The relief brought on through the carefree joy of watching non-league football at Coggeshall last night was brief and within twenty-four hours I am back to watching “Championship” football, by which I mean Football League Division Two football at the theatre of the un-dead that is Portman Road.
But today’s game is against top of the league Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club that as much as Leeds United reeks of 1974, smells of the 1950’s and the scent of the Beverley sister who married Billy Wright. The Wolves have done very little of note in the last sixty years, but for a couple of League Cup wins in the 1970’s, and even Norwich have won the League Cup; but they still have a certain je ne sais quoi, as well as old gold shirts and black shorts.
It is a dull, grey January day as I walk to the railway station; there are spits of moisture in the air, the portents of more to come. I arrive at the station about a minute before the
train, which is on time, I board a freshly refurbished carriage which has a faint smell of new car given off by its grey upholstery; the theme is grey, with a white ceiling; it’s bright but dull, but heck, it’s not my living room, just a train. On the opposite side of the carriage sits a man with a beer belly, he is slumped with his head resting against the window, a blue cable leads from his trouser pocket to the electrical socket beneath the window; it’s as if his loins are on a life support machine. He has hair like the late Reg Varney. Opposite him an unnaturally blond woman of a similar age is engrossed with a mobile phone. They both cough and get off the train together at Colchester. As the train pulls into a Manningtree a man is sat on a bench on the platform for London, he is wearing a large set of earphones and is eating a sandwich from a tin foil package spread open on his lap. Five people get onto the train, one is a man with a bald head and three rings through his left ear lobe that look like he could hang a curtain from them.
In Ipswich the weather is the same. As I cross the road a group of blokes smoke cigarettes outside the front door of the Station Hotel, which is where Wolves supporters and only Wolves supporters have been directed to drink. On the back of a traffic light there is reminder of Town’s last home fixture against Leeds, a sticker that says
“McCallister,Strachan, Batty, Speed, Last Proper Champions”. It is a view I subscribe to because the Premier League is an abomination, but I worry about the omission of the other seven players in the Leeds team of 1992, particularly Lee Chapman.
Portman Road is being blocked off whilst supporters stand about waiting for the turnstiles to open. I follow a man up Portman Road who is wearing a grey tracksuit with a hood, he looks like an enormous toddler in a romper suit, the seat of his tracky bottoms is baggy like he’s forgotten to put on his nappy. I open the door to St Jude’s Tavern; bloody hell, the place is heaving. Most of the clientele are Wolves fans with a love of real ale. Having worked my way to the bar I order a pint of St Jude’s St Mary Stout (£3.60) and then work my way back to sit at a table where three blokes in their sixties are sat; they seem to be together but they’re not talking and even seem to be avoiding eye contact. I turn to one and say “Are you all Wolves fans then, or are you just here for a quiet drink?” . They’re Wolves fans and they’re up from London, they go to every game. They tell me that there are branches of Wolves fans from London, Daventry and Cheltenham in the pub. I remark that they are all men of a ‘certain age’ and they laugh agreeing that if you haven’t got a bus pass you probably don’t follow Wolves.
A friend of mine, Mick, soon arrives and we talk of blood pressure, the Hairy Bikers, tielles, sciatica, this blog, holidaying in Corsica and Marseille and the difficulty of choosing where to visit from so many wonderful places across Europe. I drink a pint of Irvin Ruby (£3.60) and we both have a half of St Jude’s Darkest Blessings (£3.80 a pint), which is very strong (9.5%) but smooth and delicious with a hint of hazelnuts and vanilla.
All the Wolves fans have already left when we leave the pub at about a quarter to three, Mick heads home and I head for the match. It’s raining properly now. Whilst I may tire of the present incarnation of Football League Division Two, I never tire of the sight of
Portman Road with its proper floodlights at each corner and all the activity outside on match day as kick-off approaches, it’s what being is all about, especially when it’s raining. Martin Heidegger would have understood, although by all accounts he was a bit of a knob.
I pass through the turnstile and am approached by a steward who asks me about the photos I have taken out in Portman Road, I explain that they are for a blog and flick through a few of them for him. He seems happy with that, but I can’t imagine he knows what to say; what did he expect to see other than photos of Portman Road? I suppose my camera might have really been a water pistol, not a camera, I had one like that when I was about eight years old.
The teams are walking on to the pitch and in the stand I am surprised to find a man and a woman occupying my seat and the one next to it. They’re not doing anything rude, just sitting. I go and sit in the next seat along, I don’t care. One of them says something about not being able to see from their allocated seats and a steward had told them to sit anywhere where there was a space.
The game begins and it’s okay, a fairly even contest to start with and Town’s Callum Connolly has a shot after about 11 minutes. It only takes the Wolves fans eight minutes however to announce that “You’re support is fucking shit” and no one is arguing; no one even cares except perhaps for John Hughes who wrote the tune Cwm Rhondda; but that was in 1907, so he must be past caring by now. In the fifteenth minute it’s not only the support that is so scatalogically poor, as the Town defence dissolves into the rain, the ball is crossed and a bloke called Matt Doherty heads it unchallenged into the Town net; Wolverhampton Wanderers have, it turns out, won the match…and it had all started so well.
The Ipswich crowd do not react at all and make no effort to help raise their team’s game through vocal encouragement; I do though and throw myself into a few rounds of “Lo, lololo lolo, Allez les bleus” as Town win a couple of corners. There is not the slightest hint that anyone wants to join in with my efforts on behalf of the team and in a fit of pique I get up and leave my seat. I go to sit with Phil the ever-present supporter at the other end of the stand, who at least understands and will sometimes even join in with me, a bit.
The game carries on and Town play reasonably well in an unspectacular sort of a way, but Wolverhampton are good, they’re several points clear at the top of the league table and we are seeing why. A little short of 1,900 Wulfrunians are following their team today, but I’m a little disappointed by them. For a team who wear such a distinctive kit there is very little of the lovely old gold and black on display and they’re singing is mostly of a negative nature. But when I think I hear them sing “Wanky wanky, wanky wanky Southerners” to the tune of Chicory Tip’s ‘Son of my father’ it raises a smile, even though Ipswich is not in the South, it’s in the East. Bloody Brummies.
At half-time I stay where I am and enjoy the occasional drip of rain through the leaking roof on which I can see buddleia growing; I’m not sure that makes it a ‘green’ roof, but it’s a start. I have no half-time snack and don’t visit the toilet, but Phil does and I guard his bag whilst he’s gone. Town stalwart Tommy Smith appears on the pitch in a smart overcoat to say farewell to the crowd before he heads off to play for Colorado Rapids in Denver; he waves, I wave back.
I then muse upon the names of the Wolverhampton team and feel strongly that Ivan Cavaleiro should be wearing a wide brimmed hat and a cape, or he should at least walk out onto the pitch in such attire, even if he doesn’t play in it. Wolverhampton Wanderers are owned by Guo Guangchang, one of China’s wealthiest people and in Helder Costa and Ruben Neves have the two most expensive players in League Division Two; midfielder Neves cost a colossal £15.8m and both players are clients of football agent Jorge Mendes who is an advisor to the club. Read more about Wolves’ attempt to buy success in the editorial to the February edition of the always excellent When Saturday Comes magazine.
The teams return, Phil returns and play resumes. Ipswich aren’t so good this half, I reckon Wolves have sussed us out and they control the game completely, because they have much better players, some of whom, as you now know have cost obscene amounts of money. They also have a manager called Nuno Espirito Santo who, with a name like that, you would always back against plain old Mick McCarthy. I have a theory that people voted to leave the EU mainly because they feel inferior to all these clever, stylish Europeans, and they are. Town have two new players in their team today, a free transfer called Gleeson and a thick-set monster of a man on-loan from Tottenham Hotspur, who rejoices under the seven syllables of the name Cameron Carter-Vickers. They do okay, but Bartosz Bialkowski is the star for Town as he makes a succession of essential saves to stop Wolverhampton scoring more goals. The Wulfrunians in the Cobbold Stand again sing coarsely of the execrable Ipswich support and look for the geography section of the library. Meanwhile, I continue to sing ‘Allez les Bleus’ very loudly and have a most enjoyable time. Singing is proven to be good for you and even though Town lose I am as happy as I can be given the pointlessness of it all. Watching Ipswich Town is what you make it.
The three minutes of added on time offer hope, but that’s all and soon the final chirrups sound from beneath the shiny and completely naked pate of referee Mr Simon Hooper. Unusually, I stand and applaud the teams today; all my singing has made me high as a kite.