Ipswich Town 1 West Bromwich Albion 2

It has been a grey November day, but this afternoon there have been glimpses of blue sky, small windows of hope amongst the otherwise perpetual gloom, proof perhaps that life is not all bad. Further proof, if further proof is needed lies in the existence of flexi-time. It is the end of the ‘flexi-month’ and I have worked so many hours these past four weeks that if I don’t leave at four o’clock today, I shall be working for free and that would be contrary to my strictly held religious beliefs. “Thou shalt not be a mug” is my credo.

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Tonight I’m a latter day Arthur Seaton and I’m out for a good  time so from work I head, with my accomplice Roly, for the Briarbank Brewery. The bar above the Briarbank Brewery is by far the best decorated bar I know, the walls festooned with black and white photos of closed Ipswich pubs, the sort Arthur Seaton would have drunk in had ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ been set in Ipswich, not Nottingham. I have a pint of Samuel Harvey VC (£3.50) a beer named after one of two men from Ipswich who were awarded the Victoria Cross medal. As well as a beer, Samuel (who was born in Nottingham) has a bus in the Ipswich Buses fleet that bears his name. My conversation with Roly covers a wide range of subjects including Noel Edmonds, Ciiff Richard and Sue Barker, Shake n’Vac and Billy Joel.
From the Briarbank Brewery, Roly and I make the short walk up Fore Street to TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Spread Eagle, a Grade 2 listed building that dates back to the 17th century, where I drink Grain Brewery Best Bitter (£3.50 a pint). The leather aprons of the bar staff remind me of Fred Gee, the pot-man at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, but I don’t suppose he’s still in it, particularly since Fred Feast, the actor who played him died in 1999. Roly and I continue not to talk about football, not from any previous agreement, but just because there doesn’t seem anything to say. From the Spread Eagle it is a bit more of a walk along Orwell Place and Tacket Street, up Brook Street and Buttermarket, over Giles Circus and Cornhill, along Westgate Street to St Jude’s Tavern in St Matthew’s Street. They may not all be looking at their best, but Ipswich’s medieval or even Saxon pattern of streets remains and is brim-full of fine buildings; if only the locals appreciated it.
St Jude’s Tavern is busy with Friday night drinkers and football supporters when we arrive a bit before six o’clock. After a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which tonight is St Jude’s Thaddeus (Thaddeus is another name for Jude in case you didn’t know), we have a beef and onion pie each, mine is accompanied by a pint of something the name of which I can’t recall (pie and a pint £5.00). I garnish my pie with red sauce, Roly prefers brown. After we’ve eaten, a drunk staggers into the pub and sits at a table of regulars; he tries to cadge a drink but the bar man is quickly wise to his presence and succeeds in throwing him out before apologising to his patrons; but we all re-assure him that we enjoyed the show, it beats open-mike night.
Beer glasses drained, Roly is keen to get to Portman Road because he is meeting his friend Andrew and because not satiated by a beef and onion pie, he has it in mind to eat a burger. Rolling down Portman Road the glow of the floodlights draws us like moths to a flame or in Roly’s case a glutton to a fast-food joint. The streets are unusually busy and due to the football club having made tickets being made available for the realistic price of ten pounds each a crowd of 22,995 will watch the game tonight. Roly meets Andrew, and I visit the club shop because at short notice I have been informed that ever -present Phil’s son Elwood is eight years old today! How I love the club shop and its fabulous array of blue and white toot. Today my eye is drawn to a gnome and the club’s ‘retro’ range which I imagine outsells everything else given that our best days are all in the past. Although at least we have won major trophies, something many of our rivals and other clubs from towns and cities bigger than Ipswich cannot claim with real conviction (League Cups pffft!).

 

 

It’s twenty-five past seven and a coach disgorges tardy West Bromwich supporters into Portman Road. An Ipswich fan points at a West Bromwichians yellow and green away shirt. “ You can’t wear that here mate”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The visitor looks somewhat bemused and blurts some exasperated expletives in the direction of one of his fellow supporters; his thick Midland’s accent rendering them incomprehensible and unpleasantly nasal. I pass the grinning statue of Bobby Robson; his best playing days were arguably with the ‘Baggies’ of West Bromwich, but thankfully he never picked up the accent.
At the Alf Ramsey Stand (Churchmans) all the turnstiles are open but the queues are of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunequal lengths.; with a self-satisfied air of streetwise, intellectual superiority I join one of shorter ones and am inside the ground whilst others still queue. On nights like this it’s fun to laugh and sneer at those people who aren’t regular supporters and are only here because the tickets are cheap. I head for the betting shop bit beneath the stand where the handy shelf gives me somewhere to write the greeting on Elwood’s birthday card. I stop to talk to a steward I know called Dave, but at the very moment I arrive at his side so does another acquaintance of his who begins a personal monologue. I wait for the other man to pause so that I might speak to Dave, but the other man breathes through his ears and doesn’t draw breath for a second; so I screw my eyes up at Dave and nod sympathetically; I imagine my face might look a bit like the one Gary Lineker pulled in the 1990 World Cup semi-final after Paul Gascoigne was booked and became tearful. But tonight I’m not indicating that Gazza is upset, I’m signalling to Dave that I’m going to bugger off, and that’s what I do.
Up in the stand Bluey is playing the part of ‘greeter’ and gives me the thumbs up, which is nice, even though I do know he’s not a real Suffolk Punch. Ever-present Phil who never OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmisses a game and son Elwood are already here and I settle down a couple of seats along before giving Elwood his birthday card and a few ITFC ‘goodies’. Phil tells me that earlier in the club shop Elwood had handed in an ITFC badge that he found on the floor to the staff serving behind the counter. One of the things I have given Elwood is such a badge; it seems like Elwood has been rewarded for his honesty and whilst we all know that’s not true, in an ideal world it would be.
Between each seat is a folded up piece of printed card which makes a clapping noise when hit against another surface; I saw that people were cynical about this on social media but I think it should be lauded; something needs to be done to shake Ipswich and Suffolk people out of their puritan misery and to “make some noise for the Tractor Boys”, as I believe the saying goes.

 


The teams appear; the match ball is plucked from its plinth and once multiple hands are shaken the game begins with Ipswich literally getting the ball rolling in the direction of me, Elwood, Phil and Pat from Clacton who has arrived a bit late due to the traffic. Town wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves and shorts; West Bromwich cause offence to many by wearing yellow and green striped shirts with green shorts and socks. The Baggies win an early corner and Jay Rodriguez (that’s his ‘Equity’ name surely) heads the ball over the cross bar. There is noise in the ground tonight and it’s not all from the 1,000OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA odd West Bromwich Albion supporters cooped up in the corner of the Cobbold Stand. In the corner, in the bottom of the North Stand blue and white flags are being waved and drums drummed and voices voiced; for a little while anyway. But West Bromwich Albion are better at football than Town and as they start to dominate, some of the enthusiasm ebbs away, which is the opposite of what should happen of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcourse because it obvious that a struggling team needs most support. But then logic is not always a strong point in ‘Leave’ voting Ipswich. The West Bromwich fans soon sense our weakness and after first chanting something stupid about being a “…shit Norwich City”, which is a bit rich from people supporting a team wearing yellow and green, they go for the jugular with the reliable old “ Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit”. Cut to the quick I try some chants of my own but the cowering reticence of the Suffolk public means I’m beaten before I begin, even with my cardboard clapper, which is a little too lightweight and disintegrates as I bash it relentlessly on the back of the seat in front of me. Only ten minutes have gone and Town’s Matthew Pennington is booked by referee Mr Keith Stroud who is possibly theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA smallest referee I have ever seen; he doesn’t even rival Paul Hurst in stature.
On the touchline Paul Lambert prowls like a black panther in his trademark black Marks & Spencer jumper and black slacks, kicking every ball and seemingly feeling the self-same emotions as the fans in the stands, but with added Celtic menace. It’s a chilly evening and he should really get himself a coat, even if that jumper is pure new lambs’ wool. Perhaps Marcus Evans should put his hand in his pocket for a coat for our Paul.
Sadly, Town are second best to West Bromwich, who despite having been ‘a bit rubbish’ in the context of the evil Premier League last season are evidently still too good for us tonight. But we are trying and what we’re watching is recognisable as football, which wasn’t always true last season. Perhaps we can hold on and then sneak a goal I think to myself. A paper plane engineered from a re-purposed cardboard clapper lands next to the West Bromwich goal keeper Sam Johnstone. The fact that it disappoints the home crowd by not hitting Johnstone is a portent for the evening. Within minutes Town’s defence watch the ball cross from one side of the pitch to the other and back into the middle where Jay Rodriguez scores from very close to the goal. Oh well. How I was hoping that wouldn’t happen, and now it has. The West Bromwichians are happy though, their high spirits expressed by making good use of Chicory Tip’s 1972 chart topping single “Son of my father” with a chorus of “Woah wanky-wanky, wanky-wanky, wank-wanky Wanderers”, in honour of their own version of Norwich City, the neatly alliterative Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The clock moves on and behind me a man explains to his child that there are another five minutes until half-time and then another forty-five minutes after that before they can go home. A minute of the half left and Ipswich win a corner from which West Brom’ come closer to scoring than the home team as they breakaway courtesy of a failed tackle from Jordan Spence. One minute’s added time passes and then it’s half-time. I wander down to the front row of seats to have a chat with Ray and generously he offers me one of his wife Roz’s sausage rolls, I accept the offer. Behind us dancing girls with Lycra bottoms, bare mid-riffs and sparkly tops gyrate; a human manifestation of the popular retro-range.

 

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The second Act begins amidst shouts of “Come On Ipswich”, but the man behind me feels compelled to admit that West Brom’ are stronger than us “…in every department”; I think of Debenhams and John Inman. But Town are playing better than in the first half; they have more possession of the ball and in more locations across the pitch and Matthew Pennington even has a decent looking shot on goal. But then West Brom’ also have a decent shot, which causes a sharp intake of breath as it hits a post; a lad called Harvey Barnes is the perpetrator, it’s a name that sounds like it was copied from a 1914-18 War Memorial.
Town must be doing alright though, people aren’t moaning but still most of them aren’t really supporting either, at least not vocally. The club should have said “We’ll let you in for a tenner, but you have to make a noise or we’ll chuck you out”. The ‘Blue Action’ group in the North Stand do their best, but there aren’t really enough of them, Ultra Culture hasn’t yet made its mark in Ipswich. I remain hopeful however that the Rodin exhibition in the gallery behind Christchurch Mansion, which opens this weekend, will stir people’s inner passions. Rodin is to sculpture what Arnold Muhren was to midfield artistry.
We’re only losing 1-0, a draw is still a possibility, a win even. But the seventy sixth minutes arrives and that Harvey Barnes is in the penalty area, he shuffles about a bit and shoots; he scores. The shot somehow avoids at least four legs and Bartosz Bialkowski’s left hand. It couldn’t hurt more if he’d missed and the ball had hit me in the ‘groin area’.
Substitutions ensue and the West Brom’ supporters sing “Lambert, Lambert, what’s the score?” seemingly labouring under the mis-apprehension that he is still manager of Aston Villa. They compound their mistake with a rendition of “Shit on the Villa, shit on the Villa tonight” to the tune of ‘Roll out the barrel’. Ipswich supporters may not sing much, but at least when they do the songs are relevant.
Both teams have shots on goal which are blocked as the game heads towards its finale, Ipswich are looking as likely to score as concede, which on balance with only ten minutes left is a good thing. With six minutes of normal time left to play substitute Kayden Jackson scores for Town and there is belief that may be, just may- be, Town could get a draw. Clearly West Brom’ think so too and they resort to foul or generally unsporting play with Matthew Phillips, Kieran Gibbs and Sam Johnstone all getting their own personal viewings of Mr Stroud’s yellow card. Town have no luck however and when Jack Lankester’s shot hits a post and deflects away rather than hitting a heel or a divot and deflecting in to the goal, we get confirmation that Portman Road will remain joyless for another week.
The skies today were grey and despite glimpses of blue, they remain so. But at least there have been glimpses. I retain the faith and like Arthur Seaton I won’t let the bastards grind me down.

 

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Ipswich Town 1 Norwich City 1

I received a text at a quarter past six this morning from my friend Mick who was at work but, in what was presumably an idle moment, had decided to let me know that he was watching assorted vehicles setting off from Suffolk Police headquarters heading, he assumed, for the match at Portman Road today. He asked me to give Town a shout on his behalf and predicted a draw. I tried to sleep on for another hour or so after reading the text but with only partial success. Thanks Mick.
Today should be one of the highlights of the football season, one of the most exciting games, the game with the biggest crowd and the best atmosphere; the one most like a professional football match should be. But the portents are not good; there are no trains from Colchester direction, only replacement buses. Far worse than that it’s Sunday and kick-off is at twelve o’clock, noon. The relevant authorities and ‘stakeholders’ have made a ‘risk assessment’ and decreed that there is a risk of football supporters enjoying the event too much if it takes place on a Saturday afternoon at 3 pm when football matches should be played and so Sunday lunchtime has been chosen as the time when the game should take place. That last time Ipswich played Norwich on a Saturday afternoon was probably in the last century; I tried to look it up on the interweb, but gave up and may be the records have been deleted to deter dissenters and give the impression things have always been like this; but I remember the 1970’s so they won’t silence me!
Moving on, I drive to Ipswich because life is too short to consider rail replacement bus services an option and I park up on Chantry, that spaciously laid out estate of public housing from the time when it wasn’t seditious to place need above profit. It’s a pleasant walk down through Gippeswyk Park beneath a blue sky as I strive to find pleasure in otherwise desperate circumstances. In Ranelagh Road I pass two drunken Norwich City supporters.


I cross the Sir Bobby Robson bridge for which the planners of Ipswich Borough Council must be congratulated, for it was they who got it built by the developers of the old Reavell’s factory site, which incidentally provided some of the locations for the 1960 film the Angry Silence starring Richard Attenborough. From the bridge I can see four cormorants which are basking on the concrete weir. I imagine them as the lucky four cormorants of Ipswich, harbingers of doom to those from north of the River Waveney. In Constantine Road I find evidence of horses having littered the road and wonder why dog owners have to clear up their animal’s excrement but horse owners don’t. I have never seen a police dog defecate in the street but wonder if their handlers nevertheless carry little plastic bags, just in case.


Perturbed I turn into the Fanzone just for something to fill the time until it is time for the game to begin. There is a band playing out of the side of a shipping container in the Fanzone, they are playing some decent tunes including an ITFC version of the Ramones’ Blitzkreig Bop. People may be listening but they are not moving to the music, which is a shame. I feel an urge to show them what to do, but heck I’m fifty-eight and wouldn’t want to listen to the game on the radio in the back of an ambulance.

In the Fanzone I meet ‘Mac’ a woman who will not thank me for saying she is really called Maxine. She played for Ipswich Town Women’s Football Club back in the 1990’s, in the days before Ipswich Town took much of an interest in women’s football. Mac, who incidentally is a triplet, lives in Needham Market; she loves football and Ipswich Town, she is a lifelong fan and she tells me how the club told her she had to give a week’s notice if she wanted to watch the team train and then when she wrote and asked they said no. I often don’t like Ipswich Town Football Club much.
It’s beautifully warm, even hot lounging on the plastic turf of the Fanzone, but I resist any temptation to buy a drink because all that is on offer is Greene King East Coast IPA, which whilst fashionably hoppy will be fizzy, chilled and will make me belch like a dyspeptic Sperm whale. At length I leave the Fanzone thinking “Hey ho, let’s go” to myself and so that I can avoid seeing any more Norwich supporters until inside the stadium I head for the turnstiles at the west end of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, where appropriately I find OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAturnstiles 59 and 60 as well as turnstiles 61 and 62, recalling the seasons in which Sir Alf managed Town to consecutive Division Two and League Championship titles. I enter through turnstile 62. By the Constantine Road gates I meet Ray and his wife Ros who are waiting for their son and grandson, who are held up in traffic.
Inside, the ground looks close to full with the only vacant seats largely being to the back of the stands, mostly those from which the view is partly obscured by steel stanchions. As usual, this ‘derby’ match is not a sell-out; I expect all those Ipswich puritans have had to go to church. It is nevertheless strange to find the seats all around mine to be occupied and I wonder what these people usually do on Saturdays when Town are at home; I’m sure they’re not all watching local non-league games; perhaps they are Jewish.
At last the teams trail on to the pitch to much rousing applause, cheering and infantile posturing and I once again realise why I simultaneously love and loathe this fixture. Town kick off towards me, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Pat from Clacton and the many unfamiliar faces all around us. Norwich City, the Canaries are wearing their usual unsightly yellow shirts and green shorts, but this season their shoulders are flecked with what from a distance looks, most appropriately like guano. Very quickly Town win a free-kick just outside the Norwich penalty area; it’s an opportunity for a direct shot at goal if anyone has the requisite skills; they don’t and new loan signing Jordan Graham, whose name makes me think of breakfast cereal (Jordan’s Country Crisp and Nestlés Golden Grahams) blazes the ball high over the Norwich cross-bar, dashing the hopes of 20,000 Town fans in a split second. “Oh Christ” says the old boy next to me with sad resignation.
Five minutes pass and the away fans break into a chorus of “On The Ball City”, the sort of archaic football song that could only survive in a remote corner of the country whereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA incest is rife. On the touchline, young, “hungry” Ipswich manager Paul Hurst looks the part in his small size tracksuit. Beyond ‘Hursty’, Norwich manager Daniel Farke looks like a groundhopper, dressed as he is in a sort of grey anorak. It may be a heresy to say so, but I can’t help liking Daniel Farke, I think it’s because he’s German, but I’d also like to know where he bought that anorak.
On the pitch Town’s early effort on goal is a fading memory as Norwich start to look the stronger team, both physically and in terms of skill. It’s a bit before twelve-thirty and Town captain Luke Chambers is booked by referee Robert Jones. With three debutants in the side, Town at times look as if they don’t know whether they’re at a football match or a coming-out ball. Norwich hit a post with a shot and Ipswich do the same, but better. Town’s Jordan Graham is booked for cheating by falling over in the penalty area unassisted, although I like to think a small part of the booking was also for his hopeless free-kick at the start of the match. It’s a scrappy and overly physical match punctuated by several injuries to players of both teams and six minutes of injury time are to be added at the end of the half,

or they will be once Town’s Cole Skuse is scraped off the pitch and loaded onto the electric truck and carted away. As ever-present Phil points out, it’s not often the first half hasn’t ended by the time the second half is due to start. Today’s attendance is announced as 25,690 and the Norwich congregation, appropriately on a Sunday spontaneously break into a rendition of the hymn Cwm Rhondda, but cast doubt on their faith by singing “You’re support is fucking shit” rather than the more traditional “Be though still my strength and shield”, but each to his own.
Half-time arrives eventually at close on one o’clock and it’s time for lunch. Only a few hours ago I ate a vast breakfast of bacon, toast, tomatoes, poached eggs and croissants with honey to stave off hunger, but all around me tin foil and Tupperware are opened up to reveal all manner of packed meals; OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit’s like the teddy bear’s picnic, but without the teddy bears. Ros has cooked sausage rolls, and kind and generous man that he is Ray delivers one to me on his way to the toilet. People are lovely, I don’t deserve this, but I eat OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit all the same. I had been looking forward to a Pawelek Advocaat and fondant ‘filled’ plain chocolate bar (reduced to 30p in the Sainsbury’s World Foods aisle) as a half-time treat, but it has melted somewhat in my pocket, soOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA disappointed I leave it unwrapped and uneaten. To raise my spirits I look at the match programme (£3) and seek amusement in the names of the Norwich City squad; at number four they have Mr Godfrey (“Do you think I may be excused?”) and number six Zimmerman reminds me that the Clapton FC have a player called Dylan, but I wouldn’t say it made me laugh.
Fortunately, the footballers return, although Daniel Farke’s anorak doesn’t, and play resumes but not before the old dear next but one from me says to the old boy next to me “Mmmm, smell the grass”. She is so right, you sometimes just have to simply smell the grass. Returning from my moment of quiet contemplation it’s evident Trevoh Chalobah has replaced Cole Skuse and he soon smacks a half volley over the Norwich cross bar as Ipswich start to dominate in a frantic fifteen minute spell of excitement and increasing volume of support from the Town fans. Nine minutes into the half and Kayden Jackson has what I reckon is Town’s first goal attempt on target as he accurately re-directs a Jon Walters’ cross. Three minutes later Jon Walters heads back to Gwion Edwards and his shot deflects off a guano-dappled shirt and into the far corner of the Norwich goal and a roar erupts from the Portman Road crowd the like of which I have not heard in a very long time. Apparently it is the first occasion on which Town have opened the scoring in a match versus Norwich at Portman Road since 1998, when incidentally, Town won by five, yes five goals to nil, which again incidentally Town also did in 1977 and also in 1946.
I begin to dare to believe Ipswich might win this game, but our dominance doesn’t last and Norwich grow stronger again as Town are unable to maintain the righteous onslaught. Norwich have a spell of pressure similar to the one Ipswich had and a nasty habit of letting the ball run to Norwich players at the edge of the penalty area culminates in Moritz Leitner striking a firm low shot just inside Dean Gerken’s left hand post; it is a shot I have a disturbingly perfect in-line view of, all the way from the German’s boot to the net. Bugger.
The Town support falls silent having previously made the sort of noise normally only heard in places like Portsmouth or Marseille. The Norwich support are right to ask if this is a library. The belief in a win has evaporated in a flash. When Jordan Graham is substituted the old boy next to me asks “Who’s coming on?” When he‘s told it’s Grant Ward he glumly remarks “Well, he’s not bad” as if to leave unspoken the fact that he’s not going to win the game though. The last minutes are eked out, Norwich come close, Gerken makes a couple of good saves, Town break up field and a corner and free-kick raise hopes and voices, but all too briefly before Mr Roberts calls time.
It’s not been much of a game really, but it has been bloody exciting nonetheless. If the crowd is passionate enough, even relatively poor quality football matches can be enjoyable, because as we were told by Mary Poppins “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”; although it was the 1960’s when she sang that and some sugar was known to be laced with LSD and some with the polio vaccine.

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Ipswich Town 1 Barnsley 0

April is well under way and the relief brought by the end of the football season is in sight. Ipswich Town and Barnsley both have just five matches left to play and tonight is the last evening match of the season, the last opportunity for a while to enjoy the thrill and spectacle of a game beneath electric illumination, to see the turf glow green in the drenching beam of the floodlights. Barnsley are struggling to stay in the light away from the gloomy pit that is relegation. Ipswich stand in the blinding, harsh, desert light of mid-table, of nothingness and futility, which is rather how I like it.
It’s been a grey, misty day; the sort to evoke memories of November, of autumn when Town were seventh in the league table just four points off the play-offs and anything seemed possible. But now it’s nearly five o’clock and anticipating the joy of kick-off the sun is out, Spring is back and I leave work in the manner of Fred Flintstone leaping from my desk to slide down the back of an imaginary brontosaurus whilst shouting “Yabba Dabba Doos, Come On You Blues!”. My excitement and anticipation of another Big Match is not reflected however in the scene I find as I pass along Constantine Road; there is no one much about, all is calm. Threatening notices about Ipswich Town’s use of CCTV in this area glare down at me amidst a host of signs about collecting tickets, for scouts and

the suspension of parking. One of those naughty Millwall fans has placed a sticker on the borough crest of the Portman Road street name plate, in the manner that a ‘masseur’ might advertise in a phone box. From the ‘corporation’ bus garage opposite the ground the open top double decker looks out forlornly, wondering if the football club will ever require its services again.

I walk on past a burger van painted grey as if it might once have belonged to the RAF.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Behind the North Stand the 1978 FA Cup Winners ‘mosaic’ looks like someone’s nicked a couple of tiles for their kitchen or bathroom. Some stewards eat chips around a table. I buy a programme (£3.00) in the club shop.

In St Jude’s Tavern my accomplice for the next half an hour or so, Roly, leans back in a tilting chair in the corner of the room behind a pint of unidentified copper coloured beer. Meanly, he doesn’t offer to buy his friend a drink and I reciprocate, but buy a pint of St Jude’s Woody Brew (£3.40) for myself. We talk of football, of football managers and promoting ‘from within the boot room’. We decide Portman Road has a small boot room in which there was only room for Bobby Ferguson and there’s probably nothing in there now except boots and Bobby’s old tracksuit top, memorably and unfortunately adorned with the letters BF. The discussion wanders on until Roly leaves me to ‘dine’ with the father of the mother of his daughter at Sainsbury’s. But Roly doesn’t dine, he scoffs.
I change seats and buy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50)’Edge American Pale’. I talk more football to some of the men in their sixties who are here before every game and I buy a pint of Milestone Crusader (£3.40). The clock on the wall chimes, it’s twelve minutes slow. As one, the patrons of the pub rise and depart for Portman Road, after a visit to the ‘facilities’. The ‘crowd’ outside the stadium is sparse, only slightly more so than the one within it (13, 271). The strains of Clo-Clo’s ‘My Way’ drift off into the floodlit air as I speak with Dave the steward in the undercroft of the Alf Ramsey Stand and I miss the kick-off.
Eventually settling down on a seat a few along from ever-present Phil who never misses a game, my enjoyment of the match begins. Barnsley, whose colours are red and white OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kick-off wearing a needlessly changed kit of white shirts with green sleeves and shorts; Ipswich as ever are in blue and white. “This is the last evening one” I hear the old boy behind me say to is wife or mistress or sister as he reflects nostalgically, as I had done on the last game under floodlights this season. An offside flag is raised “He put that flag up late – I don’t know why they can’t do it beforehand” she says, unknowingly making me imagine the introduction of clairvoyant linesmen. The football is quite poor. Ipswich have two wingers on the pitch but seem incapable of getting the ball to them, preferring to play inaccurate balls ‘over the top’ to no one in particular. In midfield for Town a young player is making his debut; his name is Barry Cotter, which makes me think of the surviving Bee Gee and Rab C Nesbitt. I live in a world of little more than word association sometimes.
The conversation behind me turns to Mick McCarthy and season ticket renewal. “I want to know who the new manager is before I get my ticket, they might bring McCarthy back” she says. I think how I’d like to see a beaky nosed man with obviously dyed, jet black and receding hair introduced to the press by Ian Milne as Town’s new manager Michalis McCatharios, who has been prised away from under the noses of Greek Superleague clubs.
The man in front of me literally stuffs his face with smokey bacon odour crisps, the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

buddleia on the roof of the stand still looks down on us as it did on Easter Monday and the Barnsley fans sing “Come On You Reds!”. Town are making the occasional fitful attack, which breaks down meekly, but my veins are coursing with passion and the feeling of belonging and I embark on some rousing choruses of “Lo-lo, Lo-lo-lo, Lo-lo, Allez les bleus” in the style of a French Ultra. Phil joins in and so do a couple of the joyful young lads in the disabled enclosure in front of me. I get carried away. I stand up, I turn to the crowd behind me and wave my arms about to articulate my song like a manic, Gallic, Ralph Reader. Nothing. I carry on for a bit, but fearing that I could be ejected or sectioned for being too noisy I sit down and sulk instead.
On the pitch I like to think Ipswich respond by almost assembling a passing move resembling flowing football. The crowd murmurs. “Stop it” I shout to the team “You’ll get them excited”.
Half-time and the Barnsley supporters (276 of them) join the esteemed ranks of the few visitors to Portman Road who have not sung anything about libraries or our support being “fucking shit”. I could probably take credit for that, but will instead praise the good folk of Barnsley for being a decent bunch of people more interested in supporting their team than in castigating anyone else for their apparent or perceived shortcomings. I release some more of what I imbibed at St Jude’s Tavern and chat with ever-present Phil and Pat from Clacton. Phil says it’s the thirtieth anniversary of his having not missed a match, but also recommends I sing “Come On You Blues” instead of “Allez Les Bleus” because people don’t know what I’m saying. I am disappointed, not in Phil, but that what he says is no doubt true; he should know, he’s a teacher and so is partly responsible for the nation’s general ignorance I contemplate asking a steward if they could run and get me a step ladder and a megaphone.
The second half is better than the first for us Ipswich supporters as Town begin to play less disjointedly. Egged on by my new found acolytes I chant a bit more and mid-song, at about ten past nine Town’s on-loan Gambian, Mustapha Carayol crosses the ball and Danish Jonas Knudsen sends a stylish glancing header over his right shoulder and past Barnsley’s Welsh guardian Adam Davies and into the goal net. Hurrah! How we cheer. I love a glancing header, it’s a prince among headers; that subtle twist of the neck, that obtuse angle, that flashing beauty.
The rest of the game fails to live up to that brief moment of joy, but it’s not so bad. Town do okay and Barnsley don’t really look as if they can equalise, despite fielding the 6’ 5” Kieffer Moore who, whilst he looks like he might have previously played for Sydney Swans in fact joined Barnsley from Town in January. On tonight’s showing however, it was not a mistake to sell him and he should never have left the AFL. The home crowd allow themselves some enjoyment and from my seat in Churchman’s I can’t hear any of the pointless vitriol that has marred recent matches. It’s not a popular thing to say and I am as irreligious as the next man, but there are a good number of people who would seriously benefit from being introduced to some of the salient points of the Gospels.
Happily the game is not extended unduly and it’s possibly a little before 9:35 when referee Mr James Linington stuffs his little whistle in his mouth and blows for the final time this evening. There are smiley, happy people in Portman Road once again and Phil suggests a chant of “You’re football’s alright, You’re football’s okay, Mick McCarthy, You’re footballs okay”. I catch the early train home with ease.
It is not until I arrive home that I learn that Mick McCarthy has left the club; I’m glad he won his last game for us, for him. I liked his press conferences even if his football very often wasn’t very good, but then a lot of Championship football isn’t very good and he did a decent job for much of what was for a football manager a very long time. Also, he’s just a man.

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Ipswich Town 0 Queen’s Park Rangers 0

It is Boxing Day and I would quite like to stay in and eat and drink the leftovers from the day before, may be read a book, watch a film, do some colouring-in in my book of “…tous les 20 logos des équipes de Ligue 1 pour la saison 2016-17.” The colouring book was a Christmas present.
Up until 1959 there were Football League matches played on Christmas Day; imagine that. Often, a season’s biggest attendance is drawn for a Boxing Day game and whilst this used to be due to local derbies, there is still an added attraction for games played over the Christmas holiday period, perhaps just because there’s not a lot else to do.
Mindful of the tradition of the Boxing Day football fixture today I am setting out to watch Ipswich at home to Queen’s Park Rangers, which as a London club is as close as we now get to a local derby on a public holiday. Sadly, in these cautious, pale and insipid, wimpish modern times the days of the Christmas and Easter derby games against Norwich are long gone. Incredibly, there is no public transport today; it is wrong that that a football match that will definitely draw a crowd in excess of 10,000 is allowed to go ahead at all when there are no buses and no trains. So much for trying to reduce road congestion and air pollution by discouraging the use of private cars.
Previously, I have not bothered with Boxing Day games because of the absence of public transport, but no one wanted my ticket today and rather than waste it I thought I’d help contribute to global warming instead and drive to the game. Parking up ‘over Chantry’,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA it’s a pleasant stroll down through sunny Gippeswyk Park beneath a pale blue winter sky towards Portman Road. From the top of the Park there is a fine view across the town centre, which takes in the Portman Road floodlights and the back drop of town centre office blocks which define down-town Ipswich from a distance. It’s a bit after two o’clock and the streets are quiet; I walk past the railway station not quite believing that it could be shut, but it definitely is.
On Princes Street, banners have been put up on the lamp standards to advertise the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApantomime at the Regent theatre; aside from the railway station being shut, it’s the only sign that it might be Christmas. Across the car park from Portman Road the former Sporting Farmer public house sits shut and awaiting demolition; it’s been a part of the match day landscape of Ipswich since 1962, but there is no seasonal, pre-match boozing this year, just Heras fencing and darkened windows.


Portman Road is a little busier than usual for a quarter past two, and I snake my way through the crowds as I head for the Fanzone. Usually, I might have a couple of pre-match pints at St Jude’s Tavern, but having to drive to the match today has meant that

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not only will I be helping destroy the planet, I will also be helping with the decline of the local economy. A group of three or four stewards stand at the entrance to the Fanzone, checking tickets and bags. A casual wave of my season ticket card and I’m in. I feel like I’ve been admitted to Studio 54.
In the Fanzone there is a large white marquee that looks like something from a summer wedding reception. It’s warm inside the marquee and people mill about holding plastic cups of lager and Greene King beer. At one end are three TV screens, which face three or four neat lines of chairs, it’s like a waiting room, it just needs a few magazines and an occasional table. Outside there is a children’s penalty shoot-out, which is popular, in contrast to the merchandise stall from which a lonely salesperson peers blankly.
There’s nothing for me here so I leave and make my way to the Sir Alf Ramsey stand; inside I decide to break with tradition and invest in an overpriced cup of hot chocolate. A pretty, smiling young woman serves me and asks for £2.10. I hand her a twenty-pound OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnote and apologise, but add that the club doesn’t make her job any easier by sticking odd ten pences onto their prices. She agrees that the prices are awkward for what is supposed to be a fast service. Any way to squeeze an extra few pence out of the supporters though. Clutching my Cadbury’s branded cup of pale brown liquid I find my seat. The club mascot Bluey is prowling the aisle that leads to my seat, offering himself up for selfies and hugs. Bluey doesn’t speak and a woman tries to communicate with him through grunts and sign language; odd.
Once Bluey has gone I take the plastic lid off my hot chocolate and stir it thoroughly toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ensure that all of the chocolatey gunk which contains the flavour has dissolved. I taste the pale brown liquid; it’s watery and the water has a slight tang which fights with and then beats off the chocolate flavour. Hot chocolate should be thick, this isn’t; I won’t be buying it again.
The game begins and the QPR fans are the quickest this season to ask if they are in a library, it’s almost as if they had already decided that would be their first song before they even got here. Ipswich start the game reasonably well and David McGoldrick soon has a decent shot on goal. Teddy Bishop, who I don’t feel I have ever really seen play, has made a rare start and is looking good, although QPR seem intent of kicking him into the air at every opportunity; perhaps because he has the temerity to run at defenders.
Teddy returns to the toy box before half-time due to injury and the game goes downhill from here. Callum Connolly has had a good looking shot from distance for Ipswich and Bartosz Bialkowski tips a QPR player’s header onto the cross-bar, but otherwise the game is awful. The physicality of the game leads to injuries, which are a good way of wasting time and nullifying the scant football content still further. The referee Mr Andy Davies, a couple of physios and a clutch of QPR players with bald heads create a tableau ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA suffering in the QPR penalty area. The only cheers from the crowd are derisive ones as a pass goes wildly astray or someone falls over, which happens quite a lot; derisive cheers are what the Portman Road crowd does best.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I descend beneath the stand to check the other half-time scores and join the spectators standing about and gawping at the tv screens which mostly advertise some mysterious place called Brocket Hall and days at the races. White lights dangle from the high roof and there is a Christmas tree at the foot of the stairs to

the Legends Bar and a string of something green winds its way around a soil pipe, but otherwise it doesn’t seem like Boxing Day, the Christmas spirit is elusive.
I decide to endure the second half with Phil the ever present fan but today he has his son Elwood with him and the seats beyond Elwood are taken up by people for whom this is presumably some sort of Christmas ‘treat’. I sit a couple of rows back next to Pat the secretary of the Clacton branch of the supporters club. Pat admits to not really liking Boxing Day fixtures either, she’d rather be at home and says she hopes every year for away fixture.
The second half witnesses the home crowd finally get festive with an albeit isolated chorus of “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away, and we will fight for ever more, because of Boxing Day” . Christmas is the season of peace and goodwill to all men after all, but that may be why, regrettably, Ipswich Town have not played Norwich City on Boxing Day for over thirty years.
The match gets worse; both teams are inept, but this is largely due to their desire to simply run around as fast as they can and knock each other off the ball. A lot of modern professional football is like this in an age where the levels of fitness and strength of footballers exceed the level of their skill. Sports science is a curse. Both Ipswich and Queen’s Park Rangers are managed by pragmatists whose teams are built on their ability to ‘put in a shift’. I get tired just watching it; or is it bored?
Seven minutes from time Ipswich Town bring on arguably their most skilful player, Bersant Celina. The crowd cheer cheerily for once. Messiah-like, Bersant brings light to the game and brightens up the final minutes. He introduces some hope, some optimism, but that’s all, even when QPR’s Josh Scowen is sent off, booked by Mr Davies for a second time. Despite Scowen making the longest walk even longer there are only three minutes of added on time and they quickly ebb away as does the crowd of 18,696 when Mr Davies blows the final whistle.

Ipswich Town 2 Reading 0

It’s another cold, clear, cold, bright and cold December day. Today is Ipswich Town’s last home game before Christmas. As I walk to the railway station I fear breathing too deeply because that can cause a heart attack in a man of my age. But I enjoy the pale blue sky, decked with fuzzy white lines like a somewhat anaemic Mark Rothko canvas. It’s odd how the noxious, condensed exhaust fumes from jet airliners can be beautiful.
At the railway station a small dark haired and excitable man is shouting into his mobile phone; he’ll be ‘there’ about 1.30 apparently because the train is running late; with his phone call over, he proceeds to laugh girlishly and talk loudly to a man with a fashionable haircut and beard and a checked grey coat. A third man arrives wearing a Rupert Bear scarf and I can’t shake them off as they board the same carriage as me when the train arrives eight minutes late. On the train another man asks me if this train stops at Manningtree “Er yes, yes it does” I tell him, growing in confidence through the course of my short sentence. The excitable man is talking loudly to Rupert Bear; he squints because the sun is shining into his eyes, which makes him look worried as if he expects Rupert Bear to tell him some bad news; Badger Bill has been gassed.
Approaching Ipswich the train stops and a bored and world-weary sounding driver informs us that a train has broken down so another train has had to return to Ipswich and as a result there is no room in Ipswich station for our train. It’s like the Christmas story all over again; if there is a pregnant woman on this train her child might have to be born in a railway cutting. But this doesn’t come to pass and a slow descent into Ipswich precedes an amusing apology from our driver who sounds ready to cut his wrists as he tells of “…strange things happening and trains breaking down all around us as we continued on our course” before wishing us joy in whatever we are doing this afternoon.
It’s about twenty to two and the train has arrived a good fifteen minutes late. Leaving the station and crossing the road outside, a strange looking man in Ipswich Town shirt, tracky bottoms and a huge coat that looks like a bivouac breaks into a run. Time is less pressing for me so I simply stride purposefully across the bridge opposite the station and on towards Portman Road. On the opening day of the season the lampposts on the bridge were adorned with blue banners in support of the Town, but today they are bare andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA skeletal like the winter trees, as if the banners fell with the autumn leaves. In Portman Road the turnstiles are open; a man eats a banana, people queue for burgers, stewards crowd around the ‘Search Dog’ who barks, some very ordinary looking people enter the Legends Bar and Hall of Fame and the six-wheeled Reading team bus sits secure behind sturdy steel gates, looking like a cross between a juggernaut and a 1950’s Cadillac. Behind the North (Sir Bobby Robson) stand The Salvation Army band take five. Competing fast food stands try to attract custom with staff dressed up as St Nicholas and as some rather conspiratorial looking elves. There are signs on the back of the North Stand directing the way to the ‘Fanzone’, arrows point skywards suggesting a heavenly place, but I know it’s just a big tent on the practice pitch, serving insipid Greene King beer. I would love to use the ‘Fanzone’, but my good taste won’t allow me.

 

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As I head on beyond the stadium the Salvation Army strike up, delivering a rendition of one of the most joyless of all Christmas carols, Once in Royal David’s City; probably a Town supporters’ favourite. As ever I soon arrive at St Jude’s Tavern and today take solace in a pint of the “Football Special”, St Jude’s Elderflower (£2), which happily does not smell like elderflowers, but is nevertheless light and slightly floral. The pub is busier today because much of the population seem to rediscover pubs near Christmas, which is

 

a bit annoying for us all year round pub users who enjoy a quiet drink. Having consumed my first pint I return to the bar (where else?) for a second. A full-faced man who has just been served is picking up a glass of a dark looking beer, I ask him what it is; he doesn’t know. I fancy something dark, because it’s winter, something that tastes like Christmas pudding. I ask the barman for a dark beer and in exchange for £3.40 he brings me what he says is a new amber beer from Nethergate brewery, but it’s quite a dark amber and full of flavour. I sit at a small round table and look about the bar full of mostly men, middle-aged and older. In front of me stands a man in a ‘retro-style’ Reading shirt; he seems to be listening to a pod-cast through ear phones, either that or he is profoundly deaf, it’s difficult to tell nowadays. His shirt has a rather attractive badge that features three trees and I ask him if these trees are the elms of Reading’s former Elm Park ground; it turns out they are. We talk more, reminiscing about Elm Park and moving onto our dislike of modern football and not really wanting our respective teams to get promotion. He tells me that Reading currently play a sort of ‘anti-football’ whereby they just pass it around endlessly across the back four. I say that Ipswich let the opposition have the ball and play on the break, and on the basis of this he predicts that Ipswich will win. This Reading fan lives in Brighton and doesn’t go to home games, but just picks away trips that appeal to him, and Ipswich is such a trip. He says he likes Portman Road, knows there is good beer here and now that Ipswich Town have dropped the away tickets to a sensible price (£24 instead of £40) that’s enough. I feel pleased that an away supporter likes to come to Ipswich, and he’s right, we are truly blessed in Ipswich, it is fine town with a perfectly situated football stadium, close to both the railway station and the town centre; possibly the best located football ground in the whole of Britain.
Eager to avoid strange men who come up and talk to you about your shirt, the Reading supporter sups his beer and leaves, but not before we shake hands and wish each other well; now alone I sit down to finish my dark amber beer. One of the bunch of older blokes on the next table starts to talk to me; we discuss school reunions, Harvey’s brewery of Lewes and Whitehawk football club, which we agree is like having a Chantry football club in Ipswich, although to our shame we strangely forget Whitton United.
I seem to have crammed a lot into my 45 minutes in the pub today. Outside the cold air is invigorating and it’s a lovely walk down Portman Road, with the floodlights revealing themselves one by one as I draw closer to the ground. The ‘Turnstile Blue’ fanzine sellers on the corner in front of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue are waving fanzines about enthusiastically, and selling some too. I always buy a copy, although it can be a bit sanctimonious and earnest at times, with too few articles about footballers’ haircuts. TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cobbold stand is looking good today, it’s row of white painted concrete struts producing a fine repetitive rhythm along the street, above people waiting, looking at their watches and heading for the turnstiles where there are no queues today.
Inside the ground I buy a programme (£3) and drain my bladder, then go to my seat. The teams are on the pitch and Reading kick-off towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) stand wearing orange hi-vis and black shorts; they look like they should be out gritting the roads of Berkshire on a day like today, not playing football. In the third minute Ipswich add to the possibility that we are watching Ipswich Town v Berkshire County Council Highways Department by scoring easily with their first attack, Callum Connolly placing the ball inside Italian Vito Mannone’s near post. Thereafter, Reading just pass the ball amongst themselves, as the Reading fan in the pub had forecast, and then they do it some more. Despite being a goal ahead the Portman Road crowd are as quiet as ever; they probably get more animated watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly than they do here. As all visiting fans do, the Reading fans ask through the medium of la donna e mobile from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto if this is a library. Arts Council money is never wasted. Reading do succeed in missing a few opportunities to score and Ipswich are having to defend, but then a bit before half past three a corner is headed on and Joe Garner heads a second goal. It’s as if someone has tried to leave the library without checking their book out and the alarms have gone off. But the excitement is temporary and Reading keep passing the ball.
Half-time comes as a relief for the ball which has visibly shrunk with all that constant Reading passing. Having used the toilet facilities I take a wander about; down on theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA concourse beneath the stand strings of lights dangle from above as Ipswich Town embraces the festive season. I eat a Fairtrade cereal bar, which I brought with me from home, because the football club does not sell such things. On the pitch a small brass band play Christmas carols. I flick through the programme in which club captain Luke OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChambers tells us that “You never know in life what is just around the corner. What grenade can hit you”. He goes on to add “I think most people would have taken where we are if it was offered to us at the start of the season, especially with the injuries we’ve had”. It makes me think “Blimey, shrapnel wounds”. Also in the programme there is a feature on Town’s Grant Ward who I like to confuse with the twentieth century American artist Grant Wood, famous for American Gothic. Grant Wood attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and wonderfully the article tells us that Grant Ward played for Chicago Fire in the MLS. Incidentally, why did the Americans name a football club after a disaster that befell the city? It’s like the Japanese having a club called Hiroshima Bomb.
I decide to change seats for the second half and go to the other side of the goal and nearer the pitch to join super-fan Phil who never misses a game. I speak with Pat, the secretary of the Clacton-On-Sea branch of the supporters club who sits a couple of rows behind Phil; apparently only sixteen people have travelled on the supporters’ bus from Clacton today. She tells me how a fastidious female steward always carefully searches her bag each week as she enters the stadium, whilst people in big coats are not even patted down. There are no security searches entering the ground from Portman Road, just signs saying there will be. Pat asked the steward what she was looking for; the answer was “wires”. Marcus Evans is probably fearful of being tapped but Pat now carries her grenades on a belt under her coat; she’s been coming to Portman Road since the 1960’s.
It’s dark now and the floodlights shine through the translucent roof of the stand above

 

me. Being closer to the pitch lends this position an atmosphere not present at the back of the stand. In front of us is the disabled supporters enclosure and a boy with Downs Syndrome puts everyone to shame with his enthusiastic shouts and clapping; he gets what this being a football fan is about.
The second half is oddly compelling given that Reading continue to pass the ball ceaselessly but pointlessly and Ipswich just give the ball back to them whenever they win it. On 52 minutes Reading’s Paul McShane is booked and  I recall one of several reasons why I never liked Hi-de-hi. Reading are hopelessly ineffective; Bart Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal catches or punches away several crosses, but doesn’t have a shot to save. The highlight of the half is the 67th minute applause for Dick Murphy, the kitman and caretaker at the club academy who died during the week. A piece in the programme pays tribute to Dick who is described as a “loyal servant of the Blues”. I had never heard of Dick Murphy before today and think it’s an awful shame I have now only heard of him because he is dead.
There is a kind of tension about the second half as the home fans wonder if Town will hold on without actually touching the ball which gives the game its name. Occasionally this tension translates into some crowd noise; based on the experience of the first half if Town do manage to keep the ball long enough to make four or five passes they could score again. It fools us all into thinking we’re being entertained.
Despite five minutes of added on time for a number of real and imagined injuries the match doesn’t seem to drag on and at about five minutes to five referee Mr Bankes closes proceedings in the customary shrill manner.  As the stands empty a serious looking steward wearing a large head set watches on; I like to think he’s listening to the classified results.   It’s been a strangely enjoyable afternoon, possibly only because Town have won; the football was largely forgettable.

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