The walk from Portman Road to St Jude’s Tavern in Ipswich is gently uphill, enough so to hone your thirst, especially if you’re slightly desperate for a pint anyway. The walk back to Portman Road is happily downhill, which is encouraging. If it was uphill some people might not bother because watching Ipswich Town this season is an ‘uphill’ experience.
This evening St Judes Tavern, which is a very small friendly pub specialising in proper beer, or ‘real ale’ as I believe it is called is ‘rocking’. The first couple of tables inside the door on the right are occupied by ten or so blokes, mostly in their 50’s and 60’s who have London accents. They talk about Wolverhampton Wanderers, loudly, as if they have been drinking. I am a little intrigued and once I have acquainted myself with a pie and a pint of Nethergate Suffolk County bitter (a bargain fiver for the pair) I step over to them. Etiquette in the 1970’s would have been to throw a glass and a bar stool at them, but football has changed and today I opt for polite questions relating to why they sound like Arthur Daly rather than Benny from Crossroads. They are the London branch of the Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters club and seem very happy to explain that they have been Wolves fans since they were nippers. One of them followed Wolves because all the other kids in the playground supported Chelsea, whilst another had seen them on the telly in the 1950’s. I tell them that I admire them for sticking by Wolves through so many turbulent seasons and that I hope they enjoy the match and lose very heavily. It is appropriate that of all the pubs in Ipswich they should patronise, they chose St Jude’s Tavern; St Jude being the patron saint of lost causes. Mind you, it’s equally appropriate that as a Town fan that’s where I should take my pre-match libation.
A couple of pints of mild and another pie later it is time to make that downhill stroll to the match. Descending Portman Road the stadium lights glow like a beacon, drawing me to them. Seriously? Do I want to do this? Return to the scene of so much disappointment and suffering? Of course I do!
Inside the ground I am greeted by a fellow supporter, older than me and keen to appraise last Saturday’s game versus Brentford. Chambers having a terrible game and the wing backs not getting forward was the explanation for yet another drawn game. Buoyed by this tactical insight I take my seat and the game begins, Ipswich kicking towards the end where I am sat. There’s no great roar of excitement or enthusiasm as the ball starts to roll, which is normal for Ipswich, but in a little while a drum beats in the corner of the North stand and there is some muffled chanting; it only lasts into the seventh minute however and the brooding silence is restored.
To be fair to Ipswich’s spectators, the game soon turns out to be the sort of contest that only inspires brooding and quiet contemplation. Very little at all exciting happens. Ipswich earn a corner and Crazee the slightly weird ‘urban’ Suffolk Punch mascot seemingly tries to rouse the crowd by rhythmically drumming, but he gives up after three short bursts as he does every week; Crazee? More like Crapee. Ipswich have a couple of shots, one of which has to be saved by the goalkeeper and Wolves have a couple too. But by and large it’s dull, with players of both teams struggling to convince anyone that they have previously been acquainted with any game that might be called beautiful.
Half-time under the stand and the video screens show clips of last season’s equivalent fixture, a 2-2 draw. Not sure why they do this; to prove that things haven’t always been this bad or to fool you into thinking that’s tonight’s match up there on the screen and you have amnesia? People sip hot drinks and fizzy beer unhappily and the tannoy plays 2-4-6-8 Motorway by the Tom Robinson Band to get the Wolves fans in the mood for the drive home; an odd choice in 2017 nevertheless.
The respite of half-time is brief and the players file out so that the game can begin afresh. The cheery stadium announcer plays the nauseating “Singing the Blues” over the tannoy to try and stir up some life. “I never felt more like killing myself, ‘Cos watching the Town is bad for your health; Oh Ipswich, sweet death will be a relief”. The half begins and now the match is probably even worse than before. It’s as if the ball is made of slippery wet soap and the match proceeds as a random series of loosely connected events. Boot, header, header, tussle, boot, header, throw, boot, barge, whistle, flick, boot, pass, pass, foul, whistle, free-kick, header, throw, boot, boot, etcetera, etcetera….. Wolverhampton gradually begin to establish themselves as the better of the two teams and whilst not exactly launching wave after wave of free flowing attacks they seem to know roughly that the aim of the game has something to do with the big white sticks joined across the top by a bar.
Despite the drudgery of the Town performance, time is passing quite quickly. The crowd are not encouraging the team, they rarely do unless they’re already two or three goals up, but there is a constant thrum of conversation. It’s no wonder they don’t get behind the team, they’re too busy nattering; are they even watching the game?
In the 84th minute Ipswich bring on substitute Keiffer Moore to signal their desperation. Moore is an enormous centre forward signed for £10,000 from non-league Forest Green who will ‘add height up front’, much as the Post Office Tower did in Tottenham Court Road in the 1960’s. A late free-kick for Wolverhampton hits the cross-bar and the relief of this for Town fans is matched by the announcement that there will only be two minutes added time.
Looking back I bloody well enjoyed that. I will be able to say I was there when Ipswich’s season ticket holders committed mass suicide. Gloom, despondency, pointlessness, aimless endeavour from a bunch of grossly overpaid blokes who turn up in flash suits and even flashier cars; they must feel confused. They are paid thousands every week and thousands of people come to watch them and the whole sapping event is a hopeless waste of time. You wonder why all footballers aren’t existentialists. Of course, Albert Camus was, but then, he was French.