|The Years When Seasons Did Not Finish on 5th April|
Written by TimS on Thursday, 7th Apr 2016 08:30
Can you remember those halcyon days when football seasons did not end on 5th April and there were things to play for right up to the ultimate final whistle? Football is about excitement. Football fans need to have those end-of-season games of excitement and intrigue.
I am sure that not many fans just go to Portman Road, pay large sums of money to sit around for nearly two hours on plastic bucket seats and walk away around 5pm to watch Saturday night reality shows.
It would be a lot cheaper to sit around in Christchurch Park and enjoy the spring flowers. Some people may argue that enjoying the daffodils in the park is a better experience than watching football at Portman Road this season.
Football fans also need to feel proud of their first ever visit to a football ground. It should be a badge of honour; similar to the first record that was bought, or the number one on the day that you were born.
I proudly tell anyone who will listen that The Specials were at number one on my first day of life in 1980 whilst my friends struggle with their birth date number ones of Tight Fit, Los Lobos, or Glenn Medeiros.
I enjoy telling people about my first ever visit to Portman Road being on 14th April 1996; the East Anglian, derby with ‘that’ back pass. I can not believe that it is 20 years ago this month since that big game.
Why did it take me 16 years to get inside Portman Road? I have to admit that I was not born on 2nd February 1980 under the corner flag whilst Town were drawing against Brighton in what Rob Hadgraft’s Ipswich Town The Modern Era describes as a “forgettable game”.
I was not taken straight from the maternity ward to Goodison Park for a 4-0 Town win against the Toffees on 9th February 1980. My family had been regular goers to Portman Road throughout the sixties and seventies and my uncle continued to be a season ticket holder (right up to around 2011).
Dad seemed to lose interest. Going to the football on a Saturday was a known thing in my family throughout the eighties but I never showed an interest either. Hanging out by the (then new) wave machine in Crown Pools or Colchester’s Leisure World was more exciting.
I came of age in the mid-1980s. I accept that Town did win games in that period but it did seem that my Uncle returned from the football continually depressed throughout the decade into the 1990s. I can remember Town getting relegated from Division One. Promotion may have been achieved in 1992, but the Premier League years until 1995 did not have much impact on my consciousness.
I was not much good at football at school. The fact that my family lived in Colchester, the idea of standing for 90 minutes in a cold concrete draughty stadium mixed with the impact of Hillsborough (do not underestimate the impact of that disaster on an impressionable nine-year old) made Saturday afternoon trips to the football seem so unappealing. Getting a Saturday job stacking shelves in a local supermarket made it impossible to go to Saturday afternoon games.
I believe that like all impressionable 16 year olds in Ipswich at that time, we met at McDonalds full of attitude and lip. We strode down to the ground like men about town. I was agnostic about the derby. I did not really appreciate the whole Norwich v Ipswich thing, now patronisingly called the ‘Old Farm Derby’. It was just a day out for me away from revision textbooks.
Thinking back to 1996, I regret that I cannot now remember anything about the game until the 86th minute when Robert Ullathorne hit that back pass back to Bryan Gunn in front of the packed Churchmans Stand (for younger readers, Google what I mean).
Gunn haplessly tried to clear the back pass. The ball sagged into the net cueing up hysteria in the stands. It felt that the own goal had been performed in slow motion. I know that the local press picture of Bryan Gunn slumped in front of jeering fans was proudly pinned to my mate’s sky blue bedroom wall for a number of years before the newspaper page turned yellow.
I can remember the pitch invasion at the end of the game; the only time to date that I have ever seen an invasion at Portman Road. Caught up in the atmosphere of the invasion, I did not really see anything wrong.
Town played Millwall on the last day of that season. The Millwall fans made their presence known in a physical way within the away stand. Watching the trashing on TV made me feel very uneasy but watching the derby pitch invasion live in the ground just left me bemused. The atmosphere in that ground on 14th April 1996 took the form of one massive adrenaline rush. A rush that has just about managed to keep going during the last 20 years.
From the late nineties where I believed that Town had a realistic chance to win the league when the season began in August, I wait till at least Christmas before I seriously consider whether Town can at least manage sixth position.
Maybe I am turning into my uncle but as time has passed, I have occasionally become very disheartened with Town. I just hope that new fans have the same opportunity as I did; a season finishing in April is not going to attract many punters old or new.
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