Ipswich Town 1 West Bromwich Albion 2

It has been a grey November day, but this afternoon there have been glimpses of blue sky, small windows of hope amongst the otherwise perpetual gloom, proof perhaps that life is not all bad. Further proof, if further proof is needed lies in the existence of flexi-time. It is the end of the ‘flexi-month’ and I have worked so many hours these past four weeks that if I don’t leave at four o’clock today, I shall be working for free and that would be contrary to my strictly held religious beliefs. “Thou shalt not be a mug” is my credo.

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Tonight I’m a latter day Arthur Seaton and I’m out for a good  time so from work I head, with my accomplice Roly, for the Briarbank Brewery. The bar above the Briarbank Brewery is by far the best decorated bar I know, the walls festooned with black and white photos of closed Ipswich pubs, the sort Arthur Seaton would have drunk in had ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ been set in Ipswich, not Nottingham. I have a pint of Samuel Harvey VC (£3.50) a beer named after one of two men from Ipswich who were awarded the Victoria Cross medal. As well as a beer, Samuel (who was born in Nottingham) has a bus in the Ipswich Buses fleet that bears his name. My conversation with Roly covers a wide range of subjects including Noel Edmonds, Ciiff Richard and Sue Barker, Shake n’Vac and Billy Joel.
From the Briarbank Brewery, Roly and I make the short walk up Fore Street to TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Spread Eagle, a Grade 2 listed building that dates back to the 17th century, where I drink Grain Brewery Best Bitter (£3.50 a pint). The leather aprons of the bar staff remind me of Fred Gee, the pot-man at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, but I don’t suppose he’s still in it, particularly since Fred Feast, the actor who played him died in 1999. Roly and I continue not to talk about football, not from any previous agreement, but just because there doesn’t seem anything to say. From the Spread Eagle it is a bit more of a walk along Orwell Place and Tacket Street, up Brook Street and Buttermarket, over Giles Circus and Cornhill, along Westgate Street to St Jude’s Tavern in St Matthew’s Street. They may not all be looking at their best, but Ipswich’s medieval or even Saxon pattern of streets remains and is brim-full of fine buildings; if only the locals appreciated it.
St Jude’s Tavern is busy with Friday night drinkers and football supporters when we arrive a bit before six o’clock. After a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which tonight is St Jude’s Thaddeus (Thaddeus is another name for Jude in case you didn’t know), we have a beef and onion pie each, mine is accompanied by a pint of something the name of which I can’t recall (pie and a pint £5.00). I garnish my pie with red sauce, Roly prefers brown. After we’ve eaten, a drunk staggers into the pub and sits at a table of regulars; he tries to cadge a drink but the bar man is quickly wise to his presence and succeeds in throwing him out before apologising to his patrons; but we all re-assure him that we enjoyed the show, it beats open-mike night.
Beer glasses drained, Roly is keen to get to Portman Road because he is meeting his friend Andrew and because not satiated by a beef and onion pie, he has it in mind to eat a burger. Rolling down Portman Road the glow of the floodlights draws us like moths to a flame or in Roly’s case a glutton to a fast-food joint. The streets are unusually busy and due to the football club having made tickets being made available for the realistic price of ten pounds each a crowd of 22,995 will watch the game tonight. Roly meets Andrew, and I visit the club shop because at short notice I have been informed that ever -present Phil’s son Elwood is eight years old today! How I love the club shop and its fabulous array of blue and white toot. Today my eye is drawn to a gnome and the club’s ‘retro’ range which I imagine outsells everything else given that our best days are all in the past. Although at least we have won major trophies, something many of our rivals and other clubs from towns and cities bigger than Ipswich cannot claim with real conviction (League Cups pffft!).

 

 

It’s twenty-five past seven and a coach disgorges tardy West Bromwich supporters into Portman Road. An Ipswich fan points at a West Bromwichians yellow and green away shirt. “ You can’t wear that here mate”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The visitor looks somewhat bemused and blurts some exasperated expletives in the direction of one of his fellow supporters; his thick Midland’s accent rendering them incomprehensible and unpleasantly nasal. I pass the grinning statue of Bobby Robson; his best playing days were arguably with the ‘Baggies’ of West Bromwich, but thankfully he never picked up the accent.
At the Alf Ramsey Stand (Churchmans) all the turnstiles are open but the queues are of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunequal lengths.; with a self-satisfied air of streetwise, intellectual superiority I join one of shorter ones and am inside the ground whilst others still queue. On nights like this it’s fun to laugh and sneer at those people who aren’t regular supporters and are only here because the tickets are cheap. I head for the betting shop bit beneath the stand where the handy shelf gives me somewhere to write the greeting on Elwood’s birthday card. I stop to talk to a steward I know called Dave, but at the very moment I arrive at his side so does another acquaintance of his who begins a personal monologue. I wait for the other man to pause so that I might speak to Dave, but the other man breathes through his ears and doesn’t draw breath for a second; so I screw my eyes up at Dave and nod sympathetically; I imagine my face might look a bit like the one Gary Lineker pulled in the 1990 World Cup semi-final after Paul Gascoigne was booked and became tearful. But tonight I’m not indicating that Gazza is upset, I’m signalling to Dave that I’m going to bugger off, and that’s what I do.
Up in the stand Bluey is playing the part of ‘greeter’ and gives me the thumbs up, which is nice, even though I do know he’s not a real Suffolk Punch. Ever-present Phil who never OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmisses a game and son Elwood are already here and I settle down a couple of seats along before giving Elwood his birthday card and a few ITFC ‘goodies’. Phil tells me that earlier in the club shop Elwood had handed in an ITFC badge that he found on the floor to the staff serving behind the counter. One of the things I have given Elwood is such a badge; it seems like Elwood has been rewarded for his honesty and whilst we all know that’s not true, in an ideal world it would be.
Between each seat is a folded up piece of printed card which makes a clapping noise when hit against another surface; I saw that people were cynical about this on social media but I think it should be lauded; something needs to be done to shake Ipswich and Suffolk people out of their puritan misery and to “make some noise for the Tractor Boys”, as I believe the saying goes.

 


The teams appear; the match ball is plucked from its plinth and once multiple hands are shaken the game begins with Ipswich literally getting the ball rolling in the direction of me, Elwood, Phil and Pat from Clacton who has arrived a bit late due to the traffic. Town wear blue shirts and socks with white sleeves and shorts; West Bromwich cause offence to many by wearing yellow and green striped shirts with green shorts and socks. The Baggies win an early corner and Jay Rodriguez (that’s his ‘Equity’ name surely) heads the ball over the cross bar. There is noise in the ground tonight and it’s not all from the 1,000OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA odd West Bromwich Albion supporters cooped up in the corner of the Cobbold Stand. In the corner, in the bottom of the North Stand blue and white flags are being waved and drums drummed and voices voiced; for a little while anyway. But West Bromwich Albion are better at football than Town and as they start to dominate, some of the enthusiasm ebbs away, which is the opposite of what should happen of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcourse because it obvious that a struggling team needs most support. But then logic is not always a strong point in ‘Leave’ voting Ipswich. The West Bromwich fans soon sense our weakness and after first chanting something stupid about being a “…shit Norwich City”, which is a bit rich from people supporting a team wearing yellow and green, they go for the jugular with the reliable old “ Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit”. Cut to the quick I try some chants of my own but the cowering reticence of the Suffolk public means I’m beaten before I begin, even with my cardboard clapper, which is a little too lightweight and disintegrates as I bash it relentlessly on the back of the seat in front of me. Only ten minutes have gone and Town’s Matthew Pennington is booked by referee Mr Keith Stroud who is possibly theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA smallest referee I have ever seen; he doesn’t even rival Paul Hurst in stature.
On the touchline Paul Lambert prowls like a black panther in his trademark black Marks & Spencer jumper and black slacks, kicking every ball and seemingly feeling the self-same emotions as the fans in the stands, but with added Celtic menace. It’s a chilly evening and he should really get himself a coat, even if that jumper is pure new lambs’ wool. Perhaps Marcus Evans should put his hand in his pocket for a coat for our Paul.
Sadly, Town are second best to West Bromwich, who despite having been ‘a bit rubbish’ in the context of the evil Premier League last season are evidently still too good for us tonight. But we are trying and what we’re watching is recognisable as football, which wasn’t always true last season. Perhaps we can hold on and then sneak a goal I think to myself. A paper plane engineered from a re-purposed cardboard clapper lands next to the West Bromwich goal keeper Sam Johnstone. The fact that it disappoints the home crowd by not hitting Johnstone is a portent for the evening. Within minutes Town’s defence watch the ball cross from one side of the pitch to the other and back into the middle where Jay Rodriguez scores from very close to the goal. Oh well. How I was hoping that wouldn’t happen, and now it has. The West Bromwichians are happy though, their high spirits expressed by making good use of Chicory Tip’s 1972 chart topping single “Son of my father” with a chorus of “Woah wanky-wanky, wanky-wanky, wank-wanky Wanderers”, in honour of their own version of Norwich City, the neatly alliterative Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The clock moves on and behind me a man explains to his child that there are another five minutes until half-time and then another forty-five minutes after that before they can go home. A minute of the half left and Ipswich win a corner from which West Brom’ come closer to scoring than the home team as they breakaway courtesy of a failed tackle from Jordan Spence. One minute’s added time passes and then it’s half-time. I wander down to the front row of seats to have a chat with Ray and generously he offers me one of his wife Roz’s sausage rolls, I accept the offer. Behind us dancing girls with Lycra bottoms, bare mid-riffs and sparkly tops gyrate; a human manifestation of the popular retro-range.

 

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The second Act begins amidst shouts of “Come On Ipswich”, but the man behind me feels compelled to admit that West Brom’ are stronger than us “…in every department”; I think of Debenhams and John Inman. But Town are playing better than in the first half; they have more possession of the ball and in more locations across the pitch and Matthew Pennington even has a decent looking shot on goal. But then West Brom’ also have a decent shot, which causes a sharp intake of breath as it hits a post; a lad called Harvey Barnes is the perpetrator, it’s a name that sounds like it was copied from a 1914-18 War Memorial.
Town must be doing alright though, people aren’t moaning but still most of them aren’t really supporting either, at least not vocally. The club should have said “We’ll let you in for a tenner, but you have to make a noise or we’ll chuck you out”. The ‘Blue Action’ group in the North Stand do their best, but there aren’t really enough of them, Ultra Culture hasn’t yet made its mark in Ipswich. I remain hopeful however that the Rodin exhibition in the gallery behind Christchurch Mansion, which opens this weekend, will stir people’s inner passions. Rodin is to sculpture what Arnold Muhren was to midfield artistry.
We’re only losing 1-0, a draw is still a possibility, a win even. But the seventy sixth minutes arrives and that Harvey Barnes is in the penalty area, he shuffles about a bit and shoots; he scores. The shot somehow avoids at least four legs and Bartosz Bialkowski’s left hand. It couldn’t hurt more if he’d missed and the ball had hit me in the ‘groin area’.
Substitutions ensue and the West Brom’ supporters sing “Lambert, Lambert, what’s the score?” seemingly labouring under the mis-apprehension that he is still manager of Aston Villa. They compound their mistake with a rendition of “Shit on the Villa, shit on the Villa tonight” to the tune of ‘Roll out the barrel’. Ipswich supporters may not sing much, but at least when they do the songs are relevant.
Both teams have shots on goal which are blocked as the game heads towards its finale, Ipswich are looking as likely to score as concede, which on balance with only ten minutes left is a good thing. With six minutes of normal time left to play substitute Kayden Jackson scores for Town and there is belief that may be, just may- be, Town could get a draw. Clearly West Brom’ think so too and they resort to foul or generally unsporting play with Matthew Phillips, Kieran Gibbs and Sam Johnstone all getting their own personal viewings of Mr Stroud’s yellow card. Town have no luck however and when Jack Lankester’s shot hits a post and deflects away rather than hitting a heel or a divot and deflecting in to the goal, we get confirmation that Portman Road will remain joyless for another week.
The skies today were grey and despite glimpses of blue, they remain so. But at least there have been glimpses. I retain the faith and like Arthur Seaton I won’t let the bastards grind me down.

 

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Leiston 0 Rushall Olympic 1

Leiston is about 35 kilometres northeast of Ipswich and when my mother was a child she was taken there on the train to visit her grandfather who lived in nearby Aldringham. Remarkably perhaps, for a town of just five and half thousand inhabitants tucked away in a corner of rural Suffolk it is still possible to get to Leiston by rail today, but only if you’re the engine driver of the train collecting radioactive waste from Sizewell nuclear power station, a few kilometres east. Passenger services to Leiston ceased in 1966; the evil Dr Beeching saw to that, but on a Saturday afternoon the No 521 bus leaves Saxmundham railway station at 14:04, about ten minutes after the 13:17 train from Ipswich arrives there and it will get you to Leiston in time for a three o’clock kick-off at Victory Road, home of Leiston FC. Incredibly, there is also a bus back from Leiston to Saxmundham, at 1740. But with meticulous mis-timing however, the bus arrives in Sax’ three minutes after the 17:57 train back to Ipswich has left, giving you a fifty seven minute wait for the next one.
My excuse for not using public transport today is not because we are apparently being discouraged by poor timetabling from doing so, but rather because what goes around comes around and it’s now my mother’s turn to be visited, by me. Filial duty carried out, I proceed up the A12 on what is a beautiful, bright autumn afternoon. Letting the throttle out on the largely deserted dual carriageway between Ufford and Marlesford my Citroen C3 must feel like its back on the péage heading for Lyon, not Leiston. But Leiston it is and after skirting Snape and Friston, and passing pigs and pill-boxes outside Knodishall my Leiston FCCitroen and I roll into Victory Road at about twenty past two, where it is already so busy we are ushered into overflow car parking. I drive across the grass behind one goal and onto a field behind the pitch. Once out of my car a steward explains that entry today is through a side gate in order to keep pedestrians from slipping over where the cars have churned up the grass; health and safety eh? Entry costs £11, but I keep the gateman happy by tendering the right money. My wife Paulene has refused to join me today because she maintains that £11 is too much to pay to watch ‘local football’, and she makes a fair point, although today’s opponents aren’t exactly local, Rushall being about 285 kilometres away near Walsall in the West Midlands. In France it is possible to watch a fully professional second division match in a modern stadium for not much more than I have paid today, and sometimes for a bit less.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There is plenty of time before kick-off so I have a look about and visit the club shop where I witness its first ever ‘card transaction’. The middle-aged lady serving seems genuinely excited and I suggest she should be giving her customer some sort of commemorative certificate to mark the occasion. Sadly, I cannot lay claim to becoming the second ever card-paying customer of the Leiston club shop, as I all too easily resist the temptation of a teddy bear (£12), mug (£5) or red, white and blue painted football rattle (£2), although I do try the rattle to see if it works; it does but it’s quite small and the action is a bit stiff. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving the shop I realise I don’t have a programme and I see if there is one available at the main turnstile, where a very apologetic man explains that due to printing costs and not selling all the programmes it’s no longer financially viable to produce one; he hands me a slip of paper which puts his words into print. I quite like the idea that the slip of paper could be distributed as a substitute programme if it was stamped with today’s date and name of the opposition.
Programme-less and therefore slightly crestfallen, I turn back from the turnstile but must wait as a steward ushers past a car towards the overflow car park, I tell the steward he needs a lollipop-man’s uniform or at least his lollipop, he doesn’t seem that keen. Still depressed at the state of modern football I head for the bar where a hand pump bears pump clips for both Adnam’s Ghostship and something called Garrett’s Ale. When I ask, the balding barman explains that Garrett’s is made in a micro-brewery down the road in the Long Shop museum, but then he says it’s not and he made it up. He says it’s brewed by Greene King, and he made the name up and then he says it’s actually Ruddle’s. Confused, I buy a pint (£3.20); it’s okay, but I wish I’d bought a pint of Ghostship.
I find a spot to drink my beer and speak briefly to a man who recognises me from matches at Portman Road; he is apparently originally from Aldeburgh and today is a guest of the match sponsors. Having drained my glass I head back outside to await the teams and in due course they emerge from a concertinaed tunnel, which is wheeled across the concourse from the side of the red-brick clubhouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Victory Road is not really an attractive or interesting ground; the clubhouse looks like a massive Council bungalow, there is a small metal terrace stand at one end and opposite the bungalow a row of low metal prefabricated stands join together to create the Leiston Press Stand, in the middle of which sits a large glazed press box. Between the clubhouse and the main turnstile is a ten or fifteen metre terrace which misleadingly looks like a good place to wait for a bus. The setting is altogether a little dull.

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The two teams’ arrival on the pitch brightens things up a bit however, with Leiston all in blue and Rushall Olympic in black and yellow stripes with black shorts and socks, although from behind they’re kit is all-black, so they look like numbered referees. To make matters worse the referee Mr Hancock is also wearing all black, the first of a number of poor decisions he will make this afternoon.
With the multiple handshaking malarkey out of the way, Rushall kick-off in the direction of Aldringham and the metal terrace, the front of which is adorned appropriately with a large advert that reads Screwbolt Fixings. The early stages of the game are rough and shouty with plenty of strength and running on show but not the necessary guile to score a goal. It’s entertaining enough, but is more like all-in wrestling than the working man’s ballet. I stand behind the goal close to four blokes in their sixties; one wears a deerstalker, another wears a ‘Vote Leave’ badge and swears a lot whilst complaining that people don’t know how lucky they are that a little club like Leiston is playing at such a high level, and he’s right because he can’t be wrong about everything. A Rushall player sends a shot high over the cross bar and off towards Aldringham. Everybody jeers, “Three points to Wigan” shouts a grey-haired man.
The game is a struggle, Leiston are having the better of it but neither goalkeeper is exactly rushed off their feet with save-making. The wannabe coaches in the crowd offer their advice “Simple balls man, simple” calls one as the ball is lofted forward hopefully. “Keep it on the deck” shouts another. “Go on Seb” shouts someone else, taking a more OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAone to one approach. As half time nears I head back round towards the giant bungalow so that I can be handily placed for the tea bar when the whistle blows. As I watch on from behind the Leiston bench their number two Matt Rutterford commits a fairly innocuous foul, sidling up behind a Rushall player. Sadly for Leiston, Mr Hancock doesn’t consider that the foul is that innocuous and proceeds to whip out his yellow card in the direction of the unfortunate full-back, who having already seen the card once earlier in the game gets to see Mr Hancock’s red card also. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues and there is a strong feeling that Leiston cannot now possibly win and Mr Hancock has ruined the game more than a few fouls ever could.
As the sun sinks towards the horizon everyone on the bungalow side of the ground has

to shield their eyes. Half-time can’t come soon enough. “How long to go lino?” asks the Rushall manager as the clock ticks past ten to four. “How long would you like?” says a voice from the crowd. With the half-time whistle I go indoors for a pounds worth of tea. Behind me in the queue is a man with white flowing hair and small beard, he looks like Buffalo Bill, but is wearing an Ipswich Town branded coat. “Don’t I know you from Portman Road or from a holiday in Majorca?” asks another man of Bill. “No I don’t think so, I haven’t been on holiday since I was thirty” says Bill. I tell him that his coat is a bit of a giveaway that he might have been to Portman Road. Tea in hand I seek the fresh air outside, and it is fresh. There has been a stingy east wind all afternoon and with the sun going down it’s getting even colder. Happily my tea is warm, but it’s also a bit weak and I suspect Leiston FC are cutting costs on tea bags as well as programmes, but I’m not surprised given the distances they have to travel to games in this very silly league, which stretches from Lowestoft in the east to Stourbridge in the west, a distance of over 330 kilometres.
At six minutes past four Mr Hancock begins the second half and the Screwbolt Fixings terrace is now occupied by about a dozen men, half of whom unexpectedly begin to sing. They go through a variety of chants and tunes including ‘Tom Hark’ and also Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’, betraying that they too may have been to Portman Road. What I like best about the Screwbolt choir is that they are all over forty and half of them are probably over fifty, something they confirm later when substitute Harry Knights comes on and they break into a chorus of Sham 69’s ‘Hurry Up Harry’.
Over by the main stand is a line of Rushall supporters some of whom sport black and gold scarves, like Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters on a day off. I sit for a while at the front of the stand. A Rushall shot hits the cross-bar at the Theberton end of the ground. Mr Hancock makes another dubious decision. “This referee’s from another planet” says a thick West Midland’s accent. Behind us the sky glows a violent red, but nobody panics because Sizewell nuclear power station is in the opposite direction. A man in the stand shouts “Come on Leiston” very enthusiastically; he’s the reporter from BBC Radio Suffolk. A Rushall player goes down “Get up you worm” shouts someone else, not very charitably.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs darkness shrouds the ground it loses its plainness and takes on a new atmosphere. The long shadows have gone to be replaced by the glow of the floodlights. On the pitch Rushall push forward and Leiston defend; their goalkeeper Marcus Garnham makes a couple of smart saves. Leiston try to catch Rushall on the break with quick, astute passes and diagonal punts but it doesn’t feel as though Leiston or their supporters expect to win, and holding on for the goalless draw will be victory enough, of a sort. The story is a simple one; Leiston must keep Rushall at bay. But there have been injuries and delays and time added on at the end seems interminable. It’s the ninety fifth minute and Marcus Garnham makes a spectacular reaction save, followed quickly by another but before we have time to applaud the ball runs to Rushall substitute Keiron Berry stood just three yards from the open goal, a prod is all that’s needed.
Back behind the goal the Leiston supporter who owns the flag that hangs over theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA pitchside rail says he’s “had it” with the referee and he’s going home, he starts to untie his flag. Another group of young lads head off too. “Fucking Toby’s fault” says a lad with long curly hair like Marc Bolan “it’s the same every time we come here with him”. The despondent occupants of the Screwbolt Fixings stand shuffle off with Mr Hancock’s final whistle whilst jeering at the Rushall goalkeeper Joseph Slinn, “Cheats” they shout, rather un-sportingly. In return the ‘keeper tells them how much he enjoyed their Neil Diamond song, but such is their disappointment they’re not listening and he was only trying to be friendly.
I head back to my Citroen C3 and catch a glimpse of the Rushall players enjoying a post-match cuddle through the side gate. The result leaves Leiston in fourth place in the Evo-stik Central Premier League, five points behind Kettering Town who are top and six-points ahead of Rushall Olympic. The last time I came to watch Leiston, they lost 3-1 to Gloucester in the FA Cup, I begin to wonder if I’m not a bit like Toby.

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Ipswich Town 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

The relief brought on through the carefree joy of watching non-league football at Coggeshall last night was brief and within twenty-four hours I am back to watching “Championship” football by which I mean Football League Division Two football at the theatre of the un-dead that is Portman Road.
But today’s game is against top of the league Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club that as much as Leeds United reeks of 1974, smells of the 1950’s and the scent of the Beverley sister who married Billy Wright. The Wolves have done very little of note in the last sixty years, but for a couple of League Cup wins in the 1970’s and even Norwich have won the League Cup; but they still have a certain je ne sais quoi, as well as old gold shirts and black shorts.
It is a dull, grey January day as I walk to the railway station; there are spits of moisture in the air, the portents of more to come. I arrive at the station about a minute before the

train, which is on time, I board a freshly refurbished carriage which has a faint smell of new car given off by its grey upholstery; the theme is grey, with a white ceiling; it’s bright but dull, but heck, it’s not my living room, just a train. On the opposite side of the carriage sits a man with a beer belly, he is slumped with his head resting against the window, a blue cable leads from his trouser pocket to the electrical socket beneath the window; it’s as if his loins are on a life support machine. He has hair like the late Reg Varney. Opposite him an unnaturally blond woman of a similar age is engrossed with a mobile phone. They both cough and get off the train together at Colchester. As the train pulls into a Manningtree a man is sat on a bench on the platform for London, he is wearing a large set of earphones and is eating a sandwich from a tin foil package spread open on his lap. Five people get onto the train, one is a man with a bald head and three rings through his left ear lobe that look like he could hang a curtain from them.


In Ipswich the weather is the same. As I cross the road a group of blokes smoke cigarettes outside the front door of the Station Hotel, which is where Wolves supporters and only Wolves supporters have been directed to drink. On the back of a traffic light there is reminder of Town’s last home fixture against Leeds, a sticker that saysOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“McCallister,Strachan, Batty, Speed, Last Proper Champions”. It is a view I subscribe to because the Premier League is an abomination, but I worry about the omission of the other seven players in the Leeds team of 1992, particularly Lee Chapman.

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Portman Road is being blocked off whilst supporters stand about waiting for the turnstiles to open. I follow a man up Portman Road who is wearing a grey tracksuit with a hood, he looks like an enormous toddler in a romper suit, the seat of his tracky bottoms is baggy like he’s forgotten to put on his nappy. I open the door St Jude’s Tavern; bloody hell, the place is heaving. Most of the clientele are Wolves fans with a love of real ale. Having worked my way to the bar I order a pint of St Jude’s St Mary Stout (£3.60) and then work my way back to sit at a table where three blokes in their sixties are sat; they seem to be together but they’re not talking and even seem to be avoiding eye contact. I turn to one and say “Are you all Wolves fans then, or are you just here for a quiet drink?” . They’re Wolves fans and they’re up from London, they go to every game. They tell me that there are branches of Wolves fans from London, Daventry and Cheltenham in the pub. I remark that they are all men of a ‘certain age’ and they laugh agreeing that if you haven’t got a bus pass you probably don’t follow Wolves.
A friend of mine, Mick, soon arrives and we talk of blood pressure, the Hairy Bikers, tielles, sciatica, this blog, holidaying in Corsica and Marseille and the difficulty of choosing where to visit from so many wonderful places across Europe. I drink a pint of Irvin Ruby (£3.60) and we both have a half of St Jude’s Darkest Blessings (£3.80 a pint), which is very strong (9.5%) but smooth and delicious with a hint of hazelnuts and vanilla.
All the Wolves fans have already left when we leave the pub at about a quarter to three, Mick heads home and I head for the match. It’s raining properly now. Whilst I may tire of the present incarnation of Football League Division Two, I never tire of the sight of

Portman Road with its proper floodlights at each corner and all the activity outside on match day as kick-off approaches, it’s what being is all about, especially when it’s raining. Martin Heidegger would have understood, although by all accounts he was a bit of a nob.
I pass through the turnstile and am approached by a steward who asks me about the photos I have taken out in Portman Road, I explain that they are for a blog and flick through a few of them for him. He seems happy with that, but I can’t imagine he knows what to say; what did he expect to see other than photos of Portman Road? I suppose my camera might have really been a water pistol, not a camera, I had one like that when I was about eight years old.
The teams are walking on to the pitch and in the stand I am surprised to find a man and a woman occupying my seat and the one next to it. They’re not doing anything rude, just sitting. I go and sit in the next seat along, I don’t care. One of them says something about not being able to see from their allocated seats and a steward had told them to sit anywhere where there was a space.
The game begins and it’s okay, a fairly even contest to start with and Town’s Callum Connolly has a shot after about 11 minutes. It only takes the Wolves fans eight minutes however to announce that “You’re support is fucking shit” and no one is arguing; no one even cares except perhaps for John Hughes who wrote the tune Cwm Rhondda; but that was in 1907, so he must be past caring by now. In the fifteenth minute it’s not only the support that is so scatalogically poor as the Town defence dissolves into the rain, the ball is crossed and a bloke called Matt Doherty heads it unchallenged into the Town net; Wolverhampton Wanderers have, it turns out, won the match…and it had all started so well.
The Ipswich crowd do not react at all and make no effort to help raise their team’s game through vocal encouragement; I do though and throw myself into a few rounds of “Lo, lololo lolo, Allez les bleus” as Town win a couple of corners. There is not the slightest hint that anyone wants to join in with my efforts on behalf of the team and in a fit of pique I get up and leave my seat. I go to sit with Phil the ever-present supporter at the other end of the stand, who at least understands and will sometimes even join in with me, a bit.
The game carries on and Town play reasonably well in an unspectacular sort of a way, but Wolverhampton are good, they’re several points clear at the top of the league table and we are seeing why. A little short of 1,900 Wulfrunians are following their team today, but I’m a little disappointed by them. For a team who wear such a distinctive kit there is very little of the lovely old gold and black on display and they’re singing is mostly of a negative nature. But when I think I hear them sing “Wanky wanky, wanky wanky Southerners” to the tune of Chicory Tip’s ‘Son of my father’ it raises a smile, even though Ipswich is not in the South, it’s in the East. Bloody Brummies.
At half-time I stay where I am and enjoy the occasional drip of rain through the leaking roof on which I can see buddleia growing; I’m not sure that makes it a ‘green’ roof, but it’s a start. I have no half-time snack and don’t visit the toilet, but Phil does and I guard his bag whilst he’s gone. Town stalwart Tommy Smith appears on the pitch in a smart overcoat to say farewell to the crowd before he heads off to play for Colorado Rapids in Denver; he waves, I wave back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I then muse upon the names of the Wolverhampton team and feel strongly that Ivan Cavaleiro should be wearing a wide brimmed hat and a cape, or he should at least walk out onto the pitch in such attire, even if he doesn’t play in it. Wolverhampton Wanderers are owned by Guo Guangchang, one of China’s wealthiest people and in Helder Costa and Ruben Neves have the two most expensive players in League Division Two; midfielder Neves cost a colossal £15.8m and both players are clients of football agent Jorge Mendes who is an advisor to the club. Read more about Wolves’ attempt to buy success in the editorial to the February edition of the always excellent When Saturday Comes magazine.
The teams return, Phil returns and play resumes. Ipswich aren’t so good this half, I reckon Wolves have sussed us out and they control the game completely, because they have much better players, some of whom, as you now know have cost obscene amounts of money. They also have a manager called Nuno Espirito Santo who, with a name like that, you would always back against plain old Mick McCarthy. I have a theory that people voted to leave the EU mainly because they feel inferior to all these clever, stylish Europeans and they are. Town have two new players in their team today, a free transfer called Gleeson and a thick-set monster of a man on-loan from Tottenham Hotspur, who rejoices under the seven syllables of the name Cameron Carter-Vickers. They do okay, but Bartosz Bialkowski is the star for Town as he makes a succession of essential saves to stop Wolverhampton scoring more goals. The Wulfrunians in the Cobbold Stand again sing coarsely of the execrable Ipswich support and look for the geography section of the library. Meanwhile, I continue to sing ‘Allez les Bleus’ very loudly and have a most enjoyable time. Singing is proven to be good for you and even though Town lose I am as happy as I can be given the pointlessness of it all. Watching Ipswich Town is what you make it.
The three minutes of added on time offer hope, but that’s all and soon the final chirrups sound from beneath the shiny and completely naked pate of referee Mr Simon Hooper. Unusually, I stand and applaud the teams today; all my singing has made me high as a kite.

Ipswich Town 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

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, portman road stadium 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? portman road stadium

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.  portman road stadiumA 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.