Gillingham 3 Ipswich Town 1

In my admittedly limited experience of the place, Gillingham seems an immensely dull town, despite being pleasantly situated close to the banks of the muddy estuary of the River Medway and the Norman castle and cathedral of Rochester.  Gillingham grew from almost nothing on the back of the expansion of the Chatham Royal Naval dockyard at the end of the nineteenth century as Britain embarked on an arms race with Germany, which ultimately resulted in the carnage of World War One that in turn led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and the Holocaust.  The weight of history therefore hangs heavy on the terraced streets around the Priestfield Stadium.  But I guess it wasn’t Gillingham’s fault, it just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; Kent.

As if Gillingham’s culpability in the horrors of twentieth century history wasn’t enough, Gillingham Football Club and its supporters may have reason to harbour resentment against Ipswich Town.  On 30th May 1938 Ipswich Town were voted into the Football League at Gillingham’s expense.  Gillingham had been in the wrong place at the wrong time again, having finished bottom of the Third Division South just as mighty Ipswich Town were embarking on their unstoppable rise to glory.   Gillingham’s demise was only temporary however, and happily as early as 1950 they were re-elected.  But whilst Ipswich Town were Football League Champions a little more than a decade later, Gillingham simply bobbed about between the two lower divisions until the turn of the twenty-first century when for the first time they made it into the second division. 

Meanwhile, throughout the post-war period, until his retirement in the early 1980’s my father’s brother Ray worked in Chatham dockyard and lived in nearby Rainham;  on a Saturday he would watch Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium with his stepson, I think they may even have had season tickets at one time.   Fast forward nearly forty years  and my uncle Ray is long dead and this afternoon thanks to Covid-19 no one is watching at the Priestfield Stadium as Gillingham meet Ipswich Town in the third division,  but I shall be listening on the radio.

Annoyingly, today’s game kicks off at one o’clock when most civilised people are sitting down to lunch.  The only explanation I have seen for this early kick-off is that the streets of Gillingham are not safe after five pm, but I’m not sure I believe this.  I tune in to BBC Radio Suffolk just in time to hear commentator Brenner Woolley describing Kane Vincent-Young’s goal  against Gillingham last season. “ Kane Vincent -Young scores” says Brenner before continuing in typical commentator style with “He goes off to celebrate, as well he might”.   Ask yourself this, when was the last time you said “As well he might” ?

Today is significant because it is the first game for Town under the management of Paul Cook.  “Yet another new era dawns” says Brenner portentously.  To describe the managerial reigns of Paul Lambert and Paul Hurst as “eras” is in hindsight going a bit far; if we are intent on using geological terminology they were not even periods or epochs, merely ages.  Ipswich Town have had eighteen managers Brenner tells us, and Marcus Evans has appointed a third of them.   It might be appropriate therefore that today Town are playing a club whose manager shares a surname with Mr Evans, the obese and irascible Steve Evans; I like to think that they are perhaps brothers.  According to Brenner’s sidekick for the afternoon, former Town youth player Stuart Ainsley, taking the job as Ipswich Town manager is “A big opportunity for Paul Cook, one he couldn’t turn down”; Stuart makes it sound as if the alternative was being encased in concrete in the foundations of a bridge.  Incidentally, Paul Cook is Town’s first bald manager since Bill McGarry over fifty years ago.

The Ipswich Town team are first out of the changing room, we are told by Brenner, who then takes us through the two teams.  I am struck by the name of Gillingham’s number nineteen.  At first I think Brenner has said the Dane, Oliver, and that Gillingham’s centre forward is from Denmark, but no, I check on my phone and he is called Vadaine Oliver and he’s from Sheffield.  I speculate that Vadaine’s mum was a fan of fantasy novels and a quick Google reveals that although the spelling is not quite the same, Vardaine is the name of a planet in Star Trek.  I wonder to myself if his team mates call him Vado,  Vads or Daino for short.  Personally, I hope they say Vadaine in the way that Boycie said “Marleen” in the BBC tv sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’.

The Town team is unchanged from the last game, but for the inclusion of Josh Harrop in place of little Alan Judge who has suffered a death in his family.  Stuart tells us with regard to the team that “Everybody’s happy with the way things are”.  I am brimming with confidence in the wake of Stuart’s words and the game begins with me humming The Buzzcocks’ 1979 single “Everybody’s happy nowadays” to myself.

Brenner is quickly into his stride “The referee has seen something in the box, and has blown up his whistle” he says, conjuring an image of a referee who carries a small supply of detonators.  “Norwood back with the pink boots on that he changed at half-time on Tuesday” continues Brenner quickly providing his regular update on player footwear.  Six minutes pass and Andre Dozzell gives away a free-kick close to the edge of the Town penalty area, in what Brenner and Stuart agree is a ‘good position’.  “Totally needless” says Brenner of the foul.  The free-kick is taken; Gillingham centre-half Jack Tucker is unmarked at the far post and when the ball drops to him scores. “Tucker, one nil”. The “new era” is for the moment on hold.  Apparently, it’s Gillingham’s first goal against Town in seven games; the dawn of a “new era” for Gillingham.

Stuart launches in to an explanation of Gillingham’s tactics. “Gillingham are going to launch big diags across the pitch” he says, unleashing the previously unknown word “diags” onto the radio listeners of Suffolk.  I write it down, adding it to my list of words and phrases to use when talking about football and trying to impress.  “Town need to wake up” says Brenner honestly.  Stuart concurs, “Ipswich haven’t come out of the blocks very well in the last few minutes” he says , not quite pulling off an athletics-based analogy as he fails to understand that coming out of the blocks happens just once and not over a number of minutes,  unless the runner is glacially slow.   Brenner sums up their shared outlook, “Paul Cook won’t be impressed with what he has seen from his team so far” he says, before triumphantly adding, like the true pro that he is, the football speak coup de grace “Although it’s early doors, it has to be said”. 

Fourteen minutes are up and Stuart feels Town are fortunate not to concede a penalty as a result of a foul by Myles Kenlock.  “Looks like this game is going to be a battle, unless Town can get the ball down on the deck” says Brenner, clearly influenced by Gillingham’s proximity to the former Chatham Royal Naval dockyard.  “Tucker the goalscorer” and “The busy O’Connor” are enjoyable epithets to fall from the mouth of Brenner as Gillingham dominate the play. A Gillingham shot hits Tomas Holy’s right hand goal post. “The players just need to up their game” says Stuart, sounding frustrated.

Twenty-six minutes have passed and Town win their first corner.  With the resultant drop-kick James Norwood lingers behind Gills ‘keeper Jack Bonham, whose name makes me think of deceased Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.  “Bonham has spotted him (Norwood) in his rear view mirror” says Brenner confusingly implying that Bonham is either driving a car or wearing some sort of harness with mirrors attached to it.  For a moment I think Brenner might have forgotten he’s providing a radio commentary.  Realising his faux pas Brenner quickly resorts to ‘painting a picture’ with words in the more traditional manner as he resort to his favoured back-stop of “Dozzell, with his yellow footwear”.

Troy Parrott produces an overhead kick which narrowly misses the Gillingham goal. “One of the most unlucky he’s had so far” says Stuart of Troy’s goal attempt.  “Not seen much of the ball in this match, Josh Parrott” says Brenner, re-christening the bird-named on-loan player and at the same time putting his name at the end of the sentence to keep us in suspense over who he’s talking about.

Seven minutes until half time and Brenner raises my hopes “Clear sight of goal for Norwood” he says expectantly, but Norwood’s shot is deflected away for a corner.   Andre Dozzell takes the corner.  “Really poor, cleared by the first defender” says Brenner of the last significant incident of the half.

With the half-time whistle Brenner asks Stuart for his verdict so far. “It’s not been very good, Brenner” says Stuart; he carries on using the well-worn football phrases that all listeners to football commentary know and love. “Gillingham stamped their authority on the game”; “Big lad up front”; “Not put their foot on the ball” and then in a sudden fit of violent intent, “I’d be tempted to throw a rocket into a few of them”.

Feeling utterly despondent and somewhat confused that it’s only a quarter to two and not a quarter to four I am physically unable to put the kettle on.  A lot has been said about the impact of lockdown on people’s mental health, but no one mentions the impact of football matches not kicking off at 3 o’clock.

Returning to my radio I hear Brenner say “Confident Stuart Ainslie?”  Clearly not sounding so, but refusing to say so Stuart replies “They’ll certainly have to up their game”.  “Dozzell too deep in his own half” he explains, suggesting a way in which their game might be upped.   Play resumes. “Ipswich in a rather washed out away kit” says Brenner, painting that picture again but subliminally describing Town’s performance so far before going on to explain that he and Stuart are not in Gillingham but in the studio “…watching the telly for want of a better phrase”.  I decide that there is nothing wrong with “watching the telly” as a phrase, but it would be better to be at the game if it were possible.

Five minutes into the half and James Wilson prevents a probable second goal for Gillingham with a timely block.  “Town have never lost at Priestfield” says Brenner probably filling in his betting slip and putting £50 on Gillingham to win as he speaks.  We look a lot better team when our foot’s on the ball” says Stuart inventing the concept of a shared foot and making me think of the end of the opening titles of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  “Poor spectacle, it has to be said, the game so far” says Brenner producing one of his best ever back to front sentences.

Sixty five minutes have passed. “Could it be Luke Chambers? Fabulous goal” says Brenner. “It’s a huge goal, a huge goal, with Ipswich’s new tenure” says Stuart, partly repeating himself and trying to use an intelligent sounding word but making no sense. Ipswich have equalised and my hopes are raised. Three minutes later the oddly named Keanan Bennetts is replaced by Gwion Edwards, Freddie Sears replaces Josh Harrop and Flynn Downes replaces Troy Parrott.  “Am I right to fancy Ipswich to go on and win it”? asks Brenner, goading Stuart into making a foolishly optimistic prediction.  “Errr, yes” says Stuart foolishly and optimistically, and giving Brenner the answer he probably thinks he and the listeners at home want to hear.

The seventy second minute and Town win a corner which is headed away.  Freddie Sears loses the ball, Gillingham break down their right, a low cross into the penalty box and ‘Daino’ scores easily. “Poor from Town again” says Stuart. Town are losing 2-1.  Kayden Jackson replaces Andre Dozzell. “Still wouldn’t rule out Town winning this game” says Brenner with uncharacteristic optimism, as if he’s trying to curry favour with the new managerial regime.

Less than fifteen minutes of normal time remain and from a corner a Kayden Jackson header hits the cross bar.  Minutes later Jackson fouls Jack Tucker “More than happy to find himself on all fours” says Brenner slightly weirdly of Tucker and conjuring images that I didn’t want to imagine.  The ball is given away by Town again, “ it could easily have been 3-1” Gillingham still have the ball, “ a shot into the corner of the net” and Gillingham lead 3-1 thanks again to Vads.  “Self-harm from Ipswich here” says Stuart taking his co-commentary to a very dark place.  “A fair few culpable at the back” says Brenner returning the commentary to more familiar territory.  “ A really disappointing afternoon for Ipswich Town so far, it has to be said” says Brenner fulfilling his own prophecy before he’s said it,  before admitting that he had expected a Town win. 

Gillingham cleverly or cynically manage the remaining minutes and time added on, but it doesn’t sound as if Ipswich do very much to make them think the game isn’t already won, and indeed it is. Brenner asks Stuart for his final thoughts.  “Just didn’t turn up today” says Stuart unimaginatively. “One or two players will be looking over their shoulders with regard to their shirts” he adds, implying perhaps that some players don’t know their own names or that before he left, Paul Lambert had written uncomplimentary things in felt tip on the numbers.  Reaching for the radio off switch I hear Stuart say “May be they took this as a given today”, before immediately contradicting himself and adding “I’m sure they didn’t”, as if Brenner was sat opposite him reproachfully shaking his head from side to side.

Like Brenner, I think I had expected Town to win today, but then I expect us to win every game whether it is the beginning, the middle or the end of an era.  Slightly annoyed with myself for feeling so dejected therefore, I put away the radio and wonder what the hell I’m going to do for the rest of the afternoon. At least I don’t live in Gillingham, I think to myself , and in any case I expect we’ll win on Tuesday.

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.

Crewe Alexandra 1 Ipswich Town 1

Ipswich Town had never played Crewe Alexandra in Crewe or anywhere else before 21st October 1997, and I am proud to boast that I was there that very day to witness the stultifying goalless draw that ensued.  Crewe were new to the second division back then, although they had enjoyed a brief dalliance with that most joyful of divisions where the teams are generally good, but not that good, back between 1892 and 1896.  But whilst the 1890’s were synonymous with La Belle Epoque in Paris and evidently Crewe in the middle years of the decade, these were nevertheless the days before Crewe Alexandra’s natural habitat of the Third Division North and its offspring the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Football League first saw light of day.  All this is mere pointless preamble however, because I first went to Gresty Road to see Crewe Alexandra play Halifax Town in April of 1988.  Ipswich were away at Oldham Athletic on the Saturday and my friend Steve and I travelled up the previous day in my trusty Toyota Corolla, which actually didn’t prove that trusty because the exhaust blew somewhere on the A500, requiring a pre-match visit to Kwik-Fit; to add further excitement to the occasion neither Crewe nor Halifax managed a goal that Spring Friday night. The following day Ipswich Town lost 3-1 at Boundary Park to crown a successful weekend.

Almost thirty-three years later and today of course the Ipswich Town players and their entourage are the only people travelling to Crewe and I am sat at home listening to the unfolding story of the afternoon on BBC Radio Suffolk in the company of Brenner Woolley and his sidekick Stuart Ainsley.   I decide to listen to the game with my wife Paulene rather than sit alone in the back bedroom and this means that courtesy of the magic of an earphone and the Amazon Firestick I can also watch a French Ligue 2 game;  either Troyes v Auxerre, which BT Sport would doubtless bill as the Champagne derby if it  deigned to show it, or  Toulouse versus Clermont. 

We plump for the game in Toulouse because we like Clermont Ferrand and once took a very long tram ride on a very, very hot day to visit the city’s Stade Gabriel Montpied ground, how we laugh as we fondly recall that Paulene came out in a nasty rash because of the extreme heat. I tune into BBC Radio Suffolk in time to hear some irrelevant tosh about something called the Premier League and the good news that Norwich City have not won today, although sadly they didn’t lose either. Some commentary follows from when Town last played a league game in Crewe, which was in 2006 in the years before Marcus Evans, and Alan Lee and Dean McDonald scored to give Town a 2-1 victory.

Brenner Woolley’s soothing voice arrives through the ether to bring news of the inevitable changes to the Town line-up after the latest ignominious defeat.  Brenner reveals that Freddie Sears will be playing “up top” today and that Miles Kenlock replaces Stephen Ward at left-back; he asks Stuart Ainsley what he makes of this.  “Obviously positive for Kenlock” says Stuart, stating the obvious but also reminding us of the importance of the word ‘positive’.  In modern football the ‘positives’ are something which managers look for in every losing performance.  In Ipswich’s case Paul Lambert finds so many positives in every defeat, there is no longer any need to win.

I’m not sure if my concentration doesn’t divide very well between tv and radio, but I seem to miss the actual kick off in Crewe although Brenner is quick to allay my fears that I might have missed much by quickly telling us that it’s still ‘early doors’. In Toulouse the game began an hour ago because it’s now four o’clock there and the second-half kicks off with the score at one-all.   Brenner continues to ask Stuart about changes to the Town team and what he thinks of Alan Judge’s return to the starting line-up.  “I think it’s positive” says Stuart.  As he’s not being a football manager right now he either simply can’t think of anything else to say or he is trying to develop his radio persona by means of a catch phrase.

“Playing with gloves on, the blond-haired number ten” says Brenner of Crewe’s Kirk before Stuart postulates his theory that Luke Chambers should play in the middle alongside Woolfenden or McGuinness in order to create a blend of youth and experience at the centre of the defence. “It may work better; it may not, obviously” adds Stuart, almost admitting it’s a crap idea before he’s finished telling us about it.   On the tv  meanwhile, Toulouse take the lead, scoring direct from a free-kick hit so hard by Branco Van den Boomen, who is Dutch,  that it scares the defensive wall into evasive action.

“A rare involvement for the Czech” says Brenner, presumably as Tomas Holy receives the ball, but possibly as he fills out and posts off his annual subscription to the Royal Society of British Football Commentators.  Quickly back from the post box Brenner updates us on Paul Lambert’s attire today; “Only the eyes of the town manager visible on the far side, with the beanie hat and the hoody pulled over his face”.  Getting into his groove Brenner tells us that Tomas Holy is in all black and appears “very nonchalant but very accurate” as he plays the ball out of his penalty area.

Confirming the venue for today’s match Brenner refers to somewhere called the Alexandra Stadium, which is a name that sounds very salubrious and I wonder what happened to plain old Gresty Road where Crewe used to play.  After 15 minutes Gwion Edwards has a shot which the Crewe goalkeeper has to prevent from going into the goal.  “Town on top at the moment” says Brenner.  It sounds like Town are doing okay. “Not a million miles away from being a good ball” says Brenner as Town almost mount an attack.  It still sounds like Town are doing okay, but then Brenner raises his voice “Blasted over the top by Mandron…..when almost certain to be 1-0 to Crewe”.    It transpires that Miles Kenlock has saved the day with a last ditch block, or a tackle, or perhaps a block and tackle. Town “…definitely weren’t playing the way they were trying to play” explains Stuart confusingly, but somehow logically too.

From what I can make out, Town soon recover from almost conceding and are still the better team. “No one’s in the middle but in it goes anyway” says Brenner of the ball as the nine Town outfield players turn finding their lone striker into a game of Where’s Wally.    Brenner then proceeds to show off his knowledge of football terminology as he describes the Crewe goalkeeper catching the ball “…on his back stick”, an odd expression,  which only makes sense if there isn’t a cross bar, which interestingly, back in the 1860’s when the game was first codified there didn’t used to be.

Twenty minutes pass. Brenner makes reference to the “pony-tailed Woolfenden” as he does most games and Stuart tells us that “The game’s gone a bit untidy”, not unlike his use of the English language in that sentence.  On tv it’s the sixty-seventh minute of the match in Toulouse and the home team score again, this time a penalty from Stijn Spierings whom Brenner would call “the other Dutchman”.  “Terrible from Beckles, not much better from Gwion Edwards” says Brenner succinctly describing third division football and he does it again as he says “Crewe’s turn for some harmless possession”.  It sounds like the game has become rather uneventful, Brenner describes it as “A little bit cat and mouse”, in which case I hope Ipswich are the cat because in my experience of play between cats and mice it usually ends with the mouse being disembowelled or having its head left on the back doorstep.  “Ipswich have sort of sat off” is Stuart’s more nuanced assessment of the state of play.

The lack of excitement in the commentary leads me to notice the geographical nature of the Crewe back four with Lancashire, Pickering and Beccles (Beckles) creating some lengthy potential passes.  Meanwhile Brenner reflects on his liking for Crewe’s Charlie Kirk “I like Kirk when he gets the ball, very easy on the eye” purrs Brenner, adding an unexpected frisson of homo-eroticism to his commentary.

  With half an hour gone Crewe score, but happily the ‘goal’ is disallowed because the beautiful Kirk is offside.  Soon afterwards Miles Kenlock is booked for a lunge at Luke Murphy and Stuart speculates as to whether the wind is playing a part in the game. “Obviously you can’t tell from here” says Stuart, which is hard to contradict given that he’s 323 kilometres away in a radio studio.  His theory seems to be based on the fact that the corner flags are “blowing rapidly”. 

Beckles is booked for a foul on Sears.  “Goodness, that was awful from McGuinness” reveals Brenner of a separate incident, before back on the tv Clermont pull a goal back with a header from Jonathan Iglesias, who Brenner would probably describe as “the Uruguayan” if he was commentating on the French game .  Half-time is just a couple of minutes away and Freddie Sears shoots from some 25 metres from goal, which Brenner describes as “ambitious”.  Two minutes of additional time are announced at Crewe and four in Toulouse. The first half ends for Crewe and Ipswich and Brenner asks Stuart to summarise. “Are they playing without a number nine?” asks Stuart rhetorically “Quite possibly” is his not very conclusive answer too himself; perhaps he hasn’t noticed that Kayden Jackson isn’t even on the bench today, or perhaps he has. 

Half-time is illuminated by an espresso, a cup of tea and Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  With the game in Toulouse over, the Firestick is switched to Serbian television where two of my favourite French clubs, Montpellier HSC and RC Lens are playing in Ligue 1; it’s a colourful spectacle with Montpellier in navy blue shirts and orange shorts and Lens in red and yellow shirts with black shorts.  So engrossed in the French game am I that I miss the first three minutes of the second half at Crewe.  Lens score with a fine shot from outside the penalty area from Cheick Doucoure who Brenner would refer to as “the Malian”. 

Almost an hour of the game has been played when Crewe score through Brenner’s favourite Charlie Kirk.  Stuart contends that Crewe do not deserve their lead but that Ipswich “Need more players up the pitch”, although one on the goal line might have been handy a minute ago.  Freddie Sears, who Stuart considers is playing well, is replaced by James Norwood and Teddy Bishop replaces Luke Thomas.  Brenner cracks a joke; “Town look to be legally obliged to play just one up front this season” he jests.  For a few minutes Town’s or rather Paul Lambert’s refusal to play two players in a forward position is the main topic of the commentary.  Teddy Bishop is then booked for cheating by referee Mr Joyce who is one of the few officials whose surname is also a woman’s first name; I bet he had a tough time at school, always being called Joyce by everyone.   “A good foul by Bishop” is Stuart’s assessment, although he might not have thought so if he had had the ‘gift’ of clairvoyance.

Aaron Drinan replaces Gwion Edwards. Paul Lambert has broken the legal agreement and within a minute Drinan scores his first goal for Town.  The scores are level and Brenner and Stuart ‘riff’ for a moment on the apparently instant impact of having two strikers on the pitch. Stuart suggests it is obvious and Brenner tells him “Don’t worry about saying the obvious on BBC Radio Suffolk”, which is astonishingly honest of him and all of a sudden I think I feel the same way about Brenner as he does about Charlie Kirk.  Charlie Kirk may be easy on the eye, but Brenner is equally easy on the ear.

The game resumes and according to Stuart, Crewe miss a “big chance” to re-take the lead when three players all go for the ball at once, just four yards from goal.  “It’s 1-1, if you’re just re-joining us again having given up at 1-0” says Brenner revealing more of his refreshing honesty.  Meanwhile “Norwood tried to Cruyff it” says Stuart, trying to invent a new verb, but simultaneously inventing a game in which you turn your favourite or least favourite players/managers/owners into verbs.    With eight minutes of normal time remaining Teddy Bishop becomes the new Kayden Jackson and bishops things or may be jacksons them by committing another foul and Joyce sends him off.  Town have eight minutes to hang on, whereas a moment ago they had eight minutes in which to score the winner.

On the tv in Montpellier it’s half time but back through the airwaves in Cheshire via St Matthews Street in Ipswich, Brenner tells of pointless and possibly dangerous bodily contortions as “Woolfenden wraps his foot around the ball”.  There will be five minutes of added on time and according to Brenner, who seems set on unnecessarily raising the tension, it’s “All hands on deck, everyone back”.  Happily from the remainder of the commentary it doesn’t sound as if the Town defence is overly stretched by Crewe and the five minutes pass quite quickly and comfortably.  With Joyce blowing her whistle for the final time Brenner asks Stuart to summarise. Stuart sighs and says “Ugh, neither team deserved to win it”.  Perhaps feeling that what he has said lacked the dressing room credibility which BBC Radio Suffolk is paying him for, Stuart repeats himself but incorrectly uses the past participle of do instead of the past tense, saying “Neither team done a lot to win the game”.  That’s better Stu mouths Brenner inaudibly, I imagine.

Happy that Town have not lost, but with a nagging sense that we should have done better I detach myself from my earpiece and turn off the radio.  I’m getting a little bored of listening to these games on the radio now, although at least there were two goals today, unlike the first two occasions when actually I went to Gresty Road; and it’s nice not to have not pay for a new exhaust too.

Ipswich Town 2 Swindon Town 3

I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was in an Ipswich which had a similar layout to the real place but all the buildings were different and weirdly the buses were like those from the 1970’s; I got on one in a shopping-centre painted chocolate brown and it unexpectedly took me up a fast road to what might have been Chantry; I got off and wandered back towards Portman Road because there was a match on.  I walked through streets of medieval, half-timbered buildings and past a pub I had never been in before where they were calling last orders, it was only two o’clock; I knew I had had a pint already but I couldn’t remember where.  That’s when I woke up.

After a welcome mid-season break which has made me feel even greater kinship with the people of France, and Germany that Brexit has tried to divorce me from, I have spent the last few days in keen anticipation of today and the match versus Swindon Town, even though it’s only on the telly, but this is the new reality to which I have become accustomed.  I even ordered a match programme yesterday (£3.50 including postage and packing), but the waking day gets off to a bad start because when I check my post it hasn’t arrived.  Kick-off today is at 5.30 so after a morning of dull, domestic normalcy and a light lunch of chorizo sausage and salad I take an afternoon walk, slipping, trudging and sliding across frosty, muddy fields, squinting into the low January sunlight and avoiding human contact.

Mud & trees

Back home, with the help of tea and biscuits I watch the FA Cup scores develop on BBC 1 where a man who looks like a bigger version of Pep Guardiola fills the air time once occupied by Grandstand and the seat left vacant by Frank Bough.  Gradually, 5.30 draws near.  I log onto the ifollow in time to catch the last three names of today’s virtual mascots, Georgia, Rory and Albi; I am reminded of Albi the racist dragon, who Bret and Jermaine sang about in episode seven of Flight of the Conchords.  There follows a compilation of the best bits from the commentary the last time Town played Swindon, which was back in January 2000, even before Flight of the Conchords was first on television. In goal for Swindon that day was Frank Talia and I amuse myself by wondering if he had a sister called Jenny.  There’s time to get a pre-match ‘pint’, if not to drink it, before kick-off and I pour a glass of Fuller’s 1845 (on offer before Christmas at £3.00 for two from Waitrose) for me, and a glass of ‘mother’s ruin’ for my wife Paulene, which she takes topped up with fizzy water.

As the players take the knee we are informed that today’s fixture is a ‘memorial match’ for everyone who has died in the last year.  Paulene chuckles and we both roll our eyes.  “What the heck is a memorial match?” asks Paulene.  It’s as if people have never died before.  What a sentimental, maudlin lot we have become.  As the handover is made from the Radio Suffolk studio to the commentary team we learn that today’s commentary will not be from Brenner Woolley, who sadly is unwell, instead Radio Suffolk have enlisted the services of former Northgate school boy Stuart Jarrold, who should by rights be enjoying his retirement; I can remember him on Anglia TV forty years ago; he must be well over seventy.  Happily Stuart’s co-commentator is still the dependable Mick Mills who will hopefully add to his record of 741 games played for Town by co-commentating on a similar number.  It was Mick’s birthday this week; he was seventy-three. With two septuagenarians at the microphone there is an undeniable hint of Last of the Summer Wine pervading the airwaves.

Stuart begins his introduction to the game assuredly and authoritatively, he’s an old pro. But then the game begins; Swindon kick off, play the ball back and Dion Conroy lumps it up field.  It is immediately clear that Stuart doesn’t recognise any of the players; he doesn’t even seem to be familiar with their names. His assuredness has departed quicker than a season ticket holder in the top tier of the Cobbold stand when we’ve just conceded a third goal with twenty minutes to go.  Just to make it clear to anyone who hadn’t picked it up from his commentary, Stuart now admits he hasn’t watched Town at all this season.  Stuart can’t tell Luke Chambers from Luke Woolfenden.  He struggles on.  Usually it’s Brenner that interrupts Mick, but today Mick has to interrupt Stuart to clarify what’s just happened.  “Was that Brett Pitman firing in a shot there?” asks Stuart sounding reasonably confident “No, it was Matt Smith” replies Mick.

The camera lingers on a man in glasses and a black hat with a dark scarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face.  I can’t tell who it is.  It could be Marcus Evans, it could be Paul Lambert.  Either one of them could be forgiven for not wanting to be recognised at Portman Road.  “I can’t see Paul Lambert here” says Stuart, quite coincidentally and no doubt unaware of the picture on the tv screen.  Would Stuart even recognise Paul Lambert if he saw him?

Stuart tells us that three minutes have been played, but the figures in the corner of the tv screen suggest he is living some three minutes in the past. “Can’t see who’s taking the corner from here, can you Mick?” Mick is having to work hard today.  “Cleared by one of the Lukes” says Stuart.  Armando Dobra is fouled by Paul Caddis. “Did Caddis get a yellow card for that?” asks Stuart in the latest in a series of questions “I think he did”.   Mick resorts to saying things which Stuart can re-use in his commentary.   “Luke Chambers knocks it back to err…err… err… Luke Woolfenden” says Stuart. 

I don’t know if it’s wheeziness due to his age or just anxiety, but Stuart’s breathing is audible over the microphone.   Paulene cringes, but she’s feeling sorry for Stuart.  I am too, but I don’t let it stop me from laughing, this is what makes local radio so great. “It’s a bit aimless in the middle there Mick” says Stuart, sounding slightly incredulous that the game is as bad as it is.  Further proof, if proof were needed, that he hasn’t seen Town play previously this season.  Stuart mentions that Swindon’s Diallang Jaiyesimi had been at Norwich City.  Mick asks if he ‘came through the ranks’ there.  Unsurprisingly, Stuart doesn’t know.

It’s the 16th minute, Swindon score.  “Err, yes, it’s a goal, it’s a goal” says Stuart, sounding as unprepared as the Town defence was and as if, like them, he wasn’t really watching when it happened.  Paulene cheers, I think because Brett Pitman played for Pompey, although he didn’t score the goal,  that was our friend from Norwich City.   I look at Paulene coldly.

The game resumes. “I haven’t mentioned Judge yet, I’ve rarely seen him touch the ball” says Stuart optimistically suggesting he would recognise Judge if he did see him touch the ball.  “I’ve got to get used to these players, haven’t I” he adds, more realistically.  He is improving, a little.  “This is Emyr Huws now, tussling with the ball” says Stuart in a moment of clear vision, but also a weird use of language worthy of Brenner Woolley.  “We are beginning to sit back and watch them play” says Mick of the Ipswich players. “That’s not what we should be doing is it Mick?” says Stuart asking a question so stupid it would sound sarcastic if he hadn’t grown so childishly reliant upon Mick’s every word.

A half an hour passes. Andre Dozzell sends a brilliant pass over the top of the Swindon defence, little Alan Judge runs through but incredibly fails to score with just the Swindon ‘keeper Mark Travers to beat.  It’s a unique moment of inspiration coupled to the usual failure and frustration in an otherwise featureless first half. 

Half-time begins to loom like an oasis.  “Luke Chambers…left foots it forward” says Stuart making up a new verb.  “The last six or seven minutes seem to have dragged a bit, without a lot happening” Stuart then adds, clearly beginning to get into the feel and rhythm of Portman Road on match day.  At the end of two minutes of added time Mick provides a concise summary of the half before being cut-off by advertisements which, not being a fan of the consumer-society, I ignore, “You’ve got to say Swindon have been the better side”.

Half-time is a delicious blur of more Fuller’s 1845 and gin.

The second-half arrives all too soon and James Norwood and Flynn Downes replace Aaron Drinan, who Stuart didn’t even mention not having mentioned, and Emyr Huws.  Swindon’s Scott Twine has an early chance to double his team’s lead but doesn’t and Stuart carries on not knowing which Ipswich player is which “…..putting Jackson away, no, that’s not Jackson”.  But Town do look a bit better now, with Norwood seeing more of the ball within a few seconds than Aaron Drinan did in the whole of the first half.  It’s the 51st minute and Stuart and Mick are now honing their double act to perfection.  Little Alan Judge shoots on goal, “I thought it was going to hit the post” exclaims Stuart. “It did hit the post” explains Mick, demonstrating the value of having an expert co-commentator who has played the game at the highest level and is therefore capable of spotting the difference between the ball hitting the post and not hitting the post.

Two minutes later and Flynn Downes shows that he has settled back in to the team and receives his customary booking.  Town continue to look like they have now been given a rough outline of the aim of the game and with just over an hour of our lives wasted Kayden Jackson unexpectedly plays in an early cross which James Norwood reaches just a few metres from goal.  Showing an unimaginable level of skill Norwood slices an attempt to shoot onto a Swindon defender standing the statutory two metres away, the ball rebounds back to him and he strokes it into the goal. “We’ve scored” I utter cautiously, scarcely able to believe my eyes.  Victory must now be ours, surely; how can we not go on to win against the team second from bottom in the league who have lost five of their last six matches conceding fifteen goals in the process?

Confident, I sit back, but unfortunately so does the Town defence and together we watch Scott Twine score from about 35yards.  “It was a stupendous goal” says Stuart almost shouting with excitement and clearly scarcely able to believe that such a goal could be scored amongst what otherwise seems a pretty lamentable standard of football.  Mick is appreciative of the finish, but generally less enthusiastic than wide-eyed Stuart, citing Ipswich’s contribution by virtually “inviting” Twine to shoot.  Mick sensibly adds that it was a somewhat freakish goal too, although I would add not freakish enough to have actually been scored by Ipswich.

James Norwood harvests another booking for a pointless tug at a Swindon player before Brett Pitman appears to score a third goal for Swindon, but sadly it’s not Brett who scored it’s that bloke who played for Norwich instead.   Had it been Pitman’s goal it would have been a good goal, a deft flick no less, but instead it’s a cross that has sneaked in at the far post because everyone else misread it, a bit like the weirdly named Keanen Bennett’s goal against Shrewsbury a few weeks ago.  “It’s almost an embarrassment isn’t it?” says Stuart really getting to grips with the reality of commentating on Ipswich Town in the 21st century.

We’ve watched seventy-eight minutes now, Town trail 3-1 and Jack Lankester replaces Armando Dobra. “Will that make much difference Mick?” asks Stuart , probably having worked out by now that it won’t. But with four minutes remaining of normal time a punt forward is controlled by James Norwood who lays the ball off for little Alan Judge to score simply and unexpectedly for Town. “That came out of nothing” says Stuart,  not having yet realised that this is true of nearly every goal scored in the third division.

In the remaining minutes Mark McGuinness has a shot which might have been an equaliser if hit harder and wider of Travers in the Swindon goal and Swindon make a final substitution to eke out the dying seconds before another home defeat is confirmed.  To misquote Elton John, I guess that’s why they call us the Blues. The players must be so pleased that the supporters are once again safely locked down at home and not in Portman Road, but if any has particularly good hearing they can probably discern the boos emanating from sofas and easy chairs all across the town  as they leave the pitch.

What a disappointing afternoon it has been, but one in which Stuart Jarrold can at least feel reasonably happy that his inability to recognise Town players was matched by the Town players themselves, and that at least he had a really good excuse; unless they have all been in isolation for the past fortnight they didn’t.  For myself, I at least now understand that dream, because I can no longer recognise the Ipswich Town I knew either, but I shall be back again next week to try again.

Ipswich Town 2 Rochdale 0

It’s a grey, blustery Saturday in late September and despite the miserable nature of the weather there is a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Obviously, the normal, “traditional” Saturday of dossing about a bit, catching the train, sinking a couple of pints of fine ale and strolling on down to Portman Road is not going to happen today because of the continuing pandemic, but a fresh, new reality has taken root and after a morning of tidying my garage, involving putting up hooks and brackets on which to hang my garden furniture and my bicycle, there is now the prospect of logging onto the ifollow to watch the mighty Ipswich Town.  Today there is added excitement too as today is the first ever appearance at Portman Road of one of the Football League’s most resilient, remarkable and in most people’s eyes unsuccessful clubs, Rochdale AFC.  Rochdale’s survival as a professional football club for almost a century is simultaneously a great achievement and a story of fantastic under-achievement. No other club can boast thirty-six consecutive seasons in the fourth division or a home crowd for a league game of just 450.   That Rochdale have spent eight of the past ten seasons in the third division nevertheless makes them one of Britain’s most successful clubs, relatively speaking. As if that is not enough, Rochdale has a marvellous Victorian town hall, something it has in common with Ipswich, but it was also the birthplace of the Co-op, and Gracie Fields.

After a somewhat peculiar ‘lunch’ consisting of the remains of a bag of Gujerati Mix and leftover home-made chips that my wife Paulene didn’t want, I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ (actually 500 millilitres) of Adnams Ease-Up IPA (two for £3 from Waitrose) whilst logging-on to the i-follow.   Amazingly, I find the ifollow very easy to set up, connecting my laptop to the television with what I can only describe as aplomb.  The only thing I have difficulty with is getting the picture to fill the whole screen because the ‘expand’ icon is hidden beneath an icon that asks me if I want to chat about the EFL;  I can think of few things I  would want to do less.  I eventually discover that by scrolling down the page the ‘expand’ icon can be uncovered. Ready for the match I take up residence in an Ikea Poang chair, with my beer carefully positioned on an occasional table next to me, just an arm’s length away.

As an experiment, today I am not wearing the blue, Ipswich Town branded ‘button neck t-shirt’ that I wore when listening to last week’s win at Bristol Rovers, when watching the game versus Wigan Athletic the week before and when listening to the game versus Bristol Rovers in the League Cup the week before that.  Today I am wearing a grey Euro 2016 t-shirt that I bought at a Carrefour hypermarket in Tinqueux just outside Reims (pronounced ‘Rance’).  I need to know if Town can win on their own, or whether my ‘button neck t-shirt’ has special powers. 

The game has not yet started and I and my fellow viewers of the ifollow are treated to a Radio Suffolk preview of Needham Market’s match versus Stratford, the reporter Nick Garnham delivers his report in the style of a 10 year old who has been asked to read out loud in class; he’s very good.  The radio broadcast returns to Portman Road and resident Radio Suffolk commentator Brenner Woolley provides a precis of Town’s season so far before his side-kick and appointed expert Mick Mills magnanimously announces that “Most of what you’ve said I totally agree with”.  Undeterred, Brenner goes on to describe the two teams’ kits; I agree totally with most of what he says but disagree with his description of Rochdale’s shirts as ‘bottle green’, they’re a shade too light for that.  The Dulux colour chart has a shade called ‘Seaweed’ which is a much better match.

On the ifollow a caption appears that shows today’s teams and I am impressed with the use of the correct diacritical marks above the a, s and y of Tomas Holy’s name, something that our own match programme doesn’t even bother to do,  and nor do I because I can’t find them on my keyboard.   Returning from the caption to the pictures of Portman Road I feel a bit seasick due to some wobbly camera work but I am soon settled by the calming voice of Mick Mills, although he does then proceed to conjure some disturbing images when, talking about the advantages of a settled team, he claims that Sir Alex Ferguson would only ever “…mess about with three or four players”.   It’s not an accusation I’d heard levelled at Sir Alex before.

The match begins with the shrill whistle of today’s referee Mr John Busby and Rochdale kick off towards the North Stand in their seaweed green shirts with black stripes, black shorts and socks.  I am peering at my tv screen looking for a fat bloke with a Teddy Boy haircut after Brenner tells us that Paul McShane is playing at the back for Rochdale, but I then remember Rochdale’s penchant for players with famous names; well, Paul Weller played five games for them back in 2004 anyway. 

Town are very quickly looking good and only Freddie Sears and Jon Nolan deny them an early lead as they contrive to balls-up a two versus two breakaway in the seventh minute.  Mick Mills is almost as quick to tell us how Town are much the better team and are dominating, before Rochdale naturally enough then begin to pass the ball around with nonchalance and Chambers and Nsiala create a complete mess at the back just two minutes later. It’s Rochdale’s Aaron Morley who then has the first shot on goal, if it can be described as such.

Brenner tells us more than once than the rain is hammering down at Portman Road but we don’t need him to tell us that actually this isn’t a bad match at all.  Oliver Hawkins has a header saved, hits a post with a shot on the turn and then has another header cleared off the goal line.  Brenner tells us again that the rain is hammering on the roof of the stand and this time I’m glad he does because it sounds like applause, as well it might.   Brenner and Mick are almost purring over some the play but at the same time talking pretty sensibly in plain English. “Dozzell, using his quick feet there” says Brenner raising the question in my mind at least of whether a player’s feet can be quicker than his legs, and how, if they could, this would genuinely bamboozle the opposition.  “They’re decent; decent footballers, Rochdale” says Mick with a third of the match gone and sounding rather surprised. 

The match continues to be worth the entrance money, if not a tenner to watch it on the ifollow, and Brenner’s detailed radio commentary is adding to my enjoyment , especially when he introduces the use of compass-points into his description pinpointing possession in one instance to “…just North of the centre circle”.  I can only think the lashing of rain and wind has stirred up some memory of the shipping forecast in his BBC radio presenter consciousness.   Speaking of the wind and rain I’m quite pleased to see that my seat in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is being kept dry by having a George Cross endorsed with the name of someone called Aaron draped over it.  It leads me to muse on whether I’d be so happy to have my seat sub-let to a cardboard cut-out of a complete stranger, I’m not sure I would.

Half-time is approaching and still the game flows like proper football should;  and even though a number of simple looking passes are going astray the emphasis is on attacking football. “We had bodies in the box, we had Luke Chambers in there” explains Mick, as if to say “even Luke Chambers”.  The Rochdale goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu saves a 20 yard shot from Jon Nolan, Luke Chambers “…lumps the ball into touch” and a Freddie Sears cross is cleared off the goal line before notice of a minute of added on time is given and then half-time arrives.

With peripheral vision I glimpse an endorsement of the EFL by Screwfix as I leave the room and head for the kitchen to put the kettle on and seek out a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and endeavour to create an authentic half-time experience in my own home.  I return in time to see the match stats paraded before me on the screen at least three times along with a request to report the fact to the piracy@efl.com e-mail address if I am watching this in “commercial premises”.  I wait for another caption inviting me to report the charging of a tenner to watch EFL football on the telly to the daylightrobbery@efl.com e-mail address; oddly it doesn’t appear.

Fifteen minutes pass in the blink of an eye and the football returns, but not before I enjoy the avant garde views of wanderings of the camera man and lingering shots of Paul Lambert returning to the dugout in his large, rather shapeless, black Adidas coat, yet another addition to his burgeoning match day wardrobe since last season.  I can only think that in PL’s five year contract wily Marcus Evans included an ‘all you can wear from Planet Blue’ clause in lieu of hard cash.

Addressing the important issues of the day Brenner pumps Mick for his views on football without crowds and Mick is forthright, telling us in no uncertain terms that “This is not a proper game of football”; I can’t disagree, as much as I try to pretend that it is by creating my own ‘going to the match’ fantasy world by buying a programme on-line, drinking a pre-match beer and a half-time cuppa and singing to my wife that she’s a “dirty northern bastard” (she’s actually from Portsmouth).

Mick continues in honest vein suggesting that “Freddie might be losing his job soon” as another of Freddie’s free-kicks fails to make the opposition goalkeeper do anything more than raise his eyebrows.  Freddie’s free-kick shortcomings are soon forgotten however as just a few minutes later a good passing move down the left hand side of the pitch ends with Teddy Bishop scoring at the far post.  “Yay” I shout, not standing up and sending my Poang chair skittering backwards on the tiled floor as I look for someone northern looking to make obscene hand gestures towards.   “One-nil to the Tractor Boys” I don’t sing to the tune of the Village People’s ‘Go West.’

With the game re-started after the hiatus of the goal Brenner lapses in to a momentary bout of  footballese as he tells us that Gavin Bazunu “…puts his foot through the ball”, before more helpfully adding to the mental picture of the afternoon by sketching in Paul Lambert stood in his black coat with his hands in his pockets. The Town then make another decent passing move down the left hand side of the pitch and this time Gwion Edwards scores and Town lead 2-0.  “We’ve got hold of the three points” says Mick, causing Town fans everywhere to gasp at his most blatant, brazen tempting of fate.  Here is me thinking that a two-nil lead is the worst thing to have in football, should we go for a third goal and risk conceding or sit-back and risk conceding, letting the opposition back into the game either way.   Is it such confidence that separates Mick as a former captain of Ipswich and England from us punters? 

Twenty-five minutes of normal time remain and Jon Nolan is booked for a pointless trip of an opponent, but somehow Brenner hasn’t noticed it and seeing Mr Busby with his arm raised thinks it’s Hawkins who has been shown the yellow card by BT’s misspelt mascot’s namesake.  What could he have been doing to have missed that I wonder, checking his compass; practising putting his foot through a ball? 

The remaining minutes are illuminated by a wonderful pirouette with the ball at his feet by Gwion Edwards (it can only be a matter of time before someone says he’s a Welsh wizard), a full card of substitutions and more rain “hammering” on the roof.   Substitute Flynn Downes seems to want to pick a fight with Rochdale’s Matty Lund just seconds after entering the field of play and Mick is quick to call him out.  Downes is showing himself to be the idiot that we saw before when he was sent off in a pre-season friendly at Cambridge.  Fifteen minutes now remain and Brenner tells us that it is “…good Jack Lankester is involved again, and playing football”. It would have been a tragedy if he’d returned from injury only to play water polo.  With his predilection for short vowels Brenner can’t help not mispronouncing Lankester as Lancaster; I shall be writing to the radio equivalent of Points of View. Bloody northerners.

As full-time approaches Town become more and more sluggish and sit back, it’s not something I enjoy watching. As if echoing the drop in performance on the pitch, the sound quality of the broadcast suddenly drops too, with Brenner occasionally taking on the accent of a Dalek, as happened towards the end of the Wigan Athletic game.   My mood is lightened however when in the 90th minute Rochdale’s Rathbone (sadly Oliver not Basil), volleys a shot against one of his own players; you can’t beat a bit of slapstick. 

A good 2-0 win is imminent and taking Mick’s counsel I am not worrying that the last flickering embers of the game see Town continuing to do the bare minimum.   But Brenner has to try and make the commentary interesting, although whilst trying to suggest the prospect of a Rochdale consolation, he shows that he’s mentally in the car on the way home too as he says “A little bit sloppy from Ipswich, what can Rotherham do?”  A little bit sloppy indeed Brenner. 

With five minutes of added-on time played the games ends and I reflect upon an afternoon in which I have learned that Ipswich can win without the help of my blue, button-neck ITFC branded t-shirt, although it doesn’t prove that the t-shirt doesn’t have special powers and could mean that my Euro 2016 t-shirt might also be capable of influencing results.  Oh ‘eck, as Gracie Fields might have said.