Charlton Athletic 0 Ipswich Town 0

Mystifyingly, I often wake up on a Saturday morning in reflective mood.  It might be the relief of having made it through to the end of another working week, it might be the effect of a surfeit of alcohol the night before, although I usually consume no more than two bottles of beer and a glass of whisky, or may be it’s the leisurely Saturday breakfast of bacon and eggs, but I suspect it’s really the prospect of football.  Why?  Why, do I persist after all these years when it is clear the best days have gone? Those days of glory that coincided with my youth, my halcyon days when I had prospects and was full of hope and expectation.  Town won the FA Cup and I passed my ‘A’ levels and went to university.  I was completing my final exams at university just as Ipswich Town were winning the UEFA Cup; I made it to Amsterdam but missed the first leg of the final to the demands of academia.

Forty years on and I’ve not fulfilled that early promise and my team has mirrored my decline.  There have been moments of brief, flickering success, but mostly it’s been an existence defined by mediocrity and under-achievement.  People expected more; I expected more, but it never happened.  The fact is I probably never cared enough,  and now as punishment I am left supporting a football team that doesn’t seem to care enough either and I am reduced to writing this blog. I never expected my team to brush aside the opposition, to treat all-comers with disdain in the manner of some sort of Marie Antoinette eleven, if such a thing were possible; I have usually been happy with an away draw, but equally I didn’t expect Town to lose 0-3 at Wimbledon last Tuesday night.

Today is bright with every indication of Spring, but it’s a bit chilly and kick-off is at 12:30 because of a fixture clash with a family funeral of national interest, apparently.  Life goes on, but has been moved forward two and a half hours, although I don’t remember kick-off being moved when I needed to go my father’s funeral, but heck, I’m not the Queen; I expect she still wanted to watch Reading (The Royals) on the ifollow.

I tune into BBC Radio Suffolk just in time to learn that for the third game running a minute’s silence will be observed. If I’d tuned in a few seconds later I would have spent the best part of a minute fiddling with the dial mistakenly trying to find the radio signal.  A minute’s silence on the radio is a curiosity, the two things are completely at odds with one another, although this one does include a brief rustle of paper at one point; commentator Brenner Woolley’s notes being ruffled by a Spring breeze perhaps.

The game begins, I don’t catch who gets first go with the ball but hear Brenner tell us that Charlton are wearing red socks, I somehow missed him say if they are wearing red shirts and white shorts too,  but imagine that they are.   I sip my pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star Revelation (4 for £6 at Waitrose) and hope to witness a revelation on the football pitch.  “…coffee cup in-hand, the Ipswich Town manager” says Brenner adding a smidgeon of detail which sets me wondering if he’s drinking espresso or cappucino, flat white or de-caff.  “Holy wandering into that glorious Spring sunshine” continues Brenner and I have a vision of our goalkeeper strolling by a pavement café.

Basking on my blue bean bag in front of the French doors I catch the warmth of the sun and all seems well and so it is. “That was good for Ipswich Town says Brenner as James Norwood heads towards goal. “It took a good save from the man in yellow” says Brenner making me wonder if it was the Charlton goalkeeper or a club steward who kept the ball out of the net.  “Town close to the perfect start” is Brenner’s summation, whoever was responsible.

It’s good to hear Brenner say after five minutes of play “Town, the better team so far” and with his confidence clearly buoyed he treats his listeners to some clichéd commentating as the Charlton goalkeeper plays the ball; “Amos, who made that good save early doors in this game”.  As the ball travels from one end of the pitch to the other he’s soon describing Tomas Holy as “…the big Czech” and I hope for a day when Tomas’s squad number will reflect this by having lots of noughts on the end.

Ten minutes have passed and suddenly I realise that Brenner has been commentating incessantly with no side-kick to help him out, to give his vocal chords a rest or explain at length the nuances of the team formation.  Brenner like the true pro that he is, is flying solo today. Later Brenner will refer to ‘technical difficulties’ with the broadcast by which I suspect he means that after Tuesday’s game, the BBC simply found it impossible to find any ex-Town player willing to travel to South London and back to waste ninety-minutes of his life watching Town fail to score again.

“Paul Cook just in his T-shirt, and tracksuit bottoms” says Brenner trying to convey how Spring-like the scene is, but pausing just long enough after the word “T-shirt” to make me think Paul Cook is naked from the waist down.   Sometimes I fear Brenner doesn’t appreciate the impact he can have on people whose appreciation of the Town is hanging on his every word; then again, perhaps he does.

It’s half way through the first half of the game.  “Still Ipswich nil, and nil-nil between Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic” says Brenner emphasising in a slightly peculiar way that the score is still nil-nil. “Ipswich can’t afford this surely” adds Brenner, seemingly not realising that it is well within the capabilities of the current squad to not ever score again. 

Twenty-three minutes pass and “James Norwood down on one knee” says Brenner, and I wonder if players are now ‘taking the knee’ during the game in order to overcome criticism that adopting the pre-kick-off pose has become nothing more than a hollow gesture.  It transpires that Norwood is injured and he is soon replaced by the ‘free-scoring’ Kayden Jackson. I finish my beer and Brenner speaks sympathetically and a little weirdly of the departing “former Tranmere Rovers man” whose injury record has seen in him in and out of the team all season; “He can’t get a run, poor thing” says Brenner.

I am missing the contributions of Mick Mills or Stuart Ainsley, but Brenner’s doing his best.  “Stephen Ward who has the arm band” he says, filling me in on who is captain in lieu of Luke Chambers who is a mere substitute today; “left arm” adds Brenner, providing the detail I had been craving about exactly where the arm band was.

A half an hour has passed,  “Holy made a right mess of that” exclaims Brenner as the “big Czech” stretches for and fails to gather a deep cross, forcing Mark McGuinness, whose name always make me think of the IRA,  to clear a shot from Stockley from just in front of the goal. “Nil-nil at The Valley, in the sunshine” confirms Brenner, lending a sort of Brigadoon quality to the location.

Less than ten minutes until half-time and the oddly named Keanan Bennetts hits the ball “…high over the bar”.  “Town a million miles away from taking the lead” says Brenner exaggerating ridiculously about exactly how high Bennett’s shot was.  Forty minutes gone and Brenner reveals that “We will get Mick Mills’ thoughts at half-time”.  “Good old Mick”, I think to myself.  “Same old Andre Dozzell” I think to myself as the former Town legend’s progeny is booked for the tenth time this season; this time for what Brenner calls a “rather cynical challenge”.  I console myself with the thought that ‘cynical’ is probably better than ‘stupid’, so perhaps he is improving.

Two minutes of time are added on but it makes no difference to the half-time score. “What did you make of the first half?” asks Brenner of Mick Mills.  “We pretty much maintained the dominance of the game….they can be satisfied with what they’ve done” says Mick amongst several other things that I’m not able to remember, although I do recall  that he is impressed with Teddy Bishop today, who he says has played more as a forward than a midfielder. As for Charlton, MIck is not impressed.

Refreshed and revived by tea and a Nature Valley brand peanut and chocolate protein bar I return for the second half, which doesn’t start well, with Brenner once again unable to resist indulging in commentator-speak. “Worrying sign there for Ipswich Town there, early doors” says Brenner creating his own worrying signs, but at least he also feels able to say “…better than Tuesday night, so far.”  Kane Vincent Young has returned to the Town team again today after injury and he soon wins a free-kick on the right-wing.  “Lovely feet from the Town right-back” says Brenner revealing a hitherto undeclared interest in either chiropody or foot-fetishism.  The theme continues with Brenner speaking of Vincent-Young’s “good feet” and his “pink footwear”.

 Brenner’s solo commentary is inevitably peppered with the names of the opposition players and I am enjoying mention of Gilbey who makes me think of gin and Amos who makes me think of Old Testament prophets and my grandfather’s uncle.  Best of all however I am enjoying each frequent reference to Purrington; what a great and silly surname it is.  I have lived with seven cats during my lifetime, Friday, Dusty, Spud, Oscar, Kenny, Daisy and Poppy but if I ever own an eighth cat I shall call it Mr Purrington.

“Headed in by Innis” says Brenner suddenly.  “Bugger” says one half of my internal dialogue whistl the other kicks an imaginary Mr Purrington. “Headed into the six-yard area by Innis” continues Brenner, blissfully unaware of the numerous palpitations and heart attacks he has caused across England’s most easterly county.  It’s nevertheless the closest to a goal that there’s been in the second half and it was Brenner’s fault.  Perhaps aware of his own error Brenner goes on to speak more gibberish; “The referee felt that Downes was twisted in the ground” he says incomprehensibly, before getting over-excited as the ball is given away “cheaply” by McGuinness; then “Purrington chops Bennetts in half”, presumably having toyed with him first.

Armando Dobra replaces the two halves of the oddly named Keanen Bennetts and for Charlton Ben Watson replaces Darren Pratley, who Brenner tells us began his career at Crystal Palace, which he then informs us is “not a million miles away”.  Given that The Valley and Selhurst Park both have SE postcodes, it’s not the most illuminating piece of commentary Brenner has ever given and smacks of a possible lack of things to say and a definite lack of research into the geography of South London.  In fact, for the geographically minded, travelling via the A215 the two grounds are some16.8 kilometres apart.

Just over an hour of my life has been lost since kick-off, and Gwion Edwards shoots weakly at Ben Amos, “Another good chance for Ipswich Town goes begging” says Brenner.  A further ten minutes drift away into eternity; Freddie Sears and Myles Kenlock replace Teddy Bishop and Stephen Ward.  With Ward’s substitution Andre Dozzell is given the captain’s arm band, but Brenner omits to tell us which arm he puts it on, whether he wears it round his head or just stuffs it into his jockstrap.

“Kenlock there and he needed to be” announces Brenner as the substitute full-back justifies his existence on the planet by clearing a shot that had initially been pushed away by Tomas Holy.   “Next time you hear from Mick Mills will be in a week’s time” says Brenner now ignoring the game in order to tease us with the promise of jam tomorrow.  It’s also a sign that the game is nearing its finale.  “Getting a bit more chilly at the Valley” says Brenner suggesting, to me at least, that life and warmth in SE7 will fade away when the game ends. “Eleven minutes to go of the ninety” continues Brenner. “Final ten minutes of the game” Brenner adds, a minute later.  “Free-kick, Tomas Holy, seven minutes to play” says Brenner after a further three minutes, although I haven’t been counting. Sixty seconds pass.  “Six minutes to play” says Brenner, giving no indication that he’s been clock-watching.

It’s the eighty-ninth minute and Brenner tells of “Paul Cook having a brief chat with Purrington, patting him on the back”, perhaps he was stroking him I wonder, or offering him some catnip.  There are three minutes of time added on to be played. “Three minutes away from yet another nil-nil” is Brenner’s take.  Charlton win a late corner. “Got some tall boys in the Ipswich penalty box” says Brenner giving the impression that the home team have shifted in some chests of drawers from somewhere in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock. It’s a prelude to “some silliness in the Town area” as Luke Woolfenden and a Charlton player initiate some general shoving and pushing which proves contagious.  In the absence of goals I’m all for a “bit of silliness”.  Sensibly, the referee Mr Hicks treats it as youthful high spirits and doesn’t bother to air his yellow card.

The Valley several seasons ago

Happily, the game soon ends and Town chalk up their fourth nil-nil draw in the last six games, a record of mediocrity that I feel even I would struggle to match.  The verdict on social media however seems to be that the performance from the team was better and it was only a lack of ability that prevented Town from scoring a hatful of goals.  In the absence of Mick Mills, Brenner is my man of the match but I’m already looking forward to Mick’s return next Saturday.

Kirkley & Pakefield 0 Wroxham 0


tramway hotel

Once upon a time Kirkley and Pakefield were Suffolk villages, but they are now suburbs of Lowestoft on the south side of Lake Lothing.  Up until 1931 Lowestoft Corporation ran trams down to Pakefield terminating at the appropriately named Tramway Hotel; it’s a pity they don’t still run today and if only Lowestoft was in Belgium or France or Germany they probably would.   That aside, it’s a lovely rural train ride from Ipswich to Lowestoft and then a walk of over 3 kilometres or a ten minute trip on the X2 bus and then another five minute walk to get to Walmer Road, home of Kirkley and Pakefield Football Club.  But that all takes the best part of two hours and today I’m in a hurry to get home afterwards so I am making the 60 kilometre journey up the A12 by car.  Despite the small pleasure of opening up the throttle on my trusty Citroen C3 along the dual carriageway past Wickham Market, driving is nowhere near as much fun as sitting on the train, for a start everyone else on the road either drives too fast or too slow.   Also, unless I opt to eschew normal road safety and not look where I am going there’s much less to see from a car on the A12 too, perhaps with the exception of a brief vista of beautiful Blythburgh church across the marshes.

A quick glimpse of Woodbridge Town’s floodlights and road signs pointing the way to Framlingham and Leiston are tantalising reminders of senior football in east Suffolk as I plough on up towards Lowestoft listening to BBC Radio Suffolk’s ‘Life’s a Pitch’ on the Citroen’s radio. With its mix of decades old pop music and football talk with Terry Butcher and an otherwise anonymous pre-pubescent youth known only as ‘Tractor Boy’, whose presence is never really explained,  ‘Life’s a Pitch’ is a gently weird preamble for an afternoon of football.  Speaking directly from West Bromwich where Ipswich play today, former fanzine editor Phil Hamm mixes his metaphors delightfully as he speculates on whether Ipswich’s cruel defeat to Reading last week will have “knocked the stuffing out of their sails”.

It’s a very windy early Spring day and a heavy but short shower of rain sweeps across the road as I head out of Wrentham resulting in my arrival on the edge of Lowestoft being announced with a rainbow.   Passing Pontin’s Pakefield holiday camp I leave the modern A12 at the Pakefield roundabout and head down the old one, past the splendid Tramway Hotel and then take a left turn into Walmer Road and suburbia before making a final left turn towards the Recreation Ground.

It’s about twenty past two and the main car park is full so I splash my way into the pitted, puddled field that is the overflow car park at the north end of the ground and reverse up against the hedge in a spot where I won’t risk drowning as I step out of the car.

There’s no queue to get in the ground and at  the blue kiosk that looks like it might once have served a municipal car park in the days before ‘pay and display’, I say to the grey-haired man inside “One please, and do you do a programme?” .  Apparently the programmes are in the clubhouse.  I hand over a ten pound note; entry is £6 for adults and £4 for concessions.   I take my change unthinkingly and I now realise that the man on the gate must have thought I looked like a pensioner; my Ipswich Town season ticket is taking its toll.

I head for the clubhouse;⁹ with its deep, green felt roof topped off by a cupola it resembles a village cricket pavilion; it’s probably the most characterful club house in the Eastern Counties League. 

The inside bears little relation to the outside however and the ‘Armultra Lounge’ is decked out in a trendy grey colour scheme with matching leather sofas and oak-look laminate flooring.  I see a club official with some programmes and ask him if I can buy one (£1), he begins to direct me to someone else but then very kindly just says “Here, you can have this one on me”; what a lovely bloke.  Touched with the knowledge that people being kind and generous to other people is what life’s all about I celebrate with a bacon roll (£2.30) from the food hatch in the corner of the room.  It’s a very good bacon roll too; at first I am fooled by the roll having been toasted, into thinking it’s the bacon that is crispy, but actually it is anyway. I sit at a glass table on what looks like a tractor seat on a stick and eat the bacon roll and read the programme; I resist having a beer however because sadly the hand pumps on the bar are naked and the afternoon is windy enough without the terrible burps that a chilled glass of Greene King’s East Coast IPA nitrokeg would induce.  The programme tells me that Wroxham’s Sonny Cary is a “…gifted young football”.   I search for other amusing mis-prints but can’t find any.

As 3pm approaches I venture outside but not before pausing by the door where a man is donning his coat, scarf and hat; he tells me that the main stand on the other side of the ground is the best place to watch from, because it’s out of the wind.  I thank him for this insight and tell him I suspect that is where I will end up then.  Outside, a man well into his sixties is sat on a bench with a microphone in hand announcing the teams; in the strong, gusty wind he struggles to hold onto the sheet of paper from which he is reading and the rattle of the paper in the wind competes with his voice over the PA system.  

I am already on the far side of the ground as the teams come on to the pitch behind the referee Mr Luigi Lungarella who has an impressive shock of swept back dark hair.  Handshakes follow before the Kirkley & Pakefield huddle in a moment of team togetherness and the Wroxham players stand waiting as if to say “ Oh come on. Can’t we get on with this”.  Huddling over, Wroxham, known as the Yachtsmen,  get first go with the ball kicking it in the direction of  Lowestoft town centre and the fish dock; they wear a dull change kit of white shirts with bluey-grey shorts and socks.  Kirkley and Pakefield, known for some reason as The Royals, play towards Pontin’s and far off Southwold and wear the same kit as Brantham Athletic; all blue with two diagonal white stripes across their stomachs, as if the shirts had been left lying on the pitch when it was marked out.

Wroxham settle quickly and pin The Royals back in their half, their “gifted young football”, the red-headed and slightly spindly number ten Sonny Carey has their first shot on goal, but it’s comfortably wide.   Despite most of the game taking place in the Kirkley & Pakefield half Wroxham don’t come close to scoring and in a somewhat solid way the teams are evenly matched,  which is to be expected as they are fifth and sixth in the Eastern Counties Premier League table, both  with forty-nine points but with Wroxham having a better goal difference.  The game is characterised by effort, but more so by lots of shouting; it reminds me of a windy day in a school playground.   “Squeeze, squeeze” shouts the Wroxham ‘keeper George MacRae, perhaps feeling a little left out.  “Higher, higher.  Switch” he adds, trying to get involved.  Wroxham appear to have won the first corner, only to be denied by a raised flag denoting offside.   “ We in’t had a shot on gool  yit” says an old boy, one of a half a dozen stood against the rail along from the stand.  He asks the time, it’s about twenty past three. Attention seems to be wandering.  “I see Bodyshop is closing” says someone else, although it probably won’t affect his shopping habits too much.  “There’s not a lot happening here” says the old boy “Though there’s a lot of ‘em in that fuckin’ dugout”.

At last Wroxham win a corner, but they take it short and I feel a bit let down. All that waiting for a corner and then it might as well have been a throw-in.  Everyone hates short corners, don’t they?   Kirkley & Pakefield’s number five Jack Herbert is spoken to by Mr Lungarella and Wroxham keep pressing. “He in’t got a left foot” someone says of Wroxham’s Cruise Nyadzayo as he keeps trying to cut inside on the left wing.  A few minutes later Nyadzayo switches to the right.  As Wroxham threaten the penalty area the ball is booted clear; “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring” calls a voice from the stand. “What’s your name, Pike?” says another, hopelessly and irrelevantly misquoting the famous lines completely out of all context.  People laugh nevertheless.

As the game edges closer towards half-time, Kirkley and Pakefield begin to frequent the Wroxham end of the pitch a bit more.  “We got a corner, bloody hellfire, but it took us half an hour to get et” is the assessment of one local. But all of a sudden real excitement breaks out as a header is cleared off the Wroxham goal line and then a shot from Jordan Haverson is kept out of the goal with a spectacular flying save from George MacRae, before play quickly moves to the other end and Cruise Nyadzayo dribbles through before having his shot saved at close range by Adam Rix, Kirkley & Pakefield pony-tailed goalkeeper

I move along the rail and stand near a couple of Wroxham supporters “ I think it could take me a couple of years to get the kitchen sorted” says the younger of the two as Kirkley & Pakefield prepare to take  a free-kick in a dangerous looking position, before winning a second corner.  It’s the final notable action and comment of the half and I return to the club house for a pounds’ worth of tea and to catch up on the half-time scores. Ipswich are losing but the tea’s just fine.

At two minutes past four Mr Lungarella blows his whistle for the start of the second half and Wroxham’s George MaCrae shouts “Squeeze” before the last note from the referee’s whistle is scattered by the wind.  Grey clouds are heaped up behind the main stand hiding a pale, milky sun.  Rooks are nesting high in the trees beyond the club house and a golden Labrador puppy is showing a keen interest in the game as he stands on his hind legs to watch over the rail.  I think to myself what a fine back drop to the game  the water tower at the  southern end of the ground makes.

The second half is played out more evenly across both halves of the pitch rather than predominantly in one half but neither goalkeeper has to stretch himself too much with virtually every shot being blocked or speeding past  the far post, as several low crosses do also.  The ‘star’ of the second half however is the referee Mr Lungarella who succeeds in making himself  equally disliked by both teams with a catalogue of unpopular decisions and a handful of bookings for Kirkley & Pakefield players.  “It was a corner ref. Ref! Ref! That was a corner” shouts one man from within the Russell Brown Community Stand behind the goal at the Lowestoft end of the ground after a goal kick is awarded. It’s almost as if he expects the referee to say “Oh, was it? Sorry. Okay then”.   It was a corner.  At the other end of the ground a Wroxham supporter is just as perplexed. “Fuckin’ guesswork” he says of Mr Lungarella’s decisions, before asking the linesman “Have a word with him will ya?”   The linesman replies, asking if he’d like him to speak about anything in particular.

– “About the rule book”

-“Well there isn’t one is there?” says the linesman mysteriously.

Mr Lungarella saves the best  until last and his piece de resistance comes with only a few minutes remaining.  As Kirkley & Pakefield’s Miguel Lopez stoops to head the ball, Wroxham’s Harley Black attempts to kick it with the inevitable and unfortunate consequences.  As the Kirkley & Pakefield ‘keeper discusses with a Wroxham fan behind the goal it was not intentional or malicious, just an accident. But not for the first time this afternoon Mr Lungarella’s interpretation of events differs to that of most people watching and Harley Black is sent off. Happily Miguel Lopez is not hurt and after a bit of TLC from the physio he carries on to see-out the end of the game, which soon arrives.

Despite some doubts surrounding some of the referee’s decisions the game ends amicably and Mr Lungarella leaves the field unmolested with his two assistants.  Equally, despite there having been no goals, it has been a very entertaining match.  Kirkley & Pakefield Football Club exists in the shadow of Lowestoft Town, perhaps more so than Ipswich Wanderers and Whitton United exist in the shadow of Ipswich Town, because both Lowestoft clubs are non-league, but it’s a fine, friendly little club nonetheless.  I have had a grand afternoon out at Britain’s second most easterly senior football club and one day, when I am in less of a hurry, I will use the train and the bus to get here; whilst also hoping they bring back the tram.

Ipswich Town 1 Reading 2


In 1974 the BBC broadcast one of the first ever fly-on–the-wall documentary series; a precursor of modern ‘reality television’ it was called The Family and followed the lives of the Wilkins.  I remember the series had a haunting, wistful theme tune played mostly on a flute (I think) over family photos and stills of a murky urban landscape; at the end of the tune a voice seemed to sing “Ha,ha,ha” very slowly, which was quite appropriate because sat watching the programme with my own family, I found it very funny, we all did.  I recall that Mrs Wilkins was quite a domineering woman, Mr Wilkins was a bus driver with brylcreemed hair, they had four children and a grandchild and all lived together in a house in Reading.  I don’t recall Reading Football Club featuring in the programme.

Back in 1974 Reading FC was a top-six team in Football League Division Four and Ipswich Town qualified for the UEFA Cup.  Today, forty-five years on and Ipswich Town and Reading meet in Division Two, both with the longer term aim of avoiding relegation to the third division.  As I walk to the railway station I speculate on whether any descendants of the now deceased Terry and Margaret Wilkins will also be travelling to the game.  I always think of The Family when Town play Reading.

It’s been a grey, dank morning; dull, leaden cloud hanging in the air sullenly.  It was a perfect day for football but as I leave the railway station I am disappointed to see that it appears to be brightening up.  I proceed nevertheless, past the Station Hotel with its multiple signs in the window advising that it is a pub for away supporters only. I hear strains of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline emanating from the bar; another set of provincial football supporters striving to be ‘interesting’. I overhear two Reading fans as I cross the bridge over the river “It was dead boring in there”, “Yeah, but they’ve started singing now”. 

I walk on up Portman Road with its burgers, poor quality bread rolls and more than the usual number of people seemingly desperate to get into the stadium as early as possible. I don’t buy a programme because £3 is a lot to pay for something which will spoil the line of my overcoat and from which I will probably derive very little if any pleasure, except to deride it in all its glossy vacuity.  By the time I reach St Jude’s Tavern I am feeling warm and curse my jumper and overcoat, I feel over dressed for what seems to have become a Spring day.  In St Jude’s Tavern I ask the barmaid what the Match Day Special is. “Goblin’s Piss” she replies.   Understanding that this is not her way of telling me I am not welcome in this hostelry but is the name of the beer I ask for a pint; after all, it only costs £2.50.   I find a seat next to the usual bunch of grey-haired Town supporters who frequent this pub and Portman Road out of sheer habit.  After five or ten minutes Mick arrives; I am pleased to see that he is wearing a well-insulated looking parka and so I will not sweat alone; Mick has a pint of Hoppy Jude’s (£3.20), largely I think because the name “Goblins’ Piss” does not appeal and it does smack of a brewery asking a thirteen year old boy to come up with names for its beers.

Mick and I talk of the expressiveness and eloquence of the French, of funerals and the weird names that people give their children ‘nowadays’, and the even weirder spellings.  Mick tells how his daughter had wanted to call her child Maverick if it was a boy.  Mick considered it was his duty to dissuade her with the argument that Maverick is a crap name; fortunately Mick now has a grand-daughter.   I like to think however that had the baby been a boy he would have grown up to become an accountant.

First drinks drunk, Mick buys me a pint of Hoppy Jude’s, although I had asked him to get me a pint of Nethergate Old Growler, and he has a Speyside Malt Whisky, because there was no Glenmorangie.  Imperfection seems to be the theme of the day.  The pub clears early, probably because a large crowd is expected and a little after twenty five to three we make our way too.  Outside, the gloom of the morning has completely gone and we comment on how Spring-like it is.  As we descend Portman Road a police van and car pass us with blue lights flashing; we speculate as to whether there’s “trouble”, which would be unexpected from Reading, a club like Ipswich with no reputation for it.  “You might see some gore” says Mick optimistically.  We catch up with the blue lights which have parked near Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue but there is nothing to see here, just one policeman talking into his radio and looking slightly puzzled.

By way of a change, today I have seats in the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand, our tickets giving entry through turnstiles 19 and 20.  We join the queue for turnstile 19 because although the two queues are directly side by side, it is much the shorter of the two.  I suggest this is because some people have an inherent fear of prime numbers.   I like the area beneath the Cobbold Stand with its unfathomable layout of cramped passages and 1970’s painted concrete and there are even pictures on the walls, albeit ones painted by primary school children;  it’s very different to the cavernous, drafty, emptiness that I am used to beneath the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand where I have my season ticket.

Today the two teams are led onto the pitch by a dog called Bowza.  Every month Ipswich Town nominates a Community Champion and this month Bowza is that champion after he helped save the life of a sick woman by keeping her warm whilst she waited for medical help.   There should be more dogs at football matches, but I don’t suppose they can afford the ticket prices. However, the @nonleaguedogs twitter account suggests this isn’t necessarily so outside the Football League or ‘EFL’ as it is now dubbed because TV or the interweb has made people’s attention spans too short to deal with whole words anymore.

Bowza’s appearance will prove to be a highlight of the afternoon.  Ipswich kick-off playing towards Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, who I can just make out in their usual seats in the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  Town are as ever in blue and white with a nasty logo across their chests entreating on-line fools to part with their money.  Reading, whose hooped blue and white home kit is likeable wear an awful all-black affair which fades to grey over their stomachs; it’s hideous and looks nothing like a football kit.

 Soon, with Bowza just a fading memory Town and Reading begin to show why they are both haunted by relegation.  This is not to say that I am not entertained however, although I am not a big fan of pantomime.  Everyone loves to hate a pantomime villain however and in Nelson Oliviera Reading have one of the best ever seen at Portman Road.  Not only is Oliviera on-loan to Reading from Norwich City but just to make it clear that he is the embodiment of evil today he is also wearing a black mask. All he is missing is a tall black hat.  Oliviera quickly gets into his stride with an audacious and obvious dive in the penalty area as Bartosz Bialkowski comes to collect a typically over-hit forward pass.  But referee Mr Geoff Eltringham is wise to him, it would be difficult not to be, and lets him have a personal viewing of his yellow card.  “Wanker, Wanker” shout the Sir Bobby Robson Stand at Oliviera to everyone’s approval.  Evil genius Oliviera ain’t.

Ipswich look particularly clueless in much of the first half of this game and this may be because they have unexpectedly switched to a complicated looking 3-5-1-1 formation which no one comprehends.  With eighteen minutes having passed all three players in Ipswich’s defence run towards Reading‘s weirdly spelt Garath McCleary as he runs to the left edge of the penalty area.  With no defenders in the middle of the penalty area, even a forward not good enough to play for Norwich City understands that it is a good place to be and Oliviera moves in, receives the inevitable pass from McCleary and has the time to light a cigar and feed his cat before choosing whereabouts in the goal to put the ball.  He shoots, he scores and heads off on a slightly bandy legged run to taunt the Ipswich supporters in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand.   Had Geoff the ref not already booked him once his offensive gloating would surely have led to a caution from a referee who will eventually show his yellow card to seven players during the course of the afternoon, some of them for some hilariously bad and extremely entertaining attempts at tackles.

The remainder of the half passes with Ipswich often looking not as good as Reading; which is a worry.  Town create one very good opportunity to score with Jon Nolan appearing unmarked much as Oliviera did, but he shoots where the Reading goalkeeper Damian Martinez, who sounds as evil as Oliviera is, can save it instead of where he can’t.With the half-time whistle Mick and I descend beneath the stand to the gents and then to the crowded bar to catch up on the half-time scores.  Like some sort of conceptual art installation the TV set is showing the view from the stand of the empty pitch.  Mick heads back to the stairs to ask the steward if there is another TV, there isn’t but the steward says he can come and change the channel for us, “Yes please” says Mick and he does and we catch up on the half-time scores, which aren’t as interesting as we’d hoped. I don’t think we realised who was playing who and had hoped to see a score somewhere where Ipswich were winning.   We return to our seats which are roughly level with the penalty area at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end of the ground.  “At least we’ll get a good view of all the goals this half” I say to Mick “Yes” he replies, throwing back his head slightly as if to laugh loudly, but then not doing so.

The second half begins.  The bald man in front of me smells unpleasantly ‘pine fresh’; it must be his aftershave or body spray, either that or he’s been cleaning out toilets all morning.  If my wife Paulene were here she would surely have an asthma attack.  Ipswich now have all three substitutes on the field, an admission perhaps that the 3-5-1-1 formation was not a success, although the injury to central defender James Collins before half-time had doubtless messed it up further.  Collins is joining that long line of much vaunted crocks from Kevin Beattie, through Tony Humes to Johnny Williams and David McGoldrick who have, due to injury, seemingly missed as many games as they’ve played.

Ipswich improve, but not sufficiently; that will sadly prove beyond them.   The crowd get behind the team, a bit; there is a will even if there isn’t a way.  But not everyone is supportive.

“Get off Quaner” shouts a bloke behind me at the gangly German.  He shouts it again, but happily Quaner can’t hear him and to voluntarily go down to ten men seems like bad advice.  “He’s fucking, shit” moans the bloke behind me refusing to let up, but I’ve already decided he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and block out his whining with  higher thoughts; it’s not difficult.

Disappointingly Oliviera is substituted in the second-half but not before he makes one final scene as clutching the back of his leg he then throws himself down flat on his back having undergone a miraculous transition from evil nemesis to flouncy drama queen in just under an hour.  He’s been a lot of fun but if asked I would say that a post-playing career in Hollywood does not await the bandy Portuguese.   

As Jon Nolan is booked for one of those hilarious attempted tackles, players of both teams square up to one another childishly and completely ignore the crumpled Reading player writhing about to show how hurt he is. Meanwhile I contemplate how Geoff the ref is the most barrel-like of all referees I have seen this season; he is so wide he appears to have a leg at each corner.  I am biased but Ipswich are worth a goal and there is mounting excitement as the clock counts down towards ten to five.  ‘Pine-fresh’ man in front of me keeps jumping up from his seat whenever the ball nears the Reading goal, which is rather annoying, but with full-time approaching it is all quite exciting even if the Reading goalkeeper’s best save ends up being from one of his own players; but it’s that sort of a game, no one is fully in control of their faculties.  Then, with 83 minutes having passed into history Gwion Edwards scores, lashing the ball in at the far post; at first I think he must have missed, but he hasn’t.  Town will surely go onto win now, although being happy with a draw is the story of the season.  Instead, as injury time approaches Reading break away and although Town’s goal looks defendable with three defenders and Bartosz Bialkowski against two strikers, it doesn’t prove so and Gambian Modou Barrow rolls the ball past Bartosz to win the game for Reading.  In my head I hear a  plaintiff voice sing “Ha-ha-haaaaa”.

Stowmarket Town 5 Long Melford 1

The end of the football season is nigh and where promotion and relegation has not already been decided, hope and anxiety masquerade as excitement. When “mathematically” a team can still be promoted it really means they have as much chance as winning a lottery jackpot, realistically none. Attracted by this sense of hopeless futility I am heading to Stowmarket who must win their last four matches, hope Felixstowe lose their final three and at the same time overhaul a superior goal difference.
It’s a grey, wet, day in late April in which the showers for which the month is famed have seemingly joined together in an unwanted show of soggy solidarity. My train is hurtling towards Ipswich through a blur of swishing greenery; rain drops speckle and streak the windows and opposite me sits a slight teenage girl; her head consumed by a set of massive earphones; only that little head and her dangling legs are visible behind a bulging rucksack twice the size of her torso. Arriving at Ipswich I have to buy a ticket for the second part of my journey; walking into the booking hall four clerks sit in a row as if awaiting a sudden rush for tickets, only one of them acknowledges my presence and therefore, although he is at the far end of the row I buy my ticket from him. There is a twenty minute wait for my connecting train and so I sink into the soft two-seater sofa in the waiting room between platforms three and four. I gaze up through the long, gracefully shaped window of the small room at the wooden fretwork valance of the platform canopy and beyond through the steady drizzle at the reflection of a brick chimney on the shiny slate roof of the main station building. The train is late but beauty abounds.
From Ipswich it’s just an eleven minute train journey to Stowmarket (£3.65 return with a Gold Card), out past marshalling yards and Morrison’s, past the scrapyards of Claydon and along the valley of the River Gipping through Needham Market; arrival at Stowmarket is announced by Munton’s (Passionate about Malt) and the multi-coloured storage tanks of the ICI paint factory.

Leaving the red-brick station with its glorious Jacobean style gable, I walk only a few paces before entering the Kings Arms public house to enjoy a pint of Woodforde’s Wherry (£3.30). It’s another attractive little building, although plain, but its appearance is spoiled by the unsympathetic UPVC windows. In the lounge I sink again into a two-seater sofa almost identical to the one in the waiting room at Ipswich station.

There is snooker on the television and a man and woman sit on another sofa drinking tea and reading the papers. “Miserable out there, isn’t it” says the man. I resist the temptation to contradict him and say that I think it rather beautiful, if wet, so I tow the party line and say something fatuous about wondering when it will clear up.
It’s twenty past two and my mobile phone tells me it’s a fifteen minute walk to Green’s Meadow, the home of Stowmarket Town. The rain has ceased and I set off, crossing the River Gipping, admiring the Grade 1 Listed church of St Peter and St Mary and the Grade41059492994_bca1edfba5_o II* listed, but seemingly derelict eighteenth century Lynton House in front of it. The route to Green’s Meadow is along Gipping Way, past the badly spelt Bodywize Gym, Lidl and the predictable queues of shoppers at its checkout tills, who stare out through the plate glass to assuage their boredom; perhaps I should wave.39969490770_e013c32e92_o
Stowmarket Town is a part of Stowmarket Community Sports and Social Club whose premises, a low, single-storey prefabricated building, reminiscent of the temporary classrooms of my childhood primary school, sits behind a large surface car park by a roundabout. It’s not 41735827652_308b47713e_oimpressive looking, but the yellow and black signage gives it a certain unity and smartness. Entry to the Greens Meadow ‘stadium’ (£6) on match days is through the ‘turnstiles’ which are close to the half way line. There is no queue and as I walk in the referees and some players are warming up on the pitch, which on such a grey day appears almost luminous, its grass, lush, damp and very green.

 

A few people have already taken up their positions in the corrugated iron clad stand to the left where strangely a white UPVC door is propped on its side; a portal to a horizontal universe. I cross through the metal cage that is the players’ tunnel; glancing towards the changing rooms I see more UPVC windows leaning against a fence. I take a wander round the ground, a man stands on a chair to fix one of the goal nets, there is a lot of signage about toilets. I head towards the bar, which is doing a good trade as people stay

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out of the cold and damp. I buy a plastic pint ‘glass’ of Greene King IPA (£3) and find a table where I sit and look through the programme (£1). The IPA has its familiar taste, something reminiscent of the smell of plasticine. The programme contains a lot of adverts and it’s good to see local butchers, chip shops, metal merchants, plumbers, carpet fitters and purveyors of aggregates supporting the club. I particularly like the full page advert for Emmitt Plant with its colourful pictures of diggers and dumper trucks. A bald man called Russell Hall, who wears a black shirt covered in yellow smiley faces is available for ‘adult comedy nights’, after dinner speaking and ladies/gents nights; I shudder a little and turn the page. Apart from a bored eight or nine year old, the only females I can see here are serving behind the bar.
I leave the bar and head outside via the toilet; there is a slight smell of damp in the corridor. Back outside, the teams appear from the metal cage and run through the pre-match handshake routine. Stowmarket wear their customary yellow and black striped27908577378_1bc30b2e09_o shirts with black shorts and socks, whilst Long Melford wear an Anderlecht or perhaps Fiorentina or Toulouse inspired change kit of all purple or violet, but with black and white hooped socks, as if they forgot to buy the whole ensemble. Melford kick off the match with their backs to the town, playing towards the A14 and the looming concrete bridge which crosses the adjacent railway track and River Gipping.
The men who were in the bar drinking are now stood in the corner of the ground27908515908_dc57ee32d9_o drinking. A few wear flat caps, some fashionably, some less so. “Blimey, it’s like an audition for Peaky Blinders round here” says one bloke; it’s a comment that makes me smile more than anything I anticipate Russell Hall might say. I wander round to behind the dugouts. Stowmarket win a corner and their number five heads the ball directly into the arms of the Melford goalkeeper. One of the Stowmarket coaches clutches his head in anguish as if imitating Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, or having a seizure. The Melford right-back then rather uncharitably passes to the Melford number eleven, simultaneously calling “man-on”. It’s akin to throwing him something boiling hot and yet also very fragile. He might have done better to pass to someone else.
Stowmarket are the more adept team but they’re struggling to make chances and Melford are competing equally well. A man with a rucksack on his back opens a Tupperware box and bites into a soft roll. It is about twenty-five past three and the ball hits the net in the back of the Long Melford goal, off the head of Stowmarket’s top-scorer Josh Mayhew. The public address announcer hasn’t been paying attention, the goal did arrive a little out of the blue and his announcement is a bit late. One spectator tells him the score is still nil-nil whilst another says “No, that goal was in the first half”. The excitement is too much for me and unusually I feel hungry, I stroll to the tea bar and order a bacon roll (£2.50); the bacon is quite tasty if not as crispy as it could be.
On the pitch Melford’s number seven Jose Zarzoso-Hernandez is keeping the Stowmarket right-back occupied. It’s about twenty to four now and suddenly Stowmarket are two-nil up as Remi Garrett scores from close range and a slight deflection. The announcer is fully awake now and has James Brown with him, who feels good even if he does end his celebration a little abruptly and mid-note. Melford break away but prevaricate and fail to score and a minute before half time, James Brown literally picks up where he left off, feeling good again as Luke Read scores a third Stowmarket goal, again from close range. James Brown finishes before just a hint, but no more of Tom Hark leaks out of the PA.
Referee Mr Thomas Hancock soon whistles to end the half and I get a pounds-worth of tea to wash away the remnants of my bacon roll; bits of the bread are stuck in thick pasty lumps between my gums and cheeks. Carrying my tea I step back inside the club house to catch the half-time scores (Ipswich at Reading is goalless). One end of the room is screened off and a printed notice announces that it is the Sponsors’ Area; blokes in smart casual dress are gathered around a buffet with paper napkins and paper plates. I glance out of the window and see players returning for the second half, so I join them, in a manner of speaking.
The man who earlier ate a soft roll from a Tupperware box remarks to his friend as he looks across the pitch from outside the club house, “You can see the slope from here”. “Oooh, yes” says his friend. Tupperware man then eats a chocolate coated biscuit, possibly a Nestle’s Breakaway or supermarket own brand equivalent. I walk away to stand level with the edge of the penalty area looking across towards the sweeping concrete flyover that is the A14. The view reminds me of the cover of the booklet inside39969482350_80eee01721_o the 30th anniversary edition of George Harrison’s defining triple album “All Things Must Pass”. The concrete bridge is a wonderful backdrop to the corner of the football ground, running as it does above the height of the trees, which surround the ground on two sides. The roar from the traffic is constant and I wonder how polluting it must be down here at pitch level. Do asthmatic players struggle more at Stowmarket?
It’s now four minutes past four and a long throw from Melford’s David Lopez is headed on before Will Wingfield forces it over the goal line from close range to make the score 3-1. “That was some throw” remarks the old boy stood next to me, a comment that I belatedly realise was made to me. What can I do but agree? It certainly was. Another old boy joins the first “How are ya?” he says. “Arroight” Is the reply.
-“You?”
– “Yeah, foine” says the first, with an air almost of disappointment.
At just gone ten past four Stowmarket’s Josh Mayhew scores his second goal, reacting in a split second to hit the ball hard and high into the Melford net from more than 20 metres out. Now Tom Hark is heard over the PA and the announcer calls out Mayhew’s name in the exaggerated drawn out manner of a boxing match compere. The majority Stowmarket contingent in the crowd of 179 cheered a little and applauded when the goal went in, but they don’t seem overly thrilled and don’t react to the amplified call to celebration. There are no Ultras here, but then, it is Suffolk. If the people aren’t taciturn, they’re not saying what they are.
I continue to enjoy the match and the spectacle of Greens Meadow, the green of the pitch and trees all around, the amber, black and purple of the team kits and the concrete, corrugated iron and yellow painted steel and the knot of drinkers by the clubhouse. Stowmarket make three substitutions all in one go and then at about twenty five to five Josh Mayhew completes his hat-trick and the PA gets positively frenzied as it launches Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” at us and Grunge meets the flat cap, as Stowmarket meets Seattle.
No further goals are scored, but the afternoon has grown increasingly cold as a creeping, penetrating chill seeps from the damp ground. Thanks to Suffolk stoicism or quiet inebriation there are no complaints,  but disappointingly with the final whistle the vast majority of spectators either just leave or head back inside the clubhouse without offering up the applause both teams deserve.   As the players stand in ragged circles to receive their post match de-briefs from their respective coaches, I too turn and leave, and walk the wet streets back to the railway station, and as I do so I reflect upon the joy of a damp afternoon in Stowmarket.

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Ipswich Town 2 Reading 0

It’s another cold, clear, cold, bright and cold December day. Today is Ipswich Town’s last home game before Christmas. As I walk to the railway station I fear breathing too deeply because that can cause a heart attack in a man of my age. But I enjoy the pale blue sky, decked with fuzzy white lines like a somewhat anaemic Mark Rothko canvas. It’s odd how the noxious, condensed exhaust fumes from jet airliners can be beautiful.
At the railway station a small dark haired and excitable man is shouting into his mobile phone; he’ll be ‘there’ about 1.30 apparently because the train is running late; with his phone call over, he proceeds to laugh girlishly and talk loudly to a man with a fashionable haircut and beard and a checked grey coat. A third man arrives wearing a Rupert Bear scarf and I can’t shake them off as they board the same carriage as me when the train arrives eight minutes late. On the train another man asks me if this train stops at Manningtree “Er yes, yes it does” I tell him, growing in confidence through the course of my short sentence. The excitable man is talking loudly to Rupert Bear; he squints because the sun is shining into his eyes, which makes him look worried as if he expects Rupert Bear to tell him some bad news; Badger Bill has been gassed.
Approaching Ipswich the train stops and a bored and world-weary sounding driver informs us that a train has broken down so another train has had to return to Ipswich and as a result there is no room in Ipswich station for our train. It’s like the Christmas story all over again; if there is a pregnant woman on this train her child might have to be born in a railway cutting. But this doesn’t come to pass and a slow descent into Ipswich precedes an amusing apology from our driver who sounds ready to cut his wrists as he tells of “…strange things happening and trains breaking down all around us as we continued on our course” before wishing us joy in whatever we are doing this afternoon.
It’s about twenty to two and the train has arrived a good fifteen minutes late. Leaving the station and crossing the road outside, a strange looking man in Ipswich Town shirt, tracky bottoms and a huge coat that looks like a bivouac breaks into a run. Time is less pressing for me so I simply stride purposefully across the bridge opposite the station and on towards Portman Road. On the opening day of the season the lampposts on the bridge were adorned with blue banners in support of the Town, but today they are bare andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA skeletal like the winter trees, as if the banners fell with the autumn leaves. In Portman Road the turnstiles are open; a man eats a banana, people queue for burgers, stewards crowd around the ‘Search Dog’ who barks, some very ordinary looking people enter the Legends Bar and Hall of Fame and the six-wheeled Reading team bus sits secure behind sturdy steel gates, looking like a cross between a juggernaut and a 1950’s Cadillac. Behind the North (Sir Bobby Robson) stand The Salvation Army band take five. Competing fast food stands try to attract custom with staff dressed up as St Nicholas and as some rather conspiratorial looking elves. There are signs on the back of the North Stand directing the way to the ‘Fanzone’, arrows point skywards suggesting a heavenly place, but I know it’s just a big tent on the practice pitch, serving insipid Greene King beer. I would love to use the ‘Fanzone’, but my good taste won’t allow me.

 

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As I head on beyond the stadium the Salvation Army strike up, delivering a rendition of one of the most joyless of all Christmas carols, Once in Royal David’s City; probably a Town supporters’ favourite. As ever I soon arrive at St Jude’s Tavern and today take solace in a pint of the “Football Special”, St Jude’s Elderflower (£2), which happily does not smell like elderflowers, but is nevertheless light and slightly floral. The pub is busier today because much of the population seem to rediscover pubs near Christmas, which is

 

a bit annoying for us all year round pub users who enjoy a quiet drink. Having consumed my first pint I return to the bar (where else?) for a second. A full-faced man who has just been served is picking up a glass of a dark looking beer, I ask him what it is; he doesn’t know. I fancy something dark, because it’s winter, something that tastes like Christmas pudding. I ask the barman for a dark beer and in exchange for £3.40 he brings me what he says is a new amber beer from Nethergate brewery, but it’s quite a dark amber and full of flavour. I sit at a small round table and look about the bar full of mostly men, middle-aged and older. In front of me stands a man in a ‘retro-style’ Reading shirt; he seems to be listening to a pod-cast through ear phones, either that or he is profoundly deaf, it’s difficult to tell nowadays. His shirt has a rather attractive badge that features three trees and I ask him if these trees are the elms of Reading’s former Elm Park ground; it turns out they are. We talk more, reminiscing about Elm Park and moving onto our dislike of modern football and not really wanting our respective teams to get promotion. He tells me that Reading currently play a sort of ‘anti-football’ whereby they just pass it around endlessly across the back four. I say that Ipswich let the opposition have the ball and play on the break, and on the basis of this he predicts that Ipswich will win. This Reading fan lives in Brighton and doesn’t go to home games, but just picks away trips that appeal to him, and Ipswich is such a trip. He says he likes Portman Road, knows there is good beer here and now that Ipswich Town have dropped the away tickets to a sensible price (£24 instead of £40) that’s enough. I feel pleased that an away supporter likes to come to Ipswich, and he’s right, we are truly blessed in Ipswich, it is fine town with a perfectly situated football stadium, close to both the railway station and the town centre; possibly the best located football ground in the whole of Britain.
Eager to avoid strange men who come up and talk to you about your shirt, the Reading supporter sups his beer and leaves, but not before we shake hands and wish each other well; now alone I sit down to finish my dark amber beer. One of the bunch of older blokes on the next table starts to talk to me; we discuss school reunions, Harvey’s brewery of Lewes and Whitehawk football club, which we agree is like having a Chantry football club in Ipswich, although to our shame we strangely forget Whitton United.
I seem to have crammed a lot into my 45 minutes in the pub today. Outside the cold air is invigorating and it’s a lovely walk down Portman Road, with the floodlights revealing themselves one by one as I draw closer to the ground. The ‘Turnstile Blue’ fanzine sellers on the corner in front of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue are waving fanzines about enthusiastically, and selling some too. I always buy a copy, although it can be a bit sanctimonious and earnest at times, with too few articles about footballers’ haircuts. TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cobbold stand is looking good today, it’s row of white painted concrete struts producing a fine repetitive rhythm along the street, above people waiting, looking at their watches and heading for the turnstiles where there are no queues today.
Inside the ground I buy a programme (£3) and drain my bladder, then go to my seat. The teams are on the pitch and Reading kick-off towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) stand wearing orange hi-vis and black shorts; they look like they should be out gritting the roads of Berkshire on a day like today, not playing football. In the third minute Ipswich add to the possibility that we are watching Ipswich Town v Berkshire County Council Highways Department by scoring easily with their first attack, Callum Connolly placing the ball inside Italian Vito Mannone’s near post. Thereafter, Reading just pass the ball amongst themselves, as the Reading fan in the pub had forecast, and then they do it some more. Despite being a goal ahead the Portman Road crowd are as quiet as ever; they probably get more animated watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly than they do here. As all visiting fans do, the Reading fans ask through the medium of la donna e mobile from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto if this is a library. Arts Council money is never wasted. Reading do succeed in missing a few opportunities to score and Ipswich are having to defend, but then a bit before half past three a corner is headed on and Joe Garner heads a second goal. It’s as if someone has tried to leave the library without checking their book out and the alarms have gone off. But the excitement is temporary and Reading keep passing the ball.
Half-time comes as a relief for the ball which has visibly shrunk with all that constant Reading passing. Having used the toilet facilities I take a wander about; down on theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA concourse beneath the stand strings of lights dangle from above as Ipswich Town embraces the festive season. I eat a Fairtrade cereal bar, which I brought with me from home, because the football club does not sell such things. On the pitch a small brass band play Christmas carols. I flick through the programme in which club captain Luke OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChambers tells us that “You never know in life what is just around the corner. What grenade can hit you”. He goes on to add “I think most people would have taken where we are if it was offered to us at the start of the season, especially with the injuries we’ve had”. It makes me think “Blimey, shrapnel wounds”. Also in the programme there is a feature on Town’s Grant Ward who I like to confuse with the twentieth century American artist Grant Wood, famous for American Gothic. Grant Wood attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and wonderfully the article tells us that Grant Ward played for Chicago Fire in the MLS. Incidentally, why did the Americans name a football club after a disaster that befell the city? It’s like the Japanese having a club called Hiroshima Bomb.
I decide to change seats for the second half and go to the other side of the goal and nearer the pitch to join super-fan Phil who never misses a game. I speak with Pat, the secretary of the Clacton-On-Sea branch of the supporters club who sits a couple of rows behind Phil; apparently only sixteen people have travelled on the supporters’ bus from Clacton today. She tells me how a fastidious female steward always carefully searches her bag each week as she enters the stadium, whilst people in big coats are not even patted down. There are no security searches entering the ground from Portman Road, just signs saying there will be. Pat asked the steward what she was looking for; the answer was “wires”. Marcus Evans is probably fearful of being tapped but Pat now carries her grenades on a belt under her coat; she’s been coming to Portman Road since the 1960’s.
It’s dark now and the floodlights shine through the translucent roof of the stand above

 

me. Being closer to the pitch lends this position an atmosphere not present at the back of the stand. In front of us is the disabled supporters enclosure and a boy with Downs Syndrome puts everyone to shame with his enthusiastic shouts and clapping; he gets what this being a football fan is about.
The second half is oddly compelling given that Reading continue to pass the ball ceaselessly but pointlessly and Ipswich just give the ball back to them whenever they win it. On 52 minutes Reading’s Paul McShane is booked and  I recall one of several reasons why I never liked Hi-de-hi. Reading are hopelessly ineffective; Bart Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal catches or punches away several crosses, but doesn’t have a shot to save. The highlight of the half is the 67th minute applause for Dick Murphy, the kitman and caretaker at the club academy who died during the week. A piece in the programme pays tribute to Dick who is described as a “loyal servant of the Blues”. I had never heard of Dick Murphy before today and think it’s an awful shame I have now only heard of him because he is dead.
There is a kind of tension about the second half as the home fans wonder if Town will hold on without actually touching the ball which gives the game its name. Occasionally this tension translates into some crowd noise; based on the experience of the first half if Town do manage to keep the ball long enough to make four or five passes they could score again. It fools us all into thinking we’re being entertained.
Despite five minutes of added on time for a number of real and imagined injuries the match doesn’t seem to drag on and at about five minutes to five referee Mr Bankes closes proceedings in the customary shrill manner.  As the stands empty a serious looking steward wearing a large head set watches on; I like to think he’s listening to the classified results.   It’s been a strangely enjoyable afternoon, possibly only because Town have won; the football was largely forgettable.

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