|Going Down to Portman Road to See Bob Robson's Aces|
Written by Retiredtypes on Monday, 25th Sep 2017 22:12
On Radio Bloke the other morning, Chris Warburton on 5 Live Daily was discussing the increasing amount of free (and illegal) streaming of Premier League football matches.
An expert was being interviewed on the subject. Professor Simon Chadwick of the University of Salford Business School explained that there are now ”…new and different ways, new possibilities of consuming football.” His title is Professor of Sports Enterprise.
How depressing, for two reasons. Surely such an academic title wouldn’t have existed years ago though I can see why such posts exist today. Football is big business before anything else.
More upsetting, though, is the idea of the 'football consumer'. I’m sure he’s absolutely right but I don’t want to be a 'football consumer' and I certainly wasn’t one in the 60s. I was a football supporter.
You don’t choose where you’re born and, as a result, you have little choice in whom you support. I was born in Ipswich, so Ipswich Town was my club. I know that children where I taught had more of a choice: coming from Clay Cross, some went for Chesterfield, the closest club, but others were Sheffield United or Wednesday supporters. Few looked south to Derby County.
However, being in Ipswich meant there was no competition. Colchester United were half an hour away, but why would you bother, and of course you could travel 40 miles up the A140 to reach a team of similar standing but they were Norwich City, our deadliest rivals. No chance.
Of course teenage lads had a second team they supported from afar if their own local side was success starved. Mine was Leeds United but in the rare event my two sides met, there was no question which ones I wanted to win.
No, Ipswich Town was in the blood. My granddad was a season ticket holder, though he died well before he might have been able to take me to Portman Road, but my grandma and great aunts made sure I knew where my allegiance lay.
I was a bit too young to appreciate the amazing Ipswich Town team of 1961/62 that won Division One at the first attempt, a feat only equalled by the team who won it the year the league was formed. I don’t think it could ever happen again. Their success permeated the town and even at seven years old, I knew of the legends that were Ray Crawford, Ted Phillips and Jimmy Leadbetter.
My first match was in 1962 against Wolverhampton Wanderers. By then the big clubs had worked us out. Can’t remember who took me or what the score was. I just remember the colours of the shirts, the blue and the yellow (or old gold as the Wolves prefer to call it) and a big wooden rattle I was loaned for the match. I never went again for a few years, so it couldn’t have been a storming success.
I didn’t really get into watching them until later in the 60s. I started to go with my school mate, Kev Mulvey. I’m almost certain he would have been the one to suggest it: he was mad about Town – and still is.
Kev would call for me after lunch and we would walk down to Portman Road talking about the last game and what the team should do to do even better this week.
The closer you got to the ground, the more people there were walking with you as little tributaries of supporters merged with the main stream until we were a mighty river of blue and white heading down Portman’s Walk (now Sir Alf Ramsey Way). You couldn’t beat that walk for building up excitement.
Through the turnstiles then we’d take our places behind the goal in the North Stand (now the Sir Bobby Robson Stand) where the younger supporters gathered and sang. That was always a magnificent moment as you immediately felt you were part of that crowd, united as one in your support for Town.
The chanting would begin as the crowd swelled; the joy of that communal singing was immense. As it got louder you just became part of the one, organic whole. There were ironic cheers if we ever heard anything from the opposite end, The Churchman’s Stand, where the more senior supporters elected to stand.
I say stand, for most of the ground was terraces then. The North Stand was made up of huge concrete sections of terracing with steel crush barriers like giant staples spread at different levels.
Not a good idea to position yourself behind them as at key moments the crowd would stand on tiptoes then topple forward and the surge would force you onto the barrier. It was best to stand just in front of them.
However on one occasion the crush was so great it tipped the terrace section forward and down at the front and up at the back. A gap appeared between the sections! It didn’t go far and no one was hurt, but I can’t recall that making the papers.
In the early days, crowds weren’t segregated and there would be attempts by visiting supporters to 'take' the North Stand. I remember feeling a push in my back once. When I turned round there was a Manchester United fan staring at me. He then hit me. Fortunately he was so hammered there was no hammer in his punch. I just stared at him in surprise and amazement and then he moved on.
On one of the rare away matches I went to, I watched Ipswich play Birmingham with my uni mate, Nick Wood, whose passion for his Blues is as great as Kev’s is for Town.
Ipswich scored after only eight minutes and I leapt into the air cheering, only to notice that no one else around was joining in my celebration. Of course I was in the Birmingham end and, after a few dirty looks, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and internalised my emotions from that moment.
Fortunately it was one of the dullest matches I’ve ever seen and no further goals were scored. However, no one gave me any grief for supporting the wrong kind of Blues.
While we waited for kick-off at Portman Road, the club entertained us with their very limited selection of singles which were played over the tinny Tannoy system. The sound would bounce off the corrugated back and roof of the stand; it was as if you were listening to the song in an empty paraffin can.
They only seemed to have half a dozen records but I remember them with affection. If I hear Petula Clark’s This is My Song on the radio, in that moment I’m back on the North Stand.
Just before kick-off, the announcer would go through the teams and each of our players would be cheered with particular heroes being greeted with the biggest roars.
Two midfield players, Danny Hegan and Colin Viljoen were particularly popular. Their skills were probably a few pegs above those of the other players and stood out in a small club like Ipswich. Strangely, when our best players moved on, they never seemed to do as well in their new, bigger clubs.
Players seemed to stick around then and be with us for several seasons. Frank Brogan, an old-fashioned winger who ran straight and crossed for others to score, Billy Baxter, a tough but undersized centre-half (who allegedly had a fist fight with Bobby Robson), and Charlie Woods, a talented but inconsistent forward who often carried our hopes when he came on as sub, were typical – players whom we got to know and love so much.
Looking at the changing squad at Town today, it’s a very different situation, probably because of the domination of the market by the wealthy Premier League clubs. There seems to be an endless stream of loan players, all of whom swear their undying loyalty for the club and its ambitions of promotion which they share.
I can’t blame them – it’s all PR, they have to make a living but if a more lucrative job comes along I also don’t blame them for moving on. It seems it was possible to expect and receive loyalty from players in the 60s, but that was probably not the case. But that’s how we saw our players then – united with us in our support for Ipswich.
Then the players would come on, and this moment always made me cringe a bit. They played Entrance of the Gladiators, the music often used to accompany the arrival of circus performers in the ring. There we were about to play the mighty Manchester United or Tottenham and our lads were coming on to the theme music of Coco the Clown.
When Bill McGarry took us up to the First Division (there was no Premier League then) it meant our local heroes had the chance to pit their skills against the best in England and so I got the chance to see West Ham with their World Cup players, and, of course, George Best and Bobby Charlton, although they were part of a United team that was already beginning to fade. And this was the start of the Bobby Robson era.
And none of this seemed to cost that much. I can’t remember how much we paid, but a programme was only a bob (5p) and that included The Football League Review! For teenagers like Kev and me, this was all affordable. No one was ripping us off. We were supporters. Now we would be consumers with every opportunity being taken to squeeze money from us through ridiculous admission prices and the shirts that any self-respecting fan is expected to buy.
Up to three different strips and they change regularly. I feel sorry for a family with children who want to watch a game in their team’s shirt. Must cost a fortune.
I’ve only watched a few games since I left home in the early 70s and moved out of the area and for the last few years I haven’t been at all. Kev probably goes to more games than I do and he lives in Canada! He’s a proper supporter.
However, despite all I’ve said about how the Ipswich team are anonymous to me now, I still can’t help checking out their results particularly when they play Norwich. It’s like checking on one of your family that you rarely see. It’s in the blood.
I’m sure I’ll go back someday to watch them again. I wonder if they’ve still got that Petula Clark record.
Why are the stars so bright?
Why is the sky so blue…
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