Ipswich Town 1 Sheffield United 1

The first time I saw Ipswich Town play Sheffield United was in April 1972; the result was a goalless draw but I remember the game not just because Sheffield had a character from Beatrix Potter playing for them (Len Badger), but because it was also the first time I had suffered the pain, shock and hurt of seeing a Town player sent-off. The late Colin Harper was that Town player; he had protested too much to the evil Gordon Kew who had awarded a penalty to Sheffield United; but Colin laughed last as Laurie Sivell saved the kick, because back then right was on our side, sometimes. At the end of the game the pitch was pelted with cushions by spectators in the West Stand who were aiming at Mr Kew and his police escort. It is now hard to believe that such passion could be shown by people in what is probably Portman Road’s most comatose of stands. The up-shot of this reminiscence however, is the admission that I have never much liked Sheffield United.

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But today is a beautiful, bright winter’s day and it’s almost Christmas, so in the spirit of goodwill towards all men it would be very bad manners not to put my ill-will towards The Blades on hold. Feeling better for that loving feeling I arrive at the railway station to find that the 12:57 to Ipswich is delayed by six minutes due to ‘signalling problems’. I text my wife Paulene because she likes to know of all the small misfortunes that befall me and because she likes to have her already low opinion of Greater Anglia railways reinforced whenever possible. Paulene texts me back with a series of emojis; her interpretation of potential ‘signalling problems’.

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As I wait for the train I enjoy the low winter sun; on the railway platform a sign advertises the services of The Samaritans, they are “in my corner” should I need them; but I’m not a boxing fan and the words don’t really work as a footballing analogy. The arrival of the train soon shakes me from my reverie. I sit on the grey moquette by a window and look about the carriage. The face of an ugly old woman with a big nose leers down at me from a poster advertising Simplicity Cremations, their strapline being ‘making funerals less of an undertaking’. I’m not sure when humour became ‘a thing’ in advertising for undertakers; I think of an alternative strapline with more of an accent on the ‘simple’ cremation “Light the blue touch paper and retire”. It is interesting that an undertaker would think that train passengers’ thoughts should turn to their own deaths, although when delays are really bad I guess people do begin to wonder if they will ever make it home and therefore begin to make plans.

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Arriving at Ipswich there are two Christmas trees on the railway station concourse and two policemen guard the doors. A string of lights fail to make the Station Hotel look very festive; I hurry on towards Portman Road where there is little festive feel but for one steward in a red and white hat. For a reason I find hard to explain I buy a programme in the club shop, but it was worth it to see the display of Christmas themed soft toys and assorted tat.

Round the corner in Sir Alf Ramsey Way I pause to hear the Salvation Army band strike up with ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’. Beginning to feel a lot as if it’s Christmas I head for St Jude’s Tavern to enjoy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which today is Maldon Brewing Co’s ‘Five Gold Rings’. I sit and read the programme, occasionally joining in with the conversation of the match-day regulars who are sat around the table next to me. I enjoyed the Match Day Special but variety is the spice of life and from my second journey to the bar I return with a pint of Maldon’s ‘Winter’s Ale’ (£3.20) and finally I drink a half of Earl Soham Brewery’s ‘Sir Roger’s Porter’ (£1.70). Glass drained I walk down Portman Road with one of the St Jude’s regulars with whom I had been sitting, I think his name is Ian; he is a bald man who currently has a limp, I discover that like me he has a penchant for French and Belgian football. I silently envy him his visits to Royal Antwerp and Aalst.
Portman Road is not overly busy, it’s close enough to 3 o’clock for most people to be already inside the stadium and by now only those who have struggled against Christmas crapulence to leave the pub are making their way through the turnstiles. I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile No3 and bid the operator a cheery Christmas greeting. I make my way, via the gents, to my seat next to Elwood and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and just in front of Pat from Clacton. I ask Pat if she enjoyed Tina Turner The Musical, which she went to see yesterday, in London. She did; although it was the understudy who played Tina. I hand a Christmas card to Elwood, to give to his dad, who tells him to put it in their bag.
The game begins with Ipswich as ever in their blue and white kit, which this season has sadly been tainted by the ugly logo of an organisation peddling on-line gambling. Without good reason, unless they are showing solidarity with France’s gilets jaunes, Sheffield United eschew their proper colours of red and white striped shirts and black shorts in favour of luminous yellow shirts with black shorts. I keep a look out for piles of burning tyres and pallets but fortunately there are none to be seen as Town get the ball rolling towards me, Pat, Phil and Elwood. Another good afternoon’s work from Zero the sniffer dog.

“Oh when the Reds, Go marching in” sing the Yorkshiremen in the Cobbold Stand “Hark, now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” is the riposte from the Sir Bobby Robson Stand and I wonder if the Salvation Army have been co-opted into the Blue Action supporters group. The football is fast and furious but it’s Sheffield who are fastest. Town may have to bide their time this afternoon, Sheffield United look quite good despite their poor choice of shirts. In the Sheffield corner of the Cobbold Stand the Okey Cokey breaks out and all around the stadium is a sprinkling of Santas and people dressed as elves. At seventeen minutes past three Sheffield United ‘score’ but the ‘goal’ is disallowed, something to do with a breach of the offside rule it would seem. “Down with the Wednesday, you’re going down with the Wednesday” sing the Sheffielders, presumably not to their own team, although if not it doesn’t seem a very charitable thing to sing, given the time of year.
It’s almost twenty five past three when Town at last have a goal attempt of their own as a cross from the right is met by the head of Ellis Harrison, a man who until today I did not realise had such impressive calf muscles. The header is caught easily by the Sheffield goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Six minutes later a deep cross from Town’s Gwion Edwards drops into the edge of the Sheffield penalty area, Freddie Sears is running onto it, there is an audible gasp of expectation from the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, but Henderson gets there first, giving him cause to dance and sing. Town then win a corner; Luke Chambers launches himself towards the goal like a human missile and heads the ball solidly into the roof of the net. The ‘goal’ however is disallowed by referee Mr Woolmer. “What the hell was wrong with it?” calls the old boy behind me, showing admirable bias towards his team. Unfortunately, the human missile took out a few too many Sheffield players in the course of its rather flat trajectory.
Having disallowed a ‘goal’ Mr Woolmer seemingly develops a taste for enraging the home crowd and awards a free-kick against Ellis Harrison when it’s likely he was the player who was fouled and when Town are heading towards the Sheffield goal. The crowd is at once energised. “Who’s the wanker in the black?” sing the Sir Bobby Robson Stand in a rare display of unified voice. I volunteer the information that the wanker in the black is Mr Andy Woolmer, a short balding man who every other step has to skip or jump to keep up with the longer strides of his assistants as they walk on and off the pitch…like Private Baldric on the opening credits of Blackadder Goes Forth. This is the fourth consecutive home match for which Town have been given a ‘short ref’. I think its about time we had a lanky one.


Perhaps it is just Ipswich’s good fortune, perhaps the Sheffield players are unnerved by the better than usual vocal support for Ipswich or by the use of the word ‘wanker; perhaps they have heard about the cushion throwing incident in 1972, but they proceed to muck up several passes leaving Ellis Harrison with a run on goal and space to shoot. Ellis shoots, Ellis scores. I get a perfect end on view of the ball swerving wonderfully inside the netting just behind the goal post; it’s a thing of beauty, it’s bloody marvellous. Joy abounds.
There are eight minutes until half time. “I hope we get to half-time without…..” says the old boy behind me, his voice trailing off as if he cannot bear to utter the words to complete the sentence. Half-time arrives and Town are still winning. It has been a struggle but in the last ten minutes we came good, in part thanks to the diminutive Mr Woolmer’s ability to stir up the supporters with his abject refereeing.
I visit the gents, I talk to Ray and hand him a Christmas card; a very small brass band play Christmas Carols in the centre of the pitch. On the concourse below the stand what looks like a soil pipe is decorated with a twist of blue lights, some rather feeble strings of lights dangle from the roof and a Christmas tree decorates the entrance to the upstairs hospitality area. The stadium announcer tells us that the Premier League half-time scores will be on the scoreboard, “should you wish to see them”, which I think is a nicely condescending touch, richly deserved by those who do wish to see them.
All is well until the second half begins and within a minute Sheffield equalise through Billy Sharp a man who despite his thirty-two years has a name which will forever sound like he’s a young scamp of an eleven year old who’s just stepped out of a Barry Hines novel. He should perhaps call himself Bill or William now he’s a bit older. “Well, we’re gonna see plenty of the ball this half then” remarks the old boy behind me looking on the bright side, sort of.
It turns out that whilst we do see quite a lot of the ball being passed between the gilets jaunes in our half of the pitch, they don’t manage to create many certain chances to score and Dean Gerken makes hardly any saves; far, far fewer saves than he did against Wigan last week. Sheffield’s dominance of possession leaves the Ipswich crowd quiet for long periods but no one moans to fill the void. Everyone outside that one corner of the Cobbold Stand is of course hoping for another Town goal, but a draw will be alright. The crowd is announced as 17.942 (1,292 from Sheffield) which is pretty good for a Second Division team bottom of the league on the Saturday before Christmas, and shows that people do still care and still believe that relegation will be avoided. At twenty-five to five a chorus of “Come On Ipswich, Come on Ipswich ” ringing around much of the ground is strong enough to prove the point.

Mr Andy Woolmer

This is an enjoyable game and the old dear behind me is getting her kicks from Mr Woolmer’s lack of height, “I don’t know how he can see the fouls, he int tall enough is he?” she says before querying how he can manage to measure out ten yards at a free-kick with “… his little legs”. Happily for those of us satisfied with a draw, only three minutes of added time are called and whilst Mr Woolmer books Jordan Spence and gives Sheffield United a free-kick just outside the penalty area in that time, his efforts to let Sheffield score come to nought. The game ends and a warm applause flows from the stands. “That was bloody brilliant” says the old boy behind me getting a bit carried away with it all. I wait to applaud the team from the field and of course boo the referee. If I had had a cushion I doubt I would have hurled it at Mr Woolmer, possibly because we didn’t lose, but probably because I’m quite mild-mannered really. It’s odd that we think we live in a more liberal society than we did in 1972, but hurling a mere soft cushion would probably see me tracked down and banned for life from Portman Road now.
It has been a grand afternoon at Portman Road and Town are well worth their point against a superior team. We seem to be successfully assuming the role of plucky underdog, which in a league rammed full of Premier League pretenders will allow us a wry smile come the end of the season when only three of them get what they wished for…..and of course they should be careful of what that is. As for Town, we’re bottom of the league at Christmas, but I’m happy……or as happy as one can be.

Ipswich Town 1 Preston North End 1

The clocks have changed, British summer time has gone, it is now late autumn when the football season begins in earnest. No more basking on sunlit terraces in T-shirts, from now on it will be cold or wet and sometimes both; proper football weather. I am surprised somewhat therefore to be strolling to the railway station under bright blue, cloudless, sunny skies with a balmy breeze at my back. On the train a man is wearing shorts. But then, this is the start of a new, new era; Ipswich Town manager Paul Hurst has gone with the leaves from the trees, to be replaced by Paul Lambert, the first Town manager with a surname that can be convincingly pronounced with a French accent. Death and decay may be all around me in the natural world, where plant life is full of fungi, mould and mulch but my optimism and belief and in my team is re-born, again.
Arriving in Ipswich, the town itself seems as relaxed or dull as ever, perhaps even more OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAso. There is no one much about. I cross the small, weak bridge over the disused railway on Princes Street, a metaphor for Paul Hurst’s reign as manager. It’s half past one, but Portman Road is quiet. Men in day-glo jackets fail to stop a small Vauxhall with a barricade of wheelie bins. As usual a cluster of over-zealous individuals wait outside the Sir Alf Ramsey stand for the turnstiles to open, a habit that by the look of them they45338078112_36c7fee0b1_o began forty five years ago or more before seats, when claiming your spot on the terrace was a necessary ‘thing’. A man heads towards the door of the ticketing information office, “Don’t waste your money” someone shouts out to him. Polythene bags full of crisps, sweets and the local paper lay on the street awaiting purchase for a pound. In the club shop there is a stock of ITFC45338078832_c2c2c7c97c_o branded ‘With Sympathy’ and ‘Get Well Soon’ cards; somewhat ironic given the club’s currently moribund situation at the foot of the league table, but otherwise rather tasteless.As ever I seek pre-match solace at St Jude’s Tavern, which is fuller than usual and I detect that blokes with Lancashire accents are responsible. As I recall from the corresponding fixture last year, Preston North End supporters would seem to have the greatest appreciation of real ale amongst Town’s Championship rivals, and I salute them for that. At the bar the moustachioed barman serves me a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is Mr Bee’s Pollen Power. I sit at the only available table, in the corner by the door, and await the arrival of Mick. I am approached by a man with a Lancashire accent who recognises me from last year when we chatted in this very bar. I am unsure whether to be flattered or worried that someone has recognised me from a single meeting a year ago. The man who I learn is called George seems very happy to renew our acquaintance and I share his enthusiasm for this entente-cordiale between fans of ‘rival’ provincial clubs at different ends of the country. Ipswich and Preston are not so different; two clubs stumbling along in the Second Division but both with the illustrious histories to forever raise them above the likes of Norwich City and Blackpool.
Mick arrives to drink the match day special and we talk of my recent experience of house-sitting in the town of Meudon just outside Paris. I show him a photo on my phone of Yume the dog who I walked each day in the nearby forest, as well as pictures of the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA public art at La Défense. We each drink another pint of the match day special before we part and I head down to Portman Road at about a quarter to three. A sign outside the church around the corner refers to disciples and it seems appropriate as the crowd congregates for the match. The quiet of an hour and a half ago is gone and I detect the smell of tomato sauce wafting its way towards me from the burger vans in the car park. The floodlights are already illuminated although in Portman Road the afternoon still seems bright, but inside the stadium the East of England Co-op stand, which oddly is on the west side of the ground casts a cold, damp, dark shadow over the pitch. I buy a programme (£3.00) out of a desire to remember the occasion with a souvenir, but can’t help immediately regretting the expenditure.
In the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand Pat from Clacton has returned from a cruise around the Greek Islands and as ever, ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, today with this young son Elwood. There is plenty of space next to Pat so I settle down a couple of seats along from her leaving my allocated seat as one of the 14,700 odd that will remain unoccupied this afternoon. In front of Pat and me is a lady called Fiona who was in the audience for a supporters’ Q & A session with Paul Lambert during the week and could be seen on a local BBC TV news report of the event. I tell her “I’ve seen you on the telly, haven’t I” in the manner of someone who has just bumped into Valerie Singleton.
Very soon the teams venture side by side onto the pitch and Town’s new manager Paul Lambert takes his first walk along the touchline from the players’ tunnel to the dug-outs. The crowd cheer and clap, he waves, I wave back. Today the club is once again

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commemorating Armistice Day, which is something that never used to happen at football matches, but we live in strange times. I wonder if people are compensating for the absence of religion in their lives. But even stranger, today the minute’s silence for remembrance of those killed by war is also for the chairman of Leicester City Football Club. This is truly bizarre. As good a bloke as he evidently was, and as tragic as it was that he died in so horrible a fashion, the chairman of Leicester City has not much to do with Ipswich Town and nothing to do with Remembrance. Lots of good people died this week and do so every week and ITFC don’t commemorate them and rightly so, it would be daft. Remembrance of the people killed in conflict is unique and whilst it sadly fails to stop successive governments sending more people to their deaths in increasingly dubious military campaigns there is nevertheless a special point to it. Combining that remembrance with marks of respect for random other tragedies is wrong.
Confusing marks of respect over, the game begins with Ipswich in blue and white with OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnasty red trim aiming at the goal closest to me Pat, Phil and Elwood. Preston North End, nickname the ‘Lilywhites’ or ‘Proud Preston’ are wearing all yellow and play in the direction of Henley where my grandfather was born; he survived the First World War with damaged lungs from gas, and shrapnel scars on his shoulder and the back of his head.
From the off Town look keen and are constantly urged forward by the new manager Paul Lambert who prowls up and down the touchline in a black v-neck jumper and black

trousers. From the corner of the North Stand drum beats and supportive chants can be heard; this feels like a positive new start. Ipswich win the first corner of the game but then Preston win one too. “Yellows, Yellows!” bellow the four hundred and four Preston supporters in the Cobbold Stand, enjoying the best thing about their team wearing what was once the archetypal away kit.
Although there is little real skill on show that might thrill the crowd it’s not a bad game, only spoiled by the erratic decision making of the diminutive, balding referee Mr Andy Woolmer who seemingly harbours bitterness against the taller more hirsute men all around him. He books Ipswich captain Luke Chambers and with his assistant fails to correctly award Ipswich a corner and then gives free-kicks where he shouldn’t. He doesn’t know what he is doing opine the home supporters in a child-like mantra. How I miss the old chant of “Who’s the bastard in the black”.
There is a palpable sense that the crowd are willing the team on to score and claim their first home win of the season. Just before half time, Freddie Sears chases a punt forward and the Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell, who incidentally sports a hairstyle reminiscent of Roger Federer’s, hurries out to narrowly beat him (Freddie Sears not Roger Federer) to the ball. But his clearance is weak and in the direction of Town’s Jordan Roberts; the two players race for the ball, Roberts reaches it first but is then felled OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby the late arriving Maxwell. Mr Woolmer ignores the “Off! Off! Off! requests from the crowd, Maxwell is booked along with protesting Prestonian Daniel Johnson, Freddie Sears scores from the resultant penalty and Portman Road is awash with joy. The Town team are warmly applauded from the field as Mr Woolmer gets a second thing right, successfully interpreting the information on his watch and blowing for half-time.
It’s time for me to syphon off some of that Pollen Power before enjoying a stick of Panda brand liquorice and a stare up at the half time results on the TV screen in the concourse beneath the stand, which seem stuck on the Premier League. I have noticed before that the half-time and results captions always linger longer on the Premier League and have concluded that it is because the supporters of Premier League clubs are slow readers. I don’t have time for this and return to the stand for an important conversation with Ray.
With a one goal lead against a team that hasn’t threatened our goal any more than we have threatened theirs, hopes are high for the second half and to begin with Town dominate possession, although continue to fail to seriously look like scoring. I overhear an elderly woman behind telling someone that one of the players is her nephew’s grandson. Pat and Fiona talk about their holidays. Every now and then the North Stand sings. “When the Town go marching in” is recited in dirge-like fashion for some reason and the singers then congratulate themselves with a round of applause. I think they need to do much better.
Pat turns to me and says how with Town having all this pressure and possession, Preston will probably score. I ask her if she’s been here before. It’s about twenty five to five and Mr Woolmer penalises Town’s Gwion Edwards for a perceived foul at the edge of the penalty area. Ipswich carefully construct a defensive wall and Preston’s substitute Paul Gallagher dismissively sends the ball around the wall and into the corner of the Town goal. Preston have equalised. Oh bugger.
Two minutes after the goal Town substitute Kayden Jackson chases another punt upfield. Once again the interestingly coiffured Maxwell races from his goal and with a worrying lack of control clatters into the back of Jackson. I am reminded of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. Imaginary Preston fans Rose and Valerie screaming from the Cobbold Stand say he must go free, but Mr Woolmer does not agree and shows Maxwell a yellow card for the second time this afternoon before producing the fateful red card.

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Going

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Going

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Gone

Our cries of “Off! Off! Off!” change to gloating, waving and chants of “ Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!”, although “Good-byee, Good-byee” would have been a more appropriate choice in order to combine the event with a celebration of the centenary of the end of the First World War.
This is probably the best sending off we’ve seen at Portman Road for some time and to cap it, Preston don’t have a substitute goalkeeper, but have to put one of their outfield players in goal. Surely Town must win now. But of course they don’t. Preston’s makeshift goalkeeper is better than the real one and makes an excellent save from a Danny Rowe shot. It’s a tense finale which drags on into seven minutes of added on time. There is occasional decent support from the crowd at corners but it’s not exactly a continuous and intimidating, wall of noise. Preston’s stand-in goalie is jeered when he kicks the ball, which is a bit odd because as an outfield player that’s what he should be best at. Town fans are not always the brightest.
Hopes of a win are finally dashed as the clock passes five o’clock, Mr Woolmer blows his whistle for the final time and the positivity and enthusiasm for the new, new era evaporate just a little for some, completely for others. “I thought we played well” I hear a man say as we file out into the darkness. “Bloody useless” says another man, rather angrily. I feel his pain.

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