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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Ipswich Town 1 Birmingham City 1

It’s Saturday 1st April and I have been looking forward to this day since at least the afternoon of the previous day. Ipswich Town hasn’t played at home since the dire, dull, dreadful, goalless draw with Wolverhampton on March 7th; that’s a three week drought of football and more. Of course I’ve been to see other teams in the interim, but they were mere floozies, Ipswich Town is my first love, my true love, the only team for whom, ultimately, the results really, really matter. I’ve won twice at Wembley with Ipswich and in Europe and together we won the Texaco Cup and have suffered relegations. Ipswich Town is ‘the wife’, although at times we fall out, we can’t be parted; we have a binding contract.
So, with a spring in my step I head off for the match; a walk to the station, a train ride and a walk to St Jude’s Tavern up Portman Road. It’s 1:30 and the turnstiles are about to open, there are quite a lot of Brummies hanging about wondering where to go and what to do, why can’t Ipswich give away fans their own “fanzone” on Portman Road car park? They do it at Wycombe Wanderers, serving terrible Greene King beer admittedly. But then, I guess a visitor with any nous would do some research and seek out the pubs serving proper beer, so why not leave the lumpen proletariat, the ‘leave’ voters to get on with it.
As I walk by there is a dog outside the away end.33658581591_fbc6a9f087_o He’s black and friendly looking and accompanied by a lady in a day-glo tabard bearing the words “Search Dog”. Apparently the dog is sniffing out things people shouldn’t be taking into a football match, such as flares, the firey things not the trouser. The dog however, looks like it’s sniffing out what’s to be found in the gutter, as dogs do. A little further along the road there are more dogs,33658589351_64c1f608c6_o Labradors or Retrievers with collecting buckets; guide dogs for the blind. The club website says it’s Ladies’ Day at Portman Road today, it didn’t mention dogs.
Eventually, I enjoy three pints of ale with St Jude and talk to a white haired man who admits to not having seen Town in Division Three South, but he’s followed them for 60 years. I want to be like him in a few years time, with young whipper snappers pointing me out as someone who had seen Rod Belfitt play. The pub empties at about a quarter to three and I’m left talking with the friend I came to meet, about why I write this blog. It doesn’t matter, it’s time to get to the match and I head down Portman Road smiling to myself about the joys of beer and football.32944974044_8fd60a352e_z As the ground hoves into view I am struck by the sight of Sir Bobby Robson’s face on the corner of the ground. He looms over the chip van on the adjacent car park, as only England managers’ and knights’ faces should. As I pass Sir Bobby’s statue further on, I meet the white haired man from St Jude’s again, he is touching the statue’s foot for luck. If I was a Catholic I think, I should write to the Pope and ask if we might have a Saint Bobby. At the same time I think with Ipswich’s puritan and non- conformist heritage it’s wrong, very wrong to touch a statue’s foot for luck. No wonder the Town are doing so badly.
The search dog is still outside the away end as I pass by and I ask what his name is. At first I mis-hear what his handler says and think she says he’s called Cecil. The dog’s name is actually Zero. I prefer Cecil; he looks like a Cecil. Having patted the dog I enter the ground and take up my seat in the lower tier of Churchman’s or theì Sir Alf Ramsey stand as it’s now known. I think that may be there should be a huge mural of Sir Alf plastered across the back of this stand too, but with a cigar in hand to reference the popular name of the stand and his success. Sir Alf won the League Championship and a World Cup, two things Sir Bobby didn’t achieve; you were close Sir Bobby, but no cigar, not like Sir Alf.
It’s now that time; 3 o’clock, Saturday afternoon and the game begins. Same old rubbish sadly. Town and Birmingham City are both wading through the sludge that is the bottom third of the Second Division and it’s easy to see why. Birmingham have brought along a decent number of supporters however, 952 of them32974927023_68e5933084_o.jpg and now and then they break into song, the dour, slightly unhappy, resigned “Keep right on to ‘til the end of the road”. It’s a song that was written by Harry Lauder in 1916 in honour of his son who had been killed in the war, it’s meant to be a song of hope but it doesn’t sound like it and you could say that the message of the song is that you’ll only be happy once you’re dead.
Birmingham City is a spectacularly dull club and always has been. From the middle of the country, the Midlands, Birmingham City is geographically average and generally average overall. Apart from Trevor Francis and one League Cup win there’s never been anything to write home about from Birmingham City. It’s telling that the club song is “Keep right on ‘til the end of the road”. Life is a struggle for Birmingham City, because existence is boring or sad, all you can do is keep right on’ til the end. It’s fitting therefore that Ipswich should be playing them now, because that is also how it feels at Portman Road. If we can only make it to the end of the season, may be things will be better next year. Town have been bobbing along in the second division for fifteen years, but Town fans should be proud of such consistency. It is a worthy achievement to avoid the twin scourges that stalk Second Division clubs; the apparent ignominy of relegation to the Third Division and the moral degeneration brought on by the financial crapulence that comes with promotion to the evil Premier League; the league of greed. Nevertheless, carefully treading this middle ground can be a bit dull, particularly as it’s nice to watch good football, and winning and good football usually go together.
Speaking of dull, the first half passes largely without incident, although Ipswich’s Cole Skuse goes off injured at the very end. Interesting name Cole Skuse; the only other Cole I can think of is the fantastic Cole Porter. The surname Skuse has medieval Cornish origins and is to do with living near Elder bushes, which makes me think of the taunting Frenchman in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So it was appropriate that Skuse should be replaced by Kevin Bru, Ipswich’s own Parisian Mauritian. Hopefully, as the two players pass on the touchline Monsieur Bru tells Cole “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”.

The second half begins and within two minutes Birmingham are in the lead; a shot is saved but the re-bound becomes a close range goal. Ipswich don’t respond at all well and carry on not having shots on goal and not passing to one another and not doing all the things associated with playing well.  With an hour gone the Ipswich public in the North Stand react.  They hadn’t got behind their team before now and still they don’t as instead they opt to sing to manager Mick McCarthy that his “football is shit”.  Then, again through their preferred medium of song they tell club chairman Marcus Evans that he is a cunt and chief executive Ian Milne that he is a wanker.  Spleens are vented and the North stand end of Portman Road is awash with bile and rude words; apart from the Birmingham supporters who are shocked and anxious in equal measure due to their team being a goal ahead, the rest of the ground is its usual comatose self. 

The Ipswich players continue not to give value for the entrance money or the huge wages necessary to buy the ridiculously ostentatious cars parked in the club car park.  A slow hand clap is attempted by the West Standers but fortunately fails; beaten by their own apathy. But then when all looks lost in the developing maelstrom of self-loathing and poor football from both sides, Grant Ward finds space wide on the right and crosses the ball. In keeping with the type of game it is, the cross is so poor that it sails straight into the goal to give Ipswich a barely deserved goal to equalise Birmingham’s barely deserved goal. How we cheer, once we’ve got over the shock.
There is still twenty minutes to go and some of us foolishly hope the lucky break will see Ipswich go on to play like a proper football team and score another goal or two. Of course that doesn’t happen and the final whistle is met by a stampede for the exits, or as much of a stampede as a host of over sixties can manage and the usual chorus of boos. Outside in Princes Street there are two police dog units, but I can’t see any dogs;32974895873_c16d6ac493_o only two policeman who are possibly trying to look inscrutable in an attempt to hide the fact that they have lost their dogs. Mind you, one of the dog units is from Norfolk; I thought there were quarantine laws.
On the train home I talk to a chatty man from Witham, well he talks to me really. He’s been watching Town since the 1950’s like the white haired man I met in the pub. He’s disappointed with today’s game like everyone else, but he clearly still loves it all and will be back again on Tuesday for the Wigan Athletic match, as will I. The moral of the story is that real football fans ‘keep right on to the end’ which those Birmingham fans knew all along.