Ipswich Town 1 Birmingham City 1


Today could be an auspicious occasion; today could be the day that Ipswich Town confirms its transition from the second division to the third division of English football.     Towen ‘did their bit’ on Wednesday evening by losing at Brentford, but other clubs let them down by failing to win and make themselves un-catchable.  Today however, anything but a win will mean Towen will play next season in the third tier and pretty much no one who isn’t at least seventy years old can remember that happening before.  It’s nice that such a landmark can be achieved at Portman Road, in front of our own fans, and not on some ‘foreign field’ where mis-guided fools would only gloat.

I set off for the match in positive mood therefore, still believing in a miracle but also resigned to a fate that has been writ large on most walls since late October of 2018.  It’s been a morning of sunshine and showers and cotton wool clouds are now heaped up in a pale blue sky, a corny metaphor for the darkness and light of life and football.  The characteristic smell of settled dust on a damp pavement rises up with the warmth of the April sun.  The railway station platform is busy with all types of people, Ipswich Town supporters, women in their early forties on a ‘girls’ outing, an unhappy looking hippy, teenagers taking selfies and a family of Birmingham City supporters.   The train is on time. A poster catches my eye, “Delay, Repay, With Less Delay” it says, carefully avoiding to mention anything about ‘fewer delays’; it will prove prescient.

Arriving at Colchester, the train stops and the doors open.  “What? Sorry, it’s cancelled?” shouts a guard down the platform giving unintended forewarning of what has happened.  It transpires that a freight train has broken down further up the track; the train I arrived on disgorges its passengers and departs empty. Twenty minutes later the next train arrives and the same chain of events unfolds, although the guard doesn’t shout down the platform this time.  If there’s a good thing about train delays it’s that people talk to one another, if only to share their annoyance and anxiety.  People in club colours glance at other people in club colours.  With both Ipswich and today’s opponents both wearing blue and white those glances are asking “Is he one of us?”  A middle aged man with a monotone voice asks me how long it takes to drive to Ipswich.  I guess he’s thinking of getting a taxi, or stealing a car.  He’s a Birmingham fan who has travelled up from Torquay; he doesn’t go to home games, only away ones and it seems that he’s just as keen on visiting all ninety-two league grounds as following ‘The Blues’.  I would speak to him more, but he’s a bit boring.

When the 13:48 to Ipswich arrives on platform two; it’s not cancelled and it departs twenty minutes later with the track ahead now clear.  The voice of the lady train driver apologises for the delay and warns that a few more minutes are as yet likely to be added to the journey. “But we will arrive in Ipswich eventually, hopefully” she adds, with a final note of caution.  Arriving in Ipswich at about twenty-five to three it is too late to go to St Jude’s Tavern and I have already texted Mick to cancel our planned triste; as he says in his reply “ …it would not be a social interlude, just necking a pint…”

Ipswich is busy, but weirdly the Station Hotel, which is reserved for away supporters, is empty.  Outside a couple of bouncers relax and have a ciggy and talk to two of the unusually large number of police who are out on the streets today. I join the herd crossing the bridge opposite the station and heading for Portman Road.  On a banner attached to a lamp post a blue cartoon Octopus called Digby urges everyone to love their streets and not drop litter; so I don’t.  Birmingham accents assault my ears.  “Excuse may” I hear one say politely as a prelude to asking where the away supporters end is.  There’s nothing for me here so I move towards turnstile five where there is no queue.  The glasses-wearing turnstile operator doesn’t look up as I hand him my season ticket card, he scans its bar code and hands it back to me.  “Thank you” I say enthusiastically and with genuine gratitude, like I imagine Watch With Mother’s Mr Benn would, if he ever went to football match.

I speak with Dave the steward with whom I used to work and then make for my seat near ever-present Phil who never misses a game, his young son Elwood and Pat from Clacton.  Today Phil is featured in the programme because it is 25 years since he last missed a Town game.  Greetings, handshakes and presentations over, the game begins in brilliant sunshine beneath azure skies with Ipswich in their blue and white shirts besmirched by the naff logo of an on-line gambling organisation, kicking the ball in my direction.  Birmingham City are sporting a kit of bright yellow shirts and socks with blue shorts, they could be confused with Sweden, Newmarket Town or may be Sochaux-Montbéliard from French Ligue 2.  I am reminded of the first time I ever saw Ipswich play away (2nd April, 1977 at Maine Road Manchester), we wore yellow and blue; all away kits seemed to be yellow and something in the 70’s, except the ones that weren’t.  

The visiting Brummies in the Cobbold Stand are first to burst into song with a rendition of the maudlin Harry Lauder number ‘Keep right on to the end of the road’.  “That used to be our song, here at Ipswich” Pat tells me sounding a bit miffed and implying that Birmingham had pinched it.  According to the Birmingham City club website, it has been their anthem since 1956.   As if taking offence at Pat’s accusation, the Birmingham fans’ tone changes and they start to sing ‘You’re going down, you’re going down, you’re going down’, which is at once both a little uncharitable and a case of ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’.   There is no mention that Birmingham City have cheated their way to staying up by spending more money than league rules allow; Birmingham have been deducted nine points although even if they were re-allocated to Town it probably wouldn’t save us.

On the pitch Birmingham are already looking better than Ipswich and just to make the point, with little more than five minutes played Birmingham’s Lukas Jutkiewicz scores from very close range as if Ipswich were playing without any defenders at all, something they have practised all season.   I leap from my seat cheering, I’m not sure why, I think it was the excitement of the start of the game spilling over and perhaps a sense that I’m fed up with waiting to be in the third division.  Ever-present Phil and Elwood look at me disappointedly.

A goal down, Ipswich don’t improve and Birmingham look quicker, stronger and more skilful.  The old boy and girl behind me moan about Collin Quaner when he loses the ball and his boot “He int kicked anything yet, how the hell’s his shoe come off” says one of them nastily.  Myles Kenlock shoots not far over the Birmingham cross bar but it’s a rare foray forward for Town.   I pass the time wondering if Birmingham’s full-back Colin who crossed the ball for the goal is Brazilian like Fred, Oscar and Cris; in fact he’s French, his first name is Maxime and it turns out he was born in Ipswich’s twin town of Arras; he’s ‘one of our own’, sort of.  Despite early enthusiasm, the atmosphere amongst Town fans has cooled and the sunshine has been lost to cloud and rain showers.   “Is this a library?” sing the Brummies enjoying some Italian opera before showing their less artistically appreciative side and singing “You’re support is fucking shit”.  Eventually Town win a corner, Myles Kenlock again, and then another but we don’t do enough to puncture the Brummie fans’ sense of superiority as they chant in praise of Mick McCarthy and then claim they are relegating us.  Birmingham City fans indeed know all about relegation their team having achieved it eight times since 1979, double the number of Town’s seasons of utter and abject failure in the same period.

  It’s been a poor half from Town with four of our players also being shown a yellow card by the referee, Mr Jeremy Simpson, whose skin is sadly not also yellow like that of his cartoon namesakes. Half-time arrives as a bit of a relief and Ray stops to chat on his way to use the facilities.  He tells me that he will be seeing Rod Stewart here in the summer and hopes it’s more entertaining.  It’s Ray’s wife Roz who is the Rod Stewart fan, not Ray, he is more ‘into’ Jethro Tull and Yes.  I ask him if will be seeing Hawkwind at the Corn Exchange in November; probably not.  With no pre-match beer to drain off I remain in the stands and eat a Panda brand liquorice bar whilst enjoying the ornamental fountain-like display from the pitch sprinklers.  I flick through the programme and seek amusement in the names of the Birmingham City players.  Che Adams is a good name I decide and speculate that Mr and Mrs Adams are Communist Party members and have another son called Vladimir Ilich. The game resumes at six minutes past four.

Almost immediately Ipswich score, Gwion Edwards volleying in a cross from Kayden Jackson who has replaced the ineffective ‘boy’ Dozzell.  Birmingham have defended like Ipswich, it’s almost like the two teams have come out for the second half wearing each other’s kits and so it continues with Ipswich now the better team and looking more likely to score again, although of course they don’t.  The Ipswich supporters re-discover their voice and sing “Allez-Allez-Allez” or “Ole, Ole, Ole” I’m not sure which; personally I prefer the Allez, Allez, Allez version.  The sunshine returns illuminating the verdant pitch, billowing white clouds are heaped up in the bright blue sky above the stands creating a scene worthy of an Art Deco poster.  This is probably the most beautiful afternoon of the season so far, even if it is cold. “One Bobby Robson, here’s only one Bobby Robson” sing the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand slightly confusingly given that he’s been dead almost ten years.    There’s something almost Neolithic about this reverence for ancestors. There’s no mention of Sir Alf Ramsey, but then he’s been dead nearly twenty years.

Next to me Pat is pleading for Town to score, to win, in between trying to persuade me to travel to games on the Clacton supporters’ bus.  Today’s crowd of 17,248 with 1, 582 from Birmingham and Torquay is announced and Pat checks who’s won the sweepstake on the bus; then she checks again,  paranoid about getting it wrong.  Mr Simpson books Toto N’Siala who has replaced James Collins and for Birmingham City Jacques Maghoma replaces Kerim Mrabti meaning that probably for the first time ever there are two Congolese players on the Portman Road pitch.  With time running out Myles Kenlock and Gwion Edwards both have shots blocked and little Alan Judge has one saved.   Town ought to score, but it’s as if fate won’t allow it and finally Ipswich’s least favourite Simpson’s character calls time on the game and Town’s residency in Division Two.

There are emotional scenes before everyone goes home, with the players being applauded from the field after a few have sat down on the pitch in the traditional unhappy looking pose associated with defeat in defining games.  Relegation has been certain for months now, but the final confirmation is so final that my heart and the back of my throat still ache a little.   Ho-hum.  I never liked the Championship anyway, with all its wannabe Premier League teams.  I’m happy to return to our roots.

Ipswich Town 1 Rotherham United 0

January is reputedly the most miserable and depressing of months and the closer to the middle of January it gets the more miserable and depressing it becomes. The third Monday in January has been designated ‘Blue Monday’; nothing to do with The Blues of Ipswich Town but rather something to do with the pleasure and happiness of Christmas having worn off completely and the realisation for people that they are now deep in debt; the weather has something to do with it too. Today is only 12th January however, I have no debt and my Christmas was not noticeably any more happy or pleasurable than any other couple of days off work, and although the weather is grey and overcast today, I have an afternoon at Portman Road to look forward to.
My erstwhile colleague and still current friend Roly is waiting for me at the railway station, he is drinking a cup of coffee which I imagine he imagines lends him an air of sophistication. Ignoring this, I tell him how I long for the weekends when I see Town play and how I feel a curious kinship with the many species of Mayfly that live for but a few short hours. It’s a twelve carriage train so we wander down the platform away from everyone else knowing that we won’t have so far to walk to the bridge over the tracks when the train arrive at Ipswich station; every second counts in the all too brief joy of a pre-match drink and then the match. Roly fritters away some of our precious time getting a fresh twenty pound note from a cash machine, but we are soon heading for St Jude’s Tavern where we are going to meet Mick. Portman Road is busy, the ticket enquiry office bleeds out into the road with a queue of late comers taking advantage of the special offer of tickets in any part of the ground for just £12. People with nothing better to do queue for the turnstiles to open. I buy a programme (£3) from one of the portable kiosks, which always make me think of a Tardis piloted by a Dr Who played by Mick Mills, transporting us back to the 1970’s. The programme seller is unsmiling and I wonder if he and his colleagues have been instructed to no longer invite customers to “Enjoy the match”; if programme buyers are anything like many of the nasty, ignorant and rude people who seem to inhabit social media I imagine such words of goodwill are generally met with verbal abuse. How I long to live in a civilised country like France where it is impossible to even make eye contact with club employees on a match day without them wishing you “bon match”.
In St Jude’s Tavern a group of three very young looking lads with Yorkshire accents buy two Coca-Colas and a pint of lager whilst I wait to purchase two pints of the Match Day Special (£2.50 a pint), which today is Cliff Quay Brewery Neptune’s Nip; Mick appears, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn to bump my order up to three pints and the barman for some reason makes an un-necessary association between Neptune’s Nip and Poseidon’s penis. Roly, Mick and I sit at a table next to the young Yorkshiremen. We talk of Ipswich’s new signings and Mick is impressed at Roly’s knowledge, which he imparts with a weightiness of tone as if to say “…these are the facts, think otherwise if you wish, but I will not be held responsible.” I sit and listen and hope he gets to the bar soon because I need to drink as much as possible before the match to dull the pain. Roly buys the next round of Match Day Specials which is now Cliff Quay Brewery’s Tolly Roger (still £2.50 each). Whilst Roly is at the bar I get Mick to show me how he has so neatly tied his blue and white scarf around his neck. “It’s like a cravat” he tells me. I follow his instruction and achieve the desired look of Michael Palin in the episode of Ripping Yarns entitled ‘Golden Gordon’. The Yorkshire lads have left leaving two half glasses of Coca Cola and most of a pint of lager, very strange. I imagine they’ve gone to see if there is a rain gauge at the town hall. Before we leave I feel the solitary need to sink a further half pint of Cliff Quay Brewery Sir Roger’s Porter (£1.70), and then one of the retired gentlemen I drank with before the Millwall game on New Year’s Day comes over to say hello and remarks that I have some friends with me today. I tell him yes and that I therefore don’t need his company.
Glasses drained and returned to the bar, we negotiate the door and descend Portman Road, crossing Handford Road and joining the expanding throng of match-goers. At the turnstiles in Sir Alf Ramsey Way we walk past the end of the queues of the first block of gates to reach the second turnstile block where there are no queues; I smile to myself about how stupid people are who join the first queue they come to and surmise that they probably voted ‘leave’ too. The lady turnstile operator and I smile broadly to one another as I pass through and Mick reveals that she smiled at him too when Roly complains that his turnstile operator was miserable. He cannot understand it he tells us, explaining that he is so much younger and therefore more attractive than Mick and me.
Once inside the East of England Co-op stand bladders are emptied and we head for our seats. Because the tickets are a mere £12 each today I have traded up my usual seat with the groundlings of the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and have taken up a place with Mick in the upper tier of the East of England Co-op Stand. The view of the game is better here, but it is also somehow a little too far removed from it, as if we are watching on TV and I sense that some of the people around me will be just waiting for a convenient break in play to go and put the kettle on. It wouldn’t occur to them to shout or chant in support of the team, they truly are just spectators and nothing more.

Phil and Pat

After group photos for the family album are posed in the centre circle, the game begins with Town kicking-off with their backs towards ever-present Phil who never misses a game and Pat from Clacton, who I can see in their usual seats in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, or Churchman’s as us people who remember the ’good old days’ call it. Town sport their usual blue and white kit despoiled by an ugly advertisement for an organisation of on-line scammers. The usual team colours of today’s opponents Rotherham United are red and white, but eschewing the opportunity to recreate the classic blue and white versus red and white Subbuteo encounter, they wear an un-necessary change kit of yellow shirts with pale blue sleeves, and pale blue shorts and socks.

insipid kit and a yellow card

Sadly Rotherham’s kit is insipid and somewhat effete; it detracts from the spectacle and speaks nothing to me of Yorkshire grit and scrap reclamation for which Rotherham is rightly famed.
The match is fast and furious and lacks finesse but unusually Ipswich have the upper hand. There is an air of expectation as a bevy of debutants (or debutantes if you prefer to see this match as a sort of ‘coming out’ ball) before the home crowd. The transfer window is open and a wind of change is blowing through Portman Road as Paul Lambert gets to choose his own players rather than just make do entirely with what he has inherited from that false Messiah, Paul Hurst.

James Collins

Outstanding in the Ipswich defence is an enormous bald-headed man by the name of James Collins; he is thirty-five years old but looks fifty, he is a colossus and carries the Ipswich rear guard on his back like Atlas, though not literally of course. If for some bizarre reason I were to make a TV adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, I would cast James Collins as Jean Valjean, not Dominic West.
With only twelve minutes gone referee Mr James Linington brandishes his yellow card in the direction of Rotherham’s Zak Vyner, a man whose name is distinguished by having more than its fair share of letters from the back end of the alphabet and is worth a decent score in the brand of imaginary Scrabble in which only footballers names and not proper words are currency. It’s one of the few popular actions Mr Linington makes all afternoon, although I do approve of his choice of all-black kit; it’s what referees should wear.
A half an hour passes and Freddie Sears scampers down the left; he gets beyond the Rotherham defence and crosses the ball low to the near post. No one has control and the ball looks like it is trying to escape, but it only runs as far as new signing Will Keane, who despite the unpleasant associations of his surname and a hairstyle more becoming of the Eastern Counties League strikes a low shot into the goal. The crowd rises as one and all but the 729 Rotherham United fans in the corner of the Cobbold Stand enter a state of joyful delirium. Town lead 1-0.
It’s half-time and the toilet beckons; as I enter the ‘smallest room’ in the stadium I hear Roly giving his friend Andrew from Bury St Edmunds the benefit of his analysis of the first half; he sounds very earnest, like a bearded, Caucasian Garth Crooks; I stand next to him at the urinal and open-zippered tell him I disagree with his analysis, although in truth I hadn’t heard what he had said. I wash my hands and am amused by the words ‘Danger Electricity’ which appear on the top of the hand dryer “ Ah, the old enemy , electricity” says Roly convincingly.
The game begins again and the two blokes behind me discuss refurbishing a kitchen; “ Seriously, if you do it, I can get you a 10% discount at B&Q.” says one “ Does that include stuff already on offer?” says the other, looking a gift horse in the mouth. But I shouldn’t be surprised, these two haven’t a clue who any of the Town players are and are clearly here because the tickets are cheap. Out of the kitchen and back on the pitch the match has changed. Ipswich no longer dominate, quite the opposite in fact. They are incapable of retaining the ball for more than a few seconds and have seemingly abandoned all attempts to pass it to one another. Rotherham produce wave after wave of ineffectual attacks which are repelled by a mighty rear guard action from the Blues. This is good on one level but immensely frustrating, worrying and disappointing on another. We are making Rotherham look like Paris St Germain; lose this and they’ll be wanting to take the Eiffel Tower down for scrap.
Despite Town’s apparent ineptness, brought on in my opinion by a shortage of proper midfield players, the crowd of 20,893 remain firmly behind the team. The lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, galvanised by the Blue Action supporters group and some welcome support from a bunch of fans of Fortuna Dusseldorf, Town’s unofficial ‘twinned club’ are proving inspiring, and every now and then even people in the East of England Co-op Stand are moved to clap their hands rhythmically. The floodlights are on as darkness envelopes the town and we benefit from the atmosphere of a night match, but Town still struggle to do anything but defend. On the touchline Paul Lambert the Town manager is very active, prowling up and down the technical area and swinging his arms directorially. I suggest to Mick that he’s probably just trying to keep warm because as ever he is in black slacks and a v-necked Marks & Spencer jumper and not wearing a coat, but Mick tells me in an authentic sounding Scottish accent that this is T-shirt weather.

Mr Lambert and his 'Marks and Spencer' jumper

Mr Limington the referee awards a catalogue of free-kicks to Rotherham, most, seemingly because a Town player has simply stood too close to one from Rotherham or has given him a funny look. The crowd tell Mr Limington he doesn’t know what he’s doing although I would prefer that they had asked “Who’s the bastard in the black?” Flynn Downes replaces German debutant Collin Quaner for Town as Paul Lambert reacts to that need for a stronger midfield and the bloke behind me with the kitchen asks “Who’s that?” “ Number twenty-one” says the bloke with connections at B&Q.
Finally, after five minutes of added time and a couple of narrow escapes for Town, Mr Limington gets something right and blows the full-time whistle unleashing rapturous scenes. The Sir Bobby Robson Stand finds a bigger voice than at any time during the match and hails the winners. It is a famous victory, as any victory is in this season mostly of defeats. But whilst the win is much needed and keeps hope alive, what this match has really shown is that people still care enough to come to a game, discounted prices or not, and Suffolk is still behind its team. Whether Town escape relegation or not, if managed properly this could be the start of a renaissance for Town and a re-connection with its fan base; I bloody well hope so.

Brentford 1 Ipswich Town 0

My train is seven minutes late, which means that changing at Stratford to catch the 12:12 Jubilee Line service to Waterloo will require speed and alacrity. This is a shame and adds to my existing disappointment from when I bought my train ticket and the cheerless young woman at the station first tried to charge me a couple of quid more than the price I’d been quoted on the National Rail website. It turns out that there are two fares for the same journey, but apparently I didn’t want a ‘day return’ (£23.50) I wanted a ‘day travelcard’(£20.65 with a Goldcard). In reality I just wanted to go to Brentford and back as cheaply as possible, not caring what the ticket is called. Two companies, two prices it seems. The joyless woman’s excuse for not quoting me the lower price is that she doesn’t know where Brentford is. What idiot decided it was a good idea to split up a national rail network into separate private companies anyway?
When the train arrives it is busy and one of the few vacant seats is next to a grandmother, her daughter and two young grandchildren, not a choice of seat I would usually make. One of the children announces the names of all the stations, the other is fractious and often close to tears. The adults make more noise than she does however as they shush her and try to divert her attention from whatever upsets her. More passengers get on at Chelmsford, I feel the warm breath of a woolly looking dog on my hand as it is led down the aisle, my look of surprise makes the woman opposite me laugh. Another woman provides interest with her golden finger and toe nails, they’re a work of art worthy of Gustav Klimt.
The journey is tortuous; making the connection at Stratford I have to wait half an hour OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor the next connection from Waterloo. But Waterloo Station provides entertainment, I stand beneath its famous clock and a dishevelled, smelly man who holds a red lead at the end of which is a small, contented looking black cat, talks, but no one listens. From Waterloo to Brentford takes another half an hour, but provides glimpses of the gothic Palace of Westminster, the neo-classical Tate Gallery and Art Deco Battersea power station; later the train crosses the River Thames at Barnes Bridge, so it’s a lot of sight-seeing fun. Brentford station is dull, like the weather, but just outside a way finder sign announcesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘New map coming soon’ as if it’s been decided to replace the old map of Brentford with one of somewhere more exotic like Montmartre. The buses in this part of London are run by RATP, the company that runs Paris metro; another two-fingers to bloody Brexit.
Griffin Park is a proper football ground, surrounded by neat streets of terraced houses, like the one in which Mr Benn of Watch with Mother fame lived; I half expect to see him emerge from one, waving stiffly and sporting a red and white striped scarf and disproportionately large rosette. Walking down Clifden Road from the station all four metal floodlight pylons hove into view; it’s a sight to gladden the heart of any football supporter. I buy a programme (£3.50) and jokingly complain to the seller about extortionate metropolitan OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAprices. Someone sells Chilli Con Carne from beneath a gazebo in their front garden. The Griffin pub is on a corner near the away supporters’ entrance and it and the terrace of bay-windowed houses opposite are built of the warm, yellow stock brick that defines so much of London. Football supporters spill out from the pub and into the streets which crawl with fans of both clubs. There is a good feel about this place. Despite its Twickenham postcode, nominally Brentford is a London club, but its supporters don’t have the obnoxious conceit of most London fans. I stroll up Braemar Road past the main entrance to the ground, beyond which is the club shop; it looks like a 1920’s suburbanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA bungalow with its red and white painted gable. Naturally I take a look inside; if Chelsea has a ‘megastore’, this is more of a corner shop.
At the end of Braemar Road chalkboards on the wall of the Princess Royal pub welcome fans of both clubs before and after the game. Walking past the New Inn on the next corner of the ground I am welcomed and ushered in, but perhaps rudely I don’t stay because the beer is Greene King. I carry on down New Road and pass the Royal Oak pub and can still see the Griffin Park floodlights above the roof top along with a passing jet airliner, one of the hundreds that roar over about every two minutes during the day as they leave or arrive at Heathrow.
I return to The Griffin because it serves the local Fullers beers and despite the heaving throng at the bar I get served quite quickly with a 500 ml plastic cup of Fuller’s London Pride (£4.10); the name of the beer and its presentation sadly don’t really match up, but it says a lot about modern Britain. I go outside and lean on someone’s front wall to watch the pre-match activity unfold before me as I consume my beer. Before heading into the stadium I use the toilet inside the pub. There is an orderly and good-spirited queue at the three urinals. Somebody jokes as he pees that this will probably be the highlight of his afternoon, whilst someone else queues with a pint of lager in hand, as if he might just tip it straight into the urinal and cut out the middle man.
Today I am meeting Tim who I have known since 1965 and who is travelling up from Weymouth with a friend of his. The news is that due to engineering works Tim has had to travel via Westbury (Wiltshire) and due to an incident on a level crossing in Cornwall his train is delayed. He will arrive at Paddington not much before 3 o’clock and will have to get a taxi from there, missing the kick-off. I have his ticket. It’s a bit of a pickle, but I am hoping that I can leave the tickets for collection so that I don’t have to hang around outside and miss anything of the match myself. I speak with the steward at the away supporters entrance who is stood by a red flag which announces “Here to help”. Assuming it’s not the flag that’s the helpful one I ask the steward nearby if it would be possible to leave the tickets for collection; he refers me to the Stand Manager, a lady just a few metres away, who is extremely helpful and immediately says it will be no problem at all and I should leave the tickets with the steward who I just spoke to and let Tim know his ID number, number 277. I am deeply thankful and impressed by their straightforward efficiency; seems like it’s 1-0 to Brentford already.
In the small Brook Road stand, known by home fans as the ‘Wendy House’, most IpswichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA supporters are gathered in the centre of the terrace directly behind the goal, I find a mostly pleasant, uncrowded spot towards the New Road stand. The only drawback is a youth stood staring at the Brentford fans making a masturbatory gesture; if only he knew how silly he looks. The roof is low, which gives the small terrace a good atmosphere and there is some singing from the Ipswich supporters as the teams appear amidst a posse of photographers and assorted hangers-on including the club mascots. Brentford, known as the Bees, have two mascots named Buzzbee and Buzzette, not surprisingly both are bees, but Buzzette looks worryingly like a Golliwog.
After a minute’s applause for former England international Ray Wilkins who died this week, Ipswich kick off the game wearing all blue although their usual white shorts would not have clashed with Brentford’s red and white striped shirts and black shorts. It’s a colourful scene against the back drop of the plain stands and lush green turf. Brentford are kicking towards the Brook Road stand. Town defend the Ealig Road end with its impressive backdrop of grey Brutalist tower blocks off in the distance. The early exchanges are symptomatic of the usual rubbish served up in what is nowadays known as The Championship, as players whose levels of fitness and strength far exceed their levels of skill cancel each other out and the ball flies between them like a pin ball. Ipswich’s Jordan Spence is the first player to be booked by referee Mr Robert Jones and it is only a quarter past three.
Tim and his friend arrive about five minutes later, but the game doesn’t improve; why should it? Two blokes beside me seem to be discussing whether someone’s hair is permed or not. An Airbus 380 flies over. There is little vocal support for the team from the Ipswich fans but plenty of singing of “Mick McCarthy, Get out of our club” to the usual tune of Sloop John B. Haven’t they heard? He’s going at the end of the season. It doesn’t seem likely that he will suddenly bugger off in the first half of a match, does it? These people need to get over this and just get behind the team. But many Ipswich fans love to accentuate the negative.
As a Brentford ball beyond the Ipswich defence reaches the penalty area Town ‘keeper Bartosz Bialkowski and Town captain Luke Chambers collide and it looks like Chambers has ’done his shoulder’ as a result. Chambers is replaced by substitute Myles Kenlock; in terms of spectacle the collision is the highlight of the first half although it inevitably prolongs proceedings. It’s been an even first half with both teams as bad as one another, so it seems that it’s not only Mick McCarthy’s football that is, in the words of the song, ‘shit’.
The second half is much the same as the first, although Brentford improve and are having much more of the ball with Ipswich rarely venturing towards their own fans; but who can blame them. The negativity in the Brook Road stand turns up a notch with a new song. At first I think they’re singing “We’re the arseholes, we’re the arseholes, we’re the arseholes over here” but then it becomes clear that the words is numbskulls, not arseholes, a reference to Mick McCarthy labelling some supporters numbskulls in a recent interview. Numbskulls is a word that seems to resonate with these supporters for some reason, as if they have found their true identity and along with chants of “We hate Mick McCarthy” they sing “Mick McCarthy’s blue and white numbskulls”. But their negativity isn’t confined to Mick McCarthy as they also very unjustly dust off Sloop John B once again to sing “I wanna go home, I wanna go home, Brentford’s a shithole, I wanna go home” . Only a numbskull could label a football ground with a pub on each corner a “shithole”.
A bald-headed bloke stood next to me, who has been joining in with the numbskull chants remarks that it looks like being a goalless draw “Yeah, if we’re lucky” I reply, tuning in to the pervading negativity. We’re not lucky. To our left in the New Road stand, a simple pitched roof structure with a line of thirteen bright red metal stanchions that line the pitchside, there are about twenty middle aged blokes all in identical grey flatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA caps, all sat together in a couple of rows. At about twenty to five most of them get up and file out through the back of the stand. Shortly afterwards Town’s Jonas Knudsen naively bumps Brentford’s Sergi Canos who falls to the ground. Referee Roberts who seconds earlier ignored a similar incident in which Town’s Luke Hyam appeared to be pushed over, awards Brentford a penalty. As a huge Ginsters pasty rolls into view on the pitchside electronic advertisement hoardings, Brentford’s French former St Etienne forward Neal Maupay steps up to score, sending the ball gently into the right hand side of the goal as Bartosz Bialakowski dives obligingly to the left.
With Ipswich losing, the Town ‘supporters’ that bother to sing now give free reign to their unpleasant feelings and unleash Sloop John B yet again to proffer the standard complaint that Mick McCarthy’s football belongs in the toilet. No criticism of Knudsen is made, obviously Mick coaches him to give away penalties when he can. As the game rattles along towards its conclusion Ipswich finally get forward a little more and muscular Martyn Waghorn gets through a couple of times. Kenlock the substitute is in turn substituted as the need for more effective attacking players builds, and Town play with two wingers. The sun is now shining and on the bench, well off it really, because he always stands up, Mick has taken off his coat as if to confirm that he’s not going anywhere soon and to stick it to the numbskulls.
A final flurry from Town isn’t enough and despite four minutes of added on time the game is lost. We make a swift exit to the railway station. It hasn’t been a good game, the result doesn’t help and the Ipswich supporters and their obsession with moaning at Mick McCarthy has made it worse. But Brentford has been grand, it’s a lovely ground to visit, so I don’t begrudge them the win even though the penalty that secured it owed more to the referee than any foul. I shall keep my programme and match ticket to help me remember Griffin Park, just like Mr Benn would have.

 

 

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Debenham Leisure Centre FC 1 Framlingham Town 4

A journey through the Suffolk countryside on a bright, sunny and unseasonably warm early April afternoon is the lovely prelude to this game, this local derby. Unfortunately, whilst it is easy enough to get to Debenham on a bus for 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, it is not possible to get back again unless you live in Mendlesham or somewhere on the bus route between the two villages. The upshot is that I have had to drive to the Debenham Leisure Centre, and if you do the same, rather than say walk several miles across the fields from Framlingham or Diss, I would recommend getting here in good time because the car park can get full up.
Debenham Leisure Centre FCOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA was founded as recently as 1991 and it is odd that a largish village like Debenham should have to wait so long to have a football club, then when it did happen the club name should include the words Leisure Centre. But in the comparatively short space of 26 years they have progressed as far as the Eastern Counties Premier League, although they currently reside in the First Division, which is step six of the non-league pyramid, or Division Ten if ‘The Championship’ is Division Two.
A yellow and black sign in the car park announces that this is where the football club, known as the Hornets, hang out, but there is no turnstile into the ‘stadium’ and you have to work out that the access is through the leisure centre itself. But once inside it’s still not clear where to go; there are two choices, through the leisure centre bar or down a short corridor which appears to lead to the outside, which if my memory of other football grounds isn’t failing me is where the match is likely to be played. Using logic I opt for the corridor and of course I am wrong and a gentleman older than me appears like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn to ask if I will be watching the match. I am advised that entry is through the bar and he can’t understand why people try to get in the way that I tried to. May be because they can’t understand which way they are supposed to enter I venture. But there is a sign he says. But does it say which way to go I ask. As mysteriously as he appeared he disappears and I find myself in the bar where my accomplice, who I have not mentioned up until now, buys me a pint of cask Speckled Hen in a plastic cup.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Surprisingly perhaps and all credit to the leisure centre staff for this, it tastes pretty darn good. Pints in hand we pay our £5 entry fee to a friendly man with a pint mug full of banknotes who is stood behind a table, and I also purchase a copy of the impressively cheap match programme33948024985_c1fb66a745_o (50p).
We sit outside in the sun at a circular wooden picnic table. A grey-haired man in some sort of commemorative Liverpool shirt brings us bright orange wrist bands to wear,33817958691_1bcae0aa48_o to show that we have paid to watch the game. Apparently the football club has a problem with people watching the matches without paying; this is because there are so many ways into the ground which are unchecked. I will later find what seems to be a public footpath crossing the site which confirms that this club is on a hiding to nothing. After a little while a couple in their late sixties or early seventies sit opposite. The man reads his programme behind his sunglasses and sups a beer. The woman tells him a couple of times that she is enjoying her cup of coffee; “It’s nice sitting here in the sun” she says, but her comment provokes nothing, nothing but silence, it is as if her words had never been uttered. No affirmation, no contradiction, nothing. Another man arrives and says something bland about football and the two men have a conversation. Her cup drained, the woman says how much she enjoyed her coffee, “I suppose you’ll want another one at half-time then” says the man.
A little while later a rounded man walks past our table to the main block of the leisure centre carrying two large jugs of a yellow/orange liquid. Making our own entertainment my accomplice and I earnestly tell each other that under new FA doping rules everyone in both teams must be tested for drug use. At this level of course that is prohibitively expensive so each team is tested in one go, hence a single jug of yellow liquid from each. It’s a team game after all. How we laugh at our own joke.

Time moves on and it’s nearly 3 o’clock; time to take up a position by the rail to watch the match. The Friend’s Meadow ground or Maitland’s as it was formerly known is a basic but neat ground with a small pre-fabricated

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stand containing seats straddling the halfway line and a concrete path around the rest of the perimeter. The dugouts are opposite the stand and there is a sturdy post and rail fence around the pitch with a number of advertisement boards attached to it, bearing the names of assorted local plumbers, builders and hairdressers. Behind one goal is a small mound, a grassy knoll, behind that, bushes, a hedge, a field, a tractor. There is a regimented line of poplars some 80 yards beyond the far side of the pitch with a hedge beneath. Daisies and dandelions are beginning to bloom on the mound and on the pitch.

At last it’s 3 pm and Framlingham Town, wearing their kit of green and white hoops kick off towards the council houses at the edge of Debenham. About a quarter past three Framlingham score a goal, not undeservedly because they have been much the better team, quicker and brighter, they pass the ball whereas Debenham in their black-sleeved yellow shirts are slow, less skilful and dull by comparison. The Debenham number 11 seems unable to approach a Framlingham player without fouling him and is spoken to by the short referee, Mr Willmore.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The number 11 doesn’t look very contrite and predictably when he fouls again, the referee brandishes a yellow card in his general direction. A full-faced bearded man leaning on the rail pleads the number 11’s case. “What was that for? That was piss poor” He opines, adding that he hopes the referee is going to be consistent, which is an odd wish given that he is apparently getting his decisions wrong.

The sun beats down as best it can in April forcing my accomplice to make use of his hoodie to protect his delicate northern European complexion. Framlingham continue to be the better team. Debenham just boot the ball forward for their forwards to run after; “Foot race” shouts the bearded man. What other sort of race is there in a football match? A horse race, slow-bicycle race? Let’s kick racism out of football. At about twenty five to four the Debenham number two tackles over-enthusiastically and is booked. From the ensuing free-kick the ball is crossed and after a pass or two, Framlingham, score a second goal, a volley, spectacular of course as all volleys are. The bearded man questions the linesman about the referee’s decision and very helpfully the linesman tells him about the use of excessive force and not being in control when tackling. The bearded man doesn’t recognise this as a thing in football and the linesman tells him that there is an assessor stood near him who can explain and he in turn helpfully tells the bearded man about what you can’t do in the ‘modern game’. The bearded man is unimpressed and moans about making the game ‘non-contact’ and it not being like it was when he played.

About five minutes later Framlingham score yet again just to make a point and soon it is half-time. I and my accomplices, for a second friend has joined me during the first half, head for the tea bar. I buy a soft roll for £2 and a pounds worth of tea in a mug with a handle,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA which is much more civilised than a plastic or polystyrene cup. I have to take the roll outside to a barbecue where another lady gives me a sausage to complete my hot dog The two ladies indoors serving the tea and rolls fight over who gets the three pounds. Later, I speculate as to whether in the same way that some people get into the game without paying, others might bring their own soft roll in order to bag a free hot dog.

For the start of the second half we stand on the grassy knoll, which is a surprisingly good vantage point, although it’s slightly in the shade so it’s a bit cool and eventually we settle at the side of the goal now being defended by Debenham and their bulky goalkeeper, who is a vision in baby blue,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA but doesn’t cast a shadow over us despite his size. After their abject first half display Debenham have made three substitutions with the clumsy number 11 being one of them. Debenham look all the better for their mugs of half-time isotonic tea and their substitutes’ ‘fresh legs’ and attitude, and after just nine minutes of play are awarded a penalty, which is scored by their centre-forward whose first name is Paris. Debenham continue to spend time in the Framlingham half, but their hopes are dealt a severe blow when their pony-tailed substitute falls over and is accused by Framlingham players of diving. Jabbing of fingers ensues before a look of shock crosses the referee’s face and he brandishes his red card at the pony-tailed substitute, apparently for threatening behaviour towards his accusers from Framlingham.

Debenham’s hopes are pretty much dashed and whilst the game begins to meander, there is an unexpected outburst of frustration when following a foul by a Framlingham player the Debenham captain suddenly bawls “when are you going to do something ref!”  The referee looks a little taken aback. After a Debenham player generously heads the ball into his own goal to give Framlingham a fourth goal, the game enters the final ten minutes. Aware of much shouting from the managers we move closer to the ‘technical areas’ and witness a Framlingham substitute having a wee up against the back wall of the dug-out before going on; possibly a superstition or may be that second cup of tea at half-time was a mistake. Interestingly there is a high fence between the dug outs which could easily ‘hide’ a urinal if necessary.

Framlingham have a lot of young players on the field and the coach or manager or whatever he is provides plenty of words of encouragement. Mystifyingly I hear him several times shout “Call him Will” then surmise that he is actually shouting “Call him, Will”. Meanwhile the Debenham manager has a less positive vibe about him and is bemoaning his team’s luck for which he blames the referee. He complains that they should have had a penalty and then complains that the penalty they did score shouldn’t have been a penalty, which on balance seems a fairly pointless complaint.

Eventually time is called and there is some applause, but not a lot from the 128 people who were counted as having paid and those who possibly didn’t. A bit miserable of people not to applaud the effort; these players aren’t being paid fortunes to do this, not here anyway. The crowd drifts away and in making our exit we complete a circuit of the ground, barely stopping to admire some graffiti which looks a bit ‘urban’ and out of place in rural Suffolk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not a bad afternoon’s entertainment for a fiver.