Endocarditis 1 NHS 2

On 5th July 1948, courtesy of Clement Attlee’s Labour government the people of Britain became the recipients of a national health service which was free to all at the point of use, paid for through progressive taxation, a tax system which put into practice the ideal of citizens contributing according to their ability to do so and receiving, in this case, according to their clinical need.  No longer would sick people feel the need to shy away from seeking help from a doctor because they could not afford to do so.  My mother still remembers her mother living in fear of the cost of the doctor’s bill. The population had ‘pulled together’ during World War Two and now a new post-war age was dawning in which selfless actions for the greater good could now be put to peaceful purposes.

I benefitted from the existence of the NHS when I came into the world at the Priory Hospital in Haverfordwest in 1960 and as a child I received all the free inoculations, dental treatment and medical checks that the system provided.  Inevitably, as a child I took it for granted and given that tooth extractions and injections were included I did not see it as a good thing; the polio vaccine-laced sugar lump was scant consolation for the promise of pain the health service otherwise represented in my young mind.    As an adult I never gave much thought to the NHS either because I was rarely ill and therefore had little need to do so; I visited the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at Ipswich’s old Anglesea Road hospital when I shut my right forefinger in the door of a Fiat 126 on men’s Wimbledon final day 1980 and then in autumn 1994 I attended the re-located A & E department at Heath Road when I chipped an ankle bone playing football; my darting run into the penalty area coming to a sudden premature halt as my ankle gave way on the uneven surface of one of the pitches up at Gainsborough Sports Centre.  But otherwise the NHS meant little to me despite its apparently increasing profile in the national psyche, which more recently reached a crescendo in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, which almost seemed to define Britain in terms of its NHS; to be honest I thought it was going a bit far.

When Town drew at home with Sunderland on August 10th this year I was disappointed because it was a game we should have won, but I was not despondent, I wasn’t going to get ill over it. I went to work the following Monday as usual but on Tuesday morning awoke in the small hours feeling short of breath. I didn’t go to work on Tuesday because I felt lousy; a visit to my GP produced a course of Amoxycillin antibiotic to deal with a perceived chest infection. By Thursday I was no better and my wife Paulene called the doctor’s surgery, they asked me to come in but I was so short of breath by now I was barely able to walk; they said to call an ambulance.  I was admitted to Colchester hospital that afternoon; the following morning I was put into a coma. I had pneumonia, but on the following Tuesday lunchtime I travelled at speed under sirens and blue flashing lights to the specialist cardiac unit at Basildon hospital.

The following morning I had open-heart surgery to replace two valves that had been attacked by a bacterium; the pneumonia was a decoy, I actually had Endocarditis, a very rare but potentially fatal condition which infects and eats away at the endocardium (the inner lining of the heart chambers), and at the heart valves.

Town’s two-all draw at Peterborough came and went without my knowledge and then I missed the mid-week home game versus Wimbledon on 20th August, which was annoying, but my ventilator would no doubt have aggravated other supporters in the seats around me and it would have been difficult to give the team much vocal support with a bunch of tubes stuck down my throat. Being comatose however, is not necessarily a barrier to watching the Town at Portman Road,    as many season ticket holders in seats all around the ground regularly seem to prove; as animated as some Northstanders get, Portman Road cannot really be described as a cauldron of noise.  By the time Saturday came, and Town were heading ‘up north’ to Bolton Wanderers, I was out of the coma and was conscious, but sadly if predictably not fit to travel.  Judging by some of the hallucinations I was experiencing due to the pain-killing drugs I was receiving however, I doubt I would have understood what was going on even if I could have watched the game.  No one could have blamed me if the 5-0 final score in Town’s favour had seemed like just another weird imagining from my drug-addled brain. A 5-0 away win still seems a bit unlikely.

My recovery was to be a long one and one which now, almost three months later, is not yet over.  As my condition improved and I recovered from surgery I was moved out of the Critical Care Unit into a Cardiac ward.  I caught up on the results I had missed and as I continued to recover, Town continued to win, with the occasional draw just to give the other clubs a chance.  A variety of friends and neighbours swapped about my season ticket between them and sat with Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, so it didn’t go to waste and Town continued to do well.

Whilst everything was rosy at Portman Road my thoughts however had begun to linger on the fact that there were eight recent days in my life of which I had no memory. What struck me was that during these eight days I had apparently come close to death and my life had ultimately been saved by the NHS.  The open heart surgery I had been given was remarkable enough, but the NHS kept giving with continuing care of the highest quality.  I was struck by just how brilliant the staff were but also how they were of so many nationalities from all around the world.  As if the ideal of a free health service wasn’t enough the NHS operates as an international melting pot of doctors and nurses and auxiliary staff, a caring combination of all races, colours and creeds, a World health organisation in the service of a single national population.  That combination of being a health service free at the point of use and its being staffed by people from all around the world makes the NHS one of, if not the most magnificent achievement of human civilisation, an international fellowship of people acting solely for good and not for profit; it is awe-inspiring and achieves what much organised religion strives for.

If I had to come up with some laboured football related analogy I would say that the NHS is the World Cup of healthcare, free to tune in to whenever you want and in an Ipswich Town context it is a Portman Road where all the gates are open all the time and the team is made up of a selection of some of our best ever players (loanees included) all of different nationalities, except there must always be two particular Dutchmen;  for example: Bialkowski, Burley, Taricco, Thijssen, Hunter, Hreidarsson, Legwinski, Muhren, Crawford, Counago, Finidi.   Subs: Begovic, Diallo, Thetis, De Vos, Chopra, Dos Santos, Peralta.   Other team selections can be made according to how brilliant or amusing you want your team to be.

But the moral of this tale is not about football; it is more important than that, it is that matters of life and death seriously are about life and death. The NHS is always there to save anyone’s life at any time and it remains free at the point of use; so please think very carefully about who you vote for on 12th December if you want that to remain the case.

Ipswich Town 1 Sunderland 1

Only the 10th of August and it’s bloody started already.  Summer is still here although today it has the good grace to pretend its autumn; a howling gale licks around the corners of my house and my Women’s World Cup bunting, strung joyfully across my back garden, slumps over the patio and plants in colourful tatters.

I look out of an upstairs windows to glimpse a silver Vauxhall Astra slip past; it’s Roly, he’s going to park on my back drive.  Roly is not the name of the Vauxhall Astra, he’s the driver. We had planned to meet at the railway station but seconds after he bought his ticket his train was cancelled; the result of a fallen tree, possibly two.  We walk to the railway station, the usual journey ensues. Roly tells me how his partner Sarah would castigate him for catching the train and not driving all the way to Ipswich, but he’s not going to tell her. Roly wants to save the planet, like me, and he also hates having to find somewhere to park and then sitting in traffic after the game.

Ipswich appears to be in a state of emergency, a police van sits in the middle of the station plaza but in fact everything is okay, it’s just ‘Norfolk and Suffolk working together for you’.  Football chants in thick far northern accents are carried up on the wind from the beer garden of the Station Hotel.  We cross the road and hurry away; we pass a lairy looking youth who suddenly bawls something unintelligible.

After a successful relegation season it’s a new dawn for Ipswich Town in division three and entering Portman Road I think I might buy a programme for every match this season to mark the newness, the difference.  I am looking forward to seeing the slightly unfamiliar clubs deemed ‘unfashionable’ by dullard journalists.  I approach a programme booth; I don’t think I will buy a programme after all, they’ve put the price up to £3.50 a copy, that’s an increase of 16.6%, way above the rate of inflation, not that I know what that is.  Why couldn’t they just make the programme less glossy, a bit smaller, add a couple of adverts and take out some of the drivel no one reads?  I want to blame Brexit.

At St Jude’s Tavern Roly buys two pints of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is Mr B’s Plan Bee, he gives one to me.  We invade the space of a man sat at a table on his own, but I ask him first if the seats are free, they are.  Mick arrives and buys a pint of porter and a packet of crisps, which he opens upon the table for us all to share, I don’t ask him how much the porter or the crisps costs.  It only takes one person with a loud voice in St Jude’s Tavern to make it difficult to hear what my fellow drinkers are saying and such a person is here today so I end up nodding and smiling as  the conversation drifts in and out of my comprehension.  I buy two more pints of the Match Day Special, Mick doesn’t want a second, but I get him a bag of dry-roasted peanuts (90p).  It’s barely half past two but Roly wants to get down to the Portman Road so that he can eat. We hang on ten minutes or so but soon give in to his gluttonous cravings.

At the corner of Portman Walk I leave our trio andI head for the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand whilst Roly and Mick head west to the East of England Co-op Stand and the posh seats.  I tell them I will wave up at them and doff my cap from amongst the groundlings behind the goal.  I make my way to the far end of Portman Road, following the pointing finger of Sir Bobby Robson’s statue; the parked up away supporters coaches either side of him displaying the names of County Durham towns he would have been familiar with.   

Nearby, a ginger-haired bloke in a yellow hi-vis jacket sells Sunderland fanzines.  There are queues at the turnstiles, possibly because not all the turnstiles are open. I pause to select the fastest moving queue and am quickly in the ground.  I speak briefly with Dave the steward with whom I once worked and then use the toilet facilities before proceeding to my seat.  Nothing has changed, Pat from Clacton is here and so of course is ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood.  On the pitch before us the serious looking steward with the enormous headphones looks as worried as ever, as if fearing that a violent supporters’ rebellion might start at any moment.  To confuse the operators of the improved CCTV surveillance system I have moved my seat slightly, I no longer sit in front of the old dears behind me, but behind them, a couple of seats to the left of Pat from Clacton.  Otherwise it seems like the first day back at school, “Have you had a good summer?” asks Pat from Clacton,   “It’s not over yet” I tell her, not really answering the question but subconsciously implying that the start of the football season doesn’t mean an end to ‘summer fun’. Ever-present Phil and I shake one another’s hand “Happy New Year” says Phil, which seems apposite.

It’s busy here today, with plenty of seats occupied that may not be sat upon again all season.  The attendance will eventually be announced as 24,051. The Sunderland supporters are present in large numbers (1,847) and mostly seem a humble, self-effacing lot.  No unduly boastful or mean spirited songs can be heard from the Cobbold Stand, which is nice. Their continuing, numerically impressive support for a club which was successful in the 1890’s but otherwise is most notable for a level of mediocrity which puts Ipswich Town’s recent averageness in the shade is such that mass sainthood doesn’t seem unreasonable. In nineteen eighty-something Sunderland even lost a League Cup final to Norwich, for heaven’s sake.  That careless catastrophe aside, Sunderland have good reason to be forever loved a little by everyone outside West Yorkshire because of the 1973 FA Cup final, which not only saw hated Leeds United beaten by the then Second Division team, but gave us the joyful sight of a man in a trilby hat and pale raincoat running with arms and hands outstretched to embrace his victorious players.  Manager Bob Stokoe’s joyfulness is now captured forever at The Stadium of Lights in a statue to him and by association his team of Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Horswill, Watson, Pitt, Kerr, Hughes, Halom, Porterfield and Tueart.  They might have won the FA Cup before in 1937, but seeing the world through a filter of ‘Ipswichness’ and TV pictures then 1973 was Sunderland’s 1978.

It’s three o’clock, the game begins; Sunderland in their excellent traditional kit of red and white striped shirts, black shorts and red socks get first go with the ball. Town parade this season’s version of whatever Adidas is peddling, a similarly traditionally plain blue shirt, white shorts and blue socks number. The crowd is noisy but there’s little co-ordinated chanting or singing.  The football is fast and uncontrolled; the long ball is favoured. After not many minutes the child sitting behind me is bored; I can understand why, it’s not exactly recognisable as the ‘beautiful’ game, but to the trained eye Town are already looking better than Sunderland.  Kayden Jackson is very quickly booked for trying to con the referee Mr Neil Hair, a man who I wish was German, into awarding him a penalty.  I quite liked Kayden Jackson last season, I hope he isn’t going to be an arse this season.

 A fraction of the match passes that is equal to the percentage increase in the cost of the match programme since last season and a long throw is helped into the Sunderland penalty area; the ball is cut back, Luke Garbutt controls it and surges through a mass of players towards the touchline before striking a finely angled shot through the legs of Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin and just behind the far post. “Garbutt, 1-0”, as David Coleman might have said had he not been long dead.   How we cheer.  This is what we came for. Joy abounds.

I think this is better than I expected, although even last season we took the lead in a few games. The remaining half an hour of the first half sees Sunderland fail to do anything to threaten Town’s lead. It takes them forty minutes to even have a shot at goal. Kayden Jackson pines for attention and has an ice bag pressed against his head.  Garbutt develops a mystery ailment and is substituted by little Alan Judge. Everyone in a blue shirt is playing well, but no one scores another goal.  This new system of two players ‘up-front’, isn’t working  that well; James Norwood and Kayden Jackson sometimes get in each other’s way, they’re no Johnson and Whymark or Crawford and Phillips, not yet anyway.

Half-time arrives and I dash from my seat to stand before the stainless steel urinals beneath the stand before checking on the half-time scores, which are singularly unremarkable.  I return to the stand to speak with Ray and his grandson Harrison.  Our verdict on the game is that it’s okay and Ipswich are by far the better team, but the quality of the football could be better.  Harrison predicts a final score of 3-0.  Ray and I reserve judgement, our capacity for unbridled optimism beaten, squeezed and drained out of us by decades of bitter experience.

The second half disappoints. The blue skies over the Sir Bobby Robson Stand are as lovely as ever and I bask in the warmth of the August sun, but Town have lost their way; all they can do is pump in inaccurate cross after over-hit cross after inaccurate cross, Alan Judge buzzes about doing nothing very successfully. An hour has passed and a Sunderland throw is punted forward.  Luke Chambers has this covered; he is a yard or two ahead of Marc McNulty even though he cannot run as fast.  But Chambers doesn’t decide what to do and as he waits for an almost static ball to roll into touch McNulty dispossesses him and then simply has to pass the ball into the path of the incoming Lynden Gooch who side foots the ball into a gaping wide goal.   It’s like last season all over again.

There’s plenty of time for another goal but Ipswich have no inspiration, no means to prise an opening.  Fortunately Sunderland have even less idea and their forays forward are both rare and ineffective.  “Your support is fucking shit” sing some Sir Bobby Robson Standers to the Sunderland fans, demonstrating a complete absence of any concept of irony.   Mr Hair annoys the home crowd with a series of decisions that penalise imaginary infringements and favour Sunderland.  Pat from Clacton offers me a sweet from a plastic bag and shows me her new blue and white watch that she’s only going to wear on match days.  It’s a nice looking watch, but I’m feeling very self-centred and prefer the crumbly peppermint I took from Pat’s pick’n mix selection; it’s probably my highlight of the second half.   The attendance is announced and I verify that Pat from Clacton’s brother has won the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus; his guess was the highest of all, 24,001.

After three minutes of added on time the game ends.  I rise from my seat and quickly leave. It’s been an afternoon of three thirds, Sunderland, Wonderland, Blunderland……all infused with Peppermint.

Today my favourite name of an opposing team’s player was Denver Hume.  I also liked the names Dylan McGeouch and George Dobson.

This week I have been reading ”The man who hated football”, a novel by  Will Buckley (2005)

Ipswich Town 3 Leeds United 2


And so, in the words of what was reputedly Sir Bobby Robson’s favourite song, Ipswich Town face the final curtain of this singularly unsuccessful season in Football League Division Two.  There have been a few regrets, some too painful to mention or admit to, but we’ve seen the season through, we’ve  laughed and cried and not really succeeded in doing what we had to do; there have been a lot of doubts and we’ve had more than our fair share of losing.   I can’t imagine anyone would own up to it being their way of doing anything, unless they set out to get relegated.  It is with a sense of blithe resignation therefore that I set off for Portman Road beneath cloudy grey skies into the teeth of a cold northerly breeze.   It’s not even ten o’clock yet and I curse Sky Sports and their dictat on reality, which is that if something doesn’t happen on subscription television, it doesn’t really happen.  There are supporters of both Ipswich Town and Leeds United at the railway station and sadly, Chelsea.  The train is three minutes late although the electronic display claims it is on time; another example of the truth being what we are told it is.  The train is busy with Bank Holidaying passengers; middle-aged women dressed up to the nines cackle excitedly, one wears a semi-transparent wide brimmed-hat like a gossamer sombrero.  Legs apart blokes stand by the sliding doors and drink cheap lager from shiny blue cans.  An invisible cloud of acrid body spray creates a tickling sensation in my nose, it spreads and transforms itself into a stabbing pain in what feels like the root of a tooth, I reminisce about hay-fever.

In Ipswich a state of emergency has been declared and would-be passengers vie for space in the railway station booking hall with a platoon of police, all hand-cuffs and hi-vis. On the station ‘plaza’ more police; fashionable police in baseball hats with riot-helmets swinging casually from their utility belts.  Opposite in the garden of the Station Hotel the marauding Yorkshire hordes enjoy some drinks and a barbecue, the smell of charcoal smoke wafts across the river. I head for St Jude’s Tavern taking a detour along Constantine Road past the Corporation bus garage because Portman Road is closed. The Leeds United team bus sweeps by, it’s blacked out windows hiding its precious cargo from the gaze of the common people; a BMW waits where parking has been suspended; it’s always a BMW.  At the corner of Portman Road early diners wrestle with paper napkins of meat-based, bun encased lunches, jealously guarding their sauce and onions. I buy a programme, a souvenir of the end of a sixty-two-year-long era.

St Jude’s Tavern has been open five minutes, but already a bevy of fifty-something drinkers crowd around the bar.  “We’re all going on a League One tour” chants one before expressing his excitement at the prospect of an away match against Southend United.  I turn to the barmaid “It doesn’t get much better than a day out it Southend, does it” I say with a hint of sarcasm.  She looks confused, so I ask for a pint of the Match Day Special which is St Jude’s Elderflower Bitter (£2.50).  It doesn’t taste too good. “It’s the elderflowers” she tells me and swaps it for a pint of Nethergate Venture at no extra charge.  It makes me think of the ‘French’ John Cleese in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. I talk to one of the regulars about his replacement knee and elderflower cordial before Mick arrives; he buys me a pint of Elgood’s Plum Porter (£3.60), which is characteristically kind and generous of him.  Mick and I discuss his current affliction with bursitis (Housemaid’s Knee) and I wince at the size of the bump on his leg.

Time passes quickly and I am soon drawn down Portman Road by the beaming blue face of Sir Bobby Robson peering between the bright green foliage of the trees beyond Handford Road.  I enter the ground from Constantine Road past the array of planet-destroying, over-sized, show-off cars owned by the players and through the little used turnstile number 60. “It’s a quiet little number having this turnstile, isn’t it” I say to the young woman enclosed in her brick and mesh cubicle, she smiles nicely and doesn’t disagree.  I stroll to my seat via the WC facilities beneath the stand where I hear the recorded stadium safety announcement; “If you hear this sound  – wooooh, wooooh…” says the disembodied female voice with a faintly Irish accent.  I imagine a woman from Donegal called Sheila who is capable of creating the strange whooping sound with her natural voice, like some sort of gainfully employed banshee.

Emerging up the steps from beneath the stand my eyes are met by a long blue and white banner at the Sir Bobby Robson stand end of the ground.  “There is a light that never goes out” it reads.  I like the music of The Smiths and Morrissey as much as the next miserabilist, but wonder at the relevance of this random snatched lyric and also if Morrissey will be pursuing a royalty.  The lyrics of the Smiths are an odd choice if looking for uplifting words, and I would like to see the banner that announces “Heaven knows I’m miserable now”.  Recovering my joie de vivre I see in my mind’s eye a banner at Carrow Road which reads “Ha ya got a loight boy?” and wonder what other lyrics from popular song are suitable to ‘celebrate’ relegation. I decide that “Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, no one was saved” sums up my feelings nicely and I imagine makes Morrissey jealous that it isn’t one of his lyrics.

As ever, ever-present Phil who never misses a game and Pat from Clacton are here today, but far fewer of the seats about us are vacant and I marvel at the increased level of support the club has garnered from becoming the plucky underdogs.  Town kick-off towards us in their traditional blue and white shirts, befouled by the hideous logo of a firm of on-line shysters.  Leeds United are also the lackeys of an on-line betting company, but with a nicer logo and they wear yellow shirts and socks with blue shorts, looking like Newmarket Town, but with more expensive and exotic haircuts and tattoos.

Having had first kick, Town quickly lose the ball to their opponents and struggle to get it back.  “Marching on together, We’re gonna see you win” sing the Leeds support presumptuously from the top tier of the Cobbold stand.  Below them in front of the executive boxes a couple of rows of Leeds fans sit with flags spread out on the seats in front of them, they look like they’re all together in a giant bed.  If they were Norwich supporters they would be.

Eleven minutes pass and I’m a little bored already,   Ipswich are sadly not doing much but chasing Leeds players and the ball. For a few moments Leeds play the ball around across their penalty area like a French or Brazilian team, confident in their ability to pass and control the ball, Town captain Luke Chambers looks on, mouth agape.  The Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla appears to be somewhat bandy-legged; I ponder the likelihood of anyone from sunny Spain suffering with rickets.

A smattering of Leeds fans swing their scarves about their heads like slingshots, recalling the Gelderd Road end of Leeds’ ground in the 1970’s whilst the Town fans in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand sing “Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Shrewsbury” which is a worthwhile boast because the Shropshire town is a one of the Football League’s loveliest, up there with Oxford and our very own Ipswich.  It is the nineteenth minute of the game and Town win a corner, bucking the trend of Leeds dominance. Andre Dozzell’s kick fails to travel beyond the Leeds defender at the near post however.  A conversation ensues behind me the final words of which are “We need a new team, mate”.  On the touchline Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa adopts his customary squatting pose.  The Argentine is sometimes considered to be an eccentric character and his moving to Leeds having managed Lazio and Marseille rather proves the point; he was a legendary figure at Marseille, adored by the Ultras and I am proud to say I saw him sit on a cup of coffee at the Velodrome, which may be why he is choosing to squat today.

The game is not living up to expectations and to pass the time the Sir Bobby Robson Stand goad the Leeds support by singing “Top of the League and you fucked it up” which is a bit rich from supporters of a team that has been bottom of the league virtually all season.  Compared with our own team’s performance this season Leeds United are world beaters. “One Mick McCarthy” sing the Yorkshiremen in response, which is fair enough, but easy to say given that he’s only ever bored them until they cried with his attritional, joyless football as manager of the opposition.

I’ve been watching this game for almost half an hour and all of a sudden a couple of passes send our angular on-loan German Collin Quaner through on goal with just Casilla to beat; Casilla comes out of his penalty area and runs straight at Quaner who pushes the ball beyond him and hurdles the Spaniard’s lunging frame before crashing to the turf.  The lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand bay for blood but referee Mr Gavin Ward proffers only a yellow card in the direction of Casilla, possibly because he couldn’t conceive of the current Ipswich Town team of having a goal scoring opportunity, let alone being denied one.  But the resultant free-kick proves Mr Ward wrong as the ball sails high into the six yard box and no one is able to send it decisively in any direction, so it drops to the ground and Town’s Flynn Downes is nearest and able to hook it into the goal net.  Ironically, it’s the sort of goal that owes a lot to the methods of Mick McCarthy.

“We’re winning a game, we’re winning a game, how shit must you be, we’re winning a game” sing the Town fans, once more invoking the sound of ‘Sloop John B’.  Surfing on a wave of a single Beach Boys tune the Sir Bobby Robson Stand ill-advisedly seek to push home their perceived advantage. “Premier League, you’re having a laugh, Premier League, you’re having a laugh” they chant to the tune of Tom Hark.  If only they’d stopped to think about the probable response.  “Championship, you’re having a laugh” is the inevitable short-vowelled response.  A battle of wits, it’s not.

Happiness reigns until the final minute of the half when Myles Kenlock omits to prevent Luke Ayling, who incidentally sports the day’s daintiest coiffure, from crossing the ball and Pole Mateusz Klich is allowed a free shot at goal, from which he scores Leeds’ equalising goal.  It’s disappointing of course and a little ‘out of the blue’ but not really unexpected.  What I have come to enjoy most about this season is how little it now hurts when the opposition score; I have perhaps achieved some kind of state of grace.

The half-time break allows time to relieve myself of more surplus liquid, consume a Panda brand liquorice stick and gawp up at the half-time scores on the TV screen beneath the stand.  Once again the statistics shown on the TV screen are inaccurate, with neither team apparently having had a player booked.  If that stat is wrong, and it blatantly is, I cannot trust the others.  Thwarted again in my search for truth I climb back up the steps into the stand and talk with Ray, a reassuringly honest man.  I tell him that next Saturday I shall be watching Dijon FCO v RC Strasbourg at the Stade Gaston-Gerard; Ray tells me that he’s heard good things of Dijon, “they’re mustard” he says without any trace of embarrassment.  In fact Dijon face relegation, so even Ray lied, albeit in the name of ‘comedy’.

The second half begins at thirty-four minutes past one, and before twenty-five to two the Towen are winning; Collin Quaner passing to Andre Dozzell in the sort of space usually only seen between Ipswich defenders.  Dozzell scores with aplomb; it’s the first time Towen have scored as many as two goals at home since New Year’s Day.   Leeds are quick and inventive but lack accuracy, although they still get chances they contrive to waste them. “That’s a ruddy good save” says the old boy behind me appreciatively, but with an odd hint of grudging reluctance as Bartosz Bialkowski dives to his left to tip a shot away for a corner.  “One Bobby Robson, There’s only one Bobby Robson” sing the overly nostalgic and sentimental supporters in the stand that bears the dead man’s name.  The Leeds supporters are not similarly moved to mention Don Revie OBE, despite the marvellous picture of the man in the match programme in which he looks a bit like Grouty (Peter Vaughan) in the TV sit-com ‘Porridge’.  It’s easily the best thing in the programme.

All is going well and I dare to dream of seeing Town win.  But I should know better by now.  Ayling of the hair crosses the ball; the weirdly named Kemar Roofe hits the cross-bar with a close range shot and the ball seemingly just bounces off Stuart Dallas and into the net.  There is a suspicion amongst Town fans that Ayling’s pony tail was offside and that Dallas handled the ball into the net, and to make the point ever-present Phil is off his seat and waving his arms in anger and frustration, but referee Mr Ward pays no heed; if he only knew how many consecutive Town games Phil has seen he might be more sympathetic. Heartless, ignorant git.  

As the Towen kick-off the game once again a long line of riot police string themselves out along the front of the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and the disabled enclosure, sitting themselves down on the cold concrete floor.  To a man, woman and child, the occupants of the stand are bemused.  “Do you think they’ll get piles?” asks the old dear behind me, laughing.  Ever-present Phil may be disgruntled but he’s never been known to lead a pitch invasion, neither has Pat from Clacton nor Ray, nor the old boy behind me, despite his occasional vitriolic tone.  Ray’s grandson Harrison has got a pretty nifty new wheelchair so he’s not likely to throw it onto the pitch in a fit of pique, even if we helped him pick it up.  Perhaps Police Intelligence (ha-ha) has identified me; I do have previous after all, having fallen foul of the stewards on separate occasions for banging a tambourine, sitting in the seat behind my allotted one and taking photographs; I might be considered dangerous, I like to think so, but really, as my own Smith’s inspired banner might say “ I’m not the man you think I am”.

With my mind racing Town’s defence lose concentration too and after a corner to Leeds Kemar Roofe drops to the ground after contact, of a sort, with Town captain Luke Chambers, who appears to have tried to tickle him.   Mr Ward is decisive and doesn’t stop to think twice, or perhaps even once as he awards Leeds a penalty and sends Chambers off, which is a pity because it’s his name that features on the front of the match programme and he was also voted the supporters player of the year.  Mr Ward should really do some research before refereeing his next match; today he is just making social faux pas after social faux pas.    I doubt we’ll ask him back after this.

The ticklish Kemar Roofe dusts himself off before stepping up to take the penalty.  What happens next is probably the funniest most blissful thing I have seen at a game since Robert Ullathorne’s back pass at Portman Road in April 1996, as Roofe appears to cross himself and then deftly kicks his own leg away from under him and sends the ball high and wide, appropriately towards the roof of the stand; I can’t swear to ever seeing the ball land, perhaps it hasn’t.  If Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton had taken the penalty they couldn’t have bettered Roofe’s effort for pure slap-stick. I’d like to see it again in flickering black and white, slightly speeded up. If goals that go in are followed by Tom Hark or Chelsea Dagger over the public address system, moments like this deserve the Looney Tunes music and the scoreboard proclaiming “That’s All Folks!”

I feel satiated, enough has gone on this early afternoon to tide me over until next season.  It might be disappointing not to win having twice had the lead, but this is 2019 in Ipswich, it’s good enough.  But no, for the first time this season at Portman Road fate has something good in store and in the final minute of normal time Casilla and a Leeds defender both jump for a cross at once and succeed in knocking it on to Collin Quaner who has time and space to simply kick the ball into an open goal for another moment of high comedy and delirium.

The game ends and the season ends and at last Ipswich have a decent win in front of the Portman Road crowd.  But I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Leeds; I grew up hating them like everyone else but they are part of the landscape of my football following life and I like them to be there looming large.   I hope they get promoted if that’s what they want; although they should be careful what they wish for.

So Town have been relegated and will be a third division club next season, but it’s been rather fun getting here and Portman Road is a far nicer place to come now than it was last season. I just hope it’s as good or better come Christmas.  Relegation isn’t so different to promotion really; we will still just end up playing a load of different teams to the ones we played this year.  As a fan of the Smiths might print on a large banner  “What difference does it make?” Norwich may have been promoted and we have been relegated, but let’s see who wins more games next season.

Ipswich Town 0 Swansea City 1


Despite being fortunate enough to grow up and go to school in Suffolk, I was born in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where I lived until I was a few months old and my parents moved to my mother’s home village of Shotley  and took me and my sister with them, like the good parents that they were.  The nearest Football League club to Haverfordwest is Swansea City, (still Swansea Town when I was born) and there is an argument that says I might follow their fortunes, but I don’t.  The dual nationality comes in handy when Wales do well in the rugby and I like leeks,  cheese on toast, Ivor the Engine, Sgorio  and daffodils; but that’s as Welsh as I am see.  I wouldn’t normally mention it but today Town play Swansea City, and I’ve written this first paragraph in a Welsh accent. 

At the railway station it’s another gloriously warm, cloudless day and sunlight glints off the tracks.  The only travellers are all bound for Ipswich and the match; the train is on time.  The carriage is sparsely populated and I share it with a hard looking woman and two young children, a girl and a boy.  As the train arrives into Colchester she scolds them in a harsh voice that sounds like a man’s. “Drake, McKenna get away from the door”.  I can’t help but derive amusement from the names of children nowadays, it’s my age.  The children seem almost to roll their eyes as she speaks.  Pleasingly they leave the train at Colchester and twenty five minutes later I arrive peacefully in Ipswich.

Ipswich is best under a blue sky and everything is beautiful as I walk up Princes Street and past the peeling paint of Portman Road with its ragged club flag to St Jude’s Tavern, which is dingy and the customers are reassuringly as old and ugly as ever. I order a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50)  Nethergate Venture.  At the bar I meet Kev’ who I know from my days with Wivenhoe Town.  Kev’ is wearing a dark flat cap which in the gloom of St Jude’s looks like a beret.  I am wearing my “Allez les bleus” T-shirt today and tell him I thought the French had come to take me “home” to where I imagine I belong  –  that’s France, not Wales.   I sit with the regular old gits who assemble here on match days.  I talk to one of them (Phil) about statues of footballers and tell him that even Carlisle United has one, although I can’t remember who it is a statue of. Phil suggests it’s not a footballer but one of the Hairy Bikers because he knows one of them is from Cumbria.  I tell him the Hairy Biker he’s thinking of is from Barrow In Furness, where the nuclear submarines come from.  I drain my glass and fetch a pint of Butcomb Gold (£3.60), which seems livelier than the Venture even though I can’t help thinking Butcomb might be a West Country word for anus.

With the big hand heading up the clock face towards the figure eight, the pub empties and carried on a gentle human tide I soon find myself back in Portman Road.  A selection of people are hawking copies of the Turnstile Blue fanzine where Portman Road meets Sir Alf Ramsey Way and I buy one (£1);  it’s issue 20 and it’s much like the previous nineteen in its tone, but it’s nice when things are familiar.  Unusually there are queues to get into the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand; not because of weight of numbers but because not all the turnstiles are open.  Nevertheless, despite my desire to be French I like a good queue to get in the ground; it carries a faint hint of the ‘big match’ atmosphere, which is the best 17,247 people can really hope for in a 30,000 seat stadium.  I enter turnstile number seven and wish the bespectacled female operator a happy Easter as she returns my freshly scanned season ticket card to me.  She looks up, surprised as if she’d forgotten about the resurrection.

Bladder drained, I occupy a seat near ever-present Phil who never misses a game and just along from Pat from Clacton.  Pat is fed up because a large man in a red hat is sat directly in front of her today and she’s only short; whichever way she looks a big red head is in her field of vision.  We sit and wait for the teams to appear from the tunnel.   

Town have been officially relegated for over a week now and today’s match is amongst the most pointless they have ever played, childishly I live in the hope that  they will therefore treat it as a bit of fun, a bit like testimonial games  are supposed to be.  Would anyone be bothered if the two teams each agreed to play a 2-3-5 formation?   I am not optimistic for this however as professional football tends to take itself much too seriously, like many of the fans, as the drivel that appears on social media testifies.   The teams are announced and my hopes of football for fun are dashed. 

The flags of tiny mascots and larger furry mascots sway to an amplified soundtrack of swirling music giving an undeserved aura of grandeur to the two teams as they walk out for this meaningless encounter, but I stand and applaud nevertheless, swept up with the lie that this match is bigger than really it is. As the game begins the noise level simmers down and a degree of reality returns. Town are hopefully aiming at the goal just to the left of me, ever-present Phil and Pat from Clacton; they inevitably wear blue and white shirts adorned with the unwelcome red adidas stripes and that nasty sponsors’ logo. In crisp white shorts and black shorts Swansea look like Germany, they are the Teutonic Taffies.

“One Dylan Thomas, There’s only one Dylan Thomas” sing the male voice choir from Swansea from the top corner of the Cobbold Stand, or perhaps they don’t. A serious looking steward collects blue and white balloons that have drifted from the stand, thereby  suppressing someone’s expression of joy; no doubt the balloons had strayed dangerously close to the pitch. I like to think that as part of the club’s Community programme the balloons will later be released at the birthday parties of deprived children. Next to me Pat from Clacton continues to glower at the big red hat on the big head of the big man sitting in front of her. On the touchline Paul Lambert is celebrating Easter with a new jumper, a grey one, an infinite number of shades lighter than his usual black one, and people still accuse Scots of being dour.

On the pitch referee Mr Darren England, which seems a good name for a football referee, makes himself unpopular with the home support by seemingly giving fouls against Ipswich players and not Swansea ones.  “You’re not fit to referee Subbuteo, you tiny little bugger” bawls an incensed voice from somewhere behind me, failing to notice that being tiny is actually one of the main requirements of being a Subbuteo referee along with being made from brittle plastic and glued into a circular base.   The game is rather boring and Swansea are hogging the ball; like every other club that has been to Portman Road this season, they have the better players, the better team.  Forty minutes pass and Town’s Flynn Downes gets into the Swansea penalty area and wins a corner. Will Keane misses a header and scuffs the ball against a post, the ball bounces about like it’s made of rubber bands before Trevoh Chalobah sends it flying past the other post into the stand.  Sixty seconds later, give or take, another corner is won and Toto N’siala heads Alan Judge’s kick solidly over the cross bar. The supporters behind the goal are getting almost as much possession of the ball as Andre Dozzell.  Pat and I are breathless at the sudden burst of attacking football from Town and are glad for the rest that half-time soon brings.

I use the facilities beneath the stand, eat a Panda brand liquorice stick and catch up on the half-time scores.  A young man in a shirt and tie and smart trousers compliments me on my ‘Allez les Bleus’ T-shirt, “Cool T-shirt” he says brightly. He’s not wrong.  The match stats on the TV screen above the concourse are blatantly wrong however, claiming Ipswich have had eight shots to Swansea’s six; it’s as if the stats are being reported by Donald Trump or the Brexit campaign.  I return to the stand to talk to Ray who confesses to being underwhelmed by the first half.

At six minutes past four the game resumes.  I laugh when Gwion Edwards stretches to head the ball by the touchline then tumbles out of sight over the perimeter wall; “well for me” to quote Mick Channon, it’s the best move of the match so far.  Happily, Gwion quickly bounces back up and plays on, but that’s the sort of entertainment end of season games need.  Minutes later Dean Gerken makes a  quite spectacular low,  diving, ‘finger-tip save’ from a Daniel James shot before the very tiny, thirty-four year old Wayne Routledge, whose shorts almost reach his calves, runs the ball over the goal line and is met with jeers and guffaws from the appreciative crowd in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.   But Wayne has a friend in fate today and within a few minutes a shot rebounds off Town’s right hand post and straight onto the turf in front of Wayne who is quick enough not to miss an open goal and Swansea are winning.

The attendance is announced as 17,247 with 557 of those being from Swansea; Collin Quaner and Kayden Jackson replace Andre Dozzell and Will Keane.  Wayne Routledge is replaced by Nathan Dyer.  “I can’t believe we’re losing again” says Pat from Clacton.  I make a sympathetic humming noise in reply, I couldn’t think of any proper words to say.   Behind Pat sit two large middle aged women. “We don’t really get the sun here, do we” says one obviously engrossed in the game, before adding “Coronation Street’s on tonight”.

Town struggle to equalise and Pat and I are a little despondent, “I don’t really enjoy coming here anymore” she says “It’s not like it used to be”.  We are Ipswich’s spoilt generation who remember the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  But Pat is already planning to renew her season ticket and might get one for her young niece too.   Of course I am going to renew mine as well as will ever-present Phi who never misses game; I’m looking forward to the big discount when the other 13, 996 sign up.  Pat takes a photograph using the 20x zoom lens on her compact Sony camera and picks out her brother stood in the North Stand, it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen all afternoon. 

Time drifts by under a hazy blue sky and at last the stadium clock turns nine minutes to five.  It’s been a disappointing hour and a half of football and to add insult to injury we are forced to sit through six minutes of time added on; as if relegation wasn’t bad enough we are now all in detention.  Hopes are raised with a last minute corner and Dean Gerken leaves his goal to join in the penalty area melee at the far end; I stand up and lurch forward as if to join him too, but realise just  in time that that sort of commitment is generally frowned upon nowadays.  Little Alan Judge’s corner kick is poorly judged and sails away over everyone’s heads anyway.  Finally Mr Darren England makes a belated and vain bid for popularity by blowing the final whistle.

Normally the team does a lap of honour or appreciation around the pitch after the last game of the season, but because the last game of this season will be against Leeds United that lap is occurring today.  Having been relegated the Town players don’t want thousands of oafish Yorkshireman flicking v’s at the them and screaming at  them from the Cobbold Stand to “Fuck Off” as they wander round clutching assorted  babies and toddlers and waving nicely.   The players re-emerge from the tunnel without delay and I slavishly applaud as they drift by beyond a wall of stewards; within a couple of minutes I go home for my tea.

Ipswich Town 1 Birmingham City 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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