After working just four days last week, I have had the pleasure of working just three days this week and now, once again, it’s time for more football. Can life get any better?
Once again I park up my planet saving Citroen eC4, but because I am a little late today I take a brisker walk than usual across a freshly mown Gippeswyk Park beneath blue skies and puffs of white cloud. A loan magpie hops across the grass and fellow walkers converge on the gate onto Ancaster Road. The Sir Bobby Robson Bridge follows Ranelagh Road and Ancaster Road just as expected and finally after Constantine Road and the Corporation tram depot I reach Sir Alf Ramsey Way and finally Portman Road. It’s safe to say I would have been surprised, not to say a little worried if it hadn’t been so. Relieved, I buy a programme (£3.50) at one of the dinky blue booths. In front of me two men discuss how many programmes they need and pay by card. The large man in the booth very carefully, almost too carefully perhaps, counts out three programmes and hands them over, and then it’s my turn. I also pay in the modern cashless manner but the touch screen doesn’t work and I have to type in my pin number.
Tucking my programme away in the inside pocket of my twenty year-old Ipswich Town branded fleece, I walk on to The Arb where Mick’s bike is chained to the railings outside the art gallery opposite. It’s not a shock therefore to find Mick stood at the bar when I burst through the door in the manner of Kramer in the TV comedy Seinfeld, except of course I only do that in my imagination. Mick kindly buys me a pint of a limited edition Belgian dark ale from the Moon Gazer brewery, it has a two word name, the second word is ‘Haas’, I don’t recall the first word, I have no idea how much it cost either. We repair to the beer garden and have to sit in the ‘overflow’ that used to be a very small car park. I suggest sitting in the shade, but Mick prefers that we sit in the sun, I tell him okay, but that I haven’t brought my sunblock; I notice a woman smile as I say this, but I do have fair skin. Once we are sat down Mick tells me of how he fell whilst lifting a large pot and has badly bruised his hip and of his recent trip to Antwerp. We discuss how we both much prefer Gent (or is it Ghent?) to Bruges, about Mick’s former partner getting married in Las Vegas later today (we will both watch the ceremony on-line), the pitiful and worrying state of American politics and I tell him about the mysterious grey and black ice cream van that plies its trade in the street where I live; Mick immediately ‘gets it’ that these are not ice cream van colours.
After last week’s long queues at the turnstiles to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, we leave a little earlier than usual and feeling pessimistic as we reach Portman Road, I walk the long way round along Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Constantine Road and Russell Road just in case there is a queue again, but happily there isn’t. The access to the back of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand is a guarded by a row of bouncers all dressed in black, I walk round the end of their line and towards turnstile 62. Half way to the turnstile another bouncer raises a loud haler to his mouth, but as I’m the only person here he seems to think better of it and simply tells me to walk on to the far end, which oddly I was already doing. At the turnstile I am given instructions on holding my season ticket card up to the reader and pushing my way through the turnstile when the screen says ‘Enter’. As the word ‘Enter’ appears I receive a small, encouraging shove from my instructor as if he may be thought I didn’t know that to move through the turnstile I would have to take a step forward.
Having drained off some of the ‘Belgian’ dark ale and washed my hands I enjoy the force of the new hand dryers before arriving on the lower tier of the stand where Pat from Clacton, Fiona, the man from Stowmarket, young Elwood and ever-present Phil who never misses a game are all here; it’s a ‘full house’. There are four minutes to go until kick-off; I am pleased that I haven’t arrived too early despite cutting short our time at The Arb, but can enthusiastically assist stadium announcer Stephen Foster read out the teams, bawling out each of the Town players’ surnames like French football crowds do.
A young boy called Hughie, or possibly Huey screams “Come On You Blues” into the smartly dressed Stephen Foster’s microphone and we all join in with a rendition of The Beatles’ Hey Jude. As John, Paul, George and Ringo fade away the game begins, and Town and more specifically Conor Chaplin get first go with the ball and are sending it mostly in my direction, although hopefully a bit off to my right where the goal is. Town are of course in blue and white and today’s opposition Charlton Athletic are wearing white shirts and black shorts, a bit like a poor man’s Hereford United , but of course they should be wearing their proper red shirts because as every owner of a Subbuteo Table Soccer Continental Club Edition knows, blue and red do not clash, even if you’re colour blind.
Town start the match in a blur of attacking play and win corner after corner after corner, all accompanied by chants of “Come On You Blues” from me and from ever-present Phil and even from some other people whose identity I don’t know. Pat from Clacton admits to feeling nervous, but from the very start this seems like fun today. Up goes a shout of “Handball” from what sounds like a good fifteen thousand voices as Nathan Broadhead dribbles through the Charlton defence. “Addy, Addy, Addy-O” chant the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand in a mood of anticipatory celebration. It’s all Ipswich, but after four minutes Albie Morgan, who sounds like he could have played for Charlton in the 1920’s, dares to have a shot at the Ipswich goal which Christian Walton needs to catch.
“Four-two and you fucked it up” chant the Charlton fans living in the past and reminiscing about last October when their team was becalmed in mid-table just like it is now. Continuing to struggle to find anything positive to sing about their team, the south Londoners proceed to let us know to the tune of Sloop John B that “Ipswich is a shithole, I wanna go home.” It must be tough coming to a town like Ipswich with its historic dock, medieval churches, river and adjacent SSSI’s, large parks and hundreds of listed buildings when you come from Plumstead or Sidcup, which of course are regularly compared with the likes of Barcelona, Paris and Rome as ‘best places to live’.
By way of punishment for dissing Ipswich , fate decrees that after just eight minutes the ball is played in from the left to Sam Morsy, who passes it forward to Conor Chaplin, who as ever, unerringly finds the goal net with a neat shot and Town lead 1-0. A loud chant of “ E-i, E-i, E-i-o, Up the Football league we go” rolls around the ground. Charlton supporters will not dare abuse Ipswich again, but although we do not yet know it, their punishment is not quite complete.
As my blue and white scarf suddenly seems to try and make a break for it having become dangerously lop-sided across my shoulders in all the excitement, chants of “ Norwich City, we’re coming for you” ring out followed by the inevitable out of season rendition of Harry Belafonte’s “ Mary’s Boy Child” which does something to almost make Wizzard’s 1973 wish that it could be Christmas every day come true. Nearly fifteen minutes of the game are now in the past and I notice that not only is the Charlton goalkeeper wearing a kit of pale yellow but he is also wearing a mask, he looks like a somewhat weird super-hero, ‘Primrose Man’ perhaps. Seagulls wheel above the pitch and settle on the cross-girder of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand and then Town lead 2-0, Conor Chaplin being put through with space and time on his side to score comfortably. “It’s that man again” announces Stephen Foster, obscurely referencing a BBC radio comedy show from 1940’s which starred Tommy Handley; no wonder BBC Radio Suffolk retired him.
There’s barely a cloud in the sky now and the afternoon has turned blue all over. Twenty minutes have passed and it’s time someone went down injured so that the players can get some remedial coaching and a drink. The oddly named Macauley Bonne, who is today wearing the number eight shirt for Charlton obliges and everyone else heads for the touchline. When play resumes I notice the Charlton number four George Dobson, who has slicked back hair in the style of someone who would probably remember Tommy Handley. Odd.
The match is heading into its second third and Town’s initial impetus and energy has dissipated a bit and the ball is less frequently being propelled at the Charlton goal. The situation has changed so much that the oddly named Macauley Bonne forces a very smart and essential save from Christian Walton with a header, and another former Town player, Scott Fraser has a shot which goes not very far past a post. Charlton have gained in confidence but waste it in over-zealous tackles, although when the 1940’s crooner Dobson goes through fetlocks of Conor Chaplin it amazingly rings no alarms with referee Mr Samuel Barrott who incredibly waves play-on as if physical assault was a natural part of the game.
When Charlton’s Michael Hector fouls George Hirst a few minutes later there are the inevitable ironic cheers, which are even more ironic because Hirst was actually grabbing hold of Hector around his back at the same time. The Sir Bobby Robson stand lower tier are in ebullient mood and begin to chant “Stand up if you’re going up”, which is all very well for them because they never sit down, but it’s a bit of a chore for us over-sixties in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand. A lad in the row in front has been relaying the latest scores from the exotic sounding Pirelli Stadium, Burton-On-Trent, where Sheffield Wednesday had been trailing by two goals to one. The lad turns around to tell us that the score is now 3-1 to Burton. “No, stop it” says Pat from Clacton, still feeling anxious.
The final minute of the half brings another corner to Town and a final chance to sing “Come On You Blues” with the players in close proximity. The chants fail to make a difference and with two minutes of added time Mr Barrott books Luke Woolfenden for handball when the ball bounces awkwardly up at him in the no-man’s land of the centre of the Town half. Mr Barrott is proving to be deserving of any jeers which find their way through the applause for the Town as everyone vacates the pitch for half-time.
As ever, I spend half-time speaking with Ray and his grandson Harrison. Ray thinks the oddly named Macauley Bonne is a decent enough player; I’m less enthusiastic, but Ray does concede that in the first half of last season the ball did just tend to fall for him. Bluey the mascot is wandering about near us and I encourage Ray to have his photograph taken with the strangely proportioned, luminously white equine bi-ped, but disappointingly he’s not keen.
The football resumes at five past four and Wes Burns is soon receiving treatment but happily recovers whilst Charlton fans sing something undecipherable about a ‘shit Ed Sheeran’. It’s a controversial view in this world of all-pervading pap-pop, but I didn’t know there was any other sort. I imagine, however, that they were probably serenading a Town fan with ginger hair in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, because that is how football fan ‘humour’ works.
Town win a corner, even Cameron Burgess has a shot but although he has wandered up from what is kind of ‘left-back’, his shot says he’s no Mick Mills. Mr Barrott gets to be Achilles as he books Hector who has hectored Massimo Luongo too much, and then the substitutions begin with Stephen Foster seemingly introducing Charlton’s Steven Sessegnon as Steven Sessessignon, which is easily done. The oddly named Macauley Bonne is replaced to applause from the home crowd. Half an hour remains and Town should make the result certain as Conor Chaplain sets up George Hirst, but he sweeps the ball beyond the far post despite having a vast expanse of open goal to aim at .
Pat from Clacton is still a bag of nerves and a third goal would prove handy as Jesurun Rak-Sakyi escapes the attention of Leif Davis and runs into the penalty area before falling to the ground and busting a couple of break dance moves as he bounces back up to protest that he should have been awarded a penalty. A new edginess has entered the game and there is soon a fracas with pushing and shoving amongst a whole gang of players; the upshot is that Charlton’s Dobson is booked, possibly for trying to flick Brylcreem at people. Janoi Donacien replaces Harry Clarke, Mr Barrott adds to his collection of names with Charlton’s Ryan Innis, who is nowhere near as good value as Neil Innes was. A minute later the long awaited third goal arrives as Conor Chaplin claims a hat-trick after tucking away a pass from Nathan Broadhead after Massimo Luongo had dinked in a subtle cross to the far post.
The game is now won and the usual mass substitutions follow. As soon as these are complete Town score a fourth with Sam Morsy winning a tackle, striding forward and playing a wide pass to Freddie Ladapo who scores with probably his first touch of the ball. Town win another corner and I say to Fiona that we haven’t scored five goals in a game this season. Stephen Foster announces the attendance as 29,011 with an ‘away contingent’ of 1113. “Oh when the Town go marching in” sings the crowd a little more joyfully than usual and for a moment the volume is enough for the sound to echo around the stands.
The eighty-fourth minute brings a fifth goal as Freddie Ladapo cuts the ball to one side and lashes it into the top left hand corner of Charlton’s goal and as the back pages of newspapers sometimes said, Town ‘Go knap’. Football supporters are nothing if not greedy for goals and I think of past thrashings of hapless visitors when Town would score a hatful and the crowd would chant for more. “We want six” I think to myself, but I don’t shout out my thought fearful that anyone nearby could be afflicted with a ‘Carry On’ or 1970’s sense of humour and snigger “We want sex” and I don’t, not in front of all these people. Two minutes later and Freddie is through on goal again and seeking a hat-trick, but Innis sacrifices the final few minutes of his participation in the game as he knocks Freddie over and faces the not necessarily inevitable sight of Mr Barrott’s red card; happily Mr Barrott adds to our entertainment for the afternoon; five goals and a player sent off, it could only be bettered if the opposition were Norwich City. The free-kick sails above the Charlton cross bar and four minutes of additional time appear over the horizon. Four minutes isn’t long, but it’s enough to let Kayden Jackson run and pull-back a low cross, for Kyle Edwards to send it against the far post and for Leif Davis to thrash the rebounding ball into the roof of the Charlton net.
After the sixth goal there’s no time for anything else other than the sound of Mr Barrott’s whistle to end the game. It’s been an awful lot of fun, we’ve truly had Charlton on the run. It’s been an afternoon full of oooohs and aaaahs and cheers and chants and it’s been bloody marvellous. I think it has laid the ghost of that 4-4 draw at The Valley in October, Charlton certainly weren’t going to come back for a draw in time added on today.