Ipswich Town 0 Portsmouth 0

Spring is sprung and as former Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson tells us, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of promotion and sneaking into the play-offs. With such thoughts in mind, I once again park up my trustee Citroen C3 in classical sounding Waller’s Grove, and tread steadily across Gippeswyk Park towards Portman Road and the Arboretum pub beyond, which is now known as the Arbor House.   It’s a gloriously sunny day, which sits beneath a pale blue sky, once the grey clouds have broken up.  The human contents of the Station Hotel spill out onto Burrell Road and in the pub garden Pompey fans revel in the joys of beer and life.  On Portman Road a golden Labrador sniffs for incendiaries and I buy a programme (£3.50) for the first time using cashless payment.  There are far more police about than usual, no doubt because of some strange belief that the followers of today’s opponents, Portsmouth Football Club, are somehow rowdier than your average spectator, but on Portsea Island life is lived to the full.

At the Arb’ I purchase a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.80) and bask in the sun in the beer garden where I am soon joined by Mick. who I haven’t seen since before Christmas.  We talk of Fatty Liver Disease, Home Office funding for the housing of Afghan refugees, conversations with mutual friends, bicycles, people who still think Brexit was a good idea, Baptists, my wife’s twin aunts in Portsmouth, one of whom has sadly died and electric cars.  We don’t talk of Ukraine except to say that it makes us too angry and sad, and we simply don’t know what to say about it.  At some time after two-thirty, having finished our beers, we depart for Portman Road, Mick walking his Raleigh bicycle as we go and finally locking it up in Sir Alf Ramsey Way where we head for our respective turnstiles, Mick making for the posh West Stand seats and me the cheap seats in the lower tier of what I still think of as Churchman’s.  For a second consecutive fixture there are queues at turnstiles 59 and 60, but I’m inside the stadium by ten to three giving plenty of time to use the ‘bathroom’ facilities before taking up my seat.

In the stand, Pat from Clacton is here, as is ever-present Phil who never misses a game, along with his young son Elwood.  Fiona is away on a cruise to the Canary Islands, but her seat is occupied by Mark, a long -time supporter who travels on the coach from Clacton with Pat, but usually sits in the West Stand. Curiously the seats immediately in front of me are empty today.  We will later learn that there are 25, 495 other people here too, each with their own distinct lives, hope and fears and tales to tell, and 1,986 of them are also Portsmouth supporters.

At a minute past three, after knees are taken and applauded the Town begin the game, hoping to rattle the net of the goal just a little to the right and in front of Pat, Phil, Elwood, Mark and me.  Town are back in our traditional blue shirts and white shorts after Tuesday’s flirtation with all blue, whilst Pompey are in a handsome kit of red and black halves with black shorts, it’s a kit with personal significance for me because my wife was wearing an earlier version of the shirt when I first spoke to her back in the 1990’s, and it was the shirt I spoke to her about.

“Hello, hello, we are the Pompey boys” sing the Portsmouth supporters helpfully and politely introducing themselves, as if to hold out a hand and bid us all a good afternoon.  There is a fine atmosphere inside Portman Road today courtesy of the Pompey boys (and girls) and a chorus of “Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up” is soon ringing out and the Sir Bobby Robson stand respond with “Oh when the Town go marching in” sung to the tempo of a funeral march and with a similar quota of joie de vivre.   It’s conceivable that the Pompey fans can’t hear the Town supporters’ dirge above the sound of their own anthem, or it could be that they can only clearly see the impassive faces of the Town fans in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, but our visitors soon break into the old  favourites of away fans at Portman Road with choruses of “You’re support is fucking shit” and its intellectually superior sibling chant “ Is this a library?”.  Moving swiftly into goading mode they produce a rendition of the geographically inaccurate “Small town in Norwich, you’re just a small Town in Norwich” before finishing with “You’re supposed to be at home”. Such is the wit of football supporters. “Never heard that one before” says the bloke behind me sarcastically as I imagine that I’ve been listening to an advertisement for a compilation of football ‘s favourite chants from K-tel Records.

Twelve minutes past three and Town, who have been dominating possession, win the game’s first corner. “Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up” sing the Pompey boys and girls showing that it’s possible to vocally encourage your team when they’re defending as well as when they attack; this afternoon is proving to be an education.   The corner kick is delivered and Luke Woolfenden, looking a bit like a 1990’s Eminem with his bleached blond hair stoops and twists to somehow head the ball away from goal rather than into it.  Four minutes later and Pompey win a corner too, eliciting even more chimes.

Sam Morsy has already had to pause the game once to check on his gammy leg; a legacy (no pun intended, though it’s a pretty good one, isn’t it?) from Tuesday night’s game, but now with seventy minutes still to play, he has to be substituted by Tommy Carroll, who incidentally last played for Town against Pompey on 4th May 1968 (Town won 2-1 at Fratton Park).  Bringing on a player who would be over eighty if he was still alive unsettles the Town team and Pompey nearly score as Aiden O’Brien shoots spectacularly over the cross bar from very close range and then Luke Woolfenden gives the ball away to O’Brien who thankfully misses again, this time shooting wide of the far post.  It’s almost as if Town had been setting up O’Brien to embarrass himself. Town bounce back briefly to win a second corner but then a George Hirst shot has to be saved by Christian Walton. On the left touchline the referees assistant fits very snugly into his pale green shirt, almost as if he’s been vacuum packed.

After twenty minutes, the incidence of foul play is increasing, and O’Brien falls beautifully, arching his back in a graceful curve as he is allegedly fouled by Wes Burns.  If they ever put on Swan Lake at the Kings Theatre in Albert Road, Southsea, O’Brien has to be worth a punt for the part of Odette.  A short while later Pompey’s Louis Thompson is the first player to be shown the yellow card belonging to the largely ineffectual referee Mr Christopher Sarginson, as Wes Burns wriggles in a heap on the turf.

A third town corner is greeted with a song involving repeated Ole’s or Allez, I’m not clear which, from the Sir Bobby Robson stand, but the corner kick is easily cleared at the near post.  The improbably named Mahlon Romeo then drags down Dominic Thompson and holds the ball up angrily in the air as if to say to “But look, I got the ball” when he is called out by Mr Sarginson,  who, I like to think ,tells him that he could equally have come away with the ball if he’d hit Thompson with a long plank of wood or set a dog on him, but it would still be a foul.

“Oh, great ball Bakinson” calls a sarcastic voice somewhere behind me as Janoi Donacien mistakenly passes to a Pompey player.  “Oh Shut up” says someone else, understandably frustrated by the sort of people who inexplicably seem to need a bete noire in every Town team.  Conor Chaplin has a shot blocked and with half-time nearby Cameron Burgess concedes a corner. “Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up” sing the 1,986 in the Cobbold Stand. “Fuck off Pompey, Pompey Fuck Off” answer the Sir Bobby Robson Stand revealing a level of sophistication, wit and humour which goes some way to explaining the popularity of TV’s ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ among much of the general population.  Entering time added on a Conor Chaplin snap shot whistles past the left hand post of the Pompey goal before Kayden Jackson runs on to a through ball and has his shot saved by Gavin Bazunu.  Jackson appears to tweak a hamstring in the process of running and shooting and troops off angrily and dejectedly to be replaced by the oddly named Macaulay Bonne whilst Town take another corner and the three minutes of added on time are played out.

Half-time brings relief and nourishment in the form of a wee and a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar, but unusually I do not go and talk to Ray and his grandson Harrison because Ray is somewhere up the back of the stand with his brother-in-law today.  Half-time nevertheless passes quickly and the football soon resumes along with the pattern of Ipswich possession interspersed with corner kicks and a series of crosses which carefully avoid anyone likely to divert the ball into the Pompey goal.

As Bersant Celina wins another corner, the volume of the home crowd seems to be turned up a notch as if there is either a sudden collective understanding that they can help the team, or an outbreak of collective anxiety. From a cross, subsequent to the corner kick , the ball comes out to Wes Burns, but he wellies it over-enthusiastically and high above the Pompey cross bar.  Pompey are mostly the lesser team in this contest but they retain the ability to threaten occasionally and as half past four approaches a header from Sean Raggett lands on the roof of the Town goal net and the “Play Up Pompey/ Pompey Fuck Off” duet is reprised. It took the home fans a while to think of their response to the Chimes, but now that they have they’re not missing a beat.

Pompey’s Louis Thompson is replaced by Joe Morell and Tyreeq Bakinson seems to carefully place a shot into the arms of Pompey goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu before Bersant Celina wins yet another corner, and Bakinson heads the ball into the side netting, promoting jeers from the Pompey supporters directed at those Town supporters who might have thought the net was bulging from within.  Over seventy minutes have passed and the competitive edge in the game unfortunately boils over as it appears that the Pompey manager, the never-smiling Danny Cowley, gets in Dominic Thompson’s way as he prepares to take a throw-in.  Thompson seems to over react somewhat, but Cowley makes no attempt to appease the offended wing-back and starts to come over all macho.  An unseemly melee ensues and the Sir Bobby Robson  stand are unforgiving as they announce “ Cowley, Cowley, You’re a cunt; Cowley, You’re a cunt”.  To my shame I join in with a shout of “Bugger-off back to Braintree”, but mainly because I enjoy the alliteration and find any mention of Braintree faintly amusing.

The match descends into its final ten minutes as Bersant Celina shoots wide and Tyreeq Bakinson is booked. Meanwhile Pompey swap Aiden O’Brien for the interestingly monikered Denver Hume and   I notice that their bearded Ryan Tunnicliffe has strange hair, cut into a sort of bob like a 1920’s flapper.  Pompey also replace George Hirst, whose name is satisfyingly close enough to Geoff Hurst to make me smile and his substitute is a man with two surnames, Tyler Walker. With three minutes of added on time ebbing away some folk in the home crowd begin to accuse Pompey of time wasting; there are even calls of “Boring Boring Portsmouth”, which are ridiculous and reveal how easily some people can slip into repetitive behaviour; it saves having to think.

The final whistle brings inevitable disappointment that Town haven’t won, tempered by the understanding that this has been a good match and we haven’t lost either, which we often do at home to Portsmouth.   Pat from Clacton makes a swift exit and Mark thanks me for my company;  I reciprocate before heading out into the chill of the early evening for the journey home and the thoughts of Mick Mills through the medium of BBC Radio Suffolk and the car radio.  Life is generally good, although it could sometimes be better.

Ipswich Town 0 Cheltenham Town 0

It’s been a while since I’ve been to watch the Town at Portman Road, having forgone the last six matches thanks to the pandemic.  But it’s been a lot longer since I last saw Cheltenham Town play (7th September 2002 at Layer Road, Colchester to be precise), and it’s a lot longer still since Cheltenham Town played at Portman Road (19th March 1938 in the Southern League).  Add to the weight of history the fact that because I am not in my nineties, I have never seen Ipswich Town play Cheltenham Town at Portman Road, and you have the recipe for an evening of excitement to rival that of the last match I saw live, Town versus Barrow in the FA Cup, a truly awful goalless draw as I recall.  On days like this I don’t miss the Championship one little bit.  What’s being in the third division for if it’s not for playing the likes of Cheltenham Town?  Live for the moment and breathe as deep as you dare.

Rocking up on Anglesea Road at twenty-seven minutes to seven, I park my trusty Citroen C3 on a single yellow line and head for what I call the Arboretum pub, but the current occupiers label the Arbor House.  Eight minutes later I have hurried as quickly as I could through the bar, pausing only to mumble a request for a pint of Lacon’s ‘Jack Valentine’ (£3.80) through my face mask, and now I sit in the peace, solitude and creeping cold of the softly lit beer garden.  Amusing myself with the wonders accessible on my mobile phone I sip my beer and get into the funky groove of the righteous soul music climbing out of the plastic speaker in the corner of the garden shelter in which I’m sat. If I didn’t know I was in Ipswich I’d think I was in 1970’s Harlem as the sounds of Sir Joe Quatermain and Free Soul ((I got) so much trouble in my mind (1973)); Smokey Robinson (Baby that’s backatcha (1975)) and the Bobby “Blue” Band (Ain’t no love in the heart of the city (1974)) move my feet and my boogie body.  Beginning to feel like I’ve stepped back in time and looking forward to seeing the likes of Ian Collard, David Johnson and Colin Harper at Portman Road tonight I suddenly return to the now with the realisation that for £3.80 I could probably have bought everyone in the pub a drink or may be two in 1973, although I would have been a tad underage to have done so.

Leaving my reverie in the pub garden I head for Portman Road, my heart leaping a little as I catch a first glimpse of the glare of the floodlights in the night sky.  I approach the ground along Alderman Road to manufacture that ‘going to the match’ down terraced streets feel.  In the back of the Sir Bobby Robson (North) stand supporters already in the ground appears as silhouettes on the stairs and through the plate glass windows of the concourse.  Having purchased nothing with coins of the realm for over a month I recklessly buy both a programme (£3.50) and a Turnstile Blue fanzine (£1). I walk between the rows of fumy supporters’ buses lined up opposite the old tram depot and approach the Sir Alf Ramsey stand from the Constantine Road gate, eventually returning to Portman Road through turnstile number 60. I’m back.

In the stand I reacquaint myself with Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never missed a game until he caught Covid; they’ve missed me, or at least that’s what they tell me; they’re nice like that. With seconds to go before kick-off Fiona arrives too and I say hello to the man who sits to my right, who I always imagine is older than me, but possibly isn’t.  The game begins; Town getting first go with the ball, but I am quickly struck by how disappointed I am by Cheltenham’s kit. In my mind’s eye, a phrase that reminds me of my favourite Small Faces song, I see Cheltenham Town in red and white stripes, but tonight they sport a sort of knock-off Arsenal shirt with pinstripes and a Raglan sleeve.  The Raglan sleeve incidentally is the least desirable of all the sleeves for use on a football shirt.

Aside from the shirts, the football is fast and frantic, with Wes Burns uncontrollably shooting over the cross bar from close range after five minutes, and Bersant Celina making a weaving run before dipping the ball over the cross bar not five minutes later as Town confidently dominate their sartorial inferiors. The ostentatiously bald-headed referee, Mr Andy Davies, unexpectedly makes me think of the similarly hairless, on-loan St Etienne goalkeeper Paul Bernadoni, before a man behind me with a slightly Northern or Midlands accent annoys with a laugh that sounds like Disney’s Goofy.  “Unlucky, unlucky, unlucky; keep going, keep going, keep going” says an oddly repetitive woman from behind as another Town attack comes to nought and the Sir Bobby Robson Stand show signs of life, breaking into Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child”, to sing as ever of ceaseless fighting despite Norwich having run away, and all apparently and mysteriously because of Boxing Day.   High up in the Cobbold Stand the Cheltenham followers reveal a lack of originality matched only by their lack of memory as they chant “We forgot, we forgot we forgot that you were here” to the tune of Cwm Rhondda. With my attention back on the pitch, I can’t help but guffaw as Cheltenham’s  Reece Hutchinson hurls himself headlong to the ground in a wonderfully unconvincing attempt to cheat his way to a free-kick.  What was I thinking, staying away to avoid Covid when I could have been a part of this rich tapestry?

Ipswich’s dominance is total and is such that two of our three defenders, Janoi Donacien and Luke Woolfenden are seen exchanging forward passes within twenty-five metres of the Cheltenham goal.  Then a deep, angled Tommy Carroll cross is met with a diving header from Conor Chaplin, only for Cheltenham goalkeeper Owen Evans to palm the ball away in front of Bersant Celina, who is taken too much by surprise to attempt to kick the ball back at the goal.  I’m just thinking how we haven’t been able to exploit Kayden Jackson’s ability to run very fast, when he suddenly breaks down the left, but when he comes to cross the ball he seems to have become over excited and at the far post the ball skids off the forehead of Conor Chaplin at such speed that it must have caused a friction burn.  It somehow feels as if everyone is just a bit too eager,  but out of the blue at the North Stand end Christian Walton fails to clear the ball successfully and his scuffed effort falls to a Cheltenham’s theatrically named Elliott Bonds, but fortunately Bonds’ left footed shot sails hopelessly high above the goal.

Town’s onslaught resumes and Cheltenham show the first sign of resorting to non-footballing tactics to relieve the pressure. “Oh, get up you wanker” says a polite sounding woman behind me as a red-shirted defender lays prostrate on the turf following a gentle collision with another bloke in a football shirt.  “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” chant the Cheltonians predictably in a quiet moment, and equally predictably no one responds.  Kayden Jackson delivers a slightly limp shot into the arms of Owen Evans and with the first half half-over, Town win their first corner, from which Tommy Carroll shoots impressively wide to the extent that the ball arcs away from the goal and stays on the pitch; Bersant Celina spots the unlikely trajectory and crosses the ball back into the ‘mixer’ but there’s no happy end to the incident.

 The second half of the first half plays out in a succession of Town corners and missed goal attempts.  Much of the first half football has been as exciting as it’s ever been at Portman Road in the past twenty years, but the plain truth is there has been no one to put the ball in the net.  As the half draws to a close Wes Burns turns to lash the ball back into the area in front of the goal from the by-line, but the ball strikes Hutchinson’s outstretched arm or possibly arms; VAR would doubtless have recorded the crime but instead Town are awarded another corner from which Luke Woolfenden deftly diverts a graceful header very precisely over the cross bar.

With the half-time whistle the Cheltenham players jog hastily and as one from the pitch, as if someone had just said “last one back in the changing room’s a sissy”.   By contrast Town’s players seem either less enthused, or just less sensitive to childish name calling.  It seems more likely they are lost in thought, grappling to understand how they are not two or three goals up. Forgetting about football for a bit I pop down to the front of the stand to talk to Ray, his grandson Harrison and Harrison’s dad.  Behind us stadium announcer and former BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster hands over his microphone to comedian and TV personality Omid Djalili, but sadly his words are completely scrambled by the hopeless public address system. Meanwhile Harrison’s dad offers me what the Tim Horton’s website enticingly describes as a ‘mini donut style cake ball’.  I am warned that it will probably taste of maple syrup; but contrarily it tastes of cinnamon. Whilst not ungrateful, and happy to ingest either cinnamon or maple syrup flavoured foodstuffs I am happy not to be offered another.

Cheltenham Town kick-off the second half by lumping the ball down field in the traditional manner.  Town soon get back to winning corners, but with much less frequency than before and somehow the speed and excitement of the first half has departed, leaving in its place mis-directed passes and an unsporting belief amongst the Cheltenham team that they could break away and score a goal of their own.   I remain full of hope, but either Town have lost their mojo or Cheltenham have worked us out.  The game descends into more of a battle with half an hour to go as Cheltenham’s Charlie Colcutt becomes the first player to enter Mr Davies’ address book for a heinous foul on Wes Burns and then the substitutions begin with Kane Vincent-Young replacing Dominic Thompson and the oddly named Macauley Bonne appearing in lieu of Kayden Jackson.  Cheltenham stopper Lewis Freestone is next to have his name etched in copper plate in baldy-Davies’s book as ten minutes later the Cheltenham number six ruthlessly chops down Conor Chaplin.

One bright spot in the second half is the announcement of the night’s attendance of 21,318, of whom 251 are supporting Cheltenham.  Pat from Clacton announces to Fiona and I that the winner of the Clacton supporters’ coach guess the crowd competition is the squirrel that steals the food from the bird table in her garden. I explain to Fiona that squirrels are very clever animals, but I didn’t know they enjoyed coach travel.

Following speed, excitement and accurate passing, enjoyment now leaves the game as Callum Wright of Cheltenham hangs about too long in a prone position on the turf and draws the vitriol of the Sir Bobby Robson stand for his trouble.  “Wanker, Wanker!” roar the lower tier to Wright’s bemusement as he is soon substituted with Aaron Ramsey.  “How could they tell?” he must be wondering to himself as he looks for hairs on the palms of his hands.  Time is running out and in desperation a chant of “Come On You Blues!” is sent out into the ever more chilly night air.  But the chant is only repeated twice more, almost as if everybody feels a bit self-conscious about shouting for any longer than that.  

The final ten minutes are miserable as Cheltenham players spend an unusual amount of time apparently suffering from cramp, something that I thought only happened in extra time in Wembley Cup finals.  Sadly, the ever-unresourceful Town fans can only think of chanting “Boring Boring, Cheltenham” rather than urging on their own team to victory by turning Portman Road into a frightening cauldron of noise.  Cheltenham do waste time, but what professional football team doesn’t when they are close to claiming a hoped for but not necessarily expected away point?  

“Come on Ipswich, score in the final second” I say to creation as the sixth minute of added on time ebbs away. But the final whistle blows, and it feels a bit like we’ve lost.  That’s the trouble with expectation, especially when you’ve not had any for a while.  Not to worry, I think I’ll still be back again next time.

Ipswich Town 2 Bolton Wanderers 5

This evening I shall be staying in town after the match and along with my friend Pete will be going to the Arbor House (formerly and properly known as the Arboretum) for something to eat and a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.70).  The refreshments however are a mere precursor to the main event, which will see me heading to the Ipswich Transport Museum to witness the wonderful, extraordinary, and brilliant Robyn Hitchcock (formerly of the Soft Boys) perform a selection from his repertoire of over forty years’ worth of groovy tunes.  Robyn is a particular hero of mine who first came to my notice back in 1978, a year that was an undoubted highpoint in my largely pointless existence, when a friend played me the Soft Boys single “(I want to be an) Anglepoise Lamp”.   This evening, explaining how he comes to be playing a concert in Ipswich Transport Museum, Robyn will tell of how in the summer of 1963, as a ten-year old obsessed with the Beatles and trolleybuses he glimpsed Ipswich Corporation’s trolleybus-filled Priory Heath depot from the train line that runs by on the opposite side of Cobham Road.  Robyn’s love of trolleybuses has not abated, and he will confide that playing the museum is a dream gig, and he’s right, it will be one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to.  The last time I saw Ipswich Town and Robyn Hitchcock on the same day was 17th October 1992 when in the company of Pete’s then girlfriend, now wife, Claire, I witnessed a 1-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge before Claire and I ate burgers in Wendy’s on Oxford Street and then travelled on to the Powerhaus in Islington to meet up with Pete. But today, before the pleasure must come the pain.

After three consecutive two-all home draws in League matches, I have broken out of the pattern of driving into Ipswich in my trusty Citroen C3, parking on Chantry, and trying to get a drink in the fanzone but failing.  Today I have travelled to Ipswich with the aforementioned Pete in his fourteen-year-old Ford Focus and am meeting another friend, Mick at the Greyhound for a pre-match pint of Adnam’s Southwold Bitter (formerly more simply known just as Adnam’s Bitter). I am anticipating that the break in habit will bear fruit with a first win of the season.  At the Greyhound Mick kindly buys the pints of beer, so I don’t know what they cost, but I expect they were expensive.   After three-quarters of an hour of intelligent conversation we leave the Greyhound beer garden (formerly the car park) at about twenty minutes to three and go our separate ways on Sir Alf Ramsey Way, Mick to what was the West Stand and me to what was Churchman’s after having both purchased a programme each (£3.50), so that we know the names of the players representing Town this week.  It’s a good job we do too because today we have both a new goalkeeper, Christian Walton, and a new centre-half, George Edmundson and there are three more changes to the team that last played.  I enter the ground through turnstile number fifty-nine because Pat from Clacton seems to be causing the formation of a small queue at turnstile number sixty.  Entering the ground, I chat to Kevin who I know from our time at Wivenhoe Town.

On the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, by the time I’ve drained my bladder Pat from Clacton and Fiona have taken their seats and Ray and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood are here too; Ray’s son and his grandson Harrison are absent however because, as Ray will later tell me they are at Centre-Parcs.  With both teams on the pitch and lined up, Conor Chaplin swings his leg to kick-off the match just as referee Mr Robert Madley reminds him that the teams are about to ‘take the knee’, which Conor proceeds to do, seamlessly transforming his shaping up to kick pose into a kneel as the crowd applauds and sticks it to racist knuckle-draggers everywhere.

Soon enough Chaplin begins the game and within a minute the assembled Boltonians up in the Cobbold Stand are asking “Is this a library?” through the medium of Italian opera.  “You don’t know what a library is” bawls a man somewhere behind me, sounding like the embittered voice of the person responsible for adult education in Greater Manchester.  Bolton win a corner.  The fifth minute arrives and Wes Burns brushes aside the weakling challenge of Bolton full-back Liam Gordon to put in a low cross, which the oddly named Macauley Bonne merely has to side foot into the net, which he does, to give Town a very early lead and confirm that today things will be different.  How we celebrate; the breath of life inflating our balloon-like hopes. “He’s fuckin’ superb, he is” says the coarse bloke behind me of Wes Burns. I can’t disagree, but might express the view differently.  I breathe in the smell of the lush turf as the Sir Bobby Robson stand invoke the spirit of Boney M and Christmas with their oddly un-seasonal and goodwill-free version of Mary’s Boy Child. 

A further five minutes pass, and the right hand side of the Town defence solidifies instead of gelling and Bolton’s Oladapo Afolayan sweeps the ball past Christian Walton to equalise.  The balloon of hope has burst.  “Who are ya? chant the Bolton fans repetitively, for reasons which are not clear. “Who the fuckin’ hell are you?” respond the Sir Bobby Robson stand equally repetitively and for equally obscure reasons, but whilst also possibly claiming short-lived ‘bragging rights’ by including a swear in what is usually a religious tune (Cwm Rhondda).   The Bolton support responds in turn however with what sounds like “Wanky, wanky, wanky, wanky Wanderers”, although I could be wrong, and their thick Lancastrian accents may have disguised their true words beneath a layer of hot-pot, barm cakes and soot.  But there is no time to dwell on this as the eager to gloat Boltonians follow up with renditions of the generally truthful “Sing when you’re winning” and the geographically inaccurate “Small town in Norwich, you’re just small town in Norwich”.  Such is the quick-fire nature of their trawl through these songs that I half expect the PA system to announce their availability on three discs exclusive to K-tel Records via mail-order.

The Bolton fans’ jibes make the time pass quickly until their team’s next goal, in the 18th minute, which arrives courtesy of Kane Vincent-Young’s ill-advised and unnecessary attempt at a tackle in the penalty area. Eoin Doyle scores the penalty for Bolton as Christian Walton appears to dive out of the way of the ball.  Within five minutes Vincent-Young is replaced by Janoi Donacien as he has already been given a glimpse of Mr Madley’s yellow card and no longer looks like a fully functioning full-back.  Despite trailing, Town are not obviously the second-best team on the pitch and the Bolton defence is often desperate, to the extent that both Lloyd Isgrove and the delightfully Welsh Gethin Jones both have their names written down in Mr Madley’s notebook.  A third of the game has passed and once again Wes Burns decides there is nothing for it but to bustle past the full-back and send in another cross from which the oddly named Macauley Bonne can score, but Bolton’s Ricardo saves Bonne the trouble of applying the final touch and Town are level.  “E’s fuckin’ superb” says the bloke behind me of Wes Burns, just in case no one was listening after the first goal.  An hour left and we’ve already reached the usual scoreline for a home league game, at this rate we’re heading for a six-all draw. 

Hopes for a win are revived and the massively improved Sone Aluko heads over the Bolton cross-bar and also puts in a decent cross at the end of a fine move down the right. “E’s ‘aving a good game, ‘e is” says the bloke behind me of Aluko, in case we weren’t sure.  There will be three minutes of time added on, which is more than enough time to score another goal. Wes Burns once again gets down the wing to the goal line and crosses the ball for Macaulay Bonne to direct towards the goal, but his off-balance stab at the ball bounces the wrong side of the goal post.  Quickly Bolton launch the ball forward and with unsporting alacrity the ball is delivered to the feet of Oladapo Afolayan who scores what is almost a replica of his first goal with the Town defence unsure whether to gel, solidify or just melt away. For the first time this season it has become necessary to score a third goal simply to avoid defeat.

Half-time provides time to reflect on confused emotions and to talk to Ray who, as a former full-back, albeit for the YMCA in the 1970’s, has concerns about the defence and the midfield.  Our conversation fills the space between the two halves completely and the game is almost beginning again as I take my seat and I haven’t yet eaten my Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  Ever-present Phil says we’re going to win 5-4 and I remain hopeful too, especially as Finney and Worthington are both out for Bolton and have been for several years.  The one portent of possible doom however, is that the lead in my Ipswich Town pencil has snapped. Three minutes pass and Bolton send a ball over the top to Doyle.  Walton saves a shot from Antoni Sarcevic before the Town defence dissolves into an aqueous mess and Josh Sheehan scores a simple fourth goal.  The bloke behind me vows to leave if Bolton score again.

The bright early autumn sunshine and blue sky seem to mock me with their beauty and question what I’m doing here on such a lovely September afternoon. The attendance is announced as being 19,267 with 553 of that number being supporters of Bolton Wanderers who must be lapping up the additional Vitamin D.  Weirdly given the sunshine, at sixteen minutes past four the floodlights are turned on. “That Evans is a bag o’nails” says the bloke behind me in an unrelated and possibly surreal incident.  A minute later George Johnston scores a fifth for Bolton as the Ipswich defence gets into what Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley could justifiably call a “sixes and sevens situation.” The bloke behind me leaves as he said he would. Loud boos emanate from the mouths of some Town supporters. “It’s a shame innit” says Pat from Clacton sympathetically. “We want six” chant the Bolton supporters less sympathetically.  “We’ve got to go all-out attack now” says Pat to ever-present Phil, although the score line already suggests that if we’re not attacking we’re not doing anything else much either.

Conor Chaplin is replaced by 1960’s signing from Cambridge City Tommy Carroll.  “Is this a library?” sing the Bolton fans reprising their earlier attempts at a Verdi opera, and the oddly named Macauley Bonne hits a post with subtle re-direction of a Hayden Coulson cross.  “What I don’t understand is why he don’t bring Piggott on and play two up-top. That’s fuckin’ ignorance that is” says a voice behind me which sounds oddly like the voice that I thought had left after the fifth goal.  The answer to what he doesn’t understand is that Piggott isn’t actually on the bench.  Ignorance eh?

Town have plenty of possession now, but annoyingly Bolton appear to have gelled and we can’t find a way through.   “Over and in” says Pat from Clacton willing the ball into the Bolton net from a cross, but it’s over and out for a corner.  Soon it will be over and out full stop.  “We can see you sneaking out” chant the hot-pot munchers upstairs in the Cobbold stand, conveniently ignoring the people like me, Ray, Fiona, ever-present Phil, and Pat from Clacton who will resolutely sit in our seats until the inevitably bitter end.  A Bolton shot sails over the cross bar and lands the width of seven or eight seats and a gangway to my right. The bloke in the seat in front of me flinches and ducks away to his left, but it’s still early in the season and he clearly hasn’t gelled with his surroundings.  Seven minutes remain and in what seems like the most aimless substitution of the season so far, Wes Burns is replaced with Kayden Jackson, although I reserve the right to change that view should Wes Burns prove to have been injured.   “Kayden Jackson? We’d be better off with Gordon Jackson” I think to myself, involuntarily remembering both the 1970’s ITV series ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’. Thankfully I didn’t shout it out.

In due course the final whistle sounds to the inevitable boos from those elements of the home crowd ignorant of, or unable to see the truths in the words of Rudyard Kipling’s admittedly sexist poem “If”, about attitudes to triumph and disaster.  I must admit however to preferring Lindsay Anderson’s film.   I leave the Sir Alf Ramsey stand in the company of Ray, who is heading for Fonnereau Road where his wife Roz will pick him up, whilst appropriately, given the nightmare I’ve just witnessed, I head for the car park on Elm Street.   But what do I care, the best of my day is yet to come and I know it.

Ipswich Town 2 Visitors 2

Today is one of the lowlights of my football season; one of Ipswich Town’s two fixtures against the nation’s most odious club, the club that stole the identity of the original Wimbledon Football Club.  If the EFL had even the merest shred of decency they could still own up to their mistake in allowing the theft and expel the thieves from the Football League, but of course they won’t do that.

Boycotting today’s fixture is unlikely to provoke some sort of Damascene moment for the EFL and with my winless team in desperate need of my hope, support and will that they should win, I know that I must make the journey to Portman Road.  On the bright side, two years ago today I was undergoing open heart surgery to replace two heart valves eaten up by Endocarditis and I survived. The saintly people of Basildon hospital pulled me through and I’m here today to take my chances with the pandemic in a mostly un-masked crowd of 18,622, so I have a lot to be grateful for.

Regrettably still not confident of the safety of public transport, I drive to the match thereby hurtling us all towards climatic oblivion that little bit faster. I park my trusty Citroen C3 on Chantry estate and stroll down through Gippeswyk Park (bequeathed to the town by Felix Cobbold), as very occasional raindrops fall upon me, and on other people as well I imagine.  In Ancaster Road a man walks by on the opposite pavement eating crisps from a ‘family size’ bag. I cross the Sir Bobby Robson bridge, from the middle of which all views of the football ground are hidden behind the offices of Suffolk County Council.  I arrive in Constantine Road to a busy scene of coaches and buses arriving from the countryside, and queues of supporters snaking from the turnstiles across Sir Alf Ramsey Way; it might just be the humidity but there is an air of expectation and excitement which I haven’t sensed for years.  A woman in leggings and a droopy cardigan holds aloft a clutch of ‘Turnstile Blue’ fanzines. “0nly a pound” she calls, so I hand her a two-pound coin. “I’ll just get your change” she says. “I should hope so” I reply as she delves into the depths of her cardigan. Unsure of what to do next with a half an hour or more of continued breathing to waste before kick-off, I queue to get into the Fanzone. It’s warm and I fancy a drink.  Arriving at the marquee where I believe beer is being served, I am in time to be turned away with several other thirsty people willing to part with their money, by a woman in a day-glo tabard, whose defence presumably is that she is only obeying orders. Apparently, the policy is no more drinks after two-thirty, which seems rather mean-spirited and pointless.  Feeling like I’m losing one-nil already without the game having even started, I leave the Fanzone and head for turnstile number 59, having first shown my vaccination credentials and, because I have more money than I know what to do with, purchased a programme (£3.50).

Inside the Sir Alf Ramsey stand ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here, but minus his son Elwood, and Fiona, Pat from Clacton, Ray and his son and grandson Harrison all arrive in time for kick-off too. The old dears who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me aren’t here again, but Pat from Clacton has been in touch with her and they’re okay, although they’d been to Lowestoft and he’d had a fall; Pat tells me he’s over ninety.

The knee is taken, proudly we applaud, and the game begins. The visiting team, who sport a suitably anonymous all-red kit get first go with the ball, which they boot in the direction of the Sir Bobby Robson stand.  Behind me blokes with Ipswich accents discuss the team. “We int had a decent centre-half since Berra, have we” says one truthfully.  Three-minutes in and visiting number five Warren O’Hora, whose name makes me think of Star Trek and unfeasibly short skirts, is booked by referee Joshua Smith for a foul on Town’s Kyle Edwards, a player whose dribbling ability might earn him the description ‘slippery’.  Unusually, the visiting goalkeeper gets the opportunity to dribble too today, taking the ball around two Ipswich players in quick succession in his own penalty area.   A lovely smell of pervading damp rises up from the pitch into the stand.  “Your support is fucking shit” sing the visiting fans to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, and they have a point , even if poorly made; but then we are probably complacent, lacking the nervous energy borne of guilt from following a club that is ‘stolen goods’.

The visiting team are dominating possession and their number nine Scott Twine, who scored twice against us last season for Swindon Town is particularly industrious.  Fourteen minutes have passed and Macauley Bonne heads a Wes Burns cross over the bar, in a manner which he perfected in the previous game versus Newport County, although curiously this time he wins a corner.  Two minutes later Bonne atones spectacularly, driving the ball high into the goal net past Fisher from 15 metres on the half-volley, having collected a punt forward from Kane Vincent-Young. Bonne proceeds to create a template for all future goal celebrations, running behind the goal with his arm aloft blowing kisses to the crowd before being consumed by a ball of hugging team-mates in the corner of the pitch.   This is surely where the season starts and as if to mark its birth the Boney M fans in the Sir Bobby Robson stand break out into a chorus of Mary’s Boy Child, albeit with somewhat altered lyrics. 

The goal has lifted the Town players and the crowd. When Lee Evans fails to control a carefully placed kick from goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky, a collective sigh of disappointment is exhaled from the stands as if we’re watching the dissolving, falling embers of a slowly dying firework.   Watching Town being a goal ahead is a giddying experience and it feels like we’re winning by more than a goal to nil. When the visitor’s Ethan Robson strikes the cross bar with a shot the reality of our fragile lead returns, particularly given that it happens at the end of a two man move which began seconds beforehand with a corner to Town.   Over in the West Stand in the seats behind the dugouts I notice a figure in a bright red cagoule; I think of the 1973 Nicolas Roeg film Don’t Look Now.

 It’s nearly half-time. The blokes behind me leave their seats. To my left someone rises from their seat and shuffles along towards the gangway, they will want me to stand to let them past; I want to tell them to sit back down wait for the half-time whistle, but I don’t.

Half-time arrives. It’s been a satisfactory half inasmuch as we’re winning, which is unusual, but it is doubtful that the score will remain 1-0.  I both celebrate our lead and console myself about what the second half may bring by eating a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar, before going to speak with Ray.  We discuss full-backs and the replacement today of Matt Penney with Hayden Coulson. “The opposition don’t get much change out of Penney” says Ray.  “The same couldn’t be said of Adam Tanner” I reply.  

The second half begins very quietly indeed, with the crowd seemingly observing a hushed, embarrassed silence as if someone had said or done something during the interval that was in bad taste and everyone knows about it.  Four minutes into the half, Kane Vincent-Young is booked for a foul on Mo Eisa as he surges towards the penalty area.  The amusingly named Harry Darling sends a free header into the arms of Vaclav Hladky. I imagine a scenario in which Darling is booked. “Name?” asks the referee. “Darling” says Darling.  “You won’t get round me that way” replies the referee.  My childish reverie is broken as Wes Burns strikes a shot which hits the far post and defies physics, as for a moment the angle of incidence does not equal the angle of refraction and the ball deflects out into the penalty area instead of into the net.  It’s the sort of thing to be expected when playing the devil’s club however.

Today’s attendance is announced as 18,622 with 501 from the town whose advertising slogan suggested that it would be nice if all towns were like it, proving again that advertising is mostly about lying convincingly.  “No noise from the Tractor Boys” chant the visiting new town neurotics.  Town’s Luke Woolfenden stretches to tackle Scott Twine and Twine goes down. Woolfenden is booked. “You’re a fucking wanker” bawls a voice behind me at the referee, perhaps because he knows him and does not hold him in high esteem, but more probably because he just disagrees with his decision.  The free kick is some 25 metres from goal in a fairly central position. Twine strikes the ball over the defensive wall and whilst Vaclav Hladky gets both hands to it he fails to stop it squirming into the net; the scores are level, Woolfenden is culpable. 

Matt Penney replaces Hayden Coulson and then Wes Burns is replaced by Tommy Carroll almost fifty years to the day since Tommy Carroll last played for Town (23rd August 1971 versus West Ham United). Although Town have seized a degree of control of the game, still the visiting team dominate possession. “How are we letting them control the fuckin’ tempo” says an exasperated voice behind me, unexpectedly introducing an Italian word after a rude one. His concern is premature however, and soon afterwards Scott Fraser breaks into the penalty box down the left, crosses and Macauley Bonne sweeps the ball past Fisher at the far post.  Ecstasy ensues once again. Eighteen minutes remain and surely Town will win.

Three minutes later Lee Evans is facing his own goal some 30 metres away from it; then, in the style of someone dropping off to sleep he allows Matt O’Riley to rob him of the ball and enjoy a free run at goal, which ends with a simple equaliser as O’Riley wrong foots Vaclav Hladky and rolls the ball into the net.    “Mr Grimsdale!” shouts Evans, although he denies he was ever influenced by Norman Wisdom.

As if to make some sort of unwanted point about lovable losers, the visitors bring on a player with the unlikely name of Charlie Brown, whilst Town replace Scott Fraser with Armando Dobra.  The visitors continue to keep the ball mostly to themselves although Town threaten when they occasionally have it.  But the optimism has evaporated. “Is this a library?” chant the visiting supporters trying to convince us that they’d know what one was like and that they know Italian opera.  Five minutes of additional time are to be played, which gives a visiting player time to hit the town cross bar with a shot, but nothing more happens of note.  The final whistle blows to the sound of boos from those Ipswich “supporters” most likely to make interesting subjects for psychological case studies.  The sweary man behind me is moved to admonish those who boo, so he’s not all bad, even if his swearing is now worse than ever.

I applaud a few players for their efforts as they leave the field, but don’t hang about. It has been a very good game, and we haven’t lost against a team who, it pains me to say it are pretty good too.   I don’t feel I can ask for much more given that two years ago I was undergoing major heart surgery, I’m just glad I was here to see it.