Ipswich Town first played Sheffield Wednesday back in August of 1958 in a second division game at Portman Road; trolleybuses were still running in Ipswich and Sheffield still had trams the first time round. Town of course won (2-0), as we often did before the turn of the century. By the time I started watching Town the twentieth century had the best part of thirty years still to run, but Sheffield Wednesday were down in the third division and Town were just getting established in what has now unfortunately become the Premier League, and hence the two clubs never met, not even in the Cup. The first time I saw Wednesday was therefore not against Ipswich at all but at Layer Road, Colchester, in September of 1979, neither team managed to score. When I eventually did see Town play Wednesday it was at Hillsborough in September of 1984, halfway through the miner’s strike. After the 2-2 draw I was amongst Town fans who were whisked back to Sheffield Midland station at high speed in a double-decker bus escorted by police motorcycles. As we sped through the streets of Sheffield that Saturday evening, we felt unsure if we would end up at the train station or hurtling through a jeering picket line to do a strike-breaking shift at a local colliery.
Today is a somewhat grey September Saturday morning and it feels nothing at all like thirty-seven years ago, the class struggle seems to have been lost and now both Town and Wednesday languish in the third division playing second fiddle to their loathsome local rivals. I don’t know if it has anything to do with a loss of revolutionary zeal, but my enthusiasm for today’s fixture is oddly muted, particularly given Town’s first win of the season last weekend, and as if to confirm my feelings of ennui this morning I chose to put on a pair of socks that depict Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Nevertheless, there is never any doubt that I won’t drive to Ipswich, park up my trusty Citroen C3 on Chantry, wander down through Gippeswyk Park and search out a pre-match beer. Later as I walk up Princes Street, what I assume is a police drone hovers above and I am struck by the new views of Portman Road that have been opened up following demolition of the former Mann Egerton garage from where in 1978 my father bought the brown Triumph Dolomite in which I wooed my first girlfriend. Having witnessed a man shouting and swearing at his friend or partner trying unsuccessfully to back a mini into a parking space, I end up at the Arbor House (properly known as the Arboretum) where I sit alone in the garden and drink a pint of Woodforde’s Kett’s Rebellion (£3.80).
At about twenty-five minutes to three I head for Portman Road and join the crocodile of supporters descending St George’s Street from the Greyhound. Making my way along Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Constantine Road I show my Covid credentials and then enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile number sixty, offering a cheery ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ to the turnstile operator as I enter the ground. The programme seller in the driveway to the main reception has sold out so I make my way to the little shop at the far end of the stand where I buy a programme (£3.50). “Enjoy the match” says the young man behind the counter as he hands over the glossy booklet and my change from a five-pound note. “Or bon match as they say in France”, I reply pointing to the “Allez les bleus” slogan on the front of my T-shirt as I turn away and walk into one of the metal barriers that have been set out in front of the shop, presumably to marshal the invisible throng of people over eager to buy programmes and other assorted toot.
On the lower tier of the stand Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Ray, his son and his grandson Harrison are already in their seats. Pat from Clacton arrives soon after I sit down and as the teams run out, the little band called Blue Action who now occupy Section 6 of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and wave blue and white flags, and brandish a colourful banner that reads “Uppa Towen”. Compared to the tifos seen in the stands of Marseille or Lens, Blue Action’s effort is rather pathetic, but in the context of soporific Suffolk it’s a bloody marvel and I like it very much. At a minute past three the game begins with Scott Fraser making first contact with the ball as Town aim to put it in the big white goal just in front of me to my right. Within 30 seconds Sheffield Wednesday win a corner with their supporters still singing along to ‘Hey Jude’, a song which is played over the PA system with the intention of rousing the home fans, not the away ones; but it’s good to be optimistic. Three minutes later and Town should be ahead as a simple through ball from Cameron Burgess puts the oddly named Macauley Bonne through on goal, only for Bonne to take too much time and eventually place the ball weakly against the chest of Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, a man who looks like a giant orange-flavour Lyons Maid Mivvi, sounds like a firm of accountants and can stop most shots by merely stringing his name out across the goalmouth.
Behind me two blokes debate which of Town’s two defensive midfielders is Idris El-Mizouni and which is Tommy Carroll. The louder, more assertive bloke concludes that Idris is number 25, which he is not, because that’s Tommy Carroll. I briefly toy with the idea of turning around to point out his error, but happily his more cautious accomplice discovers the truth a short while later to save me the trouble. Meanwhile, up in the Cobbold Stand the Sheffielders sing “Shall we sing a, Shall we sing a, Shall we sing a song for you” to the tune of Cwm Rhondda. Nobody responds, presumably because most people are thinking to themselves “Well, they’re already singing a song, what are they on about?”. For my part, I’m impressed by their politeness and given a choice would ask for something by Heaven 17, Pulp or the Arctic Monkeys.
Fifteen minutes have elapsed since the game started and so far not very much of note has happened. Then, Wes Burns slams the ball into the net after either the oddly named Macauley Bonne or Scott Fraser flicks the ball on to him, but Burns is, unbeknown to me and those around me, offside; we therefore stand up as one and cheer wildly only to sit down again a moment later feeling cheated and very slightly embarrassed. To their eternal credit the Wednesdayites do not chant “You thought you had scored, you were wrong, you were wrong”, which is nice of them.
The game is close and compelling although not of particularly good quality; Sheffield are quicker to the ball and dominate possession, but fortunately their tiny ten, the wonderfully named Barry Bannan tends to overhit most of his crosses and long passes. For Town meanwhile, the oddly named Macauley Bonne looks somewhat lonely up front on his own and I surmise that he wears the number eighteen shirt because he’s doing the work of two number nines.
“It’s gonna come innit?” announces the bloke behind me optimistically as Town waste an opportunity with Idris El-Mizouni passing to Wes Burns when he could have had a shot and Wes Burns overhitting the ensuing cross. Then, slightly unexpectedly, we witness a Sheffield Wednesday goal instead; Dennis Adeniran becoming the first man called Dennis, with two ‘n’s like the fire engines and dust carts, to score at Portman Road in living memory, although Denis (only one ‘n’) Maffey did score for Town back in September 1947 in a 4-0 win over Southend.
The Sheffield supporters away to my right are predictably pleased and sing an incomprehensible song to the tune of the ‘Yankee Doodle’ nursery rhyme; their euphoria and short vowels rendering their words indecipherable, but for the final one which is ‘Wednesday’. I have to admit to feeling somewhat depressed that Town have gone behind again at home and can barely remember when I last saw them comfortably win a game by three or four goals to nil, like we used to do. There must be young supporters who are barely aware that such things ever happened or are even possible. Pat from Clacton echoes my disappointment. “It’s a shame, isn’t it?” she says.
As if the frustration of being a goal down wasn’t enough, the referee Mr Andy Davies, whose head is conspicuously hairless, then proceeds to deny the oddly named Macauley Bonne a free-kick when his feet miraculously disappear from beneath him as he attempts to side step a Wednesday defender on the edge of the penalty box. “You don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing” chant the Sir Bobby Robson stand employing a childish simplicity reminiscent of the school playground. Further decisions from the increasingly inept Mr Davies go against Town and as he speaks to and perhaps compares haircuts with a clearly perplexed Paul Cook, the crowd ask “Who’s the wanker in the black?” suggesting both that they haven’t read the back pages of their programmes carefully enough and that they care not about the possibility of either of the linesmen thinking “Ooh, I hope they don’t mean me?”.
The half-time break arrives and Town still trail, I console myself with a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and a chat with Ray, who bemoans the performance of Mr Andy Davies and more controversially of Bersant Celina, who doesn’t look as fit or sharp as he might. Not far from where Ray and I are standing former Town and Sheffield Wednesday player Shefki Kuqi appears, looking trim and very smart in a grey suit good enough for a job interview or court appearance, and takes the well-deserved applause of the whole ground.
At four minutes past four the football resumes and Town enjoy more possession, although a lot of it involves passing the ball across the field waiting for the right opening to appear. It’s not long before Mr Davies is showing off his poor refereeing skills once again as Wednesday’s Liam Palmer is tripped on the edge of the Town penalty box. Appearing uncertain whether the foul happened inside or outside the box, Mr Davies doesn’t give a foul at all, making it the Wednesdayites’ turn to tell him he doesn’t know what he’s doing, provoking ironic jeers from the Town supporters to which the Wednesday fans respond with a chant of “We forgot, we forgot, we forgot that you were here”. It’s easily done.
In the sixty-seventh minute Wednesday’s tiny ten, Barry Bannen, leaves the pitch as slowly as his little legs will carry him to be replaced by Callum Paterson. Barry’s departure leaves Wednesday’s Sam Hutchinson as the only player on the pitch with particularly naff looking bleached blonde hair. The oddly named Macauley Bonne shoots straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell for a second time this afternoon, and then for a while substitutions seem to become the purpose of the game, as Wednesday swap seven for seventeen and Town swap Celina and Burns for Harper and Chaplin, before the oddly named Macauley Bonne has another opportunity, which this time is deflected away for a corner, and then Cameron Burgess heads wide of the goal. For the first time this afternoon the Sheffield Wednesday support has fallen silent, although not as silent as most of the Ipswich crowd is the rest of the time .
Twelve minutes remain and as Sheffield make a rare foray forward, Idris El-Mizouni manages to fell two of them at once with a Keystone Cops style assault, which unfairly results in his being shown the yellow card by the hopeless Mr Davies, who plainly doesn’t appreciate good slapstick comedy when he sees it. Not long afterwards Idris is replaced by Joe Piggott, but he leaves the field to appreciative and well-deserved applause having played a skilful, controlled game to be expected of a player who grew up in France. He will be the new Zizou yet.
With the game entering its final throes, one of the seats in the row in front of me and to my left becomes occupied by what I can only describe as a gobby oik, who complains that Town are knocking the ball around like they’re winning. He seems to know the bloke behind me and after flicking ‘v’ signs at the Sheffield supporters he turns to him seeking his approval; I’m not sure he gets it. He doesn’t like that no one sings in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and I share his despair, but otherwise he seems a right berk and I hope he abides by his promise that he’ll watch the next game from the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.
Not much more than five minutes of normal time remain and Cheyenne Dunkley, who is even more oddly and improbably named than the oddly named Macauley Bonne, replaces Said Berahino for Wednesday. Two minutes of normal time remain and Ipswich press for an equaliser. “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” chant an almost respectable number of the home crowd, but slightly shyly. Ninety minutes are up and from my seat it looks like Bailey Peacock- Farrell is about to make a drop kick, but suddenly the oddly named Macauley Bonne has the ball and the Wednesday defence is in disarray, Bonne passes back across the face of goal to Scott Fraser and Fraser sends it onto Conor Chaplin at the far post and he smashes the ball into the gaping Wednesday net! We’ve equalised! Well, I wasn’t expecting that.
Most of time added on for assorted stoppages remains and Town have the opportunity to score the winner as Rekeem Harper surges unpredictably into the penalty box, but shoots weakly at the orange Mivvi . The remaining time ebbs away and the game ends with no further goals, although Scott Fraser makes a final flourish in Mr Davies notebook with a cynical trip. As the players leave the pitch a good number of people stay back to applaud their efforts. I am pleased that we haven’t lost, because I thought we were going to, but overall, I am still a little disappointed that we haven’t played better. As I drive home listening to Radio Suffolk, mainly for the laughs, it’s a view that I learn the legendary Mick Mills also holds, although many listeners seem to disagree. It is very unusual for me to be disappointed with a Town performance when other Town supporters aren’t.
The first home victory of the season still remains annoyingly elusive, but heck, we’re playing bottom of the table Doncaster Rovers next, so how difficult can it be, so I’ll stay positive and try not to wear the Edvard Munch socks again.