Wigan Athletic 0 Ipswich Town 0

I first travelled away to see Wigan Athletic on 22nd September 1992.  The match was the first leg of a League Cup  tie  and Ipswich Town were newly promoted to what had suddenly become the Premier League,  whilst Wigan were in Division Three where they are once again.  I think I travelled by car with a handful of fellow supporters and after a pre-match drink in a pub which I remember for its faux beams and cheap beer I joined 2,683 others to witness Gavin Johnson and an own goal  prevent defeat  on the night and set up a 6-2 aggregate victory a fortnight later.  That game was at Springfield Park, a fabulous old ground that had a curved grass bank behind one goal.  It was a wet evening so we paid extra to sit in the dry of the main stand.   Wigan Athletic wore the name of tinned-food purveyors, Heinz on their shirts.

Today there is no thrill of discovering an away ground for the first time, there isn’t even the thrill of a four or five hour journey along the congested motorways of England cooped up with three or four other blokes in a modestly priced, family-sized saloon car. Today,  I shall once again have to follow the game on the wireless courtesy of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley and his current away-day sidekick, former FA Youth Cup winner Stuart Ainsley.   Football always dominates Saturdays even if it’s just a matter of listening to it on the radio, but in a vain effort to get more from life I have spent the morning tidying my garden alongside my wife Paulene.  We are serenaded by the croaking of frogs enjoying a writhing orgy of mating in the garden pond. I tried to give them all names, I got as far as Andre and Teddy, but there were too many of them and I couldn’t always be sure which ones were the girls and which ones were the boys.   After a couple of hours of weeding and digging my reward is a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (£13.95 for a case of eight direct from the brewer) whilst Paulene drinks gin and soda water. We sit at a metal garden table trying to spot patches of clear blue sky amongst the mass and swirl of the dull, grey cloud above; it reminds me of watching Ipswich Town.  We soon feel cold and finish our drinks indoors.

Three o’clock arrives earlier than I had anticipated and I miss kick-off as I fiddle with the dial on my retro—style Bush radio, fine tuning it to ensure optimum enjoyment of BBC Radio Suffolk.   Missing the kick-off is perhaps also a symptom of a creeping malaise that advances at the same pace as Town’s promotion hopes recede. Ten minutes of the match have passed. “Not a lot of quality at the moment, on the pitch” says Stuart suggesting perhaps that there may be quality elsewhere; if only we knew where.  “Eleven on the clock and still waiting for the first goal of the afternoon” adds Brenner glumly, although along the A14 and up the A1 Peterborough are already two goals up against Accrington.

“Wigan trying to play football from deep”, ………ball along the deck…….. not seeing a lot of quality are we? ” says Brenner lifting words from virtually every other commentary he’s done this season. The fourteenth minute and there is some interest, “I think the referee is potentially going to dish out a card” says Brenner a little breathlessly.  “ A right booking in my opinion” says Stuart struggling to find the correct words to express what he means.  The name of Wigan’s Thelo Aasgard is written down in referee James Bell’s notebook and the yellow card is probably not so much “dished out” as just held aloft by the referee.   Aasgard becomes a favourite of Brenner as the game proceeds and he will later refer to him as “the 19 year-old Norwegian”; “…looks like a player who could hurt Ipswich Town” continues Brenner, although this isn’t necessarily a guarantee of future footballing greatness.

“If you’re joining us this afternoon after nineteen minutes, you ain’t missed a great deal” says Brenner sounding all chummy and clearly anticipating that malaise I mentioned earlier that makes supporters miss the start of games through sheer disinterest.  Brenner continues describing a passage of play but mysteriously adding the word “goalless” mid-sentence.  It’s as if the absence of goals is playing on his mind, they’re what he lives for, goals are the oxygen of his commentary.   Diverting his attention away from goals Brenner perhaps indulges in a little word play,   “Tilt on the stretch” he says as the Wigan defender whose surname is a verb stretches for the ball.  I look forward to hearing “Tilt on the turn”, “Tilt at full tilt” and “Tilt leaning in” but they never come and I can’t help feeling  Brenner has missed an open goal.

Brenner and Stuart generously begin to look for excuses for the terrible game they are watching. “The pitch looks like it might have a bobble in it” says Stuart; pity it wasn’t  a crevasse or open cast mine I think to myself.  “Not quite been at the races” says Stuart of the poorly performing Gwion Edwards, practicing his football-speak.  Will Keane almost scores for Wigan. “Fantastic defending, Toto Nsiala has kept the score at nil-nil” says Brenner, trying to get as excited about a goal not being scored as he would about one being scored.

Town win a corner; little Alan Judge takes it; Brenner refers to him as “The Irishman”, making him sound like a character in a spy novel.  A third of the game has been played and Town win another corner; “Dozzell just pulls his shorts down slightly as he takes this one” says Brenner unintentionally explaining perhaps why the ball fails to beat the first defender.  Another passage of play ensues with Brenner naming each recipient of the ball in turn but then inserting “nil-nil” mid-sentence.   Town win a free-kick wide on the left. “Let’s get it in an area where the big boys at the back can attack it” says Stuart making the game sound like a playground free for all.  Stuart praises Andre Dozzell for winning the free-kick; “He done well” says Stuart, drawing attention to both the growing culture of inclusivity that now prevails at the BBC and the death of received English.

“Stretching to clear is Tilt” says Brenner smiling audibly. “Still not a great deal to report” he continues. “There’s not a plan” adds Stuart.  “As the sun comes out in Greater Manchester” says Brenner in the absence of anything more interesting happening; “Ball along the floor” he continues, innovatively not using the word ‘deck’, when he actually means ‘ground’.  “One minute of added time” continues Brenner; “I’m fairly happy about that” he adds laughing with Stuart; not it seems because he’s busting to go to the toilet,  but rather because the match has been so dire.  I like the idea however that he is desperate for a wee having had the proverbial pre-match skin-full; he might enjoy the match more if he had.

I catch part of Stuart’s half-time summing up before I head to the kitchen to put the kettle on. “Really tough to watch” is Stuart’s synopsis. “I hope Paul Cook hasn’t sent them out to play like that” he muses. Stuart goes on to tell us how he feels sorry for Freddie Sears who is being made to play out of position.  At times like this it seems that all football managers are idiots who don’t know what they are doing.   The broadcast returns to Graham in the studio, “Phew….that was hard going” says the anchorman.  I take solace in a cup of green tea and two ginger Christmas Tree biscuits from a job lot acquired at a knock down price because its nearly Easter.

The second half begins and Brenner tells us that Town are playing from right to left in their “burgundy and petrol blue kit”, it’s a beautiful way to describe dark red and dark blue, worthy of the Dulux colour chart and conjuring images of limpid, full-bodied wines and Molotov cocktails.  Luke Woolfenden we learn, has replaced Kane Vincent-Young for whom this was only his second match back in the team after a long absence due to injury.  “May be they’re just being cautious; let’s be positive” says Stuart fearing the worst.  It will later transpire that Kane now has a hamstring injury.

“Good pressure this from Wigan, early doors in the second half” says Brenner airing his favourite football-speak phrase in all the world.  It becomes apparent that Wigan have improved with their half-time tea but Ipswich haven’t. “It’s just the basics of football Ipswich are struggling with at the moment” says Stuart describing how straight from kick-off Town aimlessly lumped the ball forward.  It’s an illuminating comment from Stuart, but I would quibble with his reducing the importance of the basics by describing them as “ just the basics”. 

The commentary and thereby the game, trundles along.  “Dozzell along the floor” says Brenner telling us what we knew, that Andre Dozzell doesn’t have wings, before going onto to trot out some more old favourites.  “Paul Cook, gloves and beanie hat on, just down below us”.  “Always going to be an easy one for the big Czech to catch”. “Edwards wafts his right leg at the ball”.  “So, so disappointing from Ipswich Town”.  Stuart meanwhile is strongly advocating that Town should be  “ getting a foot on the ball”, from which I think he means we should simply be passing it to one another, not standing about like the Suffolk Punch on the club badge.

 “ Big chance missed by Wigan” says Brenner as Funso Ojo skips past Luke Chambers but fails to get the ball past the combined efforts of Toto Nsiala and Tomas Holy.  I notice from the commentary that Wigan have a player called Lee Evans and I ponder how good it would be to have an Eric Morecambe  at left-back or Stan Laurel up front.  I emerge from my reverie to hear Brenner say “Flat, disappointing” he is no doubt describing Town’s performance again, but I surmise that if disgraced former sky  TV presenter Richard Keys or Canal Plus hack Pierre Menes had said those words they would probably be referring to a female footballer’s chest.

“Here come Wigan on the prowl” says Brenner, making them sound like a team of perverts; “The burgundy shirts streaming back”.  Kayden Jackson and Josh Harrop replace Freddie Sears and little Alan Judge.  “A nice easy catch for Jones the goalkeeper” says Brenner, making me think of Ivor the Engine and Jones the steam.  Wigan threaten to break away but Luke Woolfenden trips Thelo  Aasgaard and is booked.  “It’s a good foul from Woolfenden” says Stuart revealing a weak grasp of morality which he had until now kept well hidden.  “Not really a game that deserves a goal” adds Brenner a short while later, making his own contribution to the philosophical theme that is developing.

Armando Dobra replaces Gwion Edwards. “Can he be the creative spark that turns one point into three?” asks Brenner providing his own creative spark to the commentary and inspiring thoughts of alchemy, magic and the occult, with me if no one else.   “He’s small, he’s diminutive. He’s got good little feet” adds Stuart, introducing tautology and podiatry into the already heady mix.  “It feels like a defeat watching this” says Brenner, bursting the balloon of hope and banishing the dream in a puff of smoke.

The game enters the final four minutes of normal time.  Luke Chambers is booked by Mr Bell for a petulant foul. “Frustration” opines Brenner.  “He’s had 86 minutes to show his frustration in other ways” responds Stuart poignantly; it’s a retort that’s almost worthy of applause; “Pretty good” I say to myself in the style of Larry David in ‘Curb your enthusiasm’.

“Are you finding it hard to stay awake Stuart?” asks Brenner injecting an element of levity into proceedings. Suddenly however, Brenner’s voice takes on a sense of urgency and excitement “Norwood heads the ball into the box…”, but that’s as exciting as it gets.  “Been a while since Town scored a late decisive goal” says Brenner with a hint of resignation. “A boring afternoon it has to be said” and Brenner says it, because he has to.

Perhaps feeling insulted by the poor spectacle that the two teams have produced, the fourth official declares that there will be six minutes of added on time;  I feel like I’ve been transported through time and back to school where I have been put in detention.  Nothing of any note happens in the additional six minutes of time added on for inept play and the final whistle brings nothing but relief.   “No plan, really difficult to watch” is all of Stuart’s summary that I need to hear. I switch of the Bush radio and cast all thoughts of Ipswich Town from my mind, although tomorrow I shall wear my T-shirt which bears the words “FC IT…where’s the pub?”  To add insult to injury the pubs are of course all shut.

Ipswich Town 1 Plymouth Argyle 0

Ipswich Town ended a sequence of defeats and general under achievement with victory at Home Park, Plymouth on 6th December last year, just three months and a week ago.  It doesn’t seem a quarter of a year ago, let alone a third of a football season since that victory, but oddly it seems that time has simultaneously both speeded up and slowed down since the start of the pandemic and the lockdowns.  The experience finds me in reflective mood this morning and I dull the pain by steam cleaning the shower, ‘hoovering’ the kitchen and filling a  five year old hole in the kitchen ceiling, which was created when a new light fitting was installed. 

Yesterday evening I signed up to witness the third game of the Paul Cook era at Portman Road on the ifollow, and without crossing the threshold of my semi-detached suburban home, my Saturday afternoon is consequently mapped out for me, as every Saturday afternoon has been since some time back in August.  Not being a particular fan of television since the demise of Quiz Ball in December of 1972, I was surprised to find that at first I quite enjoyed the novelty of seeing the Town courtesy of the cathode ray tube in the corner of the living room, or it’s flattened, somewhat swollen, wall-mounted, modern equivalent.  Town had never been regular performers on the telly, even back when we was fab in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, but now all of a sudden we are; it’s just a shame we are no longer worth watching as entertainment but only as an exercise in eternal optimism, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.    Today therefore it now feels like mere habit that makes me log on to my lap top as three o’clock approaches.

By way of a change today I shall be watching the match against Plymouth in the kitchen.  It has been agreed that the living room is the room in the house that is most like Wembley Stadium, and therefore best suited to my wife Paulene watching her team Portsmouth play Salford City in last season’s final of what used to be the Associate Members Cup, but is now merely an occasional playground for the youth of the Premier League clubs and a vehicle for the peddling of takeaway pizza.  By Paulene’s own admission it is a particularly pointless fixture because whoever wins the enormous slice of tin-plated pizza or whatever the trophy now is, will get to keep it for just twenty-four hours because this season’s final between Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers is to be played the very next day.

As the ifollow transports me to Portman Road, the quality of the transmission is at first poor and creates the impression that the sound engineer, if there is one, is a devotee of the late Norman Collier. Happily the technical fault is only temporary and the airwaves are crystal clear as I hear BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley ask Mick Mills how he assesses Ipswich Town’s play-off ambitions.  Reassuringly Mick presents the argument that it’s best to finish sixth in the league table.   “If you hit sixth spot anything can happen from that position” says Mick raising the possibility that sixth position in League One is some sort of portal to another world where Luke Chambers captains England to the third-place play-off in the World Cup, Paul Cook has a head of hair to rival that of Carlos Valderrama, Marcus Evans offers Lionel Messi whatever he wants to see out his playing career at Portman Road and the Football Association is run by a race of highly intelligent squirrels.

The game begins and in making a minor adjustment to the position of my lap top I accidentally press the off button.  Quickly turning the lap-top back on the picture returns sans commentary just as an Alan Judge free-kick whistles over the Plymouth cross bar.  The resultant corner kick is cleared and sound is restored just as Brenner speaks poetically of a throw-in being awarded against a Plymouth player as the “ ..ball skims over the laces of his right shoe”.   Brenner has many quirks which make his commentary satisfyingly unique and his insistence that the players are wearing shoes and not football boots is just one of them.   Down on the touchline meanwhile, we are told that Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe is “…barking out instructions”, although there is no word from Brenner about his footwear, but we can guess he’s not wearing Hush Puppies.

It is only the fourth minute of the game and Town score courtesy of an ill-advised back pass by Adam Lewis. “Troy Parrott couldn’t believe his good fortune” says Brenner, obviously not really having any idea what Mr Parrott does or doesn’t believe but making something up which he thinks sounds plausible. “That is a dream start” says Mick, giving us an insight into how retired professional footballers still think about the game even in their sleep.

Without warning ,the ifollow pictures stutter and I imagine living rooms and kitchens across Suffolk in which Tractor Boys and Girls point at their lap-tops and TV screens as one and chant “ You’re not very good, you’re not very good, you’re not very, you’re not very, you’re not very good”  to the tune of Knees Up Mother Brown.  Back at Portman Road, Plymouth’s Panutche Camara does something to inspire Brenner to say “Camara, a bit of a live wire customer”.  Unusually for a player not from Britain, Brenner makes no reference to Camara’s nationality ; Camara  is from Guinea-Bissau; I can only guess that he can’t decide whether someone from Guinea-Bissau is a Guinean or a Guinea-Bissauan.

Plymouth Argyle are poor, their play consisting mostly of mistakes and passing to Ipswich players.  Sympathetically, Myles Kenlock makes a couple of mistakes of his own, which is thoughtful of him. Andre Dozzell is “…trying to pull the strings in midfield” Brenner tells us just as Dozzell turns attack into defence with an incisive 20 yard pass back across the half-way line to  centre-half James Wilson .  It’s the tenth minute and Kayden Jackson is clean through on goal, he must score!  He doesn’t.  “That was a real chance for Kayden Jackson” says Brenner “Was it” says Mick using a little heard affirming intonation   “Totally dominant, Ipswich Town – can’t remember the last time I said that in a game” says Brenner, and no one else can remember either, although if they can they should send their answer on a postcard to BBC Radio Suffolk or text 81333 and as Brenner would tell you, start the message with the letters SFK.

In an idle moment Brenner tells us of when Plymouth last won at Portman Road; it was eleven years ago and Paul Mariner was their manager and he gave his coat to someone in the crowd as a memento but left his glasses in the pocket and had to contact the club to get them back.  Remembering the story too, Mick tells it again but with more words and added superfluous detail.  When Mick has finished the story Brenner tells us that he remembers it too, almost as if he wasn’t the one to tell us about it in the first place and that we wouldn’t remember that.    A short while later Brenner once again tells us again that Andre Dozzell is trying to pull the strings in midfield.

The match is unusually enjoyable and Town’s attacking play gives Brenner the opportunity to try out some football-speak seldom heard in his recent commentaries.  “Trying to get Jackson on his bike” says Brenner as a long ball up the wing drops off the end of the pitch.  Another similar attempted pass on the opposite side of the pitch has little Alan Judge not getting to the ball either , “ …his legs weren’t going to get him there” says Brenner, perhaps implying that he should have borrowed Kayden Jackson’s bike.

A quarter of the way through the game and with Town still “…by far the better side, completely on top” Brenner looks ahead to the forthcoming Town games at Portsmouth and Wigan, which he rather weirdly refers to as “Paul Cook derbies” on the basis that Paul Cook previously managed both clubs; it’s a disturbing insight into how the mind of a football commentator works.  Mick Mills meanwhile keeps his commentating firmly based in reality and rather than indulging in such nonsense he tells us how twice Myles Kenlock has saved Town by dealing with crosses in central positions that a mysteriously absent   James Wilson should really have cleared.  “Myles Kenlock has dealt with them really, really well” says Mick delivering praise which would smack of nothing more than solidarity amongst left-backs if spoken by any lesser man.

Almost a third of the game has passed and Plymouth win their first corner, which is played deep to what Brenner rather indelicately and peculiarly describes as “the backside of the box” .  The sun comes out in Ipswich and it sounds like Brenner refers to Troy Parrott as Troy Carrot, but it might be my hearing or the poor quality speakers on my Sharp Aquos television set,  which is connected to my Lenovo lap-top by an HDMI lead – or so I’m told.

After a flowing Ipswich move almost results in a second goal, Flynn Downes goes down injured. In the ensuing hiatus in play Brenner asks Mick what are his thoughts on Ipswich Town’s season.  “Ipswich?  This season?  Says Mick,  sounding somewhat incredulous.  Mick is about to take us on a footballing journey back to last August, but it quickly It transpires that Brenner hadn’t meant to ask about the whole season, only about this game.  “Oh goodness” says Brenner with a note of panic in his voice “Don’t start re-capping this season”.  It’s a moment that perhaps reveals that Brenner thinks Mick could have talked for England as well as playing football for them.  Flynn Downes goes off to be replaced by Teddy Bishop. “Downes looks really down” says Brenner  possibly but probably not making a mildly tasteless pun.

Three minutes of added on time are to be played, Brenner tells us that Plymouth are in white; it seems a bit late to be  telling his BBC Radio listeners that; without Brenner’s guidance they have probably all been imagining Plymouth in a range of materials, colours and designs from puce-coloured chintz to flesh-toned gingham taffeta.  It seems that Plymouth have also worked out which colour shirts they  are wearing and according to Brenner “ You wouldn’t rule out an equaliser”.  But they’ve left it too late and Mick’s half-time verdict is that “Yes” Town deserve their lead because of the length of time that they dominated the game.

Half-time tea and ginger Christmas tree biscuits follow.  Paulene appears looking sad and dejected; the Portsmouth versus Salford game is absolutely awful and she has had to turn the sound down to avoid the terrible commentary with its constant hackneyed, fawning references to the former Manchester United players who are bankrolling Salford City. For Paulene the weekend will only get worse with Pompey destined to lose a penalty shoot-out and their hamster-like manager Kenny Jackett resigning in a fit of self-loathing.

After scrutinising the half-time match statistics and enduring an advertisement for the ifollow which, if it were true, would make you wonder why anyone ever went to a real game because watching football on a lap-top or tv screen is clearly far, far superior, the game begins anew.  Kayden Jackson is soon hurt and is according to Brenner, “ on all fours”, it’s a pose that he seems to like to report whenever he can.  Mick then embarks on an extremely lengthy description of a cross-cum-shot from Myles Kenlock; Mick’s eventual conclusion is that Myles didn’t know what he was trying to do.

After seven minutes of the second half Town should be 2-0 up, but Kayden Jackson’s pass from the by-line is met with a simply awful attempt at a shot from little Alan Judge who is about 10 metres from the goal.  Six minutes later and completely out of character Brenner refers to a Plymouth player (Conor Grant) as wearing a boot, not a shoe.  Plymouth’s Niall Ennis is replaced by Luke Jephcott . “ Strong boy,  he knows where the back of the net is” says Brenner, now heavily into  ‘Ron Manager’ mode.

Amazingly, neither Mick, nor Brenner says it but the match gives every impression of being a game of two halves.  “Plymouth….are in charge of this game” says Mick.  Substitutions are made.  Hardie for Lewis for Plymouth; Skuse and Drinan for Parrott and Jackson for Ipswich.  “ Positive move by Plymouth, sensible move by Ipswich” is Mick’s well considered opinion.  Brenner asks Mick what he thinks of Cole Skuse.  “ I like Cole Skuse, I like Cole Skuse” says Mick repeating himself for emphasis and possibly because all he could think of to say was the same thing twice; but no one will notice, he’s on BBC Radio Suffolk, not Radio 4’s Today programme.  Mick speaks of the criticism that Cole Skuse receives from some sections of Suffolk’s football watching public.  “ I don’t understand; I do understand it”  he says, succinctly summing up the mind boggling complexities of the situation.

As Mick takes a rest Brenner tells us what Paul Cook is wearing, “ a hooded coat zipped up to just below his chin”, he’s also wearing a beanie hat . I feel reassured to know that our new manager is suitably dressed for a windy March afternoon  in which there have been occasional heavy showers.

Plymouth are dominating possession. “ Watts along the deck” says Brenner describing a pass along the ground in a manner appropriate to a team from the city that contains Western Europe’s largest naval dockyard.  Plymouth’s McCloud hits a half volley from 20 odd metres having received a pass form Town’s Luke Chambers; it’s an easy catch for Tomas Holy.  “ Wind and hail” says Brenner as the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Town win a corner after a passing move started by Cole Skuse.  “ Skuse read it lovely” says Mick like a true footballer as he describes Cole’s interception which pre-empted the passing move.  “ I do worry about Plymouth getting themselves level in this game” says Brenner showing uncharacteristic bias to the home team.  Plymouth still dominate possession but Ipswich are winning corners on the break.  Camara is unmarked and heads wide of the far post for Plymouth.  “That was a let off for Ipswich Town” says Brenner ,not telling a word of a lie.  The oddly named Keanan Bennetts replaces little Alan Judge and Jack Lankester replaces Gwion Edwards.  Reeves and Lowe replace McCloud and grant for Plymouth. Twelve minutes of normal time remain.

Town win a further corner which is played short. “Strange corner” says Mick as the ball is passed around the box and crossed in from the opposite side.   Town continue to play ‘on the break’. “It’s a strange way for a home team to play “ says Mick, sounding a little baffled.   The game enters the four minutes of time added on for assorted stoppages and the substitution of nine of the twenty out field players. The oddly named Keanan Bennetts gets the chance to run at the Plymouth defence but concludes what is not much more than a gentle trot with a limp cross to no one in particular.  “ He just completely wasted it for me” says Mick sounding a little hurt.  “ Town in the top six as things stand” says Brenner triumphantly, before revealing a previously unknown interest in and implied knowledge of the larynx  “Paul Cook shouting, not doing his voice any good at whatsoever”.

With Town in possession of the ball the game ends and victory is confirmed. “It’s been a fabulous day for Ipswich “ says Brenner getting a completely carried away.  A more cautious Mick Mills is “Happy with the result, but not the performance” and questions why Teddy Bishop “doesn’t do things in the game”.    It’s a good question and one which might be asked of nearly all Town’s midfield players and forwards.   We haven’t finished sixth yet.

Ipswich Town 1 Sheffield United 1

The first time I saw Ipswich Town play Sheffield United was in April 1972; the result was a goalless draw but I remember the game not just because Sheffield had a character from Beatrix Potter playing for them (Len Badger), but because it was also the first time I had suffered the pain, shock and hurt of seeing a Town player sent-off. The late Colin Harper was that Town player; he had protested too much to the evil Gordon Kew who had awarded a penalty to Sheffield United; but Colin laughed last as Laurie Sivell saved the kick, because back then right was on our side, sometimes. At the end of the game the pitch was pelted with cushions by spectators in the West Stand who were aiming at Mr Kew and his police escort. It is now hard to believe that such passion could be shown by people in what is probably Portman Road’s most comatose of stands. The up-shot of this reminiscence however, is the admission that I have never much liked Sheffield United.

optional signals

But today is a beautiful, bright winter’s day and it’s almost Christmas, so in the spirit of goodwill towards all men it would be very bad manners not to put my ill-will towards The Blades on hold. Feeling better for that loving feeling I arrive at the railway station to find that the 12:57 to Ipswich is delayed by six minutes due to ‘signalling problems’. I text my wife Paulene because she likes to know of all the small misfortunes that befall me and because she likes to have her already low opinion of Greater Anglia railways reinforced whenever possible. Paulene texts me back with a series of emojis; her interpretation of potential ‘signalling problems’.

simplicity creations

As I wait for the train I enjoy the low winter sun; on the railway platform a sign advertises the services of The Samaritans, they are “in my corner” should I need them; but I’m not a boxing fan and the words don’t really work as a footballing analogy. The arrival of the train soon shakes me from my reverie. I sit on the grey moquette by a window and look about the carriage. The face of an ugly old woman with a big nose leers down at me from a poster advertising Simplicity Cremations, their strapline being ‘making funerals less of an undertaking’. I’m not sure when humour became ‘a thing’ in advertising for undertakers; I think of an alternative strapline with more of an accent on the ‘simple’ cremation “Light the blue touch paper and retire”. It is interesting that an undertaker would think that train passengers’ thoughts should turn to their own deaths, although when delays are really bad I guess people do begin to wonder if they will ever make it home and therefore begin to make plans.

christmas club shop display

Arriving at Ipswich there are two Christmas trees on the railway station concourse and two policemen guard the doors. A string of lights fail to make the Station Hotel look very festive; I hurry on towards Portman Road where there is little festive feel but for one steward in a red and white hat. For a reason I find hard to explain I buy a programme in the club shop, but it was worth it to see the display of Christmas themed soft toys and assorted tat.

Round the corner in Sir Alf Ramsey Way I pause to hear the Salvation Army band strike up with ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’. Beginning to feel a lot as if it’s Christmas I head for St Jude’s Tavern to enjoy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which today is Maldon Brewing Co’s ‘Five Gold Rings’. I sit and read the programme, occasionally joining in with the conversation of the match-day regulars who are sat around the table next to me. I enjoyed the Match Day Special but variety is the spice of life and from my second journey to the bar I return with a pint of Maldon’s ‘Winter’s Ale’ (£3.20) and finally I drink a half of Earl Soham Brewery’s ‘Sir Roger’s Porter’ (£1.70). Glass drained I walk down Portman Road with one of the St Jude’s regulars with who I had been sitting, I think his name is Ian; he is a bald man who currently has a limp, I discover that like me he has a penchant for French and Belgian football. I silently envy him his visits to Royal Antwerp and Aalst.
Portman Road is not overly busy, it’s close enough to 3 o’clock for most people to be already inside the stadium and by now only those who have struggled against Christmas crapulence to leave the pub are making their way through the turnstiles. I enter the Sir Alf Ramsey stand through turnstile No3 and bid the operator a cheery Christmas greeting. I make my way, via the gents, to my seat next to Elwood and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and just in front of Pat from Clacton. I ask Pat if she enjoyed Tina Turner The Musical, which she went to see yesterday, in London. She did; although it was the understudy who played Tina. I hand a Christmas card to Elwood, to give to his dad, who tells him to put it in their bag.
The game begins with Ipswich as ever in their blue and white kit, which this season has sadly been tainted by the ugly logo of an organisation peddling on-line gambling. Without good reason, unless they are showing solidarity with France’s gilets jaunes, Sheffield United eschew their proper colours of red and white striped shirts and black shorts in favour of luminous yellow shirts with black shorts. I keep a look out for piles of burning tyres and pallets but fortunately there are none to be seen as Town get the ball rolling towards me, Pat, Phil and Elwood. Another good afternoon’s work from Zero the sniffer dog.

“Oh when the Reds, Go marching in” sing the Yorkshiremen in the Cobbold Stand “Hark, now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” is the riposte from the Sir Bobby Robson Stand and I wonder if the Salvation Army have been co-opted into the Blue Action supporters group. The football is fast and furious but it’s Sheffield who are fastest. Town may have to bide their time this afternoon, Sheffield United look quite good despite their poor choice of shirts. In the Sheffield corner of the Cobbold Stand the Okey Cokey breaks out and all around the stadium is a sprinkling of Santas and people dressed as elves. At seventeen minutes past three Sheffield United ‘score’ but the ‘goal’ is disallowed, something to do with a breach of the offside rule it would seem. “Down with the Wednesday, you’re going down with the Wednesday” sing the Sheffielders, presumably not to their own team, although if not it doesn’t seem a very charitable thing to sing, given the time of year.
It’s almost twenty five past three when Town at last have a goal attempt of their own as a cross from the right is met by the head of Ellis Harrison, a man who until today I did not realise had such impressive calf muscles. The header is caught easily by the Sheffield goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Six minutes later a deep cross from Town’s Gwion Edwards drops into the edge of the Sheffield penalty area, Freddie Sears is running onto it, there is an audible gasp of expectation from the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, but Henderson gets there first, giving him cause to dance and sing. Town then win a corner; Luke Chambers launches himself towards the goal like a human missile and heads the ball solidly into the roof of the net. The ‘goal’ however is disallowed by referee Mr Woolmer. “What the hell was wrong with it?” calls the old boy behind me, showing admirable bias towards his team. Unfortunately, the human missile took out a few too many Sheffield players in the course of its rather flat trajectory.
Having disallowed a ‘goal’ Mr Woolmer seemingly develops a taste for enraging the home crowd and awards a free-kick against Ellis Harrison when it’s likely he was the player who was fouled and when Town are heading towards the Sheffield goal. The crowd is at once energised. “Who’s the wanker in the black?” sing the Sir Bobby Robson Stand in a rare display of unified voice. I volunteer the information that the wanker in the black is Mr Andy Woolmer, a short balding man who every other step has to skip or jump to keep up with the longer strides of his assistants as they walk on and off the pitch…like Private Baldric on the opening credits of Blackadder Goes Forth. This is the fourth consecutive home match for which Town have been given a ‘short ref’. I think its about time we had a lanky one.


Perhaps it is just Ipswich’s good fortune, perhaps the Sheffield players are unnerved by the better than usual vocal support for Ipswich or by the use of the word ‘wanker; perhaps they have heard about the cushion throwing incident in 1972, but they proceed to muck up several passes leaving Ellis Harrison with a run on goal and space to shoot. Ellis shoots, Ellis scores. I get a perfect end on view of the ball swerving wonderfully inside the netting just behind the goal post; it’s a thing of beauty, it’s bloody marvellous. Joy abounds.
There are eight minutes until half time. “I hope we get to half-time without…..” says the old boy behind me, his voice trailing off as if he cannot bear to utter the words to complete the sentence. Half-time arrives and Town are still winning. It has been a struggle but in the last ten minutes we came good, in part thanks to the diminutive Mr Woolmer’s ability to stir up the supporters with his abject refereeing.
I visit the gents, I talk to Ray and hand him a Christmas card; a very small brass band play Christmas Carols in the centre of the pitch. On the concourse below the stand what looks like a soil pipe is decorated with a twist of blue lights, some rather feeble strings of lights dangle from the roof and a Christmas tree decorates the entrance to the upstairs hospitality area. The stadium announcer tells us that the Premier League half-time scores will be on the scoreboard, “should you wish to see them”, which I think is a nicely condescending touch, richly deserved by those who do wish to see them.
All is well until the second half begins and within a minute Sheffield equalise through Billy Sharp a man who despite his thirty-two years has a name which will forever sound like he’s a young scamp of an eleven year old who’s just stepped out of a Barry Hines novel. He should perhaps call himself Bill or William now he’s a bit older. “Well, we’re gonna see plenty of the ball this half then” remarks the old boy behind me looking on the bright side, sort of.
It turns out that whilst we do see quite a lot of the ball being passed between the gilets jaunes in our half of the pitch, they don’t manage to create many certain chances to score and Dean Gerken makes hardly any saves; far, far fewer saves than he did against Wigan last week. Sheffield’s dominance of possession leaves the Ipswich crowd quiet for long periods but no one moans to fill the void. Everyone outside that one corner of the Cobbold Stand is of course hoping for another Town goal, but a draw will be alright. The crowd is announced as 17.942 (1,292 from Sheffield) which is pretty good for a Second Division team bottom of the league on the Saturday before Christmas, and shows that people do still care and still believe that relegation will be avoided. At twenty-five to five a chorus of “Come On Ipswich, Come on Ipswich ” ringing around much of the ground is strong enough to prove the point.

Mr Andy Woolmer

This is an enjoyable game and the old dear behind me is getting her kicks from Mr Woolmer’s lack of height, “I don’t know how he can see the fouls, he int tall enough is he?” she says before querying how he can manage to measure out ten yards at a free-kick with “… his little legs”. Happily for those of us satisfied with a draw, only three minutes of added time are called and whilst Mr Woolmer books Jordan Spence and gives Sheffield United a free-kick just outside the penalty area in that time, his efforts to let Sheffield score come to nought. The game ends and a warm applause flows from the stands. “That was bloody brilliant” says the old boy behind me getting a bit carried away with it all. I wait to applaud the team from the field and of course boo the referee. If I had had a cushion I doubt I would have hurled it at Mr Woolmer, possibly because we didn’t lose, but probably because I’m quite mild-mannered really. It’s odd that we think we live in a more liberal society than we did in 1972, but hurling a mere soft cushion would probably see me tracked down and banned for life from Portman Road now.
It has been a grand afternoon at Portman Road and Town are well worth their point against a superior team. We seem to be successfully assuming the role of plucky underdog, which in a league rammed full of Premier League pretenders will allow us a wry smile come the end of the season when only three of them get what they wished for…..and of course they should be careful of what that is. As for Town, we’re bottom of the league at Christmas, but I’m happy……or as happy as one can be.