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A Curious Hat-Trick
Written by JC62 on Sunday, 23rd Jan 2022 11:35

I’ll straight away advise you that the following might not be what you’re used to reading on an Ipswich Town website. I have to confess that I’m a lifelong Fulham fan and my usual scribblings are carried on the Fulham Focus website. However I achieved a curious hat-trick by attending Saturday’s game and thought my own little trip down memory lane might be of interest.

My visit to Portman Road on Saturday was the third time I’ve seen an Ipswich game while on holiday, the first two having occurred in the same season almost 50 years ago.

My Ipswich debut came as a 10 year old in August 1972 while I was on holiday staying at my great aunt’s house in Northumberland. On the Saturday we were there Newcastle were at home to Ipswich and my dad thoughtfully decided to get us out of my mum’s hair by going to St James’s Park for the game.

In those days advance tickets weren’t the thing unless you were in the posh seats so we just pitched up and took our place on the terraces. I honestly can’t remember whether we were in the home or away end that day. As Londoners we didn’t really fit in anywhere but our presence didn’t seem to bother anybody, although we did think it sensible to look miserable on the bus back afterwards after Ipswich had taken the points in an entertaining 2-1 victory.

My second game was in April 1973 and this time I was staying with friends we’d made on an Isle of Wight holiday in Manningtree. The family were big Ipswich fans and I didn’t take a lot of persuading to join them on their usual trip to Portman Road. I was a lucky omen once again and this time saw Town triumph over Wolves - again the scoreline was 2-1.

This third holiday trip to see Ipswich was a result of a few happy coincidences – that is if you can call anything Covid related happy. I had been due to be in Tenerife with my wife this week for a little winter sunshine but with the uncertainty surrounding foreign travel we put the trip back and decided on something closer to home.

We’d done a few previous trips to a lovely little place in Hintlesham and so booked a four-night stay there instead from last Monday. With the weekend guests cancelling at short notice, we were offered the chance to extend our stay.

Having both recently retired and with nothing to rush back for the decision was something of a no brainer. My only thoughts turned to what we might do with our extra time here. I swiftly checked the football fixtures and was happy to see Ipswich were scheduled to play at home.

My only problem now was to convince my wife about going to the game. Despite my romantic offer of a candle lit burger and pint, she politely declined but was quite happy I went. In all honesty she was more than happy to get rid of me knowing I’d only be spending the afternoon fretting how Fulham were getting on at Stoke.

I was thrilled then to be joining the regulars on Saturday although I have to say thoughts of Ipswich at the moment are tinged with a little sadness. When I was growing up Ipswich were an established First Division club under the stewardship of the legendary Bobby Robson.

The first time I saw Fulham play them was in the 1973/74 League Cup and I witnessed a thrilling 2-2 draw on a Wednesday night at Craven Cottage after the game had been postponed the previous night due to fog. It now seems impossible to rearrange fixtures at such short notice – modern football has a lot to answer for - not least the way kick-off times are changed for TV with no thought for the fans.

That topic is worth a blog in itself so I’ll go back to a happier subject- Bobby Robson’s Ipswich. His team dispatched my lot 2-1 in the replay and went from strength to strength. They very nearly made the 1975 FA Cup final but lost out in a replay to West Ham.

Fulham miraculously made that final as a Second Division club after an epic run. The Hammers broke my little heart that day and I’ve often wondered since whether we might have fared better had Ipswich been our opponents.

Town didn’t have to wait too long for FA Cup glory and I was thrilled like most of the country when they beat Arsenal as underdogs in 1978. That Ipswich team was a good one but over the next few years they became one of the best in the country. The addition of Dutch midfielders Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen added flair to the British heart of the team.

The names in that side still trip off the tongue to me and they were desperately unlucky not to take the title in 1981. To my mind they were a better footballing side than Aston Villa that season but long runs in the FA and UEFA Cups seemed to take their toll.

Bobby Robson left for the England job in 1982 and although Ipswich remained a force for a while the trophy winning potential of that side was never fulfilled.

With my team heading on a downward spiral I have to confess I took less of an interest in Ipswich’s fortunes over the years. Our paths crossed briefly when Mohamed Al Fayed’s riches took Fulham to the Premier League in 2001, yet despite taking four points from us that season, Town followed up a stunning fifth place finish with relegation and haven’t returned to the game’s summit since.

Our next encounter was Fulham’s first after relegation in 2014 and Ipswich quickly educated us on how difficult life in the Championship would be with a 2-1 win. We’d share the same territory over the next four seasons but while Fulham were challenging for promotion in the last two of those Ipswich appeared to be stagnating amidst calls for the manager’s head.

Mick McCarthy’s brand of football clearly wasn’t popular with those reared on the stylish fare Robson and other successors had delivered. McCarthy did depart but the old saying goes ‘be careful what you wish for’ and with him gone Ipswich finally departed the second tier of English football after what seemed an eternity.

Unfortunately it was in the wrong direction and I now found myself visiting Portman Road with Ipswich in their third season in League One and seemingly some distance from mounting a promotion charge.

Having very sketchy memories of my last visit almost 50 years ago I was grateful we popped into town on Thursday for a reccy. Even from the outside Portman Road is an impressive stadium. To see a club with a ground and fanbase like this, let alone one with such an illustrious history, languishing in the third division makes me sad.

Having said that there are no free gifts in football so results still have to be earned on the pitch. My local non league club growing up were Sutton United. I regularly watched Isthmian League fixtures there in the 70s and 80s while Ipswich were bestriding the top levels of the game. Sutton’s progress and current status is quite astonishing and as of now it’s not beyond the question that they could be In the same division as Ipswich next season.

The same credit should be afforded Saturday’s opponents Accrington. They were the butt of an advert for the Milk Marketing Board in the 1980s having gone bust and lost their league status in 1962. However, since then they’ve re-emerged from the non league game and under the magnificent guidance of John Coleman have been punching well above their weight alongside heavyweights like Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday in League One.

It meant that on current form Saturday’s game was a very close one to call. My track record suggested I ought to have a punt on a 2-1 home win but I decided to keep my money safe just in case my wife did want me to treat her to that burger.

I arrived in good time for the game just in case Covid screening proved problematic but I needn’t have worried. The entrance formalities were smooth and well organised and there was a nice family feeling around the place. I was particularly impressed to see a well set up Fanzone that had a live band playing tunes even this old git recognised .

I’d treated myself to a seat near the press box in the West Stand and had the good fortune to be sat next to a knowledgeable and welcoming Ipswich fan. He pointed out that just to my right was Ipswich and England legend Mick Mills doing his commentary stint for local radio. It was heartwarming to see this hero still associated with his old team. As fans there’s nothing better than knowing the club means as much to the players as it does to us.

My new acquaintance also filled me in on current prospects. Optimism has been refreshed by new ownership and a new manager and he reassured me that despite being in the third tier Ipswich were still true to the old traditions of getting the ball down and playing proper football.

This wouldn’t necessarily be enough to prevail against an in-form Accrington and the visitors started the game on the front foot. Their approach wasn’t particularly cultured but there’s no harm in playing to your strengths.

Ipswich were struggling to get their passing going and after some nervous defending it wasn’t a complete shock to see Stanley take the lead with a low Ethan Hamilton shot just evading Christian Walton’s despairing dive.

Things could have got worse a few minutes later when the visitors rattled the crossbar. Instead Ipswich were level when play immediately transferred to the other end and Wes Burns coolly did justice to Bersant Celina’s sublime pass. The goal instilled confidence in the home side and the possession based approach enabled Ipswich to take control.

The interval was reached with honours even and I was pretty optimistic that Ipswich might press their advantage home in the second half. In fact I told my neighbour at half time that he needn’t worry, a 2-1 win was on its way.

Ipswich did indeed continue on the front foot on the resumption but Burns twice failed to exploit situations arguably more promising than the one he equalised from. Fortunately a quick free-kick and cut-back from the right gave Conor Chaplin the chance to lash a piledriver into the roof of the net on the 65th minute which ultimately was enough to give Town the points.

It wouldn’t be football without some nervous moments but other than a free-kick that went just wide close to time Ipswich saw the game out pretty well.

As a neutral I felt Ipswich thoroughly deserved the victory. Accrington played to their strengths and deserve great credit for what they’re achieving on what must be a limited budget. However, for me, Ipswich were playing football as it should be played with the emphasis on keeping the ball down and playing to feet. I was only sorry I didn’t go with my hunch and get my money down on the 2-1 win. Luckily enough my wife cooked anyway.

I was pretty impressed by a lot of the Ipswich players. The stand out performance for me came from Kane Vincent-Young on the left flank. He was very tidy in possession and posed an attacking threat on many an occasion. His final ball was somewhat lacking but he showed all the potential to be a top player.

I will follow his and Ipswich’s progress with interest and hope that before too long Town are back in their rightful place in English football, which would be at least above Norwich, right?

John Clarke

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

Whos_blue added 12:00 - Jan 23
What a great read and glad you enjoyed your visit. As your record is currently 3 for 3, please feel free to drop by again soon!!!
Good luck to Fulham. I always loved the Cottage!

JC62 added 12:31 - Jan 23
Very kind words . I shall be on the ponce for a Wembley ticket in May to bring you luck 😉.
Long way to go but momentum is building. Best wishes for the rest of the season

Chondzoresk added 13:03 - Jan 23
Great read my friend. Nice to have a neutrals perspective. Think you guys will be rubbing shoulders with Liverpool and Man City next season. Replacing our feathered friends up the road. You certainly know where the goal is too. Good luck mate!

NthQldITFC added 13:09 - Jan 23
I think we should all club together and get you home and away season tickets! 2-1s for the rest of the season will do nicely. Great read thanks. One F in Fulham!

Colin_Viljoen added 13:19 - Jan 23
I remember that night in 73, walking down towards the ground only to be told the game was cancelled due to the fog.

Freddies_Ears added 15:01 - Jan 23
Excellent blog - thank you for taking the time to write it. Enjoy the rest of your season!

JC62 added 15:23 - Jan 23
Thanks for all the nice feedback and taking the time to read my old pony. For anyone interested in more Ipswich related stuff here’s a link to my tribute to the incomparable Sir Bobby Robson

billlm added 15:36 - Jan 23
Very good read, nice to get another fans view,

Durovigutum added 18:03 - Jan 23
Thank you

Coastalblue added 22:43 - Jan 23
Great read, glad you enjoyed your day and I look forward when as a London resident these days I can watch us play at the Cottage again.

dusth added 22:45 - Jan 23
Great read John. I am a life long Town fan and remember that fog bound night at Fulham. I lived near Craven Cottage at the time and walked to the match in decreasing visibility only to encounter Fulham fans walking the other way. The game had been called off at the last minute . But the real reason I remember was I kept violently scratching my scalp on the way home. Arriving back at my flat feeling a bit wobbly I found my temperature was 102! I had chicken pox at the grand old age of 24 so wasn't exactly up for the following night's game. When will we meet Fulham again? Soon I hope.

KiwiBlue2 added 23:34 - Jan 23
A great read. You might note that our run in to season end is quite good.
However, there are a few games that we could do with your help with. If you happen to be on a break near Ipswich on 12 March (Portsmouth),18 April (Wigan) and 30 April (Charlton) it would be great if you could pop in and become the teams 12th man at Portman Road. With respect to Town's away games a visit to Oxford (19 March) and Rotherham, if you can stomach it, on 15 April would also be most helpful. I think that we should be able to win the other games but we may need a bit of help with the ones I mention above. Happy travels.......

PhuketPete added 03:20 - Jan 24
That Ipswich game at Fulham in the LC in 73/74 takes me back. I was at Northgate and we decided to go to an away game - the first and only one as I recall. We hired a coach and arrived in the Fulham area about 6pm only to find thick fog and hear the game was off. So a bunch of 17 yo's turned tail and went home. Shame because we had no chance to go back the following night to see the 2-2 draw. PS I still have the programme which we bought before the drive back.

Fortunately happier days were to follow thru to about 82. Interested to see your take that KVY impressed on Sat. He's not found it easy to get back up to speed after serial injuries and has also struggled defensively. But this is the magic of KmcK : he and MP have already improved KVY and many of the other lads.

Dare we dream he can be successor to Sir Alf and Sir Bobby

JC62 added 07:04 - Jan 24
Thanks again for the lovely responses. I’m sorry to those that travelled down from Ipswich for that postponed game. We only had a 9 mile bus ride but I remember my Dad being really cheesed off . I did manage to persuade him to go back the next night- probably just to shut me up. Fog off the river used to be a bigger problem in those days. I went to a Friday night game with Bristol Rovers in 1978 and it got steadily worse. The ref played on as presumably he could see both ends from the halfway line. Not so good for us spectators behind the goal who could only see the action when it came in our direction. To answer Kiwi Blue 2- I’m grateful for the invite to all those matches but had better decline as they may clash with some Fulham games. My wife might not be too happy either if I start following Ipswich round the country although there’s an equal possibility she’ll be pushing me out of the door to get rid of me.

ronnyd added 17:04 - Jan 24
Very good read. Liked your observation about Stanleys football not being very cultured. You were being kind Haha.

WheelyBad added 13:46 - Feb 1
Really enjoyed your account of your visit to PR. I really enjoyed your account of Sir Bobby too. It's 13 years this year that he passed away and that means there's a whole new generation of Fulham (and possibly new Ipswich fans) who don't know who the great man was so your post on the Fulham forum will really help to educate those who've grown up being told that top level football began in 1992. I've had a soft spot for Fulham for a number of years after being in hospital with a Fulham fan and the only two interested in football, Plus your home ground is quite an exception these days compared to these out of town, identikit behemoths that seem to be the rule in the top levels of professional football, a lovely stadium well worth a visit. All the best to you and best of luck to FFC for the rest of the season

MaySixth added 15:26 - Feb 1
All my family are Fulham fans.
Fortunately, I am not.

Harlestonblue added 12:06 - Feb 6
I really enjoyed your blog John. An interesting read. I always enjoyed my visits to Craven Cottage, a unique and picturesque stadium by the Thames. I always look out for the floodlights when we watch the boat race on TV! I also recall a boat trip down to Kew Gardens when I was at school and craning my neck to see inside the ground. Happy memories.

ottawafan added 03:46 - Feb 15
A great read. Thanks John.

verulam added 18:07 - Feb 15
Lovely read John -you are looking good for promotion this year!
My first trip to the Cottage was on Boxing Day 1963. We lost 10-1 to a Fulham Team that include Bobby Robson. The guy standing next to me had a hip flask and kept taking the odd swig. As the tenth goal flew in he turned to me and asked whether that was the 9th or 10th goal. I told him it was the 10th. "You won't believe this he said - I saw West Ham v Blacburn this morning and West Ham won 8-2. I've seen 21 goals in two top division games within the space of 5 hours!"
The saga does not end there. Two days later the return matches took place and both Blackburn and Town won. In Ipswich's case it was 4-2. I didn't actually see the Town's winning goals in the North Stand goal - the fog came down and I was in Curchmans and could only see as far as the half way line. The referee could see both goal mouths from the halfway line soo deemed it OK to carry on!
Happy days!

bucket99 added 23:05 - Mar 11
Thanks John, that was good. Nice to hear from a true footie fan!

bugledog123 added 15:43 - Mar 17
Great piece - thank you for writing it
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