Ipswich Town 0 Burnley 0

You have to go back thirteen years to 2010, when Britain had a Labour government and ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ was on at the cinema to find an FA Cup run for Ipswich Town that wasn’t more than just an initial tie and defeat in a replay.  Admittedly, first round ties were won last year and two years before that, but the fourth round is unchartered territory for many a millennial.  Back when I was a lad, when things were still fab, groovy and magic, in the time before the world seemed to go completely and utterly insane, three consecutive FA Cup victories for Town would have seen us into the quarter finals.  But fate has been a cruel mistress to Ipswich since then and now our FA Cup begins in November and any story of success is by its very nature an epic tale.

Today’s FA Cup opponents are Burnley, the club against whom Ipswich Town recorded their first ever victory in what is now laughably known as the Premier League.  That victory, on a Tuesday night in August 1961, was just sixteen months after Burnley had become  League Champions, but Town won 6-2 and the less than snappy sports headline in the Ipswich Evening Star read “Six goal Ipswich rock mighty Burnley in great game”.  Ipswich and Burnley are the smallest two Towns in England to have ever been home to the football League Champions and when Town were Champions in 1962 Burnley were runners-up, so if you’re feeling sentimental think of us as sort of footballing twins separated at birth; luckily for Town we’re the one that didn’t get taken to live ‘up North’.

With thoughts of football history and past glories illuminating the manuscript of my mind, I park up my smoothly silent Citroen e-C4 and step out across Gippeswyk Park towards Portman Road and the Arb beyond.  It’s a cold, dull day like all the others lately,  but the exercise of the walk warms me up. In Sir Alf Ramsey Way I pause to buy a programme (£2) in the modern cashless manner and from inside his moulded booth the programme seller tells me to enjoy the match. I thank him and realise that there’s something about the little programme sellers’ booths that makes me think they should also sell ice creams.

At the ‘The Arb’, I buy a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.90) and the landlord explains that he is doing his best to keep the price down below £4.00, which is good of him.  I retire to the beer garden where an electrician is fitting new heaters to the shelter.  I sit at a table beneath an umbrella, I am alone, but not for long as Mick soon appears apologising for being late before disappearing again only to reappear with his own pint of Suffolk Pride.  We talk of my electric car and trip to Oxford last Saturday, of newspapers and the France 24 news channel and app, doctor’s surgeries and how I find the appearance of a man in a cowboy hat who has come outside  for a smoke a little weird; i expect he’s smoking Marlboros.

Time passes and before long we have to leave for Portman Road, or otherwise we’d miss the kick-off.  In Sir Alf Ramsey Way we enter by the turnstiles where there is no queue.  A steward with a loud hailer announces the existence of these magical turnstiles and encourages their use, but to little avail. As usual for cup ties, our seats are the ‘posh’ padded ones in Block Y, seemingly designed for people short in leg and tender in buttock.  The teams are already on the pitch as we edge our way to our seats past a homely looking, grey-haired woman and her slightly chubby, bearded male accomplice, perhaps a husband or paramour. We catch the tail end of the “Na-na-nas” from the Beatles “Hey Jude” and the game begins. Town have first go with the ball and kick from left to right towards the stand of Sir Alf Ramsey, architect of that 6-2 win in the late summer of 1961, when supporters still travelled to the match by trolleybus.

Within a minute or so Kayden Jackson is sprinting away down the  right, ball at his feet, he crosses the ball low and hard and George Hirst hits it past the near post from somewhere near the middle of the penalty area, just like he did at Oxford last week.  It’s a very exciting start to the game and helps to temper my disappointment that Burnley are not wearing their traditional claret shirts, but are instead decked out in what has become the ubiquitous and profoundly boring all-black away kit, which every club seems to have.  Burnley’s kit features red trim, as if that could make any difference whatsoever.

Burnley’s Scott Twine stoops to tie a boot lace.  “Come on referee!”  bawls a whiny man behind me. “Why are we stopped to let him tie his laces” he continues, “ I’ve never seen a game stopped for a player to tie his laces, I’ve never seen it before”. The whiney man is absolutely apoplectic and wants everyone to know he’s never seen such a thing before. I can honestly say I’ve never heard anyone so angry, so early in a game about a player tying his boot lace, but I decide not to shout it out.  I did see the game delayed whilst Sam Morsy put on a pair of new boots last week at Oxford, I don’t shout that out either.

“I didn’t get a programme” says the chubby bearded man beside me to the homely, grey-haired woman, “Because of the high demand”.  Something in his voice tells me he was too mean.  Marcus Harness hits the cross bar with a right-footed shot from the centre of the penalty box.  With the ball returned to goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky, Town pass the ball out from the back and Burnley players are quick to close down the Town defenders, causing a ripple of unease amongst some supporters. “Playing from the back, it’s what modern teams do” calls out the whiny bloke again to ensure we all know that he understands ‘modern football’.  I can’t help but chuckle.

Eleven minute have gone and Burnley win the first corner. “Come on Burnli, Come On Burnli” chant the Lancastrians in their deep accent full of short vowels, rolled ‘r’s and lolling ‘l’s.   Jordan Beyer tugs at Sone Aluko’s shirt as Sone tries to break forward, and is booked by referee Tom Nield. “Dirty northern bastard” I say to Mick, because it amuses me to do so.  The noise inside the ground is stirring as both home and away fans get into the spirit of what the FA Cup used to be all about. It feels like 1974.  As Burnley’s Scott Twine writhes on the ground and then gets up and plays on when he doesn’t get a free-kick, the chubby man next to me mansplains to the homely woman that he wasn’t really hurt.  It’s twenty past three and Burnley’s Jay Rodriguez shoots high over the Town cross bar, spurning Burnley’s first chance of a goal.

Town win their first corner. “Come On You Blues” chant several people, even in the west stand.   The booking count is levelled up when inexplicably Marcus Harness fails to stop when running and collides with Ameen Al-Dakhil’s ankles. Town win another corner as something of a hit and hope cross from Kayden Jackson looks like it might dip under the Burnley cross-bar, forcing their extensively named goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell to tip the ball over.  Another corner follows  and the chubby man next to me tells the homely looking woman that it’s a very exciting game; it’s nice of him because she might not have realised if she was busy knitting or making a shopping list perhaps.  

Only ten minutes until half-time now, and in an outbreak of astounding cheek or wilful absence of self-awareness, Town fans chant “Your support is fucking shit” presumably to the Burnley fans, although singing it to one another would be understandable in the context of many previous matches.  Shocked, I inexplicably imagine that Vaclav Hladky reminds me a bit of Laurie Sivell, probably because he looks quite a bit shorter than all his defenders.  A beautifully flowing Town moves produces another corner to Town and the whiny bloke behind me gets all self-righteous again loudly expounding “We don’t play that way anymore, lumping it forward” as if no one else can possibly have noticed.

It’s been a fine half of football despite the whiny man and by way of celebration the Sir Bobby Robson stand are singing “ Oh when the Town go marching in” at the proper speed, although possibly without quite the  joy of genuine evangelists.  Finally, the fact that no more than a minute of added-on time is to be played seems to confirm that for forty-five minutes at least all has been right with the world – except that we haven’t scored.

With half-time Mick and I use the facilities to disperse excess Suffolk Pride, but the queues for the toilets are so long it’s impossible to find where they end in the cramped confines of the upper stair cases and bars of the west stand. We return to ground level where there is more space and more square footage of urinal. Returning to our seats in time for the re-start, we ease past the homely looking woman and the chubby man and I pause to take a look at who might be the whiny man behind me, I think he is wearing tinted glasses and has a very pink face beneath a hat.

The game resumes at six minutes past four and  Burnley up their game a bit, being a tiny but significant bit quicker and pressing more than in the first half. As a result Vaclav Hladky has to make two excellent saves, but make them he does, and with aplomb, reminding us of why we have a goalkeeper.  But it’s not all Burnley and Town soon win a corner.  “ There are people say we can’t defend…” expounds the whiny bloke, but I’m fed up with him and tune out before he concludes his latest treatise. In the Cobbold Stand the Lancashire hordes start to sing “The Irish Rover”, which seems a little odd, although there were a lot of Irish immigrants to Lancashire in the nineteenth century, but they’d be getting on a bit now. More odd is that the chubby bloke beside me joins in.

Mick asks me what substitutions I think Kieran Mc Kenna will make and I tell him that George Hirst  and Marcus Harness and possibly Sone Aluko are most likely to go off first , and so it proves,  as with an hour gone Freddie Ladapo,  Nathan Broadhead and Conor Chaplin replace them.  Burnley make three substitutions too, although I’m disappointed that neither of their other two players with double-barrelled surnames are in today’s squad. Who’d have thought Burnley would have so many players with double-barrelled surnames?

Ten minutes later and Sam Morsy is shown his usual yellow card for a pretty unexceptional foul, “He collects them doesn’t he?” says Mick. I can’t disagree.  Stadium announcer Stephen Foster announces that today’s attendance is 25,420 of which 1,581 are from Burnley;  he thanks everyone for their ‘tremendous’ support. “You’re not sitting where I am Stephen” I think to myself.  Six minutes after his booking Sam Morsy is replaced by new signing Massimo Luongo, who like Morsy joined Town from Middlesbrough.  With his beard, dark hair and large frame, Luongo even looks a bit like Morsy from up here, and I ponder for a moment on the possible advantages and desirability of bringing on substitutes who look like the player they replace.

“Come On Ipswich, Come On Ipswich” chant the crowd in all parts of the ground as full-time begins to draw ever closer. Kyle Edwards replaces Kayden Jackson who trots off the pitch to a loud ovation; he has been truly excellent today.  “ I know why you play” calls the whiny bloke loudly as if no one else does and everyone sat around him is one of the people who criticises Jackson on social media.  Time is running out,  Town win a corner  but Luke Woolfenden can only head the ball wide. Massimo Luongo is even playing like Sam Morsy, but hasn’t been booked, and indeed he gets fouled by the economically-named Jack Cork, provoking frantic flagging from the linesman and a final yellow card of the afternoon from Mr Nield.  Four minutes of added on time are announced, five are played and the game ends.

It’s been yet another excellent afternoon of football at Portman Road, even though not winning can rarely be anything but a little disappointing.  Best of all however, this felt like a proper FA Cup tie, played in front of a big crowd who have turned up with hope and may be expectation and possibly because it’s the FA Cup.  It’s been a very long time since that happened, not thirteen years, more like thirty.

Ipswich Town 3 Oxford United 0

‘Boxing Day’, the first track on the second side of Elvis Costello’s 1984 album “Goodbye Cruel World”, albeit in brackets and with the letters TKO in front of it, but also the day after Christmas Day when it seems as if nearly everyone goes to football.  As I’ve got older, I’ve enjoyed Boxing Day football less and less.  There was a time when it would have been the opportunity to give a first airing to a new ITFC branded woolly hat or pair of gloves received as a gift the day before, but those days are gone and now I’d often rather sit at home and carry on revelling in my own Christmas crapulence.  It feels too much like hard work to brave an outside world devoid of public transport but clogged with Sunday drivers out visiting aunties and uncles or indulging in mass consumerism at the Boxing Day sales.

This year however, I don’t feel quite so miserable and lazy or drunk, perhaps because the football at Portman Road is likely to be more joyful, perhaps because today the sky is clear and blue.  It is with a spring in my step therefore that I leave my house, fire up the trusty Citroen C3 and head blithely into the two, or three-mile long tail-back on the A12.  Happily, the traffic does move, but only very slowly and not quickly enough for me to get to The Arbor House (aka The Arb’) to meet Mick at a quarter to two. “Such is life” I think to myself, which is pretty much what Mick says in reply to my text to give the bad news that I won’t make it for our Boxing Day pre-match pint, although his actual words are “…it goes like that sometimes”.  Mick is nothing if not philosophical, which I suspect is why we get on.  Having parked up the trusty Citroen, it’s a pleasant walk through Gippeswyk Park, beneath Ancaster Road bridge, along Ranelagh Road and over the Sir Bobby Robson bridge to the ground.  Although I don’t have time to get to the Arb, enjoy a leisurely drink with Mick, and walk back to Portman Road, I have nevertheless arrived long enough before kick-off to have time to kill, so I mooch about a bit taking in the big-match atmosphere of the Boxing Day game, watching people wearing novelty Christmas hats queue for burgers and then eat them perched on car park railings.  I buy a programme (£3.50) using coins of the realm.

Exhausted by my social anthropological research I head back into Constantine Road and turnstile 60, the portal to a world of football-based fun.  I thank the grimly smiling turnstile operator and head for the toilet, I might not have had that pre-match pint, but it’s a cold day.  Relieved, and with clean but still slightly wet hands because life is too short to wait for hand dryers to work fully, I hang about in the concourse beneath the stand.  Ever-present Phil who never misses a game finds me leant against a concrete stanchion, he says hello and asks if the pub wasn’t open.  I repeat some of the story in the above paragraphs, leaving out the bit about Elvis Costello.  Eventually, pining for sunlight I take the steps up onto the lower tier of the stand where to my displeasure I find I have arrived before Pat from Clacton, Fiona and the man from Stowmarket.  This arriving in the ground more than ten minutes before kick-off is very disconcerting and ever-present Phil detects as much in my uneasy demeanour. 

The good thing about time however, is that it moves on and it’s not long before the familiar faces are here and stadium announcer Stephen Foster is reading out the names of the two teams. I shout out the Town players’ surnames in the style of a French football crowd as Stephen announces them, and I hope my odd behaviour catches on; it makes a couple of people smile, possibly with embarrassment.   The ‘improved’ PA system then goes into overdrive with some very loud ‘music’ which I imagine is intended to whisk the crowd up into some sort of anticipatory frenzy but Pat and I just grimace and cover our ears, I think we’re too old for frenzy. “Why can’t we have some nice football music?” shouts Pat when the noise abates a little.  When Stephen Foster returns he tells us that we have again packed out Portman Road and, sounding a bit like Alan Partridge, that Boxing Day “… is always a special day in the football calendar”.

It’s been a long, beer-free wait, but finally the teams appear, and Town kick off in their correct kit of blue shirts and white shorts towards the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, whilst visiting Oxford United wear all white, perhaps in the hope that we’ll think they are Real Madrid rather than Newmarket Town who they might look like if they had worn their ‘proper’ kit of yellow shirts and blue shorts.  The pitch is completely in shadow now, but pale winter sunlight shines as if through a letterbox onto parts of the Cobbold Stand and casts a pinkie-whiteness on the girder over the roof of the Sir Bobby Robson stand.

As the match begins, the crowd is in good voice, so much so that at first I can’t hear if the away fans are singing too. The opening exchanges are indeed exchanges as possession swaps about.  “All the way, all the way” advises a voice from behind as Freddie Ladapo chases a through ball.  “Yellows, Yellows” chant the Newmarket Town supporters up in the Cobbold stand as the Oxford players demonstrate that for the time being at least they are the sharper team, and they even have a shot that misses the goal by not very much.  “All the way, All the way, Well done” I hear again from behind, where it seems that some bloke who can’t help but vocalise his internal dialogue is sitting.   

It’s the ninth minute and after the good start from the Town supporters the Oxford fans at last have the opportunity to sing “No noise from the Tractor Boys”.  Five minutes later and they are in their element singing “Football in a library, dur-dur-dur” which is precisely what you would expect from a team from the world’s foremost university city.  Ipswich win a corner as Oxford’s number five mis-directs a header intended for his goalkeeper and then proceeds to swing his arm and possibly klick his finger and thumb in the manner of a man saying “darn it”.  In the outfall from the corner kick an Oxford player stays down on the ground and the North Stand chant “Boring, Boring, Oxford” having clearly not forgotten the goalless draw that Oxford successfully played for at Portman Road last season.

Twenty minutes go by and then Oxford have the audacity to almost score again as a shot rattles the net from the outside, but making the Oxford supporters think their team has scored.  The usual jeering ensues prompting the Oxford fans to chant “We forgot that you were here”, although the evidence suggests they should be chanting “We forgot what a goal looks like”.  Either way, in the spirit of Christmas TV and Wallace and Gromit, which is appropriate for Boxing Day, it was a close shave.   The warning shot inspires a chant of “Blue and White Army” from the North Stand, but more annoyingly the bloke behind me with the vocalised internal dialogue starts giving tactical advice; “Switch it” he calls loud enough for only me to hear and not the players, and then “Get it down the channels”. He is getting on my nerves and I wonder if he’s trying to convince everyone around him that he is an out of work football coach, or is he just out to impress his son? I hope for the kid’s sake he is adopted and so hasn’t inherited the ‘berk’ gene.

A third of the game is nearly gone and Town have picked up and are dominating possession and winning corners.  “Come On You Blues” I chant and ever-present Phil joins in, so does the bloke in front who I think is called Kevin, and so does the out of work football coach who’s just trying to impress his son.  The stirring effect of our massed choir doesn’t work instantly, but Town soon win another corner and Freddie Ladapo and Leif Davis have headers saved, and Luke Woolfenden has a shot blocked. Town have momentum now and Conor Chaplin has a shot which the very solid and agricultural looking Oxford goalkeeper Ed McGinty cannot hold on to , the ball runs away from him and Freddie Ladapo boots it into the goal from close range. Town lead.

Hopefully, it will be one of those goals scored just before half time that sports commentators tell us are so important.  Perhaps feeling vindicated by the goal the bloke behind me gives up on tactical advice and switches to matey encouragement, “Come on chaps” he says and “On yer bike, On yer bike , Orrrrr”.  It works, successive corners follow and from the third, Wes Burns appears magically at the corner of the six-yard box and lashes the ball into the Oxford goal from an oblique angle. Town lead 2-0 and after five minutes of added on time that’s the half-time score.  The players leave the field to applause and referee Mr Finnie strides off, flanked by his assistants with the ball tucked neatly under his arm and looking a little bit camp.

I speak with Ray, his son Michael and grandson Harrison.  Somewhat mysteriously Ray tells me he once went out with a girl who was probably in the same class at school as my sister, this would have been in in the early 1970’s and I can only think that Ray is planning a 50th anniversary celebration. At eight minutes past four the game resumes.

The berk behind me is back to coaching, “Channels, channels” he calls and Town win a couple of quick corners.  Oxford’s James Henry fouls Leif Davis and is booked by Mr Finnie who admirably stands still and beckons Henry towards him from perhaps ten metres away before brandishing his yellow card. Town are on top again and looking to add to their 2-0 lead, and the upbeat ambiance leads the berk behind me to add attempted humour to his arsenal. “Would you like ice cream with that scoop?” calls the berk as McGinty lifts a clearance up and into the stand. I roll my eyes and slap my forehead and hope that this is just this blokes one match of the season; his ticket a present perhaps from a long-suffering partner who is now luxuriating in his being out of the house for a couple of hours.

An hour has passed and Oxford indulge in a double substitution which includes replacement of the prosaically named Matt Taylor with the more exotically monikered Gatlin O’Donkur, if indeed that is his real name.  The crowd has become very quiet, all I can hear are conversations about people’s jobs, their families and what they did on Christmas day.  A song emerges from the silence at the North Stand end of the ground but then trails away as if the lyrics are half-forgotten.  “Second ball!” shouts the berk behind me.  Town are looking comfortable and clearly don’t need our support today, just a bit of coaching, so we just sit and watch and quietly appreciate.  The crowd is announced as 28,072 with 550 being Oxford supporters, but there is no ‘guess the crowd’ competition on the Clacton supporters bus today, because no bus ran and Pat came by car.

Time passes quickly.  Marcus Harness is replaced to much applause by the tricky Sone Aluko who will go on to perform a number of delightful tricks and flicks and turns perfectly gauged for a Boxing Day audience which craves TV Christmas Special-style entertainment.  Fittingly, with about ten minutes of normal time remaining Aluko supplies the pass for a third goal, the one that transforms the result from a win into a modest thrashing. The goal is a typical Conor Chaplin piece, one touch and then fired into the net. Today’s scoreline is now the same as that at my first ever Boxing Day fixture in 1972 when Town modestly thrashed Chelsea courtesy of Kevin Beattie and Trevor Whymark in the first half and a last minute John Hollins own goal.  “I don’t think we can lose now” says an ever-nervous Pat from Clacton, and I agree, although we both remember losing at Oxford  in 1986 when 3-0 up and Fiona chips in with our coming back from 3-0 down at Barnsley in 1996 with just five minutes to go.  Seems Christmas is a time for reminiscing. But today Town are just too good for Oxford.

With five minutes of time added on played, when the final whistle goes it is almost five o’clock. I would stay to applaud the players from the field, but the PA system suddenly fills the cold evening air with the sound of Status Quo “Rocking All Over the World”.  I might be wrong, but I imagine Stephen Foster is to blame.   A man has got to draw the line somewhere and as far as Status Quo are concerned I drew it around Boxing Day 1972,  a short while after the release of their album Piledriver, I therefore hurry back to my trusty Citroen leaving my team to enjoy the applause of others.

Despite its problems,  brought on by traffic delays and a lack of time spent in the pub, today has worked out just fine in the end and I am sure that come May we shall be saying the very same thing with regard to Town’s season. Up The Town!

Ipswich Town 2 Peterborough United 1

Henry VIII’s original ex, Catherine of Aragon died on the 7th January 1536 in Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire and was then buried in Peterborough cathedral, and indeed what is left of her still is.   This burial is perhaps the city of Peterborough’s main claim to fame, and I must admit to being quite impressed, although given that after Henry split up with her in 1533 Catherine lived in Hatfield, Enfield , Ampthill and a couple of other places too before rocking up in Kimbolton it seems like just a bit of luck for Peterborough that she finally conked out in the PE postcode area.  Peterborough’s other claim to fame is its football club’s impressive record in competitive fixtures against the mighty Ipswich Town.  In sixteen games since November 1955 Peterborough have won nine, drawn four and lost only three fixtures.  Amongst those victories for Peterborough were two FA Cup ‘giant killings’ as a non-league club in the 1950’s and then this century a stonking 7-1 thrashing live on TV, although this can excused by the fact that Town were at the time managed by Roy Keane, who if not insane is at the very least a bit odd and after ‘Hurst the Worst’ was easily Town’s most terrible ever manager.

Today sees the seventeenth competitive meeting between Ipswich Town and Peterborough United and just to make it memorable it’s kicking off at 12:30pm, presumably to ensure anyone travelling from beyond the Ipswich area can get home in time to watch England lose to France on the telly in the World Cup quarter finals.  For even more added interest, it’s a particularly cold day with a thick frost clinging to the windows of my trusty Citroen C3 and many other surfaces as I prepare to set off for what I now call ‘The Arb’ for my usual pre-match drink with friend Mick.  Having parked up the Citroen, the walk to Portman Road through Gippeswyk Park is glorious beneath a clear, pale blue sky across earth as hard as iron and frosted, quietly crunchy grass. The icy air feels clean and fresh as I breathe it in.  On Ranelagh Road I follow a man for whom the peculiarly low crotch on his trousers makes him look like he has very short legs and a long body, but then again perhaps he has. Constantine Road is quiet and what used to be Portman Walk is too. As usual I pause to buy a programme (£3.50) from the kiosk on the corner of Alderman Road.  The kiosk window is steamed up due to the cold and I can only see the middle third of the programme seller, who remains legless and headless.  To add to my retail experience, I go to pay by card, but the touch screen thing doesn’t work and I have to insert my card into the plastic contraption and tap in my PIN number.  “I hope I’m not charged twice” I tell the midriff, and a disembodied voice tells me to take it up in the shop if I am.

I cross the threshold of ‘The Arb’ at 11:15 and buy a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.95) which I take into the garden where I text Mick to tell him “Je suis dans le jardin”.  Mick soon arrives, pint of Suffolk Pride in hand, and asks if my sitting in the garden is still a reaction to Covid.  I tell him it is, but it also saves me having to take my coat off.  Our conversation as ever is about sex and death.  We finish our drinks by noon but hang on another ten minutes because we don’t want to arrive too early.

We join the match-bound crowd as we and it cross Civic Drive.  What used to be Portman Walk is full of people crossing paths and making beelines for their chosen turnstiles. The low chatter of the crowd, the purposeful walking and checking of tickets, the approaching kick-off, it’s all part of the mounting excitement.  There is a queue at turnstiles 59 and 60 to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and I find myself behind a man called Kevin. I compliment him on the 1970’s vibe of his cap, donkey jacket, Doc Marten’s and turned up jeans, he says he’s come as a Council dustman.

I step onto the former terrace of Churchman’s as the teams form parallel crocodiles onto the pitch and the crowd rises to applaud, it feels like quite an entrance.  I edge past Pat from Clacton and Fiona to sit next but one to the man from Stowmarket. Two rows in front of me ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, but his son Elwood is not.  Phil and Fiona hand me Christmas cards and Stephen Foster the stadium announcer reads out the teams and then the match begins, with Peterborough getting first go with the ball. Town are rightfully in blue and white whilst Peterborough are sadly in black as if perhaps still mourning Catherine of Aragon, although apparently Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn both wore yellow to mourn her.  The Aragonese flag is of yellow and red stripes which would make a cracking away kit.  From up in the Cobbold stand comes the unlikely chant of “Peterborough, Peterborough FC, The finest football team the world has ever seen” to the tune of the Irish Rover.  As if in response the Sir Bobby Robson stand sing something a bit tuneless, which nevertheless ends with a joyful “Wo-oh-oh-oh-oh, Wo-oh-oh-ohh” and the melting frost that had been clinging to the roof of the stand drops in large, loud splashes on my SuperDry coat, which seems ironic. 

The first ten or fifteen minutes of the game are a bit frantic and formless. With half the pitch in deep shade the sombrely dressed Peterborough players appear as dark silhouettes in the gloom, a bit like the people in an architect’s conceptual drawing.  “Football in a library, de-de-de” chant the Peterborough fans tunelessly before going for the jugular with the Welsh hymn Cwm Rhondda, to which they apply the words “Your support is fucking shit”, just like everyone from every other club always does,  

Peterborough’s hefty looking, almost chubby, and extensively surnamed Jonson Clarke-Harris goes down in a very large heap. “Get Up!” bawls someone behind me not unreasonably, and with no one showing him much sympathy he does.   Peterborough get the ball to the by-line. “Come on Boro’, Come On Boro’ ” chant the away tribe supportively. “Addy, addy, addy-O” chant the home fans happily.  The flags on the Cobbold stand hang limply in the cold, still air.

It’s the thirteenth minute and it’s unlucky for Janoi Donacien who is laid low by a mystery injury, perhaps due to the extreme cold, and he is replaced by Kane Vincent-Young.  The first shot on goal arrives in the twentieth minute as Sone Aluko bounces a hooked attempt into the ground and past a post at the end of a move down the Ipswich right. Two minutes later and another move on the right ends with the ball played back and then crossed by Sam Morsy.  Running towards the ball Conor Chaplain leaps and twists his neck to glance the ball into the far corner of the goal and give Town the lead. It’s a beautiful goal, but one that unearths that tired cliché about the shortest player on the pitch scoring from a header, as if to say players under 1.8m in height aren’t allowed to jump.

I start to dream of another three points banked and more importantly a long-awaited victory over these upstarts with their medieval cathedral and royal tomb.  A third of the match has now gone to join the reformation and Catherine of Aragon in the past and a woman arrives in the gangway next to Pat from Clacton, who appears to be lost. It seems she went to the loo and hasn’t been able to find her way back to her seat. Helpfully, ever-present Phil, who has the ‘knowledge’ to be a Sir Alf Ramsey stand taxi driver, if such a thing were possible, gives her directions ‘home’.  Distracted by this incident perhaps, we have allowed Peterborough to win their first corner of the game and as a subsequent angled cross by Kwame Poku arcs towards the far post I spot Peterborough’s Frankie Kent lingering on his own and realise he is likely to score, and he does.  It’s almost exactly like one of the goals Town conceded against Barnsley; it doesn’t help that Frankie Kent sounds like he could have been an associate of the Kray twins if given the pre-fix ‘mad’.

The goal provokes chants of “E-I, E-I, E-I, O, Up the football league we go” from Peterborough which seems optimistic on the strength of one equalising goal, but you have to get your pleasures where you can.  “We should be shuttin’ ‘em down a lot quicker that what we are doin” says the bloke behind me by way of explanation for our disappointment.   “Fuck off you cunt” shouts a less philosophical character from further behind me as the Peterborough goalkeeper Lucas Bergstrom then takes his time over a goal kick after Sam Morsy has sent a pretty solid looking shot narrowly  wide of the goal.

Not unexpectedly the Peterborough fans now alter their words for Cwm Rhondda from ”Your support is fucking shit” to “You’re not singing anymore”, failing to spot the inconsistency in their song-based argument.

Seven minutes until half time and Sone Aluko produces a piece of skill worthy of the  great Clive Woods as he dribbles mazily to the by-line before pulling the ball back, only for Bergstrom to somehow get lucky and grab the ball as it is sent goalward by Wes Burns.  Bergstrom stays down on the turf to eke out some more time and I decide that with his short, lank hair and lanky stature,  from behind Bergstrom looks a bit like Gareth in ‘The Office’.   Sam Morsy has two more shots on goal, one at Bergstrom and one over the cross-bar before Stephen Foster announces that there will be 3 minutes of added on time.  A bit like the match versus Fleetwood, the game started quite well but has descended into uncertainty, but I take solace by chatting to Ray although his son Michael and grandson Harrison are absent today, having made one of their overly frequent visits to CenterParcs for rest and recuperation.  Ray tells me about his cruise to Madeira and Cape Verde and how he vomited in the Bay of Biscay.

The match resumes at 13:36 and Cameron Burgess lumps the ball up field.  Shadow now enshrouds most of the stadium and weirdly I have the sensation that I feel warmer when the ball is in one of the shrinking sunlit parts of the pitch.  “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” chants the crowd at the north end of the ground as if having resolved over a collective half-time cup of hot-chocolate to help the team to win today.  It seems to work as the ball now stays mostly in the Peterborough half.  Ten minutes into the second half and Town win their first corner courtesy of a nippy and busy Kayden Jackson. “Come On You Blues” chant the Sir Bobby Robson stand just like in the old days, and a few of us join in around the ground. Down the right-hand side Wes Burns skips past one player and the crowd roars, he goes past another, and the roar is louder still producing a sound only ever heard when a wide player goes past a defender, and I’m reminded again of Clive Woods, Mick Lambert, Kevin O’Callaghan and Bobby Petta.  There is momentum building and Town win a second corner. The ball is crossed from the left, a Peterborough head glances it away but only to Conor Chaplin who instantly controls it and slams it high into the roof of the goal net to give Town back the lead. It’s another perfect goal from Chaplin and it’s the Town fans’ turn to sing “E-I, E-I, E-I -O, Up the Football League go”, and with some justification as the goal takes Town back to the top of the third division.

The pressure on Peterborough continues for a while and Sam Morsy gets his customary booking, unusually for supposed diving, which draws chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” directed not at Morsy but at referee Ollie Yates; sadly and perhaps surprisingly neither assistant referee is called Stan, but strangely one of them does look a bit like Lionel Messi.  Peterborough make multiple substitutions including bringing on a bloke called Jeandro Fuchs, a case of Fuchs on rather than Fuchs off.  Mr Yates then achieves the ironic cheer from the crowd as he finally gives Town a free-kick.  Behind me, the bloke who was displeased by Bergstrom in the first half has spotted what a big fellow Clarke Harris is. “Looks like he could be a scrum half, that cunt” he says, using his descriptive powers to the full.

Town make substitutions, bringing applause for departing Kayden Jackson and Sone Aluko, and this afternoon’s attendance is announced as 24,849 with 1,230 of those being from Peterborough. “Your support, Your support, Your support is roughly 5% of ours (numerically speaking)” chant the Magnus west stand, whilst the Sir Bobby Robson Stand quickly chant “Here for the Ipswich, You’re only here for the Ipswich” before the away fans get the chance to claim that anyone has only turned up exclusively to see the Boro’.  Incidentally, Catherine of Aragon came to Ipswich at some point between 1517 and 1522 to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Ipswich which was somewhere near where Lady Lane is now, so just a couple of goal kicks away.  On the Clacton supporters bus Kieron is today’s winner of the guess the crowd competition with an estimate of twenty-five thousand seven hundred and something. 

After the excitement of the Town goal and the pressure that led to it, the game has settled down and Peterborough, despite being behind, are slow to get forward as they pass the ball about amongst themselves.  “Let ‘em fuck around with it” calls the bloke behind me in a “see if I care” tone of voice.  Soon however, both teams are succeeding in frustrating their own supporters as Peterborough continue to “fuck around with it” whilst Ipswich fans are expecting their team to get the ball and go and score a third goal as insurance against the late disappointment witnessed at Charlton and versus Fleetwood.

Peterborough make a fourth substitution bringing on a bloke called Kell Watts, reminding me of the Australian TV series Kath & Kim in which Kim’s mother Kath has a metrosexual boyfriend called Kel who proudly owns a ‘man bag’.  Town ‘score’ with two minutes of normal time left, but I’d spotted the offside flag so remain seated as all around me people rise and cheer.  Pat from Clacton admits to feeling nervous. There will be five minutes of additional time Stephen Foster tells us, and Peterborough chuck in a couple of awkward looking crosses preferring to rely on barging and jumping more than incisive passing football to carve open the Town defence.  “Smash ‘im, smash ‘im” bawls the bloke behind me every time a Peterborough player has possession.  Town attempt to waste time making two final nihilistic substitutions and the game wanders off into a seventh minute of additional time, but then all of a sudden, it’s over, and Town have won.

Beating Peterborough feels like a much bigger thing than it probably should, but that’s no doubt because Town haven’t beaten them in more than a decade, not that we have met very often, and Town have also lost the last two games to Peterborough at Portman Road.  Elated, our little group wish each other a happy Christmas and head off into the cold mid-afternoon with a farewell that says “See you Boxing Day”.  As for Catherine of Aragon, well at least she was still breathing when she visited Ipswich.

Ipswich Town 2 Barnsley 2

Barnsley FC, Wikipedia tells us, has spent more seasons in the second division than any other club. Just to prove the point I have seen Ipswich Town play Barnsley thirty times and but for one FA Cup tie all of those matches have been in the second division.  This does of course mean that Ipswich Town are also second division perennials.  Today’s fixture, therefore, is exceptional and indeed it is the first time that Ipswich and Barnsley have ever met as third division teams; what it is to live in interesting times.

In all other respects today is a normal, sunny, late summer Saturday as I make my way down through Gippeswyk Park, beneath the railway tracks and over the river to Portman Road, where, as ever, I buy a match programme (£3.50) in the modern cashless, but slightly slow manner.  Programme in hand I march on towards the Arbor House (formerly the Arboretum) where both doors are open wide; I step inside and turn towards the bar. “Gary, what the hell are you doing here?” I exclaim at the unexpected sight of my friend and former work colleague, Gary stood at the bar. “I’m buying you a drink, what would you like?” is Gary’s very quick and very welcome response.  I have a pint of something for which the pump clip says “Suffolk Punch” and Gary has a pint of some lager or other, but not one of the industrial brands. We retire to the garden where Mick is already sat with a pint of what looks like Suffolk Pride.  Gary and Mick have met before but introduce themselves to one another nonetheless; it really shouldn’t but it feels to me a bit like when your wife meets a former girlfriend. 

The pub garden is alive with drinkers wearing the blue shirts of Ipswich Town, far more so than usual.  Cheerily, we talk of funerals because Gary has been to a few lately and Mick works for an undertaker. Gary tells the story of two people he knows who were concerned that they might not get a seat at a cremation which was likely to be ‘popular’ (perhaps well-attended would be a better choice of words), and so sat through the previous cremation too, just to be sure.  With our glasses drained, a bloke at the next table chain smoking and blokes at the table beyond talking far louder than is necessary, we depart a little earlier than usual for Portman Road.

Bidding farewell to Gary and Mick in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, because their season tickets are in what used to be the Pioneer stand, I carry on to the Constantine Road entrance where a man in a suit compliments me on my ‘Allez les bleus’ T-shirt as he checks my ticket. “Wouldn’t it be great if we all supported Town in French” I say to him a bit weirdly, although he seems to accept the idea.  I enter the stadium, taking the rare opportunity to use turnstile 61, which today is operated by a young woman who is very possibly the nicest looking turnstile operator I have ever seen at Portman Road.  I arrive at my seat in time to see the teams walk on to the pitch and hear them announced by former Suffolk Radio presenter Stephen Foster, who once again looks a bit like a best man, microphone in hand in his grey suit.  My attention is briefly snagged when I think I hear that the Barnsley number ten is called George Benson, but checking the handily placed scoreboard I sadly see that he’s actually called Josh Benson, but the idea was good while it lasted.  Naturally, ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with this son Elwood and so are Pat from Clacton and Fiona as well as the man who I think is from Stowmarket; I can see Ray and his son Michael and his son Harrison down at the front of the stand.

With knees taken and applauded Barnsley get first go with the ball as, wearing their traditional kit of red shirts, white shirts and red socks they aim the ball towards the goal at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end. Town of course wear their traditional blue shirts and white shorts and as the teams line up it looks like a re-enactment of my childhood Continental Club Edition Subbuteo set, albeit without the strange poses of the plastic players.  Despite a high level of background noise, it takes just one minute and twenty seconds for the visiting Barnsleyites to deliver a chant of “Is this is a library?”.   Up in the Cobbold Stand there are several well filled red shirts in the away section and a bald-headed, middle-aged bloke in what looks like full kit, makes me think of Brian Glover’s Mr Sugden the PE teacher in Ken Loach’s classic film ‘Kes’.

Beside me today is a man in a bright orange hi-viz jacket emblazoned with the name of Veolia, the French waste disposal company. “Come on mate” he shouts, possibly to Freddie Ladapo as Conor Chaplin shapes up to thread a through ball beyond the enormous Barnsley defenders. “Come on, early pressure” continues my neighbour, “Pass it around, pass it around”.  He’s living every moment of his own live commentary.  A radio commentator might say that Town have started ‘on the front foot’ and by way of proof the bloke behind me announces that “ the pressure is unreal” .  The first two shots on goal however are by Barnsley players. There is a lot of jeering from the Barnsley fans and it sounds as if someone may be being ejected from the ground, around me people stand up tall and peer to their right to see what’s happening, they remind me of meerkats.

It’s the tenth minute and people rise and applaud as one in memory of a baby who has died.  On the pitch the game is interrupted by a foul and then carries on.  Neither side is exactly peppering the opposition goal with shots and the match is tense and physical; it’s engrossing but not exciting. Barnsley make an early substitution due to injury, reducing the aggregate of the numbers on their shirts by three as number 22 replaces number 25.

It’s the eighteenth minute and Wes Burns and Liam Kitching race for the ball, the enormous Kitching sticks out an arm to impede Burns and holds his shirt, Burns holds Kitching’s shirt and the linesman flags for a free-kick to Barnsley.  It’s a biased decision favouring the defender who had been first to foul, it would have been better to have made no decision at all.  “Pressure” shouts the bloke from Veolia out of the blue. Barnsley substitute, and former occasional Town player James Norwood can be seen trotting from the bench to the dressing room. “He’s injured already” says the bloke behind me. “Going for a Nando’s” says the bloke next to him.  “Come on Town, we haven’t even got out of…” bawls the bloke beside me trailing off, seemingly unable to remember what it is we haven’t even got out of.  If this was going to be a driving analogy I would guess “first gear” is what we haven’t got out of, but if this was going to be an analogy about going to bed it might be “our trousers”; admittedly however this would be an unusual analogy .

It’s the twenty seventh minute and Wes Burns is victim of over physical defending and Town have a free-kick about 20 metres from goal. Conor Chaplin steps up to send a sublime shot over the defensive wall and into the top corner of the Barnsley goal.  It’s a marvellous, beautiful goal and Town are winning. “They’ve gotta come out now” says the bloke behind me, suggesting that he believes some of the Barnsley players will now reveal that they enjoy the company of other men.

Six minutes later and following a series of Barnsley free-kicks the ball is crossed to the far post where Jack Aitchison heads it across goal and inside the far post to provide an unexpected equaliser. “It’s all gone quiet over there” chant the Barnsley fans conveniently forgetting that they are in a library, so it would be quiet wouldn’t it?  They compound their error by chanting “You’re not singing anymore” when apparently, according to their earlier chants we weren’t singing anyway.  Like ‘leave’ voters who don’t want to queue to have their passports stamped when only going ‘next door’ to Holland or France they seem to want their cake and to eat it too.

Leif Davis and Sam Morsy have shots blocked and Davis heads past the post as half-time looms.  When three minutes of added on time are announced, Barnsley’s number two Jordan Williams is sprawling on the grass. “Ha-ha” calls a Nelson Munce-like voice from somewhere behind me.   It’s been a good half of football but not a thrilling one if one inexplicably forgets Chaplin’s goal,  so the Nelson Munce soundalike has gained a higher profile in my mind than he probably deserves.

Half-time is the usual round of talking to Ray and Harrison and Michael and eating a Nature Valley Honey and Oats Crunchy bar.  Ray asks what I know about solar panels, and I tell him I have them on my roof because my mother in-law died. 

The game re-starts at two minutes past four and Christian Walton is soon making a fine save, diving to his right to ensure a decent passing and running move by Barnsley does not end with a goal.  “Can you hear the Ipswich sing? I can’t hear a fookin’ thing” chant the Barnsley fans in their South Yorkshire dialect. “Your support is fookin’ shit” they continue before rounding off their medley with a rendition of “Top o’ the league, your ‘avin’ a laff”.   It’s the fifty -third minute and Freddie Ladapo has an attempt cleared off the line. “Get up ya fairy” calls the man from Veolia at Luca Connell as the Barnsley player writhes about in the centre circle before being attended to by a physio. Today’s attendance is announced as being 25,001 with 613 being Tykes and Colliers from Barnsley.  On the Clacton supporters bus the winner of the guess the crowd competition is just two out, guessing 24,499, although misleadingly the guess of 25,050 gets more of the actual digits correct and therefore almost looks closer.

The game is nearly two-thirds over and Barnsley’s Callum Styles is booked for a cynical block on Wes Burns.  Barnsley win a corner. “I’m getting worried you know” admits Pat from Clacton beginning to lose her faith that Town will win this match.  “Come on Town, defend” shouts the bloke beside me giving helpful advice as the corner kick is taken.  The corner is defended as suggested and when play next stops Barnsley make another substitution, James Norwood replacing Jack Aitchison who walks off so slowly and gingerly that he looks like he might have suffered a sudden attack of diarrhoea.

The sixty-sixth minute and the Barnsley supporters think they’ve scored as the ball rattles into the side netting in front of them at the end of another decent move.  Relief and schadenfreude combine to transform the mood of Town fans in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand who are able to jeer at the stupidity of their northern neighbours.   With the game into its final quarter Town introduce mass substitutions. Stephen Foster announces that there will be three, but only tells us about Kayden Jackson replacing Freddie Ladapo and Marcus Harness replacing Tyreece John -Jules.  The forgotten substitution sees Kane Vincent-Young appear in place of Leif Davis.  As happened at Shrewsbury last week, the change quickly produces results and Wes Burns runs down the right and into the box before producing a low cross which Sam Morsy side-foots into the net.  Town lead, and are on top to the extent that three minutes later Marcus Harness scores a third, only for alleged referee Steve Martin to disallow it for reasons unknown.  Unlike his American namesake, this Steve Martin seems to be the man with no brain rather than ‘The man with two brains’ and should in future be known by the same name as Steve Martin’s dog in his 1979 film ‘The Jerk’, alternativley ‘The Jerk’ would do.

As if having an idiot for a referee is not bad enough Town soon suffer further by failing to defend a corner and allowing Barnsley’s Callum Styles, a man who according to the app on my phone is shorter than Conor Chaplin ( I think the app must be wrong) , a free header which he places just inside the far post.  If only the man from Veolia had shouted “Come on Town, defend”.  As I remark to Fiona “ I think that is what is called giving him too much time and space”.

Despite the disappointment of gifting Barnsley another equaliser Town press on for another winning goal and dominate the remaining fifteen minutes, reducing Barnsley to desperate clearances rather than considered passes out of defence.   Wolfe is booked for fouling Sam Morsy and a Wes Burns shot is pushed away for a corner by the outstretched arm of the Barnsley goalkeeper Brad Collins, who I like to think was named after Brad in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sone Aluko replaces Conor Chaplin with five minutes of normal time left.  James Norwood is booked for diving and happily does nothing to suggest it was a mistake to let him go. Anderson of Barnsley is booked for kicking the ball away when a free-kick is awarded; it’s a display of bad sportsmanship and unneccessary nastiness which seems common to this team of mostly mardy millennials.  Fiona leaves early to get away for a family barbecue, despite the fire risk due to the drought, and a ridiculous eight minutes of time added on are announced.  Town win a corner from which George Edmundson heads against a post; Kane Vincent-Young sends a header towards goal, but it is kept out with a flying save; Aluko and Harness both have shots blocked.

 It’s almost five o’clock when The Jerk ends the game and walks off to the boos of the crowd, including mine.  We now expect Town to win, and only the referee and some uncharacteristically forgetful defending have prevented that today, but that’s not so unusual, and at least we didn’t lose. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose as it might say on a future T-shirt when we all start supporting Town in French.

Forest Green Rovers 1 Ipswich Town 2

The wonder of Google Maps tells us that from my house it’s a three and a quarter hour, 280 kilometre drive to the Forest Green Rovers park and ride car park at Woodchester, but from my step-son’s house in the silvan suburbs of Basingstoke, the same destination is less than 125 kilometres away and can be reached in under 90 minutes.  With these statistics in mind, I have adopted the excuse of ‘seeing the grandchildren’ in order to get free board and lodging and to break up the journey for what will be the first time I have driven to an away match since Town’s 5-2 win at Rotherham in 2015, back in the heady days of Brett Pitman, Jonathan Douglas and Kevin Bru.

Leaving the house at a civilised 11:30am, the journey down the M4, up the A419 to Cirencester and along the A46 to Woodchester is a breeze, and the good karma continues when the park and ride turns out to be free today because the organisers aren’t sufficiently organised, although as the very nice man at the gate tells me this isn’t good really because the takings would be donated to local schools.  The white bus, reminding me of the 1967 film debut of Anthony Hopkins, is already waiting and after waiting a bit longer to fill up with a full load it lurches off along the valley into Nailsworth before turning right in the town centre and struggling up Spring Hill and Nympsfield Road to the New Lawn, the current home of Forest Green Rovers. “Not very environmental” says the Forest Green fan sat in front of me on the bus “Must use about four ‘undred quid’s worth of fuel getting up ‘ere”.  Ironically, the all-white bus is operated by a company called Cotswold Green.   What they need are trolleybuses.

Thanking the lady bus driver, who to my shame makes me think of Diane the community service supervisor in the BBC tv series The Outlaws, I alight from the bus with the other sixty-odd park and riders. The New Lawn is every inch a typical non-league ground sitting in a field at the side of the road and is mostly all the better for that. I visit the club shop, a portacabin, but the array of souvenir toot is sadly disappointing, although I do meet ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood there; Phil has bought a shirt for his collection; it won’t fit him, but it had been reduced to a tenner. I take a wander and find the Town team bus, a lovely view over some fields, the dressing rooms, which remind me a bit of somewhere like Kirkley & Pakefield or Haverhill in the Eastern Counties League, and a bar called the Green Dragon.  Feeling thirsty after my drive and my bus trip, I decide to go in. “Is it okay to go in?”  I say not verbally, but with my eyebrows and general expression to the steward outside as I reach for the door.  “Home or away?” he asks suspiciously.  Thinking quickly, but not really having to because my seat today is with the home supporters, I feign my best insouciant Gloucestershire accent by rolling my ‘r’s and pursing my lips slightly over the ‘o’ and answer “err, home”.

Inside the Green Dragon, which despite the pub name has the charm and character of a works social club or village hall, I queue a good ten minutes for a pint of Stroud Brewery ‘Budding’ (£4.80), and very tasty and refreshing it is too,  even if the price is exorbitant; presumably however  it would cost even more if there wasn’t just one very pleasant lady serving the drinks and one operating the till.  Beer consumed I decide to enter the stadium, I walk towards turnstile number four only to see the turnstile operator climbing over it; quickly assessing the situation I head for turnstile number three and show my ticket to a lady steward, who becomes the second woman to remind me of tv’s Diane of The Outlaws today. Diane 2 simply ushers me through an open gate into the stand.  I like to think this is my reward for responsibly asking her where I can dispose of my environmentally friendly plastic beer mug; in the bins inside the stand, she tells me without hesitation.

Inside the ground there is a long queue for vegan food at the oddly named “Oh, it’s you again” food outlet; most people seem to favour chips with curry sauce, but there are a few quite tasty-looking Quorn pies in evidence too. If I hadn’t lost time enough from my life already by queuing for beer, I would have tried one.  Instead, I find my seat  (£23.00) and wait for kick-off, absorbing the rustic non-league ambience of this most bucolic and lovely of Football League grounds. The cars parked up on a meadow at the back make it look like there could be a country fair or festival going on.  At the back of the covered terrace off to my left a man in a cage and wearing a flat cap bangs a drum.

The players soon enter the pitch from the dressing room block in the corner and a terrifying, green but otherwise indescribable club mascot marauds towards the stand making a young woman cower in fear. After an unannounced, mystery 15 second ‘minute’ silence and subsequent applause, the game begins with Forest Green Rovers, wearing lurid green shirts with black tiger stripes and lurid green shorts and socks, kicking off in the direction of Stroud, whilst Town model their traditional blue shirts and socks with white shorts, and kick towards nowhere in particular except the Forest Green goal and that drummer in the flat cap. Apart from the Town players I have no idea who anyone is because Forest Green Rovers do not print a programme or even a team sheet and have only a rudimentary scoreboard.   I would expect them to e-mail club members and ticket holders an e-programme as St Etienne in France do, but they don’t, which to coin a phrase that seems popular amongst Town fans on-line, smacks of being  ‘tin-pot’. 

Town soon win a corner. “Come On You Blues” chant a good number of the Ipswichians on the open terrace on the far side of the ground beneath the meadow with the cars on it. Town’s Marcus Harness has a shot, which isn’t very good and so far his touches on the ball have been poor; between the away terrace and the stand at the Stroud end of the ground I notice an ice cream van parked up on the Nympsfield Road, which sports a huge cone on the front.   A couple of blokes are watchng the game for free over the fence. Nine minutes pass and Forest Green have their first shot, which swerves wide and high of the Town goal.   The bloke in the flat cap bangs his drum and those around him sing “Campiones”, because Forest Green Rovers are indeed the reigning fourth division champions, even if it is of England and not Spain or Argentina as their chant implies.

Twelve minutes gone and Marcus Harness attempts a half-volley which is on target, but frustratingly it’s execution can’t match the satisfying rhyming quality of his first name and surname.  “It needs a goal” says the woman sitting next to me. “I’m not coming again if it’s nil-nil.”  Five minutes on and Town win their second corner. “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” chant a good number of Ipswich fans channelling their strange love of Boney M Christmas hits.  Marcus Harness tries his luck on the right-hand side of the pitch but unfortunately his touch is as uncertain as it was on the left.  The woman in the seat next but one from me cheers Town’s corner and I tentatively ask if she might be a Town fan too; she is, in a manner of speaking; she is here because Ipswich is her home town and it turns out she and her brother went to the same schools in Ipswich as my sister and I did; she now lives round the corner from The New Lawn and has simply turned up to support her hometown team, as any person with a soul would.

Twenty minutes of the game have gone and Town captain Sam Morsy has a header well saved by whoever the Forest Green goalkeeper is. The woman next to me expresses her admiration for Morsy. “He’s fiery, that’s what you want” she says, before adding in a thoughtful manner redolent of Pam Ayres with her rolled r’s “In a controlled manner”.  Soon afterwards Freddie Lapado turns and shoots to force a flying save from the home goalkeeper. From the corner Wes Burns misses the ball and then Lee Evans loses it, allowing the Rovers to break away down the right and the resultant cross is hoofed away by George Edmundson for Rovers’ first corner. It is a stark warning to Town that by dominating possession they can be vulnerable to such quick breaks which can happen almost by chance.

In crossing the ball in that breakaway the Rovers’ number twenty-two is injured and is replaced by number three, a player who the woman next to me had commented upon as he warmed up,  due to what she referred to as his “1970’s shorts” which look shorter than those of the other players; she speculates as to whether he has tucked them up into his pants.   Number three enters the field of play and very soon the woman next to me says “He’s annoying me with those shorts”, and she’s right, so much thigh does look a little ridiculous, a bit like Alan Partridge in his running shorts.   I like that according to his shirt this player is called Bernard, I think it suits his 1970’s vibe.  A third of the game is now forever lost in the mists of time, and Conor Chaplin shoots,  but it’s an easy save for the Rovers’ goalkeeper. “Come on Rovers” chant the supporters to my left, the Town fans have fallen silent, sapped perhaps by standing out in the heat of the afternoon sun.

With less than ten minutes until half-time,  Rovers almost score as a low cross from the right  somehow only produces a goal-kick for Town when the defence looked breached. Typically however, a missed opportunity at one end sees a goal soon after at the other,  and in the thirty-sixth minute a ‘rifled’ snap-shot from Marcus Harness hits the top left hand corner of net and Town lead.  After a prolonged period of silence, the Town’s fans can now burst into song again and begin a musical conversation with the Rovers fan which has me thinking of the song ”Anything you can do (I can do better)” from Irving Berlin’s 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun.  “Sing when you’re winning you only sing when you’re winning” chant the observant Rovers’ fans. “1-0 to the Tractor Boys” reply the Town fans as if to prove the point.  “We forgot, we forgot, we forgot that you were here” reply the Rovers’ fans although they are blatantly lying because it was only a minute ago they were chanting about Town fans only singing when they are winning. “Here for the Ipswich, you’re only here for the Ipswich” is the sneering response from the away support,  which they then cap with the withering put down  “No noise from the Vegan boys, no noise from the Vegan boys” to which the Vegan boys either can’t think of anything to sing in response or they no  longer care, and would rather eat some more chips with curry sauce.

Town end the half as much the better team as first another slightly weak Marcus Harness shot is saved by the mystery goalkeeper and then in the four minutes of time added on, a move down the left ends with Sam Morsy placing a perfect arc of a shot into the top right-hand corner of the Rovers’ goal for a 2-0 half-time lead.

Half-time passes talking to the women beside me, discovering that sitting behind the woman originally from Ipswich are two old boys who are also Town supporters and listening to an eclectic and enjoyable mix of music over the PA system including John Barry’s theme from Goldfinger sung by Shirley Bassey and David Bowie’s Starman, songs that somehow seem appropriate at a club where the owner is a New Age traveller turned eco-energy entrepreneur. It makes supporting a club owned by an American pension fund seem very dull indeed, regardless of the cash that has been splashed.

At seven minutes past four the game resumes, this time with Town getting first go with the ball, although it is Rovers who look most effective early on and they soon earn a corner. “Rovers (clap, clap, clap,) Rovers,(clap, clap, clap)” is the steady, traditional sound emanating from the locals and even some in the ‘posh’ twenty-three quid seats around me join in .  The corner comes to nothing and soon Freddie Ladapo is teed up to hit a shot very high and very wide; then Town win a corner and then another courtesy of the energetic Conor Chaplin who looks like he’s enjoying himself.  The Town support is waning however and the chants of “Come On  You Blues”  before the corner are rather feeble, as if all that lunch time drinking outside in the sun is now taking its toll. On the hour there is a drinks break for the players before Forest Green make a double substitution,  and the effects of the Lucozade and fresh legs are almost immediate as on 64 minutes the Rovers’ number 28 knocks the ball into the Ipswich goal from close range in the sort of goal mouth melee which Ipswich are generally incapable of even creating let alone scoring from.

This is the home team’s moment, and for a  good five minutes they effortlessly drift past the Town defenders who  look as if they have been dazzled by the glare from a judiciously angled solar panel.  The 68th minute sees Rovers put the ball in the Town net again via a towering head from a corner, but the lurid day-glo green shirts make it easy for the assistant referee to spot that a couple of  the Rovers players were offside. 

Town need to shore up their defence and Greg Leigh replaces the crocked Lief Davis,  but still Christian Walton is forced to make a save to keep Town’s lead in tact. Twenty minutes of normal time remain and Conor Chaplin and Marcus Harness are replaced by Tyreece John-Jules and Sone Aluko.  Town seem to have weathered the worst of what Forest Green can do and a shot on the turn from Sone Aluko almost seals the result.  Another feeble chant of ‘Come On You Blues’ emanates from the sun struck recovering alcoholics on the far side of the ground.  With time ebbing away tempers fray and Sam Morsy seems to be the target for some winding-up.  He gives as good if not better than he gets but then stays down on ground to eek out some more time. “Wanker” calls out a rustic and slightly inebriated  voice from somewhere behind me, it’s the most impolite thing I ‘ve heard all afternoon.

Six minutes remain and Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace Freddie Lapado and Wes Burns. The woman next to me has only just been convinced that the score isn’t two-all.  The final minute arrives and Town’s Cameron Burgess is extremely lucky not to be sent off as he pulls back an opponent who appeared to have a free run a goal from about 20 metres out. “You don’t know what you’re doin” chant the home fans at the orange shirted referee, and they have a point, but he’s not alone as the fourth official holds up his electronic board showing a staggering nine minutes of added–on time.  It sounds like long enough to lay down another strata of Oolitic Limestone, but it passes surprisingly quickly which is a probably a measure of how much Town are on top.

With the final whistle I bid farewell to the two women and make an unauthorised exit up the steps and through the hospitality area behind  me, leaving the stand via the ‘grand’, carpeted central staircase before dashing off to join the queue for the white bus.  I’ve had a lovely afternoon as I had thought I would. The win helped of course, but for a country lad The New Lawn has lived up to expectations, despite the obvious short comings such as no programmes, no decent,  pointless souvenirs and inadequate staffing in the bar, but there’s more to life than collecting stuff and getting served quickly.  The Football League needs more clubs like Forest Green Rovers.

Further reading:

 ‘How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup (1975) by  J L Carr

 Cider with Rosie (1959)  by Laurie Lee