Ipswich Town 2 Morecambe 2

 A year ago, the 2020/21 football season began for me in my back bedroom as Town met Bristol Rovers in the League Cup via the airwaves of Radio Suffolk and the descriptive powers of Brenner Woolley and his esteemed sidekick and expert summariser Mick Mills.  But fate, as fickle as it is, has taken an apparent turn for the better and today as the 2021/22 season begins I am returning to Portman Road along with 21,000 or so other souls who have so far survived the pandemic.  With luck I shall never have to endure another ninety-minutes of radio commentary ever again.

As a naturally lazy person, going out again on a Saturday afternoon is something of an effort, but as ever I surprise myself with what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.  At two o’clock I rock up in my trustee Citroen C3 on Chantry estate where I park before taking a brisk walk through Gippeswyk Park, beneath the London  to Stowmarket main rail line, through what was once the site of Reavell’s factory and over the Sir Bobby Robson bridge to Constantine Road where I meet my friend Mick, who has made it easy for me to find him amongst the crowds by  telling me through the medium of the mobile phone that he would be standing next to a pink ice-cream van. Mick, an ethical man, is true to his word; someone less like Boris Johnson I have yet to meet. Mick and I haven’t seen each other in eighteen months but our conversation is oddly brief. Neither of us seems overly keen on entering the fanzone for a beer or to experience whatever other joys it has to offer, and what with the queues to get in we decide within ten minutes to leave further socialising for another day and go our separate ways.  I head off to purchase a programme (£3.50) from the nearest convenient kiosk before weaving my way between the buses and coaches of Beeston’s and Whincop as they disgorge rustic supporters from Hadleigh and Peasenhall.  A programme is an essential purchase today in order to have any clue  about the identity of the team.  Having safely weaved my way I join a queue to have Covid credentials checked before entering the ground in Constantine Road. In the queue behind me a “well-spoken” young man seems oblivious to the pandemic and is turned away, having no proof of vaccination or negative lateral flow test.  Did he really think he would be able to just turn up and get in? Apparently, he did.  I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile number 60 and cheerily thank the operator for letting me in.  For the gatekeepers to a world of dreams and possibilities turnstile operators are much underrated and somewhat taken for granted; their replacement with automatic scanning equipment that beeps in lieu of hoping I enjoy the match is a sad loss.

Out on the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand I re-acquaint myself with Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game (except when games are played behind closed doors), Phil’s son Elwood and Ray.  There is change however, and next to Pat from Clacton is sat Fiona, and the old dears who used to sit behind me but then sat in front of me are conspicuously absent; I do hope they’re okay.  It is good to be back nevertheless, even if hardly anyone except the stewards is wearing a facemask.

From the players’ tunnel a white t-shirted and trackie-bottomed Paul Cook appears to take the crowd’s applause, he’s not a sophisticated looking man sartorially, as I guess his scouse accent foretells. The teams follow soon afterwards and before the game begins a picture of the recently deceased Paul Mariner appears on the scoreboard and we are told that there will be a minute’s applause in his memory, but before the announcer can finish his sentence or the referee can blow his whistle the applause begins; it’s a case of premature appreciation.

Applause over, the Beatles’ Hey Jude strikes up like a metaphorical post-coital cigarette; no one joins in and today’s visitors Morecambe kick-off their first ever game in the third division with a hoof up-field. For those who combine a love of decimal anniversaries and symmetry it is vaguely appropriate that Morecambe are playing Town, who sixty years ago this month began their first ever season in what I believe people now call the Premier League; Town were at Bolton, they drew 0-0.  This season is also the sixtieth anniversary of Morecambe winning the Lancashire Combination league for the second time.

Not much happens to begin with. Morecambe are the first to win a corner. I enjoy the sight of a Town player with a headband, Wes Burns; historically many of the greatest footballers have had plenty of hair, Netzer, Best, Kempes, Pirlo are good examples.  Less enjoyable is Morecambe’s kit, a boring all red creation with white bits at the sides of the shirts and a diagonal white band which would have been okay if it didn’t fade out like a peculiar chalky skid mark.   My attention is also claimed by the Morecambe goalkeeper, Letheren, which is a suitably violent sounding surname for a man with the build of a night club bouncer.

Oddly, given the absence of anyone Spanish in either team or anyone even dressed as a matador, the North Stand break into a chorus of Ole, Ole, Ole.  Perhaps I’m wrong however, and they are singing Allez. Allez, Allez to Frenchman Toumani Diagouraga who played for Town under Mick McCarthy but today is appearing for Morecambe: I guess I’ll never know.  At ten past three Town are awarded a free-kick when Scott Fraser is knocked over; it’s the ninth minute of the game and some supporters attempt a half-arsed attempt at another minute’s applause for Paul Mariner, it’s an effort doomed to failure so soon after that first over eager applause. The free-kick flashes past Letheren’s right hand goal post to gasps of smothered hope from those around me.

At fourteen minutes past three Kane Vincent-Young is victim of the game’s most blatant and spectacular foul as he pushes the ball past Liam Gibson and the antediluvian looking full-back takes him down at waist height.  Referee Mr Craig Hicks, who will later go all out to set himself up as an early contender for the worst referee of the season barely speaks to him.  “It’s going to take quite a few games to gel” I hear Pat say to Fiona as the free-kick comes to nought.  The concept of ‘gelling’ is being discussed everywhere in Ipswich right now, my only hope that when it happens it does so in the ‘coming together’ sense of the word rather than any sort of unpleasant stiffening or solidifying.

Joe Piggott stoops to head a glancing header onto the roof of the net and I wonder if he is known by his team-mates as Piggy.  “Stand up if you hate the scum” chant the North Stand for no apparent reason, particularly given that they are all standing up already. Then Morecambe score through Cole Stockton but courtesy of the Ipswich defence suffering collective amnesia with regard to why they are all wearing football kit and boots.  “I’m Morecambe ‘til I die” chant the 356 Lancastrians in the corner of the Cobbold Stand perhaps putting into song what they imagine the budding comic partner of Ernie Wise , John Bartholomew said when he changed his name to Eric.

Despite being behind, I’m not worried, but I quite can’t decide if it’s because I think our new team will ultimately overcome or if I no longer care.  Toto Nsiala goes off injured to be replaced by Janoi Donacien and I’m struck by how unnaturally neat the hair of the linesman with the red and yellow flag is; and how he somehow reminds me of Neymar, as if Neymar had a really dull older cousin or uncle.  I am shaken from my reverie by a shout of “Do ‘im, ee’s shit” from somewhere behind as Kane Vincent-Young again comes faces to face with Liam Gibson.  The first half drags on past a quarter to four. “Come on Ipswich, come on Ipswich” chant what sounds like a most of the crowd, but soon both Town and Morecambe go off because it’s half time, and we still trail.

Half-time passes in a blur of conversation and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar, just like it always did. The game resumes at the ridiculously late time of nine minutes past four.  Piggy soon has a shot saved and then Morecambe’s Anthony O’Connor is the first player to be booked as he sends Chaplin’s hat and cane flying.  It starts to rain and I catch the lovely scent of damp air on a summer’s afternoon as the North Stand shout “Wanker, wanker, wanker” at the ever more inept Mr Hicks.  Town’s left back Matthew Penney is felled by an outstretched leg but no free-kick is given provoking chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”, which I decide is also probably true of whoever cut Luke Woolfenden’s hair.

An hour has passed and then we score, Scott Fraser leathering the ball past Letheren after a one-two with Chaplin.  We’ll win now won’t we?  We’ve been looking by far the better team, and Morecambe have hardly been in our half.  Parity lasts eleven minutes and then Luke Woolfenden, possibly momentarily paralysed by a flashback to a recent experience in a barber’s shop gives the ball away to Cole Stockton who merely has to run unopposed at the goal, drop a shoulder or two to fox Town’s latest east European goalkeeper, Vaclav Hladky, and roll the ball into the goal net. Bugger.

Pat from Clacton was right, it will take time to gel.  But then we don’t panic, we just carry on as we were, showing faith in ourselves and putting in plenty of effort despite the best efforts of Mr Hicks, who proceeds in the space of six minutes to book Lee Evans, Matthew Penney and then James Norwood who replaces Piggy.  The oddly named Macauley Bonne also enters the field in place of Conor “Charlie” Chaplin.  But time has drifted by and we are already into the four minutes of added-on time. I admit I have given up hope and have accepted defeat; good luck to plucky little Morecambe I’m thinking in as patronising a manner as I can muster. But then James Norwood heads the ball on, the oddly named Macauley Bonne collects its and sends a fine right-footed shot beneath the sprawling Kyle Letheren and into the goal. We are probably not going to lose after all I think, and I’m right, we don’t.

It’s been a funny afternoon but an entertaining one nevertheless, an afternoon of Lee Evans, C Chaplin, Morecambe and wise words from Pat from Clacton about taking time to gel. 

Colchester United 0 Morecambe 0

It is a still, grey day. It is an autumn day with a winter chill. The train into Colchester is on time. There is a man in Colchester United themed attire on the station platform. I am wearing a 45 year old blue and white bar scarf myself, but mainly to keep out the cold rather than to express my love for Colchester United; my scarf is an Ipswich Town scarf. Opposite me on the train is a girl with glasses and green hair, she looks like she might have spent time as the plinth to a bronze statue, but I wouldn’t say it doesn’t suit her. Arriving in Colchester I waste no time in heading for the Bricklayers Arms

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: I have no reason to linger at the railway station; after all, I’m not a trainspotter.
It is but a short walk to the Bricklayers; even though it’s a quarter past one on a football Saturday, there aren’t many people in the pub. I soon avail myself of a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65) from the cheerful blue-haired bar maid and take a seat with a copy of the Colchester local paper, The Gazette. The Gazette is a dull read today; I scan the letters page disdainfully, who gives a toss what the sort of people who write to the local paper think? The best bit of the paper is the local football news; Holland FC are cutting their playing budget, which no doubt explains why last week their manager resigned. There are a few more people in the pub now and nearby a middle aged man talks about bar scarves. “ I had one like that” he says pointing at his friend’s scarf and then proceeds to try and make a point ( I think) about why his original scarf was better, but he never really gets to the point before his friends interrupt with their scarf experiences and another bloke arrives with the beers . It doesn’t matter, he is going to buy a new hat at the club shop today anyway. I get a second pint; Damson Porter (£3.80) this time.
The conversation about me is dull and there is rugby on the telly, I leave to catch the bus to “Layer Road”, or “Weston Homes out in the middle of nowhere stadium” as it’s now known. As I turn the corner into Bruff Road

from where the buses leave a bus leaves, but another one rolls forward to take its place. The bus driver shares his cab with a young boy (his son?) who he gets to operate the ticket machine. Paying my £2.50 return fare I ascend the stairs, ticket in hand and take a seat at the front of the bus. “Hello Martin” says a voice next to me “Hello Martin“ I say. It’s a man I used to work with called Martin; he is retired, he has a Colchester United season ticket. He tells me how later this month he is going to see England women’s team play Kazhakstan at “Layer Road” and his ticket only cost a pound.
The bus soon arrives at the stadium and before going in I buy a programme (£3)and take a look in the club shop. I pick up a “fixture list and family guide”, whatever that is; football fixtures and family planning advice in one handy leaflet? Anything is possible. I walk to the end of the stand, the Morecambe team busOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA is sat with the engine running; it’s a long trip to Morecambe so may be the driver is hoping for a quick getaway. There isn’t much going on outside the stadium so I head for the turnstile. Once inside I feel compelled to visit the toilet. Feeling more comfortable I meet another man called Martin who I used to work with; he has a season ticket like the other Martin, but isn’t retired. Martin is compelled to visit the toilet just like I was and so I take up my seat; there is no one sat either side of me, there aren’t many people here today, I later learn that I am one of just 2,872. It’s the smallest crowd for a Saturday league game at “Layer Road” this season.
Kick-off is imminent and with no delays for minutes’ silences or applauses today the match soon starts. Colchester United get to kick the ball first this afternoon, heading towards the A12 and small Marks & Spencer in the service station over the dual carriageway. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColchester wear their ‘traditional’ blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with blue and white hooped socks. I like hooped socks; I wish Ipswich Town would wear them. Morecambe wear the archetypal away kit, an insipid all pale yellow number which is bland and annoying. It’s as if no one at Morecambe could be bothered to come up with anything distinctive. I can forgive clubs for a lack of ambition, especially on home gates of less than two-thousand, but please look like you care. It is unclear why Morecambe even need to wear their away kit today because their first choice colours are red shirts with white shorts.
The ball is hoofed off the pitch within seconds of the start, but that’s a highlight as the game quickly settles into a boring goalless draw. Morecambe do little to begin with, and whilst Colchester have the ball at their feet more of the time they don’t do anything much that would result in a goal. Individuals make runs with the ball, but the concept of passing it accurately seems alien.
The two blokes behind me have a conversation which is as directionless as the game. I hear snippets. ”It was cold yesterday, Monday it was cold” one says. “According to the paper there were 600 there, I thought it looked more” says the other. Colchester are awarded a corner. “ I know it was cold Monday at work….no, I wasn’t at work on Monday. But it was cold”. Elsewhere in the stadium the crowd briefly comes to life “Come on Col U” they implore a couple of times before falling silent again. The game fails to grip the attention of the blokes behind who carry on their conversation “I went to watch Leyton Orient, they fucking got beat mate, load of fucking shite mate”. “Whereabouts is Morecambe?” “It’s north of Blackpool on the coast. Don’t you remember, where those cockle pickers were?” Eddie the Eagle the Colchester mascot walks back and forth like a wild animal in captivity, which I suppose he is, in a way.
Morecambe, whose club badge consists of a huge shrimp on a red background set beneath the word “Morecambe” eventually begin to have an equal share of possession as if they realise that Colchester are incapable of doing anything with the ball, so they might as well have a go. Morecambe fluff a couple of half chances but then a careless back pass leaves the interestingly named Aaron Wildig in front of the Colchester goal keeper with the ball at his feet. But Wildig fails to react quickly enough, then chooses to shoot from a narrow angle when he could have passed the ball; his shot is easily saved and the opportunity is lost.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I queue in the anaemically, strip- lit void beneath the

stand for a pound’s worth of Tetley tea; others, mostly smokers, escape the claustrophobia of the concourse through the open doors at the back of the stand. It feels like we have been granted our freedom and I half expect stewards to move amongst us telling as we are free to go if we wish. Mindful that I paid £17.50 to be here I returnOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘indoors’ and make my way back to my seat, warming my hands around my paper cup of tea.
The second half begins and some Colchester supporters seem galvanised by being able to shout abuse at the away teams goalkeeper; bizarrely as the “The Shrimps” goalkeeper prepares to take a free-kick a man at the back of the stand calls out what sounds like “Get on with it , Coco Chanel”. Despite the Morecambe players all wearing little black dresses with matching handbags the game doesn’t get any better and my mind begins to wander. There is a small brown leaf on the back of the seat in front of me

evidencing the onset of autumn, but also the fact that the stadium cleaning regime probably needs improving; there is an assortment of other rubbish behind other seats.
The game is two-thirds of the way through, for the first time I think I hear faint cries of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Come on Morecambe’ from the half a pint or so of Shrimp fans searching for one another in the corner of the ground. Some of the Colchester supporters are getting restless; there are some more chants of “Come on Col U, Come on Col U” and angry groans when passes fail to find Colchester players.

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A man in front delivers an implausibly shrill “Whaaaat!?” when referee Mr Lee Collins awards Morecambe a free-kick. There are more plaintive calls of “Come on Col U” as supporters begin to plead with their team to score a goal. This was meant to be a game Colchester would win; the U’s are tenth in the league table, two points off the play-off places, nine places and eight points ahead of Morecambe.
Substitutions are made. It’s nearly twenty to five and Colchester’s number nineteen Mikael Mandron breaks down the left, he gets in the penalty area, gets to the goal line and hooks his foot around the ball to send a low cross in to the centre. All around there is excitement and expectation. A man in front of me begins to stand up. The Colchester substitute, number twenty-four Craig Slater is there, he shapes to shoot the ball into the net, he must score; he completely misses the ball, collapsing in a tangle of legs and arms with a Morecambe defender. From near ecstasy to embarrassment in the blink of an eye. A short while later Slater misses again, but this time he gets the ball, smashing it against the cross bar; so that’s not so bad. As the addition of three minutes added-on time isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA announced a big number 3 appears on the scoreboard and there is a dash for the exits, as if another three minutes of this will be just too much to bear.
Mr Collin’s final whistle predictably is the prequel to a chorus of boos that echo around the emptying stands. It’s been a dull game OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAon a dull afternoon and the intensity of this dull experience has been deepened by the fact that there weren’t many of us here to witness it. Up in the stand a board advertises the ‘Matchday Experience’ and gives a local telephone number, as if you could just phone up to experience what we’ve all just been through.  I head off towards the bus stops, numbed but nevertheless enriched by the glumness of the occasion. Such awful games are what it’s all about; pain and missed opportunities. That’s life. Good, innit.

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