Ipswich Town ended a sequence of defeats and general under achievement with victory at Home Park, Plymouth on 6th December last year, just three months and a week ago. It doesn’t seem a quarter of a year ago, let alone a third of a football season since that victory, but oddly it seems that time has simultaneously both speeded up and slowed down since the start of the pandemic and the lockdowns. The experience finds me in reflective mood this morning and I dull the pain by steam cleaning the shower, ‘hoovering’ the kitchen and filling a five year old hole in the kitchen ceiling, which was created when a new light fitting was installed.
Yesterday evening I signed up to witness the third game of the Paul Cook era at Portman Road on the ifollow, and without crossing the threshold of my semi-detached suburban home, my Saturday afternoon is consequently mapped out for me, as every Saturday afternoon has been since some time back in August. Not being a particular fan of television since the demise of Quiz Ball in December of 1972, I was surprised to find that at first I quite enjoyed the novelty of seeing the Town courtesy of the cathode ray tube in the corner of the living room, or it’s flattened, somewhat swollen, wall-mounted, modern equivalent. Town had never been regular performers on the telly, even back when we was fab in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, but now all of a sudden we are; it’s just a shame we are no longer worth watching as entertainment but only as an exercise in eternal optimism, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Today therefore it now feels like mere habit that makes me log on to my lap top as three o’clock approaches.
By way of a change today I shall be watching the match against Plymouth in the kitchen. It has been agreed that the living room is the room in the house that is most like Wembley Stadium, and therefore best suited to my wife Paulene watching her team Portsmouth play Salford City in last season’s final of what used to be the Associate Members Cup, but is now merely an occasional playground for the youth of the Premier League clubs and a vehicle for the peddling of takeaway pizza. By Paulene’s own admission it is a particularly pointless fixture because whoever wins the enormous slice of tin-plated pizza or whatever the trophy now is, will get to keep it for just twenty-four hours because this season’s final between Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers is to be played the very next day.
As the ifollow transports me to Portman Road, the quality of the transmission is at first poor and creates the impression that the sound engineer, if there is one, is a devotee of the late Norman Collier. Happily the technical fault is only temporary and the airwaves are crystal clear as I hear BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley ask Mick Mills how he assesses Ipswich Town’s play-off ambitions. Reassuringly Mick presents the argument that it’s best to finish sixth in the league table. “If you hit sixth spot anything can happen from that position” says Mick raising the possibility that sixth position in League One is some sort of portal to another world where Luke Chambers captains England to the third-place play-off in the World Cup, Paul Cook has a head of hair to rival that of Carlos Valderrama, Marcus Evans offers Lionel Messi whatever he wants to see out his playing career at Portman Road and the Football Association is run by a race of highly intelligent squirrels.
The game begins and in making a minor adjustment to the position of my lap top I accidentally press the off button. Quickly turning the lap-top back on the picture returns sans commentary just as an Alan Judge free-kick whistles over the Plymouth cross bar. The resultant corner kick is cleared and sound is restored just as Brenner speaks poetically of a throw-in being awarded against a Plymouth player as the “ ..ball skims over the laces of his right shoe”. Brenner has many quirks which make his commentary satisfyingly unique and his insistence that the players are wearing shoes and not football boots is just one of them. Down on the touchline meanwhile, we are told that Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe is “…barking out instructions”, although there is no word from Brenner about his footwear, but we can guess he’s not wearing Hush Puppies.
It is only the fourth minute of the game and Town score courtesy of an ill-advised back pass by Adam Lewis. “Troy Parrott couldn’t believe his good fortune” says Brenner, obviously not really having any idea what Mr Parrott does or doesn’t believe but making something up which he thinks sounds plausible. “That is a dream start” says Mick, giving us an insight into how retired professional footballers still think about the game even in their sleep.
Without warning ,the ifollow pictures stutter and I imagine living rooms and kitchens across Suffolk in which Tractor Boys and Girls point at their lap-tops and TV screens as one and chant “ You’re not very good, you’re not very good, you’re not very, you’re not very, you’re not very good” to the tune of Knees Up Mother Brown. Back at Portman Road, Plymouth’s Panutche Camara does something to inspire Brenner to say “Camara, a bit of a live wire customer”. Unusually for a player not from Britain, Brenner makes no reference to Camara’s nationality ; Camara is from Guinea-Bissau; I can only guess that he can’t decide whether someone from Guinea-Bissau is a Guinean or a Guinea-Bissauan.
Plymouth Argyle are poor, their play consisting mostly of mistakes and passing to Ipswich players. Sympathetically, Myles Kenlock makes a couple of mistakes of his own, which is thoughtful of him. Andre Dozzell is “…trying to pull the strings in midfield” Brenner tells us just as Dozzell turns attack into defence with an incisive 20 yard pass back across the half-way line to centre-half James Wilson . It’s the tenth minute and Kayden Jackson is clean through on goal, he must score! He doesn’t. “That was a real chance for Kayden Jackson” says Brenner “Was it” says Mick using a little heard affirming intonation “Totally dominant, Ipswich Town – can’t remember the last time I said that in a game” says Brenner, and no one else can remember either, although if they can they should send their answer on a postcard to BBC Radio Suffolk or text 81333 and as Brenner would tell you, start the message with the letters SFK.
In an idle moment Brenner tells us of when Plymouth last won at Portman Road; it was eleven years ago and Paul Mariner was their manager and he gave his coat to someone in the crowd as a memento but left his glasses in the pocket and had to contact the club to get them back. Remembering the story too, Mick tells it again but with more words and added superfluous detail. When Mick has finished the story Brenner tells us that he remembers it too, almost as if he wasn’t the one to tell us about it in the first place and that we wouldn’t remember that. A short while later Brenner once again tells us again that Andre Dozzell is trying to pull the strings in midfield.
The match is unusually enjoyable and Town’s attacking play gives Brenner the opportunity to try out some football-speak seldom heard in his recent commentaries. “Trying to get Jackson on his bike” says Brenner as a long ball up the wing drops off the end of the pitch. Another similar attempted pass on the opposite side of the pitch has little Alan Judge not getting to the ball either , “ …his legs weren’t going to get him there” says Brenner, perhaps implying that he should have borrowed Kayden Jackson’s bike.
A quarter of the way through the game and with Town still “…by far the better side, completely on top” Brenner looks ahead to the forthcoming Town games at Portsmouth and Wigan, which he rather weirdly refers to as “Paul Cook derbies” on the basis that Paul Cook previously managed both clubs; it’s a disturbing insight into how the mind of a football commentator works. Mick Mills meanwhile keeps his commentating firmly based in reality and rather than indulging in such nonsense he tells us how twice Myles Kenlock has saved Town by dealing with crosses in central positions that a mysteriously absent James Wilson should really have cleared. “Myles Kenlock has dealt with them really, really well” says Mick delivering praise which would smack of nothing more than solidarity amongst left-backs if spoken by any lesser man.
Almost a third of the game has passed and Plymouth win their first corner, which is played deep to what Brenner rather indelicately and peculiarly describes as “the backside of the box” . The sun comes out in Ipswich and it sounds like Brenner refers to Troy Parrott as Troy Carrot, but it might be my hearing or the poor quality speakers on my Sharp Aquos television set, which is connected to my Lenovo lap-top by an HDMI lead – or so I’m told.
After a flowing Ipswich move almost results in a second goal, Flynn Downes goes down injured. In the ensuing hiatus in play Brenner asks Mick what are his thoughts on Ipswich Town’s season. “Ipswich? This season? Says Mick, sounding somewhat incredulous. Mick is about to take us on a footballing journey back to last August, but it quickly It transpires that Brenner hadn’t meant to ask about the whole season, only about this game. “Oh goodness” says Brenner with a note of panic in his voice “Don’t start re-capping this season”. It’s a moment that perhaps reveals that Brenner thinks Mick could have talked for England as well as playing football for them. Flynn Downes goes off to be replaced by Teddy Bishop. “Downes looks really down” says Brenner possibly but probably not making a mildly tasteless pun.
Three minutes of added on time are to be played, Brenner tells us that Plymouth are in white; it seems a bit late to be telling his BBC Radio listeners that; without Brenner’s guidance they have probably all been imagining Plymouth in a range of materials, colours and designs from puce-coloured chintz to flesh-toned gingham taffeta. It seems that Plymouth have also worked out which colour shirts they are wearing and according to Brenner “ You wouldn’t rule out an equaliser”. But they’ve left it too late and Mick’s half-time verdict is that “Yes” Town deserve their lead because of the length of time that they dominated the game.
Half-time tea and ginger Christmas tree biscuits follow. Paulene appears looking sad and dejected; the Portsmouth versus Salford game is absolutely awful and she has had to turn the sound down to avoid the terrible commentary with its constant hackneyed, fawning references to the former Manchester United players who are bankrolling Salford City. For Paulene the weekend will only get worse with Pompey destined to lose a penalty shoot-out and their hamster-like manager Kenny Jackett resigning in a fit of self-loathing.
After scrutinising the half-time match statistics and enduring an advertisement for the ifollow which, if it were true, would make you wonder why anyone ever went to a real game because watching football on a lap-top or tv screen is clearly far, far superior, the game begins anew. Kayden Jackson is soon hurt and is according to Brenner, “ on all fours”, it’s a pose that he seems to like to report whenever he can. Mick then embarks on an extremely lengthy description of a cross-cum-shot from Myles Kenlock; Mick’s eventual conclusion is that Myles didn’t know what he was trying to do.
After seven minutes of the second half Town should be 2-0 up, but Kayden Jackson’s pass from the by-line is met with a simply awful attempt at a shot from little Alan Judge who is about 10 metres from the goal. Six minutes later and completely out of character Brenner refers to a Plymouth player (Conor Grant) as wearing a boot, not a shoe. Plymouth’s Niall Ennis is replaced by Luke Jephcott . “ Strong boy, he knows where the back of the net is” says Brenner, now heavily into ‘Ron Manager’ mode.
Amazingly, neither Mick, nor Brenner says it but the match gives every impression of being a game of two halves. “Plymouth….are in charge of this game” says Mick. Substitutions are made. Hardie for Lewis for Plymouth; Skuse and Drinan for Parrott and Jackson for Ipswich. “ Positive move by Plymouth, sensible move by Ipswich” is Mick’s well considered opinion. Brenner asks Mick what he thinks of Cole Skuse. “ I like Cole Skuse, I like Cole Skuse” says Mick repeating himself for emphasis and possibly because all he could think of to say was the same thing twice; but no one will notice, he’s on BBC Radio Suffolk, not Radio 4’s Today programme. Mick speaks of the criticism that Cole Skuse receives from some sections of Suffolk’s football watching public. “ I don’t understand; I do understand it” he says, succinctly summing up the mind boggling complexities of the situation.
As Mick takes a rest Brenner tells us what Paul Cook is wearing, “ a hooded coat zipped up to just below his chin”, he’s also wearing a beanie hat . I feel reassured to know that our new manager is suitably dressed for a windy March afternoon in which there have been occasional heavy showers.
Plymouth are dominating possession. “ Watts along the deck” says Brenner describing a pass along the ground in a manner appropriate to a team from the city that contains Western Europe’s largest naval dockyard. Plymouth’s McCloud hits a half volley from 20 odd metres having received a pass form Town’s Luke Chambers; it’s an easy catch for Tomas Holy. “ Wind and hail” says Brenner as the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Town win a corner after a passing move started by Cole Skuse. “ Skuse read it lovely” says Mick like a true footballer as he describes Cole’s interception which pre-empted the passing move. “ I do worry about Plymouth getting themselves level in this game” says Brenner showing uncharacteristic bias to the home team. Plymouth still dominate possession but Ipswich are winning corners on the break. Camara is unmarked and heads wide of the far post for Plymouth. “That was a let off for Ipswich Town” says Brenner ,not telling a word of a lie. The oddly named Keanan Bennetts replaces little Alan Judge and Jack Lankester replaces Gwion Edwards. Reeves and Lowe replace McCloud and grant for Plymouth. Twelve minutes of normal time remain.
Town win a further corner which is played short. “Strange corner” says Mick as the ball is passed around the box and crossed in from the opposite side. Town continue to play ‘on the break’. “It’s a strange way for a home team to play “ says Mick, sounding a little baffled. The game enters the four minutes of time added on for assorted stoppages and the substitution of nine of the twenty out field players. The oddly named Keanan Bennetts gets the chance to run at the Plymouth defence but concludes what is not much more than a gentle trot with a limp cross to no one in particular. “ He just completely wasted it for me” says Mick sounding a little hurt. “ Town in the top six as things stand” says Brenner triumphantly, before revealing a previously unknown interest in and implied knowledge of the larynx “Paul Cook shouting, not doing his voice any good at whatsoever”.
With Town in possession of the ball the game ends and victory is confirmed. “It’s been a fabulous day for Ipswich “ says Brenner getting a completely carried away. A more cautious Mick Mills is “Happy with the result, but not the performance” and questions why Teddy Bishop “doesn’t do things in the game”. It’s a good question and one which might be asked of nearly all Town’s midfield players and forwards. We haven’t finished sixth yet.