Ipswich Town 2 Bristol Rovers 1

Bristol Rovers, The Pirates, The Gas; I first saw them at Portman Road on a cold Wednseday evening in February 1978.  Although the 29,090 souls gathered there that night couldn’t have been certain of it at the time, it was an auspicious occasion that would forever be significant in the history of Ipswich Town as the one replay on the route to FA Cup glory.  I remember Bristol in their anaemic yellow shirts and black shirts and how we thrashed them by three goals to nil (Mills, Mariner and Woods). At the time, I thought it was an exotic fixture; Ipswich an established, top First Division club, albeit having an iffy season in the league, and Bristol Rovers the underdogs, perennial under achievers from one of England’s biggest cities and a club Town hadn’t played at Portman Road  since before I was born.  A little more than a decade after that cup tie and Town v Rovers was a Second Division fixture and now thirty years further on we meet in the third division again as we did in the 1950’s.  Time is round, there doesn’t seem much doubt.

I switch on my Lenovo lap-top, connect it to the tv set in the kitchen and log on to the ifollow.  “Sex or nothing for me” I think I hear Mick Mills say.  It’s not what I expected, even though with his fulsome moustache and mahogany tan, back in the 1970’s Mick would not have looked out of place in a porn flick.  I soon adjust my perception however and realise that Mick had said ‘six’ not ‘sex’ and was talking about the number of points Ipswich would take from their next two fixtures, which are against the two teams currently bottom and second from bottom of the third division table, Bristol Rovers and Rochdale.  Deciding that despite my admiration for Mick, what he thinks about how many points Town will amass over Easter isn’t very interesting I mentally tune out and don’t tune back in until the game begins and I hear Brenner Woolley explaining that Bristol Rovers are wearing their away kit of black with yellow pinstripes and flashing down the sides of their shorts.  I find Brenner’s attention to detail admirable and hope that the listeners to BBC Radio Suffolk who don’t have access to the pictures from the ifollow appreciate the picture he paints for them.

After about 50 seconds Town score; “A most bizarre goal” is Brenner’s description. “Well explain that one” says Mick in a challenge to Brenner, before admitting “I haven’t a clue what happened”.   It’s a goal that if it were a painting would be in the Tate Gallery or Pompidou Centre alongside the works of the abstract expressionists.  Marvelling at the thought of a goal that it is impossible to describe I can only attribute it to some sort of early Easter miracle.  The metaphorical stone that usually blocks the opposition goal has rolled away and let the ball in the net, and it’s still only Good Friday.  The caption on the ifollow screen attributes the goal to Rovers’ Luke Leahy, whose surname I imagine is pronounced ‘leaky’.  In my world I award the goal to Jackson Pollock.

“What you want now is a real response from Ipswich” says Mick, living in hope of seeing the current team live up to the benchmark he helped set forty-three years ago.  “This is the time of all times you want to get on your front foot” he continues, clearly believing that the current team has a front foot. As part of his usual rendering of mini-biographies of opposition players in the opening minutes, Brenner mentions Ed Upson, a former FA Youth Cup winner with Town who is today playing for Bristol Rovers. Meanwhile Mick doesn’t seem able to get over that goal. “A strange sort of opening to the game…we’re winning one-nil” he says, sounding bemused.

Ed Upson fouls little Alan Judge; “Upson, no stranger to the yellow card” says Brenner, introducing a turn of phrase I haven’t heard him use before.  Referee Steve Martin meanwhile is not swayed by the fact that Upson has ‘previous’ and doesn’t book him.  It’s the eleventh minute; Andre Dozzell shoots weakly, the Bristol goalkeeper Anssi Jaakola saves and according to Brenner, Alan Judge “finishes off at the second time of asking”.  It’s two-nil to Town.  “Andre’s shot was awful” says Mick tempering our excitement with a reminder of the reality, but the reality is also that Town have now scored twice. Simply unable to resist the pun, Brenner tells us that it’s “…a good Friday for Town”.  I sigh deeply with resignation but am shaken from my torpor as I hear Mick say “Inevitably going to be a win for Town”.  I can only think that Mick has adopted the attitude of Donald Trump and that if he says something, then he thinks it’s true. 

Egged on by Mick’s optimism I begin to dream of Town scoring five or six.  Brenner meanwhile returns to the world of using his words to paint a picture for the BBC Radio Suffolk listeners.  But figurative art isn’t wholly Brenner’s style and he likes to add a dash of surrealism’ “Paul Cook being rather noisy…he’s got his beanie hat and gloves on”.  Back on the field of play the Rovers’ goalkeeper receives the ball; “The Finn plays it out quickly” says Brenner, as ever ensuring that the ‘leave’ voting BBC Radio Suffolk listeners can single out the foreigners if they need to.  “I can’t quite decide what Bristol Rovers are doing” admits Mick suddenly, but perhaps still thinking about the opening goal.

It’s the eighteenth minute. “That was shocking from Dozzell” says Brenner. “Awful play from Andre Dozzell” says Mick as Rovers’ Luke McCormick robs the dawdling midfielder of the ball, advances and chips the ball over Tomas Holy and into the Town goal.  “First goal of the season for Bristol Rovers against Ipswich Town” announces Brenner weirdly.  My dreams of a crushing victory evaporate and Bristol Rovers instantly and miraculously become the better side.  Five minutes later Tomas Holy collides with a Bristol player outside the penalty area and is booked by referee Steve Martin, although Brenner implies that Rovers’ manager Joey Barton is advocating a sending off.  “Joey Barton not happy” he says of the vengeful Scouser.  “It’s an awful mistake by Luke Chambers” says Mick, pinpointing where the blame really lies.  “Paul Cook’s head in his hands” continues Brenner, adding a layer to his aural picture which now resembles something by Hieronymous Bosch.  Happily, Rovers fail to score from the ensuing free-kick.

Thirty-four minutes pass and Town win a corner. “This hasn’t been a great performance” says Mick. “Both teams very untidy” he adds in explanation.  Mick is on good form; “Just taking his time there Andre, like he does”.   Bristol Rovers are dominating possession, making Town play on the break.  There are seven minutes until half-time. Suddenly Luke McCormick swings a leg at the ball in the town penalty area; “He should’ve made that two-two” says Brenner as the snap shot bounces past Tomas Holy’s left hand post. “Possibly” replies Mick, providing the voice of reason to quell Brenner’s hysterical panic.  “I thought it was in, and so did Tomas Holy, he was rooted to the spot” opines Brenner unconvincingly. 

Town fail to improve, “It’s not good viewing at the moment; Bristol Rovers the better side” confirms Brenner before adding a dollop of symbolism to his aural picture with “They’re really knocking on the door at the moment Bristol Rovers”.  Two minutes of additional time are added in which Town win another corner which produces nothing to excite.  It’s half-time and Mick’s assessment is that “It’s been a very average performance”.  I put the kettle on.

The second half begins with Aaron Drinan replacing James Norwood.  The assumption would usually be that if not a tactical change Norwood is injured, after all, as Brenner himself might say “Norwood is no stranger to the treatment table”.  But today Brenner speaks obliquely about Norwood’s “health” as if he hasn’t been substituted because of an injury but something more sinister like an affliction with Tourette’s, Dysentery or Cholera.

The game begins anew. “Free-kick to Bristol Rovers early doors” says Brenner, using his favourite football commentary expression before it’s too late.   Quickly, Mick and Brenner establish for us that the portents for the second half are not good. “Everything seems to be coming from mistakes” says Mick, as if he’s never seen a third division match before. “This could be a horrible forty-two minutes to watch” adds Brenner with a mixture of fear and ghoulish optimism.

Seven minutes into the half and in a rare moment of actively trying to influence the result, Teddy Bishop has a shot on goal, but it’s very weak and straight at Jaakola.  Seemingly already losing interest in today’s match Brenner is looking ahead; “Three successive away games in a row for Town” he says, exhibiting a disappointingly poor understanding of tautology and how to avoid it.  Returning to the present, Gwion Edwards has a shot cleared; “off the goal line” according to Brenner, although in truth it hadn’t got that far.  In the aftermath Luke Chambers goes down clutching some or other piece of his anatomy and whilst he receives treatment Brenner asks Mick to summarise things so far this half.  Rather than comment on the use of colour and poetic licence in Brenner’s commentary, Mick answers with another question “Why aren’t we much better than these teams rooted down the bottom?”

Chambers recovers and play resumes. An hour has passed. “Still not comfortable viewing” says Brenner moments before Teddy Bishop breaks down the right to the by-line. “That was a terrific Teddy Bishop burst on the ball, he just went past people as if they weren’t there” declares Mick incredulously.  Sadly Teddy’s low cross is easily blocked.  Twenty five minutes of normal time remain, “A long way to go” remarks Brenner before telling us of “Parrott stretching his hamstrings” as the pssitacine-named player warms up on the touchline.  It makes me wonder to myself if parrots actually have hamstrings.   Back on the pitch Aaron Drinan is booked for colliding with an opposition player.  Troy Parrott replaces Kayden Jackson.  “How did they do?” asks Brenner of Mick referring to the Norwood and Jackson striking partnership.  “They didn’t do very well” is Mick’s considered response, although he does go on to describe the mitigating circumstances of an absence of any helpful passes from our midfield.

The sixty-seventh minute and Gwion Edwards wins a corner for Town; nothing comes of it.  “Still for the most part a very poor football team to watch, Ipswich Town” says Brenner trying to keep us in suspense until the end of his sentence to find out which team he is talking about.  A little over fifteen minutes remain of normal time. “I can’t believe how cold it is at Portman Road, there hasn’t been much to warm the cockles it has to be said”  says Brenner, possibly  hinting at some contractual obligation to mention either the weather or Town’s inability to make people feel good.  The seventy-fourth minute and Rovers’ Brandon Hanlon runs past Luke Chambers and strikes the ball across the face of the goal; it’s either a poor shot or a poor cross, but probably both. “Not the first time the Ipswich Town captain has been caught out for pace in this game, it has to be said” says Brenner telling us once again that there are just some things that he has to say, although presumably as a radio commentator if he didn’t say anything he wouldn’t get paid.

Thirteen minutes remain. Rover’s substitute Oztumer, whose surname sounds horribly like an Australian cancer, is booked for a foul on Stephen Ward.  “Three goals in eighteen minutes, a mad period really” says Mick reminiscing about happier times.  Six minutes later and Brenner tells us that Town have won “their fourth corner of this second half”.  Unusually, Luke Chambers makes it to the ball first and sends a near post header onto the roof of the net. “Decent effort” says Mick, “Not the best corner I would have said” he adds making Luke’s achievement sound all the more impressive.  A fifth corner soon follows, cleverly won by Aaron Drinan.   It’s just a shame Town are not very good at corners.  “My goodness it’s really been very poor” fires off Mick, “I don’t think Ipswich have performed at all…just so messy…nothing to excite you at all”,

Normal time has almost expired and for no apparent reason other than to use up time, Teddy Bishop and little Alan Judge are replaced by Josh Harrop and Armando Dobra.  Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers replace David Ayunga with Josh Barrett who, Brenner tells us “is very stocky”.  Four minutes of added time are played, and twenty-two seconds into the ninety-fifth minute, through the medium of his referee’s whistle ,  Mr Martin says enough is enough and Town win.  Mick was right.

Mick’s closing words before the ifollow broadcast rudely cuts him off are “Everything seemed to be messy and untidy; the performance again, it’s miles away from what you want.”  Of course Mick’s not wrong, how could he be?  But heck, on the bright side we have won.  During the week I watched a programme about Trappist monks in Leicestershire who set up a brewery; one of them said that people are happiest when living life in the moment not thinking of what’s gone or what the future holds.  Tonight Town have won, be happy, the future will look after itself, like it did in 1978.

Ipswich Town 2 Accrington Stanley 0

It’s Saturday again.  It’s football again.  The week has been worthwhile after all. Today sees a return to Portman Road for Ipswich Town, after a very successful excursion to Blackpool, and a return to the ifollow for me after the football of imagination through the commentary of Radio Suffolk.  Today has been a good day already, the postwoman having delivered a brown cardboard sleeve containing a pristine copy of ‘Snapshot’ – Scenes and stories from the heartlands of Scottish football.  I’m hi on the stink of glossy ink after burying my head in this wonderful book intermittently throughout the morning.  I’ve only ever been to one football match in Scotland (Hibernian v Raith Rovers, a one-all draw in January 2015), but leaving aside the boring duopoly of Celtic and Rangers I perceive the same humanity and lack of pretence in Scottish football that pervades much of English non-league football, with an added bleakness courtesy of its latitude.  The reverent prose of Daniel Gray and photographs of Alan McCredie bring it to life and are an absolute joy; recommended (£12.99 from Blackwell’s with free postage).

Clearing my head with a walk over the fields near my house I return for a lunch of last night’s leftover home-made curry and a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star Revelation (£1.50 a bottle from Waitrose). Agreeing to let my wife Paulene enjoy the comfort and warmth of the living room to watch the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly, I consign myself to the kitchen where I log on to my lap-top and connect it to the kitchen telly in time to catch the announcement of the names of today’s virtual mascots; kids lucky enough to have parents with 25 quid to ‘spaff’ on a video message and signed letter from a favourite player, a choice of drawstring bag, gym bag, pencil case or beanie hat all costing a tenner in Planet Blue, a programme with their name in, a certificate and that ‘shout out’ on the Radio Suffolk ifollow commentary.  The fact that I am firmly into the second half of my lifespan is brought home to me as I smile at what I perceive to be the weird first names of today’s under tens; they sound to me like place names, surnames, occupations and the names of random objects not the names of people, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills snap me from my ageist reverie as Brenner asks Mick to provide some sort of summary of the state of the team, which he does, but stutteringly at first as he punctuates his monologue with frequent  ‘you knows’ until he gets into his stride, when he begins to talk quite normally.  It’s as if Brenner had asked him when he wasn’t quite ready.  In the background the teams appear and the Portman Road tannoy is blaring out the recently deceased Eddie Van Halen’s “Jump”, a tune I had hoped, vainly it turns out, would die with the sixty-five year old Dutch born rocker.  Brenner comments on how the Accrington manager John Colman and Town’s Toto Nsiala embrace, describing them as the “two Merseysiders”, which I like to think was the working title for the 1970’s BBC tv situation comedy the Liver Birds.  Clearly Brenner has still not caught up with the fact that Toto was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The game begins. “A throw in for Accrington inside 90 seconds” says Brenner as if that is significant and thereby suggesting that he is perhaps commentating for the benefit of some sort of spread betting syndicate.  Meanwhile on screen, views of the interior of the stand roof and empty seats suggest that Luis Bunuel, Yoko Ono and Marcel Duchamp are taking it in turns to direct the camera. Town are looking timid and Accrington have the ascendency. “Trying to play football, Accrington Stanley” says Brenner trying to construct a sentence in the right order whilst simultaneously being patronising and stating the obvious.

“Accrington goalkeeper, young goalkeeper, very alert” says Brenner still struggling with his sentences and possibly implying that he would expect a young goalkeeper to be a bit sleepy.  Out on the left Miles Kenlock and Andre Dozzell pass the ball between each other four or five times without moving as if saying to each other “No, you have it, I don’t want it”.  It’s a cameo from the two Town starlets that sums up the team’s apparent absence of a plan. “Sears scythed down by Sykes” says Brenner offering some satisfying alliteration in the absence of exciting action. But then out of very little Freddie Sears is as good as through on goal, only for the Accrington ‘keeper, Toby Savin, who is sporting a shirt and shorts ensemble the same colours as the Ipswich Buses livery, to make a good save.  Quickly Toto Nsiala is making a weak, headed back pass and Stanley’s Matt Butcher,  appropriately wearing the number six shirt, has his shot saved by Tomas Holy.  The goalkeepers are the best players on the field and Brenner tells us that we “…don’t see many 20 year old goalkeepers at this level” implying that Savin is very young but clearly forgetting that Town’s last opponents at Portman Road, Rochdale, had a ‘keeper who is just 18  years old.

The camera work is moving from avant garde to a hint of inebriation in the cameraman and I wonder if James Norwood has arrived by taxi to join Luis, Yoko and Marcel up on the gantry.  Hopefully the ineptness is not a symptom of Covid-19, but it seems to have become contagious as a goal kick from Savin carries all the way through to Tomas Holy who boots it straight at Andre Dozzell; the ball falls to Stanley’s Colby Bishop who instinctively shoots wide of the open goal.  In midfield, Gwion Edwards keeps pushing the ball past opponents and forgetting to run after it, whilst the camera work evolves further to a state where it seems to be predicting where the ball is going to go, thereby showing an empty patch of grass whilst unseen Savin takes a goal kick.

Mick Mills’ first meaningful contribution to the afternoon is to remark that Stanley’s Ross Sykes, who incidentally is a towering 1.96m tall, reminds him of Allan Hunter or Jack Charlton, players who had retired almost 20 years before Sykes was born.  Brenner suggests that Sykes would be flattered, but I think Mick was merely implying that Sykes main ability is to kick people up in the air.  Accrington are looking more likely to score than Town and Tomas Holy saves a free-kick with a smart dive to his right .“ Well done by the Czech” says Brenner reducing our goalkeeper to a mere nationality.

Town win a corner and the camera zooms in on the corner flag before travelling up into the Cobbold stand for a close up of the rows of blue seats.  I expect Brenner and Mick to quote lines from a poem by Andre Breton.  The corner comes to nothing and my frustration grows.  I am happy to get to half time with the score still goalless.

I enjoy my fifteen minute respite from the combined hopelessness of Town’s performance and that of the ifollow cameraman through the medium of tea and a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  Adverts for products and services I do not fully understand are interspersed with the half-time scores from League One and match statistics, which reveal Ipswich have had three shots on goal to Accrington’s ten.  Ipswich however have had about 10% more possession and a slightly better passing accuracy; a paltry 73% for Town against a miserable 69% for Accrington.  But it is generally easier to pass the ball accurately if you don’t pass it forwards.

The games resumes and Brenner enlightens his radio listeners that it is blues versus reds with Town kicking off from right to left.  I of course already know this thanks to my possession of a colour television and having witnessed the previous 45 minutes.  Mick soon adds to the new found clarity advising that Sears and Edwards are now playing in their preferred positions (the middle and the left respectively). Accrington however have the first half-chance of the half as a through ball outpaces their number eight Jonathan Russell, who Mick tells us “…didn’t look like he could get away from the defenders” with something Mick calls “ a turn of foot”; I’m not surprised. 

Fifty-two minutes have passed and Teddy Bishop shoots past the post, “Better from Ipswich Town, a lot perkier” says Brenner. Two minutes later and Town lead after Gwion Edwards finishes a fine passing move. “Really incisive football from Ipswich Town” is Brenner’s wholly accurate assessment.  I cheer loudly out of sheer relief. The lifting of spirits caused by the goal is palpable and Mick introduces some jocularity into his co-commentary as he refers to the former Allan Hunter and Jack Charlton imitator Ross Sykes as “Big Sykesie”, an epithet Brenner considers “Brilliant” for its “familiarity”, something which is in itself brilliant. 

The goal has worked wonders and Mick is now clearly smitten with Ross Sykes.  Gwion Edwards runs in to the penalty area again. “Edwards absolutely ghosted past Big Syksie” says Mick now unable to stop saying “Big Syksie”.   This is the ingredient Mick’s co-commentary has been missing all season, a catch phrase character to liven it up like a few well-placed jokes in a best man’s speech.  I’m feeling a lot happier now and am still confident when Tomas Holy is forced into making another low diving save with about twenty-five minutes still to go.  My confidence is well placed and four minutes later a poor pass out of the Accrington defence is seized upon by Town and Freddie Sears is released in to the penalty area to ‘dink’ the ball over Sivon and make the score two-nil.  I cheer loudly because I think Freddie deserves it.

Nolan replaces Huws. Town play the ball around at the back like they’re in Ligue 1 not League One. Accrington’s Cameron Burgess becomes the first and only player to be booked as he fouls Luke Chambers.  The oddly named Keanen Bennetts replaces little Alan Judge.  Bennett has a shot on goal but “ It’s a trundle straight at Savin” says Brenner, unintentionally reminding me of Lee Trundle, the former Neath, Haverfordwest County, Llanelli Town, Rhyl, Swansea City and Wrexham striker.

An Accrington corner is cleared and an Accrington player is left in a heap on the ground.  The game carries on but is eventually stopped by referee Mr Lewis.  “He let play go on too early, he should’ve stopped it” says Mick confusingly, seemingly muddling up not stopping play soon enough with the abstract and illogical concept of letting it carry on too soon.  The game enters time added on, “Long kick from Holy and Sears is on his bike” says Brenner, attempting not to be outdone by Mick’s efforts to rival the weirdness of the earlier camera work.   Sears and his bike are quickly substituted before the referee notices, with Tyreece Simpson coming on in their stead.

Ninety four minutes have passed and a bit more and Mr Lewis the referee confirms Town’s third consecutive two-nil home win.  Despite entreaties from Brenner during the game to phone 0800 212121 after the game to speak to Mick or to comment by text I decide that like all the people who will phone and text I have nothing worth saying and nothing to say that anyone should want to hear. Anyway, I’d rather return to the heady smell of the pages of Snapshot – Scenes and stories from the heartland of Scottish football.

Ipswich Town 2 Rochdale 0

It’s a grey, blustery Saturday in late September and despite the miserable nature of the weather there is a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Obviously, the normal, “traditional” Saturday of dossing about a bit, catching the train, sinking a couple of pints of fine ale and strolling on down to Portman Road is not going to happen today because of the continuing pandemic, but a fresh, new reality has taken root and after a morning of tidying my garage, involving putting up hooks and brackets on which to hang my garden furniture and my bicycle, there is now the prospect of logging onto the ifollow to watch the mighty Ipswich Town.  Today there is added excitement too as today is the first ever appearance at Portman Road of one of the Football League’s most resilient, remarkable and in most people’s eyes unsuccessful clubs, Rochdale AFC.  Rochdale’s survival as a professional football club for almost a century is simultaneously a great achievement and a story of fantastic under-achievement. No other club can boast thirty-six consecutive seasons in the fourth division or a home crowd for a league game of just 450.   That Rochdale have spent eight of the past ten seasons in the third division nevertheless makes them one of Britain’s most successful clubs, relatively speaking. As if that is not enough, Rochdale has a marvellous Victorian town hall, something it has in common with Ipswich, but it was also the birthplace of the Co-op, and Gracie Fields.

After a somewhat peculiar ‘lunch’ consisting of the remains of a bag of Gujerati Mix and leftover home-made chips that my wife Paulene didn’t want, I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ (actually 500 millilitres) of Adnams Ease-Up IPA (two for £3 from Waitrose) whilst logging-on to the i-follow.   Amazingly, I find the ifollow very easy to set up, connecting my laptop to the television with what I can only describe as aplomb.  The only thing I have difficulty with is getting the picture to fill the whole screen because the ‘expand’ icon is hidden beneath an icon that asks me if I want to chat about the EFL;  I can think of few things I  would want to do less.  I eventually discover that by scrolling down the page the ‘expand’ icon can be uncovered. Ready for the match I take up residence in an Ikea Poang chair, with my beer carefully positioned on an occasional table next to me, just an arm’s length away.

As an experiment, today I am not wearing the blue, Ipswich Town branded ‘button neck t-shirt’ that I wore when listening to last week’s win at Bristol Rovers, when watching the game versus Wigan Athletic the week before and when listening to the game versus Bristol Rovers in the League Cup the week before that.  Today I am wearing a grey Euro 2016 t-shirt that I bought at a Carrefour hypermarket in Tinqueux just outside Reims (pronounced ‘Rance’).  I need to know if Town can win on their own, or whether my ‘button neck t-shirt’ has special powers. 

The game has not yet started and I and my fellow viewers of the ifollow are treated to a Radio Suffolk preview of Needham Market’s match versus Stratford, the reporter Nick Garnham delivers his report in the style of a 10 year old who has been asked to read out loud in class; he’s very good.  The radio broadcast returns to Portman Road and resident Radio Suffolk commentator Brenner Woolley provides a precis of Town’s season so far before his side-kick and appointed expert Mick Mills magnanimously announces that “Most of what you’ve said I totally agree with”.  Undeterred, Brenner goes on to describe the two teams’ kits; I agree totally with most of what he says but disagree with his description of Rochdale’s shirts as ‘bottle green’, they’re a shade too light for that.  The Dulux colour chart has a shade called ‘Seaweed’ which is a much better match.

On the ifollow a caption appears that shows today’s teams and I am impressed with the use of the correct diacritical marks above the a, s and y of Tomas Holy’s name, something that our own match programme doesn’t even bother to do,  and nor do I because I can’t find them on my keyboard.   Returning from the caption to the pictures of Portman Road I feel a bit seasick due to some wobbly camera work but I am soon settled by the calming voice of Mick Mills, although he does then proceed to conjure some disturbing images when, talking about the advantages of a settled team, he claims that Sir Alex Ferguson would only ever “…mess about with three or four players”.   It’s not an accusation I’d heard levelled at Sir Alex before.

The match begins with the shrill whistle of today’s referee Mr John Busby and Rochdale kick off towards the North Stand in their seaweed green shirts with black stripes, black shorts and socks.  I am peering at my tv screen looking for a fat bloke with a Teddy Boy haircut after Brenner tells us that Paul McShane is playing at the back for Rochdale, but I then remember Rochdale’s penchant for players with famous names; well, Paul Weller played five games for them back in 2004 anyway. 

Town are very quickly looking good and only Freddie Sears and Jon Nolan deny them an early lead as they contrive to balls-up a two versus two breakaway in the seventh minute.  Mick Mills is almost as quick to tell us how Town are much the better team and are dominating, before Rochdale naturally enough then begin to pass the ball around with nonchalance and Chambers and Nsiala create a complete mess at the back just two minutes later. It’s Rochdale’s Aaron Morley who then has the first shot on goal, if it can be described as such.

Brenner tells us more than once than the rain is hammering down at Portman Road but we don’t need him to tell us that actually this isn’t a bad match at all.  Oliver Hawkins has a header saved, hits a post with a shot on the turn and then has another header cleared off the goal line.  Brenner tells us again that the rain is hammering on the roof of the stand and this time I’m glad he does because it sounds like applause, as well it might.   Brenner and Mick are almost purring over some the play but at the same time talking pretty sensibly in plain English. “Dozzell, using his quick feet there” says Brenner raising the question in my mind at least of whether a player’s feet can be quicker than his legs, and how, if they could, this would genuinely bamboozle the opposition.  “They’re decent; decent footballers, Rochdale” says Mick with a third of the match gone and sounding rather surprised. 

The match continues to be worth the entrance money, if not a tenner to watch it on the ifollow, and Brenner’s detailed radio commentary is adding to my enjoyment , especially when he introduces the use of compass-points into his description pinpointing possession in one instance to “…just North of the centre circle”.  I can only think the lashing of rain and wind has stirred up some memory of the shipping forecast in his BBC radio presenter consciousness.   Speaking of the wind and rain I’m quite pleased to see that my seat in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is being kept dry by having a George Cross endorsed with the name of someone called Aaron draped over it.  It leads me to muse on whether I’d be so happy to have my seat sub-let to a cardboard cut-out of a complete stranger, I’m not sure I would.

Half-time is approaching and still the game flows like proper football should;  and even though a number of simple looking passes are going astray the emphasis is on attacking football. “We had bodies in the box, we had Luke Chambers in there” explains Mick, as if to say “even Luke Chambers”.  The Rochdale goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu saves a 20 yard shot from Jon Nolan, Luke Chambers “…lumps the ball into touch” and a Freddie Sears cross is cleared off the goal line before notice of a minute of added on time is given and then half-time arrives.

With peripheral vision I glimpse an endorsement of the EFL by Screwfix as I leave the room and head for the kitchen to put the kettle on and seek out a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and endeavour to create an authentic half-time experience in my own home.  I return in time to see the match stats paraded before me on the screen at least three times along with a request to report the fact to the piracy@efl.com e-mail address if I am watching this in “commercial premises”.  I wait for another caption inviting me to report the charging of a tenner to watch EFL football on the telly to the daylightrobbery@efl.com e-mail address; oddly it doesn’t appear.

Fifteen minutes pass in the blink of an eye and the football returns, but not before I enjoy the avant garde views of wanderings of the camera man and lingering shots of Paul Lambert returning to the dugout in his large, rather shapeless, black Adidas coat, yet another addition to his burgeoning match day wardrobe since last season.  I can only think that in PL’s five year contract wily Marcus Evans included an ‘all you can wear from Planet Blue’ clause in lieu of hard cash.

Addressing the important issues of the day Brenner pumps Mick for his views on football without crowds and Mick is forthright, telling us in no uncertain terms that “This is not a proper game of football”; I can’t disagree, as much as I try to pretend that it is by creating my own ‘going to the match’ fantasy world by buying a programme on-line, drinking a pre-match beer and a half-time cuppa and singing to my wife that she’s a “dirty northern bastard” (she’s actually from Portsmouth).

Mick continues in honest vein suggesting that “Freddie might be losing his job soon” as another of Freddie’s free-kicks fails to make the opposition goalkeeper do anything more than raise his eyebrows.  Freddie’s free-kick shortcomings are soon forgotten however as just a few minutes later a good passing move down the left hand side of the pitch ends with Teddy Bishop scoring at the far post.  “Yay” I shout, not standing up and sending my Poang chair skittering backwards on the tiled floor as I look for someone northern looking to make obscene hand gestures towards.   “One-nil to the Tractor Boys” I don’t sing to the tune of the Village People’s ‘Go West.’

With the game re-started after the hiatus of the goal Brenner lapses in to a momentary bout of  footballese as he tells us that Gavin Bazunu “…puts his foot through the ball”, before more helpfully adding to the mental picture of the afternoon by sketching in Paul Lambert stood in his black coat with his hands in his pockets. The Town then make another decent passing move down the left hand side of the pitch and this time Gwion Edwards scores and Town lead 2-0.  “We’ve got hold of the three points” says Mick, causing Town fans everywhere to gasp at his most blatant, brazen tempting of fate.  Here is me thinking that a two-nil lead is the worst thing to have in football, should we go for a third goal and risk conceding or sit-back and risk conceding, letting the opposition back into the game either way.   Is it such confidence that separates Mick as a former captain of Ipswich and England from us punters? 

Twenty-five minutes of normal time remain and Jon Nolan is booked for a pointless trip of an opponent, but somehow Brenner hasn’t noticed it and seeing Mr Busby with his arm raised thinks it’s Hawkins who has been shown the yellow card by BT’s misspelt mascot’s namesake.  What could he have been doing to have missed that I wonder, checking his compass; practising putting his foot through a ball? 

The remaining minutes are illuminated by a wonderful pirouette with the ball at his feet by Gwion Edwards (it can only be a matter of time before someone says he’s a Welsh wizard), a full card of substitutions and more rain “hammering” on the roof.   Substitute Flynn Downes seems to want to pick a fight with Rochdale’s Matty Lund just seconds after entering the field of play and Mick is quick to call him out.  Downes is showing himself to be the idiot that we saw before when he was sent off in a pre-season friendly at Cambridge.  Fifteen minutes now remain and Brenner tells us that it is “…good Jack Lankester is involved again, and playing football”. It would have been a tragedy if he’d returned from injury only to play water polo.  With his predilection for short vowels Brenner can’t help not mispronouncing Lankester as Lancaster; I shall be writing to the radio equivalent of Points of View. Bloody northerners.

As full-time approaches Town become more and more sluggish and sit back, it’s not something I enjoy watching. As if echoing the drop in performance on the pitch, the sound quality of the broadcast suddenly drops too, with Brenner occasionally taking on the accent of a Dalek, as happened towards the end of the Wigan Athletic game.   My mood is lightened however when in the 90th minute Rochdale’s Rathbone (sadly Oliver not Basil), volleys a shot against one of his own players; you can’t beat a bit of slapstick. 

A good 2-0 win is imminent and taking Mick’s counsel I am not worrying that the last flickering embers of the game see Town continuing to do the bare minimum.   But Brenner has to try and make the commentary interesting, although whilst trying to suggest the prospect of a Rochdale consolation, he shows that he’s mentally in the car on the way home too as he says “A little bit sloppy from Ipswich, what can Rotherham do?”  A little bit sloppy indeed Brenner. 

With five minutes of added-on time played the games ends and I reflect upon an afternoon in which I have learned that Ipswich can win without the help of my blue, button-neck ITFC branded t-shirt, although it doesn’t prove that the t-shirt doesn’t have special powers and could mean that my Euro 2016 t-shirt might also be capable of influencing results.  Oh ‘eck, as Gracie Fields might have said.

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.