Mystifyingly, I often wake up on a Saturday morning in reflective mood. It might be the relief of having made it through to the end of another working week, it might be the effect of a surfeit of alcohol the night before, although I usually consume no more than two bottles of beer and a glass of whisky, or may be it’s the leisurely Saturday breakfast of bacon and eggs, but I suspect it’s really the prospect of football. Why? Why, do I persist after all these years when it is clear the best days have gone? Those days of glory that coincided with my youth, my halcyon days when I had prospects and was full of hope and expectation. Town won the FA Cup and I passed my ‘A’ levels and went to university. I was completing my final exams at university just as Ipswich Town were winning the UEFA Cup; I made it to Amsterdam but missed the first leg of the final to the demands of academia.
Forty years on and I’ve not fulfilled that early promise and my team has mirrored my decline. There have been moments of brief, flickering success, but mostly it’s been an existence defined by mediocrity and under-achievement. People expected more; I expected more, but it never happened. The fact is I probably never cared enough, and now as punishment I am left supporting a football team that doesn’t seem to care enough either and I am reduced to writing this blog. I never expected my team to brush aside the opposition, to treat all-comers with disdain in the manner of some sort of Marie Antoinette eleven, if such a thing were possible; I have usually been happy with an away draw, but equally I didn’t expect Town to lose 0-3 at Wimbledon last Tuesday night.
Today is bright with every indication of Spring, but it’s a bit chilly and kick-off is at 12:30 because of a fixture clash with a family funeral of national interest, apparently. Life goes on, but has been moved forward two and a half hours, although I don’t remember kick-off being moved when I needed to go my father’s funeral, but heck, I’m not the Queen; I expect she still wanted to watch Reading (The Royals) on the ifollow.
I tune into BBC Radio Suffolk just in time to learn that for the third game running a minute’s silence will be observed. If I’d tuned in a few seconds later I would have spent the best part of a minute fiddling with the dial mistakenly trying to find the radio signal. A minute’s silence on the radio is a curiosity, the two things are completely at odds with one another, although this one does include a brief rustle of paper at one point; commentator Brenner Woolley’s notes being ruffled by a Spring breeze perhaps.
The game begins, I don’t catch who gets first go with the ball but hear Brenner tell us that Charlton are wearing red socks, I somehow missed him say if they are wearing red shirts and white shorts too, but imagine that they are. I sip my pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Dark Star Revelation (4 for £6 at Waitrose) and hope to witness a revelation on the football pitch. “…coffee cup in-hand, the Ipswich Town manager” says Brenner adding a smidgeon of detail which sets me wondering if he’s drinking espresso or cappucino, flat white or de-caff. “Holy wandering into that glorious Spring sunshine” continues Brenner and I have a vision of our goalkeeper strolling by a pavement café.
Basking on my blue bean bag in front of the French doors I catch the warmth of the sun and all seems well and so it is. “That was good for Ipswich Town says Brenner as James Norwood heads towards goal. “It took a good save from the man in yellow” says Brenner making me wonder if it was the Charlton goalkeeper or a club steward who kept the ball out of the net. “Town close to the perfect start” is Brenner’s summation, whoever was responsible.
It’s good to hear Brenner say after five minutes of play “Town, the better team so far” and with his confidence clearly buoyed he treats his listeners to some clichéd commentating as the Charlton goalkeeper plays the ball; “Amos, who made that good save early doors in this game”. As the ball travels from one end of the pitch to the other he’s soon describing Tomas Holy as “…the big Czech” and I hope for a day when Tomas’s squad number will reflect this by having lots of noughts on the end.
Ten minutes have passed and suddenly I realise that Brenner has been commentating incessantly with no side-kick to help him out, to give his vocal chords a rest or explain at length the nuances of the team formation. Brenner like the true pro that he is, is flying solo today. Later Brenner will refer to ‘technical difficulties’ with the broadcast by which I suspect he means that after Tuesday’s game, the BBC simply found it impossible to find any ex-Town player willing to travel to South London and back to waste ninety-minutes of his life watching Town fail to score again.
“Paul Cook just in his T-shirt, and tracksuit bottoms” says Brenner trying to convey how Spring-like the scene is, but pausing just long enough after the word “T-shirt” to make me think Paul Cook is naked from the waist down. Sometimes I fear Brenner doesn’t appreciate the impact he can have on people whose appreciation of the Town is hanging on his every word; then again, perhaps he does.
It’s half way through the first half of the game. “Still Ipswich nil, and nil-nil between Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic” says Brenner emphasising in a slightly peculiar way that the score is still nil-nil. “Ipswich can’t afford this surely” adds Brenner, seemingly not realising that it is well within the capabilities of the current squad to not ever score again.
Twenty-three minutes pass and “James Norwood down on one knee” says Brenner, and I wonder if players are now ‘taking the knee’ during the game in order to overcome criticism that adopting the pre-kick-off pose has become nothing more than a hollow gesture. It transpires that Norwood is injured and he is soon replaced by the ‘free-scoring’ Kayden Jackson. I finish my beer and Brenner speaks sympathetically and a little weirdly of the departing “former Tranmere Rovers man” whose injury record has seen in him in and out of the team all season; “He can’t get a run, poor thing” says Brenner.
I am missing the contributions of Mick Mills or Stuart Ainsley, but Brenner’s doing his best. “Stephen Ward who has the arm band” he says, filling me in on who is captain in lieu of Luke Chambers who is a mere substitute today; “left arm” adds Brenner, providing the detail I had been craving about exactly where the arm band was.
A half an hour has passed, “Holy made a right mess of that” exclaims Brenner as the “big Czech” stretches for and fails to gather a deep cross, forcing Mark McGuinness, whose name always make me think of the IRA, to clear a shot from Stockley from just in front of the goal. “Nil-nil at The Valley, in the sunshine” confirms Brenner, lending a sort of Brigadoon quality to the location.
Less than ten minutes until half-time and the oddly named Keanan Bennetts hits the ball “…high over the bar”. “Town a million miles away from taking the lead” says Brenner exaggerating ridiculously about exactly how high Bennett’s shot was. Forty minutes gone and Brenner reveals that “We will get Mick Mills’ thoughts at half-time”. “Good old Mick”, I think to myself. “Same old Andre Dozzell” I think to myself as the former Town legend’s progeny is booked for the tenth time this season; this time for what Brenner calls a “rather cynical challenge”. I console myself with the thought that ‘cynical’ is probably better than ‘stupid’, so perhaps he is improving.
Two minutes of time are added on but it makes no difference to the half-time score. “What did you make of the first half?” asks Brenner of Mick Mills. “We pretty much maintained the dominance of the game….they can be satisfied with what they’ve done” says Mick amongst several other things that I’m not able to remember, although I do recall that he is impressed with Teddy Bishop today, who he says has played more as a forward than a midfielder. As for Charlton, MIck is not impressed.
Refreshed and revived by tea and a Nature Valley brand peanut and chocolate protein bar I return for the second half, which doesn’t start well, with Brenner once again unable to resist indulging in commentator-speak. “Worrying sign there for Ipswich Town there, early doors” says Brenner creating his own worrying signs, but at least he also feels able to say “…better than Tuesday night, so far.” Kane Vincent Young has returned to the Town team again today after injury and he soon wins a free-kick on the right-wing. “Lovely feet from the Town right-back” says Brenner revealing a hitherto undeclared interest in either chiropody or foot-fetishism. The theme continues with Brenner speaking of Vincent-Young’s “good feet” and his “pink footwear”.
Brenner’s solo commentary is inevitably peppered with the names of the opposition players and I am enjoying mention of Gilbey who makes me think of gin and Amos who makes me think of Old Testament prophets and my grandfather’s uncle. Best of all however I am enjoying each frequent reference to Purrington; what a great and silly surname it is. I have lived with seven cats during my lifetime, Friday, Dusty, Spud, Oscar, Kenny, Daisy and Poppy but if I ever own an eighth cat I shall call it Mr Purrington.
“Headed in by Innis” says Brenner suddenly. “Bugger” says one half of my internal dialogue whistl the other kicks an imaginary Mr Purrington. “Headed into the six-yard area by Innis” continues Brenner, blissfully unaware of the numerous palpitations and heart attacks he has caused across England’s most easterly county. It’s nevertheless the closest to a goal that there’s been in the second half and it was Brenner’s fault. Perhaps aware of his own error Brenner goes on to speak more gibberish; “The referee felt that Downes was twisted in the ground” he says incomprehensibly, before getting over-excited as the ball is given away “cheaply” by McGuinness; then “Purrington chops Bennetts in half”, presumably having toyed with him first.
Armando Dobra replaces the two halves of the oddly named Keanen Bennetts and for Charlton Ben Watson replaces Darren Pratley, who Brenner tells us began his career at Crystal Palace, which he then informs us is “not a million miles away”. Given that The Valley and Selhurst Park both have SE postcodes, it’s not the most illuminating piece of commentary Brenner has ever given and smacks of a possible lack of things to say and a definite lack of research into the geography of South London. In fact, for the geographically minded, travelling via the A215 the two grounds are some16.8 kilometres apart.
Just over an hour of my life has been lost since kick-off, and Gwion Edwards shoots weakly at Ben Amos, “Another good chance for Ipswich Town goes begging” says Brenner. A further ten minutes drift away into eternity; Freddie Sears and Myles Kenlock replace Teddy Bishop and Stephen Ward. With Ward’s substitution Andre Dozzell is given the captain’s arm band, but Brenner omits to tell us which arm he puts it on, whether he wears it round his head or just stuffs it into his jockstrap.
“Kenlock there and he needed to be” announces Brenner as the substitute full-back justifies his existence on the planet by clearing a shot that had initially been pushed away by Tomas Holy. “Next time you hear from Mick Mills will be in a week’s time” says Brenner now ignoring the game in order to tease us with the promise of jam tomorrow. It’s also a sign that the game is nearing its finale. “Getting a bit more chilly at the Valley” says Brenner suggesting, to me at least, that life and warmth in SE7 will fade away when the game ends. “Eleven minutes to go of the ninety” continues Brenner. “Final ten minutes of the game” Brenner adds, a minute later. “Free-kick, Tomas Holy, seven minutes to play” says Brenner after a further three minutes, although I haven’t been counting. Sixty seconds pass. “Six minutes to play” says Brenner, giving no indication that he’s been clock-watching.
It’s the eighty-ninth minute and Brenner tells of “Paul Cook having a brief chat with Purrington, patting him on the back”, perhaps he was stroking him I wonder, or offering him some catnip. There are three minutes of time added on to be played. “Three minutes away from yet another nil-nil” is Brenner’s take. Charlton win a late corner. “Got some tall boys in the Ipswich penalty box” says Brenner giving the impression that the home team have shifted in some chests of drawers from somewhere in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock. It’s a prelude to “some silliness in the Town area” as Luke Woolfenden and a Charlton player initiate some general shoving and pushing which proves contagious. In the absence of goals I’m all for a “bit of silliness”. Sensibly, the referee Mr Hicks treats it as youthful high spirits and doesn’t bother to air his yellow card.
Happily, the game soon ends and Town chalk up their fourth nil-nil draw in the last six games, a record of mediocrity that I feel even I would struggle to match. The verdict on social media however seems to be that the performance from the team was better and it was only a lack of ability that prevented Town from scoring a hatful of goals. In the absence of Mick Mills, Brenner is my man of the match but I’m already looking forward to Mick’s return next Saturday.