Swindon Town 1 Ipswich Town 2

 Swindon is by far the largest town in Wiltshire and is also home to the only Football League team in the county.  I like Swindon.  Despite being a long way from the coast, there is something a bit like Ipswich about it, particularly with its relationship to the county in which it is situated. Salisbury and Bury St Edmunds have their cathedrals, but whilst historically the locals there were poncing about singing psalms and reciting canticles Ipswich and Swindon folk were getting their hands dirty making stuff, or at least they were until the forces of international capitalism did for them.  Like Ipswich, Swindon is one of those rare, unpretentiously provincial towns that’s a decent size, is a respectable distance from London but isn’t ‘Up North’;  it’s like Northampton, Shrewsbury, Newport and, if you don’t count Staffordshire as ‘Up North’, Burton On Trent.    Added to that it’s got a Magic Roundabout, is only 20 kilometres or so from groovy places like Avebury stone circle (bigger and therefore better than Stone Henge) , Silbury Hill  and the Uffington white horse hill figure, and is home of the hard to pigeon-hole band XTC, although sadly they split up about fifteen years ago.  More recently, Swindon Town is the team supported by Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe in the wonderful BBC comedy series “This Country”.  Swindon also still has its own local brewery, Arkell’s, which has been fulfilling the town’s beer needs since 1843.

I first saw Ipswich Town play at the County Ground, Swindon in December 1987.  Fresh from having failed to return to the First Division at the first attempt the previous season, Town played newly promoted Swindon Town and lost 4-2 after initially coming back to equalise from 2-0 down at half-time.  Mark Brennan and David Lowe scored for Town and Ian Cranson also scored, but for Swindon, with a spectacular header.   I didn’t remember any of that, I had to look it up, but having had my memory jogged I do recall that the game also saw the debut for Town of the least successful of our Dutch imports, the less than  legendary Ulrich Wilson, on loan from FC Twente.  Since then Swindon has mostly been a lovely day out, with four wins in our last four visits, although we’ve not been round theirs now since the turn of the century, which is another reason why I would have been looking forward to today’s fixture.

Spared a 3 hour, 275 kilometre trip along the motorways of southern England I nevertheless still rock-up late at the on-switch of my retro-style Bush radio, which is already primed in a state of preparedness being perpetually tuned-in to BBC Radio Suffolk.   It’s as if I’ve only just pushed through the turnstile after hurriedly finishing my last pre-match pint of Arkell’s 3B, as at almost 3 o’clock I am greeted with the news that alongside Brenner Woolley today is former Town player Ian Atkins. Despite his having played over ninety games for Town, some as captain, I always think of Atkins as one of the most inelegant players I’ve ever seen play for Town; he’d get in today’s team mind.  As Brenner Woolley sets the scene and tells us that Swindon are wearing red shirts, white shorts and red socks I can hear Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s  rip-off of Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ blaring out from the County Ground’s public address system.  With the common man still absent from its stands and concourses I wonder to myself to whom Swindon Town are playing this little burst of populist Prog-Rock.  I’m as partial to a bit of Prog-Rock as the next grammar school boy born in the 1950’s or early 60’s, but as grand entry music for the players at a football match I would place ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ somewhere up close to “The boys are back in Town” in the league table of all-time naffness.  Give me “Entry of the Gladiators” or the Toreador song from Bizet’s Carmen every time.

How embarrassing

“It’s Teddy Bishop, going to be kicking off” announces Brenner and the game begins.  Somewhat inevitably Brenner’s commentary for now is obsessed with Town’s having failed to score a goal in over ten hours.  “Goals change games” says Ian revealing his  Birmingham accent. Well duh.  The game begins well for Town as you would hope against a team who have already been relegated after only forty-four games and have conceded eighty-four goals.  “Dozzell’s had a very good start at the moment” says Ian cautiously.  “Town on top at the moment” says Brenner with the same note of caution borne from bitter experience as Town win the game’s first corner.  “Swindon….they’re letting Northampton play”  adds Ian, already confused about which game he’s watching.

Inevitably, there is something of an end of season feel to the game, what with it being the end of the season and Brenner is soon indulging in playful commentator-speak. “ …bit of a school-boy error, Dobra” says the BBC man triumphantly.  Ian meanwhile soon reveals the contents of his own locker of sayings to fall-back on when your vocabulary has otherwise been exhausted.  Ian’s stock phrase is “to be fair”, which, to be fair, seems innocuous enough but it’s also largely unnecessary. “…leaving the space to attack, to be fair” is Ian’s first use of the phrase and he follows this up with “… this is where they had a little bit of a problem against Northampton, to be fair”.

Meanwhile, Brenner entertains us as he always does. “Payne, who’s sprung to life in the last few moments” says Brenner summoning, in my mind at least, a vision of some sort of resurrection,  before he then says “It’s Norwood with his pink boots who’s been penalised” leading me to wonder if the referee has awarded a free-kick against Norwood because of the colour of his boots; I wouldn’t be wholly against the  idea.  The game moves on and Brenner is soon tempting fate as he loves to do, telling us that “Swindon have never doubled Ipswich in a league season”.  It’s the sixteenth minute and fate is nearly tempted; “Pitman inside the area” says Brenner with rising excitement “…puts it past the post”.  Brenner confides that he was convinced Brett Pitman was going to score, and having heard his agitated commentary of the incident, it’s hard not to believe him.

Ipswich win a second corner; it comes to nothing.  “Dobra up on all fours, now ready to continue” says Brenner making it sound as if Town’s number 36 does actually scamper about the pitch as if he were a quadruped.  Nearly a quarter of the game has passed; “Town under pressure” is the latest assessment from Brenner.  Ian’s view is that Town are giving the ball away because they’re not strong enough to hold off challenges from Swindon players.

With the game into its second quarter Brenner starts feeling oddly compelled to say things:  “Jaiyesimi actually did very little against Ipswich a few weeks ago, it has to be said.” “Swindon the better side at the moment in this game, it has to be said”.  “Still Camp not had a save to make, it has to be said”.  It’s as if we’ve now reached a point in the game where Brenner can no longer carry on unless he gets these things off  his chest. It’s either that or he now feels that his audience has been listening long enough to be able to stand these harsh truths without bursting into tears.  I feel myself welling -up a little but pull through.

Five minutes later and things look up.  “Saved by Camp; are Ipswich Town ever going to score another goal?” asks Brenner after an “Almighty chance for Town” sees Camp divert a shot from Teddy Bishop, who is through with just the goalkeeper between him and glory.   As Brenner has told us in previous games “Paul Cook, screaming his heart out”, which as any cardiologist will tell you is not advisable. Shaken perhaps by hearing a grown man scream, Brenner seems to panic and when Swindon’s Christopher Missilou under hits a ball he tells us that “The Frenchman didn’t have enough air on that pass”.  It’s an odd description of what you’d normally expect a commentator of Brenner ‘s experience to call a ‘hospital pass’, added to which Missilou is Congolese, not French.

Armando Dobra shoots wide. “Dobra’s head is in his hands” says Brenner with such conviction that I half expect him to confirm that yes, Dobra’s head has actually come off and is in his hands.  A James Norwood shot is saved by Lee camp and Mark McGuinness heads the ensuing corner kick over the cross-bar.  It’s evident that Town are continuing to attack and Brenner is in positive mood. “Kane Vincent-Young over-hits that cross, but quite a lot” says Brenner trying to play down the full-back’s error. The same player then has a header saved by Camp “ I thought he was going to score there, Young” says Brenner, deceiving himself once again.  Ian assesses Vincent Young’s forays forward, “…like a wing-back, to be fair”.

With Town sounding like they are creating chances, the mystery remains why they have not scored and Ian enlightens us by telling us that what Town are missing is “someone of real presence in the box who can upset defenders”.  It’s an analysis that suggests to me that over the summer we should sign either a sort of Joan Rivers character capable of reducing defenders to tears or just put a ‘big bloke up front’.

“It’s now eleven hours without a goal” announces Brenner polishing the glass on his stop watch, but his words soon lose their meaning as “ Bishop goes down inside the box, the referee says penalty” and I somehow imagine the referee Mr Johnson turning in the direction of Brenner up in the stand and mouthing the word “penalty” to him .   “Please James, do not miss this opportunity” implores Brenner.  Norwood scores, “…the goal-drought is over” confirms Brenner.  “He deserves his goal at the moment” adds Ian introducing the slightly tantalising possibility that he might not deserve his goal later on and suggesting possibly that Ian believes undeserving players should have their goals taken away from them.  There then follows some blokey banter about Paul Cook having said he would do a lap of honour if Town scored. “Typical scally” says Ian “saying they’re going to do something and not doing it”.  I will admit to being a little surprised by Ian’s comments and can only think he is unaware of the risk of becoming the subject of a Liverpudlian version of a fatwa.

The first half ends with a chance for Gwion Edwards to double Town’s goal tally. “ Edwards shoots!” says Brenner excitedly “ …and the flag’s up” he continues with well-practised resignation.  Brenner asks Ian what he made of the first half. “A bit like a practice game” says Ian honestly.  “They’ve had chances that the players have missed” he adds un-controversially.  Ian’s advice for the second half, which sounds a bit like an extract from an instruction manual for something purchased in an Ann Summers shop is  “Rather than just sit on it, go and enjoy it”

Half-time is the familiar blur of kettle, tea and Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar.  For the second-half I am joined by my wife Paulene who, as I listen to the wireless through my earpiece will be watching the Ligue 1 game between Paris St Germain and Racing Club de Lens on the telly.  As I re-join the broadcast from BBC Radio Suffolk Brenner ‘advertises’ his forthcoming commentaries and explains that he will once again be with Ian for Tuesday’s match at Shrewsbury. “ Is that basically because Mills’ car doesn’t go to the other side of Colchester?” asks Ian, evidently still in banter mode and also daring to take Mick Mills’ name in vain.

As far as I can make out from the commentary the second half is much like the first. “Comes to Downes” calls out Brenner with rising excitement “…who skies it”.  Ian begins to add “ at this level” to the end of most of his explanations of what Town need to be doing. Nearly an hour has passed since kick-off.  “…gives it back to Norwood, Norwood prods it in, Ipswich now lead Swindon 2-0” exclaims Brenner. “He’s tucked that ball away well” adds Ian, whose analysis has otherwise increasingly come to depend on the phrase “bodies in the box”.

Troy Parrott replaces Teddy Bishop. “He looks like a nice little footballer” says Ian of Teddy, when asked for his opinion of the departing player’s contribution.  But it quickly transpires that Ian doesn’t really think there is a place for nice little footballers “at this level.” Brenner meanwhile advises us that it’s a case of “Town getting the job done, for what it’s worth”.  More substitutions follow. “Harrop and Bennetts both coming on to play a bit more football” is Brenner’s reassuring statement before they replace Edwards and Dobra.  As a rule it’s best when the substitutes come on to play football rather than just paint over the white lines or do a  bit of weeding.  Ian’s assessment of Edwards and Dobra is that they have “Been lively, without ever having any end product”; I believe it’s what seasoned commentators and sports hacks call ‘flattering to deceive’.

Less than twenty minutes of the basic ninety minutes remain. “Goodness me” says Brenner channelling Peter Sellers, almost. “Terrible goal-keeping from David Cornell” exclaims Brenner and Brett Pitman scores.  I had sort of hoped Pitman would score, I liked him as a player at Town; my impression is that managers don’t think he runs about enough; perhaps he doesn’t , but he still scores goals, which is what forwards are supposed to do.  “A Sunday league howler – no disrespect to the Sunday league by the way” says Ian of Cornell’s error and for some reason affording a respect to the Sunday league that he previously hadn’t afforded Scousers or Mick Mills.

A couple more minutes pass. “Surely a penalty, it’s a penalty” cries Brenner unable to contain his excitement as Troy Parrott is fouled.    James Norwood steps up to claim his hat-trick.  “Forward he comes, he’s missed it, unbelievable” says Brenner of a situation which in reality is all too believable.   The only good thing to come of the incident is Ian’s lugubrious West Midland’s pronunciation of Parrott.

“Kenlock’s had a decent game” says Ian generously. “Town holding on for a win” says Brenner and meanwhile Neymar puts Paris St Germain one-nil up at the Parc des Princes.  News arrives on BBC Radio Suffolk of scores in other matches; Peterborough United have pulled back to trail two-three having been three-nil down. “Well, some excitement there in that game” says Brenner with a hint of jealousy.   Perhaps losing his enthusiasm Brenner mis-pronounces the surname of Swindon’s Tom Broadbent, so it sounds like Broadband. Flynn Downes is booked for a foul. “That’s like a booking for the team” explains Ian, but strangely he doesn’t say “to be fair”.

The final minutes of the game drift away. “Typical end of season game” says Ian. There is still occasional excitement. “Fabulous defending from Woolfenden” says Brenner one minute, and then “lovely little ball to Parrott in the area!” says Brenner expectantly the next.  “ …ball up in the air, Parrott goes after it” continues Brenner and I imagine a blur of brightly coloured feathers taking flight.  The first half ends in Paris.  “You’d like to think they can see this one out, you’d like to think” says Brenner half-repeating himself for no apparent reason.  Time added on runs out. “There is the full-time whistle, at the ninth time of asking Paul Cook get his first away win” concludes Brenner.

Mentally exhausted, I switch off the radio and prepare to turn my attention to the game in Paris.  Later, I will journey down to the south of France courtesy of FFF tv to watch FC Sete, who have scored just twenty-eight goals in thirty-one games (a goals per game record even worse than  Ipswich’s)  beat  Orleans 1-0 and secure their place in the French third division.  Finally, this evening, to complete my  virtual tour of some of my favourite places I will tune in to watch Lille versus Nice in French Ligue 1, it’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do driving back along the M4.

Ipswich Town 0 Oxford United 0

There are plenty of clubs throughout the Football League who could be forgiven for being envious of Ipswich Town.  Oxford United are one of them.  Oxford is a provincial city much the same size as Ipswich, and both are the biggest centres of population in otherwise rural counties, although Oxford is 25 miles closer to London.  Oxford United like Ipswich Town, came late to the professional game, but both made comparatively quick work of making their way up from non-league football to the Premier League, or First Division as it was known in happier times; taking twenty-three and sixteen seasons respectively to do so.  Oxford United lasted only three years in the First Division but Ipswich Town of course won the title at their very first attempt and in a later eighteen season stint in the division were twice runners up.  Oxford also won the League Cup, their only almost-major trophy, but Ipswich won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup.  Oxford as a city has had more than its fair share of wealthy ‘toffs’ passing through its university colleges but it was Ipswich Town that was lucky enough to benefit from the inspirational chairmanship of Old Etonian John Cobbold  who appointed Bobby Robson as manager, whereas Oxford United were bought by obese fraudster and publisher Robert Maxwell.  John Cobbold and Robert Maxwell are of course both long dead and today both clubs find themselves back in the third division struggling to relive former glories.

Sadly for Ipswich, history has no bearing on this season’s results, only on the expectations of the supporters, and viewed objectively a fixture versus Oxford United is now an even contest; actually, on current form Oxford are probably the favourites.   This, along with the fact that football is now something only seen on a television screen is the current reality, and I am resigned to it; at least I don’t live in Yemen, or Myanmar, or Texas.  Keen to make the most of what I’ve got I’ve been pottering about in my garden all morning enjoying the  sunshine and the sensation that Spring is definitely in the air. 

Rewarding myself for my pottering with a pre-match ‘pint’ of Westmalle Dubbel I sit down to watch the second half of the Coupe de France tie between Red Star St Ouen and Quevilly Rouen Metro, which is live on YouTube and should end just in time to tune in to the ifollow for the start of Town v Oxford. The score at the Stade Bauer in St Ouen (a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris) is one-all and I am rooting for Red Star who, despite not having been in Ligue 1 since 1975, are one of Europe’s coolest clubs. In the 83rd minute Johanne Akassou scores the winning goal for Red Star, rounding the Rouen ‘keeper before rolling the ball into the empty net after chasing a measured punt over the defence. Making up for a dearth of football related celebration of late I cheer loudly, clap my hands above my head and shout Yay!

Seconds after the commentator suggests there will be at least 3 minutes of added on time, the referee blows for full time with about 30 seconds of normal time still remaining according to the on-screen clock.  I linger a short while to watch the post-match back slapping and bask in the joyful radiation from the tv screen before switching to the ifollow, where the teams are already on the pitch and Brenner Woolley is explaining to BBC Radio Suffolk listeners that Oxford United are wearing all-white today, whilst their goal-keeper is a vision all in bottle green.  The game begins, and a Town team much changed from the one that rolled back the frontiers of the avant-garde versus Northampton a few days ago make unexpected early forays into the Oxford half of the pitch.  “Credit to Luke Chambers, that’s what he does” says Brenner’s co-commentator Mick Mills as the current club captain passes to the opposition and then chases back to try and atone for his error .  It seems likely that Mick is implying that effort is what typifies Chambers’ game rather than just constantly having to make up for his mistakes.

Inside three minutes the oddly named Keanan Bennetts wins the game’s first corner for Town.  “Good corner” says Mick encouragingly.  A short while later Luke Chambers lies stricken on the ground, it’s not clear if has suffered injury to his face or his leg.   “I would have hoped it was a facial, he would have got over that” says Mick , subtly but justifiably boasting that he was without doubt a more handsome club captain than the current man with his military haircut and heavy build.  A few minutes later James Norwood has a header cleared off the Oxford goal line despite having not really attempted to score.

For the first time in months the Portman Road pitch is bathed in sunlight although as Brenner is keen to tell us on more than one occasion it is a windy afternoon too.  The action today is unusually quick as Town eschew their usual “building from the back” at the pace of medieval cathedral builders and instead Tomas Holy punts the ball forward.   The result is that Oxford enjoy a majority of possession but to no particular advantage.  “By the cardboard cut outs on the far side” says Brenner, describing a   Town attack down the left rather than making a disparaging comment about the players on that side of the field. 

The game is even.  “Oxford due a tumble from grace” says Brenner either imagining a woman called Grace who enjoys the company of footballers or suggesting that Oxford United’s good run of results is bound to end soon.   “Very little between the two sides….much, much better from Ipswich Town” continues Brenner almost as if he is trying to make-up for harsh comments he might have made after Tuesday’s game.  The oddly named Keanan Bennetts shoots on goal. “ He had to sort of make a save” says Mick of the Oxford goalkeeper, and sounding in unfamiliar commentating territory.

I finish my beer and am struck by how any mention of Oxford’s Brannagan and Sykes in Brenner’s commentary immediately conjure thoughts of John Wayne, Derek Guyler and Hattie Jacques.  It’s a “rather blustery Portman Road” adds Brenner channeling his inner weather presenter before saying “Town have done alright this first 18 minutes, haven’t they Mick?”  Rational man that he is,  Mick can only agree.  Oxford’s Alex Gorrin is booked for a foul on the oddly named Keanan Bennetts, although I’m a little surprised and unexpectedly disappointed that Brenner doesn’t refer to Gorrin as ‘The Spaniard’.  Mick seems sympathetic towards Gorrin believing that Bennetts , who is a bugger for doing ‘stepovers’,  falls over rather easily. “You can perform all the tricks you like but you’ve still got to be stable on your feet” says Mick wisely.

In a dull moment, of which there are nowhere near as many as usual, Brenner reveals that the last time Town scored against Oxford was twenty-two years ago (Mark Venus was our goalscoring hero); although in typical sports-hack style Brenner omits to say that last season was the first time we had played Oxford since 1998.  With almost a third of the match lost to the past, Troy Parrott’s right foot shot goes wide after what Mick describes as “ Super play”.   The game, according to Brenner is now “Finely poised” but immediately realising that he has stated the bleedin’ obvious he sensibly adds “as you would imagine given the score-line”.  Town continue to send the ball into the Oxford penalty area in a welcome departure from the tactics of recent games.  “ In comes his cross…which was horrific really” says Brenner honestly of a Keanan Bennetts effort before two minutes of added on time are played and everyone retires for a rest.  The conclusion from Brenner, ”Much improved from Town, it has to be said” and true to his word, he’s  said it.

Half-time is the usual blur of the kettle, mugs of tea and a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar.  I return to the blue bean-bag from which I am watching today’s match in time to hear Mick reveal that he likes that the football from Town today is “simplistic”, by which I think he means we’re not pissing about with the ball at the back but are just shoving it forward.  I’m not sure if Mick ever appeared on BBC tv’s ‘Quiz Ball’ but if he had I suspect we’d have heard him say “Route One please David”.  Mick’s only disappointment with Town’s first half and indeed what he describes as “the downfall of the whole performance” is Troy Parrott’s “untidy” play, and he’s not wrong, we’re only playing with ten and a half players.

At nine minutes past four play resumes and within 20 seconds Town win a corner and then the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts shoots wide after James Norwood fails to react quickly enough with the goal wide open before him.  Oxford’s Anthony Forde,  who is not to be confused with the venerable Tony Ford who played a record 931 games for Grimsby Town and seven other clubs between 1975 and 2001,  is booked for pulling back little Alan Judge.  “That was naughty” says Mick, sounding a little like Frankie Howerd.   James Norwood then strikes the left hand post of the Oxford goal after Town exploit an intercepted pass. “ Ooohhhhhhh! “ I shout in desperation and frustration from my reclining position on the blue-bean bag.  Two minutes later Troy Parrott misses the goal from seemingly impossibly close range and I groan mournfully. “How?!” I ask rhetorically.

“Parrots all over him” says Brenner as Troy Parrott fouls an Oxford player and I imagine a pirate with feathered companions perched on both shoulders and all down both arms.  Clearly now enjoying the match Brenner says “ Then Bennetts stands on the ball” and almost dissolves onto giggles as the oddly-named player falls over.   Oxford’s Gorrin and Elliott Lee are replaced by Olamide Shodipo and James Henry; the change is clearly audible being announced over the Portman Road public address system and I wonder for whose benefit these announcements are being made.

There is less than half an hour left to play. Oxford’s Matt Taylor heads over the Town cross bar from a good position.  “ Neither side able to bring the ball down on the green stuff” says Brenner seemingly unable to recall the words grass or pitch, although it is possible that BBC rules forbid him from saying ‘grass’ in case it is interpreted as a drugs reference.  Sam Winnall replaces Matt Taylor for Oxford United, Josh Harrop replaces Ted Bishop for Town. Myles Kenlock is booked. James Norwood and the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts are replaced by Aaron Drinan and Freddie Sears. “Sunday League out there” says Brenner as a succession of players from both teams fail to control the ball.

There are less than ten minutes of normal time to play and I feel an irresistible desire to close my eyes and gently drift beneath a soft welcoming blanket of sleep.  I am saved from the narcoleptic embrace by Brenner’s words; “ Lost his shoe, Dozzell” he says and my mind locks onto thoughts of what sort of shoes Andre Dozzell might be wearing. Loafers? DMs? Winkle-pickers? Stilettoes?  Brenner solves the puzzle with the words “Dozzell goes to retrieve his boot” and I realise he’s wearing wellies.

Less than five minutes remain. “Out goes the telescopic left leg of Moore” says Brenner clearly now hallucinating. A minute remains and Holy makes a good diving save as Oxford press for a winning goal in a manner that I had hoped Town would be doing.  “I think this 0-0 result is a good as we can expect today” says Mick recognising that Town have nothing left to give and that Oxford look the more likely to score.  Oxford indeed continue to push for a late victory.  “Stand by your beds, this might not be easy viewing” says a mentally drained Brenner now sounding as if he’s in a 1970’s British sitcom.  Brenner tries to redeem himself with the surreal “Parrott down on all fours” but his commentary ends with a 94th minute Oxford booking which has him referring to the guilty player  as if he had invaded a neighbouring country; “Yellow card for the aggressor, Winnall”. 

The game ends and Brenner’s inexplicably public transport–related summation is that after waiting fourteen months for a goalless draw, two come along at once.  Despite this, I have enjoyed the afternoon’s match in which pleasingly Town almost did enough to win, although of course, they didn’t.  But with commentary like Brenner’s and the continuing presence of Mick to remind us of our glorious past there is little likelihood that the likes of Oxford United will be anything but envious of Ipswich Town for years to come.

Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0

In 1978 when Ipswich Town were winning the FA Cup, Wigan Athletic finished second in the Northern Premier League behind Boston United and were elected to the Football League in place of Southport. Today, as ever-present Phil who never misses a game will later joke, Wigan are Town’s peers and today we meet. That’s a good joke Phil, you are wasted teaching IT to the youth of Northampton. Wigan bobbed about in the ‘lower divisions’ for several years, I remember seeing them lose frequently at Layer Road in the 1990’s, but eventually the club had the good fortune to be adopted by millionaire Dave Whelan who built them a stadium and paid their way in to the Premier League (spit). I met Dave Whelan once in a professional capacity; he flew down to Ipswich by helicopter just to meet me, and my colleague (boss). As we talked informally to break the ice my colleague, let’s call him Steve because that is his name, offered him a million pounds for Titus Bramble (then a Wigan Athletic player) and he accepted. I’m still not sure what we would have done with Titus Bramble in our office.

Today is a gloriously grey mid-December day. The sky is dull, the wind is gusty and the cold is very cold; so cold it cuts against my skin like a knife as I walk to the railway station. There are plenty of people waiting for the 12:57 train; Christmas shoppers mostly, heading for the bright, twinkling lights of Colchester. The train is late. A freight train seems to be to blame; it crawls through the station belching thick, dark diesel fumes. “Bloody hell” says a youth out to his impress his mates before he breaks into a bout of ostentatious coughing. More mature people cover their noses with their scarves or hold their breath. I wander down the platform and wait near a man who has hair like a young Sid James. The train is nine minutes late, but arrives in due course. As it draws into the platform two men in their late sixties manoeuvre themselves towards the sliding doors. “Ooh, it’s one of the refurbished ones, have you been on one of these?” says one of the men who has an unfortunate squint to one eye. The other man doesn’t answer. I imagine he’s thinking “Twat”.

The Christmas shoppers and Sid James desert the train at Colchester and I  am left to contemplate a sign inviting me to recharge my lap-top, tablet or phone, but only my lap-top, tablet or phone, from a sealed up power point. It’s as if Greater Anglia railways had considered being generous, but then thought better of it.

Ipswich is as grey and cloudy as the station where I began my journey and the streets are cold and quiet. I stride over the Princes Street bridge purposefully in my overcoat and blue and white scarf, probably smiling slightly to myself because I’m looking forward to the match; surely we can win today, I’m thinking. A woman in a car waiting at the traffic lights catches my eye and gives me the thumbs up. Yes, we will surely win today. I see the banners on the lamp posts advertising the Rodin exhibition at the gallery in Christchurch Park and am further inspired; I really must go and see ‘The Kiss’. We’ve got it all in Ipswich. Seriously.

Portman Road is quiet for a match day but perhaps that is because the turnstiles are already open and the people usually here at 1.30 are all inside doing whatever people who arrive an hour and a half before kick-off do. I head for the Fanzone to deliver a bag of groceries to the FIND foodbank charity; I’m not going into the Fanzone but a steward tries to stop me nevertheless because I haven’t shown that I have a match ticket, I tell them not to fret, I’m only going ‘over here’. Hopefully FIND will have had a successful day and will make further collections on future match days.

I head on to St Jude’s Tavern past a steward walking a car along Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I call to him that he needs a red flag. St Jude’s is very busy but I quickly avail myself of a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is St Jude’s Thaddeus. I perch on a bar stool in a dark corner; it’s the only vacant seat left. I’m not quite half way through my pint when Mick appears at the door, the large fur-trimmed hood of his coat casts a deep shadow over his face and beard making him look a little like a slightly sinister polar explorer. Mick quickly acquires a pint of the Thaddeus too and we talk of car insurance, my recent weekend in Amiens, of Trappist beers (Orval and Chimay), Jules Verne, ethical candles, gilets jaunes and Emmanuel Macron. Finishing my first pint, I buy a pint of Mr Bee’s Black Bee (£3.40) and Mick has a half of the Match Day Special. Time flies by and it’s almost ten to three, I have to dash.

 I seem to be the last person to be making his way down Portman Road towards the glowing floodlights, in the nearing distance supporters scurry across from the car park and hurry through the turnstiles like people getting in, out of the rain. At the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand I greet the turnstile operator with cheery smile and proceed to the seats where as ever I will find ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and Pat from Clacton.

Phil hands me a Christmas card, which is nice  and after the referee Mr Scott Duncan poses for photos with the team captains and mascots the match is soon underway. Town get first go with the ball and are trying to send it in the direction of me, Phil and Pat. Town as ever wear blue and white shirts despoiled by the ugly advert for on-line betting whilst Wigan are obviously the away team because they are all in yellow.

The game is a bit of a mess. Town start slightly better than Wigan and mill around their goal for a bit, but without threatening to score. Not really making the best of the Latin rhythms of Guantanamera, the 310 Wigan supporters in the Cobbold Stand sing “Down with the Wanderers, You’re going down with the Wanderers”. Presumably they are addressing their song to Ipswich and not to their own team, but you never know. At the North Stand end of the ground the ambience is less Cuban and South American and more Spanish, although the chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” are swept away on the icy wind above the muffled sound of drums. Wigan begin to have more of the ball, but are as ineffective close to Ipswich’s goal as we are to theirs.
The game settles down into scruffy mediocrity but the hope that everyone is drawing from the realisation that Wigan are as bad as we are is palpable; at times that hope congeals into belief and the vestiges of long lost vocal support ripple through the stands. “We’re going to see Tina Turner the musical on Friday, in London” I hear Pat say. “I’m not” says Phil.

There are several free-kicks and the Wigan players seem keen to hold proceedings up whenever they can by feigning mortal injury and clutching various limbs before skipping off to kick or shove someone in blue and white. Frustrated by another delay the old dear behind shouts “Keep it goin’, we gotta get home tonight. It’s obviously not cold enough for ‘em.”

With a half an hour gone a tuneless, droning chant of “Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan” makes a succinct commentary on the type of game it is and makes me think of the Buzzcocks’ “Boredom” and I mourn the death of Pete Shelley quietly to myself whilst waiting for something good to happen. A page from a copy of the East Anglian Daily Times dances its way across the pitch, blown and buffeted by the wind. Then another page floats by and another. “ It’s coming across a page at a time” says the elderly voice behind me and she chuckles ,enjoying the sight of paper blowing about more than the match it seems. A serious looking steward with a head wrapped in earphones steps forward to grab a piece of the newspaper and dispose of it. “Underground, overground, Wombling free” I sing. It’s twenty-five to four and Freddie Sears breaks free of the Wigan defence, he bears down on goal, he shoots over the cross bar. Five minutes later Wigan’s, or more accurately Everton’s Callum Connolly misses the goal too after a corner, “Crikey, you’re worse than us” is the verdict from behind me.
Half-time is a blessed opportunity to thaw my hands beneath the warm air blowers in the gents’ toilet; it’s a cold day and I’ve drunk two pints of beer so I take the chance to use the other facilities too. Outside on the concourse I eat a Panda brand liquorice stick and then, back in the stand chat with Ray, who also hands me a Christmas card. It is starting to rain and it’s getting dark.
The second half of the match begins and the break has made me more conscious of the cold easterly wind; even Paul Lambert has a coat on this afternoon, even if he has left it not done up. For now, despite slowly numbing fingers due to fingerless gloves, I feel warm. My woolly socks, cosily fitting boxer shorts bought in an Amiens supermarket (Auchan), a T-shirt bearing the words “Allez-les bleus”, long-sleeve cotton 1950’s Ipswich football shirt, chunky woolly jumper, beneath a heavy overcoat, and a woolly ITFC badged hat and scarf seem to be doing the trick. I was worried about the boxer shorts because they have the word ‘Athletic’ all around the waist band, but have decided that like sticking pins in a wax effigy having a part of the name of our opponents printed on my pants will put a hex on them.

The standard of football doesn’t improve. “It’s probably better on the radio” says the old girl behind me. The cold intensifies with the rain and my feet start to feel like blocks of ice. Dean Gerken the Ipswich goalkeeper draws disapproving moans and groans from the crowd as he hurries a clearance, which screws away into touch. He glowers back at the crowd. Perhaps he senses and even resents the loyalty in the crowd to Bartosz Bialkowski. The wind and rain are making it difficult for players who like to hoof the ball, but I think we are right to expect better on this occasion. I begin to wonder if this game might not become the win we are waiting for, but despite that minor ‘altercation’ with “Gerks” there is still a prevailing atmosphere of hope and support. We know we aren’t here to be entertained, we are here to see a win and people are sensing that they have some part in making that happen because perhaps the team might not be able to do it alone. Every now and then a string of on-field events will cause an eruption of supportive sounds from the stands and belief is restored. Even when a shot from Wigan’s Reece James strikes the Ipswich cross bar it seems to galvanise the support, not make them depressed and scornful as would have happened last season. It’s gone twenty past four and an Ipswich ‘attack’ takes ‘shape’ in a random manner on the right. The ball is hit hither and thither and into the box where there is more bagatelle until Freddie Sears half volleys the ball into the ground and towards the goal, it strikes Everton’s Callum Connolly and, as Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton looks over his shoulder, the back of the goal net. Ipswich Town are winning.
The remaining twenty four minutes are both awful and utterly enjoyable. The referee Mr Scott Duncan, despite having the name of a former Town manager whom the supporters respect, unlike the last four managers, makes a catalogue of dubious decisions many involving granting Wigan free-kicks around the edge of the penalty area. But this only draws everyone together, if we have to beat both Wigan Athletic and the referee so be it. Town manager Paul Lambert is equally gung-ho and has now discarded his coat like some sort of footballing King Lear challenging the wind and freezing rain to do its worst.  Wigan’s last chance is the ludicrous addition of seven minutes of time added on, it’s as if Wigan have benefitted from their own time wasting earlier in the match. But thankfully Wigan are not good enough to make anything of it. If it was a Friday in the 1960’s it would be time for Crackerjack by now, but at last Mr Duncan’s whistle draws its last and Town have won at home for the first time in just over six months and for just the third time this year.
This has  been the worst brilliant match I have ever seen and certainly the best terrible one too. The foul, freezing weather has just made it more marvellous, more memorable. This is what being a football supporter is all about, days like this. I have learned again the joy of a single win. The wait has been worth it. I feel sorry for those supporters of clubs who have never been bottom of the league in mid-December without a home win, they don’t know what they’ve missed. Today our souls have been enriched.
Tonight my wife and I shall drink champagne.

Ipswich Town 2 Bristol City 3

Night matches at Portman Road have become like buses supposedly are; I’ve not seen Town play at home in a night match all season and all of sudden two fixtures arrive almost together. In truth I’ve rarely lived in the sort of places where the bus service is frequent enough for that to happen, it’s more likely the bus won’t turn up at all and nor will the next one and on recent Town form that’s likely to be a better analogy.
Unlike last week’s evening match, tonight I am not leaving off early to use up flexi-time; tonight I am staying a bit later to rack-up some hours instead. By ten-past five however, everyone else has cleared off and I can’t stand to be alone in this place any longer so I make my way out into the deepening gloom of early evening, seeking the light of St Jude’s Tavern. The streets around the ground are quiet;

their stillness frozen by the harsh white glow that spills out from the hot food stands that are already set up and feeding stewards and those mysterious supporters who arrive hours before kick-off.
In St Jude’s it’s quiet too, with just four or five other drinkers scattered about as I order a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which tonight is Mr Bee’s Best Beer. I sit and read ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ by Clive James, but with so few people in the bar it’s hard not to overhear conversations. A woman at the bar has a theory that a male friend is gay; something to do with him trying to ‘feel up’ another friend after a night out. No other evidence is put forward, and I don’t learn if the attempt to ‘feel up’ were successful or not. Relief from this gossip arrives in the shape of ever-present Phil who never misses a game; he has arrived hot-foot from Northampton. I’m soon chatting with Phil whilst eating a steak and kidney pie (my first choice, beef and onion was out of stock) and savouring a pint of Cliff Quay Brewery Tolly Roger (pie and a pint £5.00). I don’t like kidney but when I find a bit I just swallow it whole so as not to taste it. We’re not long talking before Mick arrives and he kindly buys me another pint of the Match Day Special whilst also getting one for himself. Phil leaves about ten to seven, which Mick puts down to Keenness but our conversation isn’t diminished, oiled as it is by another pint of the Match Day Special. It is twenty-five to eight by the time I leave Mick at the corner of Portman Road and I only just get to my seat in time for kick-off, therefore missing the match ball being plucked from its plinth as the teams walk out. “What time do you call this?” asks Ray. I don’t have a satisfactory answer other than to give him the correct time, which I sense wasn’t the true purpose of the question. Bristol City begin the game, un-necessarily wearing a change kit of white shirts and black shorts when their first kit is all-red; a polyester precis of what is wrong with modern football. Town are kicking towards me , Phil, Ray and Pat from Clacton, and of course wear blue and white and provide their own summary of football’s modern failings with the hideous logo of a gambling company, as ever despoiling the front of their shirts. If Town are relegated this season that logo and choice of an on-line gambling business as sponsor will be partly to blame. There are about ten thousand fewer people here than there were for the last game, but surprisingly the match atmosphere doesn’t seemed diminished by a corresponding 44%. The 13,436 of us here (that excludes the 290 Bristolians) are the hardened rump of Town’s support; we are , I like to think, the ones who care the most and so the sound of our anguish is louder and maybe we breathe more heavily.
Seemingly oblivious to the fact that their players are wearing a change kit, the Bristolians assembled in the Cobbold Stand chant “Red Army, Red Army” as their team has a couple of shots blocked and then earns a corner when Bartosz Bialkowski has to make the first save of the game. Perhaps through the eyes of a die-hard Robins fan Bristol City are always in red. But the Red Army domination is brief and Freddie Sears runs at them and has a shot blocked before then shooting wide. There’s enough here to please a home crowd whose desire to see Town win a home game almost has a physical presence. On the pitch there are fouls and free-kicks and a general lack of precision, which is what we’re used to. Jordan Roberts is the first name to be recorded by referee Mr David Webb, who like last Friday’s referee is not a tall man. “Short refs, we only get short refs” I sing, to the tune of Rodgers and Hart’s Blue Moon, but to no one’s amusement save my own.
Ipswich captain Luke Chambers makes a mistake to let in a Bristol player who shoots over the bar. “Should’ve volleyed it” says a lad behind me to his dad authoritatively. “I would have” he adds unconvincingly. He doesn’t say if he would have scored though. There is a touchline contretemps and Paul Lambert, as usual wearing his Marks & Spencer black jumper and black slacks, points and  jabs angrily. He is surrounded by coaches and trackie-bottom wearers all  trying to be as tough and angry as him, but their big, padded, shiny coats  say they never will be.

Town win their first corner and the half empty ground resounds or may be echoes to chants of “Come On You Bluuuues” But only the side netting is struck , and high hopes tumble. Paul Lambert swigs heavily from a bottle, of water, which doesn’t go un-noticed by the lad behind me. “ Lambert likes his bottles of water doesn’t he?” he says to his dad, omitting to tell him how he would have drunk it.
It’s a bit after eight o’clock when Cole Skuse passes to Freddie Sears and I get a head on view of Freddie’s gently bending shot into the back of the Bristol goal and Town are winning. There are scenes of gay-abandon and 13,000 odd people dare to wonder if Town might win. The lead remains intact and half-time is a happy event which follows rich applause. I celebrate by dispensing with some used up Match Day Special and by talking to Ray who offers me a bun made by his wife Roz, I accept the offer graciously.

Half-time flies by and the game begins again.  Ten minutes pass and Bristol City equalise. A hopefully swung boot from Bristol’s Senegalese Famara Diedhouru (who incidentally I believe I saw play for Gazelec Ajaccio in the French Ligue National in 2014) sends the ball towards Bartosz Bialkowski who is out of his goal. If Bart leaves the ball it will probably sail past the post, but he doesn’t and with a jerking, un-coordinated movement of his outstretched and be-gloved right hand he diverts it into the goal. It’s not really bad goal keeping, it just seems he can’t do right for doing wrong. He didn’t look like he wanted to do it, but he couldn’t stop himself.
From here the game becomes silly. Only three minutes later Freddie Sears scores and everybody other than the 290 temporary migrants in the Cobbold Stand is happy once again and daring to imagine Town winning. But the happiness is fleeting as a minute later the boyish sounding Jamie Paterson scores for Bristol and then an indecently brief four minutes later Famara Diedhiou makes a lonely run towards the ball as it is crossed into the box and from embarrassingly close range heads what will prove to be the winning goal.
The hope and belief of the crowd of six minutes ago is gone, it is nowhere to be heard. There is no reaction to this adversity, no will to spur their team on, to come back. Like cattle to the slaughter the home supporters accept their lot and give up. They seemingly have no conception of what to do. There are a few in the North Stand who try, but there are either too few of them or they lack decent singing voices. They need someone on a ladder with a megaphone; perhaps Marcus Evans could do it as penance. By contrast the Bristol City fans are able to indulge in the easy task of triumphalism and sing to tune of The Sparrow, recorded by the Abbey Hey Junior School choir about a “ …poor little Gashead (Bristol Rovers supporter), his shirt is all tattered and torn” and how they proceed to “hit him with a brick, and now he don’t sing any more”. Generously they avoid gloating about Town’s league position, possibly because they feel our pain from bitter experience of their own. On the pitch Town struggle on. Substitutions are made but they outnumber the decent attempts on goal. Behind me the lad says to his dad “It’s just a disappointment now isn’t it?” Although his dad doesn’t tell him he’s right, he is; there’s nothing like taking the lead twice only to lose to make you disappointed; except perhaps taking the lead three times, or four…. or five….or… may be things aren’t so bad.
With the final whistle there are some boos, I hope they are from people booing fellow spectators, for their poor support, but I doubt it. The meagre crowd disperses quickly to the exits but I stay to applaud, just a little. I’m used to this now, but I’m sure we’ll win next time.