The football aspect of my weekend has started well. On Friday evening I logged into FFF tv, the free tv channel of the French football association, to watch one of my favourite French teams, FC Sete take on Stade Lavallois in Ligue National, the French third division; it’s sort of like watching ifollow, but without BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley or Mick Mills (Michel Moulins in France) , and not being English the FFF don’t charge for it. Things didn’t immediately go well, Sete went a goal behind, a blow from which they never recovered but early in the second half I checked up on how my other Ligue National team, Red Star St Ouen, were doing; somewhat annoyingly, seeing as I wasn’t watching them, they were winning 3-0 away at Avranche. I soon switched feeds but not soon enough to see Red Star’s fourth goal, although at least I saw their fifth and sixth goals to create some welcome Anglo-French symmetry with Town’s recent thrashing of Doncaster Rovers.
This morning the sun continues to shine, literally, from a bright blue autumn sky. It’s the sort of beautiful day that makes you feel glad to be alive. I do the usual things, parking up my trusty Citroen on Chantry and strolling down through Gippeswyk Park, but by way of a change from routine I am going to buy my programme (£3.50) before my pre-match beer. Having only a twenty-pound note in my wallet I decide to buy my programme from the club shop where I can pay by card; but stepping over the threshold I am witness to a sea of unmasked faces queuing at the tills. It looks like a cross between the January sales and the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Not wanting to even risk entering a scene of such thoughtless disregard for the health and safety of others in such a confined space, I make a hasty retreat and form a queue of one at the nearest programme seller’s booth. Programme in hand, I proceed up Portman Road, along Little Gipping Street, across Civic Drive, up Lady Lane and St George’s Street to what used to be The Arboretum, but is now known as the Arbor House. The bar is surprisingly empty and having purchased a pint of Nethergate Copperhead (£3.80) I make the short walk through to the beer garden where I am mildly surprised to find Mick already sat at a table behind a pint of Mauldon’s something or rather (he can’t remember exactly what), with his mobile phone in hand, texting me to say “Je suis dans le jardin”, which I tell him is exactly what I was going to do if he hadn’t beaten me to it.
Having discussed “new Labour”, Mick’s daughter’s recent wedding and his father of the bride speech, how we have been born in the wrong country, the utterly unbelievable ineptness of Boris Johnson, the whereabouts of mutual friends, and the Sheffield Wednesday game we find we have drained our glasses and with no time for more beer we head for Portman Road. As we walk to the ground we share our bafflement over what appears on the front of Ipswich Town’s shirt. I think we both know it’s something to do with a tour by Ed Sheeran, but what does it mean? I tell Mick that I don’t think it makes any sense in algebraic terms and we confide in each other that we had both wondered if the mystifyingly popular ginger recording artist was trying to say something obliquely about living in ‘divided times’, but we had both been a bit embarrassed to mention it to anyone else.⁹
Having bid farewell to Mick at the West Stand turnstiles in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I proceed past checkpoint Covid on the Constantine Road gate to turnstile No 59, the portal to another world, the foyer to which is the men’s toilet beneath the Sir Alf Ramsey stand; relieved, I am soon making my first appearance this month in the lower tier seats. Against the usual background of overly loud music, presumably intended to excite me as well as make my ears ring unpleasantly, stadium announcer and former Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster somewhat alarmingly speaks of Town having put Doncaster Rovers “to the sword” in the last home game. Then, sounding like an entertainer at a child’s birthday party, Stephen asks the crowd if Town can do the same to Shrewsbury. The response is not an enthusiastic one and suggests that “probably not” is the consensus.
Following the taking of the knee, which we all applaud, the game begins with Shrewsbury Town getting first go with the ball, which they are mainly hoping to aim in the direction of the goal just in front of me. Today, Shrewsbury are wearing an unusual kit of pink socks, black shorts, and black and pink hooped shirts; they look like a team of Denis the Menaces who are in touch with their female side. There don’t appear to be any away fans wearing the replica shirts of this kit, although I think I can see a woman in a pale pink cardigan. To my right Fiona and Pat from Clacton discuss the UEFA Cup celebrating musical ‘Never Lost At Home’ which Fiona is seeing at the Wolsey Theatre tonight and Pat saw last night. “It brought back so many memories” Pat tells Fiona. I share with them that I am going to watch it on-line this evening, and I am destined to discover that my experience mirrors Pat’s.
Eight minutes pass and Wesley Burns receives a through ball, which he crosses low for the oddly named Macauley Bonne to hit into the Shrewsbury goal from close range, only for Macauley Bonne to have been offside. The near miss provokes a burst of noise from the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and a fulsome chant echoes around the stands for at least a few seconds. Town are permanently ensconced in the Shrewsbury half. “Here we go” says Pat from Clacton trying to influence events as the ball is crossed from a free-kick; but Wes Burns’ header goes into the side netting. Town win a corner. “Ipswich, Ipswich”, “Come On You Blues” chant the Sir Bobby Robson stand with gusto and Matt Penney sends an angled shot whistling past the far post from 25 metres out.
“Nice to see the ball down here” says the bloke behind me contrarily as Shrewsbury make a rare foray towards Vaclav Hladky’s goal and Ryan Bowman heads over the cross bar. It’s an incident that causes excitement amongst the Shropshire lads lurking in the shadows at the back of the Cobbold Stand, who don’t sing but instead read from their books of poetry by AE Housman. Two minutes later and a left foot shot from Lee Evans is blocked. A further minute passes and the oddly named Macauley Bonne heads a Matt Penney cross goalwards forcing a flying save from Shrewsbury ‘keeper Marko Marosi. But Marosi can only push the ball away and Conor Chaplin nips in to fire the ball into the net and give Town a deserved lead. A little bizarrely, the reaction of the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand is to go all 1970’s and sing about endlessly fighting ‘the Norwich’ because of Boxing Day, I can only attribute this to a liking for the back catalogue of Boney M.
Relaxing, confident that we are on our way to another handsome victory, I think to myself how Town’s Cameron Burgess reminds me of Town legend Terry Butcher; this is mostly because of his height and the shape of his legs, but also extends to his ability to boot a ball up the left side of the pitch and curl it out into touch for a throw to the opposition. Behind me one bloke asks the other if he thinks we might see another 6-0 win, but thankfully he doesn’t mention the use of swords.
Five minutes go by in which Town worryingly follow my ill-advised lead and appear to begin to relax too. The inevitable result is that Sam Morsy loses possession on the edge of the Town penalty area, and the unfortunately monikered Shaun Whalley silences anyone tempted to call him a wally by lashing the ball into the net from 20 metres out. The recurring pattern has recurred. “Why don’t we ever shoot from there?” asks the bloke behind me; possibly because the opposition don’t give the ball away in that position I respond, but only in my head. Up in the shadows of the Cobbold Stand the Shropshire lads briefly chant “You’re not singing anymore” but oblivious to the irony, very soon they’re not doing so either, although for no particular reason such as Town scoring again.
With the scores level, Town seem to lose all memory of what they stepped out on to the pitch to do and the remainder of the half drifts away somewhat aimlessly, but with Shrewsbury Town spending more time in the Ipswich half of the pitch; at one point they even win a corner. With ten minutes of the half remaining Shrewsbury’s number twelve Ryan Bowman is replaced by their number nine Sam Cosgrove. I think the scoreboard gets it the other way round, but it’s an easy mistake to make given that in a sensible world players would be numbered 1 to 11, and substitutes 12 to infinity. Of course, I might have got that wrong, but it’s an easy mistake to imagine given that in a sensible world players would be numbered 1 to 11 and substitutes 12 to infinity.
The final ten minutes of the half see Cameron Burgess booked by referee Mr Will Finnie, who kicks his heels too high and has overly neat hair for my liking. Three minutes of additional time are added on during which Pat from Clacton remarks on how nice Fiona looks in her new home shirt, which Fiona collected from the club shop today. As ever Pat is right, the home shirt is a rich shade of royal blue and suits Fiona to a tee. Half-time arrives and departs in the flurry of a toilet visit, a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar and a chat with Ray and his grandson Harrison. The talk is of whether we can score another goal in the second half; I think we can and am hopeful for a third too.
At 1605 the second half begins, and the floodlights flicker on soon afterwards despite it being a bright afternoon, and sunset not being for almost another two and half hours. I suspect our club’s new owners are just showing off how Americans have no qualms about the conspicuous consumption of energy, or wasting it. Today’s attendance is announced as 19,256 with the 202 from Shrewsbury being made up of not only Shropshire lads, but Salopians of all ages and sexes.
The half is nine minutes old, and Town earn a corner. Lee Evans crosses the ball and the oddly named Macauley Bonne runs towards it, jumps, and sends a glancing header obliquely across the face of the goal and comfortably inside the far post to restore Town’s lead. I love a glancing header, one of my favourite types of goal; the twist of the neck, the precise contact with the ball, the eyes following its path into the net, poetry that A E Housman might have appreciated. “ He’s one of our own” sing the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand to the tune of Sloop John B, before going on to sing about beating up a Norwich City supporter (poor little budgie), this time through the medium of a top 20 hit recorded in 1979 by the Abbey Hey Junior School.
With the sun now hidden behind the West Stand, the temperature drops and the smell of the damp turf drifts into the stands; I breathe it in deeply like an inhaling dope fiend. Matt Penney whizzes in a low cross, which the oddly named Macauley Bonne fails by a matter of a fraction of a second to slide into the net. Kyle Edwards replaces Wes Burns with seventeen minutes of normal time remaining. Toto N’siala replaces Matt Penney with the game into its last ten minutes. Three minutes remain and Vaclav Hladky rises imperiously to catch a cross and reap the applause of the home crowd. Town haven’t managed to score a third goal, but it doesn’t look like they will need to. For Shrewsbury George Nurse draws laughter from the crowd, firstly falling over as he boots the ball up field and then heading the ball into the ground and somehow managing to get hit by it as it bounces up again; the boy is a natural. The oddly named Macauley Bonne is replaced by Joe Piggott and five minutes of added on time are announced. There remains time for Scott Fraser to go down in the penalty area and to be booked by Mr Finnie for diving. Predictably it’s not a popular decision amongst the Town supporters, but this Town supporter thought it was a blatant dive and Fraser deserved to be booked and possibly kicked when he was on the ground, which then would have been a penalty.
The final action sees the Sir Bobby Robson lower tier singing “Addy, addy, addy-o” for reasons unknown other than that they must be happy and seemingly this makes them reminisce about pre-school. With the final whistle Fiona and Pat from Clacton make a sharp exit, but I linger to applaud the Town players and witness the sadness in the faces of the Shrewsbury players. It’s been a good day; the sun is still shining and I still have the joy to look forward to of listening to the analysis of Town legend Mick Mills, and the Radio Suffolk phone-in as I drive home. Sometimes life just keeps giving, but then it stops.