counting the attendance too and this is announced as 23, 045 with 532 of those being visiting supporters, although in truth we’re all just visiting , no stands at Portman Road having been demolished to make way for residential flats just yet.  News arrives that Town are now top of the league with both Peterborough United and Exeter City losing.

With twenty minutes left mass substitutions are made for Town, although these can’t excuse a sudden error by Luke Woolfenden which forces Christian Walton into diving at the feet of some opposing player or other to maintain his clean sheet and give the visitors the treat of a corner. The corner however merely leads to a Town breakaway from which we earn yet another corner kick of our own.

With the game entering its last ten minutes the sun has emerged from behind the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and its hot rays are playing across my bare knees. Town are camped in the visitors’ half of the pitch.  “Gonna make a move in a sec” says the bloke behind me, adding “Over innit” to justify his decision. A minute later he leaves. “See ya later mate” he says to his mate. “See ya mate” says his mate.   “Ole, Ole, Ole” sing the Town fans celebrating the very probable result,  or may be it’s  “Allez, Allez, Allez”. The visiting supporters take note and begin to drift away.   Two minutes of normal time are left and an injury to a visiting player provides a convenient opportunity for a final, unannounced drinks break. The last action of note is when George Edmundson almost emulates Rakeem Harper’s goal assist for Col U in midweek as he sends a poorly advised square ball to the edge of the Town penalty area. “Bloody Hell!” I utter in a moment of sudden panic, but happily the ball is cleared.  Five minutes of added on time are safely negotiated and Town win what has been a most enjoyable match.

Whether Town were good or the visitors were poor I don’t care, I have decided to live in the moment and not think about it; in this way I hope to remain both happy and of balanced mind, but I am looking forward to my trip next week to Shrewsbury.  Up the Town  – Ipswich that is.

Postscript

In previous seasons I have not deigned to allow the name of the club Town played today to appear at the top of the page; I have instead referred to them simply as Visitors.  Today however, I have displayed their name because Ipswich have so thoroughly outclassed and humiliated them that I thought it was a good thing to ‘out’ them.  The reason for this, if you didn’t know is that the MK Dons have no right to be in the Football League, having stolen the identity of Wimbledon FC in 2004 and moved the club to Milton Keynes. As a city of over 150,000 people Milton Keynes should probably have a Football League team, but that team should achieve that status by gaining promotion through the league pyramid as other new town clubs such Crawley Town and Stevenage have done. 

The new town programme was a utopian vision for the future of post-war Britain, and the likes of Ebenezer Howard and Patrick Abercrombie, who inspired and put it into practice, and were surely big footie fans themselves, are doubtless spinning in their graves because of the MK Dons.  

Ipswich Town 1 Nostalgia 1

On a damp May evening three years ago, I recall thinking to myself that it feels like 1978 and Ipswich Town have won the FA Cup all over again.  With my Portsmouth supporting wife Paulene, I had gone to see the Wolsey Theatre’s production of ‘Our Blue Heaven’, the music-backed play that celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Town’s FA Cup win. I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable Ipswich Town related evening I had had in nearly twenty years, since that season in the sun at the start of the third millennium when Town did things like beating Liverpool and Manchester City at their own grounds, having finally managed the previous May, to win a play-off semi-final and victoriously tread the turf at the old Wembley stadium for the last time. 

Fast forward to October 9th 2021, and in the spirit of celebration of Town’s winning the UEFA Cup forty years and five months before, which the club itself has seen fit to mark with the sale of a wallet, luxury boxed badge, and travel mug, the New Wolsey Theatre is staging the final performance of its production ‘Never Lost at Home’, the story of the 1980-81 season, but mainly the winning of the UEFA Cup, something no ordinarily lovable, small town football club will probably ever do again.  Not keen on spending an evening in an enclosed space with about 400 other people, most of whom will probably not be wearing a face mask, I have opted to cough up the £20 to watch the two- and a-bit hour performance on-line from the safety of my living room.

Forty and a bit years ago in May of 1981, I had just finished my final exam at the University of Sussex and I was now just wasting my time, until the lease on my shared student house was up, by playing football, going on pub crawls, walking on the Downs, visiting friends at the other end of the country and taking days out in an aged, bright orange, Dutch registered, left-hand drive Fiat 600 which my friend Chris (mainly known as ‘Jah’ due to his love of Reggae) had borrowed from a woman on his Social Anthropology course.  A lack of available cash and the demands of academia had sadly meant that in Town’s run to the final of the 1981 UEFA Cup final, I had only seen two home games, those against Aris Salonika and FC Koln.  Of the other games, I mostly remember the nervous anticipation of waiting for the result on the radio or television news.  The away matches I recall most are those at St Etienne and Koln.  I remember learning that Town were a goal down in St Etienne and was very chuffed to hear they had equalised as I headed off to the Student Union bar that March evening.  When I discovered Town had won 4-1, I could hardly believe it, and indeed it was a performance that has gone down in history as one of the best-ever by a British club in Europe and possibly Ipswich Town’s greatest performance ever.  As for the game in Koln, I remember that my friend Stephen went to the game on a supporters’ coach from Shotley and I remember seeing Terry Butcher’s winning goal on television, having been fearful that the one goal lead from the first leg would not be enough.

On the morning of 20th May 1981 my sister dropped me and my father off at Ipswich railway station where we caught a chartered train to Parkeston Quay and a chartered ferry to the Hook of Holland before boarding a chartered coach to Amsterdam.  Everyone travelled with the Ipswich Town Supporters Club and Anglia Tours back then, and I still have the pennant to prove it.  I wouldn’t enter Holland again for another 35 years, until I drove through a small corner of it on my way to Dusseldorf for a pre-season game in 2016, but I recall it being very neat.  In Amsterdam my father and I spent the time before the game in a small bar where we drank Amstel, a beer rarely seen in Britain back then, thankfully.  My father had encountered it before in foreign ports when in the Royal Navy and had warned me that it was gnats’; he was right, but it was all there was, they didn’t have any Tolly Cobbold Original.    Amsterdam was beautifully warm that May evening, which was just as well because terraces of the Olympic Stadium were open to the elements, which given that it was built for the 1928 Olympics isn’t that surprising; stadium builders weren’t always big on rooves back then.  In 1987 the Dutch government designated the Olympic Stadium as a National Monument, obviously because Town won the UEFA Cup there, but also because of the fine brick architecture by Jan Wils, an exponent of the Amsterdamse School.  It’s good to know that there is a corner of the Dutch capital that will forever be imbued with the memory of the presence of 7,500 Town fans.

My memory of the match that night in Amsterdam is one of anxiety and tension, despite taking an early lead that put us 4-0 up on aggregate and then gaining a second away goal.  AZ 67 Alkmaar were a bloody good team, but happily not quite good enough, despite Town being visibly knackered at the end of a colossal sixty-six game season. Forty years is a long time, and I’m not sure now what I remember from being there and what I remember from having seen various tv clips since.  I think I remember being frustrated that in the second half we couldn’t keep the ball away from Alkmaar, but I know I do recall wishing away the last twenty minutes of the game, and constantly checking my watch; willing Alkmaar not to score again and the Town defence to hold firm.  I remember nothing of the journey home, although I think my father might have invested in the luxury of a two-berth cabin in the hope of a couple of hours of sleep.

Tonight, “Never Lost at Home” picks up the story of the fictional Coombes family who followed Town to Wembley in “Our Blue Heaven”, and the story very much has the feel of being a sequel, which of course it is.  This time the tale begins with the family vowing to have someone at every game for what promises to be the greatest season in the club’s history as it vies to win an unprecedented treble.  Once again, the story is set against the background of the events of the times, in particular the high rates of unemployment resulting from the Thatcher government’s monetarist policies and indeed Scott loses his job to create some jeopardy in the story as it inevitably hinders his ability to get to games. Once again also, the story and the season unfold to a soundtrack of popular tunes of the time, although just like in ‘Our Blue Heaven’ it doesn’t, because several of the songs are from as much a four years later, which rankles somewhat because songs such as Tears for Fears ‘Everybody wants to rule the world’ (1985) were actually the soundtrack to avoiding relegation, not seeking glory.

Despite the failure to use the actual music of 1980 and 1981 (what a pity we never played Rapid Vienna or IK Start), rather than just generic 1980’s hits, there is nevertheless an authentic feeling of nostalgia for a time and a place.  I can’t fully explain why, but I had tears in my eyes in the first part of this production.  It might have been because I was reminded of how awful some of the music of the 1980’s was; I always hated ‘Eye of The Tiger’ (1982) and have consequently never seen any of the ‘Rocky’ films, but more likely I was mourning my lost youth and my lost football team, both of which seemed to go missing at much the same time.

 One major departure from the mostly repeated formula of “Our Blue Heaven” is the introduction in “Never Lost at Home” of one of the players as a recurring character, that player being the now legendary Arnold Muhren.  The choice of Arnold was, if not inspired, then obvious, because perhaps more than any other player, even his fellow Dutchman Frans Thijssen, Arnold somehow personifies that 1980-81 team, despite having actually joined Town three years before in September of 1978.  Again, the story employs a little artistic license as it almost implies that Arnold and Frans joined for the 80-81 season, but that is easily forgiven and does add to the mythology of that remarkable season.  I can only think that in casting actor Dan Bottomley as Arnold Muhren, one of the main considerations must have been his legs, because these have the same straight up and down shape of Arnold’s.  Not for Arnold the meaty thighs of Mick Mills or Paul Mariner; Arnold was a sinewy thoroughbred, built for the measured pass, the clever change of pace and direction in a single stride, the sort of footballer who simply danced through midfield and no longer exists in a game where speed, strength and bulk has usurped grace and subtlety.

The greatest triumph of ‘Never Lost at Home’, as it was of ‘Our Blue Heaven’, is the performance of Peter Peverley as Bobby Robson.   Not only does Peverley, with his gently hoarse County Durham accent, and perfectly observed Robson-esque mannerisms create a wholly believable vision of the Town manager, but he also delivers the great man’s words as he sends his team out in search of glory.  So stirring and convincing are Peverley’s words it might be an idea if the current Town management employed him to give Paul Cook’s team talks.

Oddly perhaps, ‘Never Lost at Home’ tails off towards the end, in contrast to the prequel which had something of a grand finale as the stories of the characters all came together on 6th May with a birth, a marriage and the Cup Final itself.  This time the characters don’t have their own stories to be resolved other than what happens to them as they travel across Europe in the rounds leading up to the final. We all know the ending, and although Town ultimately win the UEFA Cup, sadly mine and a lot of people’s memories of 1980-81 are probably tinged with a feeling of ‘what should have been’ with the loss of the FA Cup semi-final to the hugely inferior Manchester City and the loss of the ever-elusive League Championship to Aston Villa, a team we beat no less than three times over the course of the season.  But as one of the characters in the play points out, we had already won the Cup and the League before, so if it was to be only one out of three, best that it was the UEFA Cup.   Reassuringly however, it’s good to know that we only lost out in the Cup and the League because none of the characters in the play could get to the Cup semi-final or the penultimate League game of the season at Middlesbrough.

In truth, ‘Never Lost at Home’ wasn’t quite as good as ‘My Blue Heaven’, although my seeing it through the television screen rather than in the flesh is doubtless a factor in that. The story doesn’t have the drama of its predecessor and by drifting further into 1980’s the music is not so much ‘not as good’, as ‘worse’. Nevertheless, it was still massively enjoyable all the same, bringing back those memories of what genuinely was a marvelous time to be a Town supporter and which seems even more so given all that’s happened since. I can only hope that both ‘Our Blue Heaven’ and ‘Never Lost at Home’ are both resurrected in ten years time, not only to celebrate the fiftieth anniversaries of the FA Cup and UEFA Cup wins, but also their own 10th anniversaries; or perhaps we could have a musical about going to a musical about winning the FA Cup and UEFA Cup; I’d watch it.

Ipswich Town 2 Doncaster Rovers 1

Today is a beautiful day; the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing; February is not yet over but it feels like Spring is here.  I spend the morning in the garden.  It’s been a sunny week and an odd week of rumours about Ipswich Town being the subject of a takeover, a buyout, a sale.  What seemingly started as a joke on social media has grown into a rumour sufficiently credible, or at least prevalent, for the local newspapers to report it and the club owner to deny he is “actively looking to sell”.  To add a layer of complexity to the story, those calling for Town manager Paul Lambert to be sacked are now having to contend with the team having found some decent form, having at last beaten a team in the top six of the third division and having not conceded a goal in three games.  All this coincides with the buffoon who is ludicrously Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announcing  details of what he calls his ‘road map’ for the nation’s way out of lockdown and a hoped for return to normality in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Suddenly, optimism is the ‘new normal’, although as all Town fans know we must be careful what we wish for.

Rewarding myself for my morning’s work in the garden I sit outside and pour a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (£13.95 for eight bottles direct from the brewery).  I am reminded of the song ‘Winter’s Over’ by the erstwhile Norwich band ‘Serious Drinking’, the lyrics of which read “Thanks God the winter’s over, December’s far away, let’s drink outside at lunchtime , on another sunny day”.   My wife Paulene has a gin with soda water and together we kick back and enjoy the warmth of the sun on our faces and bare arms; feeling like an Englishman at the seaside I roll up my trouser legs and top up on much missed Vitamin D. 

As we lose ourselves in the joy of being outside in the sun, time moves on and three o’clock soon approaches; I move to the kitchen and Paulene to the living room where separately we tune in to the ifollow, me to watch Town, Paulene to watch Pompey play Gillingham.  By the time I log on and hitch my lap top to the tv, today’s opponents Doncaster Rovers are on the pitch in their red and white hooped shirts and red shorts, hugging and forming a circle like new age weirdos crossed with a Rugby League scrum. Town trot on to the pitch and then together the two teams ‘take the knee’ to annoy all the people who deserve to be annoyed.  I feel like I’ve arrived in the ground just in time for kick-off, as you do when it’s been difficult leaving the pub.

The game begins, Ipswich having first go with the ball and kicking towards what will always be Churchman’s, although the Sir Alf Ramsey Cigarette End sounds good, but I doubt Sir Alf smoked. “Doncaster lack a goal scorer; a bit like us” are the first wise words of the afternoon that  I hear Mick Mills say as side-kick to BBC Radio Suffolk’s commentator Brenner Woolley.  The Town team is unchanged from the beautifully unexpected 1-0 win at Hull on Tuesday.   “Bostock trying to pull the strings” says Brenner of the Doncaster midfielder, quickly settling into football speak.  Midfielders always ‘pull the strings’ in football and not only those on the waist bands of their shorts.  “Smith, on loan from Manchester City, the blond-haired player” continues Brenner, airing his interest in all things tonsorial and using his trademark back to front sentence construction.

Brenner tells us that it’s a “Fine Spring afternoon at Portman Road”; indeed it is and to make the point again Brenner describes how some player or other “…goes square into the sunshine”.  Doncaster have started ‘brightly’ we are told, it must be all that sunshine. Suddenly, “That was awful from Judge” says Brenner excitedly as little Alan Judge inexplicably turns and plays a perfect through ball for a Doncaster wide player to run onto.  “That was woeful from Town” adds Brenner just so we can be sure how bad it was.  “Doncaster, very lively on their feet” says Mick.  It’s a sentence that might suggest that they are not so lively on other parts of their bodies, but we never find out.  It seems likely however that  ‘lively feet’ are a pre-requisite for footballers, and for goalkeepers ‘lively hands and arms’ too.

Just eight minutes have elapsed since kick-off and Doncaster, or ‘Donny’ as Brenner is calling them, to show off his knowledge of local slang names, are dominant.   “The (Town) defence is working overtime, they really are” says Mick conjuring up images of Marcus Evans on the phone to his accountants checking that Luke Chambers only gets time and a half and not double time.  “Gorgeous weather over there” says Brenner of the far side of the pitch and thereby displaying a worrying perception that being in the shade means he is experiencing different weather from somewhere a hundred metres away.

Three minutes later and “Doncaster, the better side after eleven minutes” is Brenner’s assessment. “The tide will turn if you’re professionally about it” replies Mick, accidentally using an adverb and adding another natural phenomenon to the commentary to compliment Brenner’s interest in the weather.  Doncaster’s Joe Wright  ”… puts his foot through the ball” according to Brenner , who  then follows up with reference to what he had expected “early doors”.   We are not yet a quarter of the way through the game and impressively Brenner has used most of his football-ese vocabulary already.

Doncaster’s John Bostock is a frequent name in Brenner’s commentary as he continually links up play between Rovers’ defence and wide players.  Bostock is 29 years old.  “All these years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen John Bostock” admits Brenner, but then he hasn’t been commentating for local radio in Leuven, Antwerp, Lens, Toulouse and Bursa where Bostock has played 148 of his 200 odd club games.  Myles Kenlock wins the game’s first corner.  “If Town score it’ll be very much against the run of play, but we’ll take it” says Brenner magnanimously.   Why do people say “we’ll take it” ?  What is “it”? Has anyone ever “not taken it”?  If you take “it”, where do you put it? Thankfully in the circumstances, Town don’t score.

John Bostock is still the dominant presence in midfield and therefore it is Doncaster who have the ball most of the time.  “It’s Dozzell and Freddie Bishop we need more from” says Mick.  Town break down the right and win a free-kick.  “Judge not keen to put the ball in the painted crescent by the referee”  says Brenner  , unusually getting his trademark sentence construction all wrong.  From the free-kick Toto Nsiala sends a decent header across the face of the goal.

Town break forward again, this time more centrally and Teddy Bishop is adjudged to have been fouled by Doncaster’s Taylor Richards.  Mick isn’t convinced it was a foul, but presumably someone decides we should “take it”.  A knot of Town players surround the ball. “Norwood’s been told to do one” says Brenner, eliciting a stifled chortle from Mick.  Little Alan Judge takes the free-kick and arrows a superlative right-footed shot into the top right hand corner of the Doncaster goal.  “That was a fabulous goal” says Mick, and after twenty-four minutes Town lead one-nil.  “A cracking free-kick from the Irish midfielder” says Brenner characteristically reducing little Alan Judge to a nationality whilst also sounding a bit like Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit animations.

For a short while Town have as much of the ball as Doncaster.  Luke Chambers gets forward from his full-back position and earns a corner “ Yeah, good play” confirms Mick.  Then little Alan Judge almost scores again as Myles Kenlock makes a long run forward to pull back a deep cross to him. Town win a third corner and then a fourth. Brenner saying “Bostock with that bleached mohawk haircut” and “Bostock along the deck” announces Doncaster’s return to having more possession and Brenner’s continued interest in coiffure and his curious need to describe football using nautical terminology.

Ten minutes to half-time and Doncaster almost score, with Tomas Holy deflecting a shot away with his right leg and the follow-up shot from Josh Sims , who makes me think of Joan Sims, being blocked by the excellent Toto Nsiala. “Best attack from Doncaster if you’re talking about ending up with something on target” says Mick having clearly spotted that in spite of all their possession Doncaster have had very few decent attempts on goal.  Another Doncaster shot is on target but Brenner confirms that it’s “straight down the mouth of Tomas Holy, who drops on the ball for extra security”.  Mick thinks the Doncaster player should have done better, with “Control, finish” being his unusually succinct assessment of what he needed to do.

With half-time approaching, Brenner adds a little incidental colour to his commentary telling us that Paul Lambert is “just screwing the top back on his water bottle”; it sounds like a euphemism but it’s probably not.  Half-time comes and Brenner tells us that it’s a case of “Town with that slender 1-0 lead” as opposed, presumably, to a huge 1-0 lead or even a slender 3-0 lead.  With Mick heading off into a long and convoluted explanation of the first half, the BBC Radio Suffolk transmission is rudely interrupted by the ifollow’s own commercial break , disgusted that Mick must play second fiddle to consumerism and capitalist greed, I get up to put the kettle on.

The second half begins with a cup of tea and a couple of ginger Christmas tree biscuits ,which are very tasty and which my wife Paulene acquired at a generous 70% discount due to Christmas having happened two months ago. Paulene incidentally has given up on Pompey v Gillingham and has turned to Dijon FCO versus Paris St Germain in French Ligue 1, where former Town loanee Bersant Celina is playing for the home team and is destined to have easily his team’s best attempt on goal,  but his team will lose four-nil.  Brenner meanwhile announces that if Town win this afternoon it will be “a huge feather in their cap and a right old boost”, whilst Mick summarises the game so far by stating “Bostock and Smith have been much better than Dozzell and Bishop”, and naturally Mick is right.

Just two minutes into the half and Myles Kenlock is booked for an unnecessary foul on Taylor Richards.  Mick tells us that Doncaster had 71% of possession in the first half, although personally I was more impressed with their 85% passing accuracy.  “A lazy leg in there from Okenabirhie” says Brenner as the Doncaster player fouls Andre Dozzell and I imagine Okenabirhie dragging his idle, recalcitrant leg about the pitch constantly committing fouls as other players fall over it.   Doncaster start the half well, but it’s Town who almost score as James Norwood bounces a shot off the ground and Joe Wright heads it off the goal line.   A minute later Wright concedes a corner;  the ball is headed on from the edge of the penalty area and James Norwood nips in to scramble it past the exotically named Doncaster goalkeeper, Ellery Balcombe who sounds like he might write pulp crime fiction when he’s not picking the ball from the back of his goal net.    Town lead 2-0; I let out a cheer, clap my hands above my head and kick my legs out in front of me.  “Goodness, gracious me” says Brenner mysteriously channeling Peter Sellers and making me imagine Mick as Sophia Loren.

Moments later little Alan Judge shoots a little high and a little wide or, as Brenner rather gruesomely describes  it,  “he opened up his body from 19 yards”.  “Greedy for me” says Mick and suggests Troy Parrott was free and better placed.  If Parrott was perhaps older, had been at the club longer and knew little Alan “as a person”, Mick believes he would have given little Alan Judge a “volley” of abuse.  It’s an entertaining insight from Mick.

An hour passes; Doncaster make two substitutions and win what Brenner refers to as a “rare Doncaster corner”.  Tomas Holy rather weirdly “pats the ball into the ground” according to Brenner, who goes onto speak, as he did last week, of a “bit of brown ground down this nearside”.   It’s a phrase that suggests Brenner has no concept of mud or bare earth and has me wondering if he otherwise thinks of the pitch as “green ground”.

Doncaster begin to recover from the blow of the second Town goal and in the 64th minute almost score. “That was close to a goal from Doncaster” says Brenner and Mick backs him up with “That was a big chance for Bogle, it really was”.  Three minutes on and Gwion Edwards and Flynn Downes replace Little Alan Judge and Andre Dozzell.  Five minutes further on and a Doncaster shot strikes an Ipswich goalpost.   A minute after that Taylor scores for Doncaster after a slightly desperate tackle from Flynn Downes sees the ball squirm away to Jon Taylor who is in space and strides forward to hit the ball across Tomas Holy and inside the far post.  “Maybe they deserve it” says Mick sportingly but resentfully, citing that Doncaster had hit a post.

Fifteen minutes of normal time remain and Josh Harrop replaces the oddly named Keanan Bennetts. Eleven minutes of normal time remain and Aaron Drinan and Freddie Sears replace James Norwood and Troy Parrott.  Mick questions the wisdom of changing half the team.  “It’ll be awful if Town let a 2-0 lead slip in this game” says Brenner mischievously before going onto predict “an uncomfortable final eight minutes for Ipswich Town fans”.  Brenner is right and yet he’s not; Doncaster camp around the Town penalty area, passing the ball back and forth but seldom if ever threaten the Town goal.

With two minutes left Aaron Drinan breaks down the right. “Poor from Drinan” says Brenner as an over hit cross by-passes a Doncaster penalty area which is devoid of Town players in any case. “Still Town on top in terms of score line” says Brenner, reassuringly stating the obvious.  Four minutes of added on time will be played. “Stand by your beds, it won’t be easy listening” says Brenner, fulfilling his own prophecy before he’s said it; “All hands on deck for Ipswich Town off to the right”, although I think he meant starboard. In the ninety-third minute of added time the ball falls to Teddy Bishop who aimlessly and apparently in a state of panic lumps the ball away up field, provoking the sort of sweary outburst from me that would be frowned upon within earshot of the Family Enclosure at Portman Road.  But Doncaster are playing with only Omar Bogle up front and he’s not been by any means a prolific goalscorer at any time since he left Grimsby Town in 2017, consequently the score remains unaltered and Town win.

“You wait all this time for a victory against a top six side and then two come along at once” says Brenner, reprising, but mostly repeating his public transport based analogy from last week. I think to myself how you can wait years for a public transport related analogy in a football commemtary and then two come along at once. To the strains of “Hey Jude” the players leave the pitch; they have taken a sad song and made it better. It really has been a beautiful day.

Blackpool 1 Ipswich Town 4

For someone who had already given up travelling home and away every week to watch my team, one of the good things about the current pandemic and so-called ‘elite’ football being played behind closed-doors is that when your team plays away from home, you simply cannot go, so there is no internal debate to be had about whether or not you should travel.  Equally, there is no longer that same feeling of regret or self-doubt come Saturday afternoon that you are possibly missing out on something when the decision has irrevocably been made not to go away.  Today however, is not such a day, there is no chance that I would have travelled to Blackpool because it’s a long way away and it’s a dump. I have been to Blackpool twice before, once in 1989 with a girlfriend, whilst somewhat bizarrely holidaying on the Wirral and staying in a hotel that looked like the Munster’s house.  That day the sun shone and we took the tram along the front, no football was involved.  Then, eighteen and half years later in January 2008 I was one of a car load of four Town fans who, along with several others witnessed a one all draw at Bloomfield Road.  That game has faded from memory, but the one thing I do recall is a massive, somewhat dilapidated public lavatory near the sea front; this is not a metaphor for Blackpool itself, although it could well be because I found it to be a seedy, ugly town, but the public toilet was actually quite impressive.  To be fair to Blackpool it does have a decent wrought-iron lattice tower (158 metres tall), but once you’ve been to Paris (the Eiffel Tower is 300metres tall), it is easily confused with numerous phone masts.

 In my experience the best thing about Blackpool is the football team’s tangerine shirt, something that first came to my notice in 1971 in the form of ten painted, moulded, plastic footballers on circular bases which I saw when I attended a Subbuteo club at school.  The thought of Blackpool’s tangerine shirts still thrills me a little today as over lunch I look forward to Ipswich Town’s encounter with the collection of living, breathing footballers who currently wear them for work. It’s a cold day of showers and occasional sunshine which I have so far spent indoors, save for a brief excursion to my garage to check its leaking roof and the positioning of five plastic buckets.   My wife Paulene and I eat our lunch of heated-up homemade curry, left over from last night’s dinner, and I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ (500 ml) of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (£13.95 for a case of eight bottles direct from Fuller’s brewery with free postage on orders over £50), which coincidentally, given its name, goes down very well with curry.  

It feels grey and a little chilly in the spare bedroom today and pining for human contact I choose to listen to the match on the wireless in the living room, where I will be in the company of Paulene.  With Paulene watching the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly I have to find an earphone because she is strangely uninterested in hearing the fortunes of the Super Blues.  It’s easier to use an earphone with a smaller more portable radio and I therefore eschew the Bush TR82 today in favour of the Sony ICF-S10 portable radio.  After an initial unfortunate brush with Radio Essex, I delicately adjust the dial just in time to catch the hand-over from the Radio Suffolk studio in St Matthews Street, Ipswich to Brenner Woolley at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool.  Today Brenner is in the company of former Ipswich Town starlet Neil Rimmer who, whilst not exactly a Town legend or candidate for our Hall of Fame scored three times in twenty-two appearances for Town between 1985 and 1988 before he went onto play ten times as many matches for Wigan Athletic.  According to Wikipedia Neil is currently manager of Ashton Town.  Neil has a warm, almost mellifluous voice, perfect for radio, even if his mild scouse accent occasionally makes me think of Keith Chegwin, but that could just be me desperately trying to find humour in every situation.

Brenner helpfully tells me that Town are all in blue today and I strike up a colourful mental picture of our blue, Blackpool’s tangerine and the green of the pitch against banks of empty orange seats under a no doubt grey sky.  Brenner begins his commentary, relaying that it is former Town employee Grant Ward who “gets the ball rolling” before he treats us to some decent footballese, describing Blackpool as getting to the edge of the Town area “early doors”.  “Impressive stuff from the Radio Suffolk man.” he might say if he was commentating on his own commentary.  According to Brenner it’s a sunny afternoon in Blackpool, so I adjust the colour and brightness in my mental picture; and it’s very blowy, either that or one of Brenner or Neil is about to tap the microphone and launch into a kind of Norman Collier impression – “testing – testing, 1-2-3”.  Brenner will later say that he expects we can hear the wind around the microphone; he’s not wrong.

Unlike Mantovani or most of the musical content on Radio Suffolk, the early minutes of the game are not easy listening.  “Town have yet to have the ball on the ground in the Blackpool half” says Brenner. ”We’ve got to be precise with our passing” adds Neil offering a solution to the problem and simultaneously endearing himself to Town fans with his use of the first person plural.   “I think it’s all about results” says Neil explaining to Brenner what will make Town fans happy or annoyed, although Mick McCarthy might have cause to disagree, but thankfully he’s not with Neil and Brenner this afternoon.

Twelve minutes pass. “Maxwell puts his right foot right through it” says Brenner using an expression he tends to use once in every match to describe a goal kick.  Brenner carries on with a bit of filler as the action subsides, “Nsiala back in his native north-west” he says, displaying a woeful knowledge of the geography of both England and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Toto was born in Kinshasa which is in the West, not the northwest of the DRC.   Although Kinshasa was in Zaire when Toto was born, it has never physically moved and it seems unlikely that it’s ever been in Lancashire. 

Barely have I recovered from the thought of LS Lowry’s paintings of the cotton mills of Kinshasa and its Hot Pot and Barm Cake restaurants, than “Chambers shoots – fabulous goal!” are the welcome words arriving in my earpiece through the ether.  Town are a goal up courtesy of a shot that “…just about took the net away”.  Paulene missed my celebration of the goal because she has nipped to the toilet, but I tell her about it when she gets back; she feigns interest perhaps because her own team Portsmouth are also winning.

The first half is half over and Brenner tells us that it’s so far so good. Ninety seconds later “Nsiala goes Route One for Ipswich” and Brenner revives memories of BBC tv’s fabulous Quiz Ball, a programme which was last aired in 1972.  I think to myself how I’d like to see Quiz Ball revived; Richard Osman could host it in place of David Vine, they practically wear the same glasses.   It sounds as if the goal has settled Town, although occasionally they continue to give the ball away in midfield; more than once Huws is the culprit but the defence recover well.  “Gabriel back to Marvin Ekpiteta” says Brenner using the best two surnames in the Blackpool team, adding that Ekpiteta has “…come up through the pyramid”, which makes him sound like he could have been an extra in The Mummy.   A move breaks down and “Again Town starting from square one” says Brenner omitting to tell us that he’s now using the system created for the very first BBC radio commentary for a match (Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday in Division One on 22nd January 1927) whereby the pitch was divided up into eight squares and the commentator Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam described the game whilst a co-commentator said which square the ball was in; a diagram showing the football pitch divided up into squares was printed in that week’s Radio Times.

At about 3.35 Gwion Edwards runs into the Blackpool penalty area “He shoots – he scores” says Brenner and Town lead 2-0.  “Again, I think it’s deserved” says Neil displaying a level of enthusiasm and positivity towards Town not often heard. “Yeah clinical from Ipswich Town” replies Brenner putting the emphasis on the word ‘Clinical’ in a way that makes him sound either sarcastic or surprised.

Three minutes later Hawkins “scoops” a chance over the cross bar but Brenner kindly adds that it was “…not quite put on a plate for him”.  Neil’s audible smiles are having an effect on  Brenner who reminds listeners that Neil Rimmer is with him today and goes on to refer to Neil as “…so far a lucky charm”, which sadly implies that the 2-0 score line is nothing to do with Town playing well, but all down to Neil, and that that luck may change.  Other forces are at work it seems and as a Blackpool attack is broken up with a headed clearance from Town’s goalkeeper, Brenner announces “Holy’s forehead takes charge”.  Equally weirdly Brenner praises the teamwork of Town saying that when Miles Kenlock has been under pressure at left-back “… a Huws, an Edwards or a Wilson has helped out.” raising questions about just how many players with these surnames we have at the club and why they are all playing at the same time.

Half-time is almost here but there is enough time for Teddy Bishop to win the ball and then “…he shoots – and oh, great goal!”.  “Get this for a scoreline” say Brenner; Town lead 3-0 and it’s time for a cup of tea, although not before Brenner asks Neil for his assessment of the half and Neil says “I was very impressed” before adding “Goals change games” because clichés and football are impossible to separate.

Unplugging myself from the radio I head for the kitchen but forego a half-time snack today because I had a slice of homemade carrot cake after lunch and still feel quite full.  Making a case for a return to the yellow and blue away kit of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I take my tea in a yellow and blue Ipswich Town mug, which also features the old club crest and refers to the Premier League, dating it to the 1992 to 1995 period.

The second-half coverage opens with Neil again endearing himself to Town fans by telling us that “Teams like this shouldn’t cause us any problems”.  Brenner and Neil reminisce about Neil’s playing days at Ipswich and we learn that the highlight of his time with Town was his two-goals against Manchester City.  Brenner feels the need to explain to ‘younger listeners’ that  back then Town would often beat Manchester City, but omits to tell them that everyone did.

Blackpool win a corner. “They need a goal soon if they are going to get anything out of this game” say Brenner, unnecessarily seeing the game from the opposition’s point of view.  The 57th minute arrives and Kayden Jackson replaces Oliver Hawkins.  An hour has been played.  “Surely a chance, and it is” and Blackpool score through Gary Madine. That’s “really disappointing” says Neil perfectly catching the zeitgeist back in Suffolk.  “Have Town been guilty of sitting back?” probes Brenner turning the knife. “Yeah” says Neil, really disappointed.

There are twenty-five minutes left. “Anything could happen” Brenner tells us almost as if expecting Blackpool to score again.  It seems as if a substitution is about to be made and we learn that on-loan Keanan Bennetts is possibly coming on, “Paul Lambert certainly has his arm around somebody on the far side” adds Brenner injecting a hint of scandal into proceedings. Bennetts replaces Teddy Bishop, but as good as it is for Bennetts to get a ‘run out’ for the first team , I am slightly disappointed that Paul Lambert is not combining his Saturday afternoon job with some sort of romantic tryst.

“Surely not a penalty there” says Brenner suddenly. “Well played referee” he continues having evidently realised that he needs to want Town to win.  In the same vein Brenner begins to speak more quickly and with an air of excited anticipation “Bennetts cuts inside, shoots” then “Wide” in a flattened, deeper tone.  Brenner and Neil are conveying the feeling that Town are responding to Blackpool having scored, Paul Lambert is clapping his hands on the far side, presumably as an act of encouragement for his team and not because he’s cold. Brenner has not said what Paul is wearing today so we are not to know if he might be cold or not.

There are ten minutes left.  Brenner brings good news. “Edwards in behind Gabriel, is he going to make it four? He does”.  The game is won for Ipswich, but perversely Brenner’s thoughts are with the opposition and he finds it necessary to share his supposition that Blackpool manager Neil Critchley will “…be happy with the attitude”.  I’m not sure anyone back in Suffolk cares.

It’s ten to five and I realise I never drank my half-time tea.  I down the still lukewarm beverage and by the time I’ve done that referee Chris Sarginson, whose name I don’t recall Brenner having mentioned, has blown his whistle for the last time this afternoon.   The players, we are told, begin to “pat hands” and in my mind’s eye I see Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in tangerine shirts doing their “patty cake” routine in the “Road to” movies. Road to Blackpool would be a worthy addition to the series. After almost two hours of Radio Suffolk I can’t bear to listen to whatever follows the commentary and for me the broadcast ends with Brenner telling us that Neil will be “hanging around to take your calls”; my mind’s eye flits from musical comedy to a vision of Neil, hands in pockets loitering outside a dimly lit seafront phone box.

Four-one wins away from home are not common occurrences for any team, in the 1980-81 season when we were the best team on the planet we scored four goals away from home twice, at Coventry City and at St Etienne, so today’s result is one to treasure. Results like this however do make me want to travel away again and they highlight the sadness of football that we can’t be a part of.   But I refuse to let it bother me and I am now already looking forward to next Saturday and the reunion of Brenner with Mick Mills after what seems like a geological age without a home game. Inspired by the mention of St Etienne and Blackpool Tower I shall be wearing my Allez les Bleus t-shirt.

Paris St Germain 5 Olympique Lyonnais 0

It’s Sunday evening at Meudon Val Fleury suburban railway station and due to engineering works I didn’t think the RER trains were running, they weren’t when I tried to get home from central Paris last night just after midnight, but life is full of surprises and some of them are nice ones. So my wife Paulene and I eschew the almost door to door service of the 289 bus and opt for fewer carbon emissions with a short train ride and a twenty-minute walk to get to Parc des Princes.
It’s an uneventful journey apart from the sight of a coach, with curtains drawn across the windows and led by two police motorbikes, driving across the Pont d’Issy les Moulineaux. Was it the Olympique Lyon (OL) team, just OL supporters or may be a gendarmes’ night out? Nobody knows; well we don’t.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tonight’s match is the highlight of the weekend in Ligue 1, one of the ‘classique’ games that sees PSG play either OL or Olympique Marseille; the capital against France’s biggest other cities and North versus South. PSG have been dominating French football for the last six or seven years, but OL won Ligue 1 for a record seven consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2008, and with a new stadium hosting crowds in excess of 50,000 they should, in theory, be capable of challenging PSG. So far PSG have won all of their eight league matches this season (a record in itself), but this will be their first game against a club that might be expected to compete with them. OL beat Manchester City in the Champions League a week ago but are already as many as ten points behind PSG in the league.
Kick-off is at nine o’clock and it is almost dark by the time we approach Parc des Princes. There is a roar of traffic along the Périphérique where the red and white lights of the31291864528_a05c5770de_o scooters, cars and trucks make a surreal, atomised tricolour with the deep blue night sky before they disappear beneath a corner of the stadium; in the streets there is a hum of crowds and footfall along the wide boulevards. There are police in abundance; tonight they’ve brought not only their usual vans and bikes but a full size single-deck bus. Then there is a hiatus in the street, armed police are strung45116788112_465d898a34_o across the Route de la Reine and our path to the stadium is blocked. There is no clue why, and then just as mysteriously we are free to go on our way again. The grocery shops are busy as people buy pre-match snacks and a couple of bars are busy, but not to the extent that a pub as close to an English ground would be. Our route to the ground is now carefully directed between metal barriers feeding us toward the correct stand; we are in Borelli, entrance N. Tonight a ticket is notOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA enough to get you in the ground, the French show their ID cards whilst we show our passports.
The nine o’clock kick-off has given ample time to eat dinner with a drink or two so there is no need to buy pre-match refreshment this evening. But the French like to linger over dinner and the seats around us do not fill up until just before kick-off, some after that. This is a big match. The Ultras are back in force in the Auteuil Tribune after being absent for the Red Star Belgrade game, but there is a good following from Lyon also, all waving blue and red flags, chanting and holding their arms aloft as if undergoing a religious expereince. As The PSG team runs out to carry out its on-pitch warm up, the tannoy announces “L’equipe de Paris” (The Paris team) and some raucous grunge is played as pictures of the players striking poses appear on the two giant screens. As Gianluigi Buffon stops shots in a practice goal near the side of the pitch a stray ball flies into the crowd just in front of me. The ball firmly smites a man on the side of his head, but he feigns insouciance and enquires after the well-being of the person next to him as if the ball hit them rather than him. Odd behaviour I think, perhaps he’s concussed.
With the approach of kick off the Ligue 1 anthem, a brassy, punchy little number greets

our ears, the teams and officials walk-on side by side and a brief display of fireworks explodes into life. It’s all very dramatic and slightly pompous. The pomp is put into mundane context soon afterwards as the banners displaying the club crests and Ligue 1 logo are dismantled without ceremony on the space behind the goal and folded up, they no longer look so grand, but more like a colourful two-man tent.
The game begins and early play is tight with both teams’ forwards being crowded out, but Lyon soon suffer a severe blow as Nabil Fekir, their captain and member of the

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World Cup winning squad twists an ankle. At first he receives treatment and carries on, but not for long and is substituted by Maxwell Cornet in just the seventh minute. That’s disappointing for Lyon and for me; I had wanted to see Fekir play. Two minutes later Lyon’s Portuguese goalkeeper Anthony Lopes compounds Lyon’s misery as he foolishly tries to race Kylian Mbappe to the ball, which appears to be going out for a goal kick. Lopes doesn’t reach ball, but he does reach Mbappe and referee Monsieur Antony Gautier rightly points to the penalty spot. Neymar scores; rolling the ball gently to the right as the goalkeeper dives left, exactly as he did against Stade de Reims ten days before.
It’s been a messy start to the game and it doesn’t improve. Lucas Toussart is the first player booked after he commits a high tackle on Marco Verratti, but PSG’s Presnel

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Kimpembe then out does him by eliciting a red card from the top pocket of Monsieur Gautier for an assault on Tanguy NDombele. Weirdly, the dismissal is not instant as at first Monsieur Gautier goes to show a yellow card, but then looks again at the foul using the ‘VAR’. It is almost as having been caught Kimpembe is then tried before the verdict is reached. It would have been a nice touch if having reached his verdict the referee placed a black cap placed on his head before showing the red card. Only a few minutes after Kimpembe’s dismissal Neymar is booked for poleaxing Jeremy Morel, and after Lyon make another enforced substitution due to injury, Marco Verratti is also shown a yellow card after fouling Maxwell Cornet. Edinson Cavani is then substituted so that PSG can prop up their depleted defence, although the football press will later desperately try to make more of it, as ever failing to grasp that football is a team game. Other decent fouls go unpunished in terms of cards, but there are plenty of free-kicks to keep fans of set-pieces happy. The net result is no more goals and four minutes of unwanted additional time, but this is put to good use as Toussart trips Mbappe and receives a second yellow card from Monsieur Gautier and to end the half both teams have just ten players. If you like your football fast and violent, with every kick of the ball being matched by a kick of a player, it’s been a terrific half.
Half-time is an opportunity to rest and recuperate and I watch the electronic advertisement hoardings changing their messages. Although we are in Paris it is interesting how many of the advertisements are in English, another symptom of how clubs like PSG see themselves less as belonging to Paris and more as global brand. One advert for the Qatari National Bank mystifies me with its weird slogans “When you set your life goals, We can make the time right”. It all sounds very positive and inspiring, but what the hell does it mean? Equally hollow are the signs that read “Indonesia Stay Strong”; superficially all very laudable and who doesn’t wish the people of Indonesia well after the recent natural disasters? But slogans in a football grounds thousands of miles away don’t help them; perhaps a slice of PSG’s £500 million budget might though, if they really want to help.
The second half arrives and for a while Lyon look a threat. There is still only one goal in this game, a mere penalty at that, not a proper goal and Lyon are not being outplayed. I start to think PSG might not necessarily win this game. Neymar is setting up Mbappe however, and twice he puts him through on goal with just Lopes to beat, but he misses the first and his second shot is saved. Again Neymar puts Mbappé through and again he misses and then it happens yet again. I genuinely don’t think Mbappé has yet played as well for PSG as he did for Monaco and am on the verge losing patience with him. I begin to wonder if is he too young, if there too much pressure on him having been transferred for such a massive fee. Then with just about an hour of the match gone Neymar sets him up or a fifth time and this time he scores hitting both posts in the process and PSG lead 2-0. Five minutes later Mbappé scores again after interplay between Marquinhos and Verratti. Three minutes later Mbappé has a hat-trick as PSG hit Lyon on the counter OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAattack. Finally, after a further five minutes Mbappé scores his fourth goal and PSG ‘go nap’ as an attempt to set up Neymar sees the ball return to him with the invitation to score, which he accepts.
Mbappé and Neymar are incredible. Their speed and skill is wonderful to see. This is not like normal football and when PSG build up a lead like this they transform into a footballing version of the Harlem Globetrotters; this is pure footballing circus. When two minutes from time Neymar attempts an audacious and spectacular overhead kick, the crowd roars in appreciation. But this is all in sharp contrast to the first half, it is as if having two less players on the field, albeit one of them one of their own players has created that extra bit of space that Neymar and Mbappé use to run amok.
This was an unexpected result, even by the high standards of free-scoring PSG, but it has been a very strange game not least because two players were sent off before half time; then Mbappé contrived to miss four good chances all of which he is more than capable of scoring from, only to then go on and score four times in thirteen minutes. At the end of the match the PSG team line up as one to salute the Ultras at the Auteuil end and an extended love-in ensues with much jumping about and singing shared by players and supporters. The team are clearly very excited by the win and this has been a very special night, the like of which I am not sure I have ever seen. The closest I can come to it was when Ipswich beat Norwich City 5-0 but despite the joy of that night I don’t honestly think it matched the passion shown here tonight.