|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?
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