Ipswich Town 3 Leeds United 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ipswich Town 1 Stoke City 1


After a week of beautiful winter sunshine today is grey.  As I am about to walk to the railway station I receive a text message from Roly to tell me that there are rail replacement buses between Colchester and Ipswich.  The gloom of the day deepens.  I leave the house forgetting to say goodbye to my wife Paulene.

At the railway station I see Roly over the tracks on Platform Two, he is eating a muffin and holds a paper cup of coffee.  Roly is a conspicuous consumer, of food. Our train journey is brief and we soon find ourselves boarding a sleek grey coach belonging to Tendring Travel, the front of the vehicle sports a Union flag, which no doubt goes down well in that land of hope and glory that leads to Jaywick.  Already on board there are people sporting the blue and white favours of Ipswich Town and it feels like we’re setting off on an away trip, but equally I feel like an extra in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, such is the magic of boarding a bus or coach.  A ‘steward’ in a day-glo coat quietly counts us on to the coach, she’s Tendring’s Wendy Winters, but predictably less glamourous. I cast a fat bloke over the aisle as Ringo’s auntie Jessie; the partly-vacant seat next to him is predictably the last to be occupied.  The unhappy looking driver is very anxious that his vehicle is not over-filled “I can’t have anyone standing” he says, twice in quick succession.  Someone has to alight but then we depart.  The bus is swelteringly hot.

We arrive in Ipswich twenty five minutes later than if we’d arrived by rail, but of course we have been charged the same price for this slower, less comfortable service.  If I’d wanted to save money by travelling by bus on Ipswich Buses service 93 from Colchester to Ipswich or by National Express coach I could have done so.  Instead I thought I would pay a bit more and travel by….oh dear, bus.

Reeling from our experience Roly and I hot foot it up Portman Road to St Jude’s Tavern, barely registering that the programme kiosks have been painted dark blue and therefore making me imagine even more vividly that each one is a Tardis piloted by Mick Mills  capable of time travel back to the 1970’s, that distant time when Ipswich Town first seduced me.  St Jude’s is busy with drinkers, but Roly and I claim a table where we sup our pints of today’s Match Day Special, Goblin’s Piss (£2.50) which I am relieved to discover tastes much, much, much better than it sounds.  Our conversation is of football and more precisely Ipswich Town and we conclude that playing Collin Quaner and Will Keane up front together is like having two Mich D’Avrays; a concept which we like very much.  We drink quickly, probably due to de-hydration from our coach trip and I soon return to the bar to buy a further pint and a half of the Match Day Special, which has now changed to St Jude’s Hoppy Jude (still £2.50).  Roly only has a half because he is nothing if not responsible and he will be driving his car later this evening (it’s a Vauxhall Astra). I suspect Roly also wants to leave space for something to eat once he gets to the ground; I sometimes wonder how he is not the size of Ringo’s auntie Jessie.

Under the insouciant gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey we part, Roly heads to the ‘posh’ seats of the East of England Co-op Stand and its gourmet offerings whilst I slum it in the cheap seats of Churchman’s, now the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  There is no queue at the turnstile where I thank the operator cheerily for his pedal-work and proceed to my seat via the toilet.  Unusually I get to my seat before the match ball has been plucked from its plinth. Pat from Clacton is here but ever-present Phil who never misses a game is not, he’s being wined and dined with supporters club supremos and is watching from a ‘posh’ seat somewhere.

Ipswich begin the game playing towards me and Pat from Clacton, as ever they wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves  and shorts and display the deeply tacky logo of an organisation of on-line scammers across their chests.  Today’s opponents are Stoke City and to their everlasting credit they have eschewed the wearing of any unnecessary change kit and instead wear their traditional kit of red and white stripes with white shorts and socks. They look a bit like Signal toothpaste, and coincidentally this chimes with the novels of Arnold Bennett set in the Potteries in which the fictional local paper is called The Signal, although I do not recall any reference to toothpaste in any of the novels I have read. I can very much recommend ‘The Card’, which even weaves football into the story near the end.

The ‘Stokies’ assembled in the corner of  the Cobbold Stand (we will later be informed that there are 1,138 of them in the total crowd of 15,924) immediately burst into a chorus of Tom Jones’ Delilah for which they are rightly famous amongst people who pay any attention to these sorts of things.  Ipswich supporters seem to have given up already on inexplicably singing “Sweet Caroline” as our attempt at being quirky and interesting, possibly because it will now forever harbour painful, dark memories of the destructive Paul Hurst era, brief though it was.  Moving forward, as people now say instead of ‘looking ahead’ in these thrusting modern times, spectators in the Cobbold Stand, East of England Co-op Stand and Sir Alf Ramsey Stand could be given song sheets for Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’.  Make it performance art and the song sheets could be blank.

The heavy grey cloud and hint of damp in the air lend the afternoon a sombre atmosphere but the floodlights are on and once again, as on Wednesday night versus Derby, this feels like a proper football match; the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, or more accurately the corner of it occupied by the Blue Action supporters group is audible.  From the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand however, the Stokies are more audible and soon sing “One Gordon Banks, there’s only one Gordon Banks”.  Many Town supporters in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand begin to applaud and frankly I’m confused as to whether this is a one minute’s applause for the deceased goalkeeper or just applause directed at the Stoke fans singing “One Gordon Banks”.  Modern football with its sentimentality is complicated.

Stoke are dominating possession but not in an exciting way; they don’t look much like scoring and their fans are hopefully being ironic when they sing “We’ve got the best team in the land”; having been to Stoke On Trent I think it likely that Stoke supporters are capable of irony.  For Town, little Alan Judge (Judgie) looks our best player by some way and when he picks himself up off the turf after being fouled the spectators around me applaud him warmly, showing far more enthusiasm for this ‘resurrection’ than they do for supporting and getting behind the team the rest of the time.  “Shoot!” bellows someone from behind as Town players circle in front of the Stoke penalty area. “They don’t know where the goal is anyway” mumbles the old boy behind me, clearly hankering for the latter days of Mick McCarthy’s reign when we only came to games to be miserable.

It’s twenty-five past three and as little Judgey crosses the ball with speed and purpose a chant of “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” comes out of the blue from the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand; a spontaneous, instinctive, momentary burst of enthusiasm in a dull first half. Less than ten minutes later and Alan Judge is floored again as he is fouled by Stoke’s James McClean who becomes the first and only player to be booked by the small, balding referee, Mr Scott Duncan.  Hilariously McClean tries to make out that it is he who has been fouled by then diving outrageously; he is fully deserving of the chorus sung just for him by the Sir Bobby Robson Stand of “Wanker, Wanker…”  It makes me wonder why so many professional footballers are such bare-faced cheats and why the normally po-faced Football Association puts up with it.

Four minutes to go until half-time and the game is hardly thrilling.  “That’s gettin’ misty” says the old girl behind me, understandably more engaged by the weather than the match.  Stoke have had better chances to score than Ipswich, but fortunately seem to believe that the cross-bar is much higher than it actually is. A minute before half-time however, Town’s Jonas Knudsen loses all sense of where he is in relation to the rest of the planet and heads a harmless looking cross away from rather than to Bartosz Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal, allowing the cheating James McClean to run on and score from less than a yard into an empty goal; even he couldn’t miss that or fall over. Once again justice doesn’t play to the whistle and has gone early for a half-time cuppa. 

Half-time follows and after a chat with Ray I let out some more of the Goblins Piss and Hoppy Jude.  I take a look at the half-time scores and search for a Panda brand liquorice stick that I thought I had in the inside pocket of my coat.  I will eventually find it later this evening in the coat lining, I should probably buy a new coat, this one has to be twenty-five years old at least.  The new half begin at five past four and Ipswich improve a little and the crowd remain with them, politely applauding an over-hit pass which last season would have drawn scorn and bile from the stands.

Teddy Bishop begins to run with the ball. He does it once; he does it again and is brought down to win a free-kick. “I knew that would happen” says the old boy behind sounding annoyed as if to say he shouldn’t have bothered.  “But he’s won a free-kick” says the old girl displaying a more measured tactical approach to the game.  Alan Judge draws a spectacular flying save from the Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland when the kick is taken.

Collin Quaner goes down injured and the game is stopped with Stoke in possession. Sportingly, the Stoke fans boo, revealing their proud Premier League heritage.  When I was at university I knew a Stoke City supporter; his name was Tony and he was a lovely, friendly bloke, fun to have a drink with. He lived in Wolverhampton but went to watch Stoke he told us, because of the violence.  He was very proud of his sexual conquest of the daughter of a local Chief Constable and he once defecated in a milk bottle; I didn’t see him do this, but I saw the milk bottle, which was enough.

Fifty seven minutes have been played and the Stokies sing “Is this a library?” It’s a mark of how things have improved at Portman Road that they have had to wait this long to sing it; they do so only once; it’s almost as if it’s a condition of sale on the tickets.  Stoke press forward and earn a corner, the ball runs back to the edge of the box and one of their number, I have no real idea who, but it could have been Oghenekaro Etebo , wellies the ball nominally goalwards; travelling like a comet the ball drifts left in a graceful curve under the influence of an unseen gravitational force and heads at speed directly towards me.  I remain seated but raise my arms, succeeding only in getting a finger-tip touch which barely alters its trajectory.  “Why didn’t you catch it?” shouts Ray “I would have if I could be bothered to stand up” I tell him “I’m just very lazy, it’s why I’m not in the team”.

The game drifts away, meandering towards time added on as the evening chill sets in. I sense disappointment and frustration behind me. “Come on! You can beat this lot. They’re nearly as bad as you are” calls the old girl cruelly. “That’s all very pretty…” says the old boy as the Town pass the ball across the pitch and back “…but does absolutely nothing”.  He sounds bitter and his attitude illustrates why English football will always be inferior to French or Spanish or Italian, because we can’t abide all that soppy passing.

Time added-on arrives and Town are pressing, but not looking likely to score; they win a corner and in a stroke of good fortune Paul Lambert, still wearing his black Marks & Spencer v-neck jumper and black slacks still has one substitute left.  On to the field comes Suffolk’s favourite 1.93m high Congolese centre back Aristote (Toto) N’Siala.  I can almost hear the Stoke players thinking “Who the feck is going to pick him up?” Possibly several players go to mark Toto and as the corner is taken I see the ball and the number fourteen on the shirt of Will Keane converging.  “Goal!” I shout and a fraction of a second later Keane’s head sends the ball into the net and Town have equalised.     It is a moment I may not forget, like when Mich D’Avray scored from Kevin O’Callaghan’s cross against Liverpool in February 1986.  

There’s barely time left for either side to score again and a little predictably they don’t.  The game ends and for the second match in a row Town have not lost and we are deliriously happy.  This is truly one of the weirdest season’s I have ever known at Portman Road.  We are still bottom of the league and we never get appreciably closer to the teams above us, but for some reason it feels good and a good number of people are enjoying it.   Are the Russians putting something in the water or the Match Day Special?

Cornard United 2 Norwich CBS 2

When Accrington Stanley’s name came out in the FA Cup draw I immediately had a premonition that the next name out would be that of my team, Ipswich Town; it was and I had every intention of travelling to The Crown Ground or ‘Wham Stadium’ as I believe the estate of the late George Michael now pays for it to be called, to witness the match. I still believe in the magic of the FA Cup, like my step-grandson still believes in Father Christmas; stupidly of course because the Premier League has ensured that in England only the same small group of ‘big’ teams will ever win anything ever again. Sadly, I never quite reconciled myself to forking out £37 for a ticket for an 800 kilometre round bus trip that would leave Ipswich at a quarter to seven in the morning, meaning I would have to get up no later than half past five, almost an hour earlier than I do when going to work. To misquote the lyrics of the marvellous Only Ones’ song Another Girl, Another Planet, long journeys wear me out and I can live without it. As a result, today I got up at a little after eight o’clock and am travelling a mere 20 kilometres from my home to Great Cornard to see Cornard United versus Norwich CBS in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League First Division North, an eight-word title worthy of the tenth level of the football league pyramid.
Cornard, which is largely Great Cornard is just outside Sudbury on the north bank of the River Stour, which marks the boundary between Suffolk and Essex. Great Cornard grew massively in the 1960’s with unflatteringly named ‘overspill’ from London, this will account for most of the accents I hear this afternoon being more “Gor blimey guvnor” than “Cor blaaast buh”. I only hear one Suffolk accent this afternoon, my own and I’m only putting it on. My journey today is mostly along the river valley, through Bures and up and down and along the twisting B1508, a rural ride if ever there was one. If I hadn’t felt the cold hand of death at my shoulder I might have taken the time to catch a train and then a No 754 bus followed by a ten or fifteen minute walk, but time is precious at my age so I rely on Andre Citroen’s latest C3 model to deliver me to Blackhouse Lane. Forgetting how close to Sudbury Blackhouse Lane is, I turn right too soon and take a detour in to Little Cornard, but I soon get back on to the B1508, make the correct right turn, and arrive at Cornard United’s Blackhouse Lane ground having allowed a number 754 bus that I first saw in my rear view mirror, to ‘overtake’ me due to my detour.

entrance/turnstile

It is a cold, still, grey, January day. There are plenty of parking spaces in the car park from where it is a short walk along a gated concrete roadway to the ‘turnstile,’ except there is no turnstile just a gap in the conifer hedge marked by a large white sign with red letters that reads ‘Entrance’. The clubhouse is visible across a sports pitch that sits between the car park and the ground, the words Cornard United are painted in large letters on the side of the building to prove I am in the right place. A man in a shapeless blue sports coat stands in the gap in the hedge and retreats into a small wooden garden shed as I approach. I hand a clean, new ten pound note through a window in the shed to cover the entrance money (£6) and a programme. “We don’t do a programme” I am told and am given an explanation about costs and how the League has said they no longer need to produce a programme. I tell him I understand, and I do, but it’s disappointing; there is a programme on-line, but it’s not the same, it doesn’t even feature a league table let alone a half-time quiz. A printed programme, like a stand, a rail around the pitch or a turnstile marks the difference between a proper football club and just teams kicking around on the local rec’. Having discussed the programme, the man in the coat asks me hesitantly if I’m ‘normal’. Fortunately, I instinctively know what he means and tell him I am. Disappointingly, he seems a little surprised, possibly because the blokes who turn up to watch this level of football are mostly pensioners, but he goes on to explain how some folk will pay the concessionary price (£4) when he doesn’t really think they are as old as they are making out. Privately and controversially I put this down to Suffolk people being stingy and Londoners being dishonest, but I don’t say so.
As we part the man in the shapeless coat tells me that the tea hut and bar are open and I head off towards the club house; it is thinly populated, just three blokes and the bar man, and noting that there is no real ale, I return outside where through a hatch in the front wall I buy a pounds worth of tea in a polystyrene cup. I stand and watch the two teams warming up, there is hardly anyone else here. As the Norwich CBS players and coaches then return to the dressing room prior to kick-off I ask one of them what the CBS stands for; he has no idea.

It’s soon approaching 3 o’clock and the referee is to be heard banging on the dressing room doors like a parent trying to rouse a teenage son from his bed; they evidently don’t have the luxury of bells in the dressing rooms here at Cornard. By and by the two teams line up at the double doors, which are just a few feet from the pitch, and Mr Darling leads them out. Unusually, there is no lining up on the pitch and shaking of everyone’s hands and instead the two teams sprint off to their respective halves of the pitch, with Cornard forming a team-building huddle. Eventually it is Norwich who get first go with the ball, kicking off in the direction of Little Cornard and wearing an unusual ensemble of lime green shirts and socks with grey shorts. Cornard, or the ‘nard as they are known, aim in the direction of the neighbouring Thomas Gainsborough School and Sudbury beyond, when they get the ball; they wear blue shirts with white sleeves, white shorts and blue socks, it’s a more tasteful version of the current Ipswich Town kit and doesn’t advertise on-line gambling; which is nice.
The opening couple of minutes of the match are fast, furious and very messy. Norwich immediately look more assured when in possession but not so when not; Cornard look a bit shaky whether they’ve got the ball or not. At four minutes past three a long through ball is chased by Norwich number ten Jordan Rocastle (nephew of the late Arsenal and England player David Rocastle); he catches up with it and places a low shot past joint manager and goalkeeper Matt Groves to put Cornard a goal behind. Suddenly, near to the Cornard dugout is not a good place to be for people likely to be offended by expletives, profanity and generally naughty words. “Fuckin’ shit, get you’re fuckin’ heads outta your fuckin’ arses” is the coaching advice from the technical area. These are not Suffolk dialect words.
Surprisingly, the coaching seems to work as within two minutes large ‘on-loan’ striker Ben Parkin, formerly known as ‘Omelette’ to his fans when at Wivenhoe Town wins a corner from a deflected shot. The corner kick is headed towards goal but is going well wide before Cornard number six Dave Dowding appears on the far side of the goal and heads the ball firmly across and into the other corner. The scores are level and compared to that of his counterpart, the advice of the Norwich coach is more considered, if less entertaining; “Start again”. Having paid out six quid to watch I hope they do start again, or with the game just six minutes old I shall feel somewhat short-changed.
With both teams having had the satisfaction of scoring a goal, the game settles down. Norwich still look the more accomplished side, but Cornard have improved hugely from the opening two minutes and their heads are now where they should be in relation to their bottoms. When Cornard have the ball they pass it well, when they don’t they defend well; it’s an entertaining match.
I watch from behind the dugouts where a covered pergola type structure shields the tea bar from stray footballs but also helps keep the cold out, a bit anyway. Off to the right, over the fence, beyond the Thomas Gainsborough School I can see the spire of Grade 1 listed St Andrew’s Church.

lone man in the stand

I decide to take a wander round and watch the game from different perspectives. The main stand is empty but for a lone man in an Ipswich Town beanie hat who seems to be making notes. I doubt he’s a scout, possibly just writing a match report. Further down the valley behind the stand is Sudbury rugby club; every now and then I hear what sounds like a hunting horn as if all the local Hooray-Henry types are now all watching the rugby since it’s illegal to chase foxes. There are nevertheless far more people watching the game there than there are here, I doubt the crowd watching this game exceeds thirty in number. AFC Sudbury are also at home today just a mile or two away and playing in a league two levels above Cornard are probably a bigger attraction to most, as is the Nethergate ale they serve in their clubhouse.
At twenty-five past three the floodlights flicker into life and then in an unrelated incident Cornard’s number four, Ryan McGibbon becomes the first player to be shown the glow of Mr Darling’s yellow card. Matt Grove makes a very impressive flying save from a volleyed shot following a corner. Norwich’s number three Kieran Rose, a bald man with a colourfully tattooed right arm shares Ryan McGibbon’s experience five minutes before half-time and then entertains everyone by slipping over as he goes to control the ball and then slicing it away, high between the dugouts; it’s an impressive feat of maximum technical difficulty and draws generous laughter from his own team mates and coaches.
Half-time arrives and I quickly get to the tea bar to warm my hands around another polystyrene cupped, pound’s worth of tea. Another man in a ‘sports coat’ who is taking away three cups of tea on a tray (presumably for the referee and his chums) fails to fool me into believing there are no more hot drinks, although it is a plausible ruse. I go inside the clubhouse to check the half-time scores; Ipswich aren’t losing, yet, brilliant! The clubhouse bar has an impressive parquet floor but the tables and chairs look like they might have had a previous life in a school dining room and there is perhaps a faint smell of school dinner, or it could just be floor polish.
At three minutes past four the second half begins and at four minutes past four Cornard’s number ten Jack Graham lobs the ball from a good 20 metres from goal over the advancing pink-clad Norwich goalkeeper who rather fabulously is called Asa Swatman; a name to grace any novel. There is a moment when time stops and nothing seems certain and then everyone sees the ball bounce up into the goal net. People cheer long and loud to make up for the lack of numbers in the crowd.
On the Norwich bench, or rather outside it because he is standing up, the Norwich coach is having a breakdown. “How does that happen?” he asks after clutching his head in his hands. “I can’t believe it”. It’s as if he’s never seen a football match in his life before. Perhaps his previous experience of football was coaching a team of robots. But as theatre he’s worth the entrance money and continues to do so as he queries the portly linesman’s decision that goalkeeper Matt Groves had caught the ball inside his penalty area as opposed to outside it. It’s as if sensing the futility of life he feels he might as well argue about anything, even though he can’t really be certain of the truth and it won’t make any difference anyway. I see one of the Norwich substitutes smiling to himself.

The linesmen by the way are called Mr Bigg and Mr Copsey; I’m guessing which one is which.
Norwich are dominating the game now with Cornard restricted to defending stoutly and engineering the occasional breakaway; but they’re doing a good job of it with Jack Graham running at and around the Norwich defenders like the proverbial pain in the arse. Norwich win a corner and the ball is swung in close to the goal but Cornard clear; the Norwich coach is allowing his frustration to run away with him and resorts to bizarre and previously unknown allegories. “We should start a fuckin’ perfume stand behind the goal” he moans surreally. “They should be fuckin’ throwing themselves in there” he adds, perhaps trying, but failing to make sense of his own words.
It’s not much after four fifteen and Norwich are somewhat fortuitously awarded a free-kick by Mr Darling just outside the Cornard penalty area. Their number ten Tim Hewery steps up to arc the ball over the defensive wall and in to the top left hand corner of the Cornard goal. The scores are once again level and Norwich seem to expect to go on and win; their general play indicates that they might but they don’t and striving to be more ‘direct’ they bring on a large, lumpy target man who they call Cookie, he’s a nuisance but the game is less beautiful for it. Cornard keep breaking away through Jack Graham and from one break a header hits the cross bar and they also hit a post. Matt Groves tips a Norwich shot acrobatically over his cross bar but it’s hard to say which team came closest to scoring.
The referee proves not to be the darling of either side as he makes decisions to frustrate and annoy both, although Norwich are definitely the most upset, no doubt because they expect to win and they aren’t doing so, whilst Cornard are just happy to be here, and not losing. At ten to five Mr Darling uses his whistle for the final time this afternoon and sets the Norwich number ten, Tim Hewery off on a mad rant both at him and possibly the whole Norwich team. He storms off to the dressing room alone, leaving an embarrassed silence amongst everyone else in the ground, which is quite an achievement.
It’s an entertaining end to what has been a very entertaining game. I take a final trip in to the clubhouse to syphon off some of that two pounds worth of tea and on the way out of the ground I speak to the other Cornard co-manager Mike Schofield, who like me, his brother Andy, Matt Groves, Ben Parkin and Ryan McGibbon is one of the many people to have left Wivenhoe Town in recent years. Mike is very pleased with the result, with the game having gone just as planned. Sadly Ipswich have lost at Accrington and are once again out of the FA Cup without making any impression whatsoever, but heck I’m alright I’ll be home in time for tea and although I don’t know it yet will witness Norwich City lose at home to Portsmouth on Serbian TV.

Postscript: An internet search reveals that CBS might stand for Carpentry and Building Services, but then again it might not.

Ipswich Town 1 Sheffield United 1

The first time I saw Ipswich Town play Sheffield United was in April 1972; the result was a goalless draw but I remember the game not just because Sheffield had a character from Beatrix Potter playing for them (Len Badger), but because it was also the first time I had suffered the pain, shock and hurt of seeing a Town player sent-off. The late Colin Harper was that Town player; he had protested too much to the evil Gordon Kew who had awarded a penalty to Sheffield United; but Colin laughed last as Laurie Sivell saved the kick, because back then right was on our side, sometimes. At the end of the game the pitch was pelted with cushions by spectators in the West Stand who were aiming at Mr Kew and his police escort. It is now hard to believe that such passion could be shown by people in what is probably Portman Road’s most comatose of stands. The up-shot of this reminiscence however, is the admission that I have never much liked Sheffield United.

optional signals

But today is a beautiful, bright winter’s day and it’s almost Christmas, so in the spirit of goodwill towards all men it would be very bad manners not to put my ill-will towards The Blades on hold. Feeling better for that loving feeling I arrive at the railway station to find that the 12:57 to Ipswich is delayed by six minutes due to ‘signalling problems’. I text my wife Paulene because she likes to know of all the small misfortunes that befall me and because she likes to have her already low opinion of Greater Anglia railways reinforced whenever possible. Paulene texts me back with a series of emojis; her interpretation of potential ‘signalling problems’.

simplicity creations

As I wait for the train I enjoy the low winter sun; on the railway platform a sign advertises the services of The Samaritans, they are “in my corner” should I need them; but I’m not a boxing fan and the words don’t really work as a footballing analogy. The arrival of the train soon shakes me from my reverie. I sit on the grey moquette by a window and look about the carriage. The face of an ugly old woman with a big nose leers down at me from a poster advertising Simplicity Cremations, their strapline being ‘making funerals less of an undertaking’. I’m not sure when humour became ‘a thing’ in advertising for undertakers; I think of an alternative strapline with more of an accent on the ‘simple’ cremation “Light the blue touch paper and retire”. It is interesting that an undertaker would think that train passengers’ thoughts should turn to their own deaths, although when delays are really bad I guess people do begin to wonder if they will ever make it home and therefore begin to make plans.

christmas club shop display

Arriving at Ipswich there are two Christmas trees on the railway station concourse and two policemen guard the doors. A string of lights fail to make the Station Hotel look very festive; I hurry on towards Portman Road where there is little festive feel but for one steward in a red and white hat. For a reason I find hard to explain I buy a programme in the club shop, but it was worth it to see the display of Christmas themed soft toys and assorted tat.

Round the corner in Sir Alf Ramsey Way I pause to hear the Salvation Army band strike up with ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’. Beginning to feel a lot as if it’s Christmas I head for St Jude’s Tavern to enjoy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which today is Maldon Brewing Co’s ‘Five Gold Rings’. I sit and read the programme, occasionally joining in with the conversation of the match-day regulars who are sat around the table next to me. I enjoyed the Match Day Special but variety is the spice of life and from my second journey to the bar I return with a pint of Maldon’s ‘Winter’s Ale’ (£3.20) and finally I drink a half of Earl Soham Brewery’s ‘Sir Roger’s Porter’ (£1.70). Glass drained I walk down Portman Road with one of the St Jude’s regulars with who I had been sitting, I think his name is Ian; he is a bald man who currently has a limp, I discover that like me he has a penchant for French and Belgian football. I silently envy him his visits to Royal Antwerp and Aalst.
Portman Road is not overly busy, it’s close enough to 3 o’clock for most people to be already inside the stadium and by now only those who have struggled against Christmas crapulence to leave the pub are making their way through the turnstiles. I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile No3 and bid the operator a cheery Christmas greeting. I make my way, via the gents, to my seat next to Elwood and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and just in front of Pat from Clacton. I ask Pat if she enjoyed Tina Turner The Musical, which she went to see yesterday, in London. She did; although it was the understudy who played Tina. I hand a Christmas card to Elwood, to give to his dad, who tells him to put it in their bag.
The game begins with Ipswich as ever in their blue and white kit, which this season has sadly been tainted by the ugly logo of an organisation peddling on-line gambling. Without good reason, unless they are showing solidarity with France’s gilets jaunes, Sheffield United eschew their proper colours of red and white striped shirts and black shorts in favour of luminous yellow shirts with black shorts. I keep a look out for piles of burning tyres and pallets but fortunately there are none to be seen as Town get the ball rolling towards me, Pat, Phil and Elwood. Another good afternoon’s work from Zero the sniffer dog.

“Oh when the Reds, Go marching in” sing the Yorkshiremen in the Cobbold Stand “Hark, now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” is the riposte from the Sir Bobby Robson Stand and I wonder if the Salvation Army have been co-opted into the Blue Action supporters group. The football is fast and furious but it’s Sheffield who are fastest. Town may have to bide their time this afternoon, Sheffield United look quite good despite their poor choice of shirts. In the Sheffield corner of the Cobbold Stand the Okey Cokey breaks out and all around the stadium is a sprinkling of Santas and people dressed as elves. At seventeen minutes past three Sheffield United ‘score’ but the ‘goal’ is disallowed, something to do with a breach of the offside rule it would seem. “Down with the Wednesday, you’re going down with the Wednesday” sing the Sheffielders, presumably not to their own team, although if not it doesn’t seem a very charitable thing to sing, given the time of year.
It’s almost twenty five past three when Town at last have a goal attempt of their own as a cross from the right is met by the head of Ellis Harrison, a man who until today I did not realise had such impressive calf muscles. The header is caught easily by the Sheffield goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Six minutes later a deep cross from Town’s Gwion Edwards drops into the edge of the Sheffield penalty area, Freddie Sears is running onto it, there is an audible gasp of expectation from the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, but Henderson gets there first, giving him cause to dance and sing. Town then win a corner; Luke Chambers launches himself towards the goal like a human missile and heads the ball solidly into the roof of the net. The ‘goal’ however is disallowed by referee Mr Woolmer. “What the hell was wrong with it?” calls the old boy behind me, showing admirable bias towards his team. Unfortunately, the human missile took out a few too many Sheffield players in the course of its rather flat trajectory.
Having disallowed a ‘goal’ Mr Woolmer seemingly develops a taste for enraging the home crowd and awards a free-kick against Ellis Harrison when it’s likely he was the player who was fouled and when Town are heading towards the Sheffield goal. The crowd is at once energised. “Who’s the wanker in the black?” sing the Sir Bobby Robson Stand in a rare display of unified voice. I volunteer the information that the wanker in the black is Mr Andy Woolmer, a short balding man who every other step has to skip or jump to keep up with the longer strides of his assistants as they walk on and off the pitch…like Private Baldric on the opening credits of Blackadder Goes Forth. This is the fourth consecutive home match for which Town have been given a ‘short ref’. I think its about time we had a lanky one.


Perhaps it is just Ipswich’s good fortune, perhaps the Sheffield players are unnerved by the better than usual vocal support for Ipswich or by the use of the word ‘wanker; perhaps they have heard about the cushion throwing incident in 1972, but they proceed to muck up several passes leaving Ellis Harrison with a run on goal and space to shoot. Ellis shoots, Ellis scores. I get a perfect end on view of the ball swerving wonderfully inside the netting just behind the goal post; it’s a thing of beauty, it’s bloody marvellous. Joy abounds.
There are eight minutes until half time. “I hope we get to half-time without…..” says the old boy behind me, his voice trailing off as if he cannot bear to utter the words to complete the sentence. Half-time arrives and Town are still winning. It has been a struggle but in the last ten minutes we came good, in part thanks to the diminutive Mr Woolmer’s ability to stir up the supporters with his abject refereeing.
I visit the gents, I talk to Ray and hand him a Christmas card; a very small brass band play Christmas Carols in the centre of the pitch. On the concourse below the stand what looks like a soil pipe is decorated with a twist of blue lights, some rather feeble strings of lights dangle from the roof and a Christmas tree decorates the entrance to the upstairs hospitality area. The stadium announcer tells us that the Premier League half-time scores will be on the scoreboard, “should you wish to see them”, which I think is a nicely condescending touch, richly deserved by those who do wish to see them.
All is well until the second half begins and within a minute Sheffield equalise through Billy Sharp a man who despite his thirty-two years has a name which will forever sound like he’s a young scamp of an eleven year old who’s just stepped out of a Barry Hines novel. He should perhaps call himself Bill or William now he’s a bit older. “Well, we’re gonna see plenty of the ball this half then” remarks the old boy behind me looking on the bright side, sort of.
It turns out that whilst we do see quite a lot of the ball being passed between the gilets jaunes in our half of the pitch, they don’t manage to create many certain chances to score and Dean Gerken makes hardly any saves; far, far fewer saves than he did against Wigan last week. Sheffield’s dominance of possession leaves the Ipswich crowd quiet for long periods but no one moans to fill the void. Everyone outside that one corner of the Cobbold Stand is of course hoping for another Town goal, but a draw will be alright. The crowd is announced as 17.942 (1,292 from Sheffield) which is pretty good for a Second Division team bottom of the league on the Saturday before Christmas, and shows that people do still care and still believe that relegation will be avoided. At twenty-five to five a chorus of “Come On Ipswich, Come on Ipswich ” ringing around much of the ground is strong enough to prove the point.

Mr Andy Woolmer

This is an enjoyable game and the old dear behind me is getting her kicks from Mr Woolmer’s lack of height, “I don’t know how he can see the fouls, he int tall enough is he?” she says before querying how he can manage to measure out ten yards at a free-kick with “… his little legs”. Happily for those of us satisfied with a draw, only three minutes of added time are called and whilst Mr Woolmer books Jordan Spence and gives Sheffield United a free-kick just outside the penalty area in that time, his efforts to let Sheffield score come to nought. The game ends and a warm applause flows from the stands. “That was bloody brilliant” says the old boy behind me getting a bit carried away with it all. I wait to applaud the team from the field and of course boo the referee. If I had had a cushion I doubt I would have hurled it at Mr Woolmer, possibly because we didn’t lose, but probably because I’m quite mild-mannered really. It’s odd that we think we live in a more liberal society than we did in 1972, but hurling a mere soft cushion would probably see me tracked down and banned for life from Portman Road now.
It has been a grand afternoon at Portman Road and Town are well worth their point against a superior team. We seem to be successfully assuming the role of plucky underdog, which in a league rammed full of Premier League pretenders will allow us a wry smile come the end of the season when only three of them get what they wished for…..and of course they should be careful of what that is. As for Town, we’re bottom of the league at Christmas, but I’m happy……or as happy as one can be.

Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0

In 1978 when Ipswich Town were winning the FA Cup, Wigan Athletic finished second in the Northern Premier League behind Boston United and were elected to the Football League in place of Southport. Today, as ever-present Phil who never misses a game will later joke, Wigan are Town’s peers and today we meet. That’s a good joke Phil, you are wasted teaching IT to the youth of Northampton. Wigan bobbed about in the ‘lower divisions’ for several years, I remember seeing them lose frequently at Layer Road in the 1990’s, but eventually the club had the good fortune to be adopted by millionaire Dave Whelan who built them a stadium and paid their way in to the Premier League (spit). I met Dave Whelan once in a professional capacity; he flew down to Ipswich by helicopter just to meet me, and my colleague (boss). As we talked informally to break the ice my colleague, let’s call him Steve because that is his name, offered him a million pounds for Titus Bramble (then a Wigan Athletic player) and he accepted. I’m still not sure what we would have done with Titus Bramble in our office.

Today is a gloriously grey mid-December day. The sky is dull, the wind is gusty and the cold is very cold; so cold it cuts against my skin like a knife as I walk to the railway station. There are plenty of people waiting for the 12:57 train; Christmas shoppers mostly, heading for the bright, twinkling lights of Colchester. The train is late. A freight train seems to be to blame; it crawls through the station belching thick, dark diesel fumes. “Bloody hell” says a youth out to his impress his mates before he breaks into a bout of ostentatious coughing. More mature people cover their noses with their scarves or hold their breath. I wander down the platform and wait near a man who has hair like a young Sid James. The train is nine minutes late, but arrives in due course. As it draws into the platform two men in their late sixties manoeuvre themselves towards the sliding doors. “Ooh, it’s one of the refurbished ones, have you been on one of these?” says one of the men who has an unfortunate squint to one eye. The other man doesn’t answer. I imagine he’s thinking “Twat”.

The Christmas shoppers and Sid James desert the train at Colchester and I  am left to contemplate a sign inviting me to recharge my lap-top, tablet or phone, but only my lap-top, tablet or phone, from a sealed up power point. It’s as if Greater Anglia railways had considered being generous, but then thought better of it.

Ipswich is as grey and cloudy as the station where I began my journey and the streets are cold and quiet. I stride over the Princes Street bridge purposefully in my overcoat and blue and white scarf, probably smiling slightly to myself because I’m looking forward to the match; surely we can win today, I’m thinking. A woman in a car waiting at the traffic lights catches my eye and gives me the thumbs up. Yes, we will surely win today. I see the banners on the lamp posts advertising the Rodin exhibition at the gallery in Christchurch Park and am further inspired; I really must go and see ‘The Kiss’. We’ve got it all in Ipswich. Seriously.

Portman Road is quiet for a match day but perhaps that is because the turnstiles are already open and the people usually here at 1.30 are all inside doing whatever people who arrive an hour and a half before kick-off do. I head for the Fanzone to deliver a bag of groceries to the FIND foodbank charity; I’m not going into the Fanzone but a steward tries to stop me nevertheless because I haven’t shown that I have a match ticket, I tell them not to fret, I’m only going ‘over here’. Hopefully FIND will have had a successful day and will make further collections on future match days.

I head on to St Jude’s Tavern past a steward walking a car along Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I call to him that he needs a red flag. St Jude’s is very busy but I quickly avail myself of a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is St Jude’s Thaddeus. I perch on a bar stool in a dark corner; it’s the only vacant seat left. I’m not quite half way through my pint when Mick appears at the door, the large fur-trimmed hood of his coat casts a deep shadow over his face and beard making him look a little like a slightly sinister polar explorer. Mick quickly acquires a pint of the Thaddeus too and we talk of car insurance, my recent weekend in Amiens, of Trappist beers (Orval and Chimay), Jules Verne, ethical candles, gilets jaunes and Emmanuel Macron. Finishing my first pint, I buy a pint of Mr Bee’s Black Bee (£3.40) and Mick has a half of the Match Day Special. Time flies by and it’s almost ten to three, I have to dash.

 I seem to be the last person to be making his way down Portman Road towards the glowing floodlights, in the nearing distance supporters scurry across from the car park and hurry through the turnstiles like people getting in, out of the rain. At the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand I greet the turnstile operator with cheery smile and proceed to the seats where as ever I will find ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and Pat from Clacton.

Phil hands me a Christmas card, which is nice  and after the referee Mr Scott Duncan poses for photos with the team captains and mascots the match is soon underway. Town get first go with the ball and are trying to send it in the direction of me, Phil and Pat. Town as ever wear blue and white shirts despoiled by the ugly advert for on-line betting whilst Wigan are obviously the away team because they are all in yellow.

The game is a bit of a mess. Town start slightly better than Wigan and mill around their goal for a bit, but without threatening to score. Not really making the best of the Latin rhythms of Guantanamera, the 310 Wigan supporters in the Cobbold Stand sing “Down with the Wanderers, You’re going down with the Wanderers”. Presumably they are addressing their song to Ipswich and not to their own team, but you never know. At the North Stand end of the ground the ambience is less Cuban and South American and more Spanish, although the chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” are swept away on the icy wind above the muffled sound of drums. Wigan begin to have more of the ball, but are as ineffective close to Ipswich’s goal as we are to theirs.
The game settles down into scruffy mediocrity but the hope that everyone is drawing from the realisation that Wigan are as bad as we are is palpable; at times that hope congeals into belief and the vestiges of long lost vocal support ripple through the stands. “We’re going to see Tina Turner the musical on Friday, in London” I hear Pat say. “I’m not” says Phil.

There are several free-kicks and the Wigan players seem keen to hold proceedings up whenever they can by feigning mortal injury and clutching various limbs before skipping off to kick or shove someone in blue and white. Frustrated by another delay the old dear behind shouts “Keep it goin’, we gotta get home tonight. It’s obviously not cold enough for ‘em.”

With a half an hour gone a tuneless, droning chant of “Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan” makes a succinct commentary on the type of game it is and makes me think of the Buzzcocks’ “Boredom” and I mourn the death of Pete Shelley quietly to myself whilst waiting for something good to happen. A page from a copy of the East Anglian Daily Times dances its way across the pitch, blown and buffeted by the wind. Then another page floats by and another. “ It’s coming across a page at a time” says the elderly voice behind me and she chuckles ,enjoying the sight of paper blowing about more than the match it seems. A serious looking steward with a head wrapped in earphones steps forward to grab a piece of the newspaper and dispose of it. “Underground, overground, Wombling free” I sing. It’s twenty-five to four and Freddie Sears breaks free of the Wigan defence, he bears down on goal, he shoots over the cross bar. Five minutes later Wigan’s, or more accurately Everton’s Callum Connolly misses the goal too after a corner, “Crikey, you’re worse than us” is the verdict from behind me.
Half-time is a blessed opportunity to thaw my hands beneath the warm air blowers in the gents’ toilet; it’s a cold day and I’ve drunk two pints of beer so I take the chance to use the other facilities too. Outside on the concourse I eat a Panda brand liquorice stick and then, back in the stand chat with Ray, who also hands me a Christmas card. It is starting to rain and it’s getting dark.
The second half of the match begins and the break has made me more conscious of the cold easterly wind; even Paul Lambert has a coat on this afternoon, even if he has left it not done up. For now, despite slowly numbing fingers due to fingerless gloves, I feel warm. My woolly socks, cosily fitting boxer shorts bought in an Amiens supermarket (Auchan), a T-shirt bearing the words “Allez-les bleus”, long-sleeve cotton 1950’s Ipswich football shirt, chunky woolly jumper, beneath a heavy overcoat, and a woolly ITFC badged hat and scarf seem to be doing the trick. I was worried about the boxer shorts because they have the word ‘Athletic’ all around the waist band, but have decided that like sticking pins in a wax effigy having a part of the name of our opponents printed on my pants will put a hex on them.

The standard of football doesn’t improve. “It’s probably better on the radio” says the old girl behind me. The cold intensifies with the rain and my feet start to feel like blocks of ice. Dean Gerken the Ipswich goalkeeper draws disapproving moans and groans from the crowd as he hurries a clearance, which screws away into touch. He glowers back at the crowd. Perhaps he senses and even resents the loyalty in the crowd to Bartosz Bialkowski. The wind and rain are making it difficult for players who like to hoof the ball, but I think we are right to expect better on this occasion. I begin to wonder if this game might not become the win we are waiting for, but despite that minor ‘altercation’ with “Gerks” there is still a prevailing atmosphere of hope and support. We know we aren’t here to be entertained, we are here to see a win and people are sensing that they have some part in making that happen because perhaps the team might not be able to do it alone. Every now and then a string of on-field events will cause an eruption of supportive sounds from the stands and belief is restored. Even when a shot from Wigan’s Reece James strikes the Ipswich cross bar it seems to galvanise the support, not make them depressed and scornful as would have happened last season. It’s gone twenty past four and an Ipswich ‘attack’ takes ‘shape’ in a random manner on the right. The ball is hit hither and thither and into the box where there is more bagatelle until Freddie Sears half volleys the ball into the ground and towards the goal, it strikes Everton’s Callum Connolly and, as Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton looks over his shoulder, the back of the goal net. Ipswich Town are winning.
The remaining twenty four minutes are both awful and utterly enjoyable. The referee Mr Scott Duncan, despite having the name of a former Town manager whom the supporters respect, unlike the last four managers, makes a catalogue of dubious decisions many involving granting Wigan free-kicks around the edge of the penalty area. But this only draws everyone together, if we have to beat both Wigan Athletic and the referee so be it. Town manager Paul Lambert is equally gung-ho and has now discarded his coat like some sort of footballing King Lear challenging the wind and freezing rain to do its worst.  Wigan’s last chance is the ludicrous addition of seven minutes of time added on, it’s as if Wigan have benefitted from their own time wasting earlier in the match. But thankfully Wigan are not good enough to make anything of it. If it was a Friday in the 1960’s it would be time for Crackerjack by now, but at last Mr Duncan’s whistle draws its last and Town have won at home for the first time in just over six months and for just the third time this year.
This has  been the worst brilliant match I have ever seen and certainly the best terrible one too. The foul, freezing weather has just made it more marvellous, more memorable. This is what being a football supporter is all about, days like this. I have learned again the joy of a single win. The wait has been worth it. I feel sorry for those supporters of clubs who have never been bottom of the league in mid-December without a home win, they don’t know what they’ve missed. Today our souls have been enriched.
Tonight my wife and I shall drink champagne.