Ipswich Town 6 Doncaster Rovers 0

Who doesn’t love a match under floodlights?  Not just the floodlights of a mere afternoon match once the clocks have ‘gone back’, but the floodlights of a fully-fledged evening fixture, one that doesn’t begin until it’s dark and when the walk to the match is like being drawn towards a glowing beacon; it’s even better on a rainy night, and tonight is such a night.

Having arrived in town early for work related reasons, I get to park up my trusty Citroen C3 on Anglesea Road and amble down to the Arboretum (now known as the Arbor House) where I sit in the garden to eat a Scotch egg (£4.00) and down a pint of Woodforde’s Kett’s Rebellion (£3.80).  The only other table in the garden that is occupied plays host to three twenty-something blokes, one of whom intermittently calls out “Blue army” as if he’s suffering from some sort of oddly Ipswich-based variant of Tourette’s syndrome. After half an hour Mick arrives, announcing his arrival in French; I treat him to a pint of Kett’s Rebellion, because it’s a beer the taste of which is worth sharing.  Mick requests some dry roast nuts (£1) too,  which don’t come in a packet as we had both expected, but in a cup,  “Ooh, you do them like that” I say to the young woman serving behind the bar, trying not to sound fazed.   Back outside it starts to rain, and we move to a table with an awning whilst Mick and I curse the planet destroying evil of outdoor heaters.  Mick and I talk of making speeches at weddings, of who Kett was, of Angela Merkel and of local government before 1974.  Twenty or so minutes before kick-off we head for Portman Road, Mick walking his black bicycle beside him.

The rain is merely an occasional drizzle and having left Mick to lock up his bike somewhere in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I am invited to prove that I wasn’t frightened of a ‘sharp scratch’, unlike these scaredy vaccine deniers, who clearly are, and having snapped up a programme (£3.50), I proceed through turnstile number fifty-nine into the hallowed halls of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and the gents toilet nearest the players’ tunnel.  Relieved, I join the assembling throng as the two teams enter the field of play. Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here (of course), and so are Ray’s son and his grandson Harrison, but Ray and Pat from Clacton are absent; it makes me wonder if the Clacton branch of the supporters club aren’t able to get a coach ‘up’ for midweek games, perhaps because the Tendring peninsula is under curfew once the sun goes down.  I will later learn however that the Clacton branch run a coach to all home games, but tonight Pat is unwell. Get well soon Pat from Clacton. Fiona arrives shortly after kick-off; the train was late.

It’s Doncaster Rovers in their red socks, red shorts and red shirts with thin white hoops who get first go with the ball, and although we don’t know it yet, it will prove to be one of their best moments of the game.   Cameron Burgess is an early casualty of hairless referee Carl Brook’s yellow card as he tries to interrupt Doncaster goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg as he takes a drop kick.  Dahlberg is an unfortunately angular looking man who disproves the theory that Scandinavians are all tall, blonde and good looking, although admittedly he does score very highly on the first two criteria.  Twelve minutes pass and a poor cross field pass from some or other adopted Doncastrian is intercepted by Wes Burns, who charges forward to the by-line and turns in a low cross which the oddly named Macauley Bonne has only to direct into the net.  It’s a good start. Town lead, and Mr Bonne celebrates like a Chantry boy who scores for the Town should.

“Hark now hear the Ipswich sing” chant the ‘Boney M’ supporters’ group from the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand as they gear-up for Christmas.   “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” chant the Doncaster Rovers supporters up in the Cobbold Stand as Portman Road once again goes quiet after the goal; presumably someone tells them “No thank you” because that’s the last we hear from them.

With Town a goal up, the excitement subsides, and I ponder what “Built Environment Recruitment” is as referred to on the advertising board for Conrad Consulting.   I like to think that I could maybe phone Conrad up and ask him to send round a couple of terraced houses, an office block and a beach café to drive some petrol tankers.  The game is a bit scrappy, mainly down to Doncaster’s lack of precision, but Sam Morsy is looking good for Town in front of the defence and intermittently Town break down the flanks to put in testing crosses.

A half an hour passes, and Town earn a corner.  There is a lot going on in the penalty area but the kick sails across nearly everyone to a point beyond the far post, where Lee Evans is all alone waiting to stroke the ball into the net. Referee Mr Brook stares hard at the scrum of players in the front of the six-yard box, in the manner of a bald Paddington Bear, but can evidently not discern that any offence has been committed and the goal stands. Two-nil; Fiona confirms that we’ve been here before (versus Wimbledon) and not won. 

Celebrations completed, the game re-starts and Doncaster’s Joe Dodoo becomes the second name to enter to enter the notebook of Mr Brook, possibly because Mr Brook thinks it’s too good a name not get in his collection, but also because he chops down Matt Penney.   Town are now clearly the better team and playing some fine one and two-touch, passing football. Sam Morsy has a powerful shot from 20 metres that goes not too far over Pontus Dahlberg’s cross bar; it’s not the sort of thing we’ve seen for a while.

Half-time arrives to appreciative applause and with no Ray to chat to I eat a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar in silence, although I later speak with ever-present Phil who never misses a game.  Phil tells me that there was no Matchday Special in St Jude’s Tavern this evening and I feel his disappointment.  At the corner of the pitch meanwhile, stadium announcer and former Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster, who was at school with my friend Pete, conducts a Radio Suffolk style interview with former Town hero Jonathan Walters, who is the recipient of warm applause.

When it begins, the new half brings substitutions for Doncaster as Joseph Owulu and Rodrigo Vilca replace Jordi Hiwula and Danny Gardner. This evening’s attendance is announced as 18,111, of whom 165 are from Doncaster, or are at least sat in the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand pretending to be so.  As Stephen Foster reads out the numbers many in the crowd applaud, seemingly congratulating themselves for having bothered to turn up, odd. It strikes me that Doncaster’s blonde-haired number fourteen Matthew Smith, looks a bit like 1980’s Town midfielder Trevor Putney; I suspect however that he doesn’t really and it’s just his hair, either way he’s changed since he played Dr Who.

“Who the fucking hell are you? sing the more impolite occupants of the Sir Bobby Robson stand to a Doncaster player whose identity I can’t work out either, and then in a moment of uncharacteristic attacking intent, Doncaster’s Tiago Cukur has a shot on goal which Town ‘keeper Vaclav Hladky doesn’t so much save, as just stand on tiptoes to catch.  It’s the last action Vaclav will see for a while as Town suddenly go into goal scoring overdrive. Breaking down the left, Bersant Celina, with open grassland in front of him, gets to a point where he needs to cross, so he checks and loops the ball over into the penalty area where as if by magic Lee Evans appears to head home unchallenged inside the far post. It’s a goal of beautiful simplicity.  Two minutes later and another cross from Bersant Celina on the left is controlled on his chest by the oddly named Macauley Bonne, who then proceeds to volley the ball just inside Dahlberg’s right-hand post; it’s the best goal of the night, or is it?.  Just another two minutes pass, barely time for the Sir Bobby Robson stand to finish a chorus of  “And it’s  I-pswi-ch Town, Ipswich To-wn FC, they’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen” followed by “E-i-e-i-e-i-o, Up the football we go” when Wes Burns lays the ball on for Lee Evans to lash high in to the top right hand corner of Dahlberg’s net.  Cracking goal, possibly even more spectacular than the last one.  From 2-0 to 5-0 in not much more than five minutes.  Just four minutes later and the Sir Bobby Robson Stand are singing “Six-nil to the Tractor Boys” and sounding like the Pet Shop Boys, as George Edmundson diverts the flight of a free-kick from Lee Evans in the best possible way.   Ever-present Phil who never misses a game, turns to me and Fiona to tell us that the last time Town scored six was away also against Doncaster Rovers (February 2011); I’ve no idea if he’s right but if anyone should know it should be ever-present Phil who never misses a game.

Ten minutes of normal time remain, and without wanting to seem greedy I’m hoping for a seventh goal, after all, I haven’t seen Town win 7-0 since 1974.  It was Mick Mills who scored Town’s seventh goal that Saturday night forty-seven and a half years ago, and tonight substitute Rekeem Harper tries to emulate him with two minutes left, but his shot travels in a frustratingly straight line and hits a post rather than swerving outrageously around the goalkeeper like Mick’s shot did.  I have no idea how many minutes of added time are added on, but when you’re winning six-nil such details no longer matter; the minutes come and go however without further shots eluding Pontus Dahlberg.  The final whistle produces the sort of love-in not seen at Portman Road since, well I don’t honestly know when.  Relief, elation and an element of disbelief swirl about as I applaud the team from the pitch.  Paul Cook makes a laudably quick exit down the players’ tunnel to allow his team to take the plaudits and hopefully so that he can put the kettle on and may be break open the Custard Creams.

As I hurry up Portman Road and back to my trusty Citroen C3, excited chatter and snippets of throaty chants fill the night air. “I’d have been livid if I hadn’t come tonight” I hear a man say to a friend as they exit the Cobbold Stand, suggesting perhaps that he nearly stayed at home.  “Were we really good or were they just bad?” asks a passing woman from within the crowd; unfortunately, she and whoever she asked the question of are out of earshot before she gets an answer.  If she had asked me, and why wouldn’t she, I think I would have said “A bit of both”.

Driving home I hope that tonight has been a turning point; the night when our new squad of players finally endeared and proved itself to Town supporters; whether it is or not, I shall remember it. It’s been a while since we scored six, or conceded nil at Portman Road though best of all it happened beneath the floodlights and in the rain.

Ipswich Town 0 Oxford United 1

Another Saturday and another football match;  having witnessed last Saturday’s victory over Burton Albion, as encouraging as it was, and having been to the mid-week game before that at Wimbledon and the Saturday match before that versus Peterborough I am feeling somewhat blasé about going to yet another game.  Today Ipswich will play Oxford United and therefore to set the mood it is with the sort of thoughtless, arrogant, complacent, condescending and contemptuous attitude associated with the most privileged people who go to the top schools and universities and end up as members of the government that I set out for the railway station. A warm, gusting wind blows me along and conifers waft and billow as I pass by.  The train is on time and I board it alone.

On the train I sit by a window, a man on the opposite side of the train slumps with his feet on the seats opposite, I give his shoes a stare worthy of Paddington bear.  “How do you think we’ll do today?” he says as he sits up and takes his feet down off the seat.  Oh crap, I think to myself, he’s seen my blue and white scarf and wants to talk about football.  As much as I like football, I hate talking football, the conversations are always the same.  This fella is one of “we need more investment” brigade.  I tell him the owner puts in 5 or 6 million quid each season and that most Championship clubs are technically insolvent, but he clearly finds facts too difficult.  I am saved when his phone goes off and he has a conversation about how he won’t be drinking much today as he was in the pub until 3 am, drinking Coronas, “I had about twelve” he says to the person on the other end of the phone “and I feel a bit fucked”.

The piazza in front of the railway station is deserted but there is a steady trickle of people sporting yellow and blue knitwear wandering up Princes Street towards the Station Hotel.  Portman Road is positively busy with people, many decked in yellow and blue. I follow a short woman and her two much shorter young children who each carry a yellow and blue back pack sporting a cartoon bull.  Disappointed that I fail to spot anyone who looks even vaguely academic, although the back-pack could be construed as school satchels, I continue on my way to St Jude’s Tavern.

In St Jude’s I find Mick looking up at the day’s beer list; together we choose Mad Dog brewery’s ‘Now in a minute’ (£3.60) of which Mick kindly buys a pint for each of us.  As he sits down Mick tells me that the barman let him have a taster because many customers thought it had an unusual taste.  It is slightly sweet, but it’s pleasant enough and reminds me a little of some of my own homebrew, on a good day.  St Jude’s Tavern is well populated today and we sit in a cramped corner of which the building seems to have several.  Our conversation includes the failings of Ipswich Town’s on-line ticket selling, the films of Sam Peckinpah, the new film of David Copperfield, not burning damp wood, avoiding air travel and Susan George, whose name I struggle to remember until Mick gives me a clue with reference to her surname being a common English regnal name, which is a bit ‘University Challenge’.  After I consume another pint of ‘Now in a minute’ and Mick has a Jameson’s whisky (£3.00) and the licensee reminds us of the time, we head off round the corner into Portman Road.

It’s about ten to three now and outside the stadium Portman Road is active with people scurrying to the turnstiles like charged particles.  “I can’t see any mortar boards or gowns” says Mick with genuine disappointment as if he really had expected Oxford fans to be a bunch of academics.  We enter the ground separately through turnstiles number five and six and after visiting the facilities beneath the stand clamber over our seats so as not disturb Pat from Clacton on the end of the row.  I wave to Ray down the front in his red kagoul and spot ever present Phil who never misses a game, who today has his young son Elwood with him, albeit an Elwood hidden beneath an anorak hood and obscured from my view slightly by the man with the heavily brylcreemed hair who sits in front of me.  With little further ado the teams emerge from the blue plastic concertina in the corner of the ground to the strains of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, a mystifying 1980’s rock anthem.  I hate rock anthems.  The PA announces that the team is being led out by the club’s community chaplain. Mick says he didn’t know we had a community chaplain; the thought seems to amuse him and he wonders if the club also has a community Imam, which is a fair question, although I thought that professional football served only mammon.

The game begins a minute late at 15:01 with Ipswich playing in the direction of Mick, me, Pat from Clacton, Elwood, ever-present Phil, Ray, his grandson Harrison and the man with the brylcreem. Today, for a reason to which I am not party, Oxford United are wearing an unnecessary change kit of white shirts with a blue and yellow diagonal stripe or sash across the chest in place of their customary yellow shirts.  Their bottom halves are covered by Oxford blue shorts and socks.  The Oxford shirts advertise the name of Singha beer from Thailand, which seems a little exotic.  I imagine a multi-lingual Oxford don having incidentally arranged the deal with the Boon Rawd Brewery whilst on a short holiday to find a Thai bride.  Ipswich wear the usual blue and white advertisement for on-line gambling and, as they so often do, begin the game sparklingly well, running down the flanks under the bright blue sky and sending in low crosses which only the Oxford defenders ever reach.   “Yellows, Yellows” bellow the 1,365 Oxonians in the Cobbold Stand who are either colour blind or are simply ignoring the pointlessly white shirts of their team.

The match is entertaining and it can only be a matter of time before Ipswich score as the ball continues either to be just out of reach Town players shaping up to shoot or to be blocked by the ubiquitous Oxford defenders.  The flags on the back of the Cobbold stand are blowing in the strong wind and seagulls hover like drones.  The visiting fans have brought an array of flags with them which are not flying but are draped over the front few rows of seats in the Cobbold Stand.  One flag, a cross of St George appears to have the words “We all live in a Oxford wonderland” printed on it; I am shocked by the poor grammar, which might not be so surprising in some backwater like Swindon or Norwich, but Oxford?

I am still enjoying the match and the football is good to watch but for the absence of shots that the Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood is required to save.  The bloke behind me sounds confident and says he wouldn’t mind Town “…meeting these in the play-offs”.  In the Sir Bobby Robson stand the normally more vocal supporters in the corner (Action 1878) seem quiet today and are not displaying their banners and flags.  In the corner of the Cobbold Stand a group of Oxford fans are standing and goading Ipswich supporters in the bottom tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand.  Pat from Clacton wonders how they managed to get the seats closest to the Ipswich supporters and we decide that the Oxford ticket office must ask supporters if they are would-be hooligans who want to goad the opposition and allocate them seats accordingly.  With the price of tickets nowadays this seems fair enough.

Despite Ipswich’s dominance it’s not until nearly half past three that they win a corner and then win another as Luke Chambers’ header is deflected over the cross bar.  The corner affords a close-up of Oxford number three Josh Ruffles who seems to have quite a large head which, with his muscular upper chest gives him the look of a very big clasp nail or tack as his body tapers down to a point around his ankles.  More minutes pass and an unexpected chorus of “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” lives then dies around the ground.  Pat from Clacton offers Mick and me sweets; I have one of those green metallic looking ones which fizz with sherbet. “We’ll score now I’ve got the sweets out” says Pat “Well, that’s what used to happen”.  Town don’t score.  Pat eats a “nice piece of fudge” left over from Christmas.   “They can’t pick a pass this lot” moans the bloke behind me as Town’s Gwion Edwards misplaces a pass for the first time in the game.  Paul Lambert runs up and down his technical area excitedly in what look like deck shoes.

Town still haven’t scored and it’s nearly half-time, so Oxford string a few passes together, the Ipswich defence melts away and Oxford’s number 9 the diminutive Matty Taylor scores instead.   Paul Lambert waves his arms around as if winding a huge key, which he sort of is metaphorically speaking.  Seizing their opportunity to either indulge in some half-time swatting in the event of an affirmative answer or turn up the goading quotient whilst utilising their knowledge of opera, the Oxonians sing “Is this a library?” to the tune of La donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto.  “What are they singing?” asks Mick. “Is this the Bodleian?” I tell him. The game begins again but not for long as it’s time for another visit to the facilities beneath the stand and a chat with Ray.

The second half begins, the blue skies have been replaced by grey cloud.  The match proves to be one of those that has two distinct halves.  Oxford United continue to thwart Ipswich’s attempts on goal which become ever more inaccurate, but also start breaking away and threatening to score again themselves, which seems a bit cheeky. Oxford win a corner and their number fourteen Anthony Forde holds up a hand to indicate where he intends to kick it, which would seem to be onto the head of Ipswich’s nearest defender and a good yard or two from the nearest Oxford player.

It’s nearly twenty five past four and the Oxford supporters spell out the name of their club to show the benefit of a university education but on the pitch the play descends to the level of the kindergarten.   Josh Earl and Matty Taylor  push each other around and salmon pink clad referee Mr Scott Oldham, who most unusually appears to be the tallest man on the field and sports a GI haircut, has to tell them to grow up, particularly Matty Taylor who is only 176cm ( 5’9”) tall.

Seventy two minutes have passed and Pat from Clacton admits to me that she might soon start to think about the jacket potato she’ll be having for her tea.  Oxford have adopted a more spoiling approach to the game this half although only their  Marcus Browne and Town’s Luke ‘Garbo’ Garbutt have seen Mr Oldham’s yellow card, and  Ipswich  now begin to vent their frustration with some pointless fouls.  Pat and I look forward to the announcement of today’s attendance which we will soon learn is 19,367; the nearest in the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton coach is Calum with 19,476.  Pat is disappointed again that no one’s pet cat or fish has won the prize.

The old dears who now sit in front of me but used to sit behind me leave early; I tell them I will let them know all about the goals they are going to miss. The bloke behind me leaves.  Ipswich’s Kayden Jackson leaves at the request of Mr Oldham after he is apparently spotted stamping on an Oxford player and is shown Mr Oldham’s red card.  There is a melee down by the corner flag in front of the Oxford supporters which could have been avoided if Mr Oldham had acted more decisively and given a free-kick to Ipswich instead of Oxford and  Town’s Luke Woolfenden is booked before the game stutters to a halt and the final whistle sounds. 

 I’d like to say that Luke Chambers either accidentally or ironically produces his trademark fist pump, but he doesn’t and instead the crowd dejectedly melts away into the night, apart that is from those who stay to boo.  Ipswich drop to eighth in the third division table which means they will be happy to meet any club at all  in the play-offs.