Crewe Alexandra 1 Ipswich Town 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackpool 1 Ipswich Town 4

For someone who had already given up travelling home and away every week to watch my team, one of the good things about the current pandemic and so-called ‘elite’ football being played behind closed-doors is that when your team plays away from home, you simply cannot go, so there is no internal debate to be had about whether or not you should travel.  Equally, there is no longer that same feeling of regret or self-doubt come Saturday afternoon that you are possibly missing out on something when the decision has irrevocably been made not to go away.  Today however, is not such a day, there is no chance that I would have travelled to Blackpool because it’s a long way away and it’s a dump. I have been to Blackpool twice before, once in 1989 with a girlfriend, whilst somewhat bizarrely holidaying on the Wirral and staying in a hotel that looked like the Munster’s house.  That day the sun shone and we took the tram along the front, no football was involved.  Then, eighteen and half years later in January 2008 I was one of a car load of four Town fans who, along with several others witnessed a one all draw at Bloomfield Road.  That game has faded from memory, but the one thing I do recall is a massive, somewhat dilapidated public lavatory near the sea front; this is not a metaphor for Blackpool itself, although it could well be because I found it to be a seedy, ugly town, but the public toilet was actually quite impressive.  To be fair to Blackpool it does have a decent wrought-iron lattice tower (158 metres tall), but once you’ve been to Paris (the Eiffel Tower is 300metres tall), it is easily confused with numerous phone masts.

 In my experience the best thing about Blackpool is the football team’s tangerine shirt, something that first came to my notice in 1971 in the form of ten painted, moulded, plastic footballers on circular bases which I saw when I attended a Subbuteo club at school.  The thought of Blackpool’s tangerine shirts still thrills me a little today as over lunch I look forward to Ipswich Town’s encounter with the collection of living, breathing footballers who currently wear them for work. It’s a cold day of showers and occasional sunshine which I have so far spent indoors, save for a brief excursion to my garage to check its leaking roof and the positioning of five plastic buckets.   My wife Paulene and I eat our lunch of heated-up homemade curry, left over from last night’s dinner, and I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ (500 ml) of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (£13.95 for a case of eight bottles direct from Fuller’s brewery with free postage on orders over £50), which coincidentally, given its name, goes down very well with curry.  

It feels grey and a little chilly in the spare bedroom today and pining for human contact I choose to listen to the match on the wireless in the living room, where I will be in the company of Paulene.  With Paulene watching the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly I have to find an earphone because she is strangely uninterested in hearing the fortunes of the Super Blues.  It’s easier to use an earphone with a smaller more portable radio and I therefore eschew the Bush TR82 today in favour of the Sony ICF-S10 portable radio.  After an initial unfortunate brush with Radio Essex, I delicately adjust the dial just in time to catch the hand-over from the Radio Suffolk studio in St Matthews Street, Ipswich to Brenner Woolley at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool.  Today Brenner is in the company of former Ipswich Town starlet Neil Rimmer who, whilst not exactly a Town legend or candidate for our Hall of Fame scored three times in twenty-two appearances for Town between 1985 and 1988 before he went onto play ten times as many matches for Wigan Athletic.  According to Wikipedia Neil is currently manager of Ashton Town.  Neil has a warm, almost mellifluous voice, perfect for radio, even if his mild scouse accent occasionally makes me think of Keith Chegwin, but that could just be me desperately trying to find humour in every situation.

Brenner helpfully tells me that Town are all in blue today and I strike up a colourful mental picture of our blue, Blackpool’s tangerine and the green of the pitch against banks of empty orange seats under a no doubt grey sky.  Brenner begins his commentary, relaying that it is former Town employee Grant Ward who “gets the ball rolling” before he treats us to some decent footballese, describing Blackpool as getting to the edge of the Town area “early doors”.  “Impressive stuff from the Radio Suffolk man.” he might say if he was commentating on his own commentary.  According to Brenner it’s a sunny afternoon in Blackpool, so I adjust the colour and brightness in my mental picture; and it’s very blowy, either that or one of Brenner or Neil is about to tap the microphone and launch into a kind of Norman Collier impression – “testing – testing, 1-2-3”.  Brenner will later say that he expects we can hear the wind around the microphone; he’s not wrong.

Unlike Mantovani or most of the musical content on Radio Suffolk, the early minutes of the game are not easy listening.  “Town have yet to have the ball on the ground in the Blackpool half” says Brenner. ”We’ve got to be precise with our passing” adds Neil offering a solution to the problem and simultaneously endearing himself to Town fans with his use of the first person plural.   “I think it’s all about results” says Neil explaining to Brenner what will make Town fans happy or annoyed, although Mick McCarthy might have cause to disagree, but thankfully he’s not with Neil and Brenner this afternoon.

Twelve minutes pass. “Maxwell puts his right foot right through it” says Brenner using an expression he tends to use once in every match to describe a goal kick.  Brenner carries on with a bit of filler as the action subsides, “Nsiala back in his native north-west” he says, displaying a woeful knowledge of the geography of both England and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Toto was born in Kinshasa which is in the West, not the northwest of the DRC.   Although Kinshasa was in Zaire when Toto was born, it has never physically moved and it seems unlikely that it’s ever been in Lancashire. 

Barely have I recovered from the thought of LS Lowry’s paintings of the cotton mills of Kinshasa and its Hot Pot and Barm Cake restaurants, than “Chambers shoots – fabulous goal!” are the welcome words arriving in my earpiece through the ether.  Town are a goal up courtesy of a shot that “…just about took the net away”.  Paulene missed my celebration of the goal because she has nipped to the toilet, but I tell her about it when she gets back; she feigns interest perhaps because her own team Portsmouth are also winning.

The first half is half over and Brenner tells us that it’s so far so good. Ninety seconds later “Nsiala goes Route One for Ipswich” and Brenner revives memories of BBC tv’s fabulous Quiz Ball, a programme which was last aired in 1972.  I think to myself how I’d like to see Quiz Ball revived; Richard Osman could host it in place of David Vine, they practically wear the same glasses.   It sounds as if the goal has settled Town, although occasionally they continue to give the ball away in midfield; more than once Huws is the culprit but the defence recover well.  “Gabriel back to Marvin Ekpiteta” says Brenner using the best two surnames in the Blackpool team, adding that Ekpiteta has “…come up through the pyramid”, which makes him sound like he could have been an extra in The Mummy.   A move breaks down and “Again Town starting from square one” says Brenner omitting to tell us that he’s now using the system created for the very first BBC radio commentary for a match (Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday in Division One on 22nd January 1927) whereby the pitch was divided up into eight squares and the commentator Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam described the game whilst a co-commentator said which square the ball was in; a diagram showing the football pitch divided up into squares was printed in that week’s Radio Times.

At about 3.35 Gwion Edwards runs into the Blackpool penalty area “He shoots – he scores” says Brenner and Town lead 2-0.  “Again, I think it’s deserved” says Neil displaying a level of enthusiasm and positivity towards Town not often heard. “Yeah clinical from Ipswich Town” replies Brenner putting the emphasis on the word ‘Clinical’ in a way that makes him sound either sarcastic or surprised.

Three minutes later Hawkins “scoops” a chance over the cross bar but Brenner kindly adds that it was “…not quite put on a plate for him”.  Neil’s audible smiles are having an effect on  Brenner who reminds listeners that Neil Rimmer is with him today and goes on to refer to Neil as “…so far a lucky charm”, which sadly implies that the 2-0 score line is nothing to do with Town playing well, but all down to Neil, and that that luck may change.  Other forces are at work it seems and as a Blackpool attack is broken up with a headed clearance from Town’s goalkeeper, Brenner announces “Holy’s forehead takes charge”.  Equally weirdly Brenner praises the teamwork of Town saying that when Miles Kenlock has been under pressure at left-back “… a Huws, an Edwards or a Wilson has helped out.” raising questions about just how many players with these surnames we have at the club and why they are all playing at the same time.

Half-time is almost here but there is enough time for Teddy Bishop to win the ball and then “…he shoots – and oh, great goal!”.  “Get this for a scoreline” say Brenner; Town lead 3-0 and it’s time for a cup of tea, although not before Brenner asks Neil for his assessment of the half and Neil says “I was very impressed” before adding “Goals change games” because clichés and football are impossible to separate.

Unplugging myself from the radio I head for the kitchen but forego a half-time snack today because I had a slice of homemade carrot cake after lunch and still feel quite full.  Making a case for a return to the yellow and blue away kit of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I take my tea in a yellow and blue Ipswich Town mug, which also features the old club crest and refers to the Premier League, dating it to the 1992 to 1995 period.

The second-half coverage opens with Neil again endearing himself to Town fans by telling us that “Teams like this shouldn’t cause us any problems”.  Brenner and Neil reminisce about Neil’s playing days at Ipswich and we learn that the highlight of his time with Town was his two-goals against Manchester City.  Brenner feels the need to explain to ‘younger listeners’ that  back then Town would often beat Manchester City, but omits to tell them that everyone did.

Blackpool win a corner. “They need a goal soon if they are going to get anything out of this game” say Brenner, unnecessarily seeing the game from the opposition’s point of view.  The 57th minute arrives and Kayden Jackson replaces Oliver Hawkins.  An hour has been played.  “Surely a chance, and it is” and Blackpool score through Gary Madine. That’s “really disappointing” says Neil perfectly catching the zeitgeist back in Suffolk.  “Have Town been guilty of sitting back?” probes Brenner turning the knife. “Yeah” says Neil, really disappointed.

There are twenty-five minutes left. “Anything could happen” Brenner tells us almost as if expecting Blackpool to score again.  It seems as if a substitution is about to be made and we learn that on-loan Keanan Bennetts is possibly coming on, “Paul Lambert certainly has his arm around somebody on the far side” adds Brenner injecting a hint of scandal into proceedings. Bennetts replaces Teddy Bishop, but as good as it is for Bennetts to get a ‘run out’ for the first team , I am slightly disappointed that Paul Lambert is not combining his Saturday afternoon job with some sort of romantic tryst.

“Surely not a penalty there” says Brenner suddenly. “Well played referee” he continues having evidently realised that he needs to want Town to win.  In the same vein Brenner begins to speak more quickly and with an air of excited anticipation “Bennetts cuts inside, shoots” then “Wide” in a flattened, deeper tone.  Brenner and Neil are conveying the feeling that Town are responding to Blackpool having scored, Paul Lambert is clapping his hands on the far side, presumably as an act of encouragement for his team and not because he’s cold. Brenner has not said what Paul is wearing today so we are not to know if he might be cold or not.

There are ten minutes left.  Brenner brings good news. “Edwards in behind Gabriel, is he going to make it four? He does”.  The game is won for Ipswich, but perversely Brenner’s thoughts are with the opposition and he finds it necessary to share his supposition that Blackpool manager Neil Critchley will “…be happy with the attitude”.  I’m not sure anyone back in Suffolk cares.

It’s ten to five and I realise I never drank my half-time tea.  I down the still lukewarm beverage and by the time I’ve done that referee Chris Sarginson, whose name I don’t recall Brenner having mentioned, has blown his whistle for the last time this afternoon.   The players, we are told, begin to “pat hands” and in my mind’s eye I see Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in tangerine shirts doing their “patty cake” routine in the “Road to” movies. Road to Blackpool would be a worthy addition to the series. After almost two hours of Radio Suffolk I can’t bear to listen to whatever follows the commentary and for me the broadcast ends with Brenner telling us that Neil will be “hanging around to take your calls”; my mind’s eye flits from musical comedy to a vision of Neil, hands in pockets loitering outside a dimly lit seafront phone box.

Four-one wins away from home are not common occurrences for any team, in the 1980-81 season when we were the best team on the planet we scored four goals away from home twice, at Coventry City and at St Etienne, so today’s result is one to treasure. Results like this however do make me want to travel away again and they highlight the sadness of football that we can’t be a part of.   But I refuse to let it bother me and I am now already looking forward to next Saturday and the reunion of Brenner with Mick Mills after what seems like a geological age without a home game. Inspired by the mention of St Etienne and Blackpool Tower I shall be wearing my Allez les Bleus t-shirt.

Consumer City 1 Lockdown Town 0

Despite the absence of football since early March, Ipswich Town Football Club has not been absent from my e-mail in-box, far from it in fact.  Every week, it seems,   I receive some electronic advertising missive from Portman Road in addition to the usual boring, banal weekly newsletter.  Whilst the club has been slow to contact me about refunding the money I paid for that portion of the season that never has and never will happen, Bluey, Crazee and their chums are clearly chomping at the bit to try and sell me some football club related merchandise, or ‘merch’ as the hip people call it.

We live in a world of conspicuous consumption, and gift shops wherever they are, be it the Taj Mahal, le palais de Versailles or Ipswich Museum are a magnet to many.  I know at least one person who I am told enjoys the ‘exit through gift shop’ element of his visits to art galleries, museums and historic monuments as much if not more than the visit to the attraction itself.   I can honestly say my own life would not be as fulfilled and culturally enriched without my jigsaw of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People, bought at the Louvre in Paris or my postcard of George Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières purchased at the Tate Gallery in London.  In the same way, football club shops are one of the secret joys of going to football, I have never been able to resist seeking out the messy, sparsely stocked retail outlet round the back of the main stand  when on an away trip; if you’re lucky it’ll be a ‘portakabin’, if not so lucky a megastore.  In his utterly brilliant book ‘Saturday 3pm, 50 eternal delights of modern football’, Daniel Gray refers to club shops as “…old curiosity shops, eccentric and other worldly.” He goes on to say “Let us salute the club-crested pencil case”.   For such reasons a variety of F.C. fridge magnets decorate a metal board in my study, club pennants dangle over one’s head when sat in my upstairs toilet and my wife has a cupboard full of beanie bears and miniature mascots in replica kit.  It’s not that club shops tempt me with fabulous objects of desire so much as they amaze and amuse me by peddling what I can only describe as ridiculous crap.

Having not been able to browse through the assorted collection of polyester training wear, replica kit, pointless souvenirs and dubious fashion in person since ‘lockdown’, I eventually came to welcome the ceaseless trickle of Ipswich Town e-mails urging me to buy, buy, buy and the easy access it promised to the club shop website.   “On-line shopping;  you know you want to” the e-mail didn’t say enticingly in the voice of Nigella Lawson, but it might as well have.  Further cajoled and teased by the ‘something for nothing’ bait of free postage I let my right index finger open the e-mail with a single, fateful click of the mouse. 

For all Ipswich Town’s apparent inability to connect with its fan base, Marcus Evans knows his market and he knows by now that a  lot of people in Suffolk are nothing if not a bit stingy and so it’s sale goods that  are being pushed here, the real garbage that nobody at all wanted.  Here is where you can pay homage to the consumer-society on the cheap, filling up on the season before last’s home kit, the much sought after ‘relegation special’.  Only my intense dislike of tacky, itchy, nasty polyester stops me reaching for the credit card.  Perhaps I will be more tempted by the ‘ITFC Stamp Tee’, a shirt reduced from £16 to a tenner; or perhaps not, having seen the bizarre blob of white on the chest in the form of a postmark.  Why a postmark? What are we, a team of chuffin’ posties?

On the same page as the ‘Stamp Tee’ the Paul Lambert poster is reduced from a fiver to £ 2.50,  a fair summation of the fall in the level of his stock in the eyes of many Town fans after an eleventh place finish in the Third Division.  Most damning though is the 90% discount on postcards of James Norwood and Kaydon Jackson which are reduced from a modest, yet still vastly over-priced £1 to a somewhat insulting 10 pence.  It’s a scale of reduction so impressive that that it is used to headline the e-mail but without telling you that it only applies to two poxy postcards that no one wants anyway, hence their appearance in the sale.  If these two players’ agents had succeeded in negotiating image rights in their contracts, then this is Marcus Evans’s revenge.  It did however set me wondering who buys a postcard of Kaydon Jackson.  A visitor to Ipswich wanting to relay its glory to a friend or relative ‘back home’ would surely pick one of our splendid Victorian town hall or may be the remarkably pargetted Ancient House, or perhaps the Grade I Listed Unitarian Chapel, glassy, curvy Willis building or even the soaring Orwell Bridge.  The only sort of friend who could possibly send you a postcard of Kaydon Jackson or James Norwood would surely be an art student trying to impress by being so ‘post-modern’.    

Nothing much was grabbing my attention as something I would want to buy;  Cuddly T-Rex? No; Retro colouring book? No; Piggy bank? No.  I thought of who I knew who might have a birthday soon that I could palm off cheap sale goods on.  The cheapest of the cheap, the least wanted of the unwanted were presumably the items marked ‘clearance’.  But I couldn’t think of a friend for whom a giant Bluey the mascot badge (£3.99 down to £.200) or ITFC bunting (£3.99 down to £3.00) would define our friendship.  An ITFC birthday card was out of the question being un-reduced at £3.50.  One ITFC birthday card incidentally features a picture of a battered looking trophy cup engraved with the words ‘Happy Birthday’.  I can only think that as Ipswich are one of just three clubs out of the one hundred and fifteen in steps one to five of the English football league pyramid not to have won a trophy or been promoted in the past 20 years (the other two are Oldham Athletic and Everton), this ‘Happy Birthday’ trophy card was inspired by a desire to show younger Town supporters what a cup even looked like.

Eventually, the seemingly limitless cornucopia of blue and white Ipswich Town branded goods before me was too much and I gave in to the pressure of consumerism, as we all do.  Rationalising my decision by agreeing with myself to dispose of two grotty looking but much loved un-branded T-shirts that are probably 20 years old, I bought something described as a Button Neck Tee for £10, reduced from £16.   After receiving the shirt in the post a little over a week after ordering it I went back to the website to post a review of my purchase, which under the heading of ‘Cheap’ & Cheerful went something like this: I bought this garment in the sale, reduced from £16 to £10.  It arrived after just over a week.  I was a little disappointed with the quality and was glad I hadn’t paid full price.  The material is very thin and the finish around the collar quite poor, with an unsightly lumpy seam where the collar meets the neck.  Otherwise however, I like the design and the colour, it’s a good fit and the club badge is nicely embroidered.  It’ll do for hanging about in at home but I wouldn’t wear it out.   Naturally enough, and not unreasonably, the club reserves the right to moderate the reviews it receives, but despite my review not including any rude words or grammatical errors it has not appeared on the website.  I submitted a similar review again a week or two later and that has never appeared either.  I have now posted the review for a third time and am waiting to see if Ipswich Town publish it.  Very little of the merchandise on the Ipswich Town website seems to have been reviewed; apart from Ipswich Town supporters being an apathetic lot, which is true, it seems there could be another reason.

With ‘lockdown’ now being loosened, Ipswich Town are withdrawing the offer of free postage and the club shop will re-open its doors on Friday 3rd July.  I am going to miss those e-mails from Planet Blue tempting me to buy club branded doormats, duvets, rubber ducks and shoe laces, but I will keep trying to post my review of the cheap and cheerful ‘Button Neck Tee’ until the shirts are all sold and they disappear from the website altogether.  With no football still to go to I need something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Weather /Covid – 19 1 US Boulogne/ Lyon Duchere 0

In April 2019 in a moment of brilliant optimism my wife and I bought ten crossings on Le Shuttle; they had to be used within twelve months but it was worth ‘buying in bulk’ for the discount ,and why wouldn’t we want to commit ourselves to getting away to continental Europe at least five times in the next year?  We say “Bugger Brexit”.  In April 2019 we went to Dijon, in July ,in the midst of the heatwave, we drove to Paris to spend a week looking after some friends’ dog and in September we were due to spend three weeks looking after a cat in Strasbourg.  Disappointingly, we never made it to Strasbourg; in a personalised prototype of the current global shut-down, my life was put on hold as I spent five weeks in hospital and the best part of six months recuperating.  But now I am at last repaired, and there’s a rush to use up our six remaining crossings.  At the end of January we  spent a few days in Belgium, foolishly departing early on the Saturday morning to catch Ipswich Town v Oxford United instead of staying to join the 4,423 who enjoyed KV Oostende v Sint-Truiden, and then a couple of weeks ago we arranged a long weekend in Boulogne and Calais, planned to coincide with US Boulogne’s Friday night fixture in Ligue National (the French third division) against Lyon Duchere.

Life is sweet we thought and with US Boulogne in third place it promised to be a lot of fun; but on the morning of our departure the game at the Stade de la Liberation in Boulogne is called off, supposedly because of windy weather; but all twenty games in the Ligue 1 and 2 programmes are already postponed because of Coronavirus and within a few hours the whole of the Ligue National programme is cancelled too.  To add to our disappointment we had thought we were blessed by having succeeded in booking into a hotel with free parking opposite, which is a mere 300m walk from the stadium, and this had had us fantasising about being able to comfortably stagger back from the match hi on frites and Kronenburg, fine wine and third division football.

Friday is a beautiful sunny day with Boulogne-sur-Mer looking at its best, aided perhaps by no one much being about as schools and colleges begin to close and people stay at home due to Covid-19.  We enjoy the street art on the gable ends of the town houses and telecom equipment boxes, I drink Chimay trappist ale at a street café whilst my wife drinks pastis, we walk the town ramparts and visit the cathedral crypt, I buy a postcard and we sit in the sun.  Our day ends with a pleasant meal in a small restaurant in the centre of the fortified old town.  I forget about the football but for a brief glimpse of a single floodlight pylon at the end of the road as we step from the hotel and cross into the old town. I sleep well and dream sweet dreams.

On Saturday morning the puddle of standing water on the flat roof outside our hotel room window ripples with falling rain drops.  After breakfast we will depart for Calais, but first I must give my regards to the Stade de la Liberation and head out into fine drizzle that is coming directly off the English Channel and dropping on Boulogne-sur Mer.  Not wishing to provoke her asthma my wife remains in our room watching the drama of the Corona virus unfold on French TV when not looking for Les Lapins Cretins on the cartoon channel.  But I have to get a measure of what I missed last night and imagine what I might have witnessed under the beams of those four floodlights. 

The floodlights of the Stade de la Liberation peak over the roof tops around the ground, appearing between high gables and block of flats or hiding behind the spreading canopies of leafless grey trees.  A sign with an arrow says “Ribery” and points the way to a stand at the side of the pitch named after Boulogne’s famous son Franck, one of those players not greatly celebrated in England because like Zidane, Trezeguet and Thuram he was always just a bit too classy for the Premier League.

The man entrance to Stade de la Liberation is on Boulevard Eurvin where I peer through the railings across the pitch past the statue of a naked woman clutching a shell and standing on a fish.  How many clubs I wonder can boast such erotic statuary combined with references to seafood, not many I’ll wager.   Smiling to myself about what they’d make of such things in Grimsby and Fleetwood I turn into Rue de Dringhen and then Rue Leo Lagrange, which run behind ‘Ribery’ whilst tantalisingly offering no views of it at all.  Another right turn takes me in to Rue du Vieil-Atre and more sitings of the floodlights and the entrances to both the ‘Kop’ and the away supporters enclosure. Stickers adorn the signage outside indicating that at least one supporter from Creteil, a south eastern suburb or banlieu of Paris, has been here and that he, or she, was well supplied with Creteil related stickers. If the ultras from other clubs have stickers it would seem that Creteil are the only visiting supporters to have ventured this far north and they either went nowhere else or had stickers to spare.

An uncovered mass of seating above a scaffolding frame looms above me as I approach the turn into Rue Hector Berlioz , another residential street that backs onto the stadium.  I like that every  French town has streets named after the same great French composers and writers and wonder why England is so different and why we choose not to remember Britten or Williams or Holst but to honour local councillors and dignitaries who no one has ever heard of and even less gives a toss about.  Between the buildings there are glimpses of the cream painted render of the art deco style Tribune ‘Honneur’ where the posh people sit; but in truth the ground is now largely hidden but for the occasional lamp of a floodlight poking over  or between the rooftops.   A few more steps up the slope between parked cars and my tour of the Stade de la Liberation is over and I find myself back on the Boulevard Eurvin.

To be honest, in my ten minute walk I’ve not seen a lot of the Stade de la Liberation ,but what I have seen has been a series of snatched, tantalising half views of bits of stands and floodlights and signs and traces of those who’ve been here before, added to which my coat, my trousers and my shoes are all a little wet.  I will now be sure to remember for posterity my visit to US Boulogne during the great pandemic of 2020, and I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I got wet watching a game that never happened, having not even got into the stadium.   But it’s of such tales of pointless folly that football legend is made and such suffering and stupidity is what following football is all about.

Ipswich Town 0 Hull City 2


As I prepare to leave my house and head for Portman Road my wife Paulene is watching Aussie Rules footie on her lap-top, Geelong Cats are playing The Demons and whilst we don’t know it yet, the Cats will win by a massive eighty point margin.  “Oh, are you going already” she says and I kiss her goodbye.  Spring is here.  It is the last weekend in March and as walk to the railway station the sky is a clear blue, it is sunny and verging on warm.  A black cat looks down at me from a tree; I guess that it has climbed up there to avoid running across my path and bringing me good luck.   Spicy smells waft from the local Indian restaurant; a man on the station platform is wearing sunglasses and shorts, which seems optimistic or foolish, perhaps both.  The train is on time and busy with passengers, heads bowed in the thrall of their mobile phones.  At Colchester a man in a Chelsea beanie hat picks his nose enthusiastically, gouging away at his left nostril with his index finger.  A young woman opposite me wears leopard print sneakers.  “Hold on Scarlett” says a big-chested woman to her young daughter as they pick their way between the seats and the train pulls away; she staggers a little and almost topples over “Whoops”.  Sheep graze on the meadows near Manningtree and a haze hangs over the river, blotting out all sight of Felixstowe.

I’m first off the train at Ipswich and away over the bridge and up Princes Street.  I look over the bridge parapet and in the beer garden of the Station Hotel a group of Hull City supporters all clad in black look like Goths, I photograph them and they wave; I wave back.  In Portman Road I waste three pounds on a match day programme because somehow it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t.  I later regret my decision but am no doubt destined to repeat the mistake.  There is a sense of sluggish anticipation outside the stadium as people wait for the turnstiles to open; some queue to collect tickets, others stand and munch on fatty fast food lunches.  At St Jude’s Tavern the usual blokes in their sixties and seventies are drinking the usual beer. The Match Day Special is once again St Jude’s Goblin’s Piss (£2.50).  I provoke a certain amount of jealousy because my pint has a head on it whilst everyone else’s looks flat. In truth the beer is cloudy and yellow and I now realise how it got its name. What it has to do with Goblins I don’t know, but I guess they couldn’t just call it Piss, although oddly I did once hear the lead singer of Brighton’s finest  late 1970’s pub band The Piranhas (Boring Bob Grover)  ask for a ‘pint of piss’ at a Student’s Union bar. The conversation is of French cricket teams, what a strange and wonderful country Belgium is, Belgian beer and football.  I have a second pint of the Match Day Special and at about twenty to three depart for Portman Road.

The sun is still shining and walking down the hill towards the ground the huge, beaming face of Bobby Robson above the club shop seems to be peaking around the corner, as if he’s trying not to be seen.  I pick my way through the crowds past queues into the increasingly shabby looking Cobbold Stand with its peeling blue paint.

I enter the ground through turnstile number seven where there is no queue, smiling broadly as I cheerily thank its moustachioed operator. After a visit to the gents I take up my usual place near Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood.  Pat tells me about how she spent the week before last at the Burlington Palm Hotel in Great Yarmouth, playing whist in the afternoons and evenings but seeing the sites, including Burgh Castle and the seals of Horsey Beach in the mornings; she tells me she enjoyed it a lot more than coming here.

The game begins with Town aiming for but not hitting the goal just to the right of me, Pat, Phil and Elwood.  Town get first go with the ball. Today’s opponents Hull City, known as the Tigers wear their traditional kit of amber and black striped shirts with black shorts and amber and black socks.  In the opening minutes Town look keen and push forward; “Paul Lambert is a Blue, He hates Norwich” sing the North Stand touchingly raiding their collective childhood memory of nursery rhyme tunes and re-purposing “London Bridge is falling down.”  It’s ‘early doors’(!) but Ipswich are on top and the North Stand are getting carried away with it all, goading the 485 visiting Hullensians with a chorus of “You’re support is fucking shit” which seems a bit rich.  It disappoints me; good humour and humility are called for when supporting a team as bad as Ipswich Town is currently.

Inevitably Hull’s revenge is swift and three minutes later the Ipswich Town defence clear off to that place that they go at least once every match, where no one can see them, but they leave the ball with  Hull City who score; a nicely placed shot by Kamil Grosicki formerly of Rennes, who like a true artist makes full use of the space offered by an open goal.  “How shit must you be, we’re winning away” is the questioning and not unreasonable retort from the Humberside 485, although in fact they have already won as many as four away games this season. But the answer to their question has to be “very”.

Four minutes later and Jon Nolan who is the subject of the “One to One” feature in the programme and has his name on the cover, retires hurt. Nolan is replaced by ‘the boy’ Dozzell.   With Hull leading, Ipswich fade a little; they still have lots of the ball but don’t do much with it that might result in  a goal. “It’s all nice knocking it about, but….” shouts an exasperated voice from the stand not needing to finish his sentence to convey what he means.  The Ipswich defence evaporates again and Hull nearly score a second goal and at half-past three  Myles Kenlock has a shot which sweeps above the cross-bar and the brief spurt of excitement inspires an unexpected burst of support “Come On Ipswich! Come On Ipswich! Come On Ipswich!” sing what seems like several people all at once.

A large, bright, luminous presence appears to my right hand side; it is a hi-vis coat and inside is a steward who after listening to his ear piece proceeds to ask me if I am in possession of a camera.  Thinking naively that he just wants to talk about photography, I rather proudly tell him I am; well, it’s quite a good one and wasn’t that cheap.  He asks me not to take any more pictures.  I think it’s rather unfair to single me out when virtually everyone in the crowd is carrying a mobile phone and many of them are being used to take pictures and videos.  I tell the steward so and he says “Yes, it is a bit of a grey area”.  Football Association Ground regulations state that photos or videos captured on mobile phones must not be published or shown on social media sites.  Yeah, right.  It reminds me a little of the first and second rules of Fight Club.

1 Notwithstanding possession of any ticket the Club, any police officer or authorised steward may refuse entry to (or eject from) the Ground any person:

1.1 that fails (or in the Club’s reasonable opinion is likely to fail) to comply with these Ground Regulations or any reasonable instruction issued by a police officer or authorised steward; and/or

1.2 whose presence within the Ground is, or could (in the Club’s reasonable opinion), constitute a source of danger, nuisance or annoyance to any other person

16 Mobile telephones and other mobile devices are permitted within the Ground PROVIDED THAT (i) they are used for personal and private use only (which, for the avoidance of doubt and by way of example only, shall not include the capturing, logging, recording, transmitting, playing, issuing, showing, or any other communicationof any Material for any commercial purposes); and (ii) no Material that is captured, logged, recorded, transmitted, played, issued, shown or otherwise communicatedby a mobile telephone or other mobiledevice may be published or otherwise made available to any third parties including, without limitation, via social networking sites.

19 Save as set out in paragraph 16 above, no person (other than a person who holds an appropriate licence) may capture, log, record, transmit, play, issue, show or otherwise communicate(by digital or other means) any Material in relation to the Match, any players or other persons present in the Ground and/or the Ground, nor may they bring into the Ground or use within the Ground (or provide to, facilitate or otherwise assist another person to use within the Ground) any equipment or technology which is capable of capturing, logging, recording, transmitting, playing, issuing, showing or otherwise communicating (by digital or other means) any such Material. Copyright, database rights and any other intellectual property rights in any unauthorised recording or transmission is assigned (by way of present assignment of future rights) to the Club and the EFL. You further agree (if and whenever required to do so by the Club and/or the EFL) to promptly execute all instruments and do all things necessary to vest the right, title and interest in such rights to the Club and the EFL absolutely and with full title guarantee.

Peeved and wanting to begin a revolution I stand up, face the crowd behind me and  try and encourage everyone to get out their mobile phones and take pictures, predictably I fail, but it strikes me as funny how cow-eyed and mindless everyone looks.

Town have a couple of shots cleared off the line in the closing minutes of the half but so what. Half-time arrives and I vent some more Goblin’s Piss, look at the half-time scores and have a chat with Ray who today is here with his wife Ros as well as grandson Harrison.  This is Ros’s third game this season; she doesn’t seem to be enjoying it that much, nor am I anymore.

The second half is much like the first but probably less exciting.  Hull score almost immediately as Jarrod Bowen makes a speedy, jinking run from the middle of the Hull half, all the way down Town’s left flank and then passes to Kamil Grosnicki who hits a precise shot off the far post and into the net.  It’s a good goal but most teams would have got close enough to Bowen to knock him over before he got to the penalty area.

After that the Tigers seem largely happy to let Ipswich rain in a series of inaccurate crosses and mis-place their passes whilst they wait to run away down the wings again when they get the chance.  Referee Mr John Brooks shares his name with my grandfather, but disgraces it with a series of unwelcome decisions.  Had the late John Henry Brooks been in charge I am sure Ipswich would have won, not because he was an Ipswich supporter, he grew up in rural Oxfordshire, but because he would have had a bet on the game beforehand and would have backed the team with the longest odds.

Pat shows me some of the pictures she took of the seals on Horsey Beach; it’s a second half highlight.  With an hour played the large and angular German, Collin Quaner replaces nippy Kayden Jackson, who has played quite well considering the standard of the overall team performance.  Paul Lambert urges his team on, prowling the ‘technical area’ in his Marks and Spencer v-neck jumper whilst Hull’s manager is less animated and wears a jacket and tie and looks a trifle staid.  On seventy four minutes eighteen year old French-Tunisian Idris El Mizouni from Meudon just outside Paris makes his first appearance at Portman Road.  As I tell Pat, I met Idris’s dad in Meudon last September when I saw Meudon play St Ouen in an early round of the French Cup.  I very much hope Idris does well, we need more foreign players, they’re better than the British ones, they tend to be able to control the ball and pass to their own team mates.

There are moments where Town ‘come close’ but never close enough.  The old boy behind me isn’t happy “ We pay good money to see this” he says .  It’s Hull that come closest to another goal in time added on as a Marc Pugh shot curls against a post. With the game in its final minutes the crowd show a bit of life with some rhythmic clapping and a few supportive chants from the North Stand, which is unusual after a not very-good performance. Nevertheless, such support is a good thing even if the team could perhaps have done with it earlier in the game, rather than as a show of sympathy at the end.  The final whistle is greeted with a bit of a love-in at the North Stand end of the ground despite abject defeat and the fact that Paul Lambert’s record as manager is now worse than Paul Hurst’s.   Relegation is as good as certain but a lot of supporters remain simply satisfied that Mick McCarthy is no longer manager, or that’s what they’re saying.

On the train home I speak with three Hull supporters who are saddened that Ipswich should be going down and surprised that we have never played in the national third tier.   They add that they know from experience that third division football is bloody awful, we should do well.