Ipswich Town 1 Derby County1


I usually catch the train home from work at about ten to five, but today I am engrossed; writing a report and explaining why a deadline has to be extended. At about five past five however, my stomach feels slightly jittery, I am feeling inexplicably anxious and my concentration is waning , thoughts of beer and football tumble over one another displacing everything else in my mind. All at once it seems horribly late, it’s getting dark outside, I can feel my heart beginning to pound.  I have to leave.  At five-fifteen I step out into the cool, dimming light of dusk in Ipswich.  Office lights shine out sadly from upper floor windows casting shadows of regret.  But what do I care, I am making straight for St Jude’s Tavern.

I pass the Ipswich Town main gate where people wait like groupies at the stage door. Is it a free ticket they crave or a glimpse of a star player arriving for the match in his nastily ostentatious Audi or Range Rover?  A steward leans in towards the wound down window of a Ford Fiesta, perhaps explaining that this sort of car isn’t acceptable round here and there is a Council pay and display car park over in Portman Road for his sort. I walk on past warning signs about CCTV and bag inspections, past burger vans and polythene goodie bags containing the local paper. It all has a certain beauty.

In St Jude’s Tavern I collect a pint of the Match Day Special, St Jude’s Thaddeus (£2), I ask if they have any pies, but they haven’t. I console myself with the thought that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I sit down with two of the superannuated old blokes who are here before every match; we talk football and Ipswich Town.  The older looking of the two tells me he saw Town play three games during their last season in Division Three South in 1957, versus Bristol City, Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday.  He’s talking nonsense because none of those teams was in Division Three that season.  The memory can play tricks.

I buy another pint of Thaddeus and Mick arrives, and then so does ever-present Phil who never misses a game, they both drink Thaddeus and Phil remarks that it tastes like it’s ‘on the way out’, it is, and for my final pint of the evening I choose St Jude’s Oatmeal Stout (£3.60); it’s an extra £1.60 well-spent.  Along with third division football grounds, a jazz festival in Nice and what the city of Derby is famous for (Rolls Royce, real ale pubs and Bombardier trains) we talk of euphemisms for dying and I relay how a member of staff at the crematorium in Colchester referred to my ninety eight year old mother-in-law’s eventual death as being when “she performs”, which we all agreed was a very odd turn of phrase. 

After just a half, Phil leaves first for the ground because he’s going to visit the Fan Zone,  but Mick and I also leave earlier than is decent because Mick has to arrange a refund having bought two tickets together in the West Stand for tonight’s match even though I have a season ticket in Churchman’s.  Mick is extremely polite in the ticket office and I feel slightly guilty when the ‘saleswoman’ says that the club doesn’t usually move season tickets seats and I reply a little snappily “Well, they did for the Rotherham game.”  As a person who generally is almost as polite as Mick, I can’t really explain my bad attitude, but suspect I harbour a lot of resentment as a result of being a season ticket holder for the past 35 years. I am also fearful that if the club knew that I sometimes imagine handing out flares, or at least sparklers in the family and disabled enclosures I would be banned for life.

The ticket refund palaver has made us late and the teams are already on the pitch and participating in a minute’s applause for the late Gordon Banks who very sadly has ‘performed’ today.  By the time we have drained our bladders and taken up our seats the game is just kicking off.  Tonight’s opponents are Derby County a club whose appearances at Portman Road in their halcyon days of the early 1970’s I somehow contrived to miss. Despite first attending Portman Road in 1971, I failed to see Derby County play here until December 1977, by which time their once brilliant star had started to wane.  It is for this reason perhaps that I have no strong views on Derby County and in my mental map of league football they appear only faintly as peripheral, shadowy figures.   Tonight’s game will do nothing to alter this image as Derby line up and begin the game in the most insipid, uninspired and vapid kit of pale grey shirts, shorts and socks with lime green cuffs and trim. Town meanwhile sport their usual blue and white attire despoiled by the anything but magical “Magical Vegas” logo.

Perhaps as a result of low self-esteem induced by that “Magical Vegas” logo or because they simply didn’t notice the Derby players drift by in their shadowy, foggy kit, Town offer up the customary one-goal lead to the opposition within the first two-minutes. Bloody hell.   Town are now quite literally giving teams a goal start, I fear they will soon be kicking off every game with a ball already in the back of their net to save time.

Happily, once play resumes it’s as if the goal never really happened and for people reaching their seats only fractionally after Mick and me, it never did.  Town soon settle into playing passing football and they dominate possession. The crowd, who we will later be told number 18,604 (including 926 from Derby) are behind the team as one; the Sir Bobby Robson stand is as good as full and the enthusiasm engendered by the Blue Action group has seemingly spread all along the lower tier.  “Man On!” shouts the man behind me trying to help out Town’s on-loan full-back James Bree. “Who’s that” asks Mick . “Bree” I reply. “What, Bree as in tree?”. “Yes”.

“Ohh, just that bit too high, weren’t it” says the bloke behind me as a Town’s first corner kick sails over everyone’s’ heads. He’s not wrong. “O-oh no-o” he then says developing an ugly streak of pessimism when Alan Judge’s pass is intercepted.  There’s no such doubt in the Sir Bobby Robson stand however where “Ipswich ‘til I die, I’m Ipswich ‘til I die, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Ipswich ‘til I die (or perform)” is the life-affirming song of the day.   All the Derby fans can muster in response is a wishy-washy “Lampard, Lampard, give us a wave” which he does, limp-wristedly.

This is a good game and things get better as the first player booked is former Ipswich darling Martyn Waghorn, as he fails to fool referee Mr Andy Madly into awarding him a free-kick and pays the price for his impression of someone ‘performing’.  The smell of chips wafts up into the middle tier of the East of England Co-op stand as half-time approaches but the bloke behind me refuses to be optimistic “ Oh, here we go” he says as a Derby player runs at the Town defence.  A flowing passing move releases Town’s Collin Quaner into the penalty box, he shapes to shoot and I tense my calves, ready to jump up, but he shoots high and wide having almost fooled me into thinking he might actually score.

Matthew Pennington is having possibly his best game so far in a Town shirt and I can think of no higher compliment, for the time being, other than to say he reminds me of David Linighan; it’s his leggy run I think.  Less leggy is diminutive, little Alan Judge who is nevertheless a cut above his fellow midfielders and reminds me of Olympique Marseille’s Valere Germaine, but with a little bit more hair.  Trevoh Chalobah tips over Derby’s number seven Harry Wilson whom Brian Clough would hopefully have called Harold Wilson.  “He was lucky to get away with that” says the bloke behind, adding “He does do that” as if to explain that he can’t help himself, which the referee understands and is why he didn’t book him.   Pessimism soon returns however as the bloke behind me muses “If they score another, that’s it”.   He couldn’t enjoy the game if he wasn’t so miserable.

Half-time necessitates further bladder draining before stepping out onto the practice pitch to take the air and stretch our legs.  The middle tier of the West Stand is a little uncomfortable for people who exceed 1.8m height like Mick and me, but we rationalise our pain by deducing that in the 1950’s when the lower part of the stand was built people were probably shorter on average, perhaps because they never had the benefit of free-school milk that us baby boomers enjoyed.

Refreshed and un-coiled we resume our positions and Town resume their dominance.  Derby really are as pale and innocuous as their kit, which barely seems possible.  Surely Ipswich are on the brink of the play-offs and Derby bottom of the league?  “As if to verify this the North Stand chants “Can you hear the Derby sing? No-o, No-o”.  It is the first time in years that Town fans have had the confidence to sing this.  

A Derby player has the ball, “Put him under! “ Put him under” shouts a wannabe coach or anaesthetist.  Trevoh Chalobah misplaces a pass and we speculate that his bleached, dreadlocked fringe got in his eyes.  Jon Nolan replaces Flynn Downes for Town; for some reason I cannot hear the name Nolan without thinking of the Nolan sisters and I am reminded that Anne Nolan was married to former Blackpool footballer Brian Wilson and I enjoy the ‘Seasiders’ and ‘Beach Boys’ connection.  Within two minutes of Nolan’s appearance, Collin Quaner lays the ball off to him and everyone is in the mood for dancing as his low shot tears past Kelle Roos the Derby goalkeeper.   What a great goal!  But when your team hasn’t scored for three games and seldom does anyway, the feeling of elation reaches new heights. Winning might be overrated, but scoring isn’t.

This is the best match of the season so far, by far. Defeat at Norwich, or perhaps more so Paul Lambert’s alleged threats of violence towards the Norwich goalkeeping coach have been an inspiration.  “Paul Lambert is a Blue, Is a Blue, Is a Blue; Paul Lambert is a Blue, He hates Norwich” to the tune of London Bridge is falling down tumbles from the mouth of the Northstanders.  The rest of the stadium remains pretty moribund but they carry us through.  The pessimist behind remains un-moved from his dark outlook. “Uh, ohh” he groans as a Derby cross flies in.   Meanwhile I breathe deeply the smell of the damp, cold turf.  Derby come with a late surge on the back of some forlorn cries of “Come on Derby” from the 926 in the Cobbold Stand; they hit a post and miss a shot but nothing terrible happens.

After five minutes of additional time courtesy of six substitutions and the usual needy players craving the attention of the physio, the day-glo shirted Mr Madley whistles with final certainty.  We all get up to go home, but not before a round of applause and a general exchange of good wishes and loving feelings.  Happiness reigns; Town haven’t won, but they haven’t lost and even if they had I didn’t think most of us would have minded that much, because even though they didn’t look very much like scoring it was clear that was what they were trying to do.   It makes me wonder if we’re not re-defining sport here in Ipswich, returning it back to what it’s meant to be.  We’ll need a few more relegations to accomplish that fully however and the Southern Amateur League isn’t what it used to be.  It’s been a while since we played the Crouch End Vampires.

Bury Town 0 Waltham Abbey 0

It’s a thirty-five minute train ride from Ipswich to Bury St Edmunds (£7.20 return with a Gold Card) stopping at Needham Market, Stowmarket, Elmswell and Thurston, which for a 25 mile journey by train seems quite a long time. But whilst it’s not one of the fastest train rides in the world, it’s pleasant enough and there’s a busyness and hum about it due to the churn of passengers at each of the four stops.
I board the 1320 and sit at a table seat where just before departure I am joined by three blokes in their thirties who seem to be part of a larger group on a stag weekend, but they also seem to be Margate supporters heading the nine miles down the track to today’s match at Needham Market; an interesting combination that beats paintballing in Dublin. At Stowmarket the train fills up again and pulls away from the station passing the Green Meadow ground, where later this afternoon Stowmarket Town will beat Ipswich Wanderers 3-0. Three well-turned out women in their forties apologetically take up the empty seats around me, asking if I mind if they sit there. “As long as you behave yourselves” I say and they reply that they can’t promise anything but they’ve only had one drink so far today. They’re heading for the bright lights of Bury St Edmunds to celebrate a birthday and they natter constantly throughout the journey about all of life’s trials. “Oooh, I can’t get on with public transport” says one “You know that striped carpet we’ve got” says another “ …had to have it re-laid twice, they got it all wrong on the stairs” . “I don’t go shopping anymore” says the third “Just do click and collect”. “Same with me” replies one “But I just buy baked potatoes”. Then one talks at length about the problems with parking outside her house and an intimidating little bloke in a Range Rover who’s got four cars and a bike, but there’s only him and his wife living there. She doesn’t know what they’re going to do when Annabel gets a car.
Arriving at five to two at Bury St Edmunds’ beautiful red brick railway station, the

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women alight and thank me for letting them sit with me, I tell them it was my pleasure, and it was. Stepping onto the platform I immediately breathe in the sweet smell of the local sugar beet factory, a smell that transports me back to the school playing fields of Ipswich in the 1970’s. It’s not exactly a pleasant smell because it’s thick and cloying, but it’s always at its strongest on clear, bright, cold days like today when the wind is in the east and the sky is a frigid blue, and for that reason I can’t help but like it. The sugar beet factory is a thing of beauty with its grey concrete silos and billowing trail of white steam belching and then dissipating into that blue sky. I feel glad to be alive, but it’ll pass.
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Heading for the town centre I turn to admire the railway station with its pair of ‘minarets’ and then set-off along Northgate Street before turning into Cannon Street and stopping at the Old Cannon Brewery, hotel and bistro. Most of the people in here are eating and it doesnt have the ambience of a pre-match boozer, but I just have a pint of Black Pig (£3.50) and sit at a small table facing the shiny brewing vessels to read the football pages of the Bury Free Press. The headline story concerns Walsham le Willows FC who apparently are being threatened with relegation from the Eastern Counties Premier League if they don’t resolve some health and safety issues at their ground in Summer Lane. I worry why the League considers relegation would resolve the issue, unless the view is that in Division One some injury and possible death is to be expected.
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I wrestle with the idea of having another pint, but decide to head for Bury Town’s ground because it’s now twenty five past two and I’m not sure exactly how far it is or what delights await me at Ram Meadow. I am surprised at how quickly and easily I find the ground considering that I last came here in February 1989. The approach is across the adjacent municipal surface car park (£1.80 for three hours) and is not very imposing; there is no sense of arrival, just a close board wooden fence and three advert hoardings with a single gate. If there was a queue at the turnstile people could be mown down by small men in Range Rovers desperate to park.

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I pay my entrance money (£9) and step around the turnstile to stand in what looks like a queue to buy a programme (£2), but it’s not, it’s just old blokes talking; so I step around them explaining to the programme seller that I thought they were a queue. The layout of Ram Meadow is a lot like that of King’s Meadow in Sudbury with the main stand and club house on the west side. The club house at Ram Meadow is new and tacked onto the end of it is a conservatory which is the members’ lounge.
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Through the glass I can see people scoffing plates of boiled potatoes and pies. By the side of the conservatory is the club shop, it’s the sort of structure that the occupiers of suburban bungalows call a ‘garden room’. I love a club shop; this one is pedalling the usual shirts, scarves and woolly hats but also bears and dinosaurs in Bury Town t-shirts.I head for the bar.

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The club house at Ram Meadow is quite new having opened in September 2016; it’s a very plain building but I forgive this because there’s a hand pump on the bar, although the barmaid doesn’t know what it’s serving, just that it isn’t what it says on the pump clip. I buy a pint (£3.40) and have pricked the barmaid’s curiosity; she has to find out what the beer is, but returns to say she’s none the wiser and the barrel just says SX SW Pale Ale. I take a seat at the side of the room near where the Bury Town Under 10’s are getting ready to be mascots; there is cake on a table and a mother stands with a plate of chips with a look of ‘do you want any more of these?” on her face.
Two blokes next to me are talking about the match. “So where is Waltham Abbey then?” asks one. “Down near Harlow by the M25” says the second, looking it up on his ‘phone. “They’re all fucking down there, these clubs” is the reply. They speak not in Suffolk accents but as though they really should know where Waltham Abbey is. The beer is good and is quickly gone so I step back out into the cold afternoon. It’s not long until kick-off so I think about where is going to be a good spot to watch the game. I wander back round to the corner of the ground by the turnstiles and the teams are just coming onto the pitch when a voice says “Allo Martin”. It’s Dave, the man with whom I used to write the ‘A Load of Cobbolds’ fanzine back in the 1990’s. In his day Dave was every bit as dedicated to watching Ipswich Town as ever-present Phil who never misses a game is now. I will be eternally jealous of Dave because in 1981 he was in a minibus that went to St Etienne to see Ipswich win 4-1 in Ipswich Town’s greatest performance ever. But Dave became disillusioned and did something about it, he stopped going. But Dave can’t give up football and now has a Bury Town season ticket.
Dave and I walk round to where he sits every week, in the Jimmy Rattle stand with two old codgers who like to just sit and moan. The Jimmy Rattle stand is a long low, multi-stanchioned structure with just a few rows of lovely, warm, wooden bench seats. A scaffolding tower adds interest in the centre, from where each match is filmed.
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The game begins with Waltham Abbey, in green and white hooped shirts and green shorts, kicking towards Bury St Edmunds cathedral, and Bury Town, in all blue, kicking towards the sugar beet factory and its plume of white steam. If I had to choose ends, I’d choose the sugar beet factory.
The pitch is soft and muddy and the colourful kits and clear blue sky make a beautiful scene. Dave updates me on family life; his eldest daughter who I met as a toddler in 1992 is now head of history at a school in Cambridge; I remember her being able to say “We are top of the league; we are top of the league”. Dave says how his younger daughter is less academic and her idea of preparing for an exam was to do her make-up and hair. She has a boyfriend who plays for Bury Town. Dave likens his children to Lisa and Bart Simpson and clearly enjoys that they are so different.
Meanwhile, on the pitch the game is entertaining whilst being of rather poor quality in terms of skill and well organised football. My attention is mostly taken by a Waltham Abbey player who looks as if his kit is a size too large for him
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and the Bury right-back for whom the opposite is true.

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Bury are expected to win as they sit 10th in the Bostik League North Division table, whilst Waltham Abbey are 13th and have lost most of their last eight or nine games. Very little happens near the goals and most time is spent ploughing through the muddy turf of the congested midfield. But near the end of the half Waltham Abbey twice break free and although their number ten looks certain to score he contrarily hits each post and then a short while later another player carelessly boots a third good chance wide.
We buy a fifty-fifty draw ticket each (£1.00) from a lady called Maureen and the half soon

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ends. With half-time I return to the club house to catch up on the half-time scores, and to celebrate that Ipswich are winning I buy another pint of the mystery pale ale. With my beer in a plastic cup I am free to wander outside and explore, and as I do so my beer gets colder and colder as the sun sinks low in the west. At the sugar beet factory end of the ground is a an advertisement board for The Suffolk Pest Control Comp[any Ltd , which features a silhouette of a Suffolk Punch horse; I didn’t know
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these animals were considered pests, but can well imagine that an infestation of them would be a bit of a bugger. But it does account for why the Suffolk Punch is a rare breed.
As the game resumes I visit the outside toilet, in which very weirdly I think I can detect a faint smell of Christmas pudding. I pass the ‘Home and Away Directors box’ and wonder if there are other TV Soap themed directors’ boxes around the country or whether this is the only one. I wander back past the clubhouse where the faces of men holding pint glasses peer out through the double glazing, watching the game from the warmth of an alcoholic haze. As with most non-league or local football, the crowd is mostly made up of middle-aged men and older, and the occasional dog.
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There should be more dogs at football matches.

The most passionate Bury fans have now re-located to the Cathedral end and pinned

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their flags to the high quality close board wooden fence that encloses the ground. “BTFC. Suffolk Is Ours” boasts one flag somewhat incomprehensibly. It smacks of the same conceit that sees the town of Bury St Edmunds label itself “a jewel in the crown of Suffolk”.
Back on the Jimmy Rattle side of the ground I meet Andrew, a fellow public sector employee who is here with his young son who points out that the Waltham Abbey substitute has an interesting hairstyle. Indeed, he looks like he is from a 1970’s

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discotheque and as we watch, the ball comes to him inside the Bury Town penalty area, he aims a kick and misses the ball completely.
By and by I return to sit again with Dave and the game carries on much as before, but Bury are the more dominant team now without ever really looking like scoring; it’s a lot like watching the Championship, but cheaper and more fun. We talk a little bit of politics and how even the Labour Party supporters are Tories in Bury St Edmunds. The game is drawing to a close and Bury hit a post, but even before the three minutes of added on time is announced people are drifting away, beating the imagined rush of 274 people all simultaneously trying to get through the one little gate in that wooden fence. “Have you had enough entertainment for one afternoon?” asks Dave of the old boy who was sat next to him as he toddles off home.
The three minutes elapse and I reflect that I have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment. I say good bye to Dave as I head once again to see if I can still smell Christmas pudding and Dave goes round the corner to pop in on his mother-in-law. Before I finally leave Ram Meadow I check on the full-time score at Preston where Ipswich have won. On the walk back to the railway station I phone my wife and as the camera pans away from my afternoon Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ can be heard.
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Ipswich Town 0 Sheffield United 1

The ‘hectic Christmas schedule’ is over and today is the first Saturday of the new year and is therefore the day of the FA Cup third round, once one of the most auspicious dates in the English football calendar. The evil Premier League and the Football Association itself have together destroyed the glory of the FA Cup, but those of us who remember it as it was can stir our memories and pretend, shutting out the horrid reality to enjoy what should be a season highlight. Forty-four years ago I recall, Ipswich played Sheffield United in the FA Cup third round, it was the first FA Cup tie I ever saw and we won 3-2 having been 2-1 down. The wonderfully named Geoff Salmons and the brilliant Tony Currie scored for Sheffield United; ‘magic’ Kevin Beattie won the game with two goals in two minutes just before half-time and super Brian Hamilton got the other one for Town; marvellous. We went on to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next round.
The draw has in one way been good to Ipswich, giving us a home tie, but sadly it is against a team in the same Division as us, so there is no chance of a ‘Cup upset’ and no road-trip to some far off exotic, provincial town like Fleetwood or Rochdale that Town have never graced.
It is nevertheless with a spring in my step that I set off for the railway station under a pale winter sun, wrapped up against the bitter cold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The train is three minutes late and I board it along with a bearded man in a khaki hat and camouflage jacket and a teenage boy and girl who are carrying skateboards. In the far corner of the carriage a bearded hippy in a leather jacket drinks from a tin one of those peculiar ‘ciders’ that contain fruit other than apples. The man in the camouflage jacket huddles into another corner as if trying not to be seen, but he clashes horribly with the blue moquette of the train seats.
At Colchester all these passengers leave the train except for the hippy, who once the train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAleaves the station inexplicably moves to the other end of the carriage leaving me alone with my winter clothing and enthusiasm for the FA Cup. Arriving in Ipswich the afternoon is not as bright, there is a pall of grey cloud. Football supporters spill out of the station and across the bridge opposite, there are three swans swimming in the river below; the tide is high and all is quiet, almost serene.

 

As usual Portman Road is a curious, greasy street cafe peopled with stewards in shapeless coats policing nothing in particular. The search dog looks happy and a man searches amongst the sauce bottles by one of the hot food stands. Programmes are only £2 today, so I buy one and a man on a bike weaves past me.


In St Jude’s Tavern the usual bunch of ageing Town fans sit and discuss football whilst I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (Yeovil Brewery Company’s Star Gazer – £2) and very good it is. I am soon joined by Mick who will be accompanying me to the game. We talk about travelling through Italy, Welsh counties, Donald Trump, Andrew Graham-Dixon and football. Mick gives me the £10 he owes me for the match ticket. After another pint of Star Gazer we head down Portman Road at about twenty minutes to three and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way. There is a short queue at the turnstile for the stand formerly known as the West Stand and once inside Mick remarks on the picturesque coffee stand, painted somewhat bizarrely to look like it’s built of stone.
In the stand we use the facilities and are both amused by the sign on the hand dryers which reads ‘Danger Electricity’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFearless as we are, and confident in our general familiarity with modern electrical appliances we use the dryers nevertheless, despite the jolting, tingling sensation it gives us. It is two minutes to three by the scoreboard clock as we take our seats, but the teams are already lined up and ready to kick-off. Town are of course wearing their traditional blue shirts and white shorts with blue socks, but I am bitterly disappointed, mortified even to see that Sheffield United are not wearing their distinctive red and white stripes with black shorts. Instead, the visiting team sport plain white shirts with black shorts, like some sort of pathetic imitation of Port Vale or Germany. What is wrong with these people? They just keep finding new ways to ruin the game.
The game begins and Ipswich, fielding a more or less full strength team, given that most of the first choice midfield is injured, start quite well. They pass the ball to one another and approach the opposition penalty area. Sadly Sheffield begin to play a little as well and after about ten minutes and it becomes apparent that Town won’t be able to just dismissively swat away their challenge, which is a pity. The game evens up and Ipswich’s early bravado dissipates a little, but it’s okay, we’re playing better than usual because we have the ball as much as the opposition do. Then, at about twenty five past three a bloke called Nathan Thomas shoots from way out into the top corner of the Ipswich net and we’re losing. Crap.
The 1,100 odd Sheffield supporters who have been shouting and singing support for theirOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA team during the preceding minutes now do so with added joy and vigour. The 10,957 odd home supporters haven’t made much noise up until now and still don’t, although their team really needs some encouragement right now. The game dribbles on to half-time as depression sets in with the majority of those in attendance. Mick and I are sat in Block Y which is in the centre of the top tier of the West Stand; normally these are the most expensive seats in the ground, they are padded and they’re brown, not blue. But the people who sit in them are as quiet and miserable as the people I usually sit with in the more modestly appointed Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, they just look better fed and sound more pleased with themselves. A Sheffield player goes down injured and requires treatment, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. I remark to Mick how back in 1974 the North Stand would have been braying “Dig a hole and fuckin’ bury him”, but now they just grumble a bit to each other. People knew how to make their own entertainment back then.
The top tiers of both the North Stand (Sir Bobby Robson Stand) and Churchman’s (Sir Alf Ramsey Stand) are closed to supporters today because of the reduced crowd due to it not

being another bloody boring League match, but an exciting FA Cup game. The club has nevertheless placed stewards amongst the rows of empty North Stand seats, and all around the ground there seem to be a lot of stewards in parts of the ground where they are the only people there. It all helps add to Portman Road’s unique atmosphere.
At half-time I use a different toilet where the hand dryers don’t carry health warnings,

before Mick and I gaze out across the practice pitch beyond a red Citroen H van towards the former municipal power station and tram shed. We marvel that local authorities once built and provided these fabulous things, but don’t comment on the Citroen. The sun is steadily setting behind the cloud and when we return to our seats the pitch is glowing gloriously from the illumination of the floodlights.
The second half begins with some rare vocal encouragement for Town from the North Stand and I realise that the Sheffield United fans must be the first away supporters this season to have witnessed a whole first half without singing “Is this a library?” I can only think they don’t have opera in Sheffield or if they do they don’t much care for Verdi. Perhaps it is a hangover from the Thatcher era when Sheffield was the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire and opera is just too patrician. But full marks to these Blades fans for being more interested in supporting their own team than berating the opposition.
The heady early minutes of the second half fade away like the taste of the half-time beers, snacks and hot beverages and the game descends into dullness. Ipswich don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t create any attempts on goal, which suggests they have misunderstood the point of the game. Sheffield on the other hand do fashion some chances but spurn them. Ipswich captain and centre-half Luke Chambers and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski seemingly attempt to settle the result with the sorts of misjudgements that one would only expect from the most inept of youths in full-time education, but the Blades are not sharp enough to take advantage.
Apart from the noise from the Sheffielders the game is conducted in near silence, with swathes of seats completely empty it feels like a reserve game. As the contest spirals down towards its miserable conclusion the North Stand at last find a song in their dark hearts, “ We want a shot”, they chant. Having inspired themselves with their own wit they proceed to trawl through their back catalogue of scatological old favourites: “ We’re fucking shit, we’re fucking shit; we’re fucking shit” and “You’re football is shit, you’re football is shit, Mick McCarthy you’re football is shit”. It doesn’t help lighten the mood or motivate the players to do better, I can’t think why.
Oddly, the announcement of four minutes of added on time is greeted with a rare growl of enthusiasm from the crowd, but it makes no difference and there is a sense that people are just clearing their throats for the inevitable booing that greets the final whistle. Ipswich Town are once again out of the FA Cup and after the long descent from the top of the stand Mick and I bid each other farewell. Mick thanks me for getting him a ticket and he means it; he doesn’t see Town play often and although it was a poor game he has enjoyed it. Mick is a very rational man. We go our separate ways and I depart through the club car park and its array of obscenely expensive Ferraris, Mercedes Benz, Audis and Range Rovers. Humming the Buzzcocks’ ‘Fast cars’ I look back on the stadium, the dark shapes of the stands silhouetted in the beams of the floodlights; such beautiful sadness.