Ipswich Town 0 Oxford United 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ipswich Town 2 Shrewsbury Town 1

I first saw Shrewsbury Town back in February 1982.  I was an unemployed, fresh-faced graduate, Ipswich Town were sitting pretty somewhere near the top of what is now called the Premier League and Margaret Thatcher was vigorously laying the foundations for today’s unpleasant climate of self-centred, “I’m alright Jack” nationalist politics.  With that Shrewsbury match at Gay Meadow I witnessed an Ipswich Town performance over thirty years ahead of its time as Town dropped out of the of the FA Cup to lower league opposition, although to be fair we had made it to the fifth round.  I returned to Gay Meadow two years later for another FA Cup defeat and then in August of 1987 for a goalless League match.  Disillusioned with the poor returns from long trips to Shropshire I didn’t bother to travel the following season and consequently missed our 5-1 victory under the obviously inspirational captaincy of the World’s greatest living Canadian, Frank Yallop.

As I mull over those dark days of the 1980’s I log in to the i-follow on my lap-top and breathe a sigh of relief that it works.  I am just in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots being read out on Radio Suffolk; they are older people today, it’s something to do with highlighting or counter acting loneliness during lockdown. What I take from it is that a lot of the mascots seem to be called John.

The pictures from Portman Road appear on my screen and the dulcet, gently north-eastern tones of Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley tell me that Shrewsbury Town, who are visible doing pre-match warm-ups, are today wearing all-white, although he omits to mention the purple flashes on their shoulders which for me give the kit a much needed je ne sais quoi.  Ipswich are soon taking the field and Brenner refers to captain Luke Chambers “Bursting out from the pack” as the players run from the tunnel, and to Tomas Holy’s all lime green kit.  My mind’s eye momentarily conjures an image of Luke Chambers bursting.

As the on-screen caption advises that today’s referee is Tim Robinson I start to beat out the intro’ to ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ on the arm of my Ikea Poang chair and the game begins.   Shrewsbury are kicking from right to left towards what was called Churchman’s back in the days when Mr Robinson  was on Top of the Pops before everything was converted into money.  I am just beginning to wonder if Brenner has his trusty co-commentator with him today when I hear a stifled chuckle in the back ground and Mick Mills joins in describing with much merriment how Town’s Mark McGuinness has been pole-axed by what Brenner later refers to as a “winding challenge”, (that’s winding as in forcing air from the body rather than turning something).

Mick’s presence is a blessing and he soon adds value to the commentary suggesting that Paul Lambert not only prefers Nsiala and McGuinness as centre-backs but as ‘individuals’.  This immediately makes me wonder what this might mean and whether Nsiala and McGuinness offer not only strength at the back but  also more interesting conversation than Woolfenden and Wilson; do they have better dress sense, better personal hygiene, give better presents at birthdays and Christmas, have broader musical tastes; are they better read and have more cohesive political views?  Which central-defensive partneship would you invite to dinner?

My reverie is cut short as Mark McGuinness betrays a lack of manners and clumsily trips Shaun Whalley to give Shrewsbury a penalty.   As  Oliver Norburn runs up to take the spot-kick Brenner tells me that Shrewsbury haven’t scored at Portman Road in 53 years; presumably Brenner says this just to make sure that Shrewsbury do score now. Brenner’s tempting of fate is successful, although had Tomas Holy not dived before Norburn kicked the ball he might have saved it; Brenner says as much in a roundabout way, asking if Tomas might not be “self-critical there”.

Depressed by Shrewsbury taking the lead and Brenner’s silly commentary (this is only the fifth time in 53 years that Shrewsbury have even played at Portman Road), I console myself with the thought that there is plenty of time to equalise, score a winning goal and apply icing to a metaphorical cake.  As if to celebrate Shrewsbury’s goal Brenner unleashes some of his familiar commentator-speak, referring to little Alan Judge “running-into traffic” as he brings the ball out of defence and Tomas Holy “putting his foot through the ball” as he  boots it up field.  Not satisfied with this, Brenner proceeds to wilfully muddle up his footballs suggesting that Brett McGavin is playing in a “quarter-back” position.

Despite their goal deficit Town show only occasional urgency along with a very limited ability to equalise; they don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t do enough to make Shrewsbury worry that that they might not win despite being a goal ahead.  In the sixteenth minute Shrewsbury make claims for a second penalty as someone in a white shirt with purple trim “goes” in the words of Brenner “to ground”, which makes him sound like a small animal retreating into a burrow instead of a footballer falling over.

Time passes and Jon Nolan is hurt and replaced by Jack Lankester, and Shrewsbury’s Marc Pugh becomes another “Shrew” to fall over in the penalty area, and he gets short shrift from Brenner for doing so. “Crawling along the deck in rather embarrassing fashion” says Brenner of Pugh sounding every bit as witty and cutting as Oscar Wilde might have if he’d been a sports commentator for BBC local radio.

Town earn their first corner.  “A little opportunity for us with the big boys coming up” says Mick.  The opportunity is spurned by the ‘big boys’ and the small ones too.  Little Alan Judge is not having a good game, every time he has the ball he passes to a Shrewsbury player or just loses it.  I notice that the Shrewsbury goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne, who is a vision from head to toe in pink, is also sporting a moustache that any mid-twentieth century European dictator would have been proud of.

There are about seven minutes until half-time;  Kayden Jackson successfully chases a pass into the penalty area, pulls the ball back to set up Jack Lankester for a shot that is blocked and thereby sets up Freddie Sears for a shot that is deflected away for a corner; it’s the most excitement I’ve had all half.  Four minutes of time are added on and pass without incident worthy of mention.  Half-time arrives, the pitch is vacated and I wonder to myself why it is that referees and their assistants always walk off the field together, it surely makes them an easier target for a well-aimed grenade.

Half-time passes in a flurry of tea, half-time scores, stats and an advertisement for the ifollow in which a threatening Scouse voice claims that there is no better way to show your love than the ifollow; by the end of the advert I feel that  if I don’t subscribe I should start avoiding dark alleys .  The players appear for the second half and Brenner tells me that Town are now “attacking the Sir Bobby Robson end”, which seems a little disrespectful.   

The standard of play does not improve, nor does the commentary; a pass is under hit and Brenner tells me “the ball doesn’t have enough steam on it”.   Teddy Bishop is substituted for Emyr Huws, who I have decided to make my favourite player because he sounds like an extra from ‘Ivor the Engine’ and unlike a lot of modern players doesn’t have a haircut that makes him look like a First World War conscript.  

Not very much happens, or at least not enough to result in Town scoring a goal.  Brenner airs his obsession with Tomas Holy’s nationality “The Czech was dependable” he says as Tomas catches a cross.  Mick Mills embarks on a long explanation about something, but is interrupted without apology by Brenner as something happens on the pitch that looks like it could result in one those “goals” that I’ve heard about, perhaps predictably however it doesn’t.  It’s a pattern that is repeated and I can’t quite decide if Brenner is rude to interrupt or if Mick just tends to witter on a bit too long and needs to learn how to be more concise.  It also worries me that Mick doesn’t notice what is happening on the pitch and doesn’t interrupt himself.  Either way, it adds to the fun.

Town’s patient approach isn’t producing very much in the way of excitement although a shimmy and a cross from Freddie Sears almost results in little Alan Judge forcing the ball over the goal line, but his legs were just that bit too short.  The game enters its final 20 minutes; I haven’t fallen asleep yet because in truth it isn’t exactly boring and oddly I’m feeling quite relaxed and not frustrated at all by the absence of an equaliser.  Suddenly, the weirdly named Keanen Bennetts sends a low, not particularly good cross in to the penalty area and without another Town player touching the ball it runs just inside the far post and Town have equalised.   Not quite believing what I’ve seen I cheer, quietly in case it’s a false alarm, but happily it’s not.

The remainder of normal time runs out, much as the other 75 minutes did with nothing overly exciting happening and Town patiently and at times monotonously passing the ball.  Shrewsbury are provoked into trying to regain their lead and more of them fall over in the penalty area when in close proximity to Toto Nsiala, but unusually the tactic fails to influence Mr Robinson.  Substitution follows substitution follows substitution and there is so much added on time that new layers of geology are formed. It is the 97th minute, little Alan Judge pops up on the left , he cuts in , he shoots, the man all in pink with the moustache parries the shot and Jack Lankester hurls himself headlong to propel the ball into the Shrewsbury goal, “… Town have won it,” says Brenner. I cheer in the same manner as before.

Despite a valiant attempt to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory, Luke Chambers clearing a Shrewsbury shot off the goal line in the tiny amount of time left, Town hang on to win as Brenner predicted. “What a huge victory this could be for Ipswich Town” says Brenner excitedly and without explanation.  Town haven’t really deserved to win this game “says Mick more soberly when asked to sum up.

The ifollow broadcast quickly ceases as the players leave the field, disappointingly cutting off Mick and Brenner in their prime.  Despite Brenner’s entreaties to phone in and talk to Mick, I don’t.  Having turned off my lap-top I head for the back garden where I light the fire-pit and celebrate with a bottle of Adnams Old Ale and my wife Paulene. “A win is a win is a win” we chant as we dance around the flickering flames and think of the unfortunate Shrewsbury Town players “truckin on through the night” back to Shropshire, as Tom and possibly Tim Robinson might sing.

Lincoln City 1 Ipswich Town 0

Games against Lincoln City are like buses are supposed to be, you don’t see one for ages and then a whole bunch of them come along almost at once. Of course things have moved on in Suffolk and nowadays you don’t see a bus for ages and then find out that the County Council have withdrawn financial support for it.  But that aside today is the seventh time Town have played the Imps in the past four years, having not played them previously since 15th of April 1961, and despite an absence of passengers or paying customers at Sincil Bank the game is still going ahead.

It’s a grey, overcast day, a dull end to the end of British Summertime and I have spent the morning half-watching live coverage of the Aussie Rules Grand Final between Richmond Tigers and Geelong Cats. The Cats are probably the under dogs, if that’s possible. I once stopped in Geelong for a cup of coffee and some food on a road trip from Melbourne and out along the Great Ocean Road, I also used to own a pet cat; these seem to me to be good enough reasons to be rooting for the Geelong Cats today.  My wife Paulene has an on-line subscription to watch every Aussie Rules game, every week of the season, and she is supporting Richmond.  Richmond win by 81 points to 50, but sportingly I join in Paulene’s celebration and share in the bottle of Crémant that I thoughtfully put in the fridge after breakfast.  Indeed, today my pre-match ‘pint’ is one of Crémant, which accompanies a light lunch of left over rice, salad and prosciutto.

Whilst Paulene switches her attention to the Giro d’Italia cycle race, I tune into Radio Suffolk on my trusty Sony transistor radio, plugging in the earpiece, and finely adjusting the dial to eliminate the hisses and crackles of the ether and Radio Essex just in time to hear a female voice handing over to Brenner Woolley and Alex Mathie in faraway Lincoln.  Brenner is quickly down to business asking Alex what he wants to see today; Alex is equally quick to tell us that he wants to see Town playing football in the attacking third of the pitch; thereby implying that he does not want to see the defence passing it aimlessly amongst themselves like they did at Doncaster Rovers last Tuesday in what could only euphemistically be called ‘building from the back’.  Meanwhile it sounds like Oasis are playing over the Sincil Bank PA system, but I could be wrong.

I didn’t watch or listen to the game at Doncaster on Tuesday, I’m not entirely sure why but I think it was the case that I simply couldn’t be bothered and preferred to sit and read a book.  Nevertheless, I was giving my support by wearing my button-collar blue T-shirt purchased on-line in the Planet Blue sale over the summer.  The T-shirt had previously not witnessed a Town defeat, but sadly by bedtime when I removed it from my rippling torso it had to be added to the huge pile of lucky garments that weren’t.

Back at Sincil Bank, or the LNER Stadium as the soulless lackeys of the capitalist system would now have us call it, Brenner helpfully describes how Town are wearing all blue whilst Lincoln wear red, black and red and are defending the goal off to Brenner and Alex’s left.  The reception on my Sony 310 transistor radio has become rather poor and I have to jiggle the radio about a bit whilst Brenner reveals that today’s referee is Mr Kevin Johnson.  The “ball runs to one of those red shirts” says Brenner, understandably unable to recognise the unfamiliar faces of the Lincoln players, although also suggesting to me at least that there could just be some red shirts strewn about the pitch.  Brenner fills his commentary with superfluous information about which clubs the Lincoln players have played for previously, where they went to school and what their first pets were.  Just three minutes have passed and it should be 1-0 to Lincoln.  “It’s all Lincoln just now” is Alex’s expert assessment.

Ipswich’s goal survives the opening minutes and our heroes work their way into the game a little more.  Both Brenner and Alex pronounce Lankester as Lancaster betraying their far northern heritage with their ugly short vowels; but they both now agree that it’s a good game.  “You’ve never seen them win here” says Brenner to Alex, and then in an attempt to feign positivity he adds “It’ll change this afternoon, fear not”.  He doesn’t fool me.

Oliver Hawkins seems to be playing well. “When the ball comes in, he’s made it stick” says Alex muddling his tenses and using a sort of glue metaphor to tell us that Hawkins can control a football.  The ball goes “…into the palms of Palmer the ‘keeper” says Brenner, becoming enjoyably playful with his words before sharing the important fact that there has never been a goalless draw between the two sides.

Twenty five minutes have passed. “There’s not a great deal happening at the moment” says Brenner.  Glancing through the living room window it looks like the world has started to melt.    “Rain!” shouts Paulene, and as one we dash out into the hall, through the Kitchen and into the back garden to rescue various socks, items of underwear and T-shirts from the rotary washing line, whilst I simultaneously hope I don’t miss a goal; happily I don’t.

A third of the match has now passed in to broadcasting history and Hawkins has a header cleared off the goal line. “He just rose and he’s hung in the air” says Alex taking one from the near the top of the pile of football commentating clichés, but sensibly eschewing any mention of salmon; it was “.. a phenomenal header” adds Brenner.  A minute later Hawkins shoots for goal and clears the stand; it sounds like it was a phenomenal shot.

Entering the final third of the first half Brenner refers to someone playing the ball with “his left shoe” and to Andre Dozzell getting “on his bike”, something Freddie Sears did in last Saturday’s match, and with Freddie not playing today I wonder if it’s the same bike or if each of the players has his own and if so how they all fit in the underfloor lockers of the team bus.  Does the presence of all the bikes mean that the kit has to be stowed on overhead luggage racks inside the bus?  Back in 1962 when Town won what is now called the Premier League, most of the players actually used their bikes to get to training each day.  Tsk, how times change, eh?

As the game drifts towards half-time, play has apparently stopped and there is talk of a drop ball and neither Brenner nor Alex seem to know exactly what is going on, or how we got into this situation, whatever the situation is.  It’s a most disconcerting few seconds of my life; it’s bad enough not really knowing what’s happening anyway when one listens to a radio commentary, but when the commentators don’t either it feels I’m like falling into a dark abyss, or at the very least being locked in the cupboard under the stairs.  It’s a relief when the action returns to my ears, although all too soon I feel my heart leap as Brenner’s voice suddenly rises in pitch and volume and Lincoln City’s Brennan Johnson surges into the penalty area, but thankfully shoots past Tomas Holy’s right hand goal post.  The half closes with Alex Mathie giving us his assessment that the game “deserves a goal,” although I’d argue that virtue is its own reward.

Over half-time I relocate from the living room to the Ikea Poang chair in the ‘back bedroom’ because I am struggling to concentrate on the finer points of Brenner and Alex’s commentary whilst also still able to hear the commentary of the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly.  I try out the kitchen first but for some unfathomable reason the radio reception there just isn’t good enough. I put the kettle on and make tea for Paulene but forget to pour a cup for myself.  Evidently under stress, but not knowing it , I settle down in the Poang to hear Alex conclude that it was an even first half but that “…Lincoln just shaded it with chances” before predicting that “…whoever gets the first goal is likely to go on and win the game”, which suggests that neither team is very good ‘up front’.   At three minutes past four “Nolan rolls the ball back to Wilson” and the second half begins.  Town are now playing, Brenner tells us, towards the end at which little Alan Judge scored the winning goal in the FA Cup last season.  Disappointingly Brenner fails to mention the towers of the Gothic cathedral that can be seen up on the hill beyond the roof of the Stacey West stand but in his defence , he does mention the Lincoln City player with the “Alice band keeping his blond hair in place”.  Radio commentary is all about painting a picture with words.

I look at Twitter and catch up on the FA Cup scores at Leiston (drawing 2-2 with Barnet), and at Banbury where Bury Town are winning 1-0.  It’s nearly twenty past four now and Brenner again raises the question of whether this game could be the first ever goalless draw between Town and Lincoln City.  There is clearly little sign of there being a goal at Sincil Bank, which incidentally is one of my favourite names of any Football League ground; let’s hope the club’s custodians never think it’s a good idea to move elsewhere.

Back in the commentary box it sounds like Brenner and Alex are about to argue. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have thanks to Twitter but I think that perhaps contrary to Brenner’s view Alex is trying to say that Town have had a good start to the second half “Are you admonishing me , Alex?” says Brenner. “No I’m trying to convince myself” replies Alex climbing down.  It’s the most exciting moment of the half so far. 

The game dribbles on; Brenner predicts that Lincoln’s Liam Bridcutt is heading for a yellow card as a result of a number of niggly fouls that “…he has committed since 3 o’clock”, from which I infer that Brenner thinks he may have been committing fouls before 3 o’clock too.  Bridcutt is not booked, although he was booked at Fleetwood the previous Saturday, so Brenner was right.   

It is thirty-three minutes past four and all of sudden Alex Mathie provides an object lesson to all co-commentators in how to sound exasperated.  “ You don’t need to do that…” says Alex before seemingly being struck speechless as Toto Nsiala nudges over Brennan Johnson, and Mr Kevin Johnson the referee, perhaps taking a lead from Boris Johnson about awarding honours and contracts to your friends and now it seems namesakes, awards a penalty to Lincoln City.   Brenner picks up the commentary from the stupified Alex and Jorge Grant scores.  “He doesn’t miss many when he takes them” says a recovered Alex, devising an odd variation on that motivational poster nonsense about always missing 100% of the shots you don’t take.

“I’d like to see it again Brenner” says Alex to his colleague about the penalty, as if this is something that Brenner has the power to arrange.  We now have a female Dr Who, so in the interests of diversity why not a Time Lord who has a side line commentating on Town matches. Keanan Bennetts replaces Jack Lankester with ten minutes remaining and then the game expands into four minutes of added-on time.  In the fifth minute of added-on time Jon Nolan is shown a “straight red” for a foul on Lincoln’s Harry Anderson and Brenner’s and Alex’s commentary sends me tumbling into the  darkness once again, they don’t seem to know what is going on, or prudishly won’t tell me.   It sounds like there is a punch up, which judging by the rest of the commentary of this half is the most exciting thing that has happened all afternoon, but the detail in the commentary is sadly lacking.  I am sat in my Poang wanting to know who is pushing who and who’s restraining who from doing what, but all Brenner tells me is that both goalkeepers are involved; but involved in what? Throwing punches? Kicking opposition players? Kicking their team mates?  Wrestling people to the ground?  Pulling faces? Flicking v-signs?  “Frustration, that’s all it is” says Alex. I know how they feel.

The game ends and I rather wish I hadn’t bothered, but heck what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon than pretend I’m at a football match. I wonder if there’s any of that Cremant left.

Ipswich Town 4 Accrington Stanley 1

Before starting this account of Ipswich Town’s latest fixture I must let you the reader know that I am sick and tired of people droning on repeating that 1980’s advertisement for milk whenever Accrington Stanley is mentioned. There is no excuse for not knowing the name of Accrington Stanley and that child in the advert was an ignoramus and possibly an imbecile and deserves to suffer from calcium deficiency.

Today I am extremely excited; as excited as a Liverpudlian child with weak bones or a deficiency of vitamins E, B6 and B12 should be when offered a glass of milk. Today for the first time in five months I am returning to Portman Road to watch the latest chapter in the Superblues’ epic march back towards world domination, and today Town face the famous Accrington Stanley. The last game I saw was Town’s tepid one-all draw with Sunderland in August, soon after which I was found to have pneumonia, was put in a coma, diagnosed with Endocarditis, given open heart surgery to replace two valves eaten away by bacterial infection and placed on a two-month long course of industrial strength anti-biotics. Sunderland AFC was not implicated in these events.   Unlike Gloria Gaynor, who after all these years is still all about what she will do, I actually did survive, thanks to the fantastic NHS and at last I now feel fit enough to once more brave the streets and terraces of Suffolk’s capital city. Consider Emyr Huws’ return to the team after long-term injury, Andre Dozzell’s return to the team after torn ligaments, Ian Marshall’s return to the team after being run over by a shopping trolley; roll them all into one and you will come close to how I feel today. Today is, as those who speak in modern parlance say, ’massive’ or at least quite big.

It is a grey and windy Saturday, becoming of early January and the trains are not running. Refusing to pay train fares to travel by Corporation bus, yesterday I experimentally sought the assistance of fellow Ipswich Town supporters on social media and attempted to politely solicit a lift to Ipswich. With the sole exception of a sensible answer from a kind man in his sixties called Ian, the responses I received were at worst rude, ignorant or stupid and at best unhelpful. These responses included one from a man whose profile indicates somewhat worryingly that he is chairman of governors at an infants’ school, whilst another respondent claimed to be three years old after I notified him that his initial response implied he was not able to offer me a lift and that was all I needed to know.  Depressed that idiots and dumb arses trying to be smart arses are also Ipswich Town fans, I muse that at least Ian proves that decent people do exist and today I convey my gratitude to him as we travel up the A12 in his grey Volkswagen Tiguan. We talk of football and our plans for the pre-match period. Once the VW is parked up we go our separate ways, departing each other’s company with the reciprocal wish that we might enjoy the drive home on the back of a good win.

It’s only a quarter to one and Portman Road is still open to motor traffic; I assiduously keep to the pavement because it would be a waste to be mown down by a car now, having dodged death only a few months before and at public expense too. After stopping to buy a programme (£3.50) I continue up the gentle incline, across Handford Road to St Matthews Street, passing a few early-arrivers walking in the opposite direction.  I have time on my hands and rather than fall prey too early to the demon drink I walk on past St Jude’s Tavern to Francesco’s Hair Salon at 61 St Matthew’s Street.  My long period of convalescence has left me looking like Howard Hughes and I need a haircut, so I get one (£15.50) courtesy of a charming lady hairdresser with whom I chat about going to football, Christmas, family, drinking enough fluids and fruit.  Francesco’s is incidentally the same establishment where Bobby Robson would get his hair cut.  Although Francesco has moved premises since Sir Bobby’s time, I nevertheless can’t helping feeling I would have had Bobby’s endorsement for this match-day tonsorial, although it is only in my imagination that I see him smiling back at me from the mirror giving me the thumbs-up.

Looking like a new man I leave Francesco’s and make the short walk back to St Jude’s Tavern; upon entering I think I hear a small voice say “Martin”, but I pay no attention believing I have just happened to walk in on the end of a conversation about relatives of the polecat or cast members of ‘That was the week that was’.  I proceed to the bar, but before I can order a pint of today’s Match Day Special (£2.50) my friend and colleague Roly is at my shoulder and wishing me well, for it was he who spoke my name.  I have not seen Roly for several weeks and we talk agreeably, making jokes of everything we can think of, none of which we will remember.  Soon, my mouth parched from incessant conversation, I get a second pint of the Match Day Special which today is Mr B’s Hexagon, a name which refers to the shape of the honeycomb, but which I as a lover of all things French prefer to think of as celebrating the mainland part of metropolitan France, which the natives often refer to as l’hexagone due to its approximate shape.  I treat Roly to a half a pint of the same drink; he is on reduced ration because later he will be driving home in his second-hand Vauxhall Astra.

Before we leave St Jude’s for the match Mick pops in to give me my season ticket which he has been using whilst I have been confined to my sick bed. Mick doesn’t stay for a drink but lingers long enough to tell us how he met his friend Chris at the railway station and they had a drink in the Station Hotel, which on match days is dedicated as the ‘away supporters’ pub.  Unable to spot any away supporters Mick asked a bouncer where they all were; the bouncer turned and pointed to two blokes drinking quietly in the corner of the bar.  Later the number of away supporters attending the match will be announced on the Portman Road scoreboard as 155 in a crowd of 17,536.  I do not believe that 153 of these 155 Accringtonians are teetotal and I am pleased therefore that they paid no heed to being confined to the ‘away pub’ and sought their pleasure like free men and women, wherever they could find it.

Time passes and eventually with glasses and bladders drained Roly and I descend Portman Road in time for kick-off, the day remains dull and defined by grey cloud. I dodge my way across the stream of supporters flowing out of Portman Road car park and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way; I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile seven after a brief internal dialogue about which is the luckier number, seven or eight; I decide I don’t believe in lucky numbers. I say a hearty, smiling ‘hello’ to the lady turnstile operator and a little bizarrely also bid her ‘goodbye’ as the turnstile clicks; my excuse is that I am out of practice with this match-going lark, but i am also feeling a lot of love for the world and everyone in it.  After another brief visit to the toilet facilities I ascend the steps from the concourse into the lower tier of the stand to reacquaint myself with Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Ray, the old dears who formerly sat behind me, Bluey, Crazee and my view of the green, green turf and its dramatic, part human, part concrete, part blue plastic and steel backdrop.

It is with a heavy heart that I learn from ever-present Phil that Pat from Clacton is not at the game today because she is on a cruise, but I speak excitedly with Ray and his grandson Harrison before taking up a seat two along from ever-present Phil and in front of the old dears.  With all that lining up to shake hands malarkey out of the way referee Mr Charles Breakspear, whose name sounds like he might have played Association Football for Old Carthusians in the 1870’s, parps his whistle to begin the match.  Accrington Stanley get first go with the ball all dressed in a strong shade of red, which makes them look a bit like Liverpool and is ironic given that at least one fictional, undernourished child from that city has never heard of them.  Incidentally, my earliest contact with anything Accringtonesque was a short, balding bloke called Steve who I met when at university; he came from Accrington but shamefully supported Liverpool, I think if I described him as dwarfish and ugly it wouldn’t be an injustice.  My second contact with something touched by Accrington was by contrast an attractive lady work colleague who was a native of Oswaldtwistle or Ozzy as she called it, a town contiguous with Accrington or Accy as she called it. She was well versed in the names of Burnley players of the 1970’s  and rarely wore a brassiere, two possible reasons why I remember her over thirty years later.

With Town in their customary blue and white and the turf glowing green beneath the floodlights this could be a scene conjured up from a Club Edition Subbuteo set. Town start well, passing the ball accurately, playing towards me and ever-present Phil and looking keen to do well.  My attention is taken however by Accrington’s enormously tall number 5 whose name, the shoulder of his shirt tells me is Sykes, not Eric or even Bill sadly but Ross, like the fish fingers.  “Cor! He’s skinny” shouts a voice behind me. Sykes’s gangliness is however overshadowed by that of Accy’s number 36 Jerome Opuku, a player on loan from Fulham whose flailing arms and legs give him the appearance of a piece of nineteenth century agricultural reaping machinery or a drunken octopus; when tackled he collapses to the floor like a puppet that has had its strings cut.  That said he’s a half decent player.

After kick-off just twelve minutes pass and Ipswich take the lead; a glorious passing move involving the eye-rubbingly strange sight of Luke Woolfenden surging into the penalty area in open play (‘underlapping’ as ever-present Phil christens it) from his centre back position. I can’t recall having seen such a thing before at Portman Road, it’s tantamount to ‘Total Football’; a marvel, even if the ultimate finish from Kayden Jackson looks a bit scruffy as he slides on his bum side by side with an Accrington player to get the ball over the goal line.

“Come On Ipswich” chants the crowd, bemused or tentatively intrigued by the stylish football before them. Two minutes later another passing moving ends with James Norwood hopelessly mishitting the ball when well placed to score. In a rare idle moment I watch a seagull arc above the pitch, but this is a game that demands to be watched and before a half an hour has passed Norwood runs on to an instinctively reactive, first time volleyed pass from Emyr Huws and casually lobs the ball over the head of the Lambeth born Accrington ‘keeper Josef Bursik.  Time slows down as the ball follows a graceful arc, although I’ve yet to see an arc that isn’t so, and descends perfectly beneath the cross bar before striking the net.  The goal inspires a thankfully brief dirge version of “When the Town going marching in” from the North Stand and I decide that Jerome Opuku’s squad number of ‘36’ refers to his inside leg measurement.  Life is good if you’re a Town supporter inside Portman Road football ground today and just to prove the point a third goal is scored by little Alan Judge a minute before half-time. It’s the result of another fine passing move which this time has seen centre half Luke Chambers push forward in open play to set it off.  Luke Chambers mostly looks angry when he’s playing football, some might say he is pulling a determined face perhap. His snarly reaction to the latest goal today seems to imply he is claiming some responsibility for it, almost as much as Alan Judge; perhaps scoring again was his idea. 

Applause is the sound of the day as the teams clear off for half-time and I head down to the toilet before consuming a Nature Valley Protein Peanut and Chocolate bar which I had had the foresight to put in my coat pocket before leaving home almost four hours ago.  The queues for the refreshment kiosks are long and I’m pleased I am not in one.  I check the half-time scores on one of the overhead TV sets beneath the stand but get bored waiting to see anything of interest and consider how literally pointless half-time scores are.  My already cheerful mood is enhanced further however when I learn that Norwich City are losing and in my mind’s eye I see a poky, high up corner of Old Trafford where funny looking folk in yellow and green knitwear have paid exorbitant Premier League prices for the privilege of seeing their team humiliated.  I return to the stand and speak again with Ray before the teams return to play out the second half which with a satisfying sense of symmetry begins at four minutes past four.

The greyness of the afternoon deepens behind the stands making the floodlights seem to shine all the more brightly.  Predictably perhaps, the second half does not reach the heights of the first, in spite of the efforts of the glowing beams of electric light illuminating the pitch. Town begin well enough and continue to dominate possession, but the gaps in Accrington’s defence have been plugged and whilst the football is not bad, it’s been downgraded from the first half’s Copacabana-style to something more like Felixstowe-at-low-tide-style.  It’s been a game pleasantly devoid of histrionics or naughty fouls but at half past four Accrington substitute Ajibola Alese, who is on loan from West Ham United and is only 18 years old commits a foul on little Alan Judge which Mr Breakspear considers worthy of yellow card style censure. Cole Skuse replaces the wonderfully Welsh Emyr Huws, which is nice because their surnames rhyme, and then Teddy Bishop replaces little Alan Judge.   There are now two Bishops on the field as Accrington also have one in Colby Bishop, although to be honest he sounds more like a firm of estate agents than a footballer.

It’s getting on for a quarter to five and an Accrington player, possibly Dion Charles is left unmarked close to Ipswich’s goal; he shoots with his right boot; he should score but Town’s James Wilson, who makes me think of Labour prime ministers of the 1970’s moves across to deflect the ball away above the angle of the goal post and cross bar with his calf. “Lucky Ipswich” says the old boy behind me, but it wasn’t luck, it was good defending, eventually.  If it had been luck that stopped an Accrington goal it would have been of the sort that didn’t last because within a minute or so Accrington’s Congolese substitute Offrande Zanzala, who has previously played for Stevenage, Barnet and Chester, is pulled back and has a leg swiped across his chest courtesy of James Wilson. Zanzala manages to beat off a team mate who seemed to want to take the resultant penalty before he could and then scores.

There is still time for stomping Luke Chambers to get himself booked un-necessarily, which he does, and for Accrington to score two more goals, and that’s the sort of scenario that wouldn’t surprise an Ipswich supporter considering Town’s aggregate form over the last thirty years or so.  Today proves not to be the sort of day for that to happen however, and with the game into the time added on to compensate for substitutions and any nihilistic attempts to fritter away existence, Town’s third substitute, the imposing Will Keane robs an Accrington player of the ball, turns back towards the away team’s goal and sends a low shot past the man known to the French as le gardien and to Emyr Huws as the gol-geidwad.  With his hair drawn back in a scrappy pony tail Keane has the look from a distance, a long distance, of a poor man’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his record of three goals in the last four games is worthy of the big Swede.

The game ends amid much clapping and self-congratulation and after bidding ever-present Phil adieu I make a final visit to the toilet beneath the stand and then walk out into the evening, towards Ian’s Volkswagen, the soporific tones of Mick Mills on the car radio, the voices of assorted opinionated people calling to give Mick their worthless views and the journey home.

Finally, after Ian drops me off I walk around the corner to my house; a small coach drives by with the name ‘Enigma Travel’ painted on the side; “Probably on a mystery trip” I think to myself.

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.