Ipswich Town 3 Accrington Stanley 0

I first saw Accrington Stanley play back in January 2004,  it was an FA Cup tie at Layer Road, Colchester;  Colchester won and the Accrington manager, who incredibly is still the same bloke, although he’s been to Rochdale and back via Southport and Sligo since then, became very, very agitated and might even have been booked or sent off; it was a lot of fun. I recall looking forward to that match very much indeed, and heading for twenty-years on I am still looking forward to seeing Accrington Stanley tonight at Portman Road.  Accrington Stanley are just one of those ‘must see’ clubs  with a funny name like Crewe Alexandra or Hamilton Academicals,  or Borussia Monchengladbach or Red Boys Differdange (sadly no longer with us), and what is more, Accrington Stanley were named after a pub, the Stanley Arms.

After a hard day’s graft at the desk face I collect my thoughts by mooching around town for an hour, growing sadder by the moment at the streets of shops left empty by people’s lazy love affair with Amazon and their ilk.  In an attempt to make the World a better place my wife has just deleted her Amazon account, I’d recommend anyone to do the same.  But for the time being at least, it doesn’t stop the town looking like a beautiful friend who has been punched in the face.  Feeling a little downhearted at the state of the modern world, and with the sun going down and casting cold shadows I do what anyone with a mild dependency on alcohol would, and head for the pub.

In ‘the Arb’ I order a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.51 with Camra 10% discount) and a Scotch egg with thick cut chips (£9).  It’s bloody cold today, but all the tables inside are either already occupied or reserved, so I do what I always do and sit out in the beer garden.  Just before my food arrives, so does Gary, nursing a pint of Lager 43 which is the liquid element of his order of a pint and a ‘half-stack burger’ for a tenner.  We talk of death, people we once worked with and holidays, and we eat our food before Mick arrives and buys halves of Suffolk Pride  for me and him and Lager 43 for Gary.  I remark on how Lager 43 sounds like the name of a prisoner of war camp.  Two other men are in the beer garden and we talk to them. They work in insurance and one of them has only missed one match all season, the game at Cambridge; he asks what we think the score will be tonight, Mick says 2-1, I say 3-0, Gary says 4-0. Gary tells them that one of the two boys who appeared in the ‘Accrington Stanley’ TV advert for milk in the late 1980’s and 1990’s has recently been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder after beating a man to death.   The one who has been imprisoned is the one who said “Accrington Stanley? Who are they?”  No good could ever come of such ignorance.

At about twenty past seven we depart for Portman Road, and  I feel a little as if the Suffolk Pride and the Scotch Egg and Chips are fighting it out to see which one will repeat on me first, but happily by the time I reach turnstile 61 off Constantine Road I think I‘ve walked them off.  It’s disappointing that turnstile 62 is not open tonight; the lights are on but no one is at home, but it is some consolation that turnstile 61 is operated by one of the stadium’s more attractive turnstile operators.  I take my seat next to Fiona just as the teams are marching side by side on to the pitch; I joke with the man from Stowmarket that this is no coincidence as I have been giving the team talk.   Stephen Foster announces the line-ups and pretending to be French,  ever-present Phil who never misses a game and I bawl out the Town players’ surnames as he does so.  Satisfyingly, the last name on the team sheet is Nathan Broadhead, allowing me to draw out the second syllable of his surname for extra effect.

The game begins and Town, in classic blue and white, get first go with the ball, booting it towards the Sir Bobby Robson stand. Despite Accrington’s first choice kit of red and white not clashing with Town’s, they sport an away kit of white shirts and black shorts and from a distance could be Germany or even Hereford United.  It feels cold enough to be mid-Winter and perhaps that’s why the Sir Bobby Robson Stand burst into a chorus of “ Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s ‘Mary ‘s Boy Child’.  But perhaps realising that it’s now 7th March, or that they simply don’t know any more words, the singing quickly trails off.  An Accrington player soon earns the dislike of the home crowd for some perceived misdemeanour, but their goal keeper makes it all better by inaccurately hoofing the ball into touch and provoking chants of “De-de-de-de-de, fucking useless” to the tune of Pig Bag’s May 1981 hit  single ‘Papa’s got a brand new pig bag’.  It’s nice to be reminded of a tune people might have danced to as they celebrated Town winning the UEFA Cup.   On the touch line Town manager Keiron McKenna appears to sport a short brown anorak; it’s what my friend Pete’s mother would have disparagingly called a ‘shorty-arsed jacket’ and not suitable for a cold night like tonight.

Ten minutes recede into the past and Town win the game’s first corner; as usual it comes to nothing but having won the ball back Sam Morsy plays the ball to Massimo Luongo who picks out what commentators might strangely call a ‘delicious’ through ball, which speedy Kayden Jackson latches on to and crosses low for Nathan Broadhead to side foot into the Accrington net and give Town the lead.  It’s a classy goal that few if any other teams in the third division would be capable of scoring .

Almost ten minutes later and Town are producing things of beauty again as Janoi Donacien wins two tackles in quick succession, comes away with the ball, strides off down the wing and delivers a cross which his headed goalwards by Freddie Ladapo.  It turns out to be a comfortable catch for the Stanley goalkeeper Lukas ‘Kid’ Jensen, but the joy of football isn’t just in the goals. 

The game is a quarter of the way through and it’s time for a ‘catch-up’, so Accrington’s Rosaire Longelo receives treatment whilst everyone else gathers for a chat over by the dug outs.  Surprisingly Longelo’s  ailment proves to be terminal and he is substituted for the more plainly monikered Jack Nolan.  The game resumes but the crowd has gone quiet after all the excitement of the early goal and Accrington are not looking as hopelessly beaten as I hoped they would. We might need more goals.

Meanwhile, referee Mr Lee Swabey is beginning to annoy the home crowd by not giving free-kicks to Town when he should, giving free-kicks to Accrington when he shouldn’t and generally being a bit of an arse. “ Oh shuddup ref” shouts a slightly whiny voice from the front of the stand as someone makes it clear they just cannot take anymore.  Happily, Town produce a few flashes of football again to raise our spirits and the Sir Bobby Robson catches an invisible wave of euphoria as they sing “Addy, Addy, Addy-O, ITFC, they’re the team for me” followed by “Ole, Ole, Ole, We’re the Tractor Boys, gonna make some noise” like it’s 1962, 1978 and 1981 all rolled into one.   Mr Swabey hasn’t finished however and takes his incompetence to new levels by showing his yellow card to Cameron Burgess for a perceived foul that is at worst innocuous.

Three minutes of added on time are inevitably added on. The minutes subtract themselves like all minutes do and then Swabey succeeds in blowing his whistle; the team leave hurriedly for their half-time cuppa forgoing any ovation, but Swabey takes his time and runs the full gauntlet of boos that he has worked so hard to earn and so richly deserves.  It’s been a difficult half, mostly rather turgid, but illuminated by outbreaks of beauty like a cloudy but windy night when there are just occasional glimpses of a bright, pale moon or twinkling stars.

Overcome by poetic similes I make for the front of the stand for a chat with Ray and his grandson Harrison.  We talk of Mr Swabey and Priti Patel, but fortunately the teams appear back on the pitch before we become too depressed.

At nine minutes to nine the match resumes and the groundlings in the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson are soon chanting “Blue and White Army” over and over again to no particular tune.  As usual, many quickly fall by the wayside; bored hopefully, but a knotty rump carry on, seemingly mesmerised by the endless repetition of the same five syllables.  Eight minutes into the half and Town win a corner and a minute later Kayden Jackson wins another as his cross is deflected away.  The corner produces no goal again, but Town retain the momentum and Nathan Broadhead embarks on a simply superb dribbly run deep into the Accrington penalty area, he pulls the ball back, a shot hits the cross bar but Kayden Jackson has been waiting to tap it back into the net and Town lead 2-0.  It must feel  like time to open their Christmas presents in the Sir Bobby Robson stand as Harry Belafonte’s ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ gets another  joyful airing  with its altered words about fighting on Boxing Day , even though Ipswich Town haven’t played Norwich City on Boxing Day in  over forty years.

Time soon comes round for the first substitutions and Massimo Luongo and Nathan Broadhead depart and Marcus Harness and Cameron Humphreys replace them with everyone getting generous applause. The personnel change makes no difference to Town and Kayden Jackson is soon breaking away to put in another low cross which runs tantalisingly behind Freddie Ladapo and Cameron Humphreys shoots a little awkwardly wide of the far post.  More minutes pass, and Conor Chaplin wins another corner and then Harry Clarke and George Hirst replace the excellent Leif Davis and Freddie Ladapo.  Stephen Foster announces the attendance as 22,413 including 59 from Accrington.  The now usual self -congratulation follows and applause for the visiting faithful, which is a nice change from the 1970’s when the away supporters would simply have been told by the North Stand that they would be going home in an ambulance.  There is much debate about the number of Accrington supporters tonight as several of us have counted no more than 26 in the Cobbold Stand.  Theories abound about whether police and stewards have been counted too and I suggest that there perhaps are unusually high number of  pairs of Siamese twins amongst the Accrington support or may be several visiting  fans are all sharing the same coat, or simply watching the match in shifts.  I wonder what Pat from Clacton would have thought if she’d been here instead of watching at home in i-follow.

Fifteen minutes remain and another corner is won, only for Marcus Harness to head over the cross bar. Accrington’s Doug Tharme goes down under a challenge from George Hirst and wins a free-kick; “Fucking tart” calls an angry  voice from somewhere behind and I reflect on how few players are called Doug nowadays.  Another corner goes to Town as Marcus Harness has a shot blocked and then Town ‘go knap’ on substitutions as Kyle Edwards usurps Conor Chaplin, the top striker many fans didn’t seem to know we had.  Just to make the dying minutes a little more interesting, Accrington win a corner , but they’re no better at them than any other team .  The flags on the roof of the Cobbold Stand hang limp in the still, cold night air and I sigh at the thought of five minutes of added on time and wonder if I can stave off frost bite for that long.  I decide to employ the power of mind over matter and hope for a third Town goal to keep my feet warm, and lo and behold Harry Clarke is suddenly charging goalwards only to be pole-axed by the streaky yellow figure of Lukas ‘Kid’ Jensen who is summarily sent off by Swabey who has upped his game, shamed perhaps by being mentioned in the same sentence as Priti Patel.  At first, Jensen hangs about a bit as if he expects some sort of late reprieve, but in fact he probably doesn’t know if his team still have a substitution left to make or whether he must hand his yellow shirt to an existing team mate.   A much shorter substitute goalkeeper eventually appears from the touchline and Jensen departs, at first in the direction of the dugouts, but then towards the dressing rooms as the gloating Town fans sing “Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio” .  When everything settles down Kyle Edwards pops the free-kick over Accrington’s defensive wall and into the top right hand corner of the goal to give Town the 3-0 scoreline they deserve.

With the final whistle, the man from Stowmarket and his grandson file past me and we discover that we share the view that it wasn’t the best match overall despite the scoreline, but we are nevertheless leaving with a warm feeling inside after that wonderful third goal.  It’s been an evening of moments of bright illumination, a bit like a compelling but slightly dull book, which every now and then has some really good pictures to look at.

IpswichTown 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2

In my near fifty-two seasons of watching professional football, I’ve seen Sheffield Wednesday play twenty-five times, and today will be the twenty-sixth.  The majority of those games have also involved Ipswich Town, with just two being against Colchester United.  Like those Colchester matches, today’s game, in common with the previous two is a third division fixture.  This is a very boring introduction to this match report, but it’s about history, which for many is possibly the whole point of watching football.  Both Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday have a history of glory which they currently exist in the shadow of.  Ipswich’s glory was over forty years ago, but it’s recent compared to that of Sheffield, which was over forty years before that, with Wednesday last winning the FA Cup in 1935 and the League in 1930, beyond living memory for most mortals.  Today is important therefore.

Looking forward and only in my rear view mirror when necessary I park up my air-quality enhancing Citroen e-C4 and head across Gippeswyk Park for Portman Road and the joys of ‘The Arb’ beyond. The streets are full of policemen in uniforms that look as if they have been designed to be wipe-clean.  A tall, wide-eyed man approaches me and asks what the score will be. “2-0 to Town” I say because I always expect Ipswich to win and he cheers and lurches off up the road.  Two policemen eye him suspiciously as if it might be a crime to be a bit eccentric or off your gourde. In Portman Road, the boringly grey Sheffield Wednesday team bus is backing into its parking space behind the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. I stop at one of the kiosks which look like they should sell ice cream,  and attempt to buy a programme (£3.50) using my season ticket card.  Predictably this doesn’t work,  but I realise my mistake at the about the same time as the young man in the kiosk and blame it on my bank card and season ticket card both being blue.

At ‘the Arb’ I order a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.41 with the 10% Camra discount) and retire to the beer garden where the covered shelter is occupied by people who seem unable to talk without shouting; it’s as if I’m hearing a conversation between a group of town criers.   I move away into the beer garden fearing permanent damage to my ears.   Mick soon appears, unexpectedly making his entrance through the side gate. He disappears into the building and quickly returns with his own pint of Suffolk Pride and packet of Fairfield’s Farms cheese and onion crisps.  We talk of our distrust and dislike of Ipswich’s Tory MP’s and their attempts at political point scoring off Ipswich’s Labour led council,  of forthcoming fixtures, of Grayson Perry, of transitioning and of sexual politics.   

At about two-thirty the beer garden suddenly falls silent as everybody else departs for the match leaving just Mick and I supping alone. For a moment we don’t know what to say other than to remark on how quiet it is.  We drain our pint glasses and it’s not long before we leave for Portman Road ourselves, feeling like reluctant followers of fashion. We part in Sir Alf Ramsey Way as I head off between the assembled supporters’ buses and coaches towards the Constantine Road entrance and Mick finds a place to park his pushbike. At the portal to the Sir Alf Ramsey stand there are no queues and of turnstiles 59 to 62, only the latter is not open, I choose  turnstile 61 and am entreated to “enjoy the match” by the brown-haired woman who nonchalantly scans my season ticket card.  In the stand, Pat from Clacton, Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, the man from Stowmarket, and his grandson are all here and the sense of anticipation is palpable. 

As stadium announcer and former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster reads out the Town team I shout out the surnames in the French style and am pleased that ever-present Phil joins in , although I botch it a bit because the scoreboard isn’t keeping up with Stephen Foster and I find I’m not quite as good at picking the right surnames to match the first names as I ought to be. It’s a lot of fun nevertheless,  but then we pause to show our respects to the many thousands who have died in the recent earthquake across southern Turkey and Syria.  The silence is well observed as it should be; the only sounds being the squawking of seagulls and shushes from the Sheffield fans to those of their number emerging onto the stand ignorant of the gesture being made.

At two minutes past three o’clock the games begins with Town getting first go with the ball and hoping to stick it in the net closest to me, Pat, Fiona and Phil.  Town are in resplendent in royal blue shirts and white shorts whilst Wednesday are anaemic in pale yellow shirts with pale blue sleeves and pale blue short; it’s a kit that looks like it’s been washed too many times or has faded in strong sunlight whilst on the washing line.  “Hark now here the Wednesday sing, United ran away” chant the northerners in the Cobbold Stand showing an unexpected appreciation of Harry Belafonte and Boney M, which is matched by the Town fans in the Sir Bobby Robson stand who proceed to sing the same song but about Town and Norwich.  Other parts of the ground remain silent as if still remembering the earthquake victims. 

Almost a quarter of an hour passes before any football breaks out and supporters are reduced to jeering and cheering throws and mis-placed passes. A tall man sat next to me tenses and jerks forward every time it looks like the ball will come near the goal. Conor Chaplin bounces a shot into the ground which is easily collected by the Wednesday goalkeeper Cameron Dawson, who is a vision in cerise. A Wednesday shot travels spectacularly high over the Town cross bar. “Tell you what, they’re big at the back int they” says the bloke behind me of the three Sheffield defenders Akin Famewo, Dominic Iorfa and Aden ‘Larry’ Flint.   Iorfa previously played for Town,  but looks to have been on a course of steroids since then.

The afternoon is dull and still, the flags on the Cobbold stand hang lifelessly beneath heavy grey cloud, it’s like a summer’s day, just a bit colder.  The fifteenth minute brings a corner to Town and then another. With the second corner kick Wes Burns falls to the ground inside the penalty area. I see him fall but don’t spot the perpetrator who must have had a getaway car waiting, and it seems like that is everyone’s experience including the referee’s assistant who gingerly and briefly signals for a penalty kick. The referee, Mr Geoff Eltringham walks over to speak to his assistant before a posse of Wednesday players run over to argue the toss like professional footballers always do.  “Get over it” I shout, uncharacteristically. “Haven’t you ever conceded a penalty before?” I’m not sure what’s the matter with me.

Eventually, about four minutes later, the penalty is taken and Conor Chaplin’s kick fails to find any of the important corners inaccessible to goalkeepers and instead it strikes the diving figure of Dawson. What disappointment.  But life and the game carries on.  “He’s a unit, we’re not gonna beat him in the air” says the bloke behind me of ‘Larry’ Flint, still obsessing about the size of the Wednesday defenders as a Wes Burns cross is repelled.  It takes twenty-five minutes, but finally the Wednesday supporters find  their Welsh hymn books and sing “Your support , your support , your support is fucking shit”.  Two minutes later their piety and use of rude words is rewarded as Town ignore the fart-joke aficionados’ favourite player Josh Windass, allowing him as much time and space as he wants to cross the ball for the more prosaically named Michael Smith to twist a spectacularly decent header from near post to far post and into the Town net, and Sheffield lead.

Depression is setting in at Portman Road and only mild relief comes from Geoff the ref showing Wednesday’s Will Vaulks his yellow card for aimlessly wandering off with the ball in an attempt to waste time.   The pleasure this brings is soon lost however as a minute later Wednesday score a second goal when the ball is crossed and then drops to the ground conveniently for George Byers to smite into the goal.  Another goal almost follows as Town get in a muddle and Vaulks has a shot saved by Christian Walton.  A few rows behind me it’s all too much for one bloke who erupts into a tirade of expletives and sounds like he might burst into tears at any moment. A woman with him seems to plead for a more rational approach but this only seems to fuel his ire provoking a full scale ‘domestic’ which ends with what sounds like him telling her “Leave me alone”.   All this and a football match to watch too!

The quiet, even silent brooding of the home crowd ,with the obvious exception of the two having the domestic, is worrying me and as Town win a free-kick for a foul on Nathan Broadhead near the penalty area I begin to sing “Come On You Blues” and “Allez les bleus” in the hope that others will join in to build a crescendo of noise which will carry the team to victory. Ever-present Phil joins in and I think Fiona and Pat do too; I keep it going for long enough for several people to look round fearfully to see who the weirdo is.  Then Nathan Broadhead takes the free-kick and hits the top right-hand corner of the goal net with the ball, it’s a fantastic goal. “Your singing, it worked” says a young girl in front of me smiling broadly amongst the cheers and the joy. Well, why wouldn’t it?

Four minutes of added on time are the prequel to half-time and I go down the front to see Ray and his grandson Harrison. The consensus is that Wednesday are big and physical and do a lot of pushing for which the Geoff the ref has not given us the appropriate number of free-kicks.  Also, until we let Wednesday score we were doing alright; after that it wasn’t so good.  Ray asks about my solar panels because his wife has asked him to ask me about them.  Regrettably I have not come to football armed with the facts and figures, so I tell him I will have to gather the data and let him know, although the main point is that money aside, whilst the solar panels are making electricity no one is having to burn fossil fuels to power my house or car, hence life on Earth will be saved and future generations will be able to enjoy football like we do.

Returning to my seat, the bloke behind me apologises for his language, I shrug my shoulders and purse my lips as if I were French.  I hadn’t really noticed to be honest, and he should probably apologise to Pat rather than to me.  The game resumes. Within five minutes the scorer of Wednesday’s second goal, Byers, is booked for a foul on Conor Chaplin and from the free-kick  Leif Davis launches the ball into the top corner of the goal.  That’ll teach Byers.  It’s a fabulous comeback by Town and without doing much more than taking a couple of free-kicks after getting hacked down by the dirty Wednesday players.  I am at once both ecstatic that we are no longer losing but disappointed that we haven’t yet scored a proper goal by carving open the opposition defence with cunning passes and superior wit. Pat from Clacton reveals that in the ‘draw the correct score’ competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus she has drawn 3-2 to Town.

The second half largely belongs to Ipswich. Corners are won and the ball is passed and seldom comes near Christian Walton’s goal.  Town have shots on goal, but most are blocked and when Conor Chaplin fashions a seemingly spectacular effort, turning and striking the ball athletically in a single movement it seems impossible that it ends up going straight to the goalkeeper for an easy catch.  The usual clutches of substitutions are made, and for once they don’t make much difference. For a short while Wednesday get back into the game as they hurl in some long throws and win a couple of  corners that threaten, and ‘Larry’ Flint finds space to head across goal and then blast the ball over the cross bar.  Today’s ‘sold out’ attendance is announced by Stephen Foster as  29,072 with 2,148 fans from Sheffield although he doesn’t mention that where I am sat there are at least six empty seats within a couple of metres of me.  For a sell-out crowd the level of vocal support for the Town has been very disappointing however, just as it was against Plymouth, with an aire of tortured anxiety pervading the stands.

The game rolls on towards its not fully satisfactory conclusion. Desperation arrives as Pat from Clacton releases the figure of the masturbating monkey from her bag and rubs his head for luck.  Sadly, the powers of this Cambodian or Vietnamese lucky charm seem to have drooped or left him altogether. Sheffield Wednesday substitute their small Scottish captain Barry Bannan for Dennis Adeniran and I remark to Fiona that there have never been many players called Barry, past or present.  We try to think of some, but all I can come up with are Barry Sheen and Barry White, neither of whom were footballers.  At primary school a teacher sat me next to a boy called Barry, hoping I would be a good influence on him, but sadly it was bad Barry who had more influence on me.  A late flurry sees Freddie Ladapo have a shot which looks like it is goalward bound, but it flies past the side of the goal post that doesn’t have a net to stop it and that’s that, the game is drawn.

It’s both a point gained and two points lost for Town today, so it’s best not to dwell on it, we can leave that for the future when it  won’t feel like it matters so much and it’s just history .

Post Script: I remember Barry Butlin playing for Luton Town.

Ipswich Town 4 Morecambe 0

One of the many potentially good things about the FA Cup for supporters of third division clubs, is that if your team gets to the third round or beyond, then Saturday fixtures get postponed and are magically transformed into midweek games under floodlight.  This is a good thing if your re-arranged games are at home, not so good if you feel the need to travel to every away game.   Those good people of Morecambe for whom supporting their football team is a kind of religious devotion must wonder what they have done wrong. Not only is it a particularly cold and damp month, but they live in an out of season seaside resort somewhere up North and now the Football League are telling them that to support their team they must travel the best part of five hours on English motorways  to the far end of the country on a grey Tuesday afternoon in January.  At lunchtime today I was told that the Morecambe FC coach was already in the West End Road car park. When I walked past later I took a look, it had a parking ticket on the windscreen.

I have suffered too today,  I have been to work in the office instead of staying in the comfort of my own home.  But now, at a quarter past four, after almost eight hours of ceaseless toil I am meeting Roly and we are heading for the pub.  By way of a change we are in the Three Wise Monkeys where we drink coffee like the sophisticated metrosexuals that we are, I have an Americano and Roly has some frothy milky looking thing.  We settle in two large arm chairs beneath the stairs and discuss the late Cyril Fletcher, the ridiculousness of BBC tv’s That’s Life,  and football.  I detect a level of pessimism in Roly that I attribute to his long Suffolk heritage.  Coffee can only take a man so far along the path to enlightenment however, and we eventually move on to The Arb to drink beer and eat:  a pint of Lacon’s Encore (£3.90?) and Cajun Chicken Burger (£13) for Roly and a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride(£4?)  and a Scotch Egg with thick cut chips (£9) for me.  Unusually, we sit inside the pub and not outside, probably because we have arrived early enough for there to be a vacant table.  After a while Mick arrives, walks through the bar and out towards the garden, returns, presumably because we aren’t there, and finally buys us both very low alcohol beers brewed by the Big Drop Brewing Company and has a pint of Suffolk Pride for himself. The conversation continues mostly courtesy of Roly who occasionally interrupts if someone else speaks, apologises for interrupting and then carries on, before apologising for interrupting again.  It sounds worse than it is because I don’t have much to say anyway, which is just as well.

When Roly finally draws breath, I take the opportunity to suggest it’s time to leave for Portman Road and that’s what we do. We part in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, Roly strangely and quickly joining a queue for a turnstile into the West stand, whilst Mick walks further on to a turnstile where there is no queue; I make my way to turnstile 60 and the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, which perhaps ought to be in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, but isn’t.  Inside the ground, Fiona is here and so is ever present Phil who never misses a game and the man from Stowmarket, but Elwood and Pat from Clacton are not.  Pat had sent me a message at twelve minutes past three to say she wouldn’t be coming tonight on account of her not fancying sitting in the cold with her arthritic pains; I guess sitting in the cold without her arthritic pains was not an option; like a faithful dog, wherever she goes they go too.

I’ve missed the start of Stephen Foster reading out the Town team, which is a shame, but I join in just as soon as I can, shouting out the surnames of the players as he announces them.  No one has started joining in with me yet,  but I  live in hope.    The game begins, Town get first go with the ball, we win a corner and the ball drops kindly; Freddie Ladapo is more alert than anyone else and scores from close range.  We’re winning and I’ve not really had time yet to notice that Morecambe are in red shirts and shorts with white socks, which I am a little surprised to find is a pretty good combination, and shows just how important socks are.

 Of course we scored in the first minute against Fleetwood a few weeks back and that didn’t end as well as we’d  hoped, so no one’s getting too excited and after a brief bit of shouting and cheering and  even a brief chant,  which fades out like no one knows the words after the first line, the crowd becomes quiet. “ I missed the first goal didn’t I?” says a voice from somewhere  behind me.

Leif Davis breaks down the left flank at high speed and weirdly the referee, Mr Rock, appears to be chasing him.  Mr Rock , what an example he is to all football officials, cut him in half and you’ll find the word ‘referee’ is written all the way through him.  Lee Evans steps forward and from nothing unleashes a shot against the Morecambe goalkeeper’s righthand goalpost. I probably say “Phwoarr!” or something similar.  Meanwhile, the bloke behind me sounds impressed with new signing Harry Clarke.  “That Clarke likes to take the ball forward” he says, before adding “He likes travelling with the ball”  making me imagine him on the bus with a ball on the seat next to him.  Harry Clarke will go on to have one of the best home debuts I’ve seen since Finidi George dazzled us over twenty years ago.

It really is very quiet in Portman Road tonight. There aren’t many Morecambe supporters here but I can hear them singing “Oh when the reds going marching in” . A Morecambe player, Jensen Weir, is down injured after a foul by Wes Burns and silence reigns as if everyone is holding their breath to see if he’s going to be alright; he is. Within seconds of the game resuming another new Town signing, Nathan Broadhead, plays the ball forward, Freddie Ladapo runs around his marker, gets sight of goal and shoots against the foot of the far post.  Normally the ball would defy the laws of physics and bounce out to be cleared by a fortuitously placed defender,  but the alignment of the  planets and stars must be on the huh tonight and the ball spins across behind the goal line and against the net on the far side as if it’s doing a little celebratory dance,  and Town lead 2-0.

Town win another corner, the Sir Bobby Robson stand sing “We’ve got Super Kieran McKenna he knows exactly what we need…” and the floodlights seem to be producing a lot of glare in the lenses of my glasses tonight, it could be because it’s a damp evening or may be my glasses are just a bit grubby.  Town treat us to some quick and attractive passing, running and movement; the working man’s ballet as Alf Garnett called it. “Champagne football” says the bloke behind me to his neighbour, as you would if you were watching Stade de Reims versus Troyes in Ligue 1.  The crowd is very quiet again, almost as if they are in awe of what they’re seeing on the pitch, or are concentrating very hard to understand it.  In the Sir Bobby Robson stand the lights keep turning off and on as if someone is leaning on the switch.  “Ladapo’s got the touch of Messi tonight” says the bloke behind me in an unrelated incident.

In their defence tonight Morecambe have the exotically named Farrend Rawson, a tall player made more conspicuous by his totally bald head and goatee beard. It makes me think how different Flash Gordon could have been if Emperor Ming had also turned out for a third division football team.  “Come On You Blues” is an unexpected if faint chant from the bottom tier of the Cobbold Stand. Another corner to Town, a header from Richard Keogh and a flying save from the talented Conor Ripley in the Morecambe goal , who is probably the chunkiest goal keeper  at Portman Road so far this season.

Thirty-seven minutes are up and Wes Burns escapes down the right wing, crosses the ball and Conor Chaplin shoots low inside the far post to make the score 3-0 to Town. “Ole, Ole, Ole” sings the crowd for all of five seconds before returning to quiet contemplation. There are six minutes of additional time to be played and it’s enough for Chaplin to score again, this time with a typical snap shot inside the near post and the score is 4-0.

As ever I take a half-time stroll to the front of the stand to say hello to Ray, his son Michael and grandson Harrison.   Michael and Harrison have a new van, Harrison has tickets to see Noel Gallagher  and The Zutons and has discovered that ‘psychedelic folk’ artist Robyn Hitchcock is some thirty years older than his wife Emma Swift.  Otherwise, talk is of how many more goals can Town get in the second half.

The game resumes at six minutes to nine and Morecambe bring on three substitutes in one fell swoop, which includes the replacement of Curly Watts with Aleister Crowley, something which the writers of Coronation Street were never brave enough to do.  Also entering the fray is Michael Mellon, one of the few players in league football whose surname is a mis-spelt fruit.

Four minutes in to the half and Mr Rock displays his yellow card for the first time after the sophisticated sounding Jacob Bedeau assaults Nathan Broadhead.  Morecambe’s Crowley is a tiny man who one might think was a child if it wasn’t for his five o’clock shadow.   Nathan Broadhead produces a superb shot which is heading for the inside of the goal net until the huge flying frame of Ripley hoves into view and a Ripley arm extends and pushes it away beyond the post.  Ripley is having a fine game and five minutes later performs a sort of break dance after he slips when making a hasty  clearance from in front of the looming Freddie Ladapo. A little while later he does it again after taking a goal kick.

Almost an hour of the game has receded into history and Morecambe have their first attempt on the Town goal, a speculative near post header than arcs slowly beyond the far post.  Two minutes later and after some fabulous skill from Conor Chaplin, Kayden Jackson sprints away down the right and lays the ball back for Nathan Broadhead to place a firm shot in Ripley’s midriff.  It’s now Town’s turn to get in on the multiple substitution act as the unlikely firm of solicitors Morsy, Broadhead and Ladapo leave to be replaced by Cameron Humphreys, Kyle Edwards and George Hirst.  Fiona reveals that she once had a cat called George.

Just under twenty minutes of normal time remain and Morecambe earn their first corner and  appreciation of their travelling supporters who get their kicks where they can and celebrate disproportionately.  Marcus Harness replaces the excellent Conor Chaplin and Stephen Foster tells us that tonight’s attendance is 21,948 with one-hundred and two from Morcambe, although I have a quick count and can only spot sixty-four.

After such a goal laden first half, the second half has been less thrilling, but it has nevertheless passed quickly.  Apart from already being four-nil up, the crowd has had not very much to sing about in the second half, but the quiet at Portman Road has at times been almost oppressive, as if some people had turned up for a bit of a moan after Saturday’s defeat at Oxford and are now sulking.  As the final minutes roll by and just three more are added, the Sir Bobby Robson stand at last break into song with some celebratory Ole, Ole Oles and a drum can be heard too.  Perhaps the Rio de Janeiro branch of the supporters club were late getting here tonight.

With the final whistle I swiftly depart, erroneously thinking that I will quickly be able to get out of the Portman Road car park and away into the night.  It seems that far too many people had already left and have clogged up the streets.  But I didn’t turn up tonight just so I could get away early, that would be daft.  I came for the football and that’s been excellent, it’s been a night to remember for Town and I doubt Morecambe will forget it either.

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 1 Fleetwood Town 1

Back in the late 1960’s when Ipswich were climbing out of the second division and I was at primary school, I would walk home for lunch most days except on a Friday when, having checked with the head cook, who conveniently was my mother’s cousin, that fish and chips was on the menu, I would stay for a ‘school dinner’.  Like a lot of people of I’ve always liked fish and chips and for lunch today I had a polystyrene box of cod and chips with mushy peas at the Suffolk County Council canteen.  As much as I like fish and chips however, and savour those first few delicious mouths full, by the time I get to the end the batter on the fish and the oil on the chips is beginning to get the better of me; I feel a bit bloated and in a couple of hours it’s going to repeat on me.

Tonight, in a second bout of Friday night football at Portman Road in the space of six weeks, Ipswich Town are playing Fleetwood Town, from the Lancashire fishing port probably once responsible for most of the cod dished up on Fridays in East Suffolk primary schools.  The game has been moved to Friday because there is little hope that most people will be boycotting the Qatar World Cup, and had England qualified for the last sixteen by finishing second in their group, they would have been playing on Saturday afternoon.  Football at three o’clock on a grey winter’s afternoon is great, but an evening match under the bright white glow of the floodlights is always a beautiful thing; it seems to heighten and enhance the usual match day sensations a bit like listening to The Beatles’ best album Revolver whilst sucking on a sherbet fountain or having smoked something illicit.  A night game also provides the opportunity to go straight from work to the pub, which is really living.

I cross the Cornhill as the town hall clock strikes six o’clock and hit “The Arb” as I have decided to call the Arbor House (formerly The Arboretum), no more than ten minutes later, seconds after Mick has phoned me to tell me he is already there, and is thinking that sitting out in the beer garden on what is a cold and intermittently drizzly and blowy December evening might be an overly hardy thing to do.  I point out that we are going to be sitting outside watching football for the best part of two hours anyway. Mick concedes that this is a fair point.  Ultimately, fate dictates that there is nowhere left to sit inside the building and so, having ordered a pint of Lacon’s Encore and a mushroom and chestnut burger with sweet potato fries for Mick and a pint of Tindall’s Ditchingham Dam (£4.10) and  a scotch egg (£4.00) for me, we step outside again into the beer garden,  where we are warded off sitting at one table by an elderly man who says he has reserved it for his family. When the man’s family do arrive, they all sit at the table he’s sat at.  The man then causes confusion by trying to accept an order for a full-stack burger and a half-stack burger with fries which aren’t his.  He manages to eat a chip before his family arrives from the bar and points out that they have only just ordered the food so it is unlikely to be here already; the food is quickly whisked away to the rightful diners.

As usual, our conversation is diverse and as usual includes death, as we speak of the demise a day or two ago of his former partner’s 20-year-old cat Archie, and how long ago it was that I had my dog Alfie put down.  Lightening up matters, I tell Mick that yesterday I had an electric charging point installed at my house and Mick tells me that his now deceased father once had an affair with the village post mistress.  Time passes quickly as we eat our food and then I buy a Dalwhinnie single malt whisky for Mick and a pint of Woodforde’s Norfolk Nog for me (£8.90).  Unhappily the Nog is on the turn, so I swap it for a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride.

By the time we come to leave, we are the only people left in the beer garden, but we carry on our conversation as we head purposefully and full of expectation to the ground.  Crossing the Portman Road car park, I tell Mick of Decimus Burton the nineteenth century architect who planned the centre of Fleetwood and built the North Euston Hotel as a staging post for rail travellers on the way from London to Scotland, expecting that railway lines would not be able to cross the Lake District and that journeys would continue by steam ship. 

Mick and I part in what was Portman Walk where he enters the Magnus west stand and  I proceed to turnstile 61, the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and the delights within.   Kick-off is imminent as I take my seat in the company of ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Fiona, and the man from Stowmarket. But Pat from Clacton is still wheezing having had covid and is staying home to watch the game on the interweb; Elwood is not here either.  Stadium announcer Stephen Foster reads out the teams, introducing Fleetwood as the Cod Army and the game begins with Ipswich getting first go with the ball and unusually for the first half, they are aiming at the goal at the Bobby Robson Stand end of the ground.   Town are rightly in our traditional blue and white whilst Fleetwood are impersonating Arsenal, or Stade de Reims if you are in France and Rotherham United if in South Yorkshire.  Quickly Town are on the attack, win a corner, have a Conor Chaplin shot blocked, have a Freddie Ladapo shot saved and then score from very close range as Luke Woolfenden appears heroically at the far post; the game is less than two minutes old.  As Fiona says,  almost complaining, we haven’t really got ourselves settled in yet, and in all the unexpectedly early excitement we forget to take a photo of ever-present Phil celebrating the goal to send to Pat from Clacton.

In the row behind me someone has missed the kick-off. “Did you see the goal?” he asks. “Some of us got here on time” is the answer, “I’ve been here since the Buxton game”.   For the benefit of someone who missed the goal it is described as an eighteen-yard pile-driver.  A goal up, Town continue to be the better team.  Fleetwood briefly break away in a moment of confusion and the ball drifts past Christian Walton’s far post before Conor Chaplin and Freddie Ladapo hit shots straight at the Fleetwood goalkeeper whose first name is the same as Homer Simpson’s middle name, which I’d like to say is appropriate because they’re both big and yellow, but sadly it’s not true as the goalkeeper is wearing green.   Drizzle sweeps across the pitch and into the front of the stand and people sat at the front are offered transparent ponchos, which could be quite alluring on the right people in the right circumstances.

Freddie Ladapo forces a fine save from the goalkeeper and Fiona says “Quick, you can get your photo taken with Bluey” as the Town mascot moves amongst his people behind us.  Only 20 minutes have gone and Fleetwood substitute Penny’s brother Paddy Lane with Nora’s brother Dan Batty before referee Mr Sam Purkiss, who sounds a bit like he could be a character from a Charles Dickens’ novel, makes an appalling decision.   Wes Burns and Fleetwood’s Josh Earl both slide in on the wet turf to claim a loose ball, Burns gets to it first and races away, but Earl stays down on the ground and Burns is booked.  At this moment I take a strong dislike towards Purkiss and it’s not long before I’m turning to Fiona and asking if she would agree that he looks a bit like Matt Hancock MP.

The crowd had been in good voice when Town dominated and looked likely to batter the ‘Cod Army’, but they quieten down as Fleetwood have a spell of possession before the zeitgeist amongst the home crowd switches again to positivity and the occupants of the Sir Bobby Robson stand chant “Blue and White Amy, Blue and White Army”, at least three times.   Town are worth another goal, but Fleetwood are taking an increasingly physical approach to play and the worst example is when Kyle Edwards is scythed down, but the Hancock lookalike referee doesn’t even give a foul, when a caution for the Edwards’ assailant looked the only possible outcome. 

Four minutes of time added on are announced by Stephen Foster and when Conor Chaplin is given a free-kick after being fouled, the decision is met with ironic cheers from the stands.   Town win a final corner of the half, but it comes to nought and at twenty-five to nine the first forty-five minutes of the game finish.  “You don’t know what you’re doing” chants the young bloke in front of me at Hancock’s double as he passes by and a bloke a few rows behind rants furiously and possibly in a foreign language whilst I boo enthusiastically. I love a good boo at the referee, especially when he looks like a former member of the Cabinet, and even more when he seems bent enough to be one.

After a short pause to calm myself down after all that booing, I take a trip to the front of the stand to speak with Harrison and his dad Michael.  Michael’s dad Ray is away on holiday, cruising somewhere in the Azores.  Harrison tells me he has now heard Robyn Hitchcock’s new album ‘Shufflemania’ on Spotify and his review is positive; I’m not sure I could have spoken with him again if it hadn’t been.  We speak of the World Cup, although I haven’t been watching it, and Michael makes the very good point that this World Cup doesn’t seem like a World Cup because it’s not summertime, and so there is still real Ipswich Town-based football to occupy our minds and to leave the house for.

At seven minutes to nine the game resumes and it’s Fleetwood who are the team who mostly have the ball at their feet, which isn’t what we’ve come to expect at all.  Faintly heard chants carry on the wind from the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand where the small, loyal band of Fleetwood fans are sat, no doubt sucking on Fisherman Friends lozenges to lubricate their vocal chords.  The easterly breeze that buffets the flags on the roof of the stand whispers something about a red and white army. 

“Filthy fucker” bawls a bloke from somewhere behind me as Josh Earl floors Conor Chaplin at thigh height and inevitably Mr Purkiss doesn’t think the foul worthy of a booking. “Shit referee, shit referee” is the verdict of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand before they simultaneously clear their minds of such negativity and worries about cultural appropriation with a burst of “I-pswi-ch To-wn, Ipswich To-wn FC, They’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen” to the tune of the Irish Rover.   They must be in the mood for traditional music tonight as a short while later they’re trudging their way through the dirge version of “When the Town go marching in”, sounding like they’ve learnt it by listening to a 45 rpm record being played at 33 rpm.

Fleetwood are the better team this half without ever having a decent attempt on goal, a bit like they’re being managed by Paul Lambert.  Kyle Edwards is replaced by Kayden Jackson, and Fleetwood’s Dan Batty vainly dives in the penalty area, perhaps to test out just how bad a referee Mr Purkiss is; bad, but thankfully not that bad.  For his trouble Batty is serenaded with a chorus of “Who the fuck, Who the fuck, Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” by the Sir Bobby Robson stand.

Despite not playing very well at all in the second half, Ipswich nevertheless retain the ability to make one match-winning opportunity and with thirteen minutes of normal time remaining Sam Morsy moves forward and passes wide to Wes Burns who releases an overlapping Janoi Donacien and his low cross from the goal line is met by Cameron Humphreys, who bounces the ball wide of the goal.  I clutch the sides of my head like the bloke in Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’.  John Wark would have scored, Tommy Miller would have scored, Matt Holland would have scored; but that was then and this is now, I don’t know why I mentioned it.

Smothering our regrets, Stephen Foster delivers tonight’s attendance figure which is 22,801, of whom a stonking 66 are from Fleetwood, although the bloke behind me doesn’t think there are that many and I will admit to having tried to count them and I came up with barely fifty. It seems that about sixteen ‘Codheads’, for that is what natives of Fleetwood  are known as, have gone AWOL, caught in a net somewhere perhaps, or victims of diminishing fish stocks.

Ten minutes to go and Freddie Ladapo makes way for the rangy Gassan Ahadme.  “This is fucking embarrassing  ,I tell ya” says the bloke behind me as Mr Purkiss makes another characteristic non-decision when Conor Chaplin is pushed over from behind.  But at least Fleetwood don’t look like scoring, even though they are still the ones with the ball at their feet most of the time.  They can pass, but they don’t create any chances, although one goal line clearance has been needed.

Town make their final substitutions and for Fleetwood Dan Batty suffers the ignominy of being a substitute who is substituted. There will be six minutes of added on time and for five of them the same pattern continues. It’s a bit frustrating that Town don’t seem able to keep the ball themselves, when we’re usually so good at it, but it seems pretty safe letting Fleetwood have it because if they don’t shoot they wont score and if we don’t have the ball Fleetwood can’t attempt limb threatening tackles that they won’t get punished for.   Then Cian Hayes seems to realise there is no time left to do anything but shoot, so he strides forward a couple of paces and does so, it’s not a great shot, it shouldn’t be a worry, but it hits someone and arcs up and over Christian Walton onto the far post, off which it deflects into the goal in exactly the way that Town shots that hit posts never seem to.  Fleetwood have equalised.

It’s not much of a consolation, but as the Fleetwood players celebrate wildly there’s one who goes too far, and it happens to be Josh Earl who is sent off by the hopeless Mr Purkiss, perhaps in a mis-guided attempt to atone for his earlier leniency.  Enough time remains for Purkiss to wave away appeals for what seems from the nearby Sir Alf Ramsey Stand like a clear penalty as Kayden Jackson looks to be barged over, but that’s all the time there is, and the appeals are still being heard as Purkiss blows the final whistle.

As I leave the ground I see the disappointment etched on supporters faces.  What had started out like cod and chips with that delicious first mouthful of an early goal has ended like cod and chips, feeling a bit bloated and uncomfortable and knowing it’s going to repeat on me.